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Author Topic: EP249: Little M@tch Girl  (Read 19643 times)
Swamp
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« on: July 16, 2010, 02:10:54 PM »

EP249: Little M@tch Girl

By Heather Shaw

Read by Mur Lafferty

Originally published in: Tumbarumba

It wasn’t that Em disapproved of drug use, you just had to be savvy about which drugs you took. Back before she had to get a day job, she was a M@tch girl, much to the delight of the guys on the club scene. M@tch wasn’t a wimpy drug, but it didn’t turn you into a murderous street zombie either. It was also expensive — a designer “where it’s @!” drug — that the Tweakers couldn’t afford anyway.

Rated R.  for one sexual scene and drug use.


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eytanz
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« Reply #1 on: July 16, 2010, 05:02:09 PM »

At the end of the story, I mostly felt really bad for Em's dad (and mom). Em, though she made a pretty irresponsible decision in taking a drug she didn't understand and not listening to the dealer's warnings, had at least seemed to end up at a happier place in the end than she was in a long time. Her dad, though, lost everything he cared about, and was left with a zombified wife, no job or money, and a daughter who wandered the street in a perpetual bad trip.
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stePH
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« Reply #2 on: July 16, 2010, 06:19:29 PM »

I totally saw the ending coming once the dealer warned "I don't sell Flame to jackers."  I knew she'd end up just like the "tweekers".
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heyes
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« Reply #3 on: July 17, 2010, 08:54:12 AM »

I just finished this.  I'm going to say right off the bat I liked this story for all the wrong reasons, or at least none of the "I have a really cool comment" reasons.  I just got back from my vacation.  It's pretty cool that I get vacations, but this one was really bad.  I was grilled individually by my wife's aunt and uncle about my wife's job situation.  Then again by both at the same time.  I know they love us, and I love them very much.  But I went on vacation to get away from work, not to talk about it or get worried about money.

So, why all the personal info?  For me this story was a kind of wish fulfillment. Yeah, I had some sense that mixing "expanders" and "contractors" would have an effect on the character, and yeah there's probably some deep social commentary.  But for me, I reveled in her experience of the flame.  I let myself get a little lost in her wandering, because that's the kind of wish I need fulfilled right now.  I'm also the parent of a kid who, in ten years, will having me pulling out my hair with worry about drugs and boys.  That part of my mind was told to go to its room or half an hour or so.

So in short:

Thanks, I needed that.
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alllie
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« Reply #4 on: July 17, 2010, 09:32:34 AM »

Beautiful imagery. So pretty I felt like it was an ad for taking drugs. If there was M@tch and Flame I would have gone right out and bought some.

I did feel dissatisfied at the end, like there was no closure, no ending, just a beginning and a little middle. Maybe I just didn't make the logical leap that Em was permanently damaged now, that life was over for her, or that she walked into the water.

It was a beautiful story with no purpose. Were drugs being used to keep the working classes under control? Instead of only drugs why not show just one person, even a minor character, who was working for revolution, trying to change things, instead of just a bunch of tweakers or aging people who have been forced to give up and have nothing left of their lives, not even  hope.

Certainly Shaw seems talented enough to give us that, just a smidgen of hope. Is she saying being lost in drugs is the most we can hope for these days?
« Last Edit: July 17, 2010, 09:34:29 AM by alllie » Logged
eytanz
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« Reply #5 on: July 17, 2010, 09:49:39 AM »


It was a beautiful story with no purpose. Were drugs being used to keep the working classes under control?

I don't think the story is about a dystopian society - it's a story about a society much like our own, except that technology has advanced to the point where drugs can be engineered to make workforce more effective. As Mur said in the outro, think about people these days, whose work lives depend on caffine, or prozac, or ritalin. What if instead of just general benefits we had drugs that provided specific job-related benefits? Would employers not start handing them out? Couple that with rampant recreational drug use among young, affluent, teenagers and college-age kids, and you basically have this story. I don't think there is a deliberate plan to use drugs to oppress anyone, just our own current society taken one step further in a futuristic setting.
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KenK
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« Reply #6 on: July 17, 2010, 11:37:11 AM »

@allie
Quote
Were drugs being used to keep the working classes under control?
Yes. Just like neo-Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse predicted with his theory of repressive de-sublimation. The more people are alienated from their environment the worse their "escape attempts" will be.   
@eytanz
Quote
I don't think the story is about a dystopian society...
No, what then? Bad as things are now (and they are bad and getting worse all the time) modern society is not near as bad as the one portrayed in the story. But it's getting there. The degree of impoverishment, isolation and self-destruction described in the story looks to me like a technocratically administered social Darwinist form of political economy and to my thinking is the very definition of a dystopia. Not all dystopias have be the result of ecological disaster, nuclear war, space invaders or meteor strikes. We can (and have) done it to ourselves.

I liked this story a lot and see it as a form of parable or cautionary tale trying to serve as a metaphorical mine canary for the rest of society. It is a service that the art form known as sci-fi does especially well in my opinion.

