Author Topic: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses  (Read 10834 times)

Bdoomed

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Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« on: April 27, 2010, 03:36:29 AM »
Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses


By Simon Wood
Read by Ian Stuart, voice actor for hire.

The place was different but the story was the same. The Japs had won at the expense of the British. They’d been particularly ruthless on this occasion. Besides the bullet-riddled and grenade-ravaged corpses, he recognized the hallmarks of ritual decapitation and disembowelment. The battle over, they’d set about the wounded with their samurai swords.

Blood from hundreds saturated the beach. Clelland hadn’t realized until he became a Bucket Boy that blood had an odor. It wasn’t unpleasant, just overpowering, suffocating, like being trapped in a room filled with stale air.

The soldiers had been dead some time. Twelve to fourteen hours, by Clelland’s estimates. The blazing sun had had a chance to cook the flesh. What should have been pink had blanched and turned beige. Instead of just the usual stench of shit and rotting flesh, a human barbecue was in progress.




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kibitzer

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #1 on: April 27, 2010, 10:04:16 AM »
Ya know, somehow this one was ultimately unsatisfying. I think it's because: the premise that gave it birth -- shovelling body parts -- should be a horror story unto itself. The Oracle stuff felt bolted on to give it horror cred, whereas the basic premise doesn't need any more cred than it has. I'm reminded of several WWI poems with more horror than The Oracle.

Well read by Ian, as always.

Listener

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #2 on: April 27, 2010, 12:43:43 PM »
Eh. It started as one thing, and then became something else... as if the body parts weren't horrific enough, now they're being eaten by an omniscient telepathic being that is basically Ronald Reagan's definition of the government*. The story was told well, but I didn't really care for it. I got the same feeling I get when I read/hear Cthulhu-derivative stories.

I did like the Captain's sacrifice of himself at the end... though I'm sure Oracle could've found a way to get around that too. Maybe he did.

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tinroof

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #3 on: April 27, 2010, 12:50:21 PM »
Pretty unimpressed with this one - it dragged on way too long. Rather like Ankor Wat earlier, the ending "twist" was pretty obvious early on and all that time spent explaining it to us ruined the effect.

I did rather like the ending reveal that it wasn't just giving a false prediction one time in five, it was making him choose which one to tell wrong, but again it took way too long to get there, and I'm not even sure it was intended as a twist.

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #4 on: April 27, 2010, 01:38:57 PM »
I agree with kibitzer that the basic premise was much more horrific than the alien eating people.  I watched Shutter Island a few months back which included some really vivid images of the horrors of WWII--it gave me nightmares, putting this story against that backdrop makes the story pale in comparison.

Seekerpilgrim

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #5 on: April 28, 2010, 05:03:27 AM »
One of the best so far...

I like how it started out with no hint of the supernatural at all, reminding us that horror is all too real and all too common. The revelation of Oracle was smooth enough that it seemed to fit well into the story without being jarring; I find it COMPLETELY plausible that London (or Paris, or Washington) would get over the initial shock of such as "asset" and use it, especially during wartime. Others may have problems with the ending, but for me it made sense and was perfect.

Ian, as mentioned elsewhere, was essential is getting across the very British, boys-in-the-trench flavor of this tale. Excellent choice.
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Scattercat

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #6 on: April 28, 2010, 09:16:58 AM »
I loved this one.  I'm a sucker for quality symbolism and metaphor, and I love the way Oracle and the Captain's 'bargain' meshed so nicely with so many of the true horrors of war that were just tossed out there.  Civilian lives.  Military lives.  Acceptable, if you want to win. 

The horror here is not the bodies (horrific in itself), but neither is it the alien monster.  The horror is how far one is willing to go in the name of king, country, and victory.  I'm reminded of a lot of things; a lot of my favorite things, really.  Barbara Hambly's "Those Who Hunt the Night."  That chilling last scene in "Boondock Saints."  Richard Matheson's short stories before Hollywood got ahold of them.  I'm willing to forgive the excessive amount of telling because of how subtly the point ended up slipping by. 

The Yanks have the bomb.  They're willing to use it.

Acceptable losses.  How many more would die without it, after all?

(I am doubly amused by the use of obvious horror to cloak the nastier bite  "Oh, of course, it eats people, yadda yadda, heard it before," says the jaded horror aficionado.  Lovely.)

(Also, if I were not married and also capable of having babies, I would totally have Alasdair's babies.  Just saying.  Those outros are the highlight of the show, I swear to goodness.)
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tinroof

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #7 on: April 28, 2010, 04:05:16 PM »
I dunno, Scattercat. I'm not sure I would call that point "subtle", since for me, the how-far-do-you-go theme was intrinsically bound up in the whole eating people bit and they certainly belaboured that point for long enough.

