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Author Topic: Pseudopod 169: The Disconnected  (Read 14711 times)
Bdoomed
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« on: November 20, 2009, 02:25:13 AM »

Pseudopod 169: The Disconnected


By David Steffen
Read by Rich Sigfrit

“I’m glad you volunteered tonight. I’m not sure I’m ready to go solo again quite yet.” Tim pointed at a nasty welt on his own neck before he popped the neck brace in place. “This gear saved my life, but it still hurts to swallow.”

He pushed the inner door open with a click. They stood at one end of a long hallway, lined with glass rooms, most occupied by leashed Disconnected. Before they started Tim’s rounds, they did a quick walk through of the facility, which was just more hallways of glass rooms, all on one level. Some of the Disconnected looked out at them. Others were sleeping, or eating.

“All Disconnected present and accounted for,” Tim said.

“See, Harken?” the chief said. “There’s no way it could have been a Disconnected.”

“You’re probably right, Chief.”

They walked back to the staging room to grab Tim’s cleaning cart.

“Why are all the Disconnected naked?” Harken asked.

“You want to put clothes on them? They’d never stay clean, then. I’d have to sedate them to dress and undress them, and what would be the point?”

“I suppose you’re right…” It just seemed so disrespectful. Each of them had been a person once, with a family.


Check out this author’s list of favorite Pseudopod episodes, replete with links to each one in our archives.



Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
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Bdoomed
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« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2009, 02:25:49 AM »

okay first of all, YAY for Steffen's story finally coming out, and second of all, started listening and I'm loving this idea so far! Smiley
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David Steffen
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« Reply #2 on: November 20, 2009, 10:00:11 AM »

A couple plugs that I wanted to share with you guys that I thought would be in the intro:

1.  If you liked this story, you might want to check the Shadows of the Emerald City anthology, published by Northern Frights Press.  It's an anthology of horror stories inspired by The Wizard of Oz.  My story "The Utility of Love" is a reimagining of Dorothy's original journey to Oz, but the Tin Man, in this incarnation, is a near-indestructible heartless assassin.  He's not cruel, exactly, but purely pragmatic, only considering how his actions will benefit himself.  Dorothy tries to teach him about the concept of "love".  The anthology got a 5 out of 5 rating from Apex Book, and has received reviews that are consistently positive.
You can order it here:
http://www.amazon.com/Shadows-Emerald-City-James-Schnarr/dp/0973483717/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1258729123&sr=8-1

2.  I co-edit a zine called Diabolical Plots.  Besides the "Best of Pseudopod" post mentioned in the intro, Anthony Sullivan and I provide regular nonfiction content, including reviews, editorials, and interviews related to the field of speculative fiction.  We've had quite a run of guests so far, including David Farland, Cat Rambo, Jeremy C. Shipp, Nick Rose, and Nancy Kress.  Our upcoming guests include Tad Williams, John Joseph Adams, and--this just in as of this morning--Anne Rice.  If you have any guests you'd like to see, drop me a line and we'll see what we can do.  Come check it out!
http://www.diabolicalplots.com
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MacArthurBug
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« Reply #3 on: November 23, 2009, 02:28:39 PM »

EEW! and odd. I knew cellphones would take over the world.. I just knew it.
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Oh mighty Mur the Magnificent. I am not worthy.
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« Reply #4 on: November 23, 2009, 04:13:38 PM »

I have to say, this one didn't feel quite as well thought out as it should be.  I can't really buy this version of the future, as it seems that it couldn't come about without selectively forgetting large portions of neuroscience and the constitution. 

It reminds me of a story I once read about a world in which a global event had caused the sudden development of telepathy in the world's populace. This had the effect of stopping most violent acts, as the one doing the violence felt the hurt of the victim. A minority of people did not develop psychic powers, and were shunned and feared because of their distance from the rest. 
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RedArrow
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« Reply #5 on: November 23, 2009, 09:14:36 PM »

EEW! and odd. I knew cellphones would take over the world.. I just knew it.

