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Author Topic: EP213: A Monkey Will Never Get Rid of Its Black Hands  (Read 23317 times)

Russell Nash

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EP213: A Monkey Will Never Get Rid of Its Black Hands

By Rachel Swirsky.
Read by Alasdair Stuart.

Papa and Uncle Fomba told me if I didn’t join the army, they’d kill me. They didn’t. They cut off my hands.

This was after U.S. forces marched on Syria, but before we invaded Lebanon. On every city block, posters of Uncle Sam entreated every Tom, Duc, and Haroun to get blown up in the name of freedom. Papa and Fomba gave me two weeks to enlist. I ran for Canada instead. They caught me.


Rated R for amputation fads.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Russell Nash

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Reply #1 on: August 28, 2009, 12:50:48 PM
To all of the new folks coming here from the blog,

I'm the moderator of the episode comments for EP.  I live six hours ahead of EPLT (EscapePod Local Time).  Most of the time the stories go live sometime around three in the morning for me.  This means there will not be a thread until seven hours after the story goes up.  Sometimes the thread is up in fifteen minutes.  Be a little patient.  If you really need to post, you can send me a PM with your home phone number and I'll call you when the thread is up.  On average the thread goes up at four in the morning EPLT.  That's one in the morning on the west coast.

Make yourselves at home.  We don't bite…much,
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Jason M

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Reply #2 on: August 28, 2009, 01:39:08 PM
I'm upset.  The editing was atrocious.  A stumble can be forgiven, but there were a lot of them and I almost got the felling that Alasdair was dozing off.

The story itself was ok, but I think the editing took me out of the story.



Robin Sure

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Reply #3 on: August 28, 2009, 01:41:40 PM
Editing indeed. Bit of a freudian slip there Alasdair? Poor starving Americans? Still prefer your accent to a hell of a lot of others though, but that's probably to do with me being a fellow Brit.

Interesting story, but a little grim.



JeremiahTolbert

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Reply #4 on: August 28, 2009, 03:39:52 PM
Sorry folks, we really botched the editing on this one. I'm trying to get a fixed version up today. 



KenK

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Reply #5 on: August 28, 2009, 05:02:28 PM
First of all it's hard for me to see how this story qualifies as sci-fi despite Alasdair's references to Phillip K. Dick stories, but be that as it may.

The story had an interesting take on moral courage that you don't see mentioned much in fiction any more and in a way that avoided the mawkishness and treacley sentiments usually associated with such discussions too. And for me that was a refreshing plus. As people should know by now being made a victim by whatever traumatic or brutal circumstances  does not of its self confer a saintly halo of righteousness or martyrdom on a person. I think that this was Swirsky’s point in the story. The monkey handed victim only became authentically heroic after he chose to try to transcend his victimhood.

And to agree with a previous reviewer's comments the narration gaffes did kind of break the mood sometimes but it's the thought that counts and not perfect execution IMHO.
« Last Edit: August 29, 2009, 09:31:15 PM by KenK »



Alasdair5000

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Reply #6 on: August 28, 2009, 05:27:39 PM
Unfortunately, every now and again real life and other work combine with short deadlines and my basic enthusiasm to do lots of things to ensure that I don't do my best work.  This is one of those times I'm afraid.  The good news is that now things have settled down at Escape Artists this should happen a lot less.



Jason M

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Reply #7 on: August 28, 2009, 06:13:32 PM
Did someone forget to use the cat 'o' nine tails on Al?  Seriously, though, I think a little more edititing would have fixed the issues.

I understand being busy, and I do appreciate the effort!



Praxis

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Reply #8 on: August 28, 2009, 08:52:58 PM
I wasn't so put off by the pauses and whatnot in the reading (I think there was only one mistake, also, so it really didn't interfere with my listening).

But.
Al?  If you have to spend that long explaining why you think a story is "science fiction", it probably isn't.  As in this case.
I understand the point you were making, with reference to earlier stories that take place in an altered world but 'different Earth from our own' isn't science fiction either, necessarily, otherwise a historical revisionist story would be sci-fi, too.
[*has flashbacks to Ye Olde Podcastle "Yes these are stories about elves" Conflict*  Ugh.  :P  ]

As far as the story goes, maybe I missed something in the beginning but the setting wasn't entirely clear to me:
why exactly were mutilations helping to keep the war effort going?  It worked as a spur for the main character so it was fine, but when my mind wandered to the actions of people in general in the country I was drawing a bit of blank.
And the descriptions of the narrator's experiences of life without hands were really well described, imho.  As were the differing tensions between him and his girlfriend throughout the story.

So....good story, not science fiction but a good story nonetheless.



Praxis

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Reply #9 on: August 28, 2009, 08:58:17 PM
The monkey handed victim only became authentically heroic after he chose to try to transcend his victimhood.


