Author Topic: EP208: An Almanac for the Alien Invaders  (Read 13557 times)

Russell Nash

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on: July 23, 2009, 06:57:56 PM
EP208: An Almanac for the Alien Invaders

By Merrie Haskell.
Read by Sarah Tolbert.
Previously appeared in Asimov’s.

In January, there will be an annular solar eclipse, with the path of annularity moving through the Indian Ocean and into Sumatra and Borneo. Two days later, aliens will invade Earth.

No spaceships will loom large in blue skies, nor hover over our cities. At night, though, when we see blinking dots of light near the horizon, as small and pale as any star, we’ll think they’re planes or satellites of human origin. They won’t be. These are alien ships, come for conquest.

That is all we can see. What we hear is just as faint and difficult to resolve: we hear rumors. Or rather, one persistent rumor: “the aliens want volunteers.”

Naturally, I and my junior faculty friends need to drink quantities of beer to discuss this in detail. I expound that it’s a hoax.

Rated PG-13 for adult concepts and alien recruiters.

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!

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Reply #1 on: July 24, 2009, 02:50:01 PM
  I knew I was going to like this story from the line "we are not nice people".

  I guess I should feel some sort of outrage and revulsion at the events of this story, but I did not. If only all invasions occured so bloodlessly, human history would be much easier to teach children without lies and half-truths.

  Everything about this story hit perfectly for me. The story itself, the way it is presented, and the reading were all fantastic. This story reminded me why I like science fiction (and apocalypse stories) in the first place.

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Reply #2 on: July 24, 2009, 11:20:59 PM
I loved,  L O V E D this story.

It was so quietly and calmly spoken that the understated-ness, and the almost sincere calm of the Syndicate aliens, was what made the story so effective. 
From one perspective, a great thing is done for humanity, we are made part of a great civilisation.  From another, a horrific thing is done to humanity and we are enslaved while our home is plundered. 

I suppose the main character is faced with a situation (part-way through her induction, as the truth of the aliens is made clearer) so awful that the only option is to become part of the process, to survive the 'appropriation' of Earth, its people, culture and artifacts by becoming one of the appropriators.
And the dawning understanding of how very, very much she has made the wrong choice and now has no way back was similarly well written.

Mostly I think the sheer blandness of so many people's (the volunteers) motives was a nice touch.  They are the ones who really are making the 'cries for help/attention', the ones who want to get out of their current situation any way they can.  They easily take up with the aliens without a thought as it doesn't matter to them what the reality of the aliens or their motives might be.  Anything for something else.  (Or even for something different to do with one's time, if one doesn't get tenure....)
Humanity is lost because of all those people who don't care about being part of it anymore.

This is going to be one of those 'stays with you long after the story end' stories for me.
Please, please can we have more stories from Merrie Haskell?

[Oh and I was also thinking 'Childhood's End' by the end of the story and gets mentioned in the outro.  :)  ]


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Reply #3 on: July 25, 2009, 02:42:56 PM
I really enjoyed this story.  It was great to hear an alien invasion story that wasn't about humanity's struggle for resistance, and also a model of a galactic empire that didn't look like a clone of Trek's Federation.  This wasn't a hostile assimilation, neither was it benign.  It felt very real and possible to me.  Resistance wasn't even an option, it was just a foregone conclusion that things were changing and there was no stopping it - just trying to figure out what your place was in this future.


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Reply #4 on: July 25, 2009, 09:46:01 PM
great job on this one

Russell Nash

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Reply #5 on: July 26, 2009, 07:44:00 PM
Whoo Hoo!!

Loved it!


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Reply #6 on: July 26, 2009, 08:01:33 PM
I agree. A very good story, bringing a new prespective to the venerable trope of alien invasion. And the masterful reading by Sarah Tolbert really helped bring it to life.


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Reply #7 on: July 26, 2009, 08:29:05 PM
We tried, but there was nothing we could do.

That sort of despair vibe coming from this story... well, it depressed the hell out of me, but I still liked it for being well written in general.


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Reply #8 on: July 27, 2009, 01:00:54 AM
I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and the reading.

Somehow it reminded me of how I might spend years pursuing some hobby, and then for some reason totally lose interest in it and take up something completely different. The old stuff just doesn't matter to me any more.

The business of the aliens' schedule being tied to the alignment of the planets and whatnot bothered me a bit, because it seemed somewhat arbitrary. I got better though. It was no more arbitrary than the way they calculated the length of the contract. Hanging a lampshade on it?

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Reply #9 on: July 27, 2009, 09:39:11 PM
It was no more arbitrary than the way they calculated the length of the contract.

I think there was a sense to that calculation, though.
It took into account the numbers and scales that would feel right to a given species.

It clearly isn't actually down to the need of the wider galaxy for the amount of service done, only that, from the perspective of each species, it will take a significant span of time.
Personally, I took it to be the length of time necessary for humanity (or whoever) to become thoroughly cowed and fully integrated into the existing heirarchies.


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Reply #10 on: July 27, 2009, 10:32:47 PM
Brilliant. Perfect reader for the story. At first I thought it would only go as far as speculating about the invaders, but it kept going and going. This is why I love scifi.


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Reply #11 on: July 28, 2009, 09:18:12 AM
Whew--very creepy story. For all their nice words and assuring promises, the aliens really sounded no different to me then any other victor in colonizing what they feel is a lesser culture. The blind trust that the human workers have to the aliens was pretty heartbreaking--consider how conqueroring cultures in our species have been in protecting our culture and art. In my mind's eye, I see a fat tentacled alien wiping it's maw with the Mona Lisa.

