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Author Topic: EP365: The Garden of Earthly Delights  (Read 2158 times)
eytanz
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« on: October 12, 2012, 03:12:56 PM »

EP365: The Garden of Earthly Delights

By Jay Caselberg

Read by Mat Weller

---

Bosch drew deeply on his cigarette and exhaled slowly, watching the smoke paint clouds of tissue paper across the chill moon. If his hard-boned mouth had been capable of smiling, it would have. He’d tried to mimic the gesture often enough. He took one last drag at the cigarette, then flicked it out in a wide arc to scatter sparks against the broad stone steps. It was funny how compelling these human habits could be, even the ones they frowned upon. There was no risk for Bosch, but the humans seemed to like the fact that he had adopted one of their vices. It showed them he had his personal weakness.

Compelling. It was less compulsion than convenient subterfuge, but they weren’t to know that. Smoking, and alcohol, and sex — particularly sex; the examples went on and on.

“Ambassador Bosch, come to escape the crowd?” It was Davy, his shadow, his cultural liaison, assigned to keep him on the straight and narrow.

Bosch turned his head to make eye contact. These humans liked eye contact. He whistled once and snapped his mouth, forgetting for a moment for the hundredth time that Davy could not understand. Quickly, he followed it with a series of signs using his three long fingers. Davy nodded and waited while Bosch withdrew his pad from inside his clothes, slipped the stylus from the carry case and tapped at the screen. Davy craned over Bosch’s shoulder to read, then glanced down at the still-smouldering cigarette end lying on the steps below.

“Yes, I needed some fresh air as well. I think it’s going well, don’t you?” Bosch tapped at the pad once. As well as it could be, he thought, but Davy seemed satisfied.

The smooth, dark-haired human leaned his head back and looked up at the stars. “Yes, a good night for it,” he said.

A good night for what? Often, these little expressions eluded Bosch. Expressions, cultural behaviours, so many things.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: October 13, 2012, 12:19:29 PM by eytanz » Logged
Ed
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« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2012, 03:25:45 AM »

One of the most famous works of 15th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch is a triptych titled The Garden of Earthly Delights. The narrow left panel of the triptych depicts paradise in the Garden of Eden, the larger middle panel includes numerous nude figures engaged in all manner of carnal pleasures, and the narrow right panel has grotesque images of sinners being tortured for their misdeeds.

The alien protagonist in this story found the work of Bosch so revealing of human nature that he decided to adopt the painter’s name as his own. What aspects of the painter’s work could have provoked the contempt his namesake exhibits toward humankind? Perhaps the artistic depictions of humans utterly preoccupied with earthly delights opened the alien’s eyes to the weakness of a species irrationally obsessed with sensuality. On Bosch’s home world procreation is supposedly a much more routine matter, although a tryst involving three sexes isn’t likely to be entirely routine.

In spite of his distaste for humankind, Bosch engages in erotic encounters with all manner of humans of both sexes; purely for research of course, so that he can come to better understand the weaknesses of this species. Before long Bosch starts to develop a taste for sex with humans. Interestingly, his first orgasm with a human seems to arise from within his mind. Perhaps that is the only possible release mechanism for Bosch, given that evidently he is lacking in the usual orifices, and considering that there is no mention of specialized appendages other than his long, dexterous fingers.

By the end of the story there are hints that Bosch has become a little too addicted to sex for his own good. He is still able to rationalize his ongoing sexual experimentation as a way of learning how to control these stupid humans, but Bosch would do well to consider how humans have a great deal of experience with carnal vices. Who is diddling whom remains an open question, and there’s also that right panel of the triptych to think about.

This is a good story. It is interesting to view our species from the detached perspective of a sophisticated alien who is highly critical of us. The deft social interactions and banter are enjoyable, and the titillating bits add to the fun.
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« Reply #2 on: October 15, 2012, 03:08:58 PM »

I'm not quite certain I liked this story. I appreciated some of the satire, and the way that Bosch's own cravings were starting to rule him, but the story itself didn't do it for me. I guess I was spending too much time trying to figure out how a bird-man with three-fingered hands and no "expected" orifices has sex with a human.

I almost feel as though this should've been the B-plot to a longer story, instead of the A-plot on its own.
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« Reply #3 on: October 16, 2012, 09:17:29 PM »

I'm struggling to find purpose in this story. The basic premise is: Alien comes to explore Earth, hates humans, likes sex, stays for the sex. So what? What are the stakes here? None that I can find. If he stays, he gets more sex. If he leaves, he what... won't get anymore sex? I get that the humans are manipulating him with sex so he'll stay, but to what end? I don't get it.

