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Author Topic: EP349: Origin  (Read 9422 times)

eytanz

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on: June 14, 2012, 09:25:47 PM
EP349: Origin

By Ari Goelman

Read by Veronica Giguere

Originally appeared in Strange Horizons

---

This is how I find out that I’m pregnant:

I wake up to find Carter standing next to my bed. The fire escape door is open behind him, so the rising sun silhouettes his body. A human silhouette, albeit a little crisper than it should be, as his body bends the light towards him, powering up. Always powering up.

“You’re pregnant,” he says. No particular emphasis on the words, which is as per usual, his voice being run through vocal cords that are not human, formed by lips that have blown hurricanes off course. It’s not that he doesn’t feel emotion, he tells me and anyone else who’ll listen. It’s just that he doesn’t have the same biologically hardwired ways of showing it. Usually I believe him.

“What?” I rub my eyes, push up on one elbow. “That’s not possible.”

He leans over me, and touches my stomach. “I was flying by your apartment, thinking about you. I heard the heartbeat.”

“You told me that was impossible,” I say.

He frowns and asks, “I told you it was impossible for me to hear the . . .”

“Conceiving, Carter,” I say. “You told me it was impossible for us to conceive.”

“I thought it was. I was wrong.” His frown deepens. “I could take care of it for you right now if you want.”

I push Carter away from me and sit up. “For me, Carter?! You mean for us, right?”

“Right. That’s what I meant.” A pause, then. “You’re freezing the bed, Margaret.”

I glance down. Damn it. I’ve covered myself and the bed with a thin layer of ice. I take a deep breath and try to calm down before I do any permanent damage to my bed.

It strikes me that this whole thing smells of Dr. U. “Any idea where Dr. U is these days?” I say.

Carter shakes his head. “Ambrosius is reformed. This isn’t one of his plots, Margaret. You—we—have to decide what we’re going to do.” He winces. “Shoot. Bank robbery in Chicago. I have to go.”

He’s gone before I can respond.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Cutter McKay

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Reply #1 on: June 15, 2012, 02:23:42 AM
Whoo, I get first? Well, let me start it off on a positive note, then.

What a fantastic story! I know I tend to be a little nit-picky with the stories we're presented here, but I've got no beef with this one. The characters were full, intriguing, and humorous; the story was engaging, (perhaps being a father myself added to the resonance this story had with me); the "reformed" villain and his end justification to attack anyway was awesome. And Veronica's reading was perfect.

I loved it. Next please.

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timprov

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Reply #2 on: June 15, 2012, 12:30:32 PM
Ever think of breaking off Escape Pod just for Superhero stories because so far these last two have been two of the better stories I've heard.  (Plus, I have a weakness for Superhero stories.)
I really hope there's a sequel to this one planed because I really, really want to see what happens next. 


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Pirvonen

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Reply #3 on: June 17, 2012, 07:59:50 AM
Supers dealing with situations similar to what norms face gives possibility for added depth. Sprinkle with evil robots and other super-specific things, and you have an excellent snack for the mind.



benjaminjb

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Reply #4 on: June 17, 2012, 05:57:03 PM
I enjoyed this story, as the other responders here also mentioned. (Also, funny that we're all "extern"-level commenters. Is it my fault I don't have much to say?)

One thing that made this story easier to get into is how, uh, classic this superhero set-up seemed: Power Man who gets charged by the sun seems like one of those Superman-without-the-serial-number superheroes, and the whole "they used to be roommates in college" is very close to both Superman-Lex Luthor and Reed Richards-Dr. Doom pre-power relationships, iirc. I realize this comment could be seen as a backhanded compliment, but I think the classicness of some of the characters really does help get the reader into the new part of the story. In that way, it's a lot like what Kurt Busiek does with Astro City: taking recognizable characters and tropes and putting a new spin on them.



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Reply #5 on: June 18, 2012, 02:24:20 PM
I enjoyed this one quite a bit.  I like to see some real-life problems and drama in a superhero's life.  I liked that it had a very classic comic book feel, but that some of the details were a bit off of what you'd expect to see in a classic comic book.  An example of what I mean here is the fact that the superhero guy has psychic powers but would rather say he has superhearing because he thinks psychic powers are viewed as too effeminate. 

It gave me a feel like this was the REAL STORY that a 50's comic book would've told about, but that some of those less heroic details would've been trimmed away to make the hero as purely heroic as possible.  That made it feel all the realer, despite the over the top plot.

I liked that, despite the drama, there was also plenty of action onscreen, and I thought it was funny that they were having a relationship argument in the midst of the robot onslaught.  I thought the reformed supervillain was funny, and I really liked that the goop all over the apartment that seemed so suspicious was just superdad trying to do his best to make a baby-safe house.

Good stuff!



