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Author Topic: EP320: Thanksgiving Day  (Read 3343 times)
eytanz
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« on: November 25, 2011, 12:03:31 PM »

EP320: Thanksgiving Day

By Jay Werkheiser

Read by Paul Haring

First appeared in Analog

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Kev’s stomach curled around emptiness, embracing it as a constant reminder that the colony’s Earth food was almost gone. Another three months, four at the outside. Then what? How will we die?

He bent down to look into the nearest cage. “Maybe you’ll tell us why the food here is poisonous,” he said to one of the rats inside. It rolled its dull eyes listlessly toward him. Rust-brown clumps matted its fur, and the metallic odor of dried blood hung in the air.

Is that how I’ll go, clutching helplessly at alien dirt, coughing up blood? His gut clenched tighter.

“They are not going to tell you anything,” Ahmet said from across the toxicology lab.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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MCWagner
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« Reply #1 on: November 26, 2011, 06:14:06 PM »

Sorry I been away for so long... I'm resolving to come back and comment a bit more now that my schedule has cleared up a bit, since I've been an avid listener of all three 'casts ever since.

At any rate, I'm afraid that I really didn't have much fun with this one for a couple reasons.  Firstly, the work strongly struck me as an enzymologist who came across an interesting, rather highly technical concept and built a story around it.  There's nothing wrong with that, I actually prefer to have a higher hard science quotient in my science fiction, so I don't even mind the detailed descriptions of the technical aspects.  The problem is that too much work was done perfecting the science, and not enough mastering the rest of the storytelling tools.  Many of the character interactions felt clunky and forced, bluntly delivering character development ("he realized he still cared for her"), and handing off cliche'd moments at every turn, rather than implying shifts in mood or tension.  The story was constructed in individual blocks that were stacked next to one another and didn't flow from sequence to sequence well.  Although the crisis point was appropriately foreshadowed, the mood of the piece felt scattered, and the listener is left wondering at the stupidity of the "grunts" who demand more food without having even the suggestion of an alternate long-term plan to keep everyone fed.  Had there been a few notes about hunger driving the "grunt" population to delirium, thereby excusing seeming nonsensical demands, this would have made more sense (although then the problem of the colony surviving for another few months becomes exacerbated).  Thus the first problem is one of balance, too heavy on the science without appropriate balance on the characters and plot.

The second difficulty I had was in the way this particular story fell on the ear.  While Paul Haring did well with a difficult piece in most respects, I would strongly suggest that he look up pronunciation on the more common of the technical terms.  For someone in a science field "spectro-photo-meter" (spectro-pho-tahmeter)and "sally-silate" (sal-eh-silate) clang off the ear rather painfully and kept pulling me out of the story.  (I comment only in the hopes of helping improvement, not to be mean.)
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raetsel
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« Reply #2 on: November 27, 2011, 04:47:39 AM »

I think MCWagner pretty much nailed this one. The science was too much to the forefront and the human drama and tension wasn't built up enough.

I guess I'm like Goldilocks when it comes to the amount of science in my SF. Episode 319 Driving X was too little ( or at least not believable) Episode 320 was too much.

That said Driving X was much more enjoyable because the human elements and relationships were more fully rounded and therefore more engaging. I'm much more forgiving of a story light on science and stronger on character than the other way round.

Guess that's why I'm more keen on Robert Silverberg than I am on Isaac Asimov.
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« Reply #3 on: November 27, 2011, 09:20:33 PM »

I think MCWagner pretty much nailed this one. The science was too much to the forefront and the human drama and tension wasn't built up enough.

I guess I'm like Goldilocks when it comes to the amount of science in my SF. Episode 319 Driving X was too little ( or at least not believable) Episode 320 was too much.

That said Driving X was much more enjoyable because the human elements and relationships were more fully rounded and therefore more engaging. I'm much more forgiving of a story light on science and stronger on character than the other way round.

Guess that's why I'm more keen on Robert Silverberg than I am on Isaac Asimov.
I'll echo both of you, but only because I felt your Goldilocks reference kicks too much ass for me to attempt to come up with my own similar comment. My issue with Thanksgiving day was there seemed to be an over-abundance of the hardscience terms bogging the story down. It also was a bit grating that all the "science techs" were skinny 98 pound weaklings" whereas all the grunts sounded like the classic "ogre jock."

Overall I liked the premise and the story as it did keep me entertained, but if I had my druthers, I would like to hear more about the actual world itself and what happened to the ship that took them to the planet.
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« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2011, 04:13:18 AM »

For me, the whole concept of plant-animal aliens has been tainted by OSC, both in the deeply mediocre book that introduced me to the concept and in his more recent slide into homophobic crazypants status.

If I've got sufficient forewarning, I can groove to a story that is basically just a cool science notion, but I have to agree that the characters and the remainder of the plot were kind of flat and pasted on in this one.  I'd rather have something like Tim Pratt's toxoplasmosis story - where the "plot" was functionally nonexistent and the whole thing really was just an explanation of the cool idea - than something that's got a vaguely plot-shaped structure and some character-ish blobs but that never quite manages to bring them to life.

