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Author Topic: EP384: The Tamarisk Hunter  (Read 2280 times)
eytanz
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« on: February 22, 2013, 06:50:27 AM »

EP384: The Tamarisk Hunter

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Read by Caith Donovan

---

A big tamarisk can suck 73,000 gallons of river water a year. For $2.88 a day, plus water bounty, Lolo rips tamarisk all winter long.

Ten years ago, it was a good living. Back then, tamarisk shouldered up against every riverbank in the Colorado River Basin, along with cottonwoods, Russian olives, and elms. Ten years ago, towns like Grand Junction and Moab thought they could still squeeze life from a river.

Lolo stands on the edge of a canyon, Maggie the camel his only companion. He stares down into the deeps. It’s an hour’s scramble to the bottom. He ties Maggie to a juniper and starts down, boot-skiing a gully. A few blades of green grass sprout neon around him, piercing juniper-tagged snow clods. In the late winter, there is just a beginning surge of water down in the deeps; the ice is off the river edges. Up high, the mountains still wear their ragged snow mantles. Lolo smears through mud and hits a channel of scree, sliding and scattering rocks. His jugs of tamarisk poison gurgle and slosh on his back. His shovel and rockbar snag on occasional junipers as he skids by. It will be a long hike out. But then, that’s what makes this patch so perfect. It’s a long way down, and the riverbanks are largely hidden.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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statisticus
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« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2013, 08:23:06 AM »

Started listening to this one, but it seemed to be the story of a fellow trying to make his way in a world that was gradually going down the tube - precisely the sort of pessimistic & without hope SF that I don't care for - and I gave up on it.  Can anyone tell me if it is that sort of story, or is it worth listening to after all?
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Thunderscreech
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« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2013, 08:32:33 AM »

This was one of those stories that felt less like fiction and more like a dribble of future history that somehow wicked its way back up through the threads of and into a piece of writing.  Well written and a frighteningly plausible prediction.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2013, 08:36:36 AM »

Some times you just can't get ahead, you know? You think you have this fantastic idea that will ensure that though others may fail all around, you're going to be the one that makes it out ahead of the game. And then the government swoops in and changes all of the rules without any warning and you're screwed. I really felt for Lolo and hope that he comes up with another brilliant scheme to stick it to the man. I also expect that we'll be seeing more stories where lack of water is a real problem in the coming years.


Started listening to this one, but it seemed to be the story of a fellow trying to make his way in a world that was gradually going down the tube - precisely the sort of pessimistic & without hope SF that I don't care for - and I gave up on it.  Can anyone tell me if it is that sort of story, or is it worth listening to after all?

I think Alasdair's comments were spot on. This story disagrees with the old SF idea that the apocalypse will be sudden and all changes wrought will be instantaneous. This story instead explores the slow descent into the unraveling of society and government as we know it, through the lens of water rights and usage. While I wouldn't personally condemn it for being pessimistic or without hope, I can see why others might.
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matweller
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« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2013, 09:06:09 AM »

Started listening to this one, but it seemed to be the story of a fellow trying to make his way in a world that was gradually going down the tube - precisely the sort of pessimistic & without hope SF that I don't care for - and I gave up on it.  Can anyone tell me if it is that sort of story, or is it worth listening to after all?
No, it doesn't end hopefully unless you read into it. I think it's sad that you don't enjoy any stories like that, but to each his own. Personally, I don't like being in the room when my wife is watching reality shows because they make me mad and I don't turn on entertainment devices to get more stressed out. Point is, I get it.

However, the optimist tree-hugger revolutionary in me took this as the hopeful story of the birth of an eco-terrorist. The author mentions several times that the main character and his wife both outwardly profess disdain for the insurgents, but the main character at least seems to inwardly sympathize with the cause if not the action. To me, the end of this is the last straw, if you can forgive the pun, that should help him walk over that bridge. And frankly, whatever your political disposition, you have to admit its something that echoes frighteningly in the cultural landscape of the US today: okay, we did it your way and you took advantage of us; so we fought back and you squashed us; so we pretended to be complicit while quietly disobeying and you bypassed us altogether; now, what's left? Viva la revolucion!
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Swamp
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« Reply #5 on: February 22, 2013, 11:40:33 AM »

Freakin' Californians!  (with the exception of certain Podcastle editiors)  Wink

I enjoyed this story quite a bit, and I will return to say about it.
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Scumpup
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...


« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2013, 07:22:02 PM »

I enjoyed the story, though I didn't like the character Lolo very much.  While I guess you could see him as a regular guy trying to stick it to The Man, I see him as a chiseler and a thief.  There isn't enough water to go around and some hard decisions had to be made, resulting in some harsh policies.  Lolo causes many thousands of gallons to be lost with his tamarisk plantings and steals more on top of it.  He's no different than someone who steals food during a famine.  When a change in governmental policy caused his scheme to collapse, I didn't really feel sorry for him.  That's one of the things I enjoy about post-apocalyptic stories, that they often lack sympathetic characters.
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benjaminjb
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« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2013, 09:07:15 PM »

I can understand why High Country News would publish this, since it fits into the realm of futurist speculations about environmental claims. But it reminds me of Ken Liu's "Real Artists," published in MIT's Technology Review: a speculation about the future with a slight leavening of story. There wasn't really enough story to engage me emotionally.

That said, I'm reading Paolo Bacigalupi's Pump Six right now, and while I don't love any of the stories I've read, I've found something in each of them to love.
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #8 on: February 25, 2013, 10:48:34 PM »

Well, I enjoyed the story overall, though it was a bit narrative-heavy for much of it. I can see Scumpup's point that Lolo is little better than a thief, but at the same time, that's who we as a society tend to cheer for, right? The underdog who has to steal to survive. Aladdin, Robin Hood, Bean, Vin, (a gold star to anyone who recognizes that last one). So I found myself leaning toward Lolo's POV rather than the stereotypical big bad government.

What I had a hard time with, and not enough to ruin the story, but enough to bug me, was the lack of ending. Now, I'm not saying this was a bad ending, it just felt more like a beginning to me than an ending. I want to know what Lolo and his wife are going to do. It was a whole lot of setup, and no payoff other than, "Whoops, your plans are worthless, the government strikes again, bwahaha!" I was left wanting.

However, the optimist tree-hugger revolutionary in me took this as the hopeful story of the birth of an eco-terrorist.

I love this idea, though I can't help but wonder about the use of "hopeful birth of" and "terrorist" in the same sentence. Does anyone really hope that someone will become a terrorist? In this case, yes. I do hope that Lolo and his wife run off and join the Eco-Crazies. That would give this story the ending that it needs.
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« Reply #9 on: February 26, 2013, 01:55:00 AM »

I liked the narration of this story very much, and the plausibility of it is a little bit frightening. At first I thought to myself "What stupid society would allow an entire state to displace hundreds of thousands (millions?) of people, steal from them (why is it California's water any more than theirs?), destroy millions of acres of natural habitat and make it illegal for anybody else to do the same?" But then I thought of the current judicial system that awards patents despite previous art, fines corporations for insignificant use of poorly defined patents, suffers the existence of patent trolls, allows companies to bully just about anybody and hobbles innovation. And I thought "Oh, right. That stupid society."
And to all you people who can't identify with Lolo or think him a criminal: when the Man is being a dick, and a stupid one at that, sometimes the only thing left that you can do is to punch him in the cock.

Also, was it just me or were there artifacts in the recording and a rather sibilant, electronic hiss to it?


The underdog who has to steal to survive. Aladdin, Robin Hood, Bean, Vin, (a gold star to anyone who recognizes that last one).
Vin Diesel in xXx, of course. ;P
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Thunderscreech
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« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2013, 08:01:30 AM »

Also, was it just me or were there artifacts in the recording and a rather sibilant, electronic hiss to it?
The hiss was noticeable to me because the editing seemed to introduce areas of total silence for pacing with very sharp divides.  I get the same effect in Audacity sometimes when I use the 'insert silence' tool on something I haven't run a noise-filter on.
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matweller
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« Reply #11 on: February 26, 2013, 11:42:39 AM »

Also, was it just me or were there artifacts in the recording and a rather sibilant, electronic hiss to it?
The hiss was noticeable to me because the editing seemed to introduce areas of total silence for pacing with very sharp divides.  I get the same effect in Audacity sometimes when I use the 'insert silence' tool on something I haven't run a noise-filter on.
The hiss was because of the noise filter, not for lack of it. More specifically because of the noise filter's effects made worse because of leveling, but I stand by it as a 'happy medium' situation, which you see in many of our episodes. Could I make it better? Yes. Would it be worth the hours that I would spend on it? Not really.

