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Author Topic: EP331: Devour  (Read 8814 times)
eytanz
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« on: February 10, 2012, 05:46:31 AM »

EP331: Devour

By Ferrett Steinmetz

Read by Dave Thompson

An Escape Pod Original!

Rated 15 and up for language, brief sexual imagery, brief violent imagery
---

"I want some water,” Sergio says.  The bicycle chains clank as he strains to put his feet on the floor.

Sergio designed his own restraints.  He had at least fifteen plumbers on his payroll who could have installed the chains – but Sergio’s never trusted anything he didn’t build with his own hands.  So he deep-drilled gear mounts into our guest room’s floral wallpaper, leaving me to string greased roller chains through the cast-iron curlicues of the canopy bed.

“You’re doing well, Bruce,” he lied, trying to smile – but his lips were already desiccated, pulled too tight at the edges.  Not his lips at all.

I slowed him down; I had soft lawyer’s hands, more used to keyboards than Allen wrenches.  Yet we both knew it would be the last time we could touch each other.  So I asked for help I didn’t need, and he took my hands in his to guide the chains through what he referred to as “the marionette mounts.”


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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heyes
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« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2012, 08:14:50 AM »

These days I listen to podcasts in my car, so when I catch one that I don't like, I kind of have to deal with it.
First and foremost, just as Mur indicates - if somewhat indirectly - you put this story in the wrong feed. This is clearly horror, pure unadulterated horror.  It belongs in Pseudopod.

The story was fine I guess, and if I totally detatch the part of my brain that asks "what's going on beneath the surface", I'd say it's an ejoyable story about the death of identity and love in the face of wasting illnesses with a touch of "gee what happens with all these great weapons now that the war is over?".  Of course that last bit pops out when I turn the afore mentioned part of my brain back on.

For me, however, the only fish hook in this story that stuck in my throat was the really creepy racist undertone to the whole story.  And by undertone I mean, beat to death with a spiked club.  This trope of the endless wave of asian (usually Chinese or Japanese, but not always) threatening American freedoms is the kind of thing that gets trotted out right before or during war time in propaganda films. In college I had a whole semester class on the history of how American culture has stereotyped asians since the industrial revolution. Talk about a lack of subtly when it comes the fear of "The American Way of Life" being consumed and overwhelmed by a rising asian power, the fear of being turned into a Chinese person who is homohateful and so dully conservative, and then only to have this super weapon melt away in impotent uselessness after killing Sergio the super hunk? All of this in an America that is so afraid of being perceived to have not "won the war" that it destroys three of it's own cities so that it can justify perpetuating  a police state in order to hunt down these relatively ineffective weapons?
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« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2012, 08:21:09 PM »

Having read the previous review beforehand (something I normally never do), I was pretty wary of this story, but instead, I read this story in a very different way to Heyes.

I saw it as an inversion of the 'Enemy' stereotype.
After making the 'other' as *Other* as it could be, as alien and mutated and inhuman and evil, the core of racism, it tears it away again, to reveal the literal and metaphorical humanity underneath. In knowing, in loving, you recognise the personhood of all people.

That it was the weapon that would not fight its loved ones, over and over again.
Instead, at the end, I did view it as a love story, and for that reason, I couldn't class it as a horror.
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« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2012, 08:25:32 PM »

The story was about guts.

Author's guts in throwing together a mess of things, at least one of which (different one for each person, but at least one) is guaranteed to offend or disgust just about anyone -- and also an utterly implausible scientific basis -- into a coherent, believable story.

Narrator's guts in his raw, ragged-edge-of-sanity reading that made me late for where I was going because I just could not turn off the player in my car.

Editor's guts in saying, horror is makes people afraid to turn out the lights at night. SF is what keeps them up nights, thinking.

Listeners' guts -- you know you have them, 'cause that's where you feel the story.
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« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2012, 09:32:08 PM »

All of this in an America that is so afraid of being perceived to have not "won the war" that it destroys three of it's own cities so that it can justify perpetuating  a police state in order to hunt down these relatively ineffective weapons?

Isn't that just what subverts the trope, though?  The weapon isn't actually that effective; the reaction to the weapon is worse than the weapon ever was itself, in the same way that the hyped fears of an Asian invasion never end up materializing?

Don't get me wrong, I think the idea of the threat of Asia and the way it's portrayed in the USian media was definitely a part of this story, but I don't think that this story is crypto-racist; it's a critique of the whole ensemble, not an embodiment of the Terrible Yellow Peril.
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« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2012, 08:57:35 AM »

I agree this was more horror than sci-fi, but as the argument on EP has gone for many years... "SF is what I point to and call SF", so let's leave that alone.

So... in the end Sergio's love for Bruce overcomes the disease/Patient Zero's conditioning? Ooooookay. Seemed a little farfetched for me, and we're talking about a story where a HEPA filter can prevent the illness from getting through, and the illness makes people eat plastic bottles.

I guess I'm sort of middle-of-the-road on this one. Neither like nor dislike.
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« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2012, 09:27:24 AM »

Interesting ideas in this story.

I guess the plastic bottle eating relates to a change in the victim, metabolising plastics into body parts.

When the victim coughed blood I was expecting this to infect the other guy, for a more open-ended (the cycle continues) ending.

I liked the twist in the way the new identity in the victim reasoned his situation and determined not to follow his programming (although, perhaps, too weak to do so in any case).

Borderline whether this should have been an ExcapePod offering or PseudoPod.
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« Reply #7 on: February 14, 2012, 08:05:16 AM »

I have to say that the element in this story that I liked the most was the poetic justice of it.
Hippie peacenik forced to watch his husband die in front of his eyes because of the very thing he condoned (or at least agreed with on principle (or at least said was justifiable)). And right-wing militant forced to die of the very thing that he wanted to fight.
In general, the idea of people who think they have an opinion on something based solely on second or third hand knowledge, and then launching off on some misguided crusade for or against whatever it is really rankles me. How can you formulate an informed opinion without experiencing it yourself? When you base your opinion on things you've heard or seen, you are basing it on the opinion of those who showed it to you. Their interpretation clouds the imagery, and you are making an uninformed opinion. But aside from that, what gives you the right to then take this fallacy and try to force it upon others? I can understand soldiers protesting for a war, I can understand widows and orphans protesting to end a war. I cannot understand Mr. Middle Class Citizen thinking that he understands the reality of the situation better than the people involved and thus going to a (violent) protest.
Watching Bruce battle with his demons, being unable to forgive Patient Zero and wanting to kill its creators was the best part of the story, in my opinion.