Oooh, yeah, forgot to mention that.  I think that final moment really brought the story together for me.
He finally has the courage to move on with his life, or at least to try to.



Listener

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Reply #10 on: August 28, 2009, 09:07:36 PM
I rather was amused by the "poor starving Americans" line.

Al's reading was generally good, previously-mentioned concerns aside.

I don't know that I necessarily consider this sci-fi because I don't know where history diverged. But again, that discussion can be had by those more knowledgeable than I.

My second problem with the story was its length -- I counted at least three good places where it could have ended, but didn't.

My first problem with the story was that it felt very preachy, very "hey, in the future all this bad shit is going to happen because America is fighting an unwarranted war". I realize this is a valid point of view to some people (which may or may not include me), but I felt it there was too much of it, and the "okay, it's going to end... no, it's going to end NOW... no, it's going to end... NOW... no..." that I kept experiencing lent a lot to it. I think if the story had been shorter I could have handled that aspect a little better. I've written my share of near-future stories, but I tend to avoid war stories because they get preachy in the end. I think it can be very difficult to write a non-preachy war story.

Also, I find it interesting -- and I think this might be fodder for its own thread -- that very little of the contemporary American SF that I've read comes from the POV that "the war is good, and if we didn't fight the war, here's what would happen". Perhaps that's just because many contemporary American SF writers and editors have beliefs that fall in line with "the war is bad/unjust", or they know that if their beliefs don't fall into line with that, they have to keep it hidden. This list also may or may not include me.

I really liked the talk show description -- how the Narrator explained his livelihood, the way talk shows were uber-Patriotic, etc etc. I think that could have been the frame for the whole story, if the author had wanted to tell it differently (or shorter). And I'm both intrigued and uncomfortable at the kind of research the author must have had to do to make the Narrator's handlessness more realistic. Amputation is, I think, one of the most uncomfortable topics in both fiction and real-life. Our eyes tend to be drawn to the amputee's missing part more than the fact that s/he is still a human being. Maybe she did it by reading a lot, or maybe she went to a V.A. hospital to talk to soldiers who were amputees, or maybe she talked to doctors who specialize in treating the specific issues people must deal with when they go through an amputation. From the POV of someone who's never had to deal with it, she pulled off the horror and bleakness of it admirably, and I have much respect for that.

I can't give it a good/bad/meh rating, unfortunately. It had parts of all three. As a whole I didn't like it, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad story. It just wasn't a good story for me.

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Jason M

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Reply #11 on: August 28, 2009, 09:12:52 PM
Listener, check out David Weber and Terry Goodkind.

I wonder, too, about the focus on the girlfriend's weight.  Was it necessary?  Where is the outcry over the "she was fatter than I'd had, but a vehicle is never too big for it's driver"?


Edit::Put in the correct quote.
« Last Edit: August 28, 2009, 09:16:33 PM by Jason M »



Gia

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Reply #12 on: August 28, 2009, 09:58:14 PM
The proverbs were interesting and I do like how realistically the main character reacted to the unwanted attention, but it was somewhat longer than it needed to be (a couple of scenes could have been taken out) and I found it really hard to believe that so many people would have their hands cut off.



Brave Space Monkey

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Reply #13 on: August 29, 2009, 12:14:14 AM
Ok first: I love stories with monkeys in them, but who doesn't. I was really looking forward to hear a great SciFi story about monkeys!

Ugh!

I'll give this 1 (out of five) stars. I found myself actively angry at the writer. The one (1) star is because of the slip "Starving American", the best part of the story. I think the story would have been better if had not been corrected.

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KenK

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Reply #14 on: August 29, 2009, 12:56:00 AM
...and I found it really hard to believe that so many people would have their hands cut off.

 I didn't.



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Reply #15 on: August 29, 2009, 01:25:11 AM
The "starving Americans" line was a slip-up?  Didn't occur to me it wasn't in the original story.

I noticed some editing problems, but overall I had no problem with Al's narration.  If I'd read this story in text form and thought about who would be an ideal narrator, I admit the name Alasdair Stuart would have never occurred to me.  But editing goofs aside, he did a fine job.

As for the story itself, there was a lot there, and a lot for me to mull over.  As far as I'm concerned, sure, it was sufficiently science-fictional for Escape Pod.  Why not?

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Gia

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Reply #16 on: August 29, 2009, 03:00:26 AM
...and I found it really hard to believe that so many people would have their hands cut off.

 I didn't.

I meant in America. I'm so American that I just assume that everyone would know that I was talking about America. I should have been more specific.



stePH

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Reply #17 on: August 29, 2009, 02:38:31 PM
...and I found it really hard to believe that so many people would have their hands cut off.

 I didn't.

I meant in America. I'm so American that I just assume that everyone would know that I was talking about America. I should have been more specific.