It's more obvious in certain kinds of speakers/headphones than others. I don't get it on my studio monitor, my studio headphones or my walkman headphones. I hear it a little of it in the ear buds I use at work and more on my car speakers, but not enough to worry about it. However, as soon as it posted, Norm emailed saying he could hardly hear through the noise, but I couldn't replicate anything even close to that severe. If anybody had a similar issue, I apologize, but know three things:
1) I am conscious of it and make an honest attempt to minimize it.
2) I always want to hear about it just in case there's something that happened in the export that I didn't hear on the final skim through.
3) There is a chance you got a bad download and deleting and re-downloading might fix it. I know tech freaks like to deny this possibility, but I could fill a book with stories of all the things that are not supposed to be possible electronically and yet happen regularly. Corrupt but still playable audio files would be a heavy chapter.

Someday when EA is crazy rich and we do all of the recordings in one studio, this will not be an issue. Hit that donate button!


I enjoyed the story, though I didn't like the character Lolo very much.  While I guess you could see him as a regular guy trying to stick it to The Man, I see him as a chiseler and a thief.  There isn't enough water to go around and some hard decisions had to be made, resulting in some harsh policies.  Lolo causes many thousands of gallons to be lost with his tamarisk plantings and steals more on top of it.  He's no different than someone who steals food during a famine.  When a change in governmental policy caused his scheme to collapse, I didn't really feel sorry for him.  That's one of the things I enjoy about post-apocalyptic stories, that they often lack sympathetic characters.

I don't think the point was to feel sorry for him, I think the point was that when laws are unrighteous and brought about by fools, then disobeying them is no more unrighteous. And when they change to escalate the urgency, you have to retaliate. I mean, when a man in Sierra Leone resists the armed men that come into the village to rape and dismember all of the women, he's an outlaw -- in terms of somebody's 'law', anyway -- but who wouldn't stand beside him with a machete and help him knock off as many of the invaders as possible? Desperation and the value of morality are inversely proportional.
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benjaminjb
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« Reply #12 on: February 26, 2013, 12:31:37 PM »

There seems to be a trend (or, okay, a few posts) towards seeing this story as an indictment of the government:

matweller:
Quote
I think the point was that when laws are unrighteous and brought about by fools...
Max e^{i pi}:
Quote
"What stupid society would allow..." ... But then I thought of the current judicial system...
Cutter McKay:
Quote
So I found myself leaning toward Lolo's POV rather than the stereotypical big bad government.
Scumpup:
Quote
...some hard decisions had to be made, resulting in some harsh policies [by the government]
Devoted135:
Quote
And then the government swoops in and changes all of the rules without any warning and you're screwed.

I can't quite get on-board with this trend, even if that seems to be the way the story leans at times. That is, here's a person living close to a river who can't get any water because of some government regulations, so it seems natural to blame the obstacle--the government regulations.

But even if there's water in the river, we get hints that there's not enough of it. No matter what Lolo and his other hunters think of California pools, the story clearly notes that California has a "water shortage" too and Hale tersely notes that it's not like Lolo's imagination. The problem isn't just California's water claims, but "Big Daddy Drought." Lolo sounds like a Dust Bowl farmer when he says,

Quote
“The drought could break any time. Why can’t they give us a couple more years? It could break any time.”

Yes, current government regulations make Lolo's life harder; but maybe those regulations also help other people to survive during an environmental catastrophe--even if this drought is an on-going, incremental catastrophe. And if we're hell-bent on blaming regulations, let's save some hate for the past government whose regulations encouraged people to settle in areas that had minimal watersheds and little steady rainfall.