The whole story was sort of poignant and I definitely felt that hook in my soul, but I didn't like the ending at all. Love Triumphs was the wrong trope to roll out here.

Also, I want to go on record saying that garbage-eating super-soldiers are probably one of the cooler things I've heard about on EP.
The bio-weapon implementation sucks though.
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« Reply #8 on: February 14, 2012, 09:23:24 AM »

Death is stronger than life, but love is stronger than death.
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« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2012, 11:08:36 AM »

Wow. First of all, thank you for the strong rating before the story, that was a good call. Second of all, thanks for having Dave do the narration, I can't imagine anyone else reading this story. Third of all, yes this was an Escape Pod story, but it sure could (should?) also have been a Pseudopod story! Fenrix, we accidentally got another one for ya! Tongue

I really don't do horror, so this was extremely difficult to listen to. I was literally cringing over my experiments as Sergio went through his transformation, and nearly crying for Bruce as he struggled over how to decide when the end had come. Philosophies should be thought through to their logical ends, and this story did a great job of forcing Bruce to decide whether he could stand by his philosophy all the way through. To his credit, it turns out that he could.


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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #10 on: February 15, 2012, 06:32:03 PM »

Boy, am I glad I listened to this AFTER Valentine's Day.

Though there was a part of me that thought, slyly, after all the gut-wrenching heart-ache, "gee, Gay Marriage saves America!" Though of course in a broader sense it's a case of "love conquers all".

My chief complaint from a technical aspect is that I just don't see how Patient Zero could have maintained any kind of identity. I mean, just the amount of information need to rework someone's physical body and be able to use plastics and ceramics integrated into said body would be quite a bit. But to retain a person's consciousness? I mean, we carry around big brains to do that. Having that in a virus that can be overlooked in a HEPA filter is a pretty tall order.

But then of course the story falls apart if Patient Zero can't be emotionally defeated, so....
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« Reply #11 on: February 15, 2012, 06:39:20 PM »

My chief complaint from a technical aspect is that I just don't see how Patient Zero could have maintained any kind of identity. I mean, just the amount of information need to rework someone's physical body and be able to use plastics and ceramics integrated into said body would be quite a bit. But to retain a person's consciousness? I mean, we carry around big brains to do that. Having that in a virus that can be overlooked in a HEPA filter is a pretty tall order.

But then of course the story falls apart if Patient Zero can't be emotionally defeated, so....

I loved this story in many ways, but the science? The science was crap. Just roll with it.
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« Reply #12 on: February 16, 2012, 04:15:52 AM »

I really liked this one also, I had emotional depth as well as bio-engineered super-soldiers, what more can you ask for?
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« Reply #13 on: February 16, 2012, 11:01:36 AM »

My chief complaint from a technical aspect is that I just don't see how Patient Zero could have maintained any kind of identity. I mean, just the amount of information need to rework someone's physical body and be able to use plastics and ceramics integrated into said body would be quite a bit. But to retain a person's consciousness? I mean, we carry around big brains to do that. Having that in a virus that can be overlooked in a HEPA filter is a pretty tall order.

But then of course the story falls apart if Patient Zero can't be emotionally defeated, so....

I loved this story in many ways, but the science? The science was crap. Just roll with it.

It's one of those little things that gnaws at me.

Ok, not like an invasive nanophage that rewrites my genetic structure, but still....
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« Reply #14 on: February 17, 2012, 02:03:54 PM »

Funny.  I am a strong defender of keeping escape pod sci fi only because I am simply not a fan of fantasy or horror, but it never occured to me that this was anything but a sci fi story.  I define horror as more blood and guts, werewolves, vampires, and scary ghost stories.

Despite the sci fi premise, I just didn't get into this story.  I prefer a bit more plot; although, I was very curious about what kind of transformation was happening and I liked the reveal.  (Upon post-story consideration, I realized how completely ridiculious it was for Patient Zero's personality to survive and take over, but inside the story I didn't think on it too hard.)  While I appreciated Murr's warning and held off on listening when I wasn't in public, it wasn't necessary for me.  No crying.  I just didn't really care about the characters.  I can't say why, but a definate "meh" for me.  Nothing outright bad, but nothing I particularly like either.
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« Reply #15 on: February 17, 2012, 09:54:09 PM »

Here we go with another "Humans are out to rid the world of themselves" story.  With that tired rant aside... Roll Eyes

The possibility of a virus being released to the human population with the anger of the "Genesis host" so to speak, was more than a little weird.  Horror, yes, it definitely crossed the boundary of horror.  But saying the science was crap, I do not agree...weak maybe...not fleshed out completely...yup.

On the other hand, I am most likely to be a little gunshy about listening to more stories from this author.

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« Reply #16 on: February 19, 2012, 07:46:16 AM »

I really enjoyed this story, the idea of this story was brilliant. I thought it really reflected the results of war throughout history, and how it leaves people suffering for years after. To all the people criticising the science of the story, does it matter? I thought the purpose of sci-fi was to replicate society's(not sure if the apostrophe is correct) problems in another version of reality.

The idea of patient zero's hatred coming through, although impossible, is a neat way of showing the other sides opinion of why the war is being fought. I only had one problem with the story, and that was the love interests; being gay is getting repetitive and a bit boring. Perhaps the author could have experimented with the idea of a relationship by having a son/daughter with the illness and the spouse killed in a peace rally? Overall I really enjoyed the story
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« Reply #17 on: February 19, 2012, 08:44:10 PM »

Wow. Just: wow. That's the first ep in quite a while that left me feeing completely gobsmacked. One of those stories where you have to go away, be quiet, think about it for a while.

