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Author Topic: EP217: The Kindness of Strangers  (Read 11052 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: September 24, 2009, 09:51:27 AM »

EP217: The Kindness of Strangers

By Nancy Kress.
Read by Kate Baker.

When morning finally dawns, Rochester isn’t there anymore.

Jenny stands beside Eric, gazing south from the rising ground that yesterday was a fallow field. Maybe the whole city hasn’t vanished. Certainly the tall buildings are gone, Xerox Square and Lincoln Tower and the few others that just last night poked above the horizon, touched by the red fire of the setting September sun. But, unlike Denver or Tokyo or Seattle, Rochester, New York sits – sat – on flat ground and there’s no point from which the whole city could be seen at once. And it was such a small city.

“Maybe they only took downtown,” Jenny says to Eric, “and Penfield is still there or Gates or Brighton…”


Rated R for sexual situations and alien-caused genocide.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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yicheng
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« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2009, 04:05:21 PM »

Wow, another great story.  I found the plot creative and innovative.  The people portrayed were a well-coordinated balance of human vulnerabilities and virtues, that one rarely fines in Scifi.  I'm reminded of Bruce Sterling's work for how this story focuses on the obstacles and trevails of the characters rather than epic sweeping plots.  Somehow I kept on thinking the aliens would eventually reveal that they actually transported all those people in the cities to another planet.
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monkeystuff
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« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2009, 08:17:06 PM »

Glad to see another great story this week.  I too kept thinking that the aliens would eventually reveal that they transported the people to some where else that was habitable, but no, they committed mass genocide with good intentions. 

The aliens seemed to be peaceful and wanted to help the humans out, though they never asked humanity weather or not they wanted the planet's population to be downsized.  The law of nature is survival of the fittest and its not always nice to think of humans as not being the fittest.  On this planet we are, but when you throw in the rest of the universe, chances are we are not the fittest.   It is a scary thought to not be on the top of the food chain.  But in this story the beings that are on the top of the food chain are at least good willed.   I know that doesn't justify their actions but, they could have been a lot worse. 

Really the aliens treated us how we treat the animals on the planet, we have no problem hunting and killing them, but once a species starts to become endangered we get all sappy and protect them.   We are so humane... (sigh)  The aliens weren't too different from us.
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Brave Space Monkey
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« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2009, 08:42:54 PM »

Gawd! This story just dragged on. My compassion for Jenny quickly turned to malice.  This is a story of self inflicted dread, and a passive death of the depressed.  I can't stand people like this in real life and even more so when I'm in their fictional little heads.








And to answer the close out question - Yes humans are assholes. The larger the group of humans the more the asshole.
« Last Edit: September 24, 2009, 08:53:12 PM by Brave Space Monkey » Logged

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tynlamzic
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« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2009, 03:01:59 AM »

I was moved to comment by this episode, for the first time in two years of listening to Escape Pod.

I found the main character to be self-centered to an unpalatable degree, and although I appreciate that this is a realistic portrayal of many people, an entirely unsympathetic and unredeemed protagonist makes for an unengaging story, I feel.  YMMV.

I also found it difficult to swallow that for such an extended period no-one except the main character sought any dialogue with the aliens to determine their motives, or accepted their offers of food.  It's not borne out by examining accounts of group dynamics in similar instances (during war, for example): in such a situation, where the outcome is uncertain, there will always be those who almost immediately adapt by engaging with their captors, in order to benefit either themselves individually, or (even if no more than ostensibly) the group as a whole.  Such engagement would be particularly likely in a situation where the motives of the captors are unclear: humans desperately need to know what's going on, and that need often overcomes fear and hostility.

Finally, in respect of the motives of the aliens, it seems to me utterly, inconcievably ludicrous that a highly technologically-advanced species would not at least make contact with the governments of the world to pursue other options than mass-murder - could they simply not just target all industrial complexes, for example?  Or at the very least provide an ultimatum, and work with governments to combat climate change and population growth?  Saying that they "saw things differently" strikes me as hand-waving.

Like I said, YMMV.

Steve
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melopoiea
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« Reply #5 on: September 25, 2009, 11:07:11 AM »

Jenny's self-pity, and her pity for immature and selfish Eric do not make this one a winner. Her caretaking of a guy who only cares about himself and his genetics, not the women who service him in various ways, is totally 1950s.

The sf wrapping doesn't seem to matter. Any disaster situation which put people into similar circumstances would do.

And the author's handling of class here makes me sick....

It may be technically well-written, but this is definitely not my kind of story.
Then again, I didn't like "Erdmann Nexus" either, although I found its characters much more sympathetic.

I'm sure it has been said before, but I never like the sound effects in the intros, or the lame humor. I understand that Norm means well, and his voice is expressive and excellently recorded. Its just the staginess that is an abrupt change. I don't mind having another host. But such an extreme style change in the intros is offputting.

