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Author Topic: EP148: Homecoming at the Borderlands Café  (Read 27335 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: March 07, 2008, 04:35:52 AM »

EP148: Homecoming at the Borderlands Café

By Carole McDonnell.
Read by Stephen Eley.
First appeared in Jigsaw Nation, ed. Edward J. McFadden III and E. Sedia.

We don’t see a lot of mixed couples around here, and we’re not like some of the other states in the Confederate United Republic. It’s not like they’re gonna get killed or lynched or nothing. But it’s tough just the same. And although it’s weird enough that they’re an interracial couple, it seems to me that they’re arguing about something bigger than merely coming into this café.

I don’t know any Blacks. You got to go to Laramie, or Cheyenne to see them. But I watch Cosby when it’s on. The Confederacy ain’t as bad as the folks in Columbia might think. Sure everyone’s segregated, but it’s all equal and the Platte County school district is pretty good about African-American History Month.


Rated PG. Contains heavy racial and political themes.


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Sylvan
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« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2008, 08:02:17 AM »

A provocative story -at least for me- not necessarily because of the scenario but because of the world in which it was set.  I've seen that world, experienced those emotions at any rate, and felt deeply disturbed by the religious/political justifications and judgmental nature of it all.  But how easy would it have been to create the alternate world of "Jesusland" and have it either be all good or all evil?  What made me take notice was that this story had me despising 90% of those sitting in that café.

I won't deny I didn't bristle at the tossed-around invectives like "Conservative" and "Liberal" nor that I wanted the Liberals to be portrayed as the heroes.  I'm definitely in the latter camp, although some of my friends point to my stance regarding guns as being more the former.

What got me most was my knee-jerk inclination to embrace the interracial family and resulting desire to burn down the alternate Wyoming out of sheer hatred over this Christian dogma over Christian spirituality that would allow such horrible beliefs.  I am, after all, one of those "Gay Liberal Pagans" you hear about these days.  And that's where the story proved itself to me.

Did I enjoy it?  Yes, although it is not my favorite from Escape Pod.  Did it make me think?  Given how often I post in these forums (ie:  "nearly never") I'd have to say, "yes", again.

All too often we seem to live the fallacious belief, "those who are not for me, are against me".  Such a sentiment has led to arguments, bad legislation, riots, wars, and secession.  But it's not true.  As much as we would like to live in a world where our most precious and unique qualities are validated by our societies and communities, it just isn't so.  Maybe it could become that way, I don't know.  But I do know that when the small, GLBT Family newspaper I worked for went out of business, I never went looking for another journalism career.  A year of reporting on all the hatred and vitriol not only wore me out but left me still struggling -even today, years later- to tread the seemingly dark, dangerous social waters while not constantly feeling like either a victim or someone in the cross-hairs of a metaphorical sniper's sights.

In short, "Homecoming at the Borderlands Café" hit home, well, by casting the story in one intolerant world while showing another intolerant land, outside.  This isn't to say I don't believe in moral relativism.  I just don't believe in that base canard about all things are equal and must have equally bad elements to them, when examined.  (That's the pit-trap that most journalism has fallen into, these days.)  Rather, the story is about stereotypes and showing how these massive, monolithic structures are not worth investing our time into as much as the more direct, complex, every-day lives of the people living within those structures.

Maybe that's why I didn't love this story rather than just feel the impact of it.  "...Borderlands Café" wasn't offering a solution to these issues, just an observation ... an observation that part of me -an embarrassingly large part- felt uncomfortable with.

Yours,
Sylvan (Dave)
« Last Edit: March 08, 2008, 11:00:12 AM by Sylvan » Logged
Listener
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« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2008, 08:40:22 AM »

I did not like it for several reasons.

1.  It's a semi-accurate description of the future.  There really is a schism like this already; if you don't believe me, look at some unmoderated forums in the Atlanta area.  Everything devolves into racist invective.  It wouldn't surprise me if there's some sort of secession this century.

2.  I've read it before... set in the 50s or 60s... or with a Christian marrying a Jew... or with someone coming home with their gay/lesbian partner... and it's not covering any new ground.

3.  Mike (main character) kept referring to Nona, and the fact that she was a Native American.  It felt too much to me like "it's okay, I have a gay friend, I can say/think/do these things."

4.  The scene where Yvonne turns on the news only serves one purpose, and that's to demonstrate that Charlie doesn't believe in the racist attitude of his community.  But the scene was redundant; Mike told us that Charlie was okay with Nona, and I think by NOT seeing him bristle at the guy commenting on the news report, that the ending would have been more powerful.  (I know that last comma is misplaced... I just can't find a way to fix it off the top of my head...)

