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Author Topic: Pseudopod 221: Lives  (Read 4054 times)
Bdoomed
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« on: March 18, 2011, 02:05:19 AM »

Pseudopod 221: Lives

By John Grant

Read by Eric Luke of Extruding America


Twenty minutes later, a ring at the doorbell.

That’s them, announces Marian, a slight drawl in her voice. Anxiousness has shoehorned her swiftly into a state of minor inebriation.

But it’s not them, it’s a man and a woman in blue, with faces as long as empty roadways.

A drunk started driving his SUV on the wrong side of the freeway. Took out four cars, another SUV and a plumber’s van before swerving right off and hitting a tree. Seven dead including the drunk driver. Three of the dead - an adult and two children - in the burned-out wreck of a blue Neon registered to Richard G. Charters Jr. The cops called first at Dick’s and Marian’s home, and were sent here by a neighbor . . .

All three of us on the couch in tears, me in the middle with my arms around the shoulders of the two women, as the cops do their best not to transgress their professional code of non-involvement.

The bell goes again, and the lady cop murmurs to us that she’ll get it.




Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
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« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2011, 11:09:21 AM »

I am the king under the mountain, and this is the first post on this thread... unless someone else beats me to it, as my job requires I write in fits and starts.

Unfortunately, I actually didn't like this story very much. It's a shame, because I was really looking forward to the return of Pseudopod. It wasn't the plot, which was an excellently paced, creepy little thing. What bugged me was the characters. There was a certain lack of emotional reality in this story, as though the characters only existed to fulfill their preordained roles. For examples:
  • As I understand it, marriages don't actually fail because your spouse overheard you saying something kind of weird and creepy. For that matter, marriages don't actually end because of a single moment at all. It usually takes a lot more to send something that big tumbling down.
  • For that matter, people don't turn end up in serially failing marriages without some kind of personal emotional problem or personality trait driving them to fail at intimacy.
  • You don't end up with a rift between father and son that big just 'cause. Most parents and children can communicate ok about the important things at least some of the time.
  • Similarly, people don't turn out to be emotionally cold, student-seducing, careless HIV-spreading douchebags for no reason.

So, for me, what I was looking at was this clever and well-written plot saddled with these flat and uninteresting characters who obediently acted out their roles without clear passions or motivations.

Ah, well. Better luck next time.
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« Reply #2 on: March 18, 2011, 12:50:32 PM »

I quite liked this story.

To address Electric Paladin's concerns:
  • As I understand it, marriages don't actually fail because your spouse overheard you saying something kind of weird and creepy. For that matter, marriages don't actually end because of a single moment at all. It usually takes a lot more to send something that big tumbling down.
  • For that matter, people don't turn end up in serially failing marriages without some kind of personal emotional problem or personality trait driving them to fail at intimacy.
  • You don't end up with a rift between father and son that big just 'cause. Most parents and children can communicate ok about the important things at least some of the time.
  • Similarly, people don't turn out to be emotionally cold, student-seducing, careless HIV-spreading douchebags for no reason.

So, for me, what I was looking at was this clever and well-written plot saddled with these flat and uninteresting characters who obediently acted out their roles without clear passions or motivations.

Some of this I think can be answered in the long time span of the story.  There are huge time lapses between section breaks and many of the events/emotions in between are implied/inferred.  The breack-up of the MC and Marion was not based solely on her overheard conversation, but that was the start of the mistrust and/or lack of communication.  We don't know all the details, but we can fill in the blanks.

Also I think it was shown that the MC did have many flaws--capitalizing on the terrible events surrounding his son, not communicating with his son, not warning/avoidiing people so they would not be killed, etc.

I was touched by the son's efforts to reach out to his dad at the end.  I almost want to find out how the son lives on and deals with his gift/curse.
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« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2011, 05:38:10 PM »

I found this one acceptably creepy, with some contingencies. First off, I'm assuming the kid was causing the accidents and not just surviving them. Nothing creepy about nigh-indestructible loved ones (the way my husband drives, I think I'd sleep better if he was a bit more sturdy). Second, I couldn't buy that he was causing the accidents after the part when he was involved in 9-11, because my suspension of disbelief choked on the extent of that one (I don't know why my brain works this way) until he said he wasn't the only one who survived. So maybe the world is full of weird unkillable killers who occassionally get together to cause mass destruction? Creepy.
However, the end leaves me baffled. What's dad think he's going to accomplish? From what I can understand, the kid died in that fire earlier and was charred to a cinder but still bounced back. It makes me think maybe a chainsaw isn't going to cut it. But you never know.

Also, there was that Robot Chicken skit with the werewolf: the guy dismembers a werewolf, cooks up some werewolf stew, eats it, and poops it out later. "Well?" the kids at the D&D table say. "Nope," says the DM "It's still not dead. You have to use silver."
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Sgarre1
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« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2011, 06:02:45 PM »

There is a lot of ambiguity in this story and the story isn't going to answer.  Some of the problems people have can be traced back to assumptions they are making without evidence supplied in the actual story.  Is the kid aware of how this is happening or does he just blithely accept it?  Is he some inhuman thing or sorry for the events?  Are his comments to his father an expression of love or a threat?  Physical or supernatural? (I'd at least plumb for supernatural, given the extent of some of the events) - but, still, that general enigma is what I found very powerful.