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cercle
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« Reply #6 on: September 25, 2009, 01:47:27 PM »

This story was a real let down for me.  The characters could not carry the day and there was, quite simply, no story.  I got so annoyed at the endless reading of city names that I stopped listening.  I shouldn't have bothered listening in again.  The alien plastering "message" all over the ending kind of made me cringe.  I don't mind message, quite the contrary, but in this case the events were so incredulous and the tone of the tale so heavy handed and serious that, well : cringe.  Bottom like : not a winner.
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Kanasta
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« Reply #7 on: September 25, 2009, 03:06:15 PM »

The concept could make an interesting book - I always like a post-apocalyptic survivor story- but most of the story was just dull. An uninvolving, unpassionate romance, unsympathetic characters, trailer trash stereotypes..nah. I did turn it off halfway through but I wanted to know if we would ever find out more about the aliens so I turned it back on, internally growling "I don't care about the sappy narrator's feelings toward useless Eric, give me more ALIENS". Oh, the mundanity.
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #8 on: September 25, 2009, 04:04:06 PM »

I believe that most if not all of the world's problems have population as a root cause, but eradicating entire populations is not something I can condone.  It's the kind of thinking that led Ozymandias to destroy half of New York City in Watchmen (and in the movie, several cities.)  Found it interesting that Norm mentioned Ozymandias in his outro, although in another context.

Agree that it's hard to believe Jenny was the first to go to the aliens and ask why they did what they did.

Still not a fan of Norm as a host.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2009, 05:39:08 PM by stePH » Logged

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KenK
Guest
« Reply #9 on: September 25, 2009, 06:30:16 PM »

A pretty good story with some real insight into human psychology; No matter how benevolent the motives or how nice the gilded cages the nanny-staters build for those uppity atavistic humans they just don't seem to appreciate it. Go figure?  Roll Eyes

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monkeystuff
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« Reply #10 on: September 25, 2009, 09:38:53 PM »

I understand that Norm means well, and his voice is expressive and excellently recorded. Its just the staginess that is an abrupt change. I don't mind having another host. But such an extreme style change in the intros is offputting.



It is an abrupt change, I sure do agree with that and it will take a bit for me to get used to him.  I do like Steve more, tho Norm ain't too bad.   He was speaking truth when he talked about losing a sexy teacher and getting some freak.  because when all is said and done, will you have benefited from listening to these episodes?

Norms attempted humorous intro to the last episode "boyfriend" caught me by surprise and I wondered how much I was really gonna like this guy.  This week I thought he was kinda insightful and funny.  So I'm waiting for more before I formulate my opinion. 
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justice may only be obtained where there is a lack of injustice
goatkeeper
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« Reply #11 on: September 25, 2009, 11:38:14 PM »

Just a co-host folks, no worries!  From what I understand you'll only have to deal with me on a somewhat consistent basis. 
For what it's worth, I was expecting this week's story (Kress) to be my "hey everyone!" episode, not Boyfriend, which perhaps was a bit guilty of excessive and acute Normisms... (these shows are recorded well in advance, btw.)  Sorry if you were left a bit befuddled.  I'll only say things like "glory hole" in R rated stories, and I'll be Mr. Nice Norm in any others, pwomise.
 
In general, I'll do my best to set the story up well and leave you with a decent-enough taste in your mouth after the show is done. 
I'm not Steve Eley at all.  I love the guy, but if I tried to be him I would fail miserably. 
I'm Norm, and while your criticisms are more than welcome and considered on my part, I am who I am, and that's who I'll continue to be, because that's why I'm here.  Similarly, Escapepod will continue to be what it is: a great frikkin science fiction podcast, and what I say won't change that at all, because-- even though Steve is amazing-- what got us all here is the great science fiction, right?
However,...

That said, I also don't want to detract from the effectiveness of Escapepod as a whole.  Gimme a lil time, and if my style begins to rub most people the wrong way, then I'm not too stubborn to tone it down.  Because again, this isn't about me, it's about the stories.

And regarding that, I didn't care for this week's story at all.
Melopolea sums up my thoughts pretty well-- I was struck and annoyed at how much the main character worried about herself, wallowing in her own self-pity, during such a communal tragedy. Part of me thinks Kress did this on purpose.
Tynlamzic brought up another big thing:  what did this character do to to exempt her from everyone else in contacting the aliens/discovering the truth? Really, it takes a kid's broken leg to open inter-galactic diplomacy?  Then-- no problem-- "I'm an alien, glad someone finally bothered asking! Let me tell you why we had to annihilate most of your population.  Again, thanks for asking, nobody else has."
Finally, like cercle said, the city lists were too much-- almost  comical (hence my parody at the end) and while I too LOVE this type of story (alien invasion/Armageddon) I couldn't bring myself to love this story.  Maybe next time.

