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Author Topic: EP269: Élan Vital  (Read 7369 times)
eytanz
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« on: December 02, 2010, 07:05:23 PM »

EP269: Élan Vital

By K. Tempest Bradford
Read by Mur Lafferty

First appeared in Sybil’s Garage no. 6
---

The few minutes I had to spend in the Institute’s waiting room were my least favorite part of coming up to visit my mother. It felt more like a dialysis room, the visitors sunk into the overly-soft couches and not speaking, just drinking orange juice and recovering. There were no magazines and no television, just cold air blowing from the vents and generic music flowing with it. I’d finished my juice and was beginning to brood on my dislike for overly air-conditioned buildings when my mother arrived attended by a nurse.

I kissed and hugged her, automatically asking how she was, mouthing the answer she always gave as she gave it again.

“I’m fine, same as always.”

It wasn’t strictly true, but true enough.


Rated PG For adult topics of parental death.

Show Notes:

  • Feedback for Episode 261: Only Springtime When She’s Gone
  • Next week… The future of corporate America



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: December 24, 2010, 01:39:36 AM by eytanz » Logged
Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2010, 12:34:44 PM »

I wanted to like this story more than I did.   Most interesting, I think, was the (inevitable?) comparison to Bridesicle as a cryogenics story.

The thing that made me dislike this story was the element in the title.  The idea of 'removing life force' from a body and putting it into someone else isn't science fiction, it's fantasy.  There's no evidence that there's anything like 'life force' animating us (and "Why us but not animals?" is at least one question raised by the 'tech' in this story) and plenty of evidence against it.  They may as well have referred to humours or alchemy.  I don't know why this should bother me more than something equally impossible like, say, time travel, but somehow, it does.

I think that the author could have used some other, less, well, fanciful method of shortening the daughter's life in order to prolong her mother's and which would not have made the story less effective.  For me, at least, it would have been more effective, as I wouldn't have been as distracted by it.

Maybe if the impact of the story itself had been greater on me, I may have been able to suspend my disbelief in this idea.  Or maybe my annoyance at the poor understanding of biology made me immune to any emotional punch the story had.
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Talia
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« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2010, 01:09:41 PM »

I tend to be more interested in the relationships between characters in any given story than the technical details, so this story worked for me. I thought it was beautiful, very sweet and sad. I too made the comparison to 'Bridecicles,' though I'd say the setup is different enough that I could set those comparisons aside and just enjoy it on its own merits.
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Ocicat
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« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2010, 02:05:42 PM »

The thing that made me dislike this story was the element in the title.  The idea of 'removing life force' from a body and putting it into someone else isn't science fiction, it's fantasy.  There's no evidence that there's anything like 'life force' animating us (and "Why us but not animals?" is at least one question raised by the 'tech' in this story) and plenty of evidence against it.  They may as well have referred to humours or alchemy.

Ya, I hit that too, and my mind yells out "BAD SCIENCE!" - then I calm down, and remember that the story is doing an interesting "what if" even if how it gets there is nonsense.  In the end, it's setting up an interesting and relatable question: how much would you trade to be able to bring back your lost loved ones, even for a little while? 

That's a great question to ask, and gets people thinking about a lot of great life issues.  It's not really meant to be the type of SF that predicts the future, just one that gets you thinking about your life by creating a different context.  Could have been done in a fantasy story too, but near future SF is more relatable.

So for me the "Élan Vital" was just a minor speedbump in an enjoyable story.
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« Reply #4 on: December 03, 2010, 10:21:18 PM »

It's interesting.  Now that you mention it, the connection between this and "Bridecicle" seems pretty obvious.  However, as I listened, I kept comparing it with "Raising Jenny" which is also about a mother/daughter relationship where the mother has died.  Though, I do admit I like this mother better.