Most definitely!!
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Sandikal
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« Reply #6 on: November 23, 2009, 10:55:32 PM »

I know that there is a lot of crossover between the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres.  However, this seemed to be more pure science fiction than horror.  Yeah, the gore was pretty gory, but the whole premise and how it played out was straight out of science fiction.  I almost forgot which EA I was listening to.

For the record, science fiction is my first love and this was first-rate science fiction.
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kristin
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« Reply #7 on: November 24, 2009, 01:40:07 AM »

I thought it was okay. I wish I knew more about the phones. Did he have to cut the person's ear off? Was it something kinda internal in the ear, or was it external, kinda like a blue tooth. I also didn't think it was too scary.
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kurtgw
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« Reply #8 on: November 24, 2009, 05:17:25 PM »


More sci-fi than horror.  (Yeah, I know,  the horror is in an inhumane system that doesn't respect people -- I deal with state agencies in RL, so I guess I'm jaded to it now.)

That said I liked it a lot. An intriguing take on dystopia.   Baba reminded me of Equality 7-2521 in Ayn Rand's Anthem.  I guess this is "Anthem" meets Verizon Wireless....
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melopoiea
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« Reply #9 on: November 25, 2009, 12:04:29 PM »

I really disliked the voicing on this one. The story was an interesting concept, but rather exaggerated.
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wakela
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« Reply #10 on: November 25, 2009, 06:26:15 PM »

For the record, I think this was definitely more SF than horror.

Either the phones are a natural extension of modern cell phones, or this is a distopian alternate reality where the state mandates that people are plugged in.  The latter seems like a pretty big leap to me, and IIRC there isn't anything in the story to support it.  But if it's the former, I think we would see more changes in the way people communicate.  As it stands, it's like normal modern society plus flying cars and everyone can talk to each other.  But I would expect that at this level of technology they would be able to do all sorts of other things.  What apps are these guys running on their superphones?

I think there would be some interesting complexity in exploring the benefits of these phones.  Why does everyone get connected? 

I don't want to imply that I didn't like it, thought.  I thought it was pretty engaging.  But I think it could be fleshed out a little.
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« Reply #11 on: November 28, 2009, 07:31:43 AM »

I enjoyed listening to this story, but I also agree that maybe this could have been better showcased at escapepod. I think two things outside of the story really helped me dig it: 1 - I'm currently replaying Silent Hill: Origins, 2 - I do direct care for folks that used to live in a non-criminal institution.  I loved the frustration of trying to develop a language.
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David Steffen
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« Reply #12 on: November 28, 2009, 10:53:54 PM »

Thanks for the feedback everybody, including those who didn't like it as much.  This forum is one of the reasons I really like Escape Artists.  Smiley

As for whether this was better suited for Escape Pod, I think it could fit well there too, but it was also horror for me because of the way this society treated the Disconnected.

kristin:  The question of what the phones looked like, I intended them to be very similar to a Bluetooth headset in size and shape, with some kind of extension that went in the ear to interface with the brain.  Severing the phone does not require severing from the ear, but the cut would have to be enough to slice a portion of the phone off to kill it and separate it from the ear.

wakela:  You could either view it as a possible future or an alternate reality.  I'd probably lean more towards the former, but I don't think there was anything in the text which mandated one or the other.

And again, I do appreciate the feedback!
,David
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Scattercat
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« Reply #13 on: November 29, 2009, 02:35:38 AM »

The concept was interesting, but a few things kept bothering me.

1) While I can grok judging people by what they can afford and I can even grok having an underclass of Have-Nots whom the technological Haves look down upon as subhuman, what I have a hard time grokking is the point of view - apparently shared by everyone in the world - that person + phone = real person, but that same person - phone = subhuman.  Given that human beings still apparently reproduce the normal way and don't seem to have forgotten any other major cultural touchstones (there's still single mothers buying groceries, for Pete's sake!) then how has everyone forgotten what the brain is and how it works?

2) A planet, apparently still bustling in the future, with only one hundred "disabled" people living on the entire world?  Man, no matter how they treat those hundred folks, sign me up for THAT cultural advance.