And props to Dave for a great reading. A story imbued with so much emotion can be a difficult assignment; Dave sailed right on through. Nice.
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« Reply #18 on: February 20, 2012, 09:20:49 AM »

I wish I could stop thinking that the fact this featured a gay relationship masked a rather pedestrian story. Scientific implausibility aside, I quite liked the premise of a constantly regenerating adversary, but the sterotypicality of nationalistic responses rather let it down. Are countries' leadership structures really that brainless? Has nobody consulted anyone with an ounce of understanding of human psychology? Well no, because then it wouldn't be down to one bloke refusing to 'follow orders' and thereby showing the rest of the moronic human race what really matters. Ach, following the Age of Reason, there shuffles into view the Age of Cynicism.
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« Reply #19 on: February 20, 2012, 10:16:19 AM »

Are countries' leadership structures really that brainless?

I can't speak for any other countries, but that does seem to be the general opinion of our "leadership" here in the US. Here's an article on a fairly recent poll that speaks to this impression.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/post/american-public-to-congress-get-out-all-of-you/2011/12/14/gIQABY8vvO_blog.html
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« Reply #20 on: February 20, 2012, 11:18:38 AM »

Are countries' leadership structures really that brainless?

I can't speak for any other countries, but that does seem to be the general opinion of our "leadership" here in the US. Here's an article on a fairly recent poll that speaks to this impression.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/post/american-public-to-congress-get-out-all-of-you/2011/12/14/gIQABY8vvO_blog.html
That's the thing though - the inconsistencies and vagaries of the public make it increasingly difficult for extreme views to get a hold, and that's without social media. Somebody said recently 'It's been a bad year for dictators' and what were the undermining influences? Joe (and Jo) Public on Facebook and Twitter. Where's there's app, there's hope, methinks!
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« Reply #21 on: February 20, 2012, 02:01:59 PM »

Are countries' leadership structures really that brainless?

I can't speak for any other countries, but that does seem to be the general opinion of our "leadership" here in the US. Here's an article on a fairly recent poll that speaks to this impression.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/post/american-public-to-congress-get-out-all-of-you/2011/12/14/gIQABY8vvO_blog.html
That's the thing though - the inconsistencies and vagaries of the public make it increasingly difficult for extreme views to get a hold, and that's without social media. Somebody said recently 'It's been a bad year for dictators' and what were the undermining influences? Joe (and Jo) Public on Facebook and Twitter. Where's there's app, there's hope, methinks!
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To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
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« Reply #22 on: February 22, 2012, 09:11:30 AM »

This was a difficult story for me to get through.  My spouse is dealing with a disease that currently has no cure, only treatment, and is slowly degenerating her joints, and may eventually take her life.  Even though she's only had the disease 3 years, she's getting worse, and this story really hit home for me.  I may have to make the decision that Bruce made one day, but with the unplugging of machines rather than a shotgun.  How do you make that decision?  How do you decide "Now is the time to say goodbye forever"?  I try not to think about it, but this story brought it forward in a very realistic way for me.  When I say realistic, I mean that the reactions of the people involved was realistic, not the actual situation itself. 

Kudos to Dave on an excellent, emotional reading, I think he really caught the feeling of the piece. 

The only complaint I have is the ending, with the humanization and "love conquers all" of Patient zero.  It seemed a bit contrived to me, and I think the story would have been better(albeit more depressing) if the story ended with patient zero bringing Bruce tight to him.  It could have been brought in for a hug, or to crush his spine. 
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« Reply #23 on: February 22, 2012, 12:59:40 PM »

Well that was depressing.  And I mean that in the best possible way.  It was a really good story, well told, the pertinent details revealed at a good pace so that it was neither info-dumpy nor confusing.  With the opening scenario I suspected lycanthropy (chaining up the werewolf so he can't hurt anybody), but the actual reveal was much more interesting.  Lots of interesting food-for-thought here from deteriorating loved ones and deciding if/when to let them go, the effectiveness of weapons to inspire terror vs. their effectiveness to kill or subvert the enemy, the tendency of biological weapons to be very hard to corral once released (and this one wasn't even contagious, but still impossible to consider it completely eradicated).

Dave did a really excellent job with the narration too, lots of good emotional expression there.

I didn't find the ending where love conquers contrived at all.  The reason is that the one who was swayed by love was not Patient Zero.  It was a merged personality of Patient Zero and Sergio.  He was designed so that his hatred would come through while retaining the memories of the infected, but with the memories came the emotions and personality of the person as well.  Sergio held very strong beliefs, and his love for the narrator was very strong, and both those things came through in the final result of the transformation.  This Patient Zero is still full of consuming hatred, but because his mix of past experiences is different than other incarnations, his hatred of his enemy in the war has become a hatred for the futility and random violence of his part in the war effort.

In the end, the result of this small encounter makes no earth-shattering difference.  Sergio still dies.  Our narrator still loses his beloved.  Patient Zero's mission is no less futile.  Which is all rather depressing, even though it fits the story. 

What I really liked about the ending, though, is that Patient Zero redeems himself to some degree (at least in my eyes).  Before the ending, he is apparently a hate-filled killing machine.  But this repeated incarnation process supports a good argument of nature vs. nurture.  I got the impression that at the end of the transformation he will essentially be the same physical person he was, but with some physical enhancements and with other memories.  So physically, his nature is the same, but robbing a new set of overlaid memories from the host allows a change in nurture.  Most of the time, the Patient Zero incarnations have done violent and hateful things when they came to be.  But the fact that THIS one didn't suggests that the violent and hateful nature that shows through in most of his incarnations is not an inevitable part of who he is--if he had had a different upbringing he might have become a gentler and less hateful person. 

I don't know if this was intended at all, but for me the character arc of this story is centered around Patient Zero, not around the protagonist as one might guess.  And I thought it was done very effectively.  Even that is tinged with some hopelessness because other Patient Zero's will not remember this incarnation, but it reveals his potential for gentleness to the reader and to the narrator. 