Did anyone else think that the "grunts" were alien indentured servants at first?  Logan's initial description made him sound like a monster, and I could have sworn I heard "forepaw" instead of "forearm."  The divide felt a little forced, honestly.  The caloric-differential thing seemed like splitting hairs ("We get the same amount of food, but has anyone considered the relative calories?"), whereas it's so easy to create a culture of elites and underdogs.  Heck, my mother works at FBI headquarters, and there's a bit of strife between the analytical wing and the agents.  Agents just sort of assume that they'll get the good corner offices and that they're the important people because they carry firearms, and they refer to anyone who isn't an agent as a "clerk."  Some of the "clerks" include men and women with multiple PhDs in math and engineering fields, but that doesn't stop agents from all but sending them for coffee during interactions and taking for granted that any request the agents make is more important than whatever fiddly work the analysts are doing.  In return, the analysts and engineers tend to get passive-aggressive, delaying requests and even playing technically-minded pranks on those who annoy them.  It's the small things that really count, the subtleties in attitude and tone of voice.  I felt like the harping on the word "grunts" and the sort of growly orc flavor given to them was a little simplistic.
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MCWagner
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« Reply #5 on: November 28, 2011, 10:21:24 AM »

Did anyone else think that the "grunts" were alien indentured servants at first? 

Actually, yeah, I made that same mistake.  I'm glad it wasn't the case, though, as I was thinking initially that the story was going for a more literal aping of the Thanksgiving story...
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« Reply #6 on: November 28, 2011, 07:56:33 PM »

I really liked this one.  Plenty of science and I thought the world was pretty cool.  The nerds vs. grunts was a little heavy but I guess to me it was believable.   
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Talia
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« Reply #7 on: November 28, 2011, 11:14:23 PM »

I enjoyed the concept and science in this one. Neat idea!

However, I felt for scientists these guys were pretty dim. What scientist WOULDN'T realize the people doing manual labor would need more food? I mean even desperate, frightened ones should see the rationale in that.

Felt very much like a jocks vs. nerds story.
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Scattercat
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« Reply #8 on: November 29, 2011, 11:19:41 AM »

Hey, the brain uses twenty percent of the energy you take in.  If you're spending all day thinking as hard as you can, you're burning calories pretty rapidly, too.  :-P
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« Reply #9 on: November 29, 2011, 04:43:48 PM »

First of all, Paul Haring? You are banned from going through my head. I'll swear on a stack of lizards that I had this nightmare when I was in middle school - I was the commander of a colony mission that was slowly starving to death because we couldn't eat the local food. My dream didn't end so well.

Anyway, I loved this story. It was exactly what I want in science fiction: fairly scientifically rigorous, driven by an exploration of human nature and the consequences of where our future could lead us, and involving weird creatures that are neither plants nor animals. I agree that the characterization wasn't great, but it was definitely adequate to carry the rest of the story.
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« Reply #10 on: November 29, 2011, 04:53:26 PM »

"However, I felt for scientists these guys were pretty dim. What scientist WOULDN'T realize the people doing manual labor would need more food? I mean even desperate, frightened ones should see the rationale in that."

I was thinking kind of the same thing. Yeah hard thinking can use up quite a bit of energy, but I felt like this was the kind of a problem that would be made up specifically for this story.  It gets nit picky but I think that if you were working on colonizing a planet, low food rations would be something that people, especially scientists, would notice before you had an entire colony of people nearly starving.  Certainly when they don't really know yet what's actually edible on the planet.
But congrats to Logan for being the only character to think outside his generalization of character. Kind of reminded me of Buck in the new Planet Of The Apes movie. If you haven't seen it I won't say anything, but I liked the fact that it was a "grunt" making the out of character adjustment in this story after the grunts are portrayed as being not so intellectual up to that point.
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« Reply #11 on: November 30, 2011, 08:34:41 AM »

Did anyone else think that the "grunts" were alien indentured servants at first? 
Actually, yeah, I made that same mistake.
Me too.
I was disappointed to learn that they were human. Due to the title and the timing of the story I was sort of expecting the grunts to be natives, and learning that they were probably ex-military type people (that's the final impression I got) kinda ruined an already mediocre story for me.
I agree with and echo everything that has already been said here, and have one more thing to add.
When they were finally figuring out what the problem was, it was too damn slow. I mean, honestly, these guys live in the future, they've traveled to another planet where the biology isn't compatible with Earth biology (kudos to Jay for not falling into that Star-Trek-human-compatible-universe mistake) and they expect the plants and animals to behave like Earth ones do? Haven't they seen any science fiction? That's always the case! The plants and animals are either symbiotic or different stages of the same organism, usually the latter. If I were there, that would be the first thing I'd look for.