Kaa

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Reply #6 on: June 18, 2012, 11:11:13 PM
Awesomeness. Everyone else has already said all the reasons it was awesome, so I get to say, "Ditto."

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InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #7 on: June 19, 2012, 01:21:34 AM
This was absolutely charming and cheered me up. I especially liked hearing Carter the All-Powerful come to terms with potential powerlessness in regards to his future daughter, and the completely understandable explanation for the blue goo (ok, maybe not *completely* understandable, but still...). I'm also glad that Carter didn't turn out to be a complete jerk.

But of course, as often happens with supers, it was the villain that stole the show. Poor guy. I mean, if he really *wants* to change and isn't simply deluding himself. But he keeps falling into old habits which are hard to break.

I much prefer "bad" characters who are free agents of chaos and who might if properly motivated help the cause of "good", rather than the cartoonishly evil. Dr. U may have started that way, but he isn't that way now, which makes him much more interesting. (The whole vibe in fact reminded me of "Soon I Will Be Invincible", an excellent superhero novel).

And Margret, our narrator, was a hoot, especially when pointing out all the things that were impossible.



audpicc

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Reply #8 on: June 19, 2012, 01:52:04 AM
This story teetered along the edge of sexism, in my opinion. It played upon the Mystical Pregnancy trope http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rhH_QGXtgQ - one that takes the idea of being falsely impregnated and tortures it into a grotesque plot device. I would rather have seen the protagonist be a more well-rounded character, with more back story than either of the male roles. The theme of having an alien baby take over a female character's life all for an evil plot is so overused - its a shame that all the other comments see this as an okay thing. I would have liked this story if her pregnancy was about her and her back story, life choices and the society she faces, perhaps in league with other super-hero moms. But it wasn't, it was about the men in her life and our (the reader/listener's) morbid fascination with demon spawn. This was not a very creative story. And it wasn't very empowering to women; our bodies and biology, yet again, being more crucial to the story than us as persons.



Kaa

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Reply #9 on: June 19, 2012, 02:14:53 AM
it was about the men in her life and our (the reader/listener's) morbid fascination with demon spawn.

For me, that is not what this story was about. Others have said it above: It's about supers dealing with decidedly unsuper problems that the rest of us face, and the special considerations. At no point did *I*, at least, become morbidly fascinated with the "demon spawn."

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Listener

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Reply #10 on: June 19, 2012, 06:22:53 PM
It was good. I liked it.

Wow, remember when there was a furor over that comment on the forums?

I think the reading was a little slow -- could've been punched up some.

"Ice and Fire" is quite a mouthful for a superhero name. Maybe Margaret should have words with her PR department.

Angie/Angela/the Angel struck me as sort of a cross between Castiel and Faith. Amusing image there.

My favorite parts of the story were the little glimpses into the world beyond Margaret's pregnancy -- the minor characters, Dr. U and PowerMan being college roommates, and so on. I love subtle worldbuilding.

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Reply #11 on: June 20, 2012, 01:59:19 PM
This story teetered along the edge of sexism, in my opinion. It played upon the Mystical Pregnancy trope http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rhH_QGXtgQ - one that takes the idea of being falsely impregnated and tortures it into a grotesque plot device. I would rather have seen the protagonist be a more well-rounded character, with more back story than either of the male roles. The theme of having an alien baby take over a female character's life all for an evil plot is so overused - its a shame that all the other comments see this as an okay thing. I would have liked this story if her pregnancy was about her and her back story, life choices and the society she faces, perhaps in league with other super-hero moms. But it wasn't, it was about the men in her life and our (the reader/listener's) morbid fascination with demon spawn. This was not a very creative story. And it wasn't very empowering to women; our bodies and biology, yet again, being more crucial to the story than us as persons.


Wait what, demon spawn?  The baby was demon spawn?  I thought it was Carter's baby and that the doctor was just taking advantage of the situation.  I do sometimes miss important details, so it's entirely possible I missed something vital there...

"falsely impregnated"--what does that mean?  One is either impregnated or is not impregnated, I don't understand how one can be falsely impregnated.  She was pregnant, what was false about it?

Quote
The theme of having an alien baby take over a female character's life all for an evil plot is so overused - its a shame that all the other comments see this as an okay thing.

I'm not trying to spawn an argument, but I don't see how that is sexist.  Not very nice towards the unlucky woman who gets used in this way, of course. 

To me it sounds like the exact kind of pragmatic and antisocial plan that an over-the-top mad scientist like the one in the story would concoct.
"I want to make an awesome superhuman.  How can I best do this?  By getting a superhuman impregnated so that I can fiddle with the results." 
If one wanted to make a super the way he presumably wanted to, you'd have to start from scratch.  If you start from scratch. the most hospitable environment for a human baby is in a woman's uterus, and I'd guess that the most hospitable environment for a super baby is in a super's uterus.  Maybe he could create an artificial womb to do everything for him, but I don't think that that would appeal to a purely pragmatic mind because there's a lot of extra work there with a lot of extra uncertainty and failure points, and since he's pretty antisocial anyway why go to the extra work for the sake of someone else?

