Author Topic: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll  (Read 10532 times)

Russell Nash

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EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« on: July 19, 2009, 11:55:30 AM »
EP207: Wonder Maul Doll

By Kameron Hurley.
Read by Kim the Comic Book Goddess.
Appeared originally in From the Trenches.

We set down in Pekoi as part of the organics inquisition team, still stinking of the last city. We’re all muscle. Not brains. The brains are out eating at the foreigners’ push downtown, and they don’t care if we whore around the tourist dregs half the night so long as somebody’s sober enough to haul them out come morning. When the brains aren’t eating, they’re pretending to give us directions in the field, telling us where to sniff out organics. They’re writing reports about how dangerous Pekoi is to the civilized world.

We’re swapping off some boy in a backwater push the locals cleared out for us. We’re sitting around a low table. I pass off another card to Kep. Luce swaps out a suit. She has to sit on one leg to lean over the table. It’s hot in the low room, so humid that moths clutter aroundour feet, too heavy to fly.

The boy’s making little mewling sounds again. Somebody should shut him up, but not me. This is my hand. I’m ahead.


Rated R for violence and sexual situations.



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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #1 on: July 20, 2009, 04:35:43 PM »
Not a fan of this one, for many reasons, but not because of the "violence and sexual situations".  I'm not that warm to military sf to start with (though I do like some), but the plot seemed very uninteresting to me.  Then, I learn that the story was just trying to prove that women can be just as rough, tough, and nasty as men.  So, no wonder...what's interesting about that?  The flesh-eating bugs were cool though.
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Ocicat

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2009, 04:46:38 PM »
"It's Iraq... but in SPACE!  And with women soldiers!"

Ya, didn't work for me either.  As my politics are very anti-war, I didn't teach me anything or change my views on anything (I already agree) and it wasn't enjoyable either.

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #3 on: July 20, 2009, 08:39:09 PM »
All i really understood from this story was that there were rough, nasty women that were looking for people with stuff inside them. There's only one way to tell if this stuff is in them, and that process involves killing the suspect. There are hostile natives which are stereotypically putting up a fight against the better trained better armored foreign force. They find out they were wrong and end up killing 3 girls. They show no emotional response. I hate them by the end of the story. Its been mentioned here before that violence has to be "earned" through having a strong plot/characters/idea. This didn't have any of those in my mind and therefore the violence was nasty, uncalled for, and unearned.
« Last Edit: July 20, 2009, 11:39:16 PM by Doom xombie »
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Praxis

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #4 on: July 21, 2009, 03:18:48 PM »
This was not a good story.


[edit:  See EP208 for how a well charactered, atmospheric, structured and paced story is written.]
« Last Edit: July 24, 2009, 06:22:50 PM by Praxis »

Darwinist

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #5 on: July 21, 2009, 06:43:00 PM »
Oh, jeez.  Just a little too over the top for me.  Too much violence against little people.  Those were someone's kids they were digging around in. 
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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #6 on: July 22, 2009, 01:26:57 PM »
  While the trip was entertaining enough, I was left totally unsatisfied at the end. it was just dark and violent for the sake of being dark and violent with melting flesh and killer bugs thrown in for the sci-fi factor. I didn't hate the story, I just felt a little let down by it

  I was also unimpressed with the explanation that the reason they are women was to demonstrate that women can be just as big a bunch of bastards as men can. The whole riff about having wombs removed and restored was completely lost on me. The women-can-be-tough-too type of story has been done before and better on EP.
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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #7 on: July 22, 2009, 05:24:46 PM »
Personally, I dig all the things that were left open and unexplained. Sure, I know the authors reason for making the soldiers all women, but I don't know what the worldbuilding behind it was, and that kind of intrigues me.

And, oh, did I like the worldbuilding in this one. Slicks. Biting off a bug's head. Sprays that dissolve people's heads. Yeah, this one was pretty dark and brutal.

Excellent reading, too. The clipped dialogue and sentences seems like it would be a hard thing to get across in audio, but the Comic Book Goddess did a pretty fantastic job of it.

