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Author Topic: EP255: Variations on a Theme  (Read 5793 times)
Swamp
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« on: August 27, 2010, 12:26:41 AM »

EP255: Variations on a Theme

By William Meikle
Read by Zachary Ricks of Flagship Island Press

First appeared in Wrongworld

They took Johnny Green from class 3a at ten o’ clock on Tuesday morning. He was the last to go. They thought I didn’t notice, but I’ve been onto them for a while now.

It started nearly two weeks ago. Teaching biology is difficult when you’ve got a teenage audience. Almost every topic on the syllabus has something about reproduction in it, and that reduces your typical youngster to giggles, rude jokes or hysteria. I’ve got used to it over the last twenty years, and have come to expect the reactions. I’ve even come to know who to expect them from.

So when Jack Doyle was quiet during my “Asexual reproduction in amoeba” spiel, I knew immediately that something was wrong. And my sense of wrongness really went into overdrive when he stayed behind after class to ask questions.


Rated PG ffor asexual reproduction and giggling teens.

Show Notes:

Feedback for Episode 245, Bridecicle


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Void Munashii
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« Reply #1 on: August 27, 2010, 09:59:55 AM »

  A fun story. I liked how the author only used this one character, but managed to show how the infestation/invasion was growing rather than just tell us it was. I kind of knew how it was going to end (if it was to have a happy ending) pretty early on, but I was still interested to see which direction the author would take it in.

  The story felt kind of like it could be the basis of a good Doctor Who episode (one of the Doctor-light episodes, like "Blink"), or an episode from "The Twilight Zone" or "The Outer Limits".
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #2 on: August 27, 2010, 11:42:16 AM »

I had mixed feelings about this story.

First of all, as a teacher, I loved the teacheriness of it. I like stories that take what I do figuratively - fight every day to make the world a better place - and make it literal. I also get the warm fuzzies every time someone dedicates something to teachers... and after the day I had yesterday I really needed it. I also thought the story was extremely well-paced, and I enjoyed the main character's clever scheme for victory. Biology teachings ftw!

On the other hand, I actually didn't like the craft of the story. I felt that the author did a lot of "tell don't show" in the main character's descriptions of his reactions, which sucked a lot of the drama out of the story for me. I don't want to be told as often as I was that a character is scared. I want to see it in his actions and reactions. The end of the story, where the author started obscuring the narrator's reactions a little to make his victory into a bit of a twist, was a lot more elegant than the rest of the narrative. I could tell that something was changing and I didn't need extensive descriptions of the character's attitude to see it.

This is odd for me: usually when I comment negatively, it's to say that the craft was good, but the story nonetheless didn't appeal to me for X reason, while in this case I'm saying that the story was appealing, but I had issues with the craft. Fun stuff.

Anyway, it's back to work with me. The kids arrive on Monday, and I've got plenty to do.
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eytanz
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« Reply #3 on: August 27, 2010, 12:01:57 PM »

I really liked this story a lot, and personally I didn't have a problem with the fact that it was mostly a retelling rather than a direct account of the action. I do think that "show don't tell" has moved from good advice aimed at making authors think about what they're doing into an overused, trendy dogma.

That said, I found the passivity of the students (the human ones) in this story noteworthy. They appear to be aware something is wrong and concerned about it, but all they do is sit in class and wait to be taken over. I think this is very much in line with how students appear in class - I teach at a university level, not highschool, but I definitely know the feeling that I'm talking to a room full of blank faces. But of course, the students would probably have noticed something wrong with their friends a lot sooner, and I'm pretty sure a lot of them would have reacted in one way or another. Not necessarily productively, but they wouldn't have waited for the teacher to just let them all be captured so that he can kill them later. Of course, realism wasn't really an aim here - the spores that instantly take over the human body and transform it into a plant with a cloaking device are sort of a giveaway that this isn't really going for verisimilitude. And taken as a thematic commentary on teacher-student relationships, this was just one more level of an interesting and fun story.

(Of course, if Hollywood taught us anything, is that any sort of alien - or genetically modified superplant - invading a school will be taken down by a group of students made up from nerds, misfits, and the most beautiful girl in school that events somehow contrived to draw into the action).
« Last Edit: August 27, 2010, 01:06:11 PM by eytanz » Logged
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« Reply #4 on: August 27, 2010, 03:31:23 PM »

this story had me completely until the very end. it shocked me that the teacher could so easily destroy an entire species. that and it terrified me that the teacher did nothing to protect the children in his class.  I understood the need to protect humanity from crazy genetically modified plant things, but they didn't seem that bad to me. all they wanted to do was find a way to be different from one another, how is that any different from humanity? it really startled me to hear the teacher explain that he taught them how to kill themselves, to the point where i almost fell out of my chair. this story left a bad taste in my mouth.
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« Reply #5 on: August 27, 2010, 05:01:53 PM »

it really startled me to hear the teacher explain that he taught them how to kill themselves, to the point where i almost fell out of my chair. this story left a bad taste in my mouth.

Maybe only the alien plant part of them died.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #6 on: August 27, 2010, 05:28:20 PM »

it really startled me to hear the teacher explain that he taught them how to kill themselves, to the point where i almost fell out of my chair. this story left a bad taste in my mouth.

