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Author Topic: EP198: N-words  (Read 12496 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: May 08, 2009, 01:18:48 AM »

EP198: N-words

By Ted Kosmatka.
Read by Kim The Comic Book Goddess.
First appeared in Seeds of Change, 2008.

They came from test tubes. They came pale as ghosts with eyes as blue-white as glacier ice. They came first out of Korea.

I try to picture David’s face in my head, but I can’t. They’ve told me this is temporary—a kind of shock that happens sometimes when you’ve seen a person die that way. Although I try to picture David’s face, it’s only his pale eyes I can see.

My sister squeezes my hand in the back of the limo. “It’s almost over,” she says. Up the road, against the long, wrought iron railing, the protestors grow excited as our procession approaches. They’re standing in the snow on both sides of the cemetery gates, men and women wearing hats and gloves and looks of righteous indignation, carrying signs I refuse to read.


Rated PG-13. Contains racism and genetic engineering.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: September 10, 2009, 12:35:36 PM by Russell Nash » Logged
Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #1 on: May 08, 2009, 10:53:59 AM »

I have never been happier to have an MP3 player that has the ability to speed up tracks.  Maybe for some, the slow pace would have worked - increased the tension or drawn out the drama or something - but for me, it was just excruciating.

I also found it too quiet.  (I bet Zorag did, too!)

I remember reading (or maybe hearing) somewhere that the length of the typical (average? median?) EP story was chosen so that it would be about half an hour to forty-five minutes*, to match a typical commute.  I'm not claiming that it's true, just that I heard it.  However, if it is true, then I'd like the audio engineers to keep in mind that people who are driving have to contend with the sound of tires on road, wind past windshield, cars and trucks going by.

Also, more and more audio device manufacturers - spooked by the possibility of being sued for causing hearing loss - are making their devices with a lower maximum volume (they only go to 9 Cheesy) so it's not even possible to compensate for low levels.  I had mine as high as it would go and was still straining to hear the narration for much of the time.  It really distracts from being able to listen to and appreciate the story properly.

It's not that hard to boost the audio levels without creating distortion (or at least not enough to worry about); I've done it.  I wish I'd done it with this before listening to it.  (Hm... would that contravene the non-derivative ("don't change it") part of the license?)


*Which this one would have been, if it had been read at a faster pace!


As to the story itself: I liked it, on the whole.

I didn't realize that homo sapiens and homo neanderthalensis were genetically compatible (not that anyone knows for sure, of course, but from a quick search, there does seem to be evidence to support that possibility).

Most of the examples of racism (or is it species-ism in this case?) in the story were, of course, reprehensible, but I found myself pondering the issue of the Olympics that the author raised.  Even now, we recognize that not even all humans are equal; that's why the Special Olympics exist (or is 'Para-lympics' now? I can't keep track).

Pitting h neanderthalensis (as described) against h sapiens is like racing a German Shepherd against a Greyhound (or, conversely, pitting one against the other in a fight, if one were to stoop so low).  It would be, in a way, "not even wrong," * just pointless.  So, unlike the idea of separate Olympics for different colours of human, separate Olympics for the story's 'ghosts' doesn't bother me.

I don't think that's species-ist, but maybe I'm wrong.


*Yes, I know that phrased was coined for a completely different purpose.
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« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2009, 04:26:58 PM »

I must agree that the pace seemed slow, but I think that was used well for dramatic affect.  The story deserved that sort of treatment and focus.  The commentary afterwards on the story was, in the British, bloody brilliant!

I was very impressed and pleased with the reference to everyone being the Hero of their own story, as well as the quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel, "Racism is man's gravest threat to man - the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason."  So, very, very well chosen!
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ajames
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« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2009, 06:01:09 PM »

[Spoiler warning]

All in all, a good story. I agree it seemed to drag a bit at times, but over all the slower pace worked well for the story (imo). I found the ending to be rather depressing - David stood for peace and nonviolence all of his life, and his death converted his wife, and probably his child, firmly to the path of violence. I suppose this happens all too often when one group oppresses another group, but I prefer stories which show the hope and promise within all of us to ones that mirror "reality". This story, at least, is the latter type of story done right.

Wilson, FWIW, the Special Olympics include individuals with intellectual disabilities; the paralympics include people "who belong to six different disability groups in the Paralympic Movement: amputee, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, spinal cord injuries, intellectual disability and a group which includes all those that do not fit into the aforementioned groups (les autres)." (from the paralympics.org website). The Special Olympics serves many worthy ends, but world-class competition isn't generally one of them. The paralympics, on the other hand, emphasize athletic ability and feature some amazing competitions.
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #4 on: May 08, 2009, 06:04:18 PM »

Wilson, FWIW, the Special Olympics include individuals with intellectual disabilities; the paralympics include people "who belong to six different disability groups in the Paralympic Movement: amputee, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, spinal cord injuries, intellectual disability and a group which includes all those that do not fit into the aforementioned groups (les autres)." (from the paralympics.org website). The Special Olympics serves many worthy ends, but world-class competition isn't generally one of them. The paralympics, on the other hand, emphasize athletic ability and feature some amazing competitions.