Not my favorite, mind. I did have a hard time keeping track of who was alive and who had died and it's difficult to empahtize when I have little sympathy for the protagonists, but it was a decent way to pass the commute and I'm glad I got the chance to hear it.

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #8 on: July 22, 2009, 08:41:33 PM »
I liked it. Gritty and disturbing. Th eending was telling, I thought, just how - dehumanized, if the warriors were even human to begin with, the lead character had become. All cold ruthlessness, that one.

creepy.

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #9 on: July 23, 2009, 03:05:52 AM »
I agree with most of the comments above.  War stories are much more interesting when there is some moral ambiguity, but this didn't have any.  It could have taken place just as easily in Vietnam or Iraq.

The short and similarly structured sentences got repetitive.

It felt like there was a cheat with the "organics."  The author dropped us into the world without explaining anything, making us play catch-up, which I do not have a problem with.  We knew that the soldliers had not found any organics after being in this place for a long time.  Then they come across those girls in the tunnel, and they all know that they have found organics.  Why?  Well, since I've been left in the dark about most details in the story, I assume that the author has something in mind.  If organics can be easily and obviously detected, the soldiers wouldn't bother explaining how they knew about them in a story like this.  Fine.  But the kicker at the end is that the girls didn't have organics.  So why did the soliders think they did?  Why isn't there a test if these things are so important?  This felt like a cheap way to have a solider cut open a poor little girl for no good reason.

This led me to a bit of a Writer's Insight.  If you are writing a story in which details are going to go over the reader's head, you still need to keep track of them yourself.  The reader is trusting you to. "Ah-hah.  Tricked you!  You thought there were organics in the girls, didn't you."  Well, only because you told me there were.  The reader puts trust in the author in a story like this than in a regular story where everything is explained. 

Though I did think that, while so much military SF is full of super-powerful soliders, the weakness of these soldiers was interesting.  Instead of power armor they wear "slicks" and instead of megawatt plasma rifles, they use "spray."  Two of the soliders are killed by stick-figure villagers with rocks and bugs.  I wonder if the soldiers were weak because of the frailty of the people they are fighting.  Had soldiers become weaker and weaker over the years as civilization declined?  Or was it just in this one case?  I don't know if this was intentional, but it was an aspect of this world that I thought was interesting. 

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #10 on: July 23, 2009, 07:38:36 AM »
Steve made all the points I was going to make.

Ocicat echoed them.

DKT mentioned that he wanted to know more about the worldbuilding, and so did I -- especially the bugs.

Overall I didn't really like the story. It was TOO deep down in there, with NO explanations for anything.

The details/grittiness were done well, though.
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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #11 on: July 23, 2009, 02:53:19 PM »
I felt lost from the first word.  It felt not like a story but more like a student piece where the teacher said to create a scene with a strong female antihero and a lot of action.  There were too many assumptions the author made with regard to our knowledge of his world.       

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #12 on: July 26, 2009, 04:10:29 AM »
... that were looking for people with stuff inside them. There's only one way to tell if this stuff is in them, and that process involves killing the suspect.
You had an advantage over me. I didn't get that until the end (which made for a long boring listen). Even then, there was no clue as to why it was important. For a long time I was half thinking that maybe the natives themselves were the "organics" and the soldiers were (non-organic) robots or something, except for the reference to the wombs and the reactions to bug bites.

If the point was to show how the ladies could be just as badass as the guys, then it could have been a much shorter and different story.

Quote
I felt lost from the first word.  It felt not like a story but more like a student piece where the teacher said to create a scene with a strong female antihero and a lot of action.  There were too many assumptions the author made with regard to our knowledge of his world.

Yeah, like that. How was it that the soldiers were all women, or what was the nature of the "organics"?
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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #13 on: July 27, 2009, 05:39:13 PM »
Thanks for the warning label on this one. I didn't heed it, but probably should have. I respect the author for dragging us to such a relentlessly nasty place, but I wish I'd gotten off of this ride sooner.