What bugged me, on the other hand, was the teacher's poor attitude towards the first plant convertee. Wow. If I were that kid's parents, I'd go after that teacher's job. If I were that teacher's colleague, I'd probably stop talking to him. You never talk to a kid like that. If a kid looks like he's trying a new attitude, you give him all the space in the world.
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Talia
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« Reply #7 on: August 27, 2010, 09:24:27 PM »

I liked it though the ending seemed obvious to me. Smiley

this story had me completely until the very end. it shocked me that the teacher could so easily destroy an entire species. that and it terrified me that the teacher did nothing to protect the children in his class.  I understood the need to protect humanity from crazy genetically modified plant things, but they didn't seem that bad to me. all they wanted to do was find a way to be different from one another, how is that any different from humanity? it really startled me to hear the teacher explain that he taught them how to kill themselves, to the point where i almost fell out of my chair. this story left a bad taste in my mouth.

From his perspective, the species was destroying HIS species. I for sure would take countermeasures. Secondly who the hell would believe him when he tried to explain his crazy theories? for most of it he almost didn't believe himself.
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Loz
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« Reply #8 on: August 28, 2010, 01:00:31 PM »

Well, it was short, it had that going for it. I had a hard time accepting everyone's passivity, both the kids and the teacher, but then I suppose one of the things about becoming an adult is that you realise that teachers aren't these strange creatures themselves, they're just folks who may pass on their bad days to you and who sometimes just want to be done and go home and not have to worry about bloody children for a few hours. So yeah, now all he's got to worry about is hope there aren't any GM aliens out there that are resistant to his cocktail.
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heyes
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« Reply #9 on: August 28, 2010, 10:58:08 PM »

This is the kind of awesome I would normally expect to hear on the drabblecast. In fact to tell you the truth I pretty much thought it was the drabblecast once it started.  Then I heard the dulcet tones of Daikaijuu.  Anyway, this was great fun.  I really believed the teacher, especially when he ripped into the first convert.  Just the kind of thing I remember at school. The reading was also pretty damned good.

This is one I'll be passing on to a few friends, especially the teachers!


« Last Edit: August 29, 2010, 06:02:33 PM by heyes » Logged

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Ocicat
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« Reply #10 on: August 30, 2010, 02:17:11 AM »

Okay, this is driving me a little bit crazy.  Where have I heard this story before?  Pretty sure it was run on one of the spec-fic podcasts - maybe Starship Sofa?  But it's not listed among the free audio fiction on the author's website.

I know I've heard it before though!
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caid
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« Reply #11 on: August 30, 2010, 02:36:01 AM »

I thought it was a ok, but it felt a bit generic. Perhaps too little a variation on the theme.
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maxiewawa
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« Reply #12 on: August 30, 2010, 05:16:29 AM »

Great story! I don't get the title though ("Variations on a Theme").
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« Reply #13 on: August 30, 2010, 09:16:15 AM »

I found this story fairly blah. I agree the teacher was overly harsh with that one student. But I'm not much a fan of bodysnatcher stories.
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williemeikle
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« Reply #14 on: August 30, 2010, 09:26:56 AM »

Okay, this is driving me a little bit crazy.  Where have I heard this story before?  Pretty sure it was run on one of the spec-fic podcasts - maybe Starship Sofa?  But it's not listed among the free audio fiction on the author's website.

I know I've heard it before though!

As far as I know this is its first audio appearance. If it was done elsewhere, it was without my permission so if you do remember, I'd love to know.

The only place the story has appeared was in Wrongworld, which went dark last year.
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Lionman
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« Reply #15 on: September 01, 2010, 04:41:32 PM »

I come from a family of educators.

My two younger siblings...they teach science.

As this story started rolling, picking up speed, I kept thinking to myself, "I've got to share this with my siblings...they'll get a kick out of it."  While they typically don't teach biology-based science, and are focused on earth-science, I know they'll enjoy this one.

Then again, my brother may shrug at me and say, "Yeah, this happened to me a couple of years ago...I should check and see whose tellin' the stories I'm sharing in the teachers lounge." ;-)
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Dave
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« Reply #16 on: September 01, 2010, 06:31:51 PM »

A cute story of the sort I once enjoyed on TNT's Late Night Monstervision back in the day.
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-Dave (aka Nev the Deranged)
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« Reply #17 on: September 01, 2010, 08:39:58 PM »

Maybe "Variations on a Theme" did indulge the secret fantasy many teachers harbor about poisoning their students. I think that if it had been a Drabblecast story we wouldn't think twice about it, but Escape Pod does tend to be a little more life-affirming, for lack of a better term.

What does interest me is the fact that the kids who have been taken over by aliens become model students. I suppose that aspect could have been played up, that the teacher could have been a little conflicted -not about the ethical dilemma of wiping out a species, mind you, but about returning to business as usual.
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Anyanwu
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« Reply #18 on: September 03, 2010, 03:02:21 PM »

My parents are retired biology teachers.  My mom would definitely get a kick out of this story.  I loved it. It reminded me of my high school biology teacher. Soaking up every word of his lectures, as a student, I would have been appalled to think that my teacher might not tell the truth.  Great teacher hero!
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Dave
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« Reply #19 on: September 03, 2010, 07:52:47 PM »

Maybe "Variations on a Theme" did indulge the secret fantasy many teachers harbor about poisoning their students. I think that if it had been a Drabblecast story we wouldn't think twice about it, but Escape Pod does tend to be a little more life-affirming, for lack of a better term.

What does interest me is the fact that the kids who have been taken over by aliens become model students. I suppose that aspect could have been played up, that the teacher could have been a little conflicted -not about the ethical dilemma of wiping out a species, mind you, but about returning to business as usual.

I think the "alien replacement is better than original" theme is a pretty long running and well explored theme in SF. Hm. I wonder if its on TVTropes... nope. Doesn't look like it. Someone less lazy more motivated than me should fix that.
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