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monkeystuff
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« Reply #12 on: September 26, 2009, 12:00:11 AM »

this isn't about me, it's about the stories.


the totally awesome stories*
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Swamp
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« Reply #13 on: September 26, 2009, 01:34:43 AM »

Hey, I put up a new Norm thread so we can talk more about the stories here.

This story was a dud for me, too.  The end was allright, even though it's more "save the human from themselves" schtick.  (Didn't Keanu Reeves try the sell the same thing in a movie this summer?)  But I did like the dicotomy of the alien seeing itself as a benfactor, while the human saw them as slaughterers.  That part was interesting, but it took up a small part of the story. 
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deflective
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« Reply #14 on: September 26, 2009, 02:26:40 AM »

i'm gonna spend a lot of time talking about things that went wrong in this episode but, overall, i enjoyed it.  mostly.  maybe the story's negative outlook affected me?

I too kept thinking that the aliens would eventually reveal that they transported the people to some where else that was habitable, but no, they committed mass genocide with good intentions.

i was wondering if i had missed something early in the story where the aliens had made this clear.  its was a pretty obvious hope for people to cling to and when no character did it it seemed wrong.  the cellphones worked remarkably well with large holes torn in the power grid & telephone switching centers.  this, and the way that no one engaged with the aliens, made it hard to suspend disbelief.

but all that is secondary to the central theme of the story.  i kinda wish we could have had all these benevolent invader & war stories five years ago when they would have been more topical (but that would require an alternate timeline where escapepod was already five years old).  when an entire story is an analogy for something it usually works best if the actual topic isn't mentioned so i thought this would have been better if the words refugee camp were never used.  tho that's just personal preference.

as mentioned previously, the lists of city names did not translate well to audio.  what would have been a couple seconds of semi-interested skimming is drawn out to half a minute of pointless recitation.

anthropologists are well aware that different sized groups of people organize themselves differently.  that the aliens kept groups of people captive instead of just observing smaller isolated communities seems pretty bizarre.

as to Norm and hosting, this longtime drabblecast listener has no problem adapting but there is one request that i would make.  escapepod has been more story centered than the drabblecast and a big part of that is a tight intro.  two minutes is about right, definitely aim for under three.  the outro is time for the host to shine, i look forward to an extra opportunity to squeeze the Sherman every week.
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KenK
Guest
« Reply #15 on: September 26, 2009, 09:13:36 AM »

The "kindness" shown here is akin to the kindness shown by Stalin in ridding Russia of the Kulaks (cuz they were social parasites) and Pol Pot and Mao Zedong and other recent attempts to liquidate large groups of people for strictly benevolent and utilitarian reasons. It's hard for me to see how this advanced culture can be so  morally obtuse in this way. Once you get beyond the details and personalities of the characters it makes Kress' story a strange kind of parable about humanity. Maybe that was the point. What the aliens lacked was empathy and wisdom to match their technology. Kinda like us.
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Boggled Coriander
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« Reply #16 on: September 26, 2009, 09:30:04 AM »

I'm normally a Nancy Kress fan, but I have to admit that although I really tried to like this story, it didn't work for me.  The aliens' reasoning at the end made me want to go out and release CO2, club a baby seal, and have lots and lots of procreative sex, just to spite them.  Now I know NK didn't mean for us to agree that what the aliens did was right.  In fact, it felt like they were a big plot device to create this situation where thousands of first-world citizens were reduced to refugee status and forced to interact with each other in the sort of refugee camp environment that we normally see on TV and smugly think to ourselves, "it can't happen to us."  And that story might have worked better if the ending hadn't been focused on the aliens and their motives more than the refugees and their interactions.

As deflective noted, it seemed pretty odd that everyone just assumed that the missing people were dead.  Which turned out to be correct, of course, but still... I remember reading stories (by other authors) where aliens teleport people off the Earth, and without any way of knowing, the people left behind on Earth assume that the vanished ones are still alive... somewhere.  That actually seems more realistic, given human nature.  

Again, I'm normally a big Nancy Kress fan.  This was my least favorite story of hers ever on Escape Pod, but that just means I liked every one of her (many) other stories on EP more than this one.
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jrderego
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« Reply #17 on: September 26, 2009, 10:20:22 AM »

Just a co-host folks, no worries!  From what I understand you'll only have to deal with me on a somewhat consistent basis. 
For what it's worth, I was expecting this week's story (Kress) to be my "hey everyone!" episode, not Boyfriend, which perhaps was a bit guilty of excessive and acute Normisms... (these shows are recorded well in advance, btw.)  Sorry if you were left a bit befuddled.  I'll only say things like "glory hole" in R rated stories, and I'll be Mr. Nice Norm in any others, pwomise.
 
