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Author Topic: EP331: Devour  (Read 24673 times)

eytanz

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on: February 10, 2012, 10:46:31 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!



heyes

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Reply #1 on: February 10, 2012, 01:14:50 PM
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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sangrail

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Reply #2 on: February 13, 2012, 01:21:09 AM
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.



knigget

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Reply #3 on: February 13, 2012, 01:25:32 AM
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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What would have been written. 

Spoiler (click to show/hide)


Scattercat

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Reply #4 on: February 13, 2012, 02:32:08 AM
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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Listener

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Reply #5 on: February 13, 2012, 01:57:35 PM
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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bluetube

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Reply #6 on: February 13, 2012, 02:27:24 PM
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.



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #7 on: February 14, 2012, 01:05:16 PM
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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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #8 on: February 14, 2012, 02:23:24 PM
Death is stronger than life, but love is stronger than death.

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Devoted135

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Reply #9 on: February 14, 2012, 04:08:36 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! :P

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.


Death is stronger than life, but love is stronger than death.
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InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #10 on: February 15, 2012, 11:32:03 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....



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #11 on: February 15, 2012, 11:39:20 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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jk_jackel

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Reply #12 on: February 16, 2012, 09:15:52 AM
I really liked this one also, I had emotional depth as well as bio-engineered super-soldiers, what more can you ask for?



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #13 on: February 16, 2012, 04:01:36 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.

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

Ok, not like an invasive nanophage that rewrites my genetic structure, but still....



SF.Fangirl

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Reply #14 on: February 17, 2012, 07:03:54 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.



4WheelDrive

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Reply #15 on: February 18, 2012, 02:54:09 AM
Here we go with another "Humans are out to rid the world of themselves" story.  With that tired rant aside... ::)

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.




Longshoreman

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Reply #16 on: February 19, 2012, 12:46:16 PM
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



kibitzer

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Reply #17 on: February 20, 2012, 01:44:10 AM
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.


Dem

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Reply #18 on: February 20, 2012, 02:20:49 PM
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.

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


Devoted135

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Reply #19 on: February 20, 2012, 03:16:19 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



Dem

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Reply #20 on: February 20, 2012, 04:18:38 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!

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #21 on: February 20, 2012, 07:01:59 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!
The problem with ruling people is who you get to do it. Or to put it more precisely, who you get to allow people to do it to them.
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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.
To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.
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Gamercow

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Reply #22 on: February 22, 2012, 02:11:30 PM
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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Unblinking

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Reply #23 on: February 22, 2012, 05:59:40 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. 




Unblinking

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Reply #24 on: February 22, 2012, 06:06:50 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.