As to what the father is thinking, listen to the last part again.  He's not *sure* he's got an answer (again, since he has no actual knowledge, just assumptions) but he *thinks* he may - and his assumptions may be made out of desperation, shored-up by guilt...

As for ROBOT CHICKEN - Larry Talbot came back from being a freaking skeleton at the start of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN when moonlight falls on his exposed crypt.  That's why it's called a *curse*, folks!  It's not fun to be a werewolf - immortality as an outcast, or always end up killing your loved ones.  All you end up wanting is death.
« Last Edit: March 18, 2011, 06:07:57 PM by Sgarre1 » Logged
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« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2011, 07:35:20 PM »

I thought the point of the narrator mentioning the "count" is because he's assuming that his son has nine lives, and he's about to take the last one. The chainsaw is only because he doubts his own ability with the gun.

I'm not sure what "I'm not the only one who survived" was supposed to mean. At first I thought he might be implying that his father is unkillable as well, but on further reflection I don't think that's what it was.
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« Reply #6 on: March 18, 2011, 08:04:13 PM »

I thought the point of the narrator mentioning the "count" is because he's assuming that his son has nine lives, and he's about to take the last one. The chainsaw is only because he doubts his own ability with the gun.

I'm not sure what "I'm not the only one who survived" was supposed to mean. At first I thought he might be implying that his father is unkillable as well, but on further reflection I don't think that's what it was.

I think that's it. I mean, note that all the deaths resulted in the father getting what he wanted on a brutal, id sort of level. He wanted his friend's wife... got her. He had ambiguous feelings about Honey... gone. It's not as strongly sold as the son's killer presence, but I see it as a definite possibility.
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« Reply #7 on: March 18, 2011, 08:40:04 PM »

the way i heard it, he was asking if his son even kept count of the number of people that died in the disasters around him.  it was implied that these deaths were somehow necessary for him, his body needed these deaths.

when the son said that he wasn't the only one that survived, that he was just living life the way his parents made him, he was implying that the disasters were somehow hereditary.  his father was just a guilty as he was in these deaths.
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« Reply #8 on: March 18, 2011, 09:03:25 PM »

I was enjoyable creaped out by this story.  And the ambiguity of it kept my mind replaying it in fun new ways for most of the morning.  Big thumbs up from me.

I too thought, “I’m not the only one who survived”, referred to the father.  And I think he knew it (even if he wouldn’t admit it to himself), the way he stood and watched the ski lift crash without ducking to avoid the cable as all the other skiers did suggests he knew this wouldn’t hurt him. 

The son seemed to kill those around him by accident, not some malicious intent, which is a little creepy but not very interesting.  The father, on the other hand, knew what was going on most of the time and spent the whole story dispassionately watching as his son killed the people he claimed to love.  That’s creepy and morally interesting.  And any story where the protagonist faces a tough, morally interesting, and deeply human dilemma is one I am glad I listened to.  I love that at the end we are left with a father who has become numb to the deaths of thousands trying to work up the nerve to kill his own son to save the lives of thousands more.  I love not knowing if he went through with it, what happened if he did, and wondering what I’d do in his place.
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« Reply #9 on: March 19, 2011, 03:17:18 AM »

Yeah, "creepy" seems to be the operative word, here. I enjoyed the story, but I had some of the same problems with it that ElectricPaladin did. I kept thinking they should be more emotional. And, frankly, I kept expecting to find out that the son was either a demon/devil/possessed or undead.

Or that this was the origin story for some sort of superhero. But as far as super powers go, being able to walk away from death is...well, useful for HIM. Not so useful to anyone else. Smiley
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« Reply #10 on: March 21, 2011, 01:27:28 AM »

It took me a little bit to get oriented, but after the first miraculous escape, I'd figured out where the story was going and was able to settle in and enjoy it.  It did a pretty good job of keeping me entertained despite the familiarity of the plot; I think Dad's detachment adds some interesting wrinkles to the material, and I enjoyed watching the interplay of basically a pair of sociopaths operating as a family unit.

@ElectricPaladin

Usually I agree with you a hundred percent, but here I have to say I think you're being overly critical about the falling apart of the various relationships here.  The story pretty clearly conveys that this guy, the protagonist, is seriously ill-equipped for healthy emotional interactions.  His marriages fail because of him, not because of the minor events he cites as the beginnings of the ends.  (And even within his worldview, he points to those moments as the first cracks that grew into rifts, not the cause-in-themselves of his marital distress.)  He's distant, selfish, and a terrible communicator; even when he tries to speak openly with his son, he can't figure out the right way to approach and just ham-fists his way into a bluff he can't call.  Sure, *he* thinks he's just the blameless victim here, but I think we're all familiar with the unreliable narrator, right?  And yes, many people would be able to talk out all of these various problems and resolve them amicably, but then, if everyone in this story were normal, we wouldn't have this story, ne?
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« Reply #11 on: March 21, 2011, 12:13:12 PM »

I enjoyed both the story and the reading. I agree with those who've said "it's happening to the dad too". Given that Alice is dead, it must be a patrilineal gene causing this if it does run in the family.

