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Author Topic: EP327: Revenants  (Read 4789 times)
eytanz
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« on: January 13, 2012, 10:13:40 AM »

EP327: Revenants

By Judith Tarr

Read by Mur Lafferty

First published in DINOSAURFANTASTIC from DAW edited by Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg, 1993

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Janie wanted to pet the pterodactyl.
“Here’s the auk,” I said. “Look how soft his feathers are. Look at the dodo, isn’t he funny? Don’t you want to give the quagga a carrot?”
Janie wouldn’t even dignify that with disgust. It was the pterodactyl or nothing.
Janie is four. At four, all or nothing isn’t a philosophy, it’s universal law. A very intelligent four can argue that this is the Greater Metro Revenants’ Zoo, yes? And this is the room where they keep the ones that can be petted, yes? So why can’t a person pet the pterodactyl?


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2012, 12:29:47 PM »

King, mountain, etc.

I thought this was going to be a clever little story about a kid who wanted to pet a pterodactyl. But about two or three minutes after the first infodump ended, I realized it was more about taking the issues between divorced parents, kids, shared custody, and government intervention to the extreme.

And while I usually like stories like that... for some reason this one just felt too much like "I, author, have something to say about the state of {those items I listed above}, and I'm going to do it in the form of a story with dinosaurs and woolly mammoths!"

Contrast that to this: when I was in high school creative writing, one of my fellow students wrote a story about having to pass a test to be allowed to have children. We students went into that story expecting one thing, and we got it. But with "Revenants", I went in expecting one thing and got something totally different.

Please tell me more about the revenant zoo. That's what I really wanted to hear.

Overall I thought the story was all right, if a bit slow in places due to the infodumps. And like I said... two tufted pterodactyl wings up for the zoo.
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« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2012, 05:03:50 PM »

I enjoyed this one. It was fun. I wasn't bothered at all by the switch from "I wanna pet the pterodactyl!" to the whole "having something to say" bit.
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« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2012, 09:31:12 PM »

Nice change - a man, two women (well, 1.5), no one gets eaten, a plot, good characterizations, a future that is neither u- nor dys-topic, and a reasonably happy ending. Thumb up here. Oh, and Mur's MAGNIFICENT narration - talk about nailing it!

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« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2012, 12:52:02 PM »

Loved the zoo concept and the concept of the dad living in the alternate throw-back society but they whiney little kid was a bit irritating to me.  Mom needs some Parenting 101 classes, the kid was running the show in that relationship but that seems to be an emerging trend these days of weak parenting.   
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« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2012, 04:30:55 PM »

Um, excuse me?
<allcaps rage>ARE GUYS STUPID?! DID NONE OF YOU WATCH JURASSIC PARK?!</allcaps rage>

Now that I got that out of the way, I liked this story. Breaking the conventions about dinosaurs (furry as opposed to (in addition to?) scaly), the over-indulgence of bureaucracy, and of course my favorite: having to pass a test to be able to raise children. That is just a personal peeve of mine, that people need a license to drive but not to mess up raise children.
Anyway, short and amusing. Well done.
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« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2012, 07:42:33 PM »

Loved the zoo concept and the concept of the dad living in the alternate throw-back society but they whiney little kid was a bit irritating to me.  Mom needs some Parenting 101 classes, the kid was running the show in that relationship but that seems to be an emerging trend these days of weak parenting.   

I liked the "He-Man" throwback also.  Since this was published (1993), maybe a short sequel from the fathers side...equal time?  Oh, and the reference to banana and peanut butter sandwiches a la Elvis was a nice touch.
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Frungi
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« Reply #7 on: January 16, 2012, 02:16:36 AM »

Guess I’m alone here, but, well… I couldn’t really find the story in this one. Just a fairly common situation set in a collection of neat concepts. A divorced mother takes her daughter to the zoo, then takes her home, then returns her to her father; what was the story?
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« Reply #8 on: January 17, 2012, 08:31:46 AM »

I liked this one a lot.  Presenting the Big Brother babysitter concept purely from the point of view of people who have just accepted it, without so much of a hint of rebellion, makes the whole thing somehow creepier. I felt the main character's frustration with the mega-bureaucratic know-it-all system presenting oversimplified analyses and passing judgement over her shoulder at every turn.  This one's gonna stick with me.

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« Reply #9 on: January 17, 2012, 09:12:17 AM »

Guess I’m alone here, but, well… I couldn’t really find the story in this one. Just a fairly common situation set in a collection of neat concepts. A divorced mother takes her daughter to the zoo, then takes her home, then returns her to her father; what was the story?

I agree completely. Very nice vignette which was well told. But there was no story there. 
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Devoted135
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« Reply #10 on: January 17, 2012, 11:12:55 AM »

Oh man, Big Brother as applied to parenting. On the one hand, I volunteer with a lot of inner city kids (and my husband taught for several years at an inner city jr high) and my heart breaks for these kids that have truly lousy parents. It makes you want to take them all home with you! On the other hand, IMHO our "PC" culture has gone way too far already when it comes to child protective services and parents being afraid to effectively discipline their children for fear that someone will report them. So this story hit a LOT of nerves. You know that what little Janie needed was a good spanking when she was two and learning not to throw tantrums. But you also know that would be the fastest way for the main character to lose her daughter forever.

That said, beady red eyes aside, I probably would have wanted to pet the pterodactyl too. Tongue
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SF.Fangirl
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« Reply #11 on: January 21, 2012, 04:10:12 PM »

Guess I’m alone here, but, well… I couldn’t really find the story in this one. Just a fairly common situation set in a collection of neat concepts. A divorced mother takes her daughter to the zoo, then takes her home, then returns her to her father; what was the story?

