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Author Topic: EP390: Cerbo un Vitra ujo  (Read 40086 times)

eytanz

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on: April 04, 2013, 10:44:24 AM
EP390: Cerbo un Vitra ujo

By Mary Robinette Kowal

Read by Veronica Giguere

---

Grete snipped a diseased branch off her Sunset-Glory rosebush like she was a body harvester looking for the perfect part. Behind the drone of the garden’s humidifiers, she caught a woosh-snick as the airlock door opened. Her boyfriend barreled around Mom’s prize Emperor artichoke.

Something was wrong.

The whites showed around Kaj’s remarkable eyes, a blue-green so iridescent they seemed to dull all the plants around them. “Mom and Dad got me a Pass to a down-planet school!”

The blood congealed in her veins. Kaj would leave her. Grete forced a smile. “That’s the outer limit!”

“I didn’t even know they’d applied. Fairview Academy—game design.” His perfect teeth flashed like sunshine against the ink of space.

“It’s wacking crazed. Should’ve been you, you’re a better hack than me.”

“I’m already entitled to school.” Grete winced as the words left her mouth. Like he didn’t know that. He was the middle of five children, way past the Banwith Station family allowance. She picked up the pruning sheers to hide the shake in her hands. How would she live without Kaj? “So, I guess you got packing to do and stuff.”

“They provide uniforms. All I’m taking is my pod with music and books. Zero else.” Kaj slid his arm around her waist and laced his long, delicate fingers through hers. “And I want to spend every moment till launch with you.”

She loved him so much, it hurt. Grete leaned her head against him, burning the feel of his body into her memory. She breathed in the musky smell of his sweat and kissed his neck, sampling the salt on his skin.

After a moment, Kaj hung a chain around her neck. The metal tags hanging from it were still warm from his body.

“What?”

“Dogtags, like they used in the oldwars. I put all my bios on there so you’d remember me.”

“Kaj Lorensen, don’t think I could forget you.”

But if he was away at school, he might forget her. She studied her rosebush and freed the most perfect rose with her sheers. She held it out to him, suddenly shy.

He kissed the rose and then her palm. Grete sank into his gaze, lost in the blue-green of his eyes.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



chemistryguy

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Reply #1 on: April 04, 2013, 11:19:10 AM
This story was wacking crazed.  I did find it a shame that the warning given in the intro pulled me out of the story a bit.  At each scene I kept expecting an attack on Grete.  While I understand why there was a warning, I still felt a little cheated over not being able to experience the story as it naturally unfolded.

What did I harvest from this?  Mostly I saw a dark tale of social inequality.  I live a life of relative ease, so I find it difficult to imagine being so desperate that I'd sell off pieces of myself.  And yet, a black market for body parts exists.  This story seemed both plausible, but also horrifically unreal. 

If anyone finds me in a holding room after being picked apart for my choice cuts, please do me the service that Grete mercifully performed on Kaj.


ElectricPaladin

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Reply #2 on: April 04, 2013, 08:18:45 PM
Sweet mother of lizards. Sweet fuck. Sweet fucking lizard. The sex was the least disturbing part. I'm going to take a shower. In bleach. Hot bleach.

If this becomes the future, I'm siding with the aliens. It's time to start again.

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Daniel Nailed

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Reply #3 on: April 04, 2013, 09:06:45 PM
Throughout this story I kept thinking: well, it's clearly an illegal thing to be kidnapping and chopping up kids in this society, so surely she's going to call the space cops or whatever passes for the law out there, sooner or later...I mean, that's what any normal person would do, Surely? The cops are due in any minute, or she's gonna bite his cock off or something!

And then with the rather predictable conclusion I couldn't help thinking that this doctor must be lacking in the mental capacity department, given how this young lady was able to track down a guy's body parts without too much effort and he wasn't even concerned as to how she did it. She had a bargainaing chip, right there!

I mean, come on, it seems that half the characters in this story were lacking basic common sense! A highly frustrating story. >:(



Kaa

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Reply #4 on: April 05, 2013, 12:59:56 AM
This reminded me -- in a good way -- of The Starchild Trilogy (specifically the first book, The Reefs of Space), where the Risks were harvested for parts if a citizen needed, say, a new spine or a blood transfusion. So I was totally expecting that aspect.