Russell Nash

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #14 on: July 28, 2009, 05:24:47 AM »
Brutal, which is not a bad thing for me; but ultimately pointless for all of the reasons stated above.  I would like to hear more stories about female characters handling difficult situations, but this was just so forced. 

This is also the second time we've had a story that used this same technique.  The earlier one, the name of which I can't come up with, had a halfway house for essentially the soldiers from this story.  The science used to justify female soldiers in that story was also forced. 

These two stories were the Sarah Palin of military-SF short fiction.  I have no problem with a story about women, but seriously is this the best we can do??  Just like there are better female politicians; there have got to be better stories about women soldiers. 

izzardfan

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #15 on: July 28, 2009, 02:26:11 PM »
I agree, as well, with most of the negative comments.  I do like Kim's voice reading this, but at times when the text called for whispering, she was so quiet I missed what was said, and with the unexplained and unfamiliar terms, it just added to the confusion.  I am biased in that I hate military SF, but I never skip over an EP story just for that.  I give everything at least a chance to entertain me.  This was an epic fail.  The story Russell mentioned about the halfway house (Elites, forum folder here) was way more interesting than this, even though it, too, failed for me.

Russell Nash

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #16 on: August 01, 2009, 10:56:43 AM »
The story Russell mentioned about the halfway house (Elites, forum folder here) was way more interesting than this, even though it, too, failed for me.

Thank you.

izzardfan

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #17 on: August 02, 2009, 03:50:33 AM »
The story Russell mentioned about the halfway house (Elites, forum folder here) was way more interesting than this, even though it, too, failed for me.

Thank you.

You're quite welcome.   :)

I had to go find it, once it was mentioned (OCD with me), but I was so surprised to find it had been over a year since it was posted.  It didn't seem that long.

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #18 on: August 02, 2009, 05:25:32 PM »
I'm intensely squeamish, so I found this pretty disturbing and it rather reminded me of my reaction to Norman Spinrad's The Men in the Jungle which also has an interesting take on the dehumanizing effect of gung-ho logic. A good story though and I wasn't too taken aback the lack of background information about what was actually going on as by the end you have a complete enough picture.

As for the all-women soldiery thing, I thought that was pretty appropriate given that males are increasingly biologically surplass to requirements now that artificial sperm is close to a reality. There is of course an excellent depiction of all-female army in Alan Moore's The Ballad of Halo Jones. Book 3.

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #19 on: August 02, 2009, 11:25:38 PM »
I wanted to like this story - I generally enjoy military SF, but I was just too confused.

I didn't understand who/what the bad guys were. Bugs? Organic humans?

Why were they looking for "organics" when the soldiers were obviously organic themselves? (They had wombs.. they needed water..)

I wasn't satisfied with the distinction between "brains" and "muscle", nor could I understand the kind of structure they were working within. Why would the "brains" let the "muscle" go off on some planet by themselves and then ignore feedback from "grunts/muscle" about changed conditions with regards to the enemy?

At first I was expecting the "muscle" to be little more than automatons.. then I upgraded them to grunts from "Starship Troopers" or maybe even Aliens.. but then one of them got killed BY A ROCK!?? Come on!!

I also got conflicting notions about whether our protagonists were winning or losing the war. It sounded like they were losing because they had lost whole troops and part of their own troop died, but at the same time they didn't seem scared of the enemy they were looking for. :(
« Last Edit: August 02, 2009, 11:39:58 PM by robertmarkbram »

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #20 on: August 03, 2009, 02:42:02 AM »
I wanted to like this story - I generally enjoy military SF, but I was just too confused.

I didn't understand who/what the bad guys were. Bugs? Organic humans?

The use of the term "organics" was really, really poorly chosen.

The "bad guys" were people who were genetically modified and, as a side effect, had some sort of dangerous substance in their body. The substance was called "organic sludge", and thus the people were called "organics". Every character was actually organic in the way we would use the term - the story redefined it without explaining it which was a major pain in the ass.

