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Author Topic: EP304: Union Dues – Sidekicks in Stockholm  (Read 29116 times)

Unblinking

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Reply #25 on: August 08, 2011, 03:07:21 PM
Steve Eley!  Good to have you back, my good sir.  I am so sorry to hear about the divorce proceedings.  Hang in there, and hang out with your kids as much as you possibly can.  I'll be thinking of you.

As for the story, I gave it a try, but the soap box monologue sounded like it came straight from the author.  I stuck with it for quite a while, because it's just good to hear Steve's voice again, but eventually I just didn't care to listen to the rest of the monologue and just skipped to the outro to see what else Steve would say.  This was more of a blog post than a story, to me.



dragonsbreath

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Reply #26 on: August 08, 2011, 04:22:03 PM
A good story and it was great to hear Steve again. I liked the story for its attempt to assign moral equivalency between the terrorism of the chairman and the business activities of the assembled hostages. The actions of the so-called Atom-Smasher at the end of the story clearly show that he made that judgement of moral equivalency. Thank goodness it is just a story.

In real life, business leaders have a fiduciary responsibilities to their company and its stockholders. Granted there are exceptions, but most are not monsters or demons. They are paid to make important decisions that impact the livelihoods of their employees. It cannot be an easy decision for an honest CEO to layoff people in a sluggish economy. Nonetheless it must be done if a company as a whole is to survive. There can be no moral equivalency between a honest business leader making tough choices and a gun-toting terrorists shedding innocent blood.



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Reply #27 on: August 09, 2011, 06:01:10 AM
I been running into the Union Dues stories as I progress Escape Pod archive chronology. I like the first two but hate the last two. I not keen on deconstructions and this story did not failed to delver it. Moral relativism at its worst by Atom Smasher walking away and leaving innocent life to be stuffed out, and the chairman getting away with calling the CEO evil and what is really evil, the murder of innocent life, good.



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Reply #28 on: August 09, 2011, 05:03:00 PM
Union Dues stories have traditionally been more gritty, and this is certainly no different.

Union Dues has, and continues to show us the 'other side' of being a modern day super hero.  This shows us more of the inside of our super hero, the realization of how exploited he is, how being a hero isn't as parades and comic books as one might believe.

Failure is an event, not a person.


Devoted135

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Reply #29 on: August 09, 2011, 06:31:19 PM
I haven't heard all of the Union Dues stories yet, but I've heard enough that I got excited when I saw the title on my ipod screen. Then the unexpected thrill of hearing Steve's voice again and all of a sudden the extremely unenjoyable experiment I was working on ceased to matter. :)

I feel conflicted because I think that this was a well-written, compelling story and I'm really glad to have heard it. I like all of the questions that it opens up about who/what is to blame when a corporation makes the tough decisions not to mention who/what can we really hold responsible for those decisions and how can we fairly respond to both real and perceived wrongs. Not to mention what is the role of the super in a world of very "normal" disputes.

On the other hand, while I do understand the "there he goes monologuing again" device (that's one of my favorite schticks from The Incredibles") I reacted negatively to it while listening to this story. I can recognize why it was important to put the Chairman up on his soapbox in order to tell this story effectively, but I prefer to hear lectures when I turn on Planet Money, not Escape Pod.



Well this was a fascinating episode, and I'm coming to this as someone who'd never heard of 'Union Dues' before, and hadn't even heard of Stephen Eley.

........

I was slightly startled by Steve's very candid commentary at the end, including personal details. I guess this might split some people, depending on their outlook and personality. Some people might find this uncomfortable, others might feel compassion for the guy (that's where I'm at) i guess others wouldn't feel very much. Clearly, though from the comments here there's a lot of good will for Steve. So I hope things work out there.


That's just Steve for you, once you've heard enough of his intros/outros from the backlog you'll start to feel like he's an old friend. :)



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Reply #30 on: August 09, 2011, 10:20:01 PM
This is my first forum post here at Escape Artist, I love hearing what people think of the shows (and have skimmed the forums on a blue moon) but I'm just not a big forum person, it takes a lot to get me to register for a forum.  i used to comment a lot on the blog before the forums... but that was long ago.