I enjoyed this story because it is one of those that I can place myself in and wonder what I would do, or how I would react.  If it were me, I would not have had my mother go through the ressurection procedure firstly because she would not want it, but also becuase I have a firm belief that death is a part of life and when the time comes, it comes.  Of course I have not lost my mother and will be exetremely sad when I do, but I will go on.  But what if my wife wanted to do this with her parents or maybe a friends.  How would I support them?
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« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2010, 11:17:28 PM »

I agree about the squash soft memory fain science,  but to be fair, life force is only mantioned by the narrator...  she says it in either dialogue or directly to the audience.  You could make an argument that "life force" could be slang or something else more mundane, after all the "god particle" isn't actually a particle of god. 

In the end this should have been a tear jerker, but it wasn't for me.  Who doesn't get a little emotional at the thought of losing a parent or the memory of an actual loss?  Something about this one just didn't work for me I guess.
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Talia
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« Reply #6 on: December 04, 2010, 12:10:48 AM »

 Though, I do admit I like this mother better.

Yeah, this one's acting like a mom should act, not like a controlling psycho. Heh.
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« Reply #7 on: December 04, 2010, 03:11:53 AM »

I agree about the squash soft memory fain science,  but to be fair, life force is only mantioned by the narrator...  she says it in either dialogue or directly to the audience.  You could make an argument that "life force" could be slang or something else more mundane, after all the "god particle" isn't actually a particle of god. 

I agree.  Much like the whole subject of "clones" in "We Are Ted Tuscadero", I think we can assume that the least technically-minded 98% of the population has gotten used to tossing around non-technical descriptive terms for advanced technology.

I have to hand it to K. Tempest Bradford -- she has a knack for writing stories that I don't think will be my cup of tea based on the blurb, but then just wowing me with the execution.  I was a bit wary of listening to this at first.  Just yesterday we found out a close relative's cancer is more serious than we thought, and even if the rosiest best-case scenario comes true, she'll still need chemo and major surgery.  I was worried this story would leave me emotionally drained, but that didn't happen.  Instead, when the story was over I felt at peace.
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« Reply #8 on: December 04, 2010, 07:38:38 PM »

Here is a prediction for the future I have absolute confidence in: If there is any way that corporations can get people to pay subscription fees, they'll do it. It doesn't matter what the good or "service" being offered is. They'll do it. It's just the nature of capitalism.  Undecided
The "bad science" alluded to by some is a meaningless objection. The only "science" involved will be marketing and psy-ops techniques. Corporate pitch: We've loaded your Mom's consciousness into an algorithm (which to some would seem alive) and you have to pay us a monthly fee to access and interact with her. And if you don't we'll erase her. Kind of like what some interactive child oriented websites did with their cyber pets. Visit our site and feed 'em every day or they'll suffer, get sick and die. Bottom line: Human beings are social creatures who are easily able to be manipulated for profit and there are a huge amount of people willing to do so.  Wink
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« Reply #9 on: December 05, 2010, 03:26:33 AM »

Really, well enjoyed isn't the right word as it pushed some buttons, but felt this story. It reminded me a little of the half-alive or whatever they were in Philip K. Dick's 'Ubik'. The issue of how much children should or shouldn't give for their parents is always going to be with us, though as I was getting to the end of this I was imagining it being rewritten as farce by someone like Mel Brooks with some ghastly terrible matriarch of a family who sustains herself on the elan vital of her children and grandchildren because she brought them in to this world and how could they be so unfaithful and uncaring as to refuse to give her back a little life considering what she gave them...

This was a lovely story and movingly read by Mur. Bravo!
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kibitzer
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« Reply #10 on: December 05, 2010, 09:19:04 PM »

Good story. And Loz, agree with the 'Ubik' comparison, it did feel like that. Comes up in a few of his other stories too.

I think I might like this one better than 'Bridesicle'. Yes they cover similar ground in sustaining the 'dead'. But Bridesicle approaches the topic from an almost purely character reaction point of view, whereas this one has more to say about the social implications without compromising on the relationships aspect. More simply: 'Bridesicle' is a love story with a happy ending; 'Élan Vital' presents characters I really cared about, and it made me think as well.
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« Reply #11 on: December 06, 2010, 09:44:04 AM »

I wanted to like this story more than I did.   Most interesting, I think, was the (inevitable?) comparison to Bridesicle as a cryogenics story.