Quote
Why were they looking for "organics" when the soldiers were obviously organic themselves? (They had wombs.. they needed water..)

See above.

Quote
I wasn't satisfied with the distinction between "brains" and "muscle", nor could I understand the kind of structure they were working within. Why would the "brains" let the "muscle" go off on some planet by themselves and then ignore feedback from "grunts/muscle" about changed conditions with regards to the enemy?

The "muscle" were the soldiers, the "brains" were the officers/political brass. I think this was supposed to represent a war situation where the officers are really removed from the soliders on the ground - the soldiers get orders, but no oversight, so they just go around killing people. The officers are led by political motivations - it was clearly in the interests of whoever sent them that they find "organics" - and don't really care about the facts. So they just ignore the fact that the "muscle" fail to find any evidence of organics, declare the city contaminated, and kill everyone in it.

Quote
At first I was expecting the "muscle" to be little more than automatons.. then I upgraded them to grunts from "Starship Troopers" or maybe even Aliens.. but then one of them got killed BY A ROCK!?? Come on!!

I had the same reaction.

Quote
I also got conflicting notions about whether our protagonists were winning or losing the war. It sounded like they were losing because they had lost whole troops and part of their own troop died, but at the same time they didn't seem scared of the enemy they were looking for. :(

I think the story was trying to make a political anti-war point, in which there is no real distinction between winning and losing. This can lead to a very interesting story, but this story was so obfuscated as to make it totally pointless.

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #21 on: August 03, 2009, 10:38:30 AM »
I also got conflicting notions about whether our protagonists were winning or losing the war. It sounded like they were losing because they had lost whole troops and part of their own troop died, but at the same time they didn't seem scared of the enemy they were looking for. :(

Sounded to me like they were winning, and in some ways, their goverment was using the concept of these alien combatants or whatever as scare tactics to permit aggressive military action.

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #22 on: August 03, 2009, 05:11:36 PM »
I didn't finish this story.  I tried again today, but just couldn't get into it.  I can't say why exactly.

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #23 on: August 03, 2009, 06:25:32 PM »
I also got conflicting notions about whether our protagonists were winning or losing the war. It sounded like they were losing because they had lost whole troops and part of their own troop died, but at the same time they didn't seem scared of the enemy they were looking for. :(

Sounded to me like they were winning, and in some ways, their goverment was using the concept of these alien combatants or whatever as scare tactics to permit aggressive military action.

Or maybe it was right around the turning point of the war?

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #24 on: August 03, 2009, 06:55:43 PM »
Quote
Quote
I wasn't satisfied with the distinction between "brains" and "muscle", nor could I understand the kind of structure they were working within. Why would the "brains" let the "muscle" go off on some planet by themselves and then ignore feedback from "grunts/muscle" about changed conditions with regards to the enemy?

The "muscle" were the soldiers, the "brains" were the officers/political brass. I think this was supposed to represent a war situation where the officers are really removed from the soliders on the ground - the soldiers get orders, but no oversight, so they just go around killing people. The officers are led by political motivations - it was clearly in the interests of whoever sent them that they find "organics" - and don't really care about the facts. So they just ignore the fact that the "muscle" fail to find any evidence of organics, declare the city contaminated, and kill everyone in it.

I see now. I thought at the time that the muscle had discovered some new form of the enemy (which I thought were related to the bugs)..

That clears up the point of the story to me - the brains didn't care if the enemy were there or not: just blow it up!

This story should have clearer about what the enemy was and what the risks were to society. Then maybe the point would have been clearer that "in war, we become worse than the enemy".

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #25 on: August 23, 2009, 07:45:47 AM »
Dark, gritty and dystopic. Surprised myself and enjoyed it quite a bit.

I did not have problems with most of the items identified above. I took "organics" to be a MacGuffin and I guessed immediately that the girls found in the whole were going to die and were not going to be "organics" but I did not guess that the soldiers would cover it up.