So I don't understand what the problem is.  A superbaby is a plausible plot for a mad scientist like this one to concoct.  And a super's uterus is a plausible place for him to try to gestate it.  Since men don't have uteruses, he would naturally target a female super for this.

Sure, her background wasn't super-fleshed out, but I didn't personally feel like the men's characters were given any more play than hers was.  They were all mostly over the top in old school comic book style, but with a bit of an edge that wouldn't have made it into a comic of that age. 



Devoted135

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Reply #12 on: June 21, 2012, 02:25:28 PM
I'm loving superhero month! Especially since it isn't all depressing deconstructions. :P Also, I really liked the narration. :)

It's fun to see supers deal with the mundane, especially when their "discussions" peak in the midst of a battle for the city or whatnot. (Perfect example: The Incredibles. "Honey! Where's my supersuit!?") I especially liked how Dr. U was trying so hard to be reformed but old habits kept creeping out when under duress.



Devoted135

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Reply #13 on: June 21, 2012, 02:30:34 PM
This story teetered along the edge of sexism, in my opinion. It played upon the Mystical Pregnancy trope http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rhH_QGXtgQ - one that takes the idea of being falsely impregnated and tortures it into a grotesque plot device. I would rather have seen the protagonist be a more well-rounded character, with more back story than either of the male roles. The theme of having an alien baby take over a female character's life all for an evil plot is so overused - its a shame that all the other comments see this as an okay thing. I would have liked this story if her pregnancy was about her and her back story, life choices and the society she faces, perhaps in league with other super-hero moms. But it wasn't, it was about the men in her life and our (the reader/listener's) morbid fascination with demon spawn. This was not a very creative story. And it wasn't very empowering to women; our bodies and biology, yet again, being more crucial to the story than us as persons.


I see where you are coming from, but I think a key factor is misrepresented in the part that I bolded. The baby isn't an alien! It's her and Carter's baby. Yes, Dr. U "helped" the conception, but ultimately the baby is hers. And she wants to have the baby!

In addition, not only was her back-story essentially as fleshed out as the other character's, but she even got a whole scene with her best friend. Look around at most SF/F and we'll all agree that such scenes are woefully rare, and in my book this story gets credit for including it.



lisavilisa

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Reply #14 on: June 21, 2012, 03:42:51 PM
In addition, not only was her back-story essentially as fleshed out as the other character's, but she even got a whole scene with her best friend. Look around at most SF/F and we'll all agree that such scenes are woefully rare, and in my book this story gets credit for including it.


Ah but did it pass the Bechdel test? Their conversation was largely about Carter and why he was not present.

That said I will note that though the story was a pregnancy story, it was laregely about the mother and how she was dealing with life, the universe, and everything with the pregnancy being at most an influencing factor.



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Reply #15 on: June 22, 2012, 01:43:41 AM
I agree with what everyone else said.  This was really fun and really enjoyable.  The villian was a hoot.  And I say that as someone who's not particularly a superhero genre fan, but I have to admit I almost always like Escape Pod's superhero stories.  I liked it so much that I may seek out some of the author's other stories in the universe.  Carter's reason for his disappearance was very sweet too; I am glad he didn't turn out to be a jerk - just a guy overwhelmed because he legitimately thought he was incapable of having a child.  I thought the reading was noticably great too.

This last three stories have been a string of WIN!  Great editorial choices as far as I am concerned.

I didn't take the story to be sexist.  The woman carries the fetus; she can't run away from it.  The guy can and when he does the woman will be angry, annoyed, and upset about it because he's bailing. Margret was independent and not pining away for Carter; although, she was a bit concerned as anyone might be for someone whom they cared about.  In fact she's the stable, capable one in this story.  Carter? Not so stable.



childoftyranny

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Reply #16 on: June 22, 2012, 07:39:05 PM
I definetly enjoyed the story, it has the goofy level of super-hero interaction well intermixed with normal things, and people...and peoplethings.

I too didn't quite read sexism from it, in many ways Carter was the weakest in the bunch, it would have been far more akward had there needed to be a discussion of how Dr. U managed to get the changed sperm into her with Carter's "help".

As for Ice and Fire, while its a mouth ful you don't wanna shorten it to IF...I mean when you hear IF is coming or they were taken out by IF well...what if?



Coolbreeze44105

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Reply #17 on: June 24, 2012, 02:34:54 PM
Liked it. But why are all male superheroes so clueless? Is this a stereotype we can expect in future stories? If so, I don't like that. It's sexist.