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« Reply #24 on: February 22, 2012, 01:06:50 PM »

I only had one problem with the story, and that was the love interests; being gay is getting repetitive and a bit boring. Perhaps the author could have experimented with the idea of a relationship by having a son/daughter with the illness and the spouse killed in a peace rally? Overall I really enjoyed the story

Being gay is getting repetitive and a bit boring?  I don't understand what that is supposed to mean.  I think it worked well as it is.  Sure, there could have been other family relationships here, but I don't think any of them would've been as effective as a life partner.  At the very least, the story would've been very very different, and I like the story the way it is.  I don't know that the partners being homosexual was strictly necessary for the story to work, I think it could've worked with a man and a woman.  But I like that aspect--there doesn't have to be a story reason for them to be gay, they are gay as part of the basis of the story and that is that.  Gay relationships are just a part of life, and so I like that in stories like this it is just a part of life, and the story need not hinge upon it.
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« Reply #25 on: February 22, 2012, 01:14:49 PM »

I think that the homosexuality was actually very important in this story. At this point in real history, China is a very conservative and homophobic place (not all of China, and certainly not all the time, but it's a theme). It wasn't clear that this was still true of future China, but it was at least implied. Forcing Patient Zero to emerge into a man in a homosexual relationship and showing that love can conquer even his ingrained homophobia and made the story even more poignant.
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« Reply #26 on: February 22, 2012, 01:15:26 PM »

Just wanted to pop in and say thanks to everyone for the kind words on the reading! I gave it everything I had - this story hit me pretty hard, too - and it makes me happy to read that some of you dug the narration Smiley
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« Reply #27 on: February 22, 2012, 05:05:18 PM »

When I brought up the fact he was gay I merely commenting on the fact a lot of authors are using gay couples, and well, I think, it's getting a bit repetitive. I would like something new, a different relationship. I think gay and straight relationships have almost been written to death; something new would be a nice change. I haven't got any problems with a gay couple and it worked well in the context of this story.
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« Reply #28 on: February 22, 2012, 05:16:58 PM »

When I brought up the fact he was gay I merely commenting on the fact a lot of authors are using gay couples, and well, I think, it's getting a bit repetitive. I would like something new, a different relationship. I think gay and straight relationships have almost been written to death; something new would be a nice change. I haven't got any problems with a gay couple and it worked well in the context of this story.

Mother of all lizards, are we going to have to have this conversation again?
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« Reply #29 on: February 22, 2012, 07:28:55 PM »

When I brought up the fact he was gay I merely commenting on the fact a lot of authors are using gay couples, and well, I think, it's getting a bit repetitive. I would like something new, a different relationship. I think gay and straight relationships have almost been written to death; something new would be a nice change. I haven't got any problems with a gay couple and it worked well in the context of this story.

Mother of all lizards, are we going to have to have this conversation again?

If you really must, go resurrect the old thread or something.  :-P
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« Reply #30 on: February 22, 2012, 09:23:28 PM »

Well I thought this story was just lovely. Scary and deeply sad. But sweet too. The relationship between Bruce and Sergio was well depicted, I thought.. I liked the little details, like the head-bumping-against-shoulders thing. And I found the end very moving - Patient Zero being unable to hurt Bruce because he remembered Sergio's love, and Bruce giving him the final gift of comfort. Great story!

Only thing I'd say otherwise is I don't think if it came down to China vs. U.S., that the U.S. would win. I wonder where all the other world powers stood, though.

When I brought up the fact he was gay I merely commenting on the fact a lot of authors are using gay couples, and well, I think, it's getting a bit repetitive. I would like something new, a different relationship. I think gay and straight relationships have almost been written to death; something new would be a nice change. I haven't got any problems with a gay couple and it worked well in the context of this story.

Mother of all lizards, are we going to have to have this conversation again?

I think he was rather saying he'd like to hear more stories outside "normal" relationships - like say a polygamous couple, which is an interesting point. Thing is the 'casts kinda roll with what gets submitted, and I seriously doubt very many high-quality stories with poly relationships in them get sent in. Tongue

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« Reply #31 on: February 23, 2012, 09:23:46 AM »

I think that the homosexuality was actually very important in this story. At this point in real history, China is a very conservative and homophobic place (not all of China, and certainly not all the time, but it's a theme). It wasn't clear that this was still true of future China, but it was at least implied. Forcing Patient Zero to emerge into a man in a homosexual relationship and showing that love can conquer even his ingrained homophobia and made the story even more poignant.

Fair enough.  I hadn't realized there was a particular Chinese cultural stigma against homosexuality.  If that's the case, I agree that it was important to the story (though obviously it made no difference to me when I was listening since I didn't know about that).

I think he was rather saying he'd like to hear more stories outside "normal" relationships - like say a polygamous couple, which is an interesting point. Thing is the 'casts kinda roll with what gets submitted, and I seriously doubt very many high-quality stories with poly relationships in them get sent in. Tongue

Ohhhh, okay.  I admit I was a little confused over the phrase "I think gay and straight relationships have almost been written to death" but polygamous, polyamorous, asexual, etc make sense.  I think Talia's probably right though, that it's just a matter of what people are writing.  I vaguely remember an Escape Artists story that had a relationship claimed to be polyamorous--I think it was Podcastle's Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery?  I also think it didn't seem a particularly good example of polyamory (I don't think both partners really liked the idea).  I could be remembering that wrong.
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« Reply #32 on: February 23, 2012, 11:17:04 AM »

I think he was rather saying he'd like to hear more stories outside "normal" relationships - like say a polygamous couple, which is an interesting point. Thing is the 'casts kinda roll with what gets submitted, and I seriously doubt very many high-quality stories with poly relationships in them get sent in. Tongue

I'm actually working on a SF story with a poly relationship in it. Admittedly they're aliens on another planet, but still, poly. Maybe it'll get picked up by a podcast when I finally finish it.
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« Reply #33 on: February 23, 2012, 12:16:24 PM »

Tell me about the Mother of All Lizards - I want that story!
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« Reply #34 on: February 23, 2012, 12:53:52 PM »

I not against people being gay, and I have several gay friends. I listened to this story after a week of being ill and reading a lot. I noticed, especially in short stories, that authors tend not to explore family. They use spouses a lot and I was trying to suggest to any author who comes across my post that perhaps they should try something new. Maybe two best friends with similar experiences, or two strangers. It's just something I noticed.