I know it's fiction, but the Ellen Jamesians in The World According to Garp aren't that far-fetched.  There are crazy people everywhere.

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ajames

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Reply #18 on: August 29, 2009, 07:45:49 PM
I'm a big fan of Rachel Swirsky's work, but not such a big fan of this story. It was well written in a number of ways, many of which have already been mentioned, but it left me cold. Maybe its too close to home (I am really tired of the left vs. right rhetoric in the US that seems to pervade everything - the last place I want to encounter it is in Escapepod, which so often has been my escapepod from the rigors and travails of daily life).

Also, I can buy that someone used to living a life where cutting off the hands of women and children was commonplace, and who reveled in these acts, wouldn't hesitate to cut off the hands of his nephew, and I can buy some copycat cuttings done to strangers, but Barry's hands and feet being cut off by his own father? This is probably a key element in advancing one or more of the themes of this story that is beyond me, but for me it stretched the willing suspension of disbelief a bit too far.

I like that Escapepod has included a number of stories that aren't traditionally considered science fiction or which defy easy classification, but really? I'm glad Alisdair addressed this point immediately, even if I don't completely agree with what he said.



shtick

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Reply #19 on: August 30, 2009, 09:48:37 AM
...and I found it really hard to believe that so many people would have their hands cut off.

 I didn't.

I meant in America. I'm so American that I just assume that everyone would know that I was talking about America. I should have been more specific.

I know it's fiction, but the Ellen Jamesians in The World According to Garp aren't that far-fetched.  There are crazy people everywhere.

the ellen jamesians had thier tounges cut out by thier rapists, these guys had thier hands cut off by their fathers. the one act might seem to be in the long-term interest of the perpetrator. fathers, theoreticaly, want thier sons functional.

that being said, i really liked this story. i liked what in said about violence. In terms of that, the 400 handless seemed kindof more of a surreal element. perhaps if we decide that statistic is more real than surreal, it is a sign that something is very wrong (kinda like with the ellen jamesians).



stePH

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Reply #20 on: August 30, 2009, 05:14:01 PM
I know it's fiction, but the Ellen Jamesians in The World According to Garp aren't that far-fetched.  There are crazy people everywhere.

the ellen jamesians had thier tounges cut out by thier rapists,

Wrong.  Ellen had her tongue cut out by her rapists, but her fan club cut out their own tongues as a symbolic protest.

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Russell Nash

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Reply #21 on: August 30, 2009, 05:48:48 PM
...and I found it really hard to believe that so many people would have their hands cut off.

 I didn't.

I meant in America. I'm so American that I just assume that everyone would know that I was talking about America. I should have been more specific.

I know it's fiction, but the Ellen Jamesians in The World According to Garp aren't that far-fetched.  There are crazy people everywhere.

the ellen jamesians had thier tounges cut out by thier rapists,

I never read the book and the movie was a long time ago, but didn't the Ellen Jamesians cut out their own tongues.  It was a way of showing their commitment to the cause.  The real Ellen had hers cut out by her rapists (I think it was a gang rape), so she couldn't testify against them.

Argh… StePh beat me to it.



KenK

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Reply #22 on: August 30, 2009, 06:09:52 PM
I think that the reason Swirsky's story wasn't too popular is that she brought out into the open the darkness of heart some people have. Some more than others and the quite terrible few that act out their viciousness without remorse or restraint in particular. This is not a pretty picture often times but  it is a service that art performs for our culture.
« Last Edit: August 30, 2009, 07:11:26 PM by KenK »



shtick

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Reply #23 on: August 30, 2009, 06:43:51 PM
...and I found it really hard to believe that so many people would have their hands cut off.

 I didn't.

I meant in America. I'm so American that I just assume that everyone would know that I was talking about America. I should have been more specific.

I know it's fiction, but the Ellen Jamesians in The World According to Garp aren't that far-fetched.  There are crazy people everywhere.

the ellen jamesians had thier tounges cut out by thier rapists,

I never read the book and the movie was a long time ago, but didn't the Ellen Jamesians cut out their own tongues.  It was a way of showing their commitment to the cause.  The real Ellen had hers cut out by her rapists (I think it was a gang rape), so she couldn't testify against them.

Argh… StePh beat me to it.

right, right.
that's a little far-fetched.



gelee

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Reply #24 on: August 31, 2009, 01:54:06 AM
Outstanding piece of writing. Great narration and dialogue, but I think the depth of the charaters really carried the story.
I didn't find anything here particularly far fetched.  U.S. History is full of stranger foreign policy actions than WWIII to liberate the mid east and north Africa. I also don't have An issue with the way the mutilations were depicted. I could absolutely see this happening here.
As to whether or not this piece is sci fi, I think this is a perfectly sound bit of spec fic. Not sure I understand  what the fuss is about.
Again, great story, engrossing and entertaining.