However, the bigger problem I had with this story was that the alien was so thoroughly un-alien. He wasn't an alien, he was a bitter human with a beak and long fingers who hated human society but loved sex. All of Bosch's thoughts, feelings, actions, etc. were based on human thoughts, feelings, actions, etc. The alien thought just like a human would. There was nothing foreign in our society to him and nothing foreign about his thoughts or actions to us. Seriously, replace every instance of the word "alien" in this story with, say, "foreigner", or "[name of country native]" and it would read exactly the same. Oooh, he couldn't speak our language because of his beak. So what? He could understand, read, and write it fluently. I say again, he's not an alien.

And I was very displeased that we didn't get some sort of full description of the alien. We get "beak", "long fingers", and "rough skin". Not enough.

I think maybe the problem I'm having with this story is that, in our oversexed society, here's a nifty little tale that says, "When the aliens come, our intelligence, inventiveness, creativity, adaptive abilities, and so on, won't mean a thing. All that matters is sex." And I take issue with that.
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« Reply #4 on: October 16, 2012, 10:36:24 PM »

Oversexed?  Sex is fun!  And, apparently, effective against plotting alien invaders too. 

Neat.  I guess I'd better get back to practicing my, ah, planetary defense skills.
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« Reply #5 on: October 16, 2012, 11:56:55 PM »

I get how one would think this was good. The story has all of the things necessary to draw me in sex, alien, alien sex, did I mention sex? But, for some reason it fell short. I think it needed more substance or explanation. A subplot or conflict would have gone a long way.   
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« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2012, 06:07:26 AM »

Yes, I could see how you could plug "insert foreign country" for alien and achieve basically the same effect.  But unlike cutter I didn't take issue with the story.  I enjoyed it for what it was, namely a distorted view of human nature.

The description of the alien was also incomplete, but I think that's the point.  Just like sex, sometimes it's better to give a little flash here and there and allow the mind to fill in the blanks.  Sex is mostly taking place in our heads, and this was highlighted and underlined by the story.

Being curious, I would like to know the mechanics of three-way alien sex.  Kurt Vonnegut wrote of the seven-sexed world of Tralfamadore, but somehow I don't think it would work the same way.

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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #7 on: October 17, 2012, 12:43:37 PM »

The alien was an invader? I missed that plot point. I read him as an ambassador of sorts. In this new light I can kind of see a point to the story, but without any real conflict or opposition it still falls flat for me.

As for my comments on our "over-sexed" society. I'm not saying sex is a bad thing, or that it doesn't have a place in fiction. There is sex is some of my own stories. But there's no denying that the majority of our movies, TV shows, social commentary, etc. relies heavily on the idea that sex is everything. And as an artist, musician, and lover of all things science (no pun intended) I'm somewhat offended by the idea that sex is all we have to offer to this "advanced" alien society.
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« Reply #8 on: October 17, 2012, 02:27:36 PM »

This one started off badly. I really hate "aliens are dicks, and invariably think that their culture is better than ours, and are always completely intolerant, while the humans badly want to understand the aliens but invariably suck at it" trope. I think that capacity to understand other cultures - and interest in doing so - is an inherent quality of intelligence, modified by the various incentives that may or may not be at play. When you want someone from something, you try to accomodate them. When someone wants something from you, you try to make them sweat. Proud people do the former less; nice people do the latter less. This applies no matter how unique or special your culture is.

Thus, I come to the conclusion that most aliens are dicks, and I have limited interest in characters that are "just dicks."

But then... this one pulled a twist on me. Bosch's attitude was superior and removed, but in reality he was just as venal and perverse as the humans that surrounded him. In the end, that was the point. I loved it.