5.  Too little is made of the fact that Jody was reading the Bible with Brad when the minister came around.  And though Jody had the attitude of superiority that Mike kept referring to, people of that characterization usually don't just sit there and take it.

6.  Brad is Captain Exposition.  There wasn't enough else going on to make his story compelling enough to me to sympathize with him.

*shrug* I guess I don't have a problem with the Fractured-America story as a subgenre of SF... I just had a lot of problems with THIS story.  YMMV, of course.
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eytanz
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« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2008, 09:00:33 AM »

I'm skipping this one. America's racial politics are one of the issues I prefer to keep out of my entertainment (especially since I no longer even live there).

Moderator:  Returned to Episode thread after a brief stay in the spinoff thread.
« Last Edit: March 15, 2008, 01:03:40 PM by Russell Nash » Logged
JDHarper
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« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2008, 10:07:29 AM »

I'm a bit irritated by the setting, where liberals are trying to take away the conservatives' kids. It's a bit of the author's bias bleeding through, and it weakens the story quite a bit.

And the characters are stick figures: "Hi! I'm the moral one who is conflicted about standing up to my racist society!" "Nice to meet you! I'm the moral one's overbearing racist mother!" etc.

I'm trying to find something about the story that I liked, and I can't. There aren't any characters I can sympathize with, as even the guy coming back from NY says something like "You know how the gays are...." The plot is clichéd. The setting is weak; it's as if the author said "Let's turn America sideways, so now the West will be the racist part and the East will be liberal part. Only more so."

Escape Pod stories are usually fun or interesting, and ideally both. This was neither, I'm afraid.

Oh well; there's always next week.
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Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2008, 10:51:07 AM »

I agree with everyone else thus far that the story was pretty weak, for the reasons Listener stated.

I was, however, impressed with the author's willingness to criticize both the ultra-left and the ultra-right and show the intolerance and dogmatism inherent in both sides.  I have heard/read many stories that portray religious conservatives as oppressors (to the point where it's cliché), but I have very rarely encountered stories that had the guts to portray atheist liberals as oppressors.  Kudos.

Aside: There are many silly things a person can believe while remaining intelligent and objective in a general sense, but racism is one thing that has always boggled my mind.  The idea of judging and segregating people by race seems so astonishingly stupid to me that I'm amazed people who believe in doing can also have the mental capacity to feed and dress themselves.  IMHO.
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« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2008, 11:26:03 AM »

I was, however, impressed with the author's willingness to criticize both the ultra-left and the ultra-right and show the intolerance and dogmatism inherent in both sides.  I have heard/read many stories that portray religious conservatives as oppressors (to the point where it's cliché), but I have very rarely encountered stories that had the guts to portray atheist liberals as oppressors.  Kudos.

(this may end up having to be split off)

I agree with you here, though it was beaten into our heads too much.

Speaking as a person who has worked for a conservative radio station (and noting that this may or may not reflect my personal beliefs), there's a lot going around about Christian persecution, where other religions are being given what is considered preferential treatment by the quashing of "traditional" observances of Christian holidays/culture ("merry christmas/happy holidays" is the most visible in this battle).  The types of Christians who grow into Mrs Garrison and Mrs McMasters are the types who would rail against the Christian-"bashing" they see growing in American society.

Perhaps the reason liberals aren't portrayed as oppressive in the larger world of the media is that the folks who make TV shows are, for the most part, liberals themselves. 

Each side in arguments like this believes they can do no wrong, while the other side can do no right.  But in a story that really needed a lot of work to avoid being little more than a pastiche, it was one thing I appreciated, even though I didn't like the way in which it was done.
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DKT
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« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2008, 11:40:04 AM »

I really wanted to like this story.  Actually, I think I did like quite a bit of it.  I was born in the South and although we moved to LA when I was very young, we still went back to the South to visit family all the time.  And Mike and Charlie's mother in this story really reminded me a lot of my grandmother -- this Southern hospitality for some.  Yes, we're Christians, and we love everyone, but we don't do that.  It just isn't proper. 

That kind of idea. 

I also find myself agreeing a lot with what Mr. Tweedy wrote:

I was, however, impressed with the author's willingness to criticize both the ultra-left and the ultra-right and show the intolerance and dogmatism inherent in both sides.  I have heard/read many stories that portray religious conservatives as oppressors (to the point where it's cliché), but I have very rarely encountered stories that had the guts to portray atheist liberals as oppressors.  Kudos.

Even though I now consider myself a liberal, I thought the idea of a liberal left persecuting the religious right was kind of fascinating.  I also dug that the religious right were generally pretty racist, because that made for moral ambiguity on both sides.  I could handle all that pretty well.  But that the guy who ratted out Brad and Jody's beliefs just happened to be a gay liberal, well, for some reason, that broke the story for me. 
« Last Edit: March 07, 2008, 12:34:19 PM by DKT » Logged

bolddeceiver
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« Reply #8 on: March 07, 2008, 12:27:42 PM »

I agree that the story was weak and somewhat heavy-handed, though it was still worthy of a listen.