In general, I'll do my best to set the story up well and leave you with a decent-enough taste in your mouth after the show is done. 
I'm not Steve Eley at all.  I love the guy, but if I tried to be him I would fail miserably. 
I'm Norm, and while your criticisms are more than welcome and considered on my part, I am who I am, and that's who I'll continue to be, because that's why I'm here.  Similarly, Escapepod will continue to be what it is: a great frikkin science fiction podcast, and what I say won't change that at all, because-- even though Steve is amazing-- what got us all here is the great science fiction, right?
However,...

That said, I also don't want to detract from the effectiveness of Escapepod as a whole.  Gimme a lil time, and if my style begins to rub most people the wrong way, then I'm not too stubborn to tone it down.  Because again, this isn't about me, it's about the stories.

And regarding that, I didn't care for this week's story at all.
Melopolea sums up my thoughts pretty well-- I was struck and annoyed at how much the main character worried about herself, wallowing in her own self-pity, during such a communal tragedy. Part of me thinks Kress did this on purpose.
Tynlamzic brought up another big thing:  what did this character do to to exempt her from everyone else in contacting the aliens/discovering the truth? Really, it takes a kid's broken leg to open inter-galactic diplomacy?  Then-- no problem-- "I'm an alien, glad someone finally bothered asking! Let me tell you why we had to annihilate most of your population.  Again, thanks for asking, nobody else has."
Finally, like cercle said, the city lists were too much-- almost  comical (hence my parody at the end) and while I too LOVE this type of story (alien invasion/Armageddon) I couldn't bring myself to love this story.  Maybe next time.



If I was publisher of this podcast, this post would have just caused you to be fired.

You're the host of a big-boy podcast now, Norm. Hosting Escape Pod is like being a maitre d' in a really popular and busy restaurant, even if you don't like everything on the menu personally, you have to make sure everyone who asks knows that your food is the best food ever conceived, cooked, and served. Even if you you don't think it is, even if you have to lie. You're the face. You're the one the audience has to listen to at the beginning and end of the show. You're the Rod Serling, you're the Alfred Hitchcock. You're the salesman.

Also, you want to make sure the authors know they are being presented in the best possible way too. If I was Ms. Kress and I listened to you intro and outro and read this post there is damn little chance I'd consider letting one of my works he handled by someone who doesn't know how to present it at best, and writes about his dislike of it in the forum of the very magazine in which it appears at worst.

Yes, I realize you are not the editor, but as the face of Escape Pod, you have to appear to wear that hat because for the 4 and a half years Steve was publisher, editor, and face of the podcast. And the audience isn't going immediately realize that Jeremy T is buying the stories and you are just presenting them. So your opinion has even more weight than it normally would because you are the one bringing the audience to the opening line of the story.

I don't generally complain in public about markets or stories or personalities that I don't like. But Norm's post, this week's podcast intro and outro, and the overall and apparently permanent hosting changes have made me reconsider my usual quiet nature in this instance.
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Bdoomed
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« Reply #18 on: September 26, 2009, 02:32:47 PM »

just listened last night, and i gotta say i really liked this story.  It had a few holes, and was kind of predictable, but it kept me interested and entertained, and presented a few cool ideas.  I agree with deflective... why couldn't the incredibly intelligent aliens research a little anthropology?

and on the topic of Norm, I personally enjoyed his intro, it made me grin.  sure he's not Steve, but its not like we've completely lost Steve, and Norm was entertaining.

Also, you want to make sure the authors know they are being presented in the best possible way too. If I was Ms. Kress and I listened to you intro and outro and read this post there is damn little chance I'd consider letting one of my works he handled by someone who doesn't know how to present it at best, and writes about his dislike of it in the forum of the very magazine in which it appears at worst.
I completely disagree with you here.
a) everyone is entitled to their opinions
b) before he was co-host, he was part of these forums, discussing each episode as he pleased.  I don't see why he can't do that anymore.  Just because he has taken on more responsibilities does not mean he must be exempt from participating in forum discussion.
c) introducing a story is different from commenting on it in the forums.
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Musings and Ramblings
goatkeeper
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« Reply #19 on: September 26, 2009, 02:33:54 PM »


Yes, I realize you are not the editor, but as the face of Escape Pod, you have to appear to wear that hat because for the 4 and a half years Steve was publisher, editor, and face of the podcast. And the audience isn't going immediately realize that Jeremy T is buying the stories and you are just presenting them. So your opinion has even more weight than it normally would because you are the one bringing the audience to the opening line of the story.


That's a good point and well taken Jeff.  I've been a forum member and poster for years, long before co-hosting anything.  I have always enjoyed trying to give feedback on what I thought worked well or didn't in stories, but I'll leave that to others.
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