But I gotta tellya . . . I'm with ElectricPaladin. Bleach. Hot bleach. <shudder>

But here's the part that really gave me the squicks. Kaj's younger sibs also hadn't been seen by their friends. And the mom? She was too cold to have gone weeks without hearing from her son, no matter how many others she has.

The obvious answer, here, is that Kaj was purposefully sold by his parents, and so were his younger sibs. To body harvesters.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the horror I got from this piece. Egad. Bleach. Hot. Bleach. I do not want to live in this future. :(

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flintknapper

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Reply #5 on: April 05, 2013, 02:21:32 AM
One of the scariest stories I remember hearing on Escape Pod. I expected to read an argument on the board as to whether the story should have been on pseudopod instead... maybe that is coming. Regardless of which podcast it appears on, great story and great narrator. I also agree with the others, that the warning while necessary, took away from the horror of the situation.

The story was so shocking though, it could be in the running for the best of Escape Pod 2013. The only thing I would say against it is that I could not listen to this type of story every week.



Cutter McKay

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Reply #6 on: April 05, 2013, 03:11:03 AM
Is this some sort of retaliation for our reception of Trixie and the Pandas? Oh, you don't care for light-hearted ridiculousness? Try this on for size, then! Bwahaha! Seriously, opposite ends of the spectrum. Though not in a bad way. In reality, I enjoyed this story. I just hope to never hear it again...

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Listener

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Reply #7 on: April 05, 2013, 12:24:15 PM
Throughout this story I kept thinking: well, it's clearly an illegal thing to be kidnapping and chopping up kids in this society, so surely she's going to call the space cops or whatever passes for the law out there, sooner or later...I mean, that's what any normal person would do, Surely? The cops are due in any minute, or she's gonna bite his cock off or something!

But it wasn't. The narration stated early on that if kids were running around free they'd get snatched up and harvested, but that wasn't "allowed" -- that was the word used -- on Grete's home station.

Quote
On any other station, no parent in their right mind would let their unentitled kids run free, for fear they’d be taken by a body harvester on a job for some rich-ass client. Banwith Station didn’t allow that; you got born with a withered arm, you lived with it, so there were lots of kids running around.

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Listener

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Reply #8 on: April 05, 2013, 12:28:57 PM
This story was vivid and rich in atmosphere and worldbuilding, and the narration was good (except for one part that felt like a retake where her voice sounded different), but I figured it out way too soon. Basically, the moment Grete finds Kaj's retina scan being used on that other station, that was it. I knew.

It was suitably disturbing, and a good commentary on where we might go if genetic manipulation/genetic engineering/research isn't allowed to be fully explored, but I also found it to be somewhat gratuitous. Almost like there were too many details of the rape scenes, in some ways. Also, the word "tear" was overused during intercourse narration. Not saying that it wasn't happening, just that it stood out to me.

On balance, I'd give it a B. Or, if this were Harry Potter, an A+.

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Nixelplix

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Reply #9 on: April 06, 2013, 12:25:05 AM
It would have been a happier ending if she had killed the doctor, at least. All in all, I wish I could unlisten to the story.



Peevester

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Reply #10 on: April 06, 2013, 12:34:40 AM
Starting my response with a couple of quotes, because BLARGH I can hardly figure out how to comment on this story without losing my composure.

When you're telling these little stories, here's a good idea -- have a point. It makes it SO much more interesting for the listener!
(Steve Martin, Planes, Trains and Automobiles)

There's no moral, Uncle Remus, just random acts of meaningless violence.
(Michael O'Donohue, Mr. Mike's least loved bedtime tales)

What I'm getting at is that this is a melodrama. The bad guy is unrelentingly and unselfconsciously bad, the victim is helpless and literally without a voice, and the heroine is ineffectual and fails about as badly as it's possible to fail.

I'm not saying I'm above enjoying a good old melodrama now and again, but I don't think it's possible to use "good old melodrama" to describe one with skin-crawling scenes of rape and domination in it. If you are going to play that card, you had BETTER have a point, and there had BETTER be more than random acts of meaningless violence.

I stuck with the story because it was described as "difficult, but awesome". There is no awesome here. What the hell.

Given they're on a space station, am I justified in assuming that the parents could have had easy access to birth control / sterilization and thus were having children specifically to sell them?
Ugh. I hadn't thought that part through. Ten times worse.