Plus, if that really was the theme - I think it would have been so much more effective if it hadn't gone so far out of its way to illustrate the Captain's disgust. If it had never been spoken outright, if Oracle had mentioned the 80% success rate and the Captain had refused to acknowledge the implications, because it was for the good of the country... that would have been creepy. That would have been a great use of the theme. As it was, it had the seeds of an effective story and I think it missed, however you want to interpret the intent.

Scattercat

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #8 on: April 28, 2010, 04:54:35 PM »
I agree that it was more telly/talky than I prefer.  If I were writing this, I'd probably never have even explained what the comments and conversation meant.  (And then everyone would tell me about how I should explain what they were talking about.)

However, I think the overwhelming disgust was a purposeful cloak rather than a misstep.  The obvious grotesquerie of the Oracle isn't the main thrust, and so it's tarted up to exaggerated levels.
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FrankOreto

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #9 on: April 28, 2010, 07:36:03 PM »
First off, Damn Ian's good.   It's almost unfair to those of us who choose to write stoiries that aren't  set in England or full of British accents.   That's it.  I'm officially setting everything I write in Yorkshire instead of Pittsburgh in the hopes that someday, if I work really hard, Ian Stuart might read something I wrote.

As far as the story goes, I really enjoyed it.    I think the early portion of the story is extremely strong. I liked these characters.  I felt for them. I wanted to have a beer with them that night (though, I certainly didn't want to help out earlier).   The pay off, although chilling, and satisfyingly tragic, felt thin.  Neither was badly done. One just suffered in comparison to the other.  I wonder if it would seem more even on paper.

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #10 on: April 29, 2010, 01:24:43 PM »
I forgot to mention that Ian Stuart did his usual kickass job narrating this.  He's got a great voice!

kibitzer

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #11 on: April 30, 2010, 09:29:20 AM »
Just my thoughts on the "horror" of this story...

I still maintain that the horror is the shovelling of body parts. That was the most competent and compelling part of the story -- the human reaction to disposing of human remains. It's personal and in-your-face.

I don't agree the ultimate horror is what governments/institutions/members of said bodies will do to get a job done. In fact, I'd class that as a given in today's society. Witness the whole WMD thing in Iraq of recent history (and, indeed, cinema if you know of Green Zone).

It's the personal that affects, however subtle the point is about larger concerns.

Addendum: my wife reminds me that the "personal" is the worst for me because of my psychological type (see MBTI and Jung). I suspect that the "bigger picture" horror is far worse for those on the opposite of that MBTI characteristic. (Specifically: I am "S" or Sensing; others may be "N" or iNtuitive).
« Last Edit: April 30, 2010, 09:39:22 AM by kibitzer »

Scattercat

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #12 on: April 30, 2010, 03:51:52 PM »
That's just it, though; it IS personal.  Clelland made a personal decision, and it's his deal with the Oracle that kills the men.  He made the choice, not some nebulous government (however much he might prefer to blame them.)

That's why I like this one; it takes something that is usually very abstract and diffuse (responsibility for atrocities in war) and makes it very immediate and personal.
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deflective

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #13 on: May 01, 2010, 07:57:28 AM »
aye, that personal horror was enough to drive him to suicide at the end.  (tho, because i have to nit-pick when there's nits to be picked, why couldn't this thing eat japanese bodies?  i needed a some exposition there)

pseudopod has been doing an excellent job of choosing stories that work on two levels, both apparent visceral horror and an underlying theme.


trite as it sounds, my introduction to this story's theme came through computer strategy games.  my first tentative attempts to play an rts was all about protecting my troops and keeping every man alive.  carefully, i would move large squads around and expand only when it looked like i could finish before being attacked.  this lead to long games that inevitably ended in huge battles that meant large numbers of casualties.

gradually it became obvious that sending out a small squad of men to scout early in the game could drastically reduce the length of the game and result in far fewer casualties.  but you had to accept that the scouting party was going to die.  if you strategically killed your own troops it reduced the number of casualties you would take overall.

this bit of game theory and it's all too real application in life gave me a small glimpse into the horror of the situation, and this story captured it well.

kibitzer

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #14 on: May 02, 2010, 02:11:09 AM »
aye, that personal horror was enough to drive him to suicide at the end.  (tho, because i have to nit-pick when there's nits to be picked, why couldn't this thing eat japanese bodies?  i needed a some exposition there)

My guess (or my flimsy explanation): these lads were detailed to bring back British bodies after a slaughter. And who's to say there weren't some Japs amongst them?