Thank you very much!
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Talia
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« Reply #5 on: May 08, 2009, 06:53:40 PM »

I had no problem with the pacing, probably because racism is a hotbutton of mine and I spent most of the story in a seething rage.. heh. Yeah, things dont seem to last long when you're pissed. Smiley

I found it depressing and frightening too, because you know that's what people would be like - not quite that bad, I think, its an exaggeration, but the one thing people have proven themselves apt at, year after year for thousands of years, is hating difference.

I'm not sure if that's a war that can ever be won. People seem to enjoy being hateful bastards. Gives them something to cling to, I suppose.
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« Reply #6 on: May 10, 2009, 03:47:38 PM »

Wow.  That was amazing.  The world needs more stories of this caliber -- great storytelling, identifiable characters, deals meaningfully with a serious, difficult social issue (actually, at least two of them) without turning into a soapbox piece, and a fantastic handling of human nature (and incidentally, I thought it was paced perfectly).
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bolddeceiver
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« Reply #7 on: May 11, 2009, 08:53:48 PM »

Forgot to ask -- all that said, was I the only one who kept thinking of those Geico ads?  Wink
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« Reply #8 on: May 12, 2009, 12:44:23 AM »

Wow.  That was a magnificent hour of Escape Pod.  The pacing annoyed the bejesus out of me at first, but once I got into the story, I enjoyed it.

The volume level WAS rather low, and I'm only glad I was in my nice, quiet office at home listening instead of at work or--worst--in my car.  I would have never understood most of the story if I had been.


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« Reply #9 on: May 12, 2009, 10:47:04 AM »

At first, I really thought this was going to be one of the stories I hated. It seemed to be a bit of a one trick pony listening through the first 10-20 minutes and waiting for the identity of the "them" (Neanderthals) to be revealed. I found it to be a bit cliched.. yeah, racism used as a metaphor.. and the pace was getting me a bit frustrated (product of the short-attention-span generation X that I am) until I started to identify with the characters, at which point I thought it was a fantastic, emotive piece of writing. Not preachy, just thought-provoking- not a superior voice which is very easy to slip into when you're talking about racism. Anyway, it certainly hit the spot for me despite the lack of action, because combined thought-provoking issues with the science fiction element really well rather than being a vehicle for either with the other tacked on, if you catch my drift. In summary- more please.
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DigitalVG
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« Reply #10 on: May 12, 2009, 12:01:43 PM »

The paralympics, on the other hand, emphasize athletic ability and feature some amazing competitions.

And in fact, there was a lot of friction in the last 'regular' Olympics because our technology has improved enough that a paralympics runner with carbon-fiber legs has become fast enough that he wanted to compete against athletes who had flesh and bone legs. 

There was a lot of argument about the mechanical advantage of his legs vs the advantage of modern running shoes and so on.  Ultimately, he was allowed to try but failed to qualify by just a fraction of a second.  (Still making him far far faster than anyone I know)
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« Reply #11 on: May 12, 2009, 12:53:14 PM »

I wasn't sure I was going to like this one at first, the tone that implied sneering at everything science and pop culture had got wrong and the suggestions that they were big white people and smarter than humans had the ring of white-supremacist rot with a dose of the 'noble savage' trope mixed in.  The first was quickly put down and while I'm not sure it completely overcame the second, it is worth noting that in the world, only the physical talents of the Neanderthal were really recognized.  She spoke of their ability to remember but there wasn't anything that really shown as examples of their intellectual talents, so it's possible we were simply reading the bias of a woman in love with a Neanderthal.   (And to be momentarily derogatory to the Ghosts, I must confess that, growing up in rural Oklahoma, I've known many women who had strong belief that the Neanderthal they loved was an intelligent being but they certainly had me fooled)

More interesting to me though was how I interpreted this story.  I didn't interpret it as a story about race and racism.  I interpreted it as a story about Techonologists and Luddites.   We humans are already right in the middle of a step of massive evolution and what some of us are and what some of us are becoming is a species very different from our parents and grandparents.  I was born near the beginning of that cusp.  In 1978 I was 6 years old, my dad brought home our first computer and I was instantly in love.  The Infocom games gave me glimpses into worlds beyond static fiction stories.  The lured me into programming.  Our house was so rural that we had a party line (That's a phone line that is shared between multiple houses) and so when I got my first 110/300 baud modem, I had to wait until late at night to connect to  BBSes.  UUCP e-mail could take as long as US-Mail to reach its destination, but still.  I was outside the rural Oklahoma community where I lived.  I was changed by technology, I became something different from all the people I knew there.