I had to create and account and post here today because not only was I thrilled when I heard there was a new Union Dues story in the feed (yet I still took forever to listen to it, I needed to be undistracted so I waited for the right moment) because of course I'm subscribed to everything related to Union Dues :)  I just love this series.

I was so happy to hear Steve as the narrator, Steve narrating Union Dues is like Peanut Butter and jelly, a perfect combo. (and a nostalgic one)
When Steve said it would be dark, he didn't lie.  Then again, all these stories are a bit dark, it's one of the reasons I like them.  In this story I think we can relate to the superhero extremely well.  He's just a guy stuck in a job and he has no choices about what he's going to do with his life, what to wear and he is never allowed to even have an opinion or a stance of his own.  There is a feeling of hopelessness about him that I find really compelling.

As for the ending... oddly that's not even on my top three points of interest in this story, I saw a lot of posts about it though, it felt to me a very natural way to end the story.  I stopped thinking about the room of hostages and was empathizing with Adam.

thanks so much Escape Artist and Jeff, more like this makes me a happy Nutty.



Nuchtchas

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Reply #31 on: August 09, 2011, 10:22:24 PM
PS: Swamp, great links list



olivaw

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Reply #32 on: August 09, 2011, 10:34:13 PM
I've gone through the back-catalogue of Union Dues, and enjoyed them greatly. Thanks!

I think I appreciated Sidekicks more having heard them, too. A story about an anonymous super abandoning his duties is less interesting than a story about a well-known super abandoning his duties, or, in this case, the consequences of a well-known system leading to a super to abandon his duties.

I don't think we're being asked to agree with the Chairman's point of view, but to see the pressures that lead Adam to accede to it.



Sandym

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Reply #33 on: August 10, 2011, 01:23:44 PM
I was slightly startled by Steve's very candid commentary at the end, including personal details. I guess this might split some people, depending on their outlook and personality. Some people might find this uncomfortable, others might feel compassion for the guy (that's where I'm at) i guess others wouldn't feel very much. Clearly, though from the comments here there's a lot of good will for Steve. So I hope things work out there.

Anyway, this felt different as stories go, and it's a god one - I'd like to hear more of this 'union dues' stuff again in the future.

A

Well, Steve always had a habit (knack) of reaching out and touching your own life with his personal remarks, I know that a lot of people found that, usually totally unexpectedly.

As the story ended my ipod moved on to the next track in my playlist - Simple Minds "Don't you forget about me" - from the "Breakfast Club" soundtrack. Steve - as the father of a soon to be 21 year old who has turned into a fine young man despite his Mom and I divorcing when he was 2 - be the best Dad you can and always remember you have plenty friends here on the forum. You're never alone with Escape Pod!





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Reply #34 on: August 10, 2011, 02:57:07 PM
I always get itchy when people complain about stories having meanings. But then, I also get itchy when people confuse 'politics' -- a term with connotations that issues under that banner only affect people in government or administrative roles -- with 'systemic moral crisis', which affects society at large and which I think is a much more accurate description of the issues raised in this story.

I'm sure I'm not the only one here to notice that all of the Union Dues stories are commentaries on the "state of the union". This one is more direct than most, but DeRego has always used his stories as an opportunity to share things that concern him deeply with people that would otherwise be inclined to ignore the reality. He's trying to be entertaining and polite about driving a point that obviously concerns him passionately. One's disagreement does not negate the quality of the story.

My chief complaint is that Mr. Smasher is a typical DeRego muscle-head super. I fancy that if supers existed, and if they gathered under some kind of common management, then there might be some standard of intelligence built into membership, or that a certain level of education be required before activating one so that situations like this could be resolved more quickly. Even if the given super were that vacuous, a company would require defined moral positions and reward or punish an employee for their acting in consideration of those definitions. I would guess that a vigilante attempt to judge and execute outside of a court would be a clear violation of that code and that a more 'realistic' response by a super would be to halt the action in progress, and then if they agreed with the spirit of the illegal action, maybe they let the villain get some camera time on the way out the door or take care of it in some more creative way. After all, what's more fun than a super-creative 'just-deserts' ending?