The title was dead give-away in my view. Just like Hans-Christian Anderson's more famous Little Match Girl story, they are both hallucinations of a dying girl. One from outright physical privation another from
economic and psychological privation. And either way they're both dead.
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contra
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« Reply #7 on: July 17, 2010, 04:06:51 PM »

I liked this story.

I had one issue though with the ending.


This girl, no matter what her drugged state of mind is, has just had every hope, and every fear about her mother confirmed.
All her fears that her mother noticed things could now be true.  Her
All her hopes about her still being there, are true.

While this did impact her, I just feel it would have had a much greater impact on them no matter their mental state.
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blueeyeddevil
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« Reply #8 on: July 17, 2010, 08:05:25 PM »

I came out of this story somewhat nonplussed. There was a stylistic choice at the beginning that immediately took me out of the story flow, plus questions about how effectively the source material was used, and believability issues about this story's society.

First, the stylistic issue: I didn't much care for the temporal buttonhook the story took. I've seen this little device of 'present, brief delve into the past, back to present to tie everything together' used many times, and I've done it myself while writing, but I can't think of too many instances where it brought anything to the text. I think this construction comes out of coming up with a compelling opening scene, having a general sense of where you want the story to go, and then realizing, as the opening scene ends, that you don't have enough background to write the rest of the story. So you write a flashback that gives you what you need, then come back to the present. But this is something that can be fixed in editing; I think this story would have worked much more effectively if it had proceeded in normal chronology.

As for source material, which then ties in with the societal issues:
Spoiler (click to show/hide)
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KenK
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« Reply #9 on: July 18, 2010, 07:13:56 AM »

@blueeyeddevil
Quote
BTW, KenK, I don't think you need to go all the way up the hermeneutic chain to 'One Dimensional Nan' this really seems to be more of a 'Brave New World' sort of question. By choosing to mimic the Victorian fable in such close detail I think it takes some of the bite out of any discussion of this being a riff on modern society.

1. Aldous Huxley wrote BNW as a satire. If you wanna read what he really thought about the modern industrial society of the 1950's (i.e., it was well on the way to becoming a nightmare) read his novel Island.
2. I don't need to but that's the basis for my critique.
3. I disagree. The point IMO was that while our material circumstances and technology have changed over the years our political economy has remained largely unchanged since the begining of the industrial age. Shaw could have written this same story set in Europe, America or any other capitalist industrial society in any time frame from 1800 onward and the only changes she would need to make is the drug of choice then most widely used. Industrial civilization affects us that way. A fundamental paradox of civilization is that it is a tool we have created to protect ourselves from unhappiness, and yet it is our largest source of unhappiness. People become crazy because they cannot tolerate the frustrations which society imposes in the service of its cultural ideals.  (cf. Freud Civilization And It's Discontents).
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alllie
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« Reply #10 on: July 18, 2010, 01:35:06 PM »

Here is a link to Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Match Girl. http://www.online-literature.com/hans_christian_andersen/981/

I can see the similarity and both stories are basically about helplessness, poverty, dreaming and death. In Anderson's story the little girl goes to heaven but in M@tch Girl there isn't even that hope.

Anderson lived from 1805 to 1875. There were social movements during that time that held the hope of better lives for the poor. Many of them later fulfilled some of those promises. The Little Match Girl was written in 1848.

He had a very sad life, kinda like Van Gogh but he had more success during his life, though it didn't do him much good. He never found love and was generally disliked by most people who met him. Dickens' Uriah Heep may have been based on him. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Christian_Anderson
« Last Edit: July 18, 2010, 08:07:56 PM by alllie » Logged
Talia
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« Reply #11 on: July 18, 2010, 06:42:26 PM »

I read this and enjoyed it when it Tumbarumba come out.

In case anyone was not aware and has not checked it out, Tumbarumba is a unique anthology because its a, well, a Firefox plugin/Storyhunt. Smiley You set it up in your browser and it embeds links to each story in various websites you browse. You just have to find them!

Its super awesome (if you have the patience and/or enjoy such things).

Enjoyed hearing the story read aloud. A tragedy - and yeah, what happens to the Dad now? Does this universe just have a staggeringly huge homeless population or what, if no one employs anyone over 40 it seems like there would a lot of homeless people eventually, and not just the addicts.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #12 on: July 19, 2010, 08:38:28 AM »

I wish there would be a moratorium on stories with this title (there was a Pseudopod story with the title, for instance).  I'm not a fan of the original, it's a terribly depressing story, and every time I see another story with the title (minus the @ sign, of course), I groan and settle in for unrelenting depression.