And finally, I like my science-fiction more science-y (not to say that I don't like less science-y scifi) and that was probably the best part of this story, the science.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #12 on: November 30, 2011, 11:01:59 AM »

Okay, apparently I'm in the minority here, but I couldn't help but enjoy this one. I mean, how many stories have bench scientists as main characters that aren't cut straight from someone's childhood prejudices? I thought that all of the named characters were reasonably well drawn, and the gradual build of Kev and Logan's relationship worked for me. I also had fun trying to "figure out" the chemistry puzzle before it was spelled out for us. Plus, the story had an actual ending!

So, I acknowledge all the previously mentioned criticisms, but I'm willing to give them a wink this time. Wink
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DKT
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« Reply #13 on: November 30, 2011, 02:22:31 PM »

For me, the whole concept of plant-animal aliens has been tainted by OSC, both in the deeply mediocre book that introduced me to the concept and in his more recent slide into homophobic crazypants status.


There are crazypants plant-animal aliens in Hamlet's Father?  Cheesy
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #14 on: November 30, 2011, 04:03:34 PM »

Plus, the story had an actual ending!
That's just you being conditioned badly by the past few EP stories Tongue
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #15 on: November 30, 2011, 06:34:40 PM »

I really liked the ideas in the story, though I did wonder about the accuracy of some of the technical pronunciations. I've often thought about the divide between plants and animals, and I like that the author came up with a way that *sounded* scientifically plausible. And used a real star system.

Did anyone else think that the "grunts" were alien indentured servants at first? 

Actually, yeah, I made that same mistake.  I'm glad it wasn't the case, though, as I was thinking initially that the story was going for a more literal aping of the Thanksgiving story...

For about five seconds. But I didn't think "Logan" would be an alien name, and the author agreed with me....

For me, the whole concept of plant-animal aliens has been tainted by OSC, both in the deeply mediocre book that introduced me to the concept and in his more recent slide into homophobic crazypants status.


There are crazypants plant-animal aliens in Hamlet's Father?  Cheesy

Yeah. Angst in the Plants.

(ok, I couldn't resist that. Though lord knows I should have....)
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Listener
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« Reply #16 on: December 01, 2011, 11:09:04 AM »

I found this story to be a little too heavy on the terminology to work so well in audio -- I don't know that any narrator could've made all the terminology work correctly. And, outside of the science, I found too many cliches (Mandy had auburn hair... OF COURSE... and Ben the Biologist looked like a scrawny geek but stood up to the workman... OF COURSE...) and too many plot cul-de-sacs (especially the trip off the reservation) that I think the author was trying to resolve with the discussion during the town hall meeting but it just didn't work out well for me.

But my biggest beef with the story is this: WHY THE HELL WOULD HUMANS COLONIZE A PLANET WITH NOTHING TO EAT ON IT??? Did they not have any survey probes? Any testing? Any advance parties? Scout ships? ANYTHING? I mean, zillions of planets out there, find one where we can eat the vegetables. I just kept coming back to that point as I listened to the story.

So, not a win for me overall.
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« Reply #17 on: December 01, 2011, 01:34:37 PM »

Plus, the story had an actual ending!
That's just you being conditioned badly by the past few EP stories Tongue

LOL! I actually went back and re-listened to the last two scenes and I stand by my statement that it has a real ending. Whether it was a good ending is still up for grabs though. Tongue
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #18 on: December 01, 2011, 02:43:40 PM »


But my biggest beef with the story is this: WHY THE HELL WOULD HUMANS COLONIZE A PLANET WITH NOTHING TO EAT ON IT??? Did they not have any survey probes? Any testing? Any advance parties? Scout ships? ANYTHING? I mean, zillions of planets out there, find one where we can eat the vegetables. I just kept coming back to that point as I listened to the story.


I concede that the lack of advance information is kind of a stretch, but in the story's defense, a disaster on the ship prior to arrival is part of the problem. They ended arriving with a lot less than they assumed, and Mandy was the one who held what they had together before they even got there.

Which reminded me of the one thing that really bugged me about the story - the idea that Mandy and Kev couldn't get married because she was Mayor. Now, if that was *her* excuse, ok, then that's a Mandy problem; but the narrative doesn't exactly make that clear. I can't imagine a star-fairing society of the future would have a problem with a woman chief executive having a husband, though. That's just nuts.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #19 on: December 01, 2011, 03:09:39 PM »


Which reminded me of the one thing that really bugged me about the story - the idea that Mandy and Kev couldn't get married because she was Mayor. Now, if that was *her* excuse, ok, then that's a Mandy problem; but the narrative doesn't exactly make that clear. I can't imagine a star-fairing society of the future would have a problem with a woman chief executive having a husband, though. That's just nuts.

My impression was that it was Mandy's problem, not a societal one. She was definitely pushing Kev away throughout much of the story, and he complained about how distant she had become due to the stress she was under.
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