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Author Topic: EP343: The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees  (Read 4275 times)
eytanz
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« on: May 04, 2012, 01:34:52 AM »

EP343: The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees

By E. Lily Yu

Read by Mur Lafferty

Originally appeared in Clarksworld

---

For longer than anyone could remember, the village of Yiwei had worn, in its orchards and under its eaves, clay-colored globes of paper that hissed and fizzed with wasps. The villagers maintained an uneasy peace with their neighbors for many years, exercising inimitable tact and circumspection. But it all ended the day a boy, digging in the riverbed, found a stone whose balance and weight pleased him. With this, he thought, he could hit a sparrow in flight. There were no sparrows to be seen, but a paper ball hung low and inviting nearby. He considered it for a moment, head cocked, then aimed and threw.

Much later, after he had been plastered and soothed, his mother scalded the fallen nest until the wasps seething in the paper were dead. In this way it was discovered that the wasp nests of Yiwei, dipped in hot water, unfurled into beautifully accurate maps of provinces near and far, inked in vegetable pigments and labeled in careful Mandarin that could be distinguished beneath a microscope.

The villagers’ subsequent incursions with bee veils and kettles of boiling water soon diminished the prosperous population to a handful. Commanded by a single stubborn foundress, the survivors folded a new nest in the shape of a paper boat, provisioned it with fallen apricots and squash blossoms, and launched themselves onto the river. Browsing cows and children fled the riverbanks as they drifted downstream, piping sea chanteys.

At last, forty miles south from where they had begun, their craft snagged on an upthrust stick and sank. Only one drowned in the evacuation, weighed down with the remains of an apricot. They reconvened upon a stump and looked about themselves.

“It’s a good place to land,” the foundress said in her sweet soprano, examining the first rough maps that the scouts brought back. There were plenty of caterpillars, oaks for ink galls, fruiting brambles, and no signs of other wasps. A colony of bees had hived in a split oak two miles away. “Once we are established we will, of course, send a delegation to collect tribute.

“We will not make the same mistakes as before. Ours is a race of explorers and scientists, cartographers and philosophers, and to rest and grow slothful is to die. Once we are established here, we will expand.”


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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eytanz
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« Reply #1 on: May 04, 2012, 01:43:36 AM »

Quick moderator's note: this story marks the first of the Hugo nominees to run in Escape Pod. The tradition of running the Hugo nominees goes back to the early days of Escape Pod and I believe I speak for everyone involved in EA in saying they are proud and happy to continue with it. However, it's important to note that the normal genre guidelines for EP are not adhered to with the nominees.

So, please, no complaints about this or other Hugo nominees not being Science Ficiton.

Thanks!
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aceofwands
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« Reply #2 on: May 04, 2012, 07:01:05 AM »

I'm beginning to feel that, with the awards this year, writers are being rewarded for the neatness of a core idea rather than the execution.

I enjoyed this as a narrative, the central idea is quite "neat", but in the end I was disappointed becasue I couldn't tell is this was plain ole fiction or allegory.

I wasn't so much bothered that I found the ending quite downbeat; but if it's allegorical and therefore reflects the author's world-view, it seemed to me to say something quite negative about political free thought, which didn't reflect well.  And given that I only found the central idea "neat", it didn't seem to justify the weight I was assigning.

I'm now unconfortable about trying to seem deep, so ...

Hey! Bees that draw maps! Neat!
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Listener
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« Reply #3 on: May 04, 2012, 02:54:27 PM »

Am I the only person who had a weird double-audio thing on Mur's intro? It didn't affect the story.

I... am not sure how I felt about this story. On one level, it's your pretty standard "technological invaders take over a weaker society and make them a subject race" that we've all read. On another... wasps making maps and bees making anarchy! And it was all framed by the fact that it was happening in this little town in what I'm guessing is a communist country, given the use of "The Capital" (I could practically hear the T and C).

So, I'd say it was okay.
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SF.Fangirl
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« Reply #4 on: May 04, 2012, 10:14:48 PM »

Uggg!  I was disappointed to see this story here because I listened to it a few months back and disliked it then.  And it's not even Sci Fi, but running the Hugos is a great Escape Pod tradition which I have enjoyed in previous years.  (I like the nominees less and less each year though it seems.)  I think aceofwands it the nail on the head.  This was a allegory certainly not sci fi but not exactly fantasy either.  But whatever story it telling, I did not enjoy it.
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schizoTypal
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« Reply #5 on: May 04, 2012, 10:21:29 PM »

@Listener - go back and listen again, Mur and the producer fixed everything up. Thanks again, Mur!

@aceofwands - It does seem to be an allegorical story, though I don't know if that would mean that it reflects how the author feels about the actual world. True in some cases, but definitely not all. Also, I didn't necessarily see what it was saying as negative, as far as political free thought, just ... sort of accurate. Inevitably, complete freedom is anarchy.