This one I actually liked despite the title.  The M@tch drug in particular was a very interesting idea--I've never sampled drugs beyond the legal variety, but I would be sorely tempted by this one.  I've often wondered what the female side of sex would feel like, and I find the idea fascinating.  I didn't see the end coming, probably because I was into the story and trying to forget about the over-used title.  She made a bad decision at the end, and the problem with bad decisions about drugs is one stupid little decision can so easily cost you everything (Ah, A Scanner Darkly, I should re-read that some time).  I do feel the most badly for her father, as he is pretty much 100% screwed now.
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« Reply #13 on: July 19, 2010, 09:16:02 AM »

Oh, I forgot to mention that it bugs me when people say "my parents couldn't pay for me to go to college so I couldn't go to college."  Maybe it makes sense in this story, and student loans are simply a thing of the past, but in most cases it doesn't make much sense in our world.  My parents gave me nothing for college, despite making enough that I couldn't get many of the low-rate federal loans, but I went through college anyway.
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« Reply #14 on: July 19, 2010, 09:18:22 AM »

I would say its a necesity in this world, as it sounds like the only jobs available to those who havent gone through college were the "jacked" jobs, which they were trying to avoid because they sound pretty horrible.
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« Reply #15 on: July 19, 2010, 09:56:51 AM »

I would say its a necesity in this world, as it sounds like the only jobs available to those who havent gone through college were the "jacked" jobs, which they were trying to avoid because they sound pretty horrible.

What's a necessity?  (sorry, I'm just not sure what you meant)
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« Reply #16 on: July 19, 2010, 10:00:01 AM »

Oh, I forgot to mention that it bugs me when people say "my parents couldn't pay for me to go to college so I couldn't go to college."  Maybe it makes sense in this story, and student loans are simply a thing of the past, but in most cases it doesn't make much sense in our world.  My parents gave me nothing for college, despite making enough that I couldn't get many of the low-rate federal loans, but I went through college anyway.

I would say its a necesity in this world, as it sounds like the only jobs available to those who havent gone through college were the "jacked" jobs, which they were trying to avoid because they sound pretty horrible.

I would say... if companies like to hire Jackers at 15, and it doesn't look like your parents will be able to afford to send you to college, do you want to take a chance on missing out on a Jacker job (which apparently pays enough to support a family of three) by going for a scholarship you might not get?

Plus, at that point Em's family needed the money more than Em needed to go to college, and I guess she felt obligated to support them since they'd supported her.

As for the rest of the story, I too was dissatisfied with the ending. I liked the beginning, though, until we kept falling into the past with nothing really happening in the present. And the foreshadowing, as mentioned, was far too obvious... although I think something cool could've been done with a better ending, like Em becomes much better at her job and takes it over or something, or figures out WHY teenagers are the best jackers, or... well, ANYTHING.

The word "grok" threw me so far out of the story that I couldn't get back in no matter how hard I tried. SISL was published decades ago and "grok" isn't part of our language pantheon now; how did it get in there in the future? Makes no sense.

The voice for the reading was very good, although there were some narrative hiccups.
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Talia
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« Reply #17 on: July 19, 2010, 10:07:46 AM »

I would say its a necesity in this world, as it sounds like the only jobs available to those who havent gone through college were the "jacked" jobs, which they were trying to avoid because they sound pretty horrible.

What's a necessity?  (sorry, I'm just not sure what you meant)

Never mind. I'm not sure what I meant, either. I blame, um, that guy over there. *points and runs away*
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Talia
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« Reply #18 on: July 19, 2010, 10:09:29 AM »

The word "grok" threw me so far out of the story that I couldn't get back in no matter how hard I tried. SISL was published decades ago and "grok" isn't part of our language pantheon now; how did it get in there in the future? Makes no sense.

I hear people use "grok" all the time... maybe its not a dictionary word, but its becoming more commonly used, regardless.
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« Reply #19 on: July 19, 2010, 10:33:26 AM »

I've been trying to decide what I thought about Little M@tch Girl since I listened to it at the gym about an hour ago, and I think I've finally decided: I loved it. It wasn't my favorite Escape Pod story, and definitely not my favorite Escape Artists story, but it was very good and I enjoyed it a great deal. LMG was solid science fiction - a vision of a future gone awry, and depressing as hell. Some of the "plot holes" other posters are mentioning - the fact that the loss of the POV character's father's job was enough to scuttle her college hopes, the character's relatively blase reaction to the fact that her mother was still in there, somewhere, trapped forever - all make sense in the setting the story created and contribute to the bleak view of where we are headed.

To address those two points in particular:

Firstly, it's science fiction. In a world of rising college costs, it isn't hard to imagine a future where college is even more a luxury for the elite than it already is. If college costs more in the future and the character's interests aren't sufficiently "sexy" to attract the attention of a grant or a loan agency willing to take a risk on her, then she might find herself out of luck. The story did a good job of establishing that this is a future that's different from the now, and this is a difference consistent with the other differences the story established.

Secondly, I think the end of the story - the "Heaven" of Fl@me - was meant to have transformed the character's perspective to the point that her mother's plight wasn't as gut-wrenching as it would have been otherwise. It was sad, certainly, but not upsetting. Nothing's upsetting when you become aware of your part in the whole.

And that's the last point I want to make: I believe that the effects of Fl@me were meant to mirror the heaven of the original Little Match Girl. It's a pretty bleak trade - heaven for drugged out pseudo-bliss - but better than nothing, I suppose.
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