And it was fiercely feared.  My parents talked about 'those people' I might meet on the internet.  The alleged sleazy strangers aching to get their hands on me, the 'freaks' with nose rings and mohawks.  The monsters.  That gap has only grown worse in recent years.  With google, with wikis, with ever-present cell phones and all the information I could EVER want always available to me, I've come something different.  Still recognizably human but far removed from my parents.  The kids that are being born now though...  They will be a completely different species from my parents.  Technology will have always been available to them.  It's a very safe bet that wetware, cybernetics, and genetics WILL happen for them.  They will be faster, smarter, stronger, more connected.  Like the wife in the story, I was young enough to see all this starting and I was so entranced by it, that I can accept the new people.  My parents and other people like them are having a very hard time with it.

In recent years, we've already seen a lot of noise over Oscar Pistorius (The man with carbon-fiber legs who is almost fast enough to qualify for the Olympics) and too many cases of sports team members using various enhancement drugs to even count.  Various religions, governments, and other organizations that want to limit the amount of information different people can access, etc.   I liked this story because the parts that initially set me on edge were countered by the later parts of the story and that in some way made it clear to me that the story wasn't about race at all.
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« Reply #12 on: May 12, 2009, 01:15:58 PM »

The writing of this story was really great, and had the reader read faster, or cut down on her pauses, or had the editor cut down on some of the pauses, it would've been much better to listen to. Stylistically I enjoy this type of writing, and do it a fair bit myself.

But the plot quickly devolved from interesting science to "racism trope #14-a". By the end I didn't even care. And good heavens did the denouement drag oooooooooooooooooooon and oooooooooooooooooon and ooooooooooooooooon.

I think it might have been interesting to see the direction of the story if David had killed the shooter, and he was now dead because the justice system had given him the death sentence. I'm curious what happened to Thomas, who DID kill the shooter.
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« Reply #13 on: May 12, 2009, 03:06:04 PM »

cin "cincinati"... ci "cincinati"... na "cincinati!"... ti "come on! come on!"  (jump to 4:35)
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Talia
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« Reply #14 on: May 12, 2009, 03:37:32 PM »

Interesting point about it being about technology vs race. Course the key underlying concept there is the same, people being blindly hateful without having a clue WTF they are talking about. Nor caring.
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« Reply #15 on: May 12, 2009, 09:33:50 PM »

Excellent!  The story had me riveted the whole time.  Wasn't sure where it was going at all.  Loved the sad ending. 
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« Reply #16 on: May 14, 2009, 02:37:45 PM »

I thought the story itself was ok, i like the concept of neanderthals being a part of society, but this type of story has been done a thousand times and this wasnt anything special. My biggest beef was with the reading, it made the story seem like everything happen at a glacial pace, and the constant pauces quickly started to frustrate me
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« Reply #17 on: May 15, 2009, 05:37:47 PM »

All in all, a good story. I agree it seemed to drag a bit at times, but over all the slower pace worked well for the story (imo). I found the ending to be rather depressing - David stood for peace and nonviolence all of his life, and his death converted his wife, and probably his child, firmly to the path of violence.

You just reminded me of Ghandi.  Right down to being shot by an extremist fuckhead, and riots of violence following his death.


Forgot to ask -- all that said, was I the only one who kept thinking of those Geico ads?  Wink

Probably.


I liked the story, but wouldn't put it among my favorites. 

Alasdair still sounds terrible.  I thought this was being worked on.
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« Reply #18 on: May 16, 2009, 03:27:42 AM »

I liked this well enough, it did remind me a lot of Greg Bear's Darwin's Radio, but as commented on earlier the idea has been done lots already. I did enjoy the narration though, for me it was perfectly paced and suited the subject material perfectly.
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« Reply #19 on: May 16, 2009, 10:02:35 PM »


I found this to be an excellent and thought provoking story.  Evidenced by the comments made in this forum.

For me, this story was thought provoking for different reasons than most mentioned in this forum.  Yes, racism is an underlying theme in the story (probably not specism, since the ability to produce sexually viable offspring would prove us to be of the same species).  However, there is more to this than hatred of someone's appearance.  Think of the hatred and emotion evoked by scientific activity like gene alteration or embryonic stem cell research.  These are basically little more than concepts to those who fight for or against them.  You can't really touch embryonic stem cell research.  The Ghosts represented, for many, a gross scientific violation of ethical standards.  But they weren't concepts.  They were living, breathing, flesh and blood evidence of that violation that could actually walk into your college classroom and pull up a chair. 

Was the story about racism?  Yes.  But the hatred against the Ghosts went beyond racism.

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