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Author Topic: EP369: Passengers  (Read 2314 times)
eytanz
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« on: November 09, 2012, 08:37:12 AM »

EP369: Passengers

By Robert Silverberg

Read by Michael Spence

----

There are only fragments of me left now. Chunks of memory have broken free and drifted away like calved glaciers. It is always 
like that when a Passenger leaves us. We can never be sure of all the things our borrowed bodies did. We have only the lingering traces, 
the imprints.

Like sand clinging to an ocean-tossed bottle. Like the throbbings of amputated legs.

I rise. I collect myself. My hair is rumpled; I comb it. My face is creased from too little sleep. There is sourness in my mouth. Has my Passenger been eating dung with my mouth? They do that. They do anything.

It is morning.

A gray, uncertain morning. I stare at it awhile, and then, shuddering, I opaque the window and confront instead the gray, uncertain surface of the inner panel. My room looks untidy. Did I have a woman here? There are ashes in the trays. Searching for butts, I find several with lipstick stains. Yes, a woman was here.

I touched the bedsheets. Still warm with shared warmth. Both 
pillows tousled. She has gone, though, and the Passenger is gone, and I am alone.

How long did it last, this time?


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: April 25, 2013, 10:04:26 AM by Talia » Logged
matweller
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« Reply #1 on: November 09, 2012, 09:50:32 AM »

Chalk this up as my third favorite of the year so far. There are holes, but the concept is brilliant and the conclusion without resolution is so gloriously realistic. Love it.
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chemistryguy
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« Reply #2 on: November 09, 2012, 10:08:20 AM »

A terrifying concept that your body is up for grabs at any time.  And yet people are trying to function through all of it by ignoring it completely. 

This gave nods to many different sci-fi tropes, but I got mostly a 1984 feel off of it.  As the protagonist attempts to get beyond the fear and live his life he's swatted down.  Depressing as hell, but well done.

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Thunderscreech
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« Reply #3 on: November 09, 2012, 05:43:42 PM »

I was very confused about WHEN this was taking place.  1987?  The technology seemed anachronistic for that, unless I missed something fundamental.
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H. Bergeron
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« Reply #4 on: November 10, 2012, 08:13:16 AM »

I was very confused about WHEN this was taking place.  1987?  The technology seemed anachronistic for that, unless I missed something fundamental.

Well, it looks like the story was originally written in 1969 or 70, which means that instead of "1987" you should just read "indeterminate future year."

I really enjoyed this story. The protagonist's quest to get the girl and, at the very last minute, in the moment of his triumph, having it all wrenched away from him, was nice. I found it interesting that there are some older cultural ideas and attitudes (that is, from the seventies) portrayed in this story that seemed rather jarring - referring to one of the people he saw as a 'negro' really was a strange moment - but it wasn't too bad once I put the story in the context where it was written.
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #5 on: November 10, 2012, 03:49:42 PM »

I really liked this one, too. It reminded me of Dollhouse, though in this world the "dolls" are everyone involuntarily, which makes it much more creepy and tragic. I love the idea that it can happen to anyone anytime and that the rest of society has just learned to turn a blind eye, pretend it never happened.

I did find that the girl's hesitation at getting into a relationship to little puzzling because, as it was stated, when the people of this society aren't being "ridden", they attempt to go about their lives as usual. I would imagine that would include relationships, marriage, family, etc. I mean, I didn't get the feeling that no one engages in relationships anymore, that idea seems a bit far-fetched. If there's one thing humans have always done over the centuries, it's pair off. Even as sexual orientation in our society is becoming more broadly defined, homosexuality, bi-sexuality, etc, people still tend to pair off and spend at least a certain amount of time in a monogamous relationship. So I did have a hard time understanding why that would be so difficult in this tale.

However, that said, I loved the ending that, just as he's about to convince her that they can make it work, he's suddenly ridden and ripped away. And yet, I was left with a sense that, once he's released, they can pick up where they left off. I love the thought of a couple trying to make it work and maybe even trying to raise a family in a situation like this.

I found it interesting that there are some older cultural ideas and attitudes (that is, from the seventies) portrayed in this story that seemed rather jarring...
The scowl from the bartender at the two gay men is another example of this. Not to say people don't don't scowl at it today, but it's less prevalent.
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Ed
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« Reply #6 on: November 11, 2012, 06:34:23 AM »

As noted in previous comments, certain details of the story reflect 1960s attitudes towards race and sexuality. These  clues about the milieu from which the story originates are interesting. The first-person narration is effective in bringing into focus the personal impact of the experience of being taken over by another entity. A strange thing about the world of this story is that humans don't talk about the experience of being ridden. If we were all repeatedly being taken over by passengers, one would think that given our nature, we would talk about it endlessly.