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Reply #12 on: July 28, 2009, 10:36:06 AM
I liked how the horror of the whole thing was slowly introduced.  First it's someone gets sick as they are getting on the ship.  That's just nerves about leaving home, right?  Then everyone needs to get drunk to help cope with their decision.  Still nerves?  As it goes on we get the former student having trouble and then actual reports of Earthlings hating the people who are helping the aliens.  By the end it's just scary. 

In the beginning it was like the Enterprise showed up and said, "You're all part of the universe. Let's party."  By the end it was the Europeans landing in the New World, but with more resources.


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Reply #13 on: July 28, 2009, 08:01:46 PM
Loved this, especially the reading and the pacing.  It really made me think, not so much in terms of "is this story a comparison for our current situation?" but in terms of the actual characters and story.  I started out with one opinion of the main character, and then changed it, and then changed it yet again.


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Reply #14 on: July 29, 2009, 03:44:44 PM
Great story overall.

lhoward mentioned anti-alien resistance forces; I think it would be impossible IRL for aliens to conquer us without facing some kind of resistance from the humans, mostly because that's just how we are. However, the author would have bogged the story down too much explaining that, and just mentioning it would've left people wondering WTF. So I guess she addressed it as best she could.

I also liked that the Professor's race wasn't a huge deal, even though it did come up from time to time. Neil Gaiman has said he purposely didn't specifically say that Shadow was black in "American Gods"; I figured it out, but it wasn't important. It just was. I feel sometimes SF tries too hard to address race when the main character is black, and I like that that was not done in this story.

I did get slightly confused, though that might just have been me, when Gregory said he was joining the aliens after taking some sort of aptitude test. I thought it was Jim. Or was it Jim, and Gregory was recruited separately and on purpose?

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Reply #15 on: July 31, 2009, 10:56:31 PM
Wow, a SF story written by somebody who's been reading postcolonial theory.  (Did it use the word "subaltern"?  I can't remember.)

Anyway, I enjoyed it.  And I have to say that being denied tenure seems like an entirely plausible reason for betraying your species to alien overlords.  Have you seen how tough the academic job market is?

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Reply #16 on: August 01, 2009, 03:55:34 PM
The discussion on Character Race implied and stated has been moved here.


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Reply #17 on: August 03, 2009, 01:14:35 AM
I loved this story!  It takes a cold look at what it is like to aid the oppressor.  It is a complicated question and a hard perspective.  Is she aiding the downfall of her people?  Or is she being practical...doing the only thing she can do to aid the survival of the people and culture?  Is she a traitor or a heroine?? Is she a betrayer or a survivor??? I don't know.

What would I do??  I would love to say I would be fighting against the invaders and for earthlings...risking my life in the battle.  But the more practical part of me says I would probably adapt, change, and survive with hope for a positive future for my descendants. That's what my ancestors did when they were oppressed.  To do otherwise was foolish, at the very least, and life threatening at worse. Resistance was passive or underground.

See, this is why this story is so great.  It makes you ask questions like made me think. Certainly it reminds me of Octavia Butler's works looking at similar questions.
« Last Edit: August 03, 2009, 01:19:12 AM by Anyanwu »


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Reply #18 on: August 03, 2009, 03:31:01 AM
Great, thought-provoking SF.

A lesser writer would have gotten bogged down in details and action of the resistance movement and also would have made the lead character a heroine or a villain.  Instead it's a story about a human.  Not a bad person making good choices or a good person making bad choices, but a person making choices. 

I liked it how the author was unapologetic about using the most cliched plot in science fiction.  They are aliens, and they are invading.  She used the words "alien invasion" several times without trying to come up with clever nonsense about how it was something deeper.  She SHOWED us how it was something deeper. 

Minor quibble.  Once we know that aliens are invading I had a hard time bringing myself to care about her tenure or her relationship. 

Another quibble:  I am getting a little tired of stories about women with jerk boyfriends.  Anytime the main character is a woman you can bet that her relationship will be a significant plot point and that her boyfriend will be a jerk.  Not all the time, but more than enough. 


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Reply #19 on: August 04, 2009, 05:01:45 AM
Loved this story.  Believable and a bummer.  I love stories that leave you with an uneasy feeling.  Well done.  Excellent narration.  Will listen again. 

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.    -  Carl Sagan


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Reply #20 on: August 04, 2009, 07:33:34 PM
Stellar!  This is a very thought provoking story.  Would I help rape the planet?  Would I be a xenophobe?  Would humanity be better off just accepting their fate rather than employing resistance?  Is the galaxy really that organized?

Well read and well wrote.   I give this one a rare A.


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Reply #21 on: August 08, 2009, 07:29:03 AM
Great, great story!


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Reply #22 on: August 09, 2009, 02:02:56 PM
I quite enjoyed this story.  The whole discussion about how long the Human race was to be tenured for reminded me a bit of David Brin's Uplift series where once 'client' races serve their 'patrons' for a period of time, they are then allowed to uplift their own clients and become patrons. ; (Former) Editor of TBD magazine:


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Reply #23 on: August 12, 2009, 07:26:09 PM
This story hit me like a ton of bricks, and really got me thinking about the ending.  I really can't say what I would do in that situation.  I would like to think that I would not conform to the alien assimilation of our culture and pillaging the planet, that I would put up a fight to the end, but it's equally likely I would do the exact opposite.  It's a decision I'm hope I'm never faced with, but it does spark the question nonetheless.  I do agree that if an alien invasion really did go down, it would be something along the lines of this rather than what you would see in Independence Day.


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Reply #24 on: August 14, 2009, 01:52:10 PM
Meh.  The story dragged out too long.  I didn't like the "on this date at this time, I will do this" tool either.