The thing that made me dislike this story was the element in the title.  The idea of 'removing life force' from a body and putting it into someone else isn't science fiction, it's fantasy.  There's no evidence that there's anything like 'life force' animating us (and "Why us but not animals?" is at least one question raised by the 'tech' in this story) and plenty of evidence against it.  They may as well have referred to humours or alchemy.  I don't know why this should bother me more than something equally impossible like, say, time travel, but somehow, it does.

I think that the author could have used some other, less, well, fanciful method of shortening the daughter's life in order to prolong her mother's and which would not have made the story less effective.  For me, at least, it would have been more effective, as I wouldn't have been as distracted by it.

Maybe if the impact of the story itself had been greater on me, I may have been able to suspend my disbelief in this idea.  Or maybe my annoyance at the poor understanding of biology made me immune to any emotional punch the story had.

I can give science fiction a lot of leeway for things like this. After all, it's set in the future. Who's to say we won't discover that life force is a form of energy that we can manipulate? We've certainly made other discoveries that were about as surprising. Case in point, awesome discovery of the week: bacteria who live in arsenic. I mean, wow. Who saw that coming?

Anyway, I really enjoyed this story. I was particularly touched by how it engaged with our (in America, at least) extremely poor attitudes towards death, and the lengths to which we will go to keep it at bay. I thought the relationship between the mother and the daughter was exquisite. I was specifically fascinated by the way in which this was kind of the mom's fault, actually. By denying her daughter the opportunity to be with her when she died and say goodbye - which she did out of her own pride - she put her in the position of constantly trying to make up for that lack. The mother heroically forcing her daughter to accept that chance later on was really great.

I also saw echoes of Bridesicle in this story. Although I liked Bridesicle a lot, I thought that the characters here were much more engaging.
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« Reply #12 on: December 06, 2010, 10:02:23 AM »

I don't know if I would call this story dystopian or a cautionary tale. But as Kibitzer noted it does make one think. I'm pretty sure once my consciousness cant' live in it's natural home any more I would just as soon let it die along with the body. Even if some kind of Wm. Gibson-style consciousness transfer were possible I'm not sure how much this construct would really in fact "be me". And I truly wouldn't like the living to be exploited financially or psychologically in order to interact with this construct. I fully believe that there are people who would try to do this too. Wouldn't it be nice if some political group could create a Max Headroom style construct of Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X or any number of other historical or iconic figures and have them mouth the words of today's corporations and political classes?
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« Reply #13 on: December 06, 2010, 10:25:01 AM »

It's interesting.  Now that you mention it, the connection between this and "Bridecicle" seems pretty obvious.  However, as I listened, I kept comparing it with "Raising Jenny" which is also about a mother/daughter relationship where the mother has died.  Though, I do admit I like this mother better.

Now I feel like a freak... neither story came to mind when I listened to this one.


I thought the relationship between the mother and the daughter was exquisite. I was specifically fascinated by the way in which this was kind of the mom's fault, actually. By denying her daughter the opportunity to be with her when she died and say goodbye - which she did out of her own pride - she put her in the position of constantly trying to make up for that lack. The mother heroically forcing her daughter to accept that chance later on was really great.

I could have sworn the daughter/narrator said she was there when her mother died the first time; the institute people just wouldn't let her be there when she shut down at the end of a visit.
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« Reply #14 on: December 06, 2010, 10:29:50 AM »

Wow, this one was really good.  Quite possibly my favorite of 2010.  Which rather surprised me because Bradford's stories usually don't appeal to me much.  This one was well written with interesting characters and a compelling problem.  And it reminded me of a conversation I've had dozens of times with my wife about whether or not immortality is a desirable thing.  She's always been interested in vampires as an idea, partially because of the immortality.  But I don't really see immortality as a good thing.  Not that I want to die any time soon, but neither do I want to live forever.  And living as a vamp would not be fun.  I like food.  What's the point of living forever if you can never eat cheesecake again?