@SF.Fangirl - How exactly was the story not sci-fi? I'd be interested to know your definition of the genre, because it definitely seemed like it to me. Would you call it fantasy? Either way, Eytanz did say (in bold) not to complain about Hugo nominees being not Sci-Fi.

Personally, I felt like the story was one of extremes, as any good Sci-Fi tends to be. The extreme control on the side of the Wasps, and the extreme lack of it on the Bees. It also seemed a story of the way an aristocracy tends to crush the people living under it, and the way those people tend to rise up to crush that same aristocracy. All in all, I thought it was a well-told story, and as usual well-narrated.

Oh, and Nathan, I liked the little "transmission" joke at the end...
« Last Edit: May 05, 2012, 12:21:47 AM by schizoTypal » Logged
Lightspeed Kiwi
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« Reply #6 on: May 05, 2012, 08:06:10 AM »

Well, Despite it being an "allegory".  I still enjoyed the simple escapism. Rather than a sci fi story that indulges my imagination to fantastical limits, here was a story with a simple supposition, that could be deemed plausible, if you laid down some preliminary ground rules, such as it being set a 100 years ago?  To allow for the slimming of the chance an entomologist might discover their true nature.  It sure does make me feel vindicated incinerating a paper wasp nest on our fence last week with a lighter and a handy aerosol can.
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Unblinking
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« Reply #7 on: May 07, 2012, 11:39:17 AM »

I heard this story when it ran on the Clarkesworld podcast last year, and I found it incredibly boring.  Neat idea, but it's nothing but loads and loads of exposition summary with no characters, and no matter how interesting an idea that gets really old really fast. 

And this got nominated for a Hugo?  Ugh.  I don't know why such noms surprise me every year, but as happens every year this makes me question the entire point of these awards.

Thanks for running the Hugo noms, Escape Pod, even if most of them make me wonder if someone slipped something into the drinking water on voting day!
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Devoted135
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« Reply #8 on: May 08, 2012, 11:53:16 AM »

Oh good, it's not just me! I was feeling almost guilty for not being able to really sink into this story and I was worried that it was the fault of my multi-tasking.

I agree that the core idea was cool, but the flowing descriptions separated me from the narrative so much that I cared quite a bit less than usual. In the end, my favorite part was the title.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #9 on: May 08, 2012, 03:06:36 PM »

Am I the only person who had a weird double-audio thing on Mur's intro? It didn't affect the story.


No. It came through that way from iTunes as well. Thought perhaps she was experimenting in 3-D audio (I mean, 3-D IS the Hot right now, so...)

As for the story, while it was interesting examination of anarchism and totalitarianism, the effects of the former on the latter weren't entirely clear to me, nor the effects of either on the human world. Maybe I'm exceedingly dense, but I would have preferred that to be spelled out a little more clearly. Allegory or no.

I also had a bit of problem keeping track of which species of insect the narration was discussing when they flipped back and forth between wasp and bee. Somethings were obvious markers (paper vs. wax and honey) but some were not.
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merian
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« Reply #10 on: May 09, 2012, 01:41:21 PM »

OK, this is an odd one. I found it hard to keep my interest up and found it sounded too didactic and exposition-heavy. But I was wondering if there wasn't something I didn't get, so I went out and found the text on Clarkesworld Magazine. This was one of the times that reading works a lot better for me than being read to. Much more subtle, and I finally understood the end. Maybe this is one story that just doesn't work as well in audio.

(And yes, Mur's intro is completely mangled in my mp3.)
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schizoTypal
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« Reply #11 on: May 10, 2012, 12:07:28 AM »

@merian and @InfiniteMonkey and @Listener

The double audio thing (which, being a producer myself I'd guess was a side effect of some failed slight echoing for depth) was unintentional, and was fixed the next day. If you re-download it you can hear Mur in her usual glory! Also, at the end, the audio is messed up exactly that same way on purpose.
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« Reply #12 on: May 10, 2012, 07:31:08 AM »

I loved this on Clarkesworld, and I loved it again here - which tells you that the story can transcend equally good but quite different narration. Disappointingly, I didn't comment on the CW forum or I would have lifted it in a generous act of recycling. It's quite hard to pinpoint the qualities that draw me, but the sheer lyricism of the writing, which nevertheless remains clear and 'ordinary', is a major factor. Then there's the leap of imagination that has wasps making tiny maps, while bees potter along with their more artistic literacy. With some authors, this might have been twee and anthropomorphising but I never felt I was being asked to buy into a talking wasp - somehow, they just were what they were. I guess that's poets for you.
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Talia
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« Reply #13 on: May 10, 2012, 09:25:22 AM »

My mind is actually blown that so many people didn't like it. Quite strange.

I thought it was absolutely LOVELY! A fascinating idea with a neat setup. I loved the imaginings of bee and wasp society, just fun to think about (though dang, wasps are jerks. Well that's true of them in real life too! :p).

