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Author Topic: EP248: Spar  (Read 76433 times)

Swamp

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on: July 08, 2010, 06:33:11 AM
EP248: Spar

By Kij Johnson

Read by Kate Baker of Clarkesworld Magazine

Originally published in: ClarkesworldDownload and read the text

The alien is not humanoid. It is not bipedal. It has cilia. It has no bones, or perhaps it does and she cannot feel them. Its muscles, or what might be muscles, are rings and not strands. Its skin is the color of dusk and covered with a clear thin slime that tastes of snot. It makes no sounds. She thinks it smells like wet leaves in winter, but after a time she cannot remember that smell, or leaves, or winter.

Its Ins and Outs change. There are dark slashes and permanent knobs that sometimes distend, but it is always growing new Outs, hollowing new Ins. It cleaves easily in both senses.

It penetrates her a thousand ways. She penetrates it, as well.


Rated X.  Graphic language and sexual situations. Not for kids. Seriously.


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Scattercat

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Reply #1 on: July 08, 2010, 01:39:22 PM
Man, this story even made it to Metafilter (where a lot of people didn't get it at all.)

I'm eager to hear the audio version.  The print version really stuck with me.

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Reply #2 on: July 08, 2010, 03:50:10 PM
Even creepier than Bridesicle was. If this one wins a Hugo it will both elevate and degrade the whole process at the same time. A win for Spar would be like a triple-X porn film winning an Oscar. Interesting times we live in.



Scattercat

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Reply #3 on: July 08, 2010, 04:08:56 PM
 :o

..."Spar" is not pornography. 

Pornography is intended to titillate.  One consumes pornography for a sexual thrill.  "Spar" is not about titillating or eroticizing much of anything.  The presence of the word "fuck" and the act of sex does not make something erotic or sexual.

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Reply #4 on: July 08, 2010, 05:04:46 PM
@ Scattercat
I never said it was porn. I said it was creepy, which IMHO it is.



Yargling

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Reply #5 on: July 08, 2010, 08:10:31 PM
No comment on the story this week as I decided to skip this one and just listen to the meta - Only comment to add about the meta is that I would not accept the word of Orson Scott Card without backing from somewhere else when it comes to matters of sex as the man is an extremely active homophobe.



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Reply #6 on: July 08, 2010, 09:45:36 PM
First, nice reading by Kate Baker.  I've only started listening to their 'cast recently, so I hadn't heard this before.
The story itself, while a nicley crafted piece of writing, just didn't have enough 'story' for my tastes.  To me, it seemed more of a thought experiment than an actual story.  I kept waiting or something to happen, and then the piece ended.  The premise is utterly horrifying, and I think it would have been right at home over at PP.
I understand that the MC had been more or less stripped of personality, and nearly her mind, by her ordeal, but what was left wasn't much of a character, awful as her situation was.  Gary was certainly the lucky one.  I might have been able to connect to the story better if it had started before the collision, but as it was, everything was pretty much done by the time we see the scenario.  So, a well written scene, but it just doesn't hit me as a story.
« Last Edit: July 08, 2010, 11:30:44 PM by gelee »



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Reply #7 on: July 08, 2010, 10:02:46 PM
If this one wins a Hugo it will both elevate and degrade the whole process at the same time. A win for Spar would be like a triple-X porn film winning an Oscar.
@ Scattercat
I never said it was porn. I said it was creepy, which IMHO it is.

Er, you didn't? Kinda reads like you did.

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #8 on: July 08, 2010, 10:55:59 PM
Wow, that was the least sexy story about sex that I have ever heard, and I've heard a lot of stories about sex, sexy and otherwise. Wow.

But, of course, it wasn't really about sex. It was about love and grief and communication and alienness. This is definitely a beautiful-ugly story, in the tradition of some of the best science fiction has offered, and I loved it. I think the only thing I didn't like - the only thing I would have done differently - is the end. I think the story would have been stronger if the character had gotten herself out of her mess rather than simply being rescued. I kept on waiting for her to find a way to turn the endless fucking into communication and win her own way free.