Now, all that doesn't mean I don't feel bad for Lolo, the hunters, and other displaced people; the tragedy of this piece is that the failure of Lolo's plan might be bad for him, but still the best possible option for society in a world of scarce resources.
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FireTurtle
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« Reply #13 on: February 26, 2013, 01:21:33 PM »

While I found the story interesting in terms of world creation and the eerie "to close to reality" future setting, I too had trouble getting any sort of empathy roused for Lolo.

He's a dude who is scamming the system. Is it a good system, a righteous system? Probably not. Did he have a lot of choices for a career, no? But, he had some, and he chose to work for the government that he feels is betraying him. Hmm. Screwing over your employer and then complaining when they in turn screw you over, that just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. If things are so rotten, MOVE. Do something, stop assisting the people you are complaining about.

I guess its one of those cases where I understand the socio-political commentary of the story, but fail to connect with the way the message is delivered.

Or, maybe I'm just extra impatient with people who refuse to see the writing on the wall today.

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« Reply #14 on: February 26, 2013, 02:31:15 PM »

@Mat: We all know how much time and effort you put into these productions, and we love you for it.  Cheesy
My comment was not a complaint, more of a let-you-know-about-this-issue-I-had kinda thing.
I was using cheap earbuds plugged into a pretty old phone so...
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matweller
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« Reply #15 on: February 26, 2013, 03:29:01 PM »

@Mat: We all know how much time and effort you put into these productions, and we love you for it.  Cheesy
My comment was not a complaint, more of a let-you-know-about-this-issue-I-had kinda thing.
I was using cheap earbuds plugged into a pretty old phone so...
That was totally the spirit I took it in, no worries. My extended explanation was more in case other folks come here looking for answers than it was directed to you specifically. That, and I tend to be too thorough in general. So I'll stop now. Wink
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Thunderscreech
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« Reply #16 on: February 26, 2013, 03:32:25 PM »

If things are so rotten, MOVE.
From the story, it seemed like this wasn't totally an option without the expense of losing everything.  There are pre-refugee poverty-stricken substinence farmers in Africa right now who are trying to hold onto whatever little piece of dust they have because it's all they have.  The $500 buyout in the story seems to be negligible based on Lolo's reaction.  The counter-argument to this, of course, is that one of his former colleagues is on the trucks so it's possible there are alternatives, it's just hard to walk away from everything.
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #17 on: February 26, 2013, 08:03:04 PM »

The underdog who has to steal to survive. Aladdin, Robin Hood, Bean, Vin, (a gold star to anyone who recognizes that last one).
Vin Diesel in xXx, of course. ;P

Sorry, no gold star for you. But I will give you a swift punch in the cock,  Wink
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SF.Fangirl
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« Reply #18 on: February 26, 2013, 08:03:56 PM »

If things are so rotten, MOVE.
From the story, it seemed like this wasn't totally an option without the expense of losing everything.  There are pre-refugee poverty-stricken substinence farmers in Africa right now who are trying to hold onto whatever little piece of dust they have because it's all they have.  The $500 buyout in the story seems to be negligible based on Lolo's reaction.  The counter-argument to this, of course, is that one of his former colleagues is on the trucks so it's possible there are alternatives, it's just hard to walk away from everything.

I thought the story made it very clear that MOVING to the place that had the water was NOT an option.  The evil Californians were taking all the water and not allowing people to immigrate there.
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SF.Fangirl
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« Reply #19 on: February 26, 2013, 08:21:54 PM »

Finally a winner!  I out and out enjoyed this story no complaints or "if only"s.  It's not a surprise, really, because Paolo Bacigalupi can always be counted on for a quality story (even if it'll usually be dark and angsty).

This is indeed dark and doesn't offer a lot of hope.  Those Calies are pretty evil.  Destroying the lives of other, poorer people so they can have their water during the big daddy drought - people that used to be their countrymen but are clearly not treated that way any longer.  Damn, California - land of fruits, nuts, and entitlement!

It seems to me that Lolo is the hero despite his cheating ways.  And by cheating I mean planting the Tamarisk and not trying to get a little extra water water for his land.  He's upstream, shouldn't he at least get some - enough to eek out a living?  Clearly the Calies have had to take people's water by force - not exactly entirely legal if you ask me.  Certainly not fair or moral.

This is definitely my favorite story of the year so far and probably my favorite since at least the middle of last year.
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