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Author Topic: EP2**8: The Mermaids Singing Each to Each  (Read 12394 times)
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« on: September 02, 2010, 06:18:48 PM »

EP2**8: The Mermaids Singing Each to Each

By Cat Rambo
Read by Christiana Ellis of Nina Kimberly the Merciless and Space Casey

First appeared in Clarkesworld

“Laura,” a speaker said, as though I hadn’t been gone for six years, as though she’d seen me every day in between. “Laura, where is your uncle?”

I used to imagine her disintegrated, torn apart into silent atoms.

“It’s not Laura anymore,” I said. “It’s Lolo. I’m gender neutral.”

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“You’ve got a Net connection,” I said. “Search around on “gender neutral” and “biomod operation.”

I wasn’t sure if the pause that came after that was for dramatic effect or whether she really was having trouble understanding the search parameters. Then she said, “Ah, I see. When did you do that?”

“Six years ago.”

“Where is your uncle?”

“Dead,” I said flatly. I hoped that machine intelligences could hurt and so I twisted the knife as far as I could. “Stabbed in a bar fight.”


Rated R for violence, language, and memory of sexual violence.


Show Notes:

Feedback for Episode 246, Spar


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!


(Heradel: minor fix enacted)
« Last Edit: September 02, 2010, 06:39:42 PM by Heradel » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2010, 08:35:53 PM »

This story went straight to the top of my listening queue because of the reader--Christiana is one of my favorite voice talents ever, and she doesn't fail to come through on this one.  Kudos, lady.

I'm going to say it now: "The Old Man and the Sea."  There.  I handled that part for you, now we can move on.

It's gratifying to hear a story on Escape Pod where things actually happen, for a change, where there is beginning/middle/end and character growth and all the things a story should have. It's not celebrating a clever setting or portending a technology or engaging in viscerality for its own sake.  It's a story.  You've heard me bend that saw more than once so I won't go any further with that, either.

The boat is a character, a person, not so much because it is one but because the protagonist makes it one by the way she treats it.  She hates it, it loves her, she abuses it and it loves her, it saves her life and she forgives it.  The story isn't neat and clean, it has ragged edges, but those edges make it real because life has ragged edges when you rip it open like that.

One of the best stories this year.
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« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2010, 09:40:30 AM »

I haven't listened to this yet, but is this supposed to be Episode 256, instead of "EP2**8"?  Is that a variable overflow or something, since we've now run to the limit of what 8 bits of unsigned storage can handle?  Smiley
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« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2010, 10:15:42 AM »

Bitchy fishes again?  Grin
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« Reply #4 on: September 03, 2010, 11:30:29 AM »

Bitchy fishes again?  Grin

I believe it's pronounced "Fishy Bitches."  Grin
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« Reply #5 on: September 03, 2010, 11:40:54 AM »

Bitchy fishes again?  Grin

I believe it's pronounced "Fishy Bitches."  Grin

Them too. All of them. Bitchy and fishy. Anyway, haven't listened to story yet.
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« Reply #6 on: September 03, 2010, 11:41:22 AM »

I haven't listened to this yet, but is this supposed to be Episode 256, instead of "EP2**8"?  Is that a variable overflow or something, since we've now run to the limit of what 8 bits of unsigned storage can handle?  Smiley

It's Python notation.  I like it for that reason.  (I imagine there are other languages that use the same notation for 'to the power of', but I'm not familiar with them.)

Bitchy fishes again?  Grin

I believe it's pronounced "Fishy Bitches."  Grin

I thought it was 'Busy Fitches'...
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« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2010, 01:01:35 PM »

Thanks again Mur for the advisory warning.

I imagine that there are plenty of women out there that grow weary of stories where the only role for a woman is that of a vacuous trophy to be won, and men vie for her limited attention span by waving around potencies of one sort or another.  In the same way I have grown weary of stories where the only role for a man is that of a conniving sexual predator of limited intellect and women transcend these vile creatures and the victimhood that is the only meeting point between the two by removing themselves from the sexual equations.  So that's my big complaint with this story.

