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Author Topic: EP309: The Insurance Agent  (Read 3753 times)
eytanz
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« on: September 09, 2011, 04:22:50 AM »

EP309: The Insurance Agent

by Lavie Tidhar

Read by Christian Brady

First appeared in Interzone, 2010

---

The bar was packed and everyone was watching the Nixon-Reagan match. The fighters were reflected off the bar’s grainy wood countertop and the tables’ gleaming surfaces and seemed to melt as they flickered down the legs of the scattered chairs. The bar was called the Godhead, which had a lot to do with why I was there. It was a bit of an unfair fight as Reagan was young, pre-presidency, circa-World War Two, while Nixon was heavy-set, older: people were exchanging odds and betting with the bar’s internal gaming system and the general opinion seemed to be that though Reagan was in better shape Nixon was meaner.

I wasn’t there for the match.

The Godhead was on Pulau Sepanggar, one of the satellite islands off Borneo, hence nominally under Malaysian federal authority but in practice in a free zone that had stronger ties to the Brunei Sultanate. It was a convenient place to meet, providing easy access to the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and, of course, Singapore, which resented the island’s role as a growing business centre yet found it useful at the same time.

She wore a smart business suit and a smart communication system that looked like what it was, which was a custom-made gold bracelet on her left arm. She wore smart shades and I was taking a bet that she wasn’t watching the fight. She was drinking a generic Cola but there was nothing generic about her. I slid into a chair beside her and waited for her shades to turn transparent and notice me.

‘Drink, Mr. Turner?’


Rated inappropriate for seventeen and younger due to language and violence.

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Yargling
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« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2011, 04:30:20 AM »

I've just listened to this story, and I have to say - on the first pass at least, I didn't really get its appeal. The concept of "aliens" as human prophets (or human prophets as aliens?). Basically, I felt everything was very unclear as to what was happening, why, and what was the goal of the getting two human proxies to fight for them. Whilst one or even two of these being unclear can give a story a sense of 'epicness', mystery or 'otherness' (i.e. Cthulhu), all three of together meant that I had no investment with the story.

Interested to hear what others think and if I'm just easily confused.
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Dem
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« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2011, 08:10:53 AM »

Still hooting at Mur's intro: she must have been watching Monty Python, right? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe1a1wHxTyo. This sketch left a whole county mystified  Grin
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Listener
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« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2011, 08:18:23 AM »

Excellent reading.

I thought the story was interesting -- aliens as agents of change on earth. It had some cool ideas, but the end kind of fell flat for me. The two insurance agents fight, the two aliens boink, and then -- what? I'm still not sure what happened except that the story ended back in the bar again.
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Rachel Udin
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« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2011, 11:25:13 AM »

Same as the others. Not that stories need a particular point, but I still am left asking why. Good reading, though.

Plus there is kind of a plot hole with the idea of aliens specifically being famous... which the story really didn't go over. For that to be true, aliens would have to have a formula for success to become famous where it would work every time. This means they would have to have a social calculator of what people want, probability (that outdoes the Infinite Improbability Machine), and a massive love of masochism. (though the story displayed more sadism). 'cause anyone who has tried to do any art professionally will know it's really difficult to make it and a lot of it is just meeting the right person at the right time as well as lots of time honing your craft. But then, this idea wasn't really followed through.

I agree also that there were lots of good ideas, but none of them felt fleshed out enough. Edgar Allen Poe said,  "The unity of effect or impression is a point of the greatest importance [to a short story]. It is clear, moreover, that this unity cannot be thoroughly preserved in productions whose perusal cannot be completed at one sitting." I'm not sure what the effect was supposed to be with this story.
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jenfullmoon
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« Reply #5 on: September 09, 2011, 01:22:26 PM »

I love the concept idea of this. I dislike the execution of it. I don't get why Kim is special, I don't get why the two agents had to fight each other, I don't know if anyone won or if it even matters, I don't understand ANY of this plot.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #6 on: September 09, 2011, 06:09:38 PM »

I liked the near-future setting; I just have real problem with celebrity prophets. Or Spiritual Entities. Or Aliens. What exactly is the criteria for being an SE? Apart from the sort of vacuous notoriety that passes for fame these days (especially on "reality" television*), I didn't hear that Kim did anything particular which merited that sort of devotion. Hell, I wouldn't be too sure about Elvis either (an inspired artist, clearly, but that doesn't make him a guide in all things spiritual, at least not in my book).

Perhaps this was all meant Ironically, and I'm too old and literal to get it. Otherwise it's just warmed over Campbell (Joseph, not Bruce).

It was interesting listening to this while inside a forest canopy myself.

*"You know that 'Reality TV' is? The security cam at the 7/11! THAT'S reality TV!" - Bruce Campbell
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Schreiber
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« Reply #7 on: September 09, 2011, 08:09:48 PM »

There are times when I read a story and get the feeling that the author knows what they are doing, even if I myself don't understand the salient details. Somehow, I just trust that I am inhabiting a world that matters to them, a world that is full of consequences and meaning, and hey, if the characters are mystifyingly standoffish, well maybe that's just part of the package.

I didn't get that feeling this time.

On the other hand, cloned celebrity grudge boxing matches...that I'd like to hear more about.
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raetsel
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« Reply #8 on: September 11, 2011, 07:09:57 AM »

I opened this thread with some trepidation in case it was full of praise for the story and its deep meaning in which case it would mean I really had missed the point.

So i'm somewhat relieved to see most people seemed to think along the lines of "nice world building, great reading but what was the point?"