Regarding the whole "over-sexed" thing, I firmly believe that humans will have sex with aliens. Look, it's how we're built. Your lizard brain asks three questions about everything you encounter: "Can it eat me? Can I eat it? Can I f^ck it?" It's how life works. Life eats the things it can eat, avoids the things that eat it, and f^cks everything it might reasonably be able to breed with. That doesn't mean its all we are - oh, sure, it can be if you let it, but that's your problem - and that's exactly the point of this story. Bosch has given in to his base, primal urges, and he's allowed it to transform into something base, predatory, and dependent. How else can you explore those themes without writing a sexy story?
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« Reply #9 on: October 17, 2012, 07:52:23 PM »

I didn't like or enjoy the story, but felt it was well done.  I wouldn't expect to like a user or a story told from a user's POV.  And Bosch is both an addict and someone who uses people for his own pleasure without any emotion for them.  The point being made seemed a bit heavy-handed, though.  Not a lot of subtlety here, but I think it will stick with me for a while.  The irony at the end that Bosch is just as addicted to his vice (and in denial about it) as the humans he looks down upon made for a tiny bit of the twist.
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« Reply #10 on: October 18, 2012, 12:45:41 PM »

Two things I liked about this story, This line "
Quote
The males were always such a problem. They were always looking for some sort of orifice or entry point where none existed

and the fact that the only thing keeping the aliens from invading is sex. 
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« Reply #11 on: October 18, 2012, 02:34:30 PM »

This story just left me flat.  As was previously pointed out, the alien was ridiculously human, and the idea that it would develop some sort of sexual response to humans which was supposedly unknown to it's species was bizarre without being particularly interesting.  The only thing that saved this story for me was it's brevity - it was an acceptable vignette, but I'm glad it didn't drag on any further.
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« Reply #12 on: October 21, 2012, 02:20:16 PM »

I just couldn't get into this story at all. I couldn't exactly put my finger on it, but the previous commentes have pretty much said what I couldn't.
Maybe Mur's endcaps with a moderate degree of silence in between isn't such a bad idea after all...
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« Reply #13 on: October 29, 2012, 04:02:47 PM »

I have no strong positive or negative feelings about this story. It kept me entertained on my run, which is a good thing. And the length was was just right.

I do have one quibble however. I would have liked to hear more about what the humans were getting out of the alien in return for the sex. Not individually, but as a whole. At the end, the "handler" says they want the alien to be having a good time, so they are obviously making sure the alien gets plenty of sex, it's just not obvious to me why. A few words about that would have been helpful.
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« Reply #14 on: October 31, 2012, 10:46:15 AM »

Replace "alien" with "politician" and this story wouldn't have changed much.  I didn't feel that it tread any new ground, and I didn't find the way that it tread the old ground compelling.  The alien was so human that his alienness just felt tacked-on.  There was no real tension in the story.  "Should the alien have sex?  Yes! The End."  Nothing changed between the beginning and end.  I thought it was clear pretty early on that his motivations were not just manipulation of the humans he was having sex with, though it seemed like that was supposed to be some kind of revelation, I didn't have that reaction to it.

I did listen to the end to see if it would have a ending that would send me back for me, but in the end I was just disappointed.

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« Reply #15 on: November 03, 2012, 04:36:47 PM »

My comment remains the same as the shape-shifting episode, with perhaps an extra exclamation point
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« Reply #16 on: November 05, 2012, 09:56:59 AM »

My comment remains the same as the shape-shifting episode, with perhaps an extra exclamation point

Since "the shape-shifting episode" might be hard to find, am quoting cattfish, with a link to the other thread, for future historians:

I guess my main reaction was, "Ew, gross alien sex"

http://forum.escapeartists.net/index.php?topic=6457.20
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« Reply #17 on: November 05, 2012, 05:03:59 PM »

Ah yes, my six-year old maturity will live on forever. 

Anyway Cutter McCay said it best

I'm struggling to find purpose in this story. The basic premise is: Alien comes to explore Earth, hates humans, likes sex, stays for the sex. So what? What are the stakes here? None that I can find. If he stays, he gets more sex. If he leaves, he what... won't get anymore sex? I get that the humans are manipulating him with sex so he'll stay, but to what end? I don't get it.
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« Reply #18 on: November 06, 2012, 09:47:09 AM »

Ah yes, my six-year old maturity will live on forever. 

Anyway Cutter McCay said it best

I'm struggling to find purpose in this story. The basic premise is: Alien comes to explore Earth, hates humans, likes sex, stays for the sex. So what? What are the stakes here? None that I can find. If he stays, he gets more sex. If he leaves, he what... won't get anymore sex? I get that the humans are manipulating him with sex so he'll stay, but to what end? I don't get it.

It's a fair enough reaction.  Alien sex doesn't turn me away, per se, for me it was more about lack of stakes and lack of point that Cutter McKay pointed out.
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« Reply #19 on: November 08, 2012, 02:16:51 PM »

Hmm, I'm with the consensus on this one. It felt like it was trying to be clever, but ultimately didn't have enough of a pay-off for my tastes.
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