Much more to say on the opening.  I love social science fiction -- frankly, even the best hard science fiction set in the future has to have strong elements of it to hold my interest.  I'm a political scientist who fell in love with SF as a kid, and when the two can connect it makes me really happy (see Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale).  I am pretty interested in the idea of (1) a balkanized USA (given my mild Cascadian secessionist leanings, if only in theory) and, I think even more interestingly, (2) the idea of exploring what a world where the USA (or its remnants) aren't the predominant power, something which is at least implied by the balkanization scenario..  I'd love to see more SF exploring the alternate possibilities, because I think the United States are at a crossroads -- will it be the fall of Rome, dark ages and all, or the humble step back from the spotlight of the UK and other former empires?  Both have huge storytelling potential.  I've been trying to think of ways to explore them in my own writing, and would love to see others doing the same.
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sirana
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« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2008, 12:55:16 PM »

Outch, that was preachy. This story didn't do anything for me. It didn't even evoke enough emotion to piss me off. A really, really weak piece.
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JDHarper
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« Reply #10 on: March 07, 2008, 01:58:28 PM »

Quote
Outch, that was preachy.

Yes! That's the word I was looking for. The whole story existed to say "Racism is bad, y'all. So's taking people's kids if you disagree with them."
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ajames
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« Reply #11 on: March 07, 2008, 07:50:24 PM »

Kudos to Steve for trying something different.  I'd be in to hearing another alternate history story in the future, and/or a story that tackles some difficult cultural/political/moral issues.

I got into this story.  As the story progressed I did keep hoping that the author would show me something about the characters to give me some insight into them and make them more real to me, but with the possible exception of the main character that didn't happen.  And I hoped that in taking on racism and persecution of beliefs in an alternate world the author would show me something I hadn't seen in this one, but that never happened, either. 

This reminded me a bit of an interview I heard during black history month on NPR.  An elderly gentleman recounted how long ago he and a few friends had sat down and asked to be served at a diner counter that served only whites.  He spoke movingly of how he felt, of the stares of others, of the policeman who came, of the elderly white woman who was staring at him with what he thought was hate, who got up out of her chair and said something to the effect of "Good for you, young man".  How those words from her taught him not to judge others.  Now that was a powerful interview. 

This story, I agree with others, was more preachy than powerful, at least in my opinion.
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Planish
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« Reply #12 on: March 07, 2008, 09:53:23 PM »

Ugh.  When did EscapePod get bought by FOX?   This is the most biased piece of crap I've heard outside a visit to my ex-family in rural Oklahoma.

Let's talk about some of the spin phrases, shall we?
[snip]
Huh Huh Huh
When I listened to it, it was the characters in the story who used those phrases.
I do not for a minute believe that we were expected to completely adopt the viewpoint of any of the characters - not Brad's and not even Mike's.

The author could not possibly expect to show us the way to resolve all issues of Otherness, and of being caught between two different worlds, and I don't think she was trying to in such a short work. Using shortcuts such as the "spin phrases" enabled her to get a lot of paint on the canvas in a short time. (Uh, that sounds more critical than I intended it to be.)

That being said, I think this story just barely squeaks in under the wire as "speculative fiction". You could very easily rewrite it in a here-and-now (or "some other country and now") setting and it would be plausible. However the history was altered, it didn't feel that much different to me.

At first I found it a bit odd that Jody's character was not at all developed. The baby got more screen time than her, but I guess that was because the baby is what forced the people to accept that "this was really happening", however they felt about it. Her personality did not matter to them, only that she was of "the other".

I did enjoy the way she was able to stretch out the whole sort of "freeze frame" business when the couple first come in. There is no action, but a lot is going on.
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Nobilis
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« Reply #13 on: March 07, 2008, 10:14:09 PM »

Quote
That being said, I think this story just barely squeaks in under the wire as "speculative fiction".

You're being generous.  You really have to stretch to call this science fiction.  The people in that story exist NOW.  The events exist NOW.  Strip out the news cast, change the names back to what they originally were, and the fig leaf falls off.

My personal suspicion is that this story was originally written without the trappings of some possible future.  It was originally written in the here-and-now, but it wouldn't sell because it was too trite.  When the call for submissions on this anthology came in, the author realized with a little reworking it could be sold as science fiction.

I hope Steve will think long and hard before taking a story like this one again.