To Steve, it was great to hear you again. I'm sorry to hear about the events in your life, but I thank you for sharing them. I think when you were leaving, some of us suspected something like this was the case and it's a huge comfort to us to know that it wasn't something even worse and that you're finding your way to the other side of what is surely one of life's most difficult 'before this/after this' moments. I respect your vision and the man your actions and commentaries have led me to envision you to be. I would offer you my shoulder any time, and I dare say you'd get the same invitation from most anyone here.



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Reply #35 on: August 10, 2011, 03:25:27 PM
I thought this was a great story. I enjoy a super hero story as much as the next person, but the analytical portion of my brain has always had a disconnect with them. At the same moment that part of my brain is saying, "Awesome building explosion!", another part of my brain is wondering who is going to rebuild, the costs associated, and where those people are going to do their day to day jobs in the mean time, since the super hero/villain probably isn't going to be hanging out at the local food bank afterwards.

I think that the hero here did the right thing. There were no super villains, or extreme circumstances. Except for the guns (and the guns were played down well i think with the way the Chairman handled the weapon, more as tool, and not inexpertly), this was largely a civil dispute. If the Union sends the Smasher, or another super, in to deal with the situation that is different. Just by being part of the situation, he was making it more dangerous for the other hostages. There was the constant threat of dramatic escalation. With him walking out, the hostages would have stopped thinking about participating in a violent response. Super, by the very definition, is not involved with mundane.

I am often times glad there are no super heroes in our reality, because that would bring the counter-balance of super villains, and the chaos that causes. I enjoy the escapism of fiction, but I also like knowing that the trip I planned to (insert favorite vacation spot here) for next year has a high probability of happening, or that the office building I (unfortunately) work in will likely still be there, not trampled by a gigantic robot from outer space. :)

(i secretly believe that in a universe with perpetual super villains/alien robots, society would find ways to decentralize, minimizing damage, not continue to gather in urban/high density targets environments)

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Reply #36 on: August 10, 2011, 03:56:44 PM
Great story, great read, great to hear from Steve again.

When i first started listening to EP I heard this odd voice with a delivery that was slightly off and he shared too much of his personal life. As growth and familiarity occurred, Steve became a voice and commentary I looked forward to hearing week after week.

When Steve stepped away from EP, I felt as though I had a lost a friend and adviser.
It is always wonderful to hear from him again. Like meeting up with a long lost friend where the conversation picks up like it never was gone.
Steve and Union Dues is an unbeatable combo.

well done Steve
well done Jeffrey
well done EP

well done

Enjoy and be nice to each other, because "WE" is all we got.


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Reply #37 on: August 10, 2011, 04:12:29 PM
The UD stories have always been hit or miss for me.  I generally enjoy them most when they are at their most personal, when we explore the internal life of a specific character.  This story was primarily a couple of political cartoons yelling at each other while our viewpoint character periodically chimed in to tell us how confused he was.  The ending was a nice touch, and it was a fairly effective gut-punch for the paragon to just go, "Ah, fuck it," but it would have been a lot stronger, to me, without most of the preceding Socratic dialogue (assuming Socrates was a bipolar Randian).  Perhaps I encounter too much of this sort of thing in my daily life, but this story was mostly retreads of old, old political arguments, and even within the story there was no hope that either side would listen much to the other.  The only potential for change was our overgrown naif of a protagonist, and he ends up just chucking the whole spiel in the garbage.  I empathize with the sentiment, but I would have been happier if I hadn't had to listen to the argument for the umpteenth time first.

This one's not my favorite, but I'd still buy a Union Dues collection for the list price.  ;-)

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jrderego

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Reply #38 on: August 10, 2011, 10:42:49 PM
This one's not my favorite, but I'd still buy a Union Dues collection for the list price.  ;-)


coming soon...

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Also, please buy my book - Escape Clause: A Union Dues Novel
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sykoticwit

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Reply #39 on: August 11, 2011, 04:30:29 AM
I've always enjoyed the Union Dues stories, they're a fairly unique take on the standard superhero genre. I have to say, though, I was very disappointed in Sidekicks in Stockholm. The story started well, setting up a standard hostage story, and I was looking forward to seeing the author's creative resolution to the story. I wasn't expecting a bald faced political rant about the evils of corporations, and a fairly standard and boring one at that. The ending especially bothered me. The image of a "superhero" simply passing judgement on the victims, even lowly workers that by the authors own standards were victims of the evil corporate heads, then walking away leaving them to the tender mercy of their murderers. One of the things that make superhero's super is that they defend the citizens equally. They don't serve the rich or the poor or the majority or the minority, they look past that and see human beings. Instead he looked at them and decided to support the murderers instead of the hostages. Especially in a time of religious, political and socially motivated terrorism, the message that murder and hostage taking is ever justified is horrific. By supporting the murderers over the victims, the author clearly staked out his position that terrorism, murder and violence can be justified if the criminals think their "enemies" are evil enough.