I was amazed that I got this many posts from my comment. That was my first ever post like that on the internet and that move was inspired by the fantastic and colourful story. My last word is that, Devour is definitely in my top ten stories I have heard on escape pod.
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« Reply #35 on: February 23, 2012, 06:36:30 PM »

Tell me about the Mother of All Lizards - I want that story!

Well, I don't know the story of the Mother of All Lizards, but I can tell you a story of the Father of All Lizards. Hatanku, the Lizard Who Ate the Fish, creator of the world, and eternal enemy of Uknatah, the Fish Who Ate the Lizard. This is the story of how Hatanku almost ate the sun.

It was winter in the land, and Hatanku was very unhappy. Like all lizards - even those who are also gods - Hatanku has always hated the cold and the dark and loved the heat and the light. Being a clever and ambitious lizard - even for one who is also a god - Hatanku decided that he would climb up to the sun to bask. Surely, in the heavens, it would be warm enough!

Hatanku set off. He crawled up the tallest mountain - inch by lizard inch - and came to the First Gate of the Sun. There, at the First Gate of the Sun, was Uzuzdu the Beetle, who is the least among the the Sun's guardians.

Now, Hatanku is not a reputable god, and he knew it, so before he came in view of Uzudzu the Beetle, he changed his shape. Instead of his beautiful sand-yellow scales, proud and regal beard of spines, and long manly tail, Hatanku wore the glossy green-black shell and delicate wings of the dragonfly.

"Hello brother dragonfly," Uzuzdu said.

"Hell brother beetle," said Hatanku.

"Where are you going in such a hurry?"

"I am seeking passage through the First Gate of the Sun."

"And what is your business of the heavens?"

"It's so very cold, brother beetle," Hatanku whined, "too cold for a dragonfly like me. I was hoping that you would be kind enough to let me through the First Gate. If I could get even a little closer to the sun, it would be so much warmer."

Uzudzu smiled. "Why, all you have to do is ask. I let all my cousins through - where do you think all the insects go in the winter?" With that, Uzudzu the Beetle stepped aside to let Hatanku pass.

As soon as Uzudzu was out of sight, Hatanku resumed his natural shape and continued to walk through the lowest layer of the heavens. It was warmer here, but not a lot warmer. Hatanku continued to walk until he reached the Second Gate of the Sun, which was guarded by Razok, the Golden Hawk, the middlemost of the sun's guardians.

Hatanku knew that his antics had gotten him a bad name, even in the lower heavens, so he changed his shape again. This time, he became a little sparrow - though he was careful to turn himself into a particularly bony and unappealing sparrow, since Razok was not above hunting his littler cousins.

Razok narrowed his eyes at the little sparrow he saw.

"What is your business beyond the Second Gate of the Sun?" he demanded.

"Why, it's so cold on the earth, and I was hoping-"

"The higher heavens are not for the likes of you!" Razok snapped.

Hatanku, always adaptable in the face of adversity, changed his tactics. "Oh, Razok the Golden Hawk, he of the most beautiful feathers and sharpest beak, I only hoped that if I came to bask in the radiance of the upper heavens, I could maybe become half as handsome as you!"

Now, these words grated on Hatanku's tongue as he spoke them. Birds and lizards have hated each other for a long time, and Hatanku and Razok were no exceptions. If Razok had known who he was speaking to, he would have snatched him up in his beak then and there.

But, Razok - never the brightest creature in the world - was taken in. He preened and smiled down at Hatanku.

"Better say a third as handsome as I."

"Oh yes. Barely a quarter. But it would still be an improvement to one so miserable as myself. Why, did you know that last mating season I-"

Razok interrupted again. "Please, spare me your romantic difficulties. You may pass through the Second Gate and bask in the light of the upper world, but don't stay too long and try not to annoy anyone."

Hatanku fell over himself with apologies and crept through the Second Gate, pausing to make a rude gesture at Razok's back as he passed.

The upper heavens were very warm, and Hatanku cold have been happy - or at least happier than he had been on earth - but he had come to far to stop before reaching his goal. At last, Hatanku came to the Ultimate Gate itself, the most glorious golden gate, beautifying even the upper heavens with its presence.

Before the Ultimate Gate stood Biorkas, the Guardian of the Sun. Biorkas had the form of a man, tall and strong. His spear was a sunbeam and his armor was made of gold and electrum. He laughed at Hatanku's attempt to change his shape and returned him to his natural form with a wave of his hand.

"Little lizard who made the world," Biorkas said, "you are far from the earth that is your home. Without your guidance all manner of things are going wrong. Why are you here?"

"I'm here to bask at the sun," Hatanku said. "It's so cold down there!"

Biorkas nodded understandingly, though his customary mocking expression did not fade. "I'm afraid that I can't let you pass. The world is disordered enough by your absence, little lizard. Please return the way you came. Summer will come soon enough."

Now, Hatanku had not come all this way to fail now. He puffed up his beard in annoyance, then pulled it back in again.

"But Biorkas, it's so cold. Maybe I could bask for a little while?"

Biorkas shook his head.

"I can make it worth your while?" Hatanku finally offered.

This aroused Biorkas's interest, because there are few things as valuable as a boon from Hatanku, the Lizard Who Ate the Fish. Although Biorkas tried to keep his face impassive, Hatanku could tell that he had found an opening.

"It must be very hard to stand guard at the Ultimate Gate," Hatanku said. "The sun must be so very hot upon the back of your neck whenever the door opens."

"It's true," Biorkas admitted warily. "The sun is very hot."

"Let me make you an umbrella out of my skin. In return, will you let me past the Ultimate Gate?"

"Won't it be difficult for you to live without your skin?"

"Oh yes," Hatanku lied. "It will be a terrible hardship. But I'm so cold that I don't care. Do I have your agreement? In return for an umbrella made out of my skin, you'll let me past the Ultimate Gate?"

With a sigh, Biorkas agreed. Before the Guardian could change his mind, Hatanku wriggled out of his skin, and with a few sticks, fashioned Biorkas an umbrella. In case you do not know, every lizard has an outer layer to his skin, which he sheds when it becomes too dull, worn, or simply too small. This layer does not have the depth of the lizard's true skin, and is as delicate and translucent as rice paper.

Biorkas gazed at the umbrella in disbelief. "How will this protect me from the fury of the sun?"