The ending the author chose was probably better for the kind of story it really was - a character study of a person in utmost extremity and an exploration of what sex really is, with everything else stripped away. For all that I loved the story for what it was, I think I would have liked it better if it had been something else.

Though to be fair, this might be THIS is a Hugo-award winning story and I'M still working on making that first sale...  :-[.

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alllie

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Reply #9 on: July 09, 2010, 12:39:47 AM
I really can't decide how I feel about this story. Would I like it if I was into porn? What was it really about? When an alien does a probe is it sex or research?



heyes

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Reply #10 on: July 09, 2010, 02:07:59 AM
First of all:
Mur, thank you so very much for putting a meaningful advisory at the head of this episode.  It was great to be a little prepared for what was to come (no pun intended).
This is a hugo nominee so what does my opinion bring to bear?  Not much I imagine.

That being said, the concept was interesting, deeply interesting. It skirted the edge of being needlessly graphic and crossed back and forth over that edge regularly.  After the concept was made clear, it became repetitive. For my taste would have made a much better flash.  This bizarre timeless moment of mutual (rape? fornication? combat? desperation? comfort?) is stretched too far, but would have been rendered too graphic if we knew more about either character.

That being said I very much enjoyed the exploration of what is suggested to be alien sexuality, and is certainly alien anatomy.  I dig non-bipedal aliens, what can I say.

For the record, from my reading (listening) this is a story that starts with rape and moves forward from there - regardless of the unreliable narrator's claim to be otherwise.

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Wilson Fowlie

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Reply #11 on: July 09, 2010, 02:10:56 AM
If this one wins a Hugo it will both elevate and degrade the whole process at the same time. A win for Spar would be like a triple-X porn film winning an Oscar.
@ Scattercat
I never said it was porn. I said it was creepy, which IMHO it is.

Er, you didn't? Kinda reads like you did.

Not to me.  To me it read like an analogy that used porn as a comparator.

I'm not sure that it was a good analogy, given what KenK said.  I can see how a triple-X porn film winning an Oscar would degrade the process, but not how it would elevate it.  An analogy should illustrate your point and this one doesn't, really.

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Talia

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Reply #12 on: July 09, 2010, 02:42:52 AM
Wow, that was something alright. A really rather startling, and beautiful in a way, juxtaposition of the crudeness of their act with the protagonist's grief and her sense of losing herself. I think Im gonna like this one the more I think about it. I see why it took home the Nebula. (though I'm still rooting for Bridecicle personally - that one had more of an emotional effect on me).

Oh and man - "When she does not have enough Ins for its Outs, it makes new ones. "

That line just made me go "............ACK! Holy crap."

The ending is a bit abrupt, but Ive decided I liked it. Its, I think, hopeful. She doesn't surrender and continue to fade to nothing. She has her chance to regain some measure of separate identity and seizes it.

Weird, awesome story.



kibitzer

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Reply #13 on: July 09, 2010, 04:12:30 AM
(where a lot of people didn't get it at all.)

...meaning? Not sure what you're saying here. That folks couldn't get past the sex? If so, in looking past that, what should they see? And I'm genuinely interested in what you mean -- a glance at what I've said here could be mistaken for belligerence. Its not.


Scattercat

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Reply #14 on: July 09, 2010, 05:16:28 AM
...meaning? Not sure what you're saying here. That folks couldn't get past the sex? If so, in looking past that, what should they see?

Well, mostly I meant that people literally didn't get it and posted, "I don't get it."  There were a couple of scoffs at genre fiction, and I remember one person saying that it was written at a tenth-grade level.  That sort of thing.