You are not alone.  I wasn't going to comment since this seemed like another plotless story and I kind on harped on that repeatedly for a while, but all these "great story" comments baffle me.  It was an interesting setup - an interesting future - but nothing happened.  Mom seemed like a lot of the reason that she wanted custody was to punish her SO (although I think growing up in the ice age can't be good for a future child), but Dad seemed like he might not be that bad of a guy.  Maybe it was an act, but right at the moment I expected SOMETHING to happen to either their relationship or custody arrangement, the story ended.  This story had lots of potential that just evaporated when the story ended before anything happened.
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Gary
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« Reply #12 on: January 22, 2012, 12:47:24 PM »

I'm also in the "Where's the story?" camp.
As for the premise (2 people who never should have gotten married much less have had a child), I found it sad, frustrating, annoying, slightly depressing but not intriguing or unique.  The kid was a brat, the mother was an adult brat, the father ... well we really don't know anything about him except that the kid seemed to like him.

On a positive note, Mur's narration was once again grade A+ !!
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« Reply #13 on: January 23, 2012, 01:44:33 PM »

Instead of being in the "where's the story" camp, I think I'm in the "which story are you trying to tell" camp.  The Revenant Zoo seemed one story, while the "parenting, divorce, and Big Brother case worker" was another.  Or rather, maybe I'm saying that while the later story was interesting on it's own, the Revenant Zoo deserves a story of it's own as well.  Especially one about a cute fuzzy pterodactyl!
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« Reply #14 on: January 24, 2012, 11:44:04 AM »

I thought it was interesting how open ended and non-totalitarian the big-brother system was.  Is it even a big brother system at that point? It was interesting to think about a bureaucratic score-keeper, who's not merely judging in a binary fashion if you're on or off the proffered doctrine, but rather one that just tallies up the various good and bad aspects of each action. And one particular action would oftentimes have both positive and negative scores associated with it.

I think that's the nut of the story.  Too often a parent's decisions are going to be judged as merely right or wrong. Getting candy for the kid crying in the supermarket is coddling them. Spanking the kid is teaching them violence is right. Ignoring the kid is anti-social, and extremely rude to the other shoppers.  After hearing this story, it's more interesting to tally up the pros and cons of each action, instead of just picking one aspect and judging the action solely on that.
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Gamercow
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« Reply #15 on: January 25, 2012, 10:55:36 AM »

This one missed the mark for me.  I don't have kids, nor do I particularly like kids, so stories that feature manipulative brats who always get their way, and do so because of state oversight, aren't my cup of tea.  I also have many friends and acquaintances who are fairly recently divorced, so I get a LOT of "my ex is such an asshole" diatribe thrown at me all day, and I've quite frankly had my fill of that, too.
« Last Edit: January 26, 2012, 09:45:11 AM by Gamercow » Logged

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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #16 on: January 25, 2012, 09:16:46 PM »

I know a fair number of people who are sharing custody, and I immediately identified the reality of the portrayal here. And was glad that the narrator was not trying to make some grand Feminist argument about parenting.

I also know a fair number of small children, and yes, that's a pretty good portrait of small children, too.

No, it really wasn't all that science fictional ... but I am trying to figure out how those wacky neo-cavemen actually make it all work.....
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iamafish
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« Reply #17 on: January 26, 2012, 11:06:47 AM »

I think the most interesting aspect of this story was encapsulated in one line and then largely ignored. The MC doesn't tell her daughter 'no' to petting the  pterodactyl (bitch of a word to spell) because, the implication is, that she would get major negative point for that, despite the fact that actually this kid needed to be told that she couldn't pet the pterodactyl, rather than reasoned with, then molly-coddled, then accommodated. The implication is that the state is actually encouraging bad parenting by not reinforcing that sometimes a strong hand is necessary. Unfortunately this element gets under-represented in exchange for the MC moping about her husband and getting bossed around by her spoiled brat daughter.

Not really a fan of this one - it needed more of a plot, more stuff in the Revenants Zoo and less about how terrible being a single mother is.
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eytanz
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« Reply #18 on: January 26, 2012, 11:14:14 AM »

I think the most interesting aspect of this story was encapsulated in one line and then largely ignored. The MC doesn't tell her daughter 'no' to petting the  pterodactyl (bitch of a word to spell) because, the implication is, that she would get major negative point for that, despite the fact that actually this kid needed to be told that she couldn't pet the pterodactyl, rather than reasoned with, then molly-coddled, then accommodated. The implication is that the state is actually encouraging bad parenting by not reinforcing that sometimes a strong hand is necessary. Unfortunately this element gets under-represented in exchange for the MC moping about her husband and getting bossed around by her spoiled brat daughter.

Well, that or the mother is insecure about her standing and suffering from misapprehensions about how things will be interpreted. I did not get the impression that she's an entirely reliable narrator - not that she was lying, but it is a first person story for a reason; we don't get any information that's not tainted by her personal experiences and issues.
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« Reply #19 on: January 28, 2012, 05:26:42 AM »

Cast one more vote for "Where's the story?" This one really didn't feel like it had any development of any sort, character or story. At the end things were pretty much as they were at the beginning. Take out the info dumps for the bones of setup and there was very little meat left to chew on.

The setting of the revenant zoo seemed totally irrelevant. Set it in the 60's with a normal zoo and the father living on a commune and it would have been the same.
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