« Last Edit: April 06, 2013, 12:42:05 AM by Peevester »



Just Jeff

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Reply #11 on: April 06, 2013, 12:39:00 AM
Well written and brutal, with no payoff other than an emotional punch in the gut. If Grete had felt even a small sense of victory by giving her love a merciful death, that might have been enough of a payoff for me, but no.

Given they're on a space station, am I justified in assuming that the parents could have had easy access to birth control / sterilization and thus were having children specifically to sell them?



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #12 on: April 06, 2013, 01:02:33 AM
Dear Lord, you finally found a story that makes Peter Watts look cheerful! And Mary Robinette Kowal is so pleasant in person!!

Well, it was a very well-done- if very graphic - story, and I agree that part of the horror - and make no mistake, it is horror - is that Kaj's siblings have been sold too. (Wow, is their mom up for the Mother of the Year award, or what??)

But above (or below?) and beyond that, is the horror that, not only did Grete not get to kill Dr. Feelgood, but it's pretty clear she's going to me harvested by the sick bastard as well. And no one really knows where she is.

Of course in a more conventional story she'd have beat him silly while he was playing the piano, rescued or killed Kaj, and/or shot him dead. But this is more the way the world actually works.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2013, 02:44:20 AM by InfiniteMonkey »



matweller

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Reply #13 on: April 06, 2013, 02:32:40 AM
I couldn't disagree with the detractors more. This story is a sci-fi Shakespearean tragedy and it's so beautiful in its honest agony. Her hunt doesn't render what she had hoped for. She sacrifices herself to grant her love release. Plus the irony of his body parts being used to brutalize her. Seriously, if this was rendered into full play length, the Bard himself would resurrect and give it his blessing. My only complaint was Doc suggesting at the end that he was going to harvest her too. It was too much. Please, she's gone through hell, let her go after, at the very least.

I recommend waiting two weeks, then going back and reading the story after it has had some time to ferment in your psyche. Read it, don't listen again, I think it's important to consume it in two different ways. I bet on the second consumption it will be both more horrifying and more amazing at the same time. It was for me.

Some inside information: I didn't want to run this one. I think part of the reason Norm did the warning was that he thought I wanted to have nothing to do with it. When he handed it to me, I was new at finding the narrators and I made the rookie mistake of handing this one to a new narrator before I had read it all the way. She didn't accept. She didn't even answer my apology emails. True story. It made me gunshy for trying to find another. I didn't know who I was going to ask. It had to be a female. The story could be read by a male, but it would lose the beauty just for the association. But I didn't know any females well enough to ask them to tackle this. Norm believed in it and he tackled getting the narrator, and honestly, it wasn't until I was listening to the narration while editing that I got it. This story had left me somewhere between scared for what your reaction would be to bitter for being put in the position for three months, but that night I got it. I wept a little at the end.

I recommend the second take after letting it sit for a bit. It may not change your mind. Then again, it might change you.



Nixelplix

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Reply #14 on: April 06, 2013, 02:37:54 AM
I recommend the second take after letting it sit for a bit. It may not change your mind. Then again, it might change you.

No thanks, I'm not into snuff fiction.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2013, 03:40:35 AM by Nixelplix »



matweller

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Reply #15 on: April 06, 2013, 02:46:42 AM
It would have been a happier ending if she had killed the doctor...

Obviously.



Rindan

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Reply #16 on: April 06, 2013, 03:37:07 AM
Judging by the style I was pretty sure I knew where it was headed early on and... yup, that is exactly where it went.  There was no surprise.  Her very bad plan went about as horribly as you would expect it to go.  My problem is that if you are going to get me wincing and cringing, shouldn't there be a point to it?  If I am not going to get something emotionally satisfying (spaceships blowing up, hero fantasies, whatever), I need at least a little interesting speculation in my speculative fiction.  The world just seemed pointlessly cruel without even an attempt at explanation.  I couldn't tell if the doctor was some sort of black market dealer, or if in this society it is for some reason perfectly okay to carve up live people for spare parts.  I got the vague impression that maybe there was some sort of wealth disparity, but it could have been the difference between rural China and New York, or the difference between Portland and Boston for all I could tell.  It just seemed like a tragic tail that was tragic for its own sake. 