Oh, and as much as I've enjoyed hearing Mur and Norm over the past several months, it was a lot of fun to have Steve back on the podcast  :)

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Peter Tupper

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Reply #40 on: August 11, 2011, 06:03:01 AM
I did not like this story. As this is a forum, I will, of course, tell you why.

I kept waiting for some twist in the situation. I got very bored while the Chairman regurgitated The Shock Doctrine and very annoyed at Adam's inertness, both of which sucked any tension or jeopardy out of the situation. All I kept thinking of was better hostage situation stories.

This ties into my opinion of the Union Dues stories in general. The opening narration introduces this story as a "superhero deconstruction". So, how does this story fit within that genre?

Listening to this and the other Union Dues stories, I get the distinct impression that they're written by and for people who haven't read Watchmen or The Boys or Wanted or Kick-Ass or The Authority or Marshall Law or Planetary or many, many other titles... basically, someone who hasn't read a superhero comic since 1985 or so, someone whose ideas about superheroes are still in the Silver age, someone who is unfamiliar with superhero deconstruction as a genre and thinks nobody has ever made these criticisms before.

It's like some guy thinking he's clever because he asks, "If Superman had sex with Lois Lane, wouldn't he kill her?" and he doesn't realize Larry Niven covered the same question back in the 1960s.

Superheroes as celebrities/athletes? Been done. Superheroes not going after structural inequality? Been done. Superheroes as politically retrograde and hopelessly commercialized and burdened with juvenile sexuality? Been done. Even the ending of this story is a riff on Watchmen, when Dr. Manhattan says, "Screw the human condition. I'm going to go study rocks on Mars. Enjoy your nuclear holocaust."

The only real novelty here is that it is in prose, not comics, format.

Every Union Dues story, I wait for the other shoe to drop, for something to take a stand against the Union. That's the story I want to see. I keep getting disappointed.



Kaa

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Reply #41 on: August 11, 2011, 12:11:06 PM
I've been reading these replies for several days, and I think maybe some people are missing a very important point. Just because the characters in the story say something does NOT mean that the author espouses the same opinion. I know that when I write a character's dialogue, I try to write what that character believes. Sometimes, that is counter to what I believe, especially when I'm writing a villain.

He has the super in this story come to the realization that he's been used for his entire life, and he turns his back on his responsibility. He (the character) also realizes that his presence is making it impossible for the hostages to understand the danger they're in and that perhaps there is a nonviolent solution (OK, not very likely, but...). They--unreasonably, in this case, since Smasher's hands are tied, and if he makes any action against the terrorists, hostages will die--expect him to be the Deus ex Machina and save their bacon, so they're not even paying attention to what the terrorists (am I the only one who thought they bore a resemblance to Anonymous?) are demanding. Which were certainly unreasonable demands, don't get me wrong (lest you conclude that I espouse terrorism, as well). I think the helplessness of the situation was explained quite thoroughly within the story. This is not a story of the merits of terrorism. This is a story of one man coming to the realization that he's been duped (by the Union and, as it turns out, by the terrorists), the decision he comes to, and the disastrous implications that's going to have.

Does DeRego believe that terrorists are right and that hostage-taking is a good thing? I strongly suspect not. He's set up a situation in which one of his super characters has to make a difficult decision based on a lot of wrong or simply missing information. The terrorists manipulate him, and it's made clear that Smasher is not all that bright. Were he a super strategist, perhaps he could have come up with a better solution.