I loved the description of the jungle with it's feral droids and also the celebrity clone boxing matches. The latter were initially even more interesting when I mis-heard and thought it was Lennon vs Ho Chi Minh

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Devoted135
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« Reply #9 on: September 11, 2011, 05:53:49 PM »

Sadly I didn't "get it" either. I was following along nicely until the fight/copulation in the woods and then everything fell apart. Why did they need to do that/what was the point of it? If anyone can enlighten me, I'm all ears. Er, eyes. Roll Eyes
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Gamercow
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« Reply #10 on: September 11, 2011, 05:57:39 PM »

To me, this seemed to be trying too hard to be Gibsonian/Sephensonian, and went a little too far off the deep end for me. 
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joderu
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« Reply #11 on: September 11, 2011, 06:46:20 PM »

I know I read this in Interzone sometime this year and thinking it was mediocre at best.
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Unblinking
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« Reply #12 on: September 12, 2011, 11:12:06 AM »

I've been working a lot of unpleasantly long hours lately, with many aggravations/setback/frustrations and so when I didn't really get this story at all I thought it might be a result of me being on the verge of burning out, having a diminished mental capacity and having trouble concentrating on anything but stewing about work.  Looking at others' responses, it looks like it wasn't just my frazzled state of mind after all.

The thing that bugs me most about this is that it has such an awesome setting, an island where all the defunct semi-functional war machine are dumped and are living independently.  That is SUCH a cool idea, but this story didn't really make much use of that.  It's a great idea, but the execution didn't do much for me.

My main issues:
1.  At the beginning, there are huge infodumps of semi-relevant material about the society.  I had trouble not tuning out during those.
2.  It's never really clear what SEs are.  Some mystery is cool but they're so mysterious as to be a complete unknown.  I don't need to know where they come from with a certainty, but at least some degree of their abilities is rather important.  Are they actually superhuman like the name implies?  No idea.
3.  It's never really clear what the protagonist is.  Okay, yeah he's an insurance agent, which apparently just means bodyguard in this world.  But he kept on referring to how he was designed.  Is he just another war machine, one that isn't quite obsolete yet, one meant for security detail instead of full war?
4.  It's not clear why they had to fight.  This complete lack of knowledge kind of takes any wind out of the impact of the climax.  Are the SEs Discworld-style gods that keep themselves busy playing games on the board of the world?  What did this accomplish?  Why should I care?

Also, the title really could've been better.  Even naming it "The Bodyguard" would've been a better hook, Whitney Houston movies aside.  "The Insurance Agent" makes me want to fall asleep.  If it had tied in somehow with the Isle of Broken War Machines, that would've gone a long way towards interesting me.
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birdless
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« Reply #13 on: September 12, 2011, 11:21:48 AM »

With this story, I felt like I walked into a movie that had been going for about 10 minutes in which I missed some important details, then left before the movie was over. I just totally didn't get this story. It had some cool elements, but it just went over my head.
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stePH
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« Reply #14 on: September 13, 2011, 06:29:50 PM »

I'll be calling this an "Escape Pod Lost Episode".
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Talia
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« Reply #15 on: September 14, 2011, 12:09:16 PM »

Man. What? I have no idea what happened. Tongue But I loved it anyway, the surrealism of it all pleased me greatly.
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slag
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« Reply #16 on: September 15, 2011, 02:45:50 PM »

I felt like there would be something so much more epic taking place in this world, but this story just seems to shoot right by it.
Instead I think we get some kinda commentary on how we pit our ideas against each other in chosen arenas, but then our ideas and philosophies pit us against each other as well. 
I got that impression when we got boxing matches that involved famous characters from history, and the one fight that
we'd never see but people always seem to wonder about: who would win in a fight between Tyson and Ali. (Ali of course)
I didn't really get why Kim would buy a bodyguard only to have him fight to the death with another one. But I guess the author is trying to make it seem that those who give themselves over to an ideology, idea, philosophy, whatever are likely to fight someone to defend it, and maybe we shouldn't follow someone so readily. It's a point that's made over and over again in sci fi, albeit in this
story, it gets a bit convoluted, lost in a rich world setting.
The best idea in the story is how the insurance agent is someone willing to sell themself to a idea forthe right price, fight for it, then turn to some other idea to fight for it instead when he's all healed up, having suffered no consequences really. He's unchanged, unharmed, and his only real incentive is money, not principle.
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Kaa
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« Reply #17 on: September 20, 2011, 11:03:12 AM »

Yep. Not to sound like a broken record, but...the point of this was lost. I was really into it right up to the anticlimactic ending, which I totally just didn't get.

I genuinely loved the concept of Jesus and Buddha and Elvis and such being aliens. But the one that kept kicking me out of the story was "Oddco"? Were we supposed to know what that was in reference to? It could be that this was explained--I kept zoning out during the infodump at the beginning. Which I found entertaining, but I was driving in downtown Atlanta traffic during lunch while listening. So...yeah.

And while I'm not 100% sure if this was Lavie Tidhar's intention...including Uri Gellar in the list of potential candidates for SEs lent a definite air of "conman" to all of them by association. I began to doubt that any of what the protagonist saw actually happened.
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Dem
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« Reply #18 on: September 21, 2011, 08:26:31 AM »

Well said, Kaa. I have no idea who Oddco is supposed to be, and the inclusion of Uri Geller as some kind of alien role model made me think the aliens in question had a very poor grasp on character assessment. Uri Geller's just been on the radio here (UK) defending a psychic whose powers appear to have been mediated by an earplug and a bloke behind the projectionist's window at the back of the theatre. Surely not ...
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #19 on: September 21, 2011, 06:57:08 PM »

But the one that kept kicking me out of the story was "Oddco"? Were we supposed to know what that was in reference to? It could be that this was explained--I kept zoning out during the infodump at the beginning.

It was my impression that Oddco was a creation of the author who is mentioned midway through the story, a "post-now" SE. Who, if I recall correctly, I wasn't terribly impressed with either.
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