3) There's still concepts of sympathy and etc., as witness the caretaker's idea of legislation which will fund research to reattach phones to the poor deprived Disconnected.  So why hasn't anyone noticed that the Disconnected are, um, caged, chained, rolling in their own filth, and fed gruel?  We used to treat insane people that way, sure, nearly a hundred years ago.  How is it that society has stayed so nice and orderly and reasonable except for this one enormous gaping flaw?  We currently treat brain-dead individuals who literally can't breathe without outside assistance better than the phoneless wretches in this story, and those people were at least of "animal" intelligence.

4) So, um, at the end the pregnant lady goes off to... well, the only thing I can imagine happening is her rapid recapture and the abortion of her child.  She has no resources, no allies, and no plans.  If she doesn't die in childbirth, then how exactly is she going to manage to live?  Sure, she's got half-invisibility in that people don't tend to look with their eyes anymore, but that only goes so far, especially when an infant starts squalling.  I got the feeling I was supposed to feel a wash of happiness at the True and Natural Woman heading off into the sunset with that evergreen symbol of new hope, a pregnancy.  However, because I wasn't able to quite get a handle on the mindset this "new society" represented, all I really saw was some poor deprived woman off to live a short and brutish life of starvation and fear. 

Frankly, the phones just weren't scary on their own, not without the weird, out-of-place brutality with which the Disconnected were treated.  I think having that sort of automatic empathy would generally be a positive thing, or at least morally neutral.  The "evilness" of the networked society felt forced and somewhat tacked on.  I would have much preferred a piece that simply explored what it was like to be a part of that network and then lose that connection than I did this story, which seemed intent on proving how eeeeevil the phones were without much actual evidence for it.

---

I started to go on for like two or three pages about privacy and democracy and empathy and groupthink, but then I realized that no one else cares that much, so just leave it that I think there's an awful lot of thematic meat here that wasn't cooked up to my taste (and had a weird foreign spice on it that I had to mask with lots of ketchup.)
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David Steffen
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« Reply #14 on: November 29, 2009, 11:14:34 AM »

Thanks for your detailed comments, Scattercat.  A few responses (if you're interested).

Regarding #1 and #3, those are definitely the biggest believability issues that may cause problems with suspension of disbelief.  I can understand how they wouldn't work for you.

Regarding #2, the reason there's such a small number of Disconnected is partially because of the unlikeliness of having your phone severed without actually dying in the process.  Injury by accident is quite rare--if it's a preventable accident, then another Connected will generally see it coming and chip in to try to prevent it.  Murder and assault are even rarer, because the victim will see it coming, and so will everyone else.  Disconnection generally only happens in freak accidents, and those accidents must sever the phone without killing the person.  As it is, many of the disconnected have actual brain damage caused by the same incident that caused the severing of the phone.

Regarding #4, I didn't at all intend for Topi's escape to be an unblemished ray of hope.  Her survival is in no way certain.  If she does survive child birth, then I don't think continued survival is impossible at all.  No one knows a Disconnected is on the loose, and so no one is watching for her.  Even if they did catch her before the birth, they would not abort the baby.  What they would do is allow her to carry it to term, take the child away from her, attach a phone, and give it to foster parents. Even if she is recaptured, she may be able to make a difference if she is able to convince them she is not all that different from them. 
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wakela
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« Reply #15 on: November 29, 2009, 06:34:07 PM »

The concept was interesting, but a few things kept bothering me.

2) A planet, apparently still bustling in the future, with only one hundred "disabled" people living on the entire world?  Man, no matter how they treat those hundred folks, sign me up for THAT cultural advance.

3) There's still concepts of sympathy and etc., as witness the caretaker's idea of legislation which will fund research to reattach phones to the poor deprived Disconnected.  So why hasn't anyone noticed that the Disconnected are, um, caged, chained, rolling in their own filth, and fed gruel?  We used to treat insane people that way, sure, nearly a hundred years ago.  How is it that society has stayed so nice and orderly and reasonable except for this one enormous gaping flaw?  We currently treat brain-dead individuals who literally can't breathe without outside assistance better than the phoneless wretches in this story, and those people were at least of "animal" intelligence.