It was sad that the anarchist bees perished, but it was clear their message would continue, and I think they would have been content to know that.
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childoftyranny
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« Reply #14 on: May 10, 2012, 12:36:56 PM »

I have to admit, I entered this story thinking allegory, that's what you get for reading those dern commentaries before hand but at the end I didn't really see it. I also didn't really have any trouble understanding which group of insects were talking as it was very linear that when it moved from the meeting to the not-so-grand debate of bees after that it was mostly exposition about what the bees were doing or having done to them.

I think what lead me off the allegory train was how little it actually seemed to have to with the actions of story, its not as if the wasps and bees were not organized, and to have bees that were anarchist apparently everyone just worked together, though of course, the queen being the only one who can mate and creating more queens requires royal jelly, so if they had not perished in one season that there are stark differences would have become clear. The short amount of time in story seems to avoid the very sticky questions to me leaving it as beautiful writing but that it fails really take that dive into the deeps.
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #15 on: May 10, 2012, 03:26:27 PM »

As with most, I struggled with this one. Granted, the imagery is nice, I could picture the hives, nests, wasps, and bees clearly, and enjoyed that aspect. However, like Merian and Unblinking, I found the exposition far too dense and boring. I would have liked a few specific characters, with dialogue, but at the same time, when the story is about the evolution of the society you can't really spend time on specific characters who might be gone in the next generation. It's like Asimov's Foundation series, or Tracy Hickman's Bronze Canticles; the story is about the world, not the people. Going into with that in mind, does it change how the story reads? Perhaps, but not enough in my opinion.

I also found myself at several points wondering why this story was being told about wasps and bees at all. I mean, it was creative and artistic, yes. But could the author have gotten her point across better if the reader wasn't spending so much time trying to reconcile the sentient state of these tiny insects.

Perhaps I just prefer a straight forward story to allegory. Either way, if this can get a Hugo nod, it gives me hope for own writing...
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childoftyranny
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« Reply #16 on: May 11, 2012, 09:20:29 AM »

I also found myself at several points wondering why this story was being told about wasps and bees at all. I mean, it was creative and artistic, yes. But could the author have gotten her point across better if the reader wasn't spending so much time trying to reconcile the sentient state of these tiny insects.

This seems a curious problem to have to me, considering that you rarely see these comments in stories involving all sorts of odd aliens, the story doesn't actually identify the planet as earth, and neither does it identify the people as humans, perhaps if you approach it as an alien world you might find the suspension of disbelief easier, something I've been pondering after reading a few related comments.
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #17 on: May 11, 2012, 10:25:38 AM »

This seems a curious problem to have to me, considering that you rarely see these comments in stories involving all sorts of odd aliens, the story doesn't actually identify the planet as earth, and neither does it identify the people as humans, perhaps if you approach it as an alien world you might find the suspension of disbelief easier...

This brings up so many more ideas/wonders/questions. One the one hand, what if E. Lily Yu had written this as an obvious alien landscape? You're absolutely correct in stating that we have no trouble reconciling the vast possibilities of alien entities for just that reason; they're alien. They can do anything, be anything. It's when you take something familiar, like bees/wasps and change it that we find it harder to believe. It's like Stephanie Meyer calling her sparkling bloodsuckers "vampires". (My sincere apologies for the Twilight reference.) But how much can you change the familiar before it becomes alien?

However, if E. Lily Yu had just written this as aliens on a different world, would there be any magic in the thought of tiny sentient creatures creating maps and developing written communication? It's the familiarity of the wasps/bees that makes this idea so unique and creative.

I'm finding that I'm at odds with myself over this story. Because I like the idea, the creativeness, the imagery of sentient insects; and yet, I didn't like the story. Heavy exposition has a lot to do with that, but, as I said before, this story is not about any specific characters, but about the race as a whole. And I'm OK with that. I liked the Foundation and Bronze Canticles series and they were more about their worlds as a whole. So why didn't I like this one? Could E. Lily Yu have told the same story from the limited points of view of a few select anarchist bees? It doesn't seem likely.

I guess I'm just going to have to chalk this one up to a good, well written story that just failed to resonate with me. I'm not in the target audience of this tale.
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yicheng
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« Reply #18 on: May 11, 2012, 12:44:24 PM »

Holy shit, this story was awesome!!!  I loved everything about this, from the Anarchist Bees, to the idea of aristocratic Wasps drawing tiny maps, to the lush poetic imagery.  I hereby challenge all detractors of this story to a sushi-eating contest.  Be there or be forever dishonored!
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Balu
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« Reply #19 on: May 11, 2012, 06:07:02 PM »

Well it wasn't science fiction, but so what? It was awesome.

There was such a dense weave of ideas in this one, and the narrative pace moved just fast enough for them to be savoured without ever becoming dull.

How do you respond to tyrants possessed of terrible force ? Do you become Vichy Bees or risk anhilation? Was the Wasps' recruitment of slaves justified because slavery gave them the leisure to get on with civilization? That's something which can be argued of the ancient Greeks. And what happened to anarchists bees' version of Das Kapital? What contagion will it create?

Really, great stuff. I haven't heard the rest yet, but it deserves to win something.


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