That decision will have disastrous repercussions on his pyramid, his reputation, the entire Union, etc. What this story does--in my humble opinion--is set up the groundwork for a potential future war among factions in the Union itself--not to mention repercussions against the Union by the public. Smasher isn't going to keep his mouth shut, nor is the press. Smasher's not just going to go meekly back to work, not that anyone would let him after this fiasco. They're going to lock him up in Antarctica. With lots of other supers who have gotten the shaft for one reason or another. And now they can't even replace the Adam Smasher character with another Johnny Bravo who happens to fit the suit and just smooth things over.

Someone upstream said they keep waiting for someone to take a stand against the Union? I have a feeling you're about to.

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Unblinking

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Reply #42 on: August 11, 2011, 01:49:20 PM
I always get itchy when people complain about stories having meanings. But then, I also get itchy when people confuse 'politics' -- a term with connotations that issues under that banner only affect people in government or administrative roles -- with 'systemic moral crisis', which affects society at large and which I think is a much more accurate description of the issues raised in this story.

I'm sure I'm not the only one here to notice that all of the Union Dues stories are commentaries on the "state of the union". This one is more direct than most, but DeRego has always used his stories as an opportunity to share things that concern him deeply with people that would otherwise be inclined to ignore the reality. He's trying to be entertaining and polite about driving a point that obviously concerns him passionately. One's disagreement does not negate the quality of the story.

I mostly agree that one's disagreement with a story's message does not negate the quality of the story (although I think that if you read a story that, say, promoted the reintroduction of slavery to modern culture, that one would be hard pressed to hold to this point) .  However, when the bulk of the story is a bloated monologue making points that plenty of other people have made before, my dislike of that doesn't have anything to do with disagreement to a message, but that has to do with the quality of the story itself.  It wouldn't matter if the terrorists' points were indisputably right, or even if they were indisputably wrong.  It's still an extremely long monologue making points that I've heard before from many different people.  It's not that I find the points offensive, but that I could have Googled a political blog and found near the exact sentiments and explanation.  I'd be more interested if the message were novel, or if it had had something compelling to support the message instead of structuring it all as a blog post style rant.



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Reply #43 on: August 11, 2011, 01:53:37 PM
I'd argue the story was more about the protagonist's character arc and his ultimate decision to take no action than about the politics of the terrorists and/or the businesspeople. The politics were the framework that allowed him to evolve from this sheltered guy into someone who's beginning to see the world's not as black and white as he thought it was – and who isn't liking it. That's what I got from it, anyway.



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Reply #44 on: August 11, 2011, 09:45:50 PM
I agree with both Talia and Unblinking; the story's primary point is when Adam Smasher decides not to involve himself in the conflict at all, thus deciding against both sides rather than choosing to champion one against the other.  However, most of the story is just a reiteration of the two sides rather than an exploration of what it is in Adam's personality that would lead him to that decision, hence the significant minority of people who object to the structure of the story.  Most people haven't objected to the content of the rants so much as the fact that most of the story IS the rants.  As I said, I would rather have seen a deeper personal exploration of the characters.

FWIW, I am a bit of a comics fan and thoroughly versed in the literature of comics deconstruction (though I tend to prefer the post-deconstruction nostalgia-tinted stuff like Astro City and PS238, where the authors acknowledge the limitations of the Silver Age tone while still focusing on telling a story in that kind of world rather than kicking that world in the twig and berries), and I do not find the UD stories to be necessarily unaware of that body of work.  I would agree that my least favorite UD stories tend to be the ones leaning more heavily toward the abstract deconstruction work, such as "Stockholm," but it's also true that superhero text-based literature is a relatively thin and unexplored field compared to comics, and thus I don't feel it's necessarily wasted effort to review some of the same lessons that the deconstruction of the Dark Ages taught us.

(I would also like to take a moment to recommend Brian Vaughan's "Ex Machina" to anyone who likes layered post-deconstructed superhero literature.  Definitely a modern superhero story rather than a revisitation or deconstruction of the Silver Age.)