Great emotions in this story, and the details of her financial situation revealed at just the right places.  I really felt for the two of them, and I think this is a terrible technology to make available to people, preying on the grieving and never allowing their grief to resolve itself.  Which is entirely realistic and also very horrible, all while masking itself as a "service".  I hope that I would have the strength to let the person go, but especially if it were someone who died unusually young, or if the dead person were my wife, it would be a hard temptation to resist.

Oddly, this one did not once make me think of Bridesicle, I think because of the different focus from romantic to family love and the POV character being the one left behind.  It did give me a couple associations though:
-The Time Traveler's Wife (SPOILERS).  I've only seen the movie, but after he dies in her timeline, younger incarnations of him keep popping in and out later in her life.  The movie seemed very comfortable in it's portrayal of this as a happy ending but I thought that sounded terrible.  The poor woman is trapped in an unpleasant limbo.  Most of the time he's not around, so she's mostly alone.  But then he pops in occasionally and at random so that she can never finish grieving.  It seems that she will be held in a state of constant grief for the rest of her life.  That state reminded me of the situation in this story.
-Raising Jenny.  I kept on making mental comparisons between this mother and that mother.  I'm not exactly sure why since they weren't particularly similar.  This mother I could respect very much, trying to do what's best for her children.

And I don't really get the comments about the Elan Vital not being sciency enough.  But the occasional raising of the dead into coherent and mobile individuals is sciency enough?  It takes place in the future, so there will be new scientific developments.  And even if it's not science, why not just label it fantasy in your brain and enjoy?
« Last Edit: December 06, 2010, 10:33:24 AM by Unblinking » Logged

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« Reply #15 on: December 06, 2010, 10:30:29 AM »

I could have sworn the daughter/narrator said she was there when her mother died the first time; the institute people just wouldn't let her be there when she shut down at the end of a visit.

That's what I thought too.  It's one of their rules, she said, that the relatives weren't supposed to be in the room when the death occurred.
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« Reply #16 on: December 06, 2010, 10:59:46 AM »

I could have sworn the daughter/narrator said she was there when her mother died the first time; the institute people just wouldn't let her be there when she shut down at the end of a visit.

That's what I thought too.  It's one of their rules, she said, that the relatives weren't supposed to be in the room when the death occurred.

That's right. But what I meant to say (and wasn't awake enough to communicate clearly) was that the daughter was kept out of the proces of her mother's death. She wasn't allowed to care for her or be there for her in the closing days, just at the very end to make the decision.
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« Reply #17 on: December 06, 2010, 12:45:31 PM »

Did not like.

Other commenters have made all the points I would have made. But for me, mostly, it's that the story was brief and the gotcha came too late.
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« Reply #18 on: December 06, 2010, 01:37:52 PM »

And I don't really get the comments about the Elan Vital not being sciency enough.  But the occasional raising of the dead into coherent and mobile individuals is sciency enough?  It takes place in the future, so there will be new scientific developments.  And even if it's not science, why not just label it fantasy in your brain and enjoy?

I think there's only been one comment to that effect: mine.  Smiley

I'm guessing that there were other aspects of this story that didn't work for me as well, or the whole Life Force thing might have bugged me less.  And yes, I'm sure I've given a pass to worse science-fictional ideas (beyond the time travel example that I gave).  Like I said, I wanted to like this story, but it just didn't click for me.
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« Reply #19 on: December 06, 2010, 04:15:43 PM »

I couldn't sympathize with the main character, and so didn't feel a connection to the story. Perhaps if I were shown why the narrator was so pathologically attached to her dead mother I could have empathized, but as it stood I was alienated by what seemed like some weakness of character.
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