Hatanku shrugged - if a lizard can be said to do such a thing, even a lizard who is a god - and said "that is none of my concern - you agreed to let me pass in return for an umbrella, and that's what I have given you!"

Biorkas laughed again, honored to have been tricked by Hatanku, the Lizard Who Ate the Fish and creator of the world, and let Hatanku pass through the Ultimate Gate. To this day, it is said, Biorkas carries the umbrella with him as a memento of humility - not that it helps, much.

Beyond the Ultimate Gate, Hatanku found the sun, a golden ball of light and heat that finally - finally! - drove warmth into the bottoms of his bones. Hatanku laid himself out next to it and soaked in the heat.

But the sun was so beautiful that Hatanku couldn't resist the temptation to crawl a little closer.

And the sun was so delicious that Hatanku couldn't resist giving it a little lick.

And it was so tasty, that with a guilty look over his shoulder at the Ultimate Gate, beyond which Biorkas still stood guard, Hatanku ate it.

Immediately, the whole world was plunged into chaos. The levels of heaven fell into each other and the depths rose up to swallow the world. Chaos and confusion reigned everywhere.

As for Hatanku himself? He fell all the way down, through the heavens, through the sky, and into the ocean. Everywhere around him was dark and cold, but inside himself was so much light and warmth that he couldn't help but be contented. Hatanku sat happily in the ocean, which bubbled and frothed around him. All the life in the world huddled close to him, too happy to have found a way to survive to be confused at the fact that all the world's heat now came from a lizard.

Then, something shifted uncomfortably inside Hatanku's insides.

Hatanku wriggled in dismay.

The something shifted again.

Hatanku gulped and puffed out his beard.

Perhaps Hatanku would have kept his meal inside him, but at just that moment his old nemesis - Uknatah, the Fish Who Ate the Lizard, who lives in the depths of the ocean and longs for the dark and cold of the emptiness before the world - could not help herself. Hatanku's glowing tail, resembled one of the worms Uknatah loves to feed upon. She bit it, breaking Hatanku's concentration. With a terrible noise - and a terrible smell, to be sure - Hatanku shat the sun back out into the ocean.

Thus does the evil of Uknatah, the Fish Who Ate the Lizard - who longs only for destruction - prove its own undoing, while Hatanku - the Lizard Who Ate the Fish and creator of the world - can do no lasting harm, despite his mischievous nature.

The sun immediately rushed back to its place in the heavens, and the order of the world was restored to it. Uknatah fled back into the depths and all the living things of the world was carried back to their proper places by the enormous wave produced by the sun's passage. Even Hatanku was carried back to his customary rock, where he blinked in confusion and then began to sulk.

After all that, it was still winter, and he was still cold.
« Last Edit: February 23, 2012, 06:39:52 PM by ElectricPaladin » Logged

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« Reply #36 on: February 23, 2012, 10:00:53 PM »

I was amazed that I got this many posts from my comment.

You had the misfortune to sound - to casual skimming - like you were complaining that there was "too much gay" in the stories on the podcast.  We have been down that road before here on the forums, and it was an unpleasant experience for pretty much everyone involved.  No worries; some folks are just a little sensitive about that kind of thing.

Welcome to the forums.  :-)  :-P
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« Reply #37 on: February 24, 2012, 05:32:14 AM »

Tell me about the Mother of All Lizards - I want that story!
<snipped>
The upper heavens were very warm, and Hatanku cold could have been happy - or at least happier than he had been on earth - but he had come to too far to stop before reaching his goal. At last, Hatanku came to the Ultimate Gate itself, the most glorious golden gate, beautifying even the upper heavens with its presence.
<snipped>
Fixed that for you Smiley
And the Mother of All Lizards was the only one who would put up with Hatanku's antics and agreed to settle down with him, under condition that he cease his mischievous ways at once.
Hatanku promised, and to his credit he tried, but as many of us know, a leopard does not change his shorts and although a lizard can shed his skin, he cannot change who he is (even if he is a god).
And so, the Mother of All Lizards, Who Agreed To Cook The Fish Even Though She Thought It was Quite Silly As Lizards Don't Eat Fish married Hatanku in a noble and futile effort to maintain order in the world.
And that is why we celebrate Mardi-Gras, to celebrate the end of winter and the warming of the world so that Hatanku will not be tempted to swallow the Sun again and The Mother of All Lizards can finally rest a little from her vigil.
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« Reply #38 on: February 24, 2012, 09:43:32 AM »

I not against people being gay, and I have several gay friends. I listened to this story after a week of being ill and reading a lot. I noticed, especially in short stories, that authors tend not to explore family. They use spouses a lot and I was trying to suggest to any author who comes across my post that perhaps they should try something new. Maybe two best friends with similar experiences, or two strangers. It's just something I noticed.

I was amazed that I got this many posts from my comment. That was my first ever post like that on the internet and that move was inspired by the fantastic and colourful story. My last word is that, Devour is definitely in my top ten stories I have heard on escape pod.


What scattercat said.  I misinterpreted what you had said, and so was looking for clarification of what you meant.  I see now what you were saying, and I appreciate the clarification.  I don't know that I necessarily agree--I have seen plenty of stories based on strong sibling relationships, friend relationships, parent-child relationships, and the like, enough that I don't feel that spousal relationships are too heavily weighted.  But, thankfully, I don't have to agree with everybody, and I appreciate again that you took the time to clarify.  Smiley
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« Reply #39 on: February 24, 2012, 10:59:20 AM »

Tell me about the Mother of All Lizards - I want that story!

Well, I don't know the story of the Mother of All Lizards, but I can tell you a story of the Father of All Lizards. Hatanku, the Lizard Who Ate the Fish, creator of the world, and eternal enemy of Uknatah, the Fish Who Ate the Lizard. This is the story of how Hatanku almost ate the sun.
......
After all that, it was still winter, and he was still cold.