What I really liked was the whole development of the mermaids.  This is of course because I love the justice implied in wealthy folks becoming mermaids to live out an infantile fantasy, only to seethe in the corrupted environment they (and their ancestors) helped to create.  Even running away from this sickening environment, they spawned and their legacy continued in an equally faerie-tale fashion as boogie-people.  The hints of a post-something-or-other world didn't need too much development as, more and more, we real live people are having to face our own complicity in crapping where we eat and sleep, but I would have enjoyed learning more about that particular "something or other."

I think the pace of the story was excellent, and I definitely agree with previous comment about how this story had a real beginning, middle and an end, character development, and having that sort of epic "whale of a tale" feel.
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« Reply #8 on: September 04, 2010, 12:46:01 AM »

I was a disappointed with the summary of the Spar discussion.  I feel a major aspect of the forum was overlooked: the criticism of the repeated implication that this was 'porn' or that the author was indulging in a 'kink'.  There was a lot of airtime for those viewpoints and nothing about the almost universal condemnation of those few posts.  If anything, it seemed like the assertions that this was prurient got exclusive airtime.
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« Reply #9 on: September 04, 2010, 01:04:56 AM »

I enjoyed the story quite a lot, but I was left befuddled about the main character's reaction to the boat's use of their would-be love interest as a weapon of opportunity.  It strikes me that while one can eventually come to accept that Jorge Felipe would have killed them both if Mary Magdalena hadn't used Niko to take him out, that's not something that has an easy emotional reaction.  It's a logical action, but not one that makes sense on a gut level.  I was quite confused about Lolo's lack of response of any kind to this revelation, especially given that they'd outright said that Niko was the person for whom they'd choose their gender, eventually.  Unless Lolo's emotional landscape were a LOT more damaged than their monologues seemed to indicate, no reaction at all felt highly anomalous.  (Rather, even more than no reaction, it somehow is the first step toward healing Lolo's rift with their estranged boat.  I'm just all kinds of confused about this.)
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« Reply #10 on: September 04, 2010, 08:13:43 AM »

Excuse my anatomical explicitness, but if you want to make yourself impossible to rape, you can't just get rid of your genitals. You basically have to become spheroid in shape with no points of ingress.
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« Reply #11 on: September 04, 2010, 09:39:53 AM »

Excuse my anatomical explicitness, but if you want to make yourself impossible to rape, you can't just get rid of your genitals. You basically have to become spheroid in shape with no points of ingress.

My uncritical mind liked the story but can't figure out why.  The statement above is one of the problems my critical mind has.  While I like ambiguity in the story and appreciate having some things left to my imagination, this story was excessively vague.  How do you make someone gender neutral in a gendered society?  It seems, and is implied, that even a gender neutral person could be sexually assaulted.  There would still need to be a mouth and openings for elimination of waste.  The idea of becoming gender neutral as a way to recover from sexual assault doesn't even make sense.

The mermaids were too vague for me too.  Did they still look half human/half fish?  If so, why didn't they retain any small bit of humanity?  And, what was the mass they were pulling salvage from?  Was it a fallen city? A trash dump? A spaceship that crashed?  Where did the ducks come from?  Were they really ducks?

This may have worked better as a novel where things could be better developed.  It just seemed too big for such a short story.

I still enjoyed listening to it.  I thought the world and the characters were interesting, if not developed enough.
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« Reply #12 on: September 04, 2010, 06:48:39 PM »

I think becoming genderless is more for the psychological aspect than the physical; it's not meant to be a complete anti-rape preventative, but rather a way for someone who has had their sexual identity badly battered to be able to retreat into a safe place.  A lot of people who experience sexual trauma end up with a lot of psychological trouble related to sex and sexuality.  It made sense to me that someone who had been raped might want to just not have any gender for a while, possibly forever.  Not sure it's all that healthy, psychologically speaking, but I can understand the desire.
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« Reply #13 on: September 04, 2010, 10:21:03 PM »

First, I thought the narration was well done.

Second, ...is this a world without the Three Laws of Robotics?  What's up with that? We can recombine genes, manipulate DNA, but we can't build AI's that obey the Three Laws of Robotics?  How much suspention of disbelief do we have to exibit?  Oh, wait..nevermind, that's why we're here, isn't it? Y'know...Escape Pod. :-)

Actually, it took me a while to put my finger on what it was about the story that seemed odd, or off..and it was the Three Laws bit.  An AI boat that can, by action or in-action, allow someone to come to harm...  I mean, come on...it was trying to seek forgiveness.