As for what I see in it, well... I think ElectricPaladin summed it up best as a "beautiful-ugly" story.  It's vicious and visceral, but also thought-provoking.  That is, it uses the shock to ask a question, several questions, and to address a difficult theme (sex and communication) in an interesting way.  It's not shocking just so it can say, "There! Ha! I made you flinch!"  I love stories that make me think, and I love stories that play with language.  (I've read enough of Kij Johnson's work to recognize much of this story as written in a certain manner and with a certain cadence in order to achieve a particular effect, and that sort of language game intrigues me immensely.)  This story does a lot on both counts.  I'm not much at all into shock for shock-value's sake or sex and sexuality as a theme, and while this story has shock in spades and is almost single-mindedly about sex, I like it for the intricate structure supporting it and the complex issues it addresses.  That's what's past the sex, to me.

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mikegoodstadt

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Reply #15 on: July 09, 2010, 06:12:35 AM
So this what really happened to Ripley on the way home? Always wondered what such a penetrating encounter would be like. Is her reaction Stockhold-syndrome or the listless boredom of an 'performer'?
Should the title be "Waiting for - god oh no!".
This progressive exploration feels drawn out if you fix on the acts. However if you fix on the feelings you may want to hug her, wipe her eyes (etc!) give her a glass of hot cocoa/hard liquor and say "Time to move on girl - there are plenty more slimey fishy things in the sea..."
All the best,
Mike



Listener

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Reply #16 on: July 09, 2010, 02:18:58 PM
I still don't know what to say about the story. It was more horror than anything else, to my mind -- being stuck in a tiny spaceship, sucking food from a tube, pooping into another tube, having sex with an alien via every opening on your body including some it makes itself, no stimuli whatsoever beyond that... which begs the question, did it somehow avoid her ears? Otherwise how would she have been able to hear?

A good story, but not the best of the bunch.

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Schreiber

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Reply #17 on: July 09, 2010, 07:11:23 PM
a well written scene, but it just doesn't hit me as a story.

I'm right there with you. Nothing is at stake here. If I had to guess, I'd say the author's personal kinks are at play. Not that that's a bad thing. It's a fantastic thing, when harnessed in an interesting and dynamic way. But this story is far too claustrophobic (and transparently self-gratifying) to be interesting or dynamic. It's the equivalent of a man seducing enthusiastic woman after enthusiastic woman with no complications, embarrassments, or consequences. Less vanilla, sure, but just as uncreative.

I'm afraid I have to file this Nebula Award in the same category as Charlton Heston's Honorary Doctorate and Henry Kissinger's Nobel Peace Prize.
« Last Edit: July 09, 2010, 09:14:34 PM by Schreiber »



Talia

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Reply #18 on: July 09, 2010, 07:17:49 PM
Nothing is at stake here. .

I disagree on that point. I think her individuality was at stake. The majority of the story was showing how it was being drained from her and she was losing herself, and at the end she made a concious decision to move towards reclaiming herself rather than continuing to be a victim.



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #19 on: July 09, 2010, 07:20:08 PM
Nothing is at stake here. .

I disagree on that point. I think her individuality was at stake. The majority of the story was showing how it was being drained from her and she was losing herself, and at the end she made a concious decision to move towards reclaiming herself rather than continuing to be a victim.

I'd like to second this. She survived her terrible experience with her individuality - her sanity - intact. That's a victory.

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Schreiber

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Reply #20 on: July 09, 2010, 07:49:18 PM

I'd like to second this. She survived her terrible experience with her individuality - her sanity - intact. That's a victory.

A victory for the character perhaps. Not for the story. "She survived" is setting the bar a little low, isn't it?

She is not a participant in her survival, merely its passive beneficiary. How this character would have coped with the experience after the fact had the potential to present a hornet's nest of choices, dilemmas, and challenges. But that isn't the story the author chose to write. The author chose to write a story in which the main character -really, the only character- has no control over anything, not even her own brain space. Under the terms of the story she is made to be utterly unaccountable. It may be titillating, but fantasizing about helplessness is kind of like fantasizing about superpowers. A good start, but without any force to problematize the conceit, it inevitably lacks emotional and intellectual depth.