I too was a little thrown off by Alice being married to Bill in Part 2.

Having never divorced my wife and married a close family friend, I don't know if it's normal for the MC to occasionally fall into bed with his ex-wife, but that also was a little weird.

Still, I found the tale to be well-told and the narration enjoyable.

And here's something maybe we should split off to a new topic: 9/11 was referenced in the story. Have we reached the point where we can have a throwaway reference to it in this fashion? Did I miss that memo? (Not that I write a lot of stories that need to reference 9/11, although I did mention it obliquely in a story coming out this summer.)
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« Reply #12 on: March 21, 2011, 12:40:47 PM »

I enjoyed both the story and the reading. I agree with those who've said "it's happening to the dad too". Given that Alice is dead, it must be a patrilineal gene causing this if it does run in the family.

I too was a little thrown off by Alice being married to Bill in Part 2.

Alice was the first wife, and the boy's mother. Marian was the family friend who became the second wife.
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« Reply #13 on: March 21, 2011, 01:09:51 PM »

please excuse my use of caps.   

 FAVOURITE PSEUDOPOD STORY EVER!!  and I'm not going to let any of the other posts ruin it for me.
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Bdoomed
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« Reply #14 on: March 21, 2011, 01:36:19 PM »

please excuse my use of caps.   

 FAVOURITE PSEUDOPOD STORY EVER!!  and I'm not going to let any of the other posts ruin it for me.
right on.
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« Reply #15 on: March 21, 2011, 04:14:29 PM »

I can see some of the previously above mentioned interpretations of what was "really" going on to be plausible, however, I interpreted the situation to be that Chris really was just lucky and it was the dad going slowly crazy to the point that he decided to murder his son.  It helps explain the failure of his relationships and his inability to have a relationship with his son. 

I could have done without the AIDS situation and 9/11 bit.  The other deadly instances were accidents, these just didn't seem to fit with the rest of the story. 

Also, occasionally I found myself thinking about Final Destination.  Not really sure why.  They aren't at all the same. 

I thought that the narration was great!
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« Reply #16 on: March 21, 2011, 08:58:48 PM »

He's distant, selfish, and a terrible communicator; even when he tries to speak openly with his son, he can't figure out the right way to approach and just ham-fists his way into a bluff he can't call.  Sure, *he* thinks he's just the blameless victim here, but I think we're all familiar with the unreliable narrator, right?  And yes, many people would be able to talk out all of these various problems and resolve them amicably, but then, if everyone in this story were normal, we wouldn't have this story, ne?

Interestingly enough I found the narrator to be perfectly normal – not normal as in average or common place, but normal as in well within the realm of my experience.  The moment I realized the narrator was a lawyer, it all clicked into place for me.  If you’ve spent much time around large law firms I’ll bet good money you’ve met someone just like the narrator of this tale (I’ve worked at a big firm and I can think of 3 such people off the top of my head).  Honestly, part of what I found disturbing about the story was just how unremarkable I found the narrator.
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« Reply #17 on: March 22, 2011, 11:57:58 AM »

Also, occasionally I found myself thinking about Final Destination.  Not really sure why.  They aren't at all the same. 

It's Final Destination where one of those fated to die is incapable of dying, so death keeps tryin again and again!


Regarding the story, I liked some aspects of it, but I thought the 9/11 reference was too soon, and AIDS part didn't fit with the rest of it--all of the rest of them were accidents presumably outside of the boys control.  Infecting many partners with HIV after being diagnosed is no accident.  Up until that point I was quite interested in the story, seemed like a terrible curse.  The dad was coping with it in his way and the dad in his own, the best they could.  But the boy's HIV infecting lost what sympathy I had for him, and his father's legal wrangling to keep his boy from being held legally accountable lost what sympathy I had for him.  Maybe I wasn't supposed to sympathize with either of them, but I like to be able to root for somebody on some level.
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« Reply #18 on: March 24, 2011, 07:12:24 AM »

too soon?

10 years this September

that's right people, ten. Still remember it like it was yesterday? I do and i was 9.

Even so, if 10 years isn't long enough, how long will it be until people stop saying 'too soon?'

this story was good, i enjoyed it. Not one of my favourites, but certainly not bad by any stretch.
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« Reply #19 on: March 24, 2011, 08:59:13 AM »

too soon?

10 years this September

that's right people, ten. Still remember it like it was yesterday? I do and i was 9.

Even so, if 10 years isn't long enough, how long will it be until people stop saying 'too soon?'

this story was good, i enjoyed it. Not one of my favourites, but certainly not bad by any stretch.

I'm not sure I will stop saying "too soon" at any point.  I've seen a few uses of it in fiction but have yet to see one where it didn't bother me.

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