I guess I didn't find Clelland's dilemma personal. Shovelling bodies I can imagine myself doing. Dealing with some perceptive non-human entity? Abstract. For me.

deflective

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #15 on: May 02, 2010, 05:57:42 AM »
i agree, there's probably a mix of ally & enemy on the battlefield but why does there need to be a british loss to create corpses instead of a decisive massacre of japanese soldiers?  the analogy required that the deaths be a sacrifice (the volcano symbol) but it was never justified in the story.

Clelland's horror wasn't just dealing with the entity, it was intentionally killing people so that others could live.  by killing hundreds of men he could save thousands but he had to decide who was sent to die.

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #16 on: May 02, 2010, 12:44:25 PM »
I curse the in-exactitude of text sometimes.

I understand that Clelland's horror was choosing to kill people -- who should live, the hundreds or the thousands? But I didn't feel it myself. That's what I mean by personal. Clelland's dilemma was, of course, personal to him. To me it was abstract.

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #17 on: May 03, 2010, 04:35:44 AM »
I liked it.  But I like everything Ian Stuart reads on PP so maybe I'm biased.
I like the story for what Scattercat has mentioned, the atrocities of war being personalized and immediate.  The volcano monster was a neat vehicle for that.  I do think the story felt segmented- Pt. 1 and Pt.2.  It felt intentional, but I'm not sure it helped.  Some creative foreshadowing might have made Pt. 2:  Enter Oracle, feel more natural.

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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #18 on: May 03, 2010, 08:22:52 PM »
I have to say there were some Great things about this story, but overall, I think it had too many problems to work.

Narration was excellent, as was the slow unfolding of the character's nature, his affection for his men, and the horrible situation he was in.  The writing was solid and kept me interested, and the concept of the oracle was horrific and well done. 

With all of this going for it, it's a pity that the story doesn't work for me, and I have to say that's because there really is no story there - there's just a concept.

What I mean by that, is the situation does not change from the start of the story to the end of the story.  Oracle is already on the ship, the devil's bargain has been made, the situation is already established. The audience doesn't know all the details of the situation yet, but once we do, it is clear that it is essentially unchanged from start to finish.  There is no story arc to speak of, no action, no plot really.  There is a really cool concept, but I personally can't abide stories that attempt to substitute revelation for narrative.  Told in this manner, all of the action (encountering the oracle, transferring it to the ship, feeding it human flesh the first time) already happened in an earlier encounter, which probably would have been the more interesting story!  I wish that the author had chosen to write that story, because I think it is really weak storytelling to try and substitute an "aha" moment of awful realization for a good narrative. I've been guilty of trying to do that myself, and I just don't think it works well when one sets out to do it - primarily because if the audience is clever and figures it out ahead of time, then they're not really left with anything to watch happen.

The second part of my criticism of the story is that the moral dilemma is rather bogus.  Why on earth would they have to lose 1 out of 5 engagements in order to feed bodies to the oracle?  Why wouldn't they just win ALL of the engagement and feed it the bodies of their enemies?  It appeared that they were using the subterfuge of collecting their own dead, but with so much at stake, I'm pretty sure they could find a crew and ship willing to collect enemy dead under some pretext. 

For all of this criticism, I should say that my praise for this piece outweighs it. (It's just not as fun to write nice stuff!)  I really enjoyed the characterizations, the details of the landing (from the way the landers moved when empty to the gory details), and the rather clever and awful concept of the oracle.  Again, the prose was solid and narration excellent, so even though I have problems with the structure of the story, I put this as one of my favorite Pod stories.


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Re: Pseudopod 191: Acceptable Losses
« Reply #19 on: May 03, 2010, 09:42:36 PM »
Is it just me, or is anyone else bothered by the fact that the British weren't really involved in any large or medium scale amphibious warfare in the Pacific?  I'm not a military historian, but I'm pretty sure that the major British thrust in the Far East was through Burma, and that most of the beach landing stuff and island warfare was done by the Americans and Australians . . . which leads one to question the whole logic of the story . . . typically you can't go back and collect the dead from battles you lost, especially when the fight is for control of an island.  You have that luxury when you win.  And why couldn't they just feed it Japanese bodies?

What's a shame, is that it's a nice premise for a horror story.  Had the author expended even a small amount of effort to tie it to some sort of actual place, with some local color and actual historicity, he would have been reward manyfold.