Crafty, calculating (and surprisingly numerate) Hatanku; that must have been some heartburn! I'm betting the Mother of all Lizards was down the shops and gave him a right pasting when she got back.  Thank you for this unexpected delight  Smiley
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« Reply #40 on: February 24, 2012, 11:09:41 AM »

Tell me about the Mother of All Lizards - I want that story!
<snipped>
The upper heavens were very warm, and Hatanku cold could have been happy - or at least happier than he had been on earth - but he had come to too far to stop before reaching his goal. At last, Hatanku came to the Ultimate Gate itself, the most glorious golden gate, beautifying even the upper heavens with its presence.
<snipped>
Fixed that for you Smiley
And the Mother of All Lizards was the only one who would put up with Hatanku's antics and agreed to settle down with him, under condition that he cease his mischievous ways at once.
Hatanku promised, and to his credit he tried, but as many of us know, a leopard does not change his shorts and although a lizard can shed his skin, he cannot change who he is (even if he is a god).
And so, the Mother of All Lizards, Who Agreed To Cook The Fish Even Though She Thought It was Quite Silly As Lizards Don't Eat Fish married Hatanku in a noble and futile effort to maintain order in the world.
And that is why we celebrate Mardi-Gras, to celebrate the end of winter and the warming of the world so that Hatanku will not be tempted to swallow the Sun again and The Mother of All Lizards can finally rest a little from her vigil.
Pretty much what I thought, only without the pancakes.  Grin #suddenlyveryhungry
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« Reply #41 on: February 24, 2012, 01:05:06 PM »

I was amazed that I got this many posts from my comment.

You had the misfortune to sound - to casual skimming - like you were complaining that there was "too much gay" in the stories on the podcast.  We have been down that road before here on the forums, and it was an unpleasant experience for pretty much everyone involved.  No worries; some folks are just a little sensitive about that kind of thing.

Welcome to the forums.  :-)  :-P

Yeah. Um. Sorry 'bout that.
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« Reply #42 on: February 26, 2012, 09:53:25 PM »

Could you have dragged this story out any longer?  Was a somewhat interesting premise, but just got old.  For the last 25% of the story I just didn't care anymore.
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« Reply #43 on: February 27, 2012, 12:02:56 PM »

Could you have dragged this story out any longer? 

The answer is yes.  You can always drag a story out longer!   Cheesy
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« Reply #44 on: February 28, 2012, 11:23:34 AM »

I thought this story was beautiful.  I thought it captured a wonderful slice of postwar mentality, relationships, and forgiveness.  Right on.
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« Reply #45 on: March 05, 2012, 02:59:31 PM »

I liked the story most of it (except for Bruce flirting with Sergio's replacement while Sergio lays dying upstairs), but I didn't care for the ending. I would have preferred either:

1) Bruce shoots Sergio in the back of the head while hugging him so that Sergio can keep looking at Bruce as he dies, instead of looking at the barrel of a gun (though a shotgun would make this a tricky thing to do). Having Bruce also kill himself with that shot, so that he could die with his love, would have been an interesting addition.

2) Bruce lets himself be killed by the "possessed" Sergio, because he can't go on living without his love.

Either of these would have had more punch for me. As it was, the ending made the story about "Patient One" (as someone already pointed out). Considering that the rest of the story wasn't about "Patient One", this strange change in focus at the end didn't work for me.
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« Reply #46 on: March 06, 2012, 09:28:40 AM »

I liked the story most of it (except for Bruce flirting with Sergio's replacement while Sergio lays dying upstairs), but I didn't care for the ending. I would have preferred either:

1) Bruce shoots Sergio in the back of the head while hugging him so that Sergio can keep looking at Bruce as he dies, instead of looking at the barrel of a gun (though a shotgun would make this a tricky thing to do). Having Bruce also kill himself with that shot, so that he could die with his love, would have been an interesting addition.

2) Bruce lets himself be killed by the "possessed" Sergio, because he can't go on living without his love.

Either of these would have had more punch for me. As it was, the ending made the story about "Patient One" (as someone already pointed out). Considering that the rest of the story wasn't about "Patient One", this strange change in focus at the end didn't work for me.

To me, those were the two really obvious possibilities for endings, so the whole thing would've been ho-hum if either had been used.
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« Reply #47 on: March 22, 2012, 11:05:29 AM »

I just wanted to say that I loved this story. And I loved Dave's narration--he did a wonderful job of portraying the grief and heartache the characters experience.   It's not often I listen to a story more than once in a month, but this one caught me.  And, yes, it did almost make me cry.  It fascinated me on a few different levels.  One of those levels was awakening me to some of my own stereotypes, particularly in the beginning of the story.  My first reaction when he started speaking about chains and the bed was an image of a little kinky S&M gay bondage, then, as the story continued and it was apparent the chains were permanent, I jumped to the conclusion it was a horror/murder scenario...I'm not sure if the author intended to play on our initial mis-impressions, but its my feeling he did, and it surprised me the conclusions I jumped to so quickly.  I think there is also a parallel with watching loved ones fight against the ravages of illness, disease or addiction and the destructive changes these can work on personality, memory.  Can you love both the person you knew before and the person they've become?  I was leery of the "evil Asian menace" as well, but I do think it worked, primarily as a example of very different cultures and sexualities coming to recognize and (pun intended), embrace their underlying humanity. 

Where did Bruce flirt with Sergio's replacement?  (And did he really have to be named "Bruce"Huh?)
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« Reply #48 on: March 22, 2012, 11:56:02 AM »

I just wanted to say that I loved this story. And I loved Dave's narration--he did a wonderful job of portraying the grief and heartache the characters experience.   It's not often I listen to a story more than once in a month, but this one caught me.  And, yes, it did almost make me cry.  It fascinated me on a few different levels.  One of those levels was awakening me to some of my own stereotypes, particularly in the beginning of the story.  My first reaction when he started speaking about chains and the bed was an image of a little kinky S&M gay bondage, then, as the story continued and it was apparent the chains were permanent, I jumped to the conclusion it was a horror/murder scenario...I'm not sure if the author intended to play on our initial mis-impressions, but its my feeling he did, and it surprised me the conclusions I jumped to so quickly.  I think there is also a parallel with watching loved ones fight against the ravages of illness, disease or addiction and the destructive changes these can work on personality, memory.  Can you love both the person you knew before and the person they've become?  I was leery of the "evil Asian menace" as well, but I do think it worked, primarily as a example of very different cultures and sexualities coming to recognize and (pun intended), embrace their underlying humanity. 