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Special Ed

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Reply #45 on: August 12, 2011, 02:25:47 AM
And just in case you thought the things in this story don't actually happen in the real world, I bring you this tasty little bit of news...
http://delcotimes.com/articles/2011/08/11/news/doc4e43e53aaf10c938631271.txt

"a former County Judge ... has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for accepting nearly $1 million in bribes ... from the builder of two youth detention centers while he was sending young offenders to the lockups."



matweller

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Reply #46 on: August 12, 2011, 12:53:29 PM
And just in case you thought the things in this story don't actually happen in the real world, I bring you this tasty little bit of news...
http://delcotimes.com/articles/2011/08/11/news/doc4e43e53aaf10c938631271.txt

"a former County Judge ... has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for accepting nearly $1 million in bribes ... from the builder of two youth detention centers while he was sending young offenders to the lockups."
Yep. And there is larger suspicion that the new Arizona laws that would make the Gestapo pee themselves with glee were heavily influenced by money from corporations who own jails because tough laws mean more clients and more government money for them. Go privatization!



Unblinking

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Reply #47 on: August 12, 2011, 01:44:43 PM
I'd argue the story was more about the protagonist's character arc and his ultimate decision to take no action than about the politics of the terrorists and/or the businesspeople. The politics were the framework that allowed him to evolve from this sheltered guy into someone who's beginning to see the world's not as black and white as he thought it was – and who isn't liking it. That's what I got from it, anyway.

You could be entirely right, but that didn't happen til the very end, after all the rest of the ranting.  If all of the original and compelling part of the story is in the last few minutes, it makes the rest of it rather hard to sit through.



acpracht

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Reply #48 on: August 12, 2011, 09:54:04 PM
Having the writer of Union Dues respond directly to me comments=completely making my day.
That is all.
-Adam
(Not the one in the story... actually me... :P)

I have two things to comment on: the return of Steve and the story itself.
First: Steeeeeeeeeveeeeee! It's funny, I slipped so naturally back into hearing Steve's voice again, that it didn't even register in my brain that he was back until he said his name. Then it was like someone poked me in the ribs and I gasped. I think I even said, "Hi, Steve!" out loud to an empty kitchen.
I love his style and, Steve, we miss hearing you say "Have fun", too.
I was so saddened to hear that the joy the birth of your child was followed so closely by a divorce. You have the support of your EP family.

OK, on to the story. This was really quite good. Like a good Union Dues story it was dark and explored the concepts of heroes and villians and victims in a complex way. In this one, we have no true heroes, no true villians, no true victims. OK, a bit of a qualification on that one, the executive assistant, who has almost certainly been killed, is one person who I don't think got justice, and I cringed that she was killed so brutally.
My one criticism is related to my praise - it was complex. It got so deep and complex that at times I found myself getting lost in the conversation that always seemed almost on the verge of dipping into straight Platonic dialogue. I think it could have pulled up short on a lot of this and let the listener fill in a lot of the logical holes. A little less "Here, let me connect those dots for you."
But like I say, got me thinking, I enjoyed it, and Steve, come back anytime.

At the risk of derailing any discussion --

I was purposely ambiguous with the ending, but I did consciously pull back from the hostages all being killed... at least I thought i did. I tried to set up that The Chairman would use his gun in a non-gun way, like a pointer, to quiet the room down etc... I wanted Adam to walk away leaving the events in the hostage room unresolved one way or the other... i.e. he washed his hands of them and they had to work out their differences however that was going to happen. I also wanted Adam to effectively equalize everyone in the room, he doesn't understand class differences, and when The Chairman says to Stacy "to him you're all innocents" he isn't editorializing, he's stating a fact.

I needed The Chairman to monologue, all good villains monologue except this one wasn't the same "moohahahahahah take over the world" type monologuing you'd get from a typical villain, I wanted to give Adam a lecture that would appeal to what his sense of right and wrong should be. I wrote a version of this also with The Chairman and Holly's roles reversed, he was a religious/domestic fanatic and she was a progressive political leader, but I couldn't write The Chairman's dialogue in such a way as to sway Adam without making the story into a horror story. So I went with this role set and therefore the Chairman is forced to deconstruct the Normal world for Adam because of his position as leader of the gunmen.

With that I fade back into the shadows to watch the discussion flow on. Thanks for all the comments.



CryptoMe

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Reply #49 on: August 13, 2011, 02:21:39 AM
I did find this story enjoyable, despite it's mostly monologue nature. There were, in fact, a few places where I laughed out loud.

However, I am surprised by some people's assertions that the end was surprising or that it will cause lot of grief in the Union. As a few people have already pointed out, non-involvement with normals problems has *always* been a main tenant of the Union.