This story struck me as an intentionally pointless military exercise from which nothing was gained or learned. The soldiers are really not differentiated, and they are not really affected by the events, and certainly do not learn from them. It made reasonable sense in that context that the soldier's experience was never subject to analysis by the "brains" so nothing ever came of their missions. Of course, if it had been done correctly by an effective force, it would have failed its political objective.

As for the villager's rock killing the soldier, I surmised that the solders were wearing "slicks" which were merely impermeable plastic-like material. After all, the weaponry of the soldiers consists of a spray that melts skin, it makes sense to me that their protection guards against that rather than say, projectiles.

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #26 on: August 29, 2009, 07:56:35 AM »
I understood this to be the  complete opposite to eytanz's reading. To me, this was set in a world where genetic modification was the standard. "Organics" were rebels who had chosen to remain natural, unmodified- and I guess this was considered unacceptable. When they were cut open, the sludge inside was just your normal mess of entrails, whereas if you cut open a non-organic, presumably it would all be a lot neater in there as organs would have been replaced with tech, etc.

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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #27 on: August 29, 2009, 09:41:25 AM »
I just noticed that the title can be reducted to the initials "WMD".  Coincidence?
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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #28 on: August 29, 2009, 11:36:54 AM »
I loved the mood of the piece and the world building, though the characterization seemed lacking to my eyes.
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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #29 on: October 01, 2009, 09:43:22 PM »
I'd assumed that "organics" was a military nickname for "organic weapons" - meaning that they thought that the girls had been bioengineered as either a sort of human explosive or a biological weapons delivery system.  This would be in keeping with both the Vietnam and Iraqi war themes - suicide bombing taken another step, with even the girls unaware of whether they may be that weapon.
I feel the need to take issue with the idea that the narrator didn't change over the course of the story.  She did change, just not in the way we hope.  Even though her beliefs and attitudes are reprehensible to begin with, she actually became worse - we can tell from the reactions of her surviving squadmates that she hasn't quite gone this far before. She stepped over the line, and let her experiences wash over and confirm the monster she becomes - a monster that her government's policies are providing fertile ground in which to grow.
Oh, and WMD - good catch, I'd missed that one.  ;D  Very nice.


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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #30 on: October 12, 2009, 02:07:26 PM »
Overall, this was a disappointment.  I didn't make a connection with any of the characters on either side, and while the grittiness of the situation and setting made it through, I just didn't care what happened to anyone by the end of the story.  This may have contributed to my confusion with the various characters.  And like others have said, it seemed forced to me.  4/10
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Re: EP207: Wonder Maul Doll
« Reply #31 on: May 03, 2010, 11:46:50 AM »
I listened to the whole thing, but I couldn't stand this story.

1.  The title sounds so cool and then leads nowhere interesting.  It's not as bad as Evil Robot Monkey, because in that case, it gave a clear promise that was never fulfilled.  In this case it gave a cool-sounding but ultimately unreadable promise and the actual payout didn't turn out to be that cool after all.  It was all just based on the arbitrary naming of the disposable kids, which had no real effect on plot or character, just a throwaway paragraph about their naming becomes the title.

And I hadn't considered the WMD connection until stePH pointed it out.  Now I dislike the story even more. 

2.  The term "organics" was unexplained, and that really hindered my understanding of the point of the story.  Clearly the soldiers were organic, due to various clues, but at the beginning I assumed they were constructs of some kind.  They can tell the kids are organic (supposedly) on sight, but I just assumed that's because they had flesh, instead of being metallic.  Other interpretations upwards in the comments thread make more sense, but this was a major stopping point.  Then at the end, it reveals they weren't organics after all, and since "organic" had STILL never been explained, I just had to take their word for it.  Okay, I've been told they're organic, now I've been told they're not organic--was I supposed to be shocked by the turn of events in apparently arbitrary labeling?

3.  The protagonists were so unrelatable, I felt like I needed to scrub out my brain with a pumice stone to get their clinging residue off of my psyche.  I like to have someone to root for.