That put aside, what a crappy situation to be in.  You have a boat you can't really trust.  The guy you liked takes his own life at the urging of the boat you can't trust, and now you're stuck pretty much back where you started, but down the person you wanted to go from neuter to a gender for, and you're out fuel and supplies.  It makes me wonder if the boat won't plot to keep you from being able to free yourself from this sort of life, just so it has someone to be with!
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« Reply #14 on: September 05, 2010, 08:20:51 AM »

Haven't I heard this before? Was it on Clarke's World? Yep, that was it.

And the quote is from the end of T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

I grow old … I grow old …          
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.   
 
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?   
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.   
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.   
 
I do not think that they will sing to me.          
 
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves   
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back   
When the wind blows the water white and black.   
 
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea   
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown          
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
« Last Edit: September 05, 2010, 11:54:17 AM by alllie » Logged
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« Reply #15 on: September 05, 2010, 08:09:54 PM »

I rather liked this one, all three of the main characters were reasonably interesting, the story moved along at a fair clip, fairly exciting at some points, an emotional side I was genuinely interested in, and some neat sci-fi ideas. All in all it's not one of my favorite stories, but it made scanning papers a bit more exciting.
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« Reply #16 on: September 05, 2010, 10:19:58 PM »

I really liked this one. I thought the story did a great job of depicting Lolo's emotional trauma - that came across very clearly without getting maudlin or terribly "oh woe is me." That felt honest to me - the anger s/he had for the boat, the violent fantasies - that felt very real and true.

I was also intrigued by a world where the AI's aren't depicted on shapeships, but on regular old boats. The story offered an intriguing mix of future and present technology.

Also I should that today, the same day I listened to this, was also the same day I went on any kind of ocean cruise. (Whale watching. Saw no whales, saw no killer mermaids, did see porpoises & seals!). So that parallel was neat for me. Smiley
« Last Edit: September 06, 2010, 01:00:26 AM by Talia » Logged
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« Reply #17 on: September 06, 2010, 05:26:57 AM »

I have a little problem with the narration, but it's a personal problem. I loved Nina Kimberly the Merciless and Space Casey and thought they were very funny. I've loved Christiana Ellis and her narrations since then. But since Nina Kimberly I think of Christiana as someone who brings the funny, like in her narration of podcastle's The Hag Queen’s Curse. And this wasn't a funny story but I kept on kinda expecting it to be. I couldn't internalize the pain and tragedy because, hey, IT'S CHRISTIANA!

Just a personal problem.

« Last Edit: September 06, 2010, 03:45:38 PM by alllie » Logged
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« Reply #18 on: September 06, 2010, 02:37:29 PM »

I think I didn't like this piece for similar reasons to Scattercat. I found myself kind of liking Nico and being engaged in Nico and Lolo's potential future. When Nico was snuffed out - just like that - I was, well... bummed. And then when Lolo's own reaction was flat, vague depression, I got a little annoyed. There was too much potential for cool in Nico and Nico and Lolo's relationship to just redshirt him so casually.

Christiana Ellis's reading was brilliant, though. I thought she brought a lot of passion and humanity to a story that was kind of cold. I couldn't buy the story, but thanks to the reader, I could buy Lolo.
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« Reply #19 on: September 06, 2010, 06:09:02 PM »

I was a disappointed with the summary of the Spar discussion.  I feel a major aspect of the forum was overlooked: the criticism of the repeated implication that this was 'porn' or that the author was indulging in a 'kink'.  There was a lot of airtime for those viewpoints and nothing about the almost universal condemnation of those few posts.  If anything, it seemed like the assertions that this was prurient got exclusive airtime.

Yeah, it's a fair complaint. I'm not sure I'd go in for saying it was universal condemnation, but I certainly said in the feedback segment that I thought it wasn't, and then quoted Electric Paladin's fairly pithy repartee as to if it was. I may have let the Schreiber quote go on a bit long, but since I was saying I disagreed with him I felt that I should give as much of his view as I could out of fairness. And I did certainly quote Scattercat's view of the story, which isn't a prurient one.
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