Scattercat

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Reply #21 on: July 09, 2010, 11:47:01 PM
...within the course of the story, she maintains her mental barriers as best she can.  What else would you have her do in the situation?  The whole structure of the story is geared to remove every possible physical escape and explore what it means to be that helpless.

Not every story can have the hero pick up a raygun and take the fight to the enemy.  Sometimes all you can do is try to withstand the assault and hope it ends before you do.

(I'm still trying to understand the apparently consistent interpretation that the helplessness is somehow a good thing and meant to be enjoyed.  I can't see anything in the story that would lead me to the conclusion that we're supposed to get some sort of pleasure out of her rape.)

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #22 on: July 09, 2010, 11:59:15 PM
A victory for the character perhaps. Not for the story. "She survived" is setting the bar a little low, isn't it?

I'm not sure what you mean by a victory for the character but not for the story. The character's victory is the story. It is the story of her victory. They're one and the same.

And a lot of stories have "survival" as their main goal - the entire genre of wilderness survival fiction and autobiography, for example (my mother-in-law-to-be is a big fan of this genre). The aptly named "survival horror" is another. Sometimes a story is just about somebody wanting to get out with their mind and body intact, and that's not a bad thing.

That said, I do think the story has a flaw, and it occurs to me that we're looking at the same flaw but having a hard time communicating it to each other. I'd argue that Spar's biggest problem is that the character's victory is a bit content-free. We don't know why she has the strength to survive, what cunning tactic she employs or inner strength she finds. She survives by just surviving. While this might be the way it sometimes shakes out in the real world, I think the story would be stronger with more definite content.

That said, I still liked the story - I don't want anyone reading this to lose sight of that - but it wasn't perfect.

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heyes

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Reply #23 on: July 10, 2010, 01:11:28 AM
Quote
A victory for the character perhaps. Not for the story. "She survived" is setting the bar a little low, isn't it?

She is not a participant in her survival, merely its passive beneficiary. How this character would have coped with the experience after the fact had the potential to present a hornet's nest of choices, dilemmas, and challenges. But that isn't the story the author chose to write. The author chose to write a story in which the main character -really, the only character- has no control over anything, not even her own brain space. Under the terms of the story she is made to be utterly unaccountable. It may be titillating, but fantasizing about helplessness is kind of like fantasizing about superpowers. A good start, but without any force to problematize the conceit, it inevitably lacks emotional and intellectual depth.

I agree with this point, hits it right on the head.

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Schreiber

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Reply #24 on: July 10, 2010, 01:17:16 AM
it occurs to me that we're looking at the same flaw but having a hard time communicating it to each other. I'd argue that Spar's biggest problem is that the character's victory is a bit content-free. We don't know why she has the strength to survive, what cunning tactic she employs or inner strength she finds. She survives by just surviving. While this might be the way it sometimes shakes out in the real world, I think the story would be stronger with more definite content.

I can get on board with that. Thanks, Paladin.

(I'm still trying to understand the apparently consistent interpretation that the helplessness is somehow a good thing and meant to be enjoyed.  I can't see anything in the story that would lead me to the conclusion that we're supposed to get some sort of pleasure out of her rape.)

Scattercat, I'm going to go ahead and assume that you're well aware of the many people get off on bondage and domination fantasies and that what you're saying here is that the author did not portray the sex act that is central to this story (really, it is the story) in an erotic fashion. I disagree.

She is literally fucked senseless. Fucked out of any and all attachments to her life. Which is kind of the appeal of bondage. No choices mean no responsibilities, which is a very liberating feeling in the face of the omnipresent obligations life throws at us. A very liberating feeling for about an hour in the dungeon. Or the length of a short story. It's a nice place to visit and we don't have to live there. Bondage, in short, is healthy fun.

Which is why this piece basically is pornography. There's nothing else at play. Only the simulated gratification of a particular itch. Her boyfriend and the poems are meant to be forgotten, not only by the narrator but by the reader as well. Her rescue is little more than a punctuation mark.