Silverberg had to have been influenced by the writing of Phillip K. Dick. There are some similarities between this story and Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (a.k.a. Blade Runner ), which was also published in 1968. Both stories involve characters whose existence is controlled by others, and who have limited time to enjoy being alive. In both stories two characters, against all odds, develop a relationship that they hope will bring some fulfillment during the fleeting time that remains for them. Both stories involve introspection and existential reflection on the nature of identity.
« Last Edit: November 11, 2012, 04:12:39 PM by Ed » Logged

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lisavilisa
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« Reply #7 on: November 11, 2012, 01:32:07 PM »

However, that said, I loved the ending that, just as he's about to convince her that they can make it work, he's suddenly ridden and ripped away. And yet, I was left with a sense that, once he's released, they can pick up where they left off. I love the thought of a couple trying to make it work and maybe even trying to raise a family in a situation like this.


I remember at the beginning he hinted that sometimes passengers can ride in the back of the mind and let the person think they are autonomous. I got the impression that's what happened here. Think of how they kept going to the library for little reason. They kept feeling driven there.
 I think the passengers wanted to see the people fall in love for amusement and then take it away.
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« Reply #8 on: November 12, 2012, 01:13:57 PM »

Really interesting idea that had me listening along, but ended up very disappointed by the ending.  I think that he got ridden again, and wandered off, but that's not an ending, that's just a segue.  There's nothing to stop him coming back.

Was I the only one who wondered if these other beings actually exist, or whether this is a widespread social/mental health problem?  Maybe something in the public water supply?  Memory loss and uncharacteristic behavior are not proof of an outside force, and there did not appear to be anything else.  I wondered if perhaps some people have picked up the drug from the public water, and perhaps others have used the stories of possessing alien as a way to justify behavior (consciously or subconsciously) they don't want to admit.  "Oh, yeah, honey, I didn't sleep with your sister.  It was the aliens in my body that did it."

That crossed my mind especially at the end of the story.  It seemed like the relationship was getting too "real" for him and he used the alien stories as a means to escape the looming commitment.  An interesting thought experiment, though I get the impression that's not what Silverberg was going for.
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eytanz
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« Reply #9 on: November 13, 2012, 10:58:21 AM »

Really interesting idea that had me listening along, but ended up very disappointed by the ending.  I think that he got ridden again, and wandered off, but that's not an ending, that's just a segue.  There's nothing to stop him coming back.

No. He was ridden all along. It was just that he wasn't aware of it as it was happening.

The whole story is about the sadism of the passengers, but the narrator is not the target. He's just the tool. When the passanger leaves, he will forget it ever happened. He won't remember the woman, and won't be able to come back.

That's because the whole thing was about her. The two of them were ridden, then she was taken to the library and released. The narrator, then, was made to go there - there are plenty of hints that he wasn't in control of his actions, from beginning to end. His passenger was riding him lightly, so enough of his true personality was emerging - enough to make her trust him. And then, the moment she finally became vulnerable, the passenger took full control and betrayed her.

She was not being ridden at that point. She was a human, trying to forge a human connection but the person who she was trying to do so with was, unwittingly, part of an immensly cruel joke at her expense. That's the true point of this story - it's not that humans just lose control of their bodies, but it's that they can no longer trust anyone, and that will. Human intimacy is based on vulnerability, on allowing someone into a position where they might hurt you. But in this world, you can never be sure who it is you are with.

The passengers' motivation is never explained, but whether they have some goal or are just doing it for the lulz, they are acting as bullies. It's not enough for them to have power over humans, they want humans to be aware of this. They could probably wipe out humanity by getting control of a few nuke operators, but they're not interested in that. They are interested in dominating human spirit, and this story shows why they'll succeed, in what to me was a devestatingly stark way.
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Thunderscreech
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« Reply #10 on: November 13, 2012, 11:18:42 AM »

Exactly.  The clearest evidence that he's being ridden the whole time, to me, was his unexpected recollection of the woman.  The narrator is clear on this, you simply don't remember what happened while you had a passenger, but for some reason he has a clear enough recollection of the woman that he can identify her in a crowd. 
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #11 on: November 13, 2012, 11:55:42 AM »

The whole story is about the sadism of the passengers, but the narrator is not the target. He's just the tool. When the passanger leaves, he will forget it ever happened. He won't remember the woman, and won't be able to come back.

Well that shatters the small spark of hope I had for the two of them at the end of the tale. What a depressing and tragic story. Sadly, leaving no glimmer of hope at all makes me like the story a little less. Don't get me wrong, it's still a masterful story, just a serious downer.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #12 on: November 13, 2012, 01:15:37 PM »

No. He was ridden all along. It was just that he wasn't aware of it as it was happening.