 :'(



zoanon

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Reply #18 on: June 24, 2012, 03:04:30 PM
Liked it. But why are all male superheroes so clueless? Is this a stereotype we can expect in future stories? If so, I don't like that. It's sexist.

 :'(

I think carter seemed particularly clueless because he is alien. that and as he said, he didn't think conception was possible, so having a baby is probably something he has never had to think about.
to be fair he did make an effort to do some research.



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #19 on: June 24, 2012, 03:22:58 PM
Liked it. But why are all male superheroes so clueless? Is this a stereotype we can expect in future stories? If so, I don't like that. It's sexist.

 :'(

I think it has more to do with Carter's omnipotence. He doesn't think very deeply because he simply doesn't need to. Everything comes easy to him. It has more to do with the superhero part than the male part. He finally ends up having something of an emotional breakdown over something he has NO control over (and again, I'm glad it was the fear over his daughter's future safety, and not over loosing his "freedom", which was the cause).



matweller

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Reply #20 on: June 25, 2012, 01:54:25 PM
Liked it. But why are all male superheroes so clueless? Is this a stereotype we can expect in future stories? If so, I don't like that. It's sexist.

 :'(

I think it has more to do with Carter's omnipotence. He doesn't think very deeply because he simply doesn't need to. Everything comes easy to him. It has more to do with the superhero part than the male part. He finally ends up having something of an emotional breakdown over something he has NO control over (and again, I'm glad it was the fear over his daughter's future safety, and not over loosing his "freedom", which was the cause).

Yeah, I thought of it as something of an alien superhero autism -- he's so high-functioning when it comes to morality and justice that personal life-matters escape him. Kinda like Einstein could grasp the universe but couldn't count pocket change. Of course, that's probably an autismist statement, so I'm sure I'll be expected to issue an apology before running for public office.



childoftyranny

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Reply #21 on: June 27, 2012, 10:02:36 AM
so I'm sure I'll be expected to issue an apology before running for public office.

I suggest slowly stalking office in general, it might look slow and easy to pounce upon but they can move quick when cornered!



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Reply #22 on: July 02, 2012, 05:20:27 PM
This one annoyed me at first, but I warmed to it. I think it was how, in the very beginning, Carter was sort of demonized. I mean, look, if my girlfriend threw a wall of ice at me for even suggesting getting an abortion, I'd probably want to take a couple of months off, too. I mean, for fuck's sake, you trust me that little? I do appreciate, however, that Carter turned out to be not a bad guy, just a little immature. And that, my friends, is a segue to what I really liked.

Firstly, the relationship between Carter and Dr. U. I would have loved to see that more thoroughly explored (although, I get it, the story was more about Margaret). I dig the old-friends-turned-dire-enemies vibe, especially the ways in which it prevents the characters from really resolving the plot situation. Carter isn't going to kill Dr. U - he loves that guy! They're friends from way back? And Dr. U... I'm pretty sure he loves Carter in an entirely different, but equally valid, way. My central narrative capacitor is sparking with possibilities.

Secondly, I really enjoyed the other implied relationships: Margaret and her friends in the Battalion, Margaret and Carter's (many) exes, and the implication that Carter probably had similar "we're-totally-normal-buddies-in-the-face-of-life-as-a-superhero" friends.

Finally, and similarly, I loved the idea of a "recovering" supervillain. Do you think there's a 12 Step program for that? Or did he do Landmark, or become a Buddhist?

I guess I would have liked a little more content to his recovery.

To conclude (my wife mocks me for talking like an essay - I guess I post like one, too), this one annoyed me at first, but eventually it grew on me. I think the easiest fix would have been to make it more clear at first whether this was going to be a silly story or a serious one. For serious, I would have liked to know where Margaret's towering trust issues came from. For silly... I would have liked it made a little more clear that these characters were partly caricatures, so I knew not to take it too seriously when Margaret was throwing ice walls at Carter. But all in all, definitely still a win. Three and a half out of five pregnant zeppelins.

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Reply #23 on: July 02, 2012, 07:48:01 PM
But all in all, definitely still a win. Three and a half out of five pregnant zeppelins.

Funny image.  Maybe the reason there aren't many zeppelins around these days is not because they're less practical than airplanes, but because the zeppelins had some kind of global fertility problem ala Children of Men, and so there WERE no more pregnant zeppelins.



Devoted135

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Reply #24 on: July 02, 2012, 07:53:27 PM
But all in all, definitely still a win. Three and a half out of five pregnant zeppelins.

Funny image.  Maybe the reason there aren't many zeppelins around these days is not because they're less practical than airplanes, but because the zeppelins had some kind of global fertility problem ala Children of Men, and so there WERE no more pregnant zeppelins.


Or maybe they lost their zeppelin-wives when they went to visit the ent-wives, and now they can't find them! They can't even remember what they looked like. :'(