I guess what bothers me the most about this piece is that in the end, there was no need to set this on a space stations other than to be able to give a pretty graphic violation a double cringe factor.  Fiction is perfectly capable of telling a gut wrenching story about an utterly helpless girl getting brutally and predictably violated and destroyed.  What is the point of setting that story in space if space has nothing to do with it?  Don't get me wrong, the story is wonderfully written, but I can't figure out what it is doing in my speculative fiction.  This is like picking up a novel in the romance section expecting to find some trashy and steamy lovemaking, only to find that it is actually an epic space opera that happens to have an irrelevant and brief romance.

So, good reading, great writing, but this kind of story is not why I come to speculative fiction.



raetsel

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Reply #17 on: April 06, 2013, 01:35:46 PM
I'm with Peevester on this one. To justify that level of graphic sexual violence you have to have a real good point you couldn't make another way. I fail to see what it was in this case other than that of a rich upper class that has no regard for the well being of poor people. That's not new in fact it's kind of the definition of class ( taken to the extreme).

The other sin of the story is that it didn't hold together from its own internal logic or any reasonable view of how bio-technology might progress without some big contrivances. It's a sign of me being taken out of a story for some reason that I start to nit-pick but for the record:

  • Kaj is traced through retinal scans so clearly they are used for identification purposes thus the woman who gets his eyes also has to get Kaj's id data deleted and hers edited to expunge her old retinal scans and replaced with new ones. Same story with fingerprints for the doc.
  • This society is sufficiently advanced to overcome all the tissue type rejection problems and the ability to graft hands on well enough to have the fine control within four weeks to be able to play the piano but it can't do anything about skin tone matching?
  • Again there is the need for skin tone matching but women have their breasts harvested? We have breast implants now but this society doesn't? Or maybe they do but they don't feel as good as real flesh? If that is the case is any woman who is that sensitive going to be happy with an approximate skin tone match?
  • They also have the technology for all this harvesting and grafting but they can't grow artificial organs from stem cells? We can virtually print kidneys now http://www.ted.com/talks/anthony_atala_printing_a_human_kidney.html
  • In the final rape scene Grete has time to suffocate Kaj and the Doc who is presumably taking her from behind doesn't notice? Kaj is a precious commodity and has tubes in him. You think maybe they'd have heart and blood oxygen monitors too and maybe they'd go off and alert the doc or bring in a nurse?

I'm sure there are explanations you can make for all the above but they require a suspension of disbelief I wasn't willing to make for this story to play out its sexually explicit pantomime melodrama.

OK sorry about the rant but I had to get that off my chest.



JDoug

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Reply #18 on: April 06, 2013, 10:37:31 PM

This story was vivid and rich in atmosphere and worldbuilding, and the narration was good (except for one part that felt like a retake where her voice sounded different), but I figured it out way too soon. Basically, the moment Grete finds Kaj's retina scan being used on that other station, that was it. I knew.


This was where it twigged for me too - but it's also where Grete begins to suspect whats happening, so I think the reveal was defiantly intentional on the authors part. I think Matweller put it best - it's a Shakespearean tragedy.  You know it's going to end badly, but the main character keeps on heading towards their inevitable fate. I hoped that the story was going to end well, but knew it wouldn't (if that makes sense).

I'm not sure I enjoyed this story. But I don't regret listening to it either. So I'm going to take Matweller's advice and listen to it again in a couple of weeks.



Just Jeff

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Reply #19 on: April 06, 2013, 11:31:00 PM
I couldn't disagree with the detractors more. This story is a sci-fi Shakespearean tragedy and it's so beautiful in its honest agony.
Shakespeare's tragedies are my favorites. This didn't feel anything like those.



Frungi

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Reply #20 on: April 06, 2013, 11:51:19 PM
Wow… this story was not Fun at all. To my mind, while it certainly had an SF setting, it was inarguably horror, slowly peeling away the very thin and all-too-few layers of hope from the protagonist. Someone else lamented the lack of argument on here that this story should have been on Pseudopod, so, here you go: This should have been on Pseudopod.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2013, 01:30:53 AM by Frungi »



benjaminjb

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Reply #21 on: April 07, 2013, 02:31:33 AM
Hrm. Hrm.