Oh!
I totally didn't get that from the story.  But I see how it makes sense, in an unrelentingly depressing sort of way.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #13 on: November 14, 2012, 03:41:08 PM »

I'm in agreement with eytanz' interpretation, and therefore nominate this as the most depressing escape pod of 2012. I mean, seriously! But it's such a well-written, engrossing, and real-feeling depressing story that I have to be moved by it. I felt for Charles, and I really felt for Helen; I have a feeling she'll be haunting the library steps for quite a while. Maybe she'll look Charles up and find him once his passenger has left him for good?

I do wonder at the isolationist reaction that the story describes. Right at the beginning Charles says that he's had 5 passengers in 3 years, and while we aren't given much information about duration I'm thinking it can't be more than the several days represented. That leaves a LOT of time to become more secure and to pursue normal relationships.

I also wondered about STD rates in this universe. They're high enough right now, even with a large percentage of people being educated about safe sex practices. I can't imagine the passengers are too worried about this, so that implies the rates of various diseases should be going through the roof.
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John_in_Calgary
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« Reply #14 on: November 14, 2012, 08:51:11 PM »

Exactly.  The clearest evidence that he's being ridden the whole time, to me, was his unexpected recollection of the woman.  The narrator is clear on this, you simply don't remember what happened while you had a passenger, but for some reason he has a clear enough recollection of the woman that he can identify her in a crowd. 

My memory throws up a line from early on in the story that our narrator is worried that he is still being ridden. Which then explains why he remembers and so on.

Excellently told story. I didn't like it in the end. It was close to winning me over at points but for everything I liked I found something else I didn't. The ending was the tipping point for me.
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Cattfish
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« Reply #15 on: November 14, 2012, 09:37:11 PM »

Love me a good puppet master story.  Yeerks, body snatchers, brain slugs, bring them on.

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cDave
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« Reply #16 on: November 15, 2012, 05:42:51 AM »

A strange thing about the world of this story is that humans don't talk about the experience of being ridden. If we were all repeatedly being taken over by passengers, one would think that given our nature, we would talk about it endlessly.

I agree, I just couldn't get my head around the idea that society as whole had decided not to talk about this. Then again, given that the Starship Enterprise of my youth had a councillor as bridge crew, maybe the '60s were a different time, and people did just "not talk about" more things.

-

The thing that really got me (and I haven't seen in the comments so far), is how much this guy creeped me out. I know this was published in 1970, but come on; He was basically stalking this girl. Some of his thoughts like:
Quote
She seems to need me, too, without realising who I am. But fear holds her back.
Read straight of the backstory of psychopath in crime drama who's falsely projecting his own feelings onto the object of his obsession, before killing her for not living up to his fantasy!

The part where is grabs her, and she's scratching at his face to get away, I thought we were about to get the moral lesson that you don't treat women like that, but then she just melts into his arms! Bleh.


If I get the time later today l'm going to try a give this story the Rosenbaum Test, and swap genders to see if it still reads creepy to me.
Ref: benjaminrosenbaum com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-view.cgi/1/entry/976


When looking for the text of the story online I came across this snippet of an interview, that is somewhat relevant to my point.

Quote
JF: I was positing earlier that there is a subtext to "Passengers" about how men can try to pass off things they do--externalize them, rather than accept credit. Is it just me, or was there any such thought in your creation of that story?

RS: Well, sure. Except that it didn't occur to me while I was writing the story. What I had in mind is irrelevant, anyway... I write 'tem, you collaborate by reading 'em.
Ref: hourwolf com/chats/silverberg.html
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scarbarough
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« Reply #17 on: November 15, 2012, 06:22:53 PM »

I enjoyed the concept and the writing...Silverberg is one of the masters, but the whole "she doesn't know it, but she wants me" thing really exemplified rape culture, to me. I understand that it's a part of its times, but that doesn't make it OK.
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lisavilisa
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« Reply #18 on: November 16, 2012, 02:25:17 AM »

I enjoyed the concept and the writing...Silverberg is one of the masters, but the whole "she doesn't know it, but she wants me" thing really exemplified rape culture, to me. I understand that it's a part of its times, but that doesn't make it OK.

Agreed. Just because someone has enjoyed having sex with you once before does not mean they want you again.

Anyone whose had good sex with someone whom they do not want to bed again can attest to this. 
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Talia
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« Reply #19 on: November 16, 2012, 02:36:15 PM »

I'd suggest that mindset was due to the manipulation of the passengers, as well. It's the ultimate violation, what they're doing, and clearly they have no qualms about it.

Creepy and chilling. Although the "1987" bit made me chuckle (I figured it had been written long ago).  It's interesting to me, there have certainly been some huge leaps forward in technology since the '60s, just not quite in the way envisioned. Makes me wonder if in 40 years time people will look back at contemporary sci-fi and chuckle about its erroneous imaginings about the future. Smiley
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