It's interesting to note that this story achieves something that so many other modern SF stories fail to achieve.  I speak, of course, of character development.  Nona goes from a girl he used to date to his girlfriend to his fiancee to the woman he's going to marry through the course of the story.  It's subtle, it's not skillful, but it's there--and again makes me wonder seriously whether this story was SF when its first draft was written.  After all, so few of the other stories have character development.  What's wrong with this one that it does?

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Darwinist
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« Reply #14 on: March 07, 2008, 10:18:35 PM »

Didn't care for this story.  The characterizations bugged me a bit.  To me it seemed like the story was full of "retro" social ideas.......I can remember my Catholic dad telling me how he took a lot of crap from his family for marrying my Lutheran mother, I remember my grandparents using the N-word regularly in casual conversation and telling us grandkids to wash our vegetables because a certain minority group touched them.  So it seemed like the ideas in the story  weren't really that out of the ordinary in days gone by.   I was waiting for a gay character to show up and stir up the WY pot a bit more and sure enough, around 24/25 minutes in there he was.

« Last Edit: March 07, 2008, 10:22:31 PM by Darwinist » Logged

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Grayven
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« Reply #15 on: March 07, 2008, 11:13:34 PM »

So Steve can get Kiwi's all he wants, but he has to fake the southern accents himself? Thats so weird.
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Kurt Faler
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« Reply #16 on: March 08, 2008, 03:17:26 AM »

This story tries at some sort of pertinent social commentary by conjuring up an America thats set in the future but acts like the past, and is populated by stereotypes that are so 2 dimensional I could use them for bookmarks. FAIL.
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sirana
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« Reply #17 on: March 08, 2008, 06:14:17 AM »

The people in that story exist NOW.  The events exist NOW.  Strip out the news cast, change the names back to what they originally were, and the fig leaf falls off.
Does this really feel like a story set in the present to you? I read it rather as a story set in the 60s.

It's interesting to note that this story achieves something that so many other modern SF stories fail to achieve.  I speak, of course, of character development.  Nona goes from a girl he used to date to his girlfriend to his fiancee to the woman he's going to marry through the course of the story. 

Now you're beeing to generous. Nora doesn't change a bit. The main characters's opinion of her changes, but that is no character developement.
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CammoBlammo
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« Reply #18 on: March 08, 2008, 07:03:20 AM »

I didn't mind this. I understand a lot of the criticism of the story, but it reinforces one of the things I find in the best science fiction: the more things change, the more they stay the same. We can change the technology all we like, but human nature stays just like it always does.

Except, of course, in stories where it changes. Oh well.

I liked the fact that every one of the characters was prejudiced in their own way. Even the newlyweds, who were forced to choose the prejudice under which they'd live weren't too happy about the gay liberal preacher. One wonders if part of the decision to move was based on homophobia. At least the people back home were good Christian types, even if they were hate filled and bigoted.

****WARNING: Potential thread hijacking!!!

Steve mentioned in the intro that the USA was the last country to abolish slavery. If only that were so. I'm not sure how many nations have specifically banned it in the last 150 years, but many have become signatories to UN treaties in that time which deal with aspects of slavery.

Sadly, though, many nations still allow slavery in different forms. For example, there are 10 million bonded labourers in India alone. Bonded labourers aren't 'owned' in the traditional sense, but they are contracted to work under terrible conditions --- generally to pay off a loan, with exorbitant interest --- and they are not able to leave if they want. By way of comparison, a slave in America before emancipation might have cost around $30,000 in today's dollars and would (on average) provide an ROI of around 10-20%. In India a labourer might be bonded for life over a debt of $40 which will be paid back many times over in the life of the agreement.

Guess which worker is/was treated better.

There are other forms of slavery as well. Sex trafficking is quite common. Women are lured overseas with the promise of good work, only to find themselves forced into prostitution.

Child slavery is also very common. I hate to say it, but Côte d'Ivoire, one of the world's leading producers of cocoa relies extensively on children stolen from around Africa. The children are easily replaced, meaning they don't last long and certainly aren't paid. That's sad, but after reading that I find chocolate has another reason to be called one of life's guilty pleasures.

I could go on, but there is a thread to get back to. If anyone's interested, there's plenty of information around da intarwebs, but here are a couple of links:

http://www.antislavery.org.au/

http://www.stopthetraffik.org.au/
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #19 on: March 08, 2008, 08:58:42 AM »

liked the fact that every one of the characters was prejudiced in their own way. Even the newlyweds, who were forced to choose the prejudice under which they'd live weren't too happy about the gay liberal preacher. One wonders if part of the decision to move was based on homophobia.

I suspect it was based more on the threat of having their child removed from them -- it's pretty much spelled out in huge, capital, boldfaced, and underlined letters in the narrative.
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