Does the science hold up?
OK: we still read War of the Worlds, because even if the science doesn't work any more (or didn't even work then), the story has things to tell us about colonialism, culture clash, the personal and mass response to disaster, etc.

So I agree with everyone here who has correctly pointed out the scientific and technological and social difficulties with this story--a society that uses biometrics for tracking/purchasing has to figure out a way to deal with widespread body harvesting; was there any reason to set this story on space stations?; they've conquered organ rejection but nothing like organ growing?; why are they keeping "donors" alive and not just cutting them up and freezing them?; etc. But, like reading War of the Worlds when we no longer think Mars has aliens, all of this set-up is just the gimme--it's what you have to buy into to get on with the rest of the story.

(That said, I think this story has an awfully expensive buy-in.)

What do we get if we buy in?
Like Peevester and matweller, I think this story is best approached as melodrama. Or rather, as Commedia dell'arte, with the classic figure of Il Dottore (the doctor) trying to keep apart the lovers. Actually, that's all I got--where's Harlequin and Punchinello? I I guess we could say it's a fable of love lost: he goes away, she gets him back in pieces, he's not how she remembered him/imagined him. Or a story of inequality and the need for laws against organ harvesting. I'll be honest: I'm not sure what we get if we buy in.

What's that title mean?
Maybe the title will help me. After some really shallow research, I'm tentatively going to say that the title is Esperanto, meaning something like "Brain in a glass jar." (Cerbo=brain, vitra=glass, ujo=vessel, jug. I think "un" should be "en," but I'm outside my language comfort zone, which honestly doesn't even cover English.) So we have a classic science fiction trope about disincarnate sentience (hands off--that's my new band's name) when the real commodity here is the opposite: non-sentient body parts. Can anyone use this?



benjaminjb

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Reply #22 on: April 07, 2013, 02:37:08 AM
Or, instead of going off on commedia dell'arte, of which I know very little, I could just go to her website and read her comparison between this and Han Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen."



raetsel

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Reply #23 on: April 07, 2013, 09:11:05 AM
Or, instead of going off on commedia dell'arte, of which I know very little, I could just go to her website and read her comparison between this and Han Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen."

The commedia dell'arte reference is very interesting. I was quite surprised when I read at the author's website that this was based on the Snow Queen http://www.maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/ep390-cerbo-un-vitra-ujo-escape-pod/ but I'm not familiar with that story so didn't spot the structure. Though even if I had I don't know it would have made me buy in to the story anymore.

The point about buy in is key here. There are plenty of other stories where because the rest of it is so good I'll happily overlook all sorts of inconsistencies prolly not even notice them in fact. Let's face it aside from a few hard sci-fi stories the majority of stories on Escape Pod probably wouldn't stand up to any detailed scientific scrutiny but I don't even think about that if I am bound up in the story.

Thinking about it some more, I realise the main reason the story doesn't work for me is because of  the graphic depiction of sexual violence. It could have been just as horrific and maybe more sinister without the rape scenes and maybe I would have "enjoyed" the story more. By way of comparison here is a dark  horrific and yet engaging story from the Drabblecast on a similar theme that stayed with me for a long time and I really "enjoyed" in as much as that word is appropriate. http://www.drabblecast.org/2011/01/05/drabblecast-194-a-distant-sound-of-hammers-by-s-boyd-taylor/



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Reply #24 on: April 07, 2013, 01:15:35 PM
Has anyone read 'Spares' by Michael Smith? http://www.amazon.co.uk/Spares-Michael-Marshall-Smith/dp/0006512674/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1365338717&sr=8-1&keywords=spares Much the same principle but in a novel and without, I think, the sexual violence, or at least I don't recall any. For me, this is a speculative horror based on existing horrors, many of which are sub cultural, half-known, and occasionally sanctioned. I saw it more as a thought exercise, a morality yardstick maybe, so that the detail of needing to wipe and reallocate ID data, or being able to print kidneys was less important than the projection into a monstrous future world. We already buy and sell organs, we are already seekers after cosmetic perfection, and we have just begun acknowledging the prevalence of sexual violence in conflicts of many kinds. I don't think it matters that some of the fictional underpinnings don't hold up, what matters is that we have had behaviour that is feasible imagined for us and that our reaction is abhorrence.

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.