Where did Bruce flirt with Sergio's replacement?  (And did he really have to be named "Bruce"Huh?)


That's interesting, my first reaction was to assume Sergio was turning into a werewolf. Tongue Glad you stopped by to share your thoughts! Smiley
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« Reply #49 on: March 23, 2012, 11:02:21 AM »

That's interesting, my first reaction was to assume Sergio was turning into a werewolf. Tongue Glad you stopped by to share your thoughts! Smiley

Me too!

And welcome, smileyinfesserton!
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« Reply #50 on: March 24, 2012, 05:02:11 PM »

The people of Adelaide have become accustomed to seeing me quietly crying on the bus, as I travel to work.

As I listened it made me recall a movie I'd seen, years back, with Lee Marvin, or someone Lee Marvinesque. In it he contracted rabies and chained himself up and told his boy not to trust him after he'd gone mad. The whole issue of personality and trust being eroded by a virus was very frightening to me back then, and still is now. Strange though, the only other thing I remember is that the rabid character wore double denim. Quelle horreur.

I expected the ending to be much bleaker. However, thinking about why the author chose to write the story, it's probably less surprising in hindsight that he chose to make it about love being an unconquered force of nature.

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« Reply #51 on: March 25, 2012, 06:56:49 AM »

Another striking allusion is The Silver Chair, which involves one mindset superseding another in a bout of 'madness'.
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« Reply #52 on: April 11, 2012, 09:05:06 PM »

To avoid simply reiterating what everyone else has said I'll keep my comment to something that struck me after finishing this story. While very sad and a heartwrencher it was fantastic to see a story where someone didn't become more cynical through horror. Instead of finishing with some sort of splatter or some act of violence it ended with an act of breaking through to something utterly alien to the war-torn world he inhabited. I thought the ending was very refreshing.

All in all a fantastic story, I think leaving it at that was perfect since calling it a good story would detract from what it was obviously meant to evoke.

As an aside I think that some of the best sci-fi out there evoked the same feeling as horror. This story, the realization in Ender's Game of committing genocide against an enemy you'd never even met, the solitude and hopelessness of the citizens of "The Machine Stops". All of these had moments where my stomach dropped out as I considered them and their ramifications.
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« Reply #53 on: April 12, 2012, 09:22:23 AM »

As an aside I think that some of the best sci-fi out there evoked the same feeling as horror. This story, the realization in Ender's Game of committing genocide against an enemy you'd never even met, the solitude and hopelessness of the citizens of "The Machine Stops". All of these had moments where my stomach dropped out as I considered them and their ramifications.

I agree, I really like reading stories that leave you with lots of fodder for thought and discussion. The Machine Stops is a particularly good story (though of course I love Ender's Game as well) for that, I remember thinking it over for days after I discovered it. Another of my favorite dystopias is We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which is becoming increasingly relevant as we put increasing amounts of our information in the public domain.
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« Reply #54 on: April 13, 2012, 09:14:40 AM »

You had the misfortune to sound - to casual skimming - like you were complaining that there was "too much gay" in the stories on the podcast.  We have been down that road before here on the forums, and it was an unpleasant experience for pretty much everyone involved.  No worries; some folks are just a little sensitive about that kind of thing.

Hmm, erm ::approaching slowly with hands outstretched for you to sniff and hopefully conclude that i'm friendly:: is it possible to comment that I perceive there to be a high 'gay' content in the stories on the podcast without it being seen as a complaint or any form of threat? Huh Sorry, I'm new here and was not party to any previous conversation, so forgive if I rake over any old coals.
Robert.
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« Reply #55 on: April 13, 2012, 04:22:09 PM »

Well, for me, my reaction is: Why bring it up if you're not complaining?  If you don't care whether a given character is gay or not, then what does it matter how many characters are coincidentally gay?

Basically, saying, "Man, you guys have a lot of gay up in here" tends to heavily imply "...and that makes me uncomfortable," which tends to further imply that the speaker sees something wrong with being gay.  That sort of discussion (regardless of whether I think it's a crummy point of view or not) really doesn't have any bearing on the stories qua the stories, and thus is discouraged in story threads.
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« Reply #56 on: April 14, 2012, 09:11:17 AM »

You are right,
I am wrong,
let's shake on this,
and call it gone.
'sides which, there are more important things in life: the footy just kicked off!  Grin
Robert.
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« Reply #57 on: May 09, 2012, 11:18:38 AM »

That was...horrible. That was horrible and wonderful. That was wonderful and horrible and DAMN YOU FERRETT AND DAVE FOR MAKING ME CRY.

This was probably one of the most hardest and bravest stories I've ever heard. I would venture to say that it crosses all three genres of fantasy, science fiction and horror. With all the controversial elements in it, this could have gone so wrong, but Ferrett really pulled it off and made all the characters sympathetic. And with Dave's reading was...damn. I'm going to say this is the best reading he's ever done. EVER.

I'm going to recommend this story to my feminist book club. There's lot in here for us to...uh...chew over.
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« Reply #58 on: January 02, 2013, 08:13:28 PM »

Wow. First of all, thank you for the strong rating before the story, that was a good call. Second of all, thanks for having Dave do the narration, I can't imagine anyone else reading this story. Third of all, yes this was an Escape Pod story, but it sure could (should?) also have been a Pseudopod story! Fenrix, we accidentally got another one for ya! Tongue

If this was over on PseudoPod, folks would be complaining about the sunshine and unicorns of love and acceptance in it.

Fun story, ElectricPaladin. It would be an amusing Easter egg for this or a related story made it to a flash fiction contest.
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« Reply #59 on: December 13, 2013, 10:53:09 AM »

The song Demons by Imagine Dragons has been getting a lot of radio airplay by me and every time I hear it, I can't help but think of the lyrics as a 3-way conversation between the plumber, the lawyer, and the Chinese weapon.  Also reminded me of how powerful and awesome this story is.
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« Reply #60 on: June 17, 2014, 12:22:43 PM »

I put this as #27 on my Best Podcast Fiction of All Time list:
http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2014/06/the-best-podcast-fiction-of-all-time-21-30/
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