2)Yes.  For a horror story, this society seems like a utopia.  Transparent too, since they can listen in on the cops.  Count me in.

3)Good point.  Modern western society treats animals better than these guys treated the disconnected.  But we don't treat humans suspected of being terrorists better.  I wonder what would happen if there was a perceived threat from the disconnected.  But, IMHO a metaphor for Abu Ghraib would be less interesting than exploring how these phones change society, so you would want to avoid that.

Also, when it's not for punishment, expense is usually the reason why some class of people gets poor treatment.  But it seems that supporting 100 people would be a pretty small burden for this society, especially when their law enforcement costs are so low.

David, I don't want to come off as telling you how to write your story.  You're the published author, not me.  I just enjoy riffing with the world you made.  And forgive me if there were details in the story that negate my points.  I listened to it a while ago. 
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David Steffen
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« Reply #16 on: November 29, 2009, 06:50:46 PM »

David, I don't want to come off as telling you how to write your story.  You're the published author, not me.  I just enjoy riffing with the world you made.  And forgive me if there were details in the story that negate my points.  I listened to it a while ago. 

I'm not offended at all! I'm enjoying the discussion, and I think it's cool that enough people had a reaction to the story to have something to discuss.  At some markets, once you post the story you have no idea how it's being received or if anyone read it at all.  But here, I know that people are listening to the story, and are willing to share their reactions to it.  I write because I want to share my stories with others, and talking about the story with you is quite fun.
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RedArrow
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« Reply #17 on: November 29, 2009, 07:25:46 PM »


 Transparent too, since they can listen in on the cops.  Count me in.


This was something I had an issue with.  Trust me, it's never a good idea.
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Scattercat
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« Reply #18 on: November 30, 2009, 12:51:56 PM »

Regarding #4, I didn't at all intend for Topi's escape to be an unblemished ray of hope. 

Oh, I understand that part.  What I was trying to say was that because I couldn't see any reason why the phones were bad per se, I found Topi's situation to be sad rather than noble.  That is, I was really hoping she'd be found and at least given food and shelter instead of trying to raise an infant without any resources at all.  The baby, in particular, would have a really pleasant and wonderful life in this near-utopia once it had its phone, and it made Topi seem cruel and selfish (in that special way unique to parents) that she was fleeing this better life because of her own anger at her treatment.  She's denying her child health, safety, and membership in society and condemning it to the same brutality she experienced, all because... well, because she doesn't like phones very much, I guess.  (Yes, yes, the torment etc., but as I said, that part didn't really click for me because there was no real justification for it.)

Now, it occurs to me that an explanation for the way the Disconnected are treated AND a way to increase the "Ick, ew, scary!" factor of the phones would be if it were made more clear that the phones are an alien parasite/symbiote and the instinctive revulsion toward the Disconnected is related to the fact that the alien beings are sentient enough to recognize non-phone-having humans as a potential threat toward their domination of the planet.  That is, they don't want their free ride disrupted by humans realizing they have a choice about using the phones, and so they've modified human thought such that humans no longer recognize non-phoned humans as fully human.  This would also explain how humanity managed to forget that we were perfectly capable of living and communicating before the phones existed, not to mention forgetting how to speak entirely.

However, this really wasn't in the story, other than the mild hints that the phones are vaguely organic.  I think someone used the word "symbiosis" at some point.  But because we never see the phones acting or influencing people, it's hard to see this in the story at all.  Like, I'd think that people who once had phones and no longer do might have had some thought about how much easier it was to think, about the things they now realized and remembered which they never thought of before.  Maybe a description of what a phone looked like and a thought of, "My God!  I had THAT hanging off of me?  And I *liked* it?  I must have been mind-controlled!"  If you were intending to communicate this, well... I missed it until I'd sat and thought from first principles about how to make the phones "bad" in and of themselves. 
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« Reply #19 on: November 30, 2009, 05:00:56 PM »

actually i got the impression that those with phones were connected constantly, more like the borg, almost a hive mind kind of thing.  it wasn't just a phone in the sense you can call someone when you want to talk, but that everyone is aware of each other constantly.  Hence being aware if someone was approaching without a phone.
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