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Author Topic: EP409: Mantis Wives  (Read 14068 times)

eytanz

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on: August 16, 2013, 07:16:45 AM
EP409: Mantis Wives

by Kij Johnson

Read by Heather Bowman Tomlinson

--

“As for the insects, their lives are sustained only by intricate processes of fantastic horror.” —John Wyndham.

Eventually, the mantis women discovered that killing their husbands was not inseparable from the getting of young. Before this, a wife devoured her lover piece by piece during the act of coition: the head (and its shining eyes going dim as she ate); the long green prothorax; the forelegs crisp as straws; the bitter wings. She left for last the metathorax and its pumping legs, the abdomen, and finally the phallus. Mantis women needed nutrients for their pregnancies; their lovers offered this as well as their seed.

It was believed that mantis men would resist their deaths if permitted to choose the manner of their mating; but the women learned to turn elsewhere for nutrients after draining their husbands’ members, and yet the men lingered. And so their ladies continued to kill them, but slowly, in the fashioning of difficult arts. What else could there be between them?


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



flintknapper

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Reply #1 on: August 16, 2013, 06:07:55 PM
Very strange. I am not sure how I feel about this one. Certainly the relationship of the mantis to one another can be considered in some ways a metaphor for any relationship. However, the use of the mantis is a bit of a mystery. Why not spiders? The choice is an interesting one. On one level you have these familiar constructs and then on another the mantis is about as alien as you can get.

Reading was good. The writing was good. However the story as a whole does not invoke strong emotions in me.

Lastly, is it mantis week on escape artists podios? I mean you guys are running one and pseudopod has a giant mantis. Should I expect pod castle has one in store for us too? Maybe a mantis paladin searching for a princess on a dying planet... after all it is sci-fantasy month for them.



Cutter McKay

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Reply #2 on: August 16, 2013, 06:45:46 PM
I'm with flintknapper on this one. Good writing, good reading, but I just didn't get it. Most likely that's a failing on my part more than the author's, but it just went right over my head. I get that there's some implication of it mimicking human relationships, but what exactly Kij was trying to say I have no idea.  :-\

Still, I didn't hate it. I really liked the descriptions of the different ways the females would kill the males, very interesting.

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matweller

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Reply #3 on: August 18, 2013, 03:20:35 PM
I _love_ Kij Johnson.

That has not changed, but I didn't get this one as a standalone piece. I think it's great as a "write a flash section from an insect Kama Sutra" challenge, or maybe as an interlude chapter in a bigger novel about some insectile alien invasion. But I didn't get it when I read it and I don't feel any more comfortable about it having heard it read. I have fully assumed it to be a failing on my part from the beginning. It's not that I don't enjoy the content, it's more that I never feel like I get to know where I am in relation to the story, and that inhibits my enjoyment throughout. But then, I'm simple and feel that way with poetry a lot too.

I do feel a lot better knowing that people were able to glean something from it because I was worried that it would not translate into vocal reading at all.

Oh, Hugo...you have fickle tastes.



Nny

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Reply #4 on: August 18, 2013, 10:47:35 PM
Haven't listened yet. The title reminds me of Portal 2 where Cave Johnson says something like "the project where we infuse you with mantis DNA has been cancelled. Instead we're doing a new test. Fighting an army of mantis men. So pick up a rifle and follow the yellow line. You'll know when the test starts"
 looking forward to it



Windup

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Reply #5 on: August 19, 2013, 05:06:59 PM

<<whoosh>>

That's the sound of this whole thing going over my head.  I liked the odd, still-life quality to many of the scenes, and the narration was excellent.  But it didn't really take me anywhere.

"My whole job is in the space between 'should be' and 'is.' It's a big space."


Cutter McKay

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Reply #6 on: August 19, 2013, 05:38:47 PM
The title reminds me of Portal 2 where Cave Johnson says something like "the project where we infuse you with mantis DNA has been cancelled. Instead we're doing a new test. Fighting an army of mantis men. So pick up a rifle and follow the yellow line. You'll know when the test starts"

That made me laugh. Love that game.


<<whoosh>>

That's the sound of this whole thing going over my head.

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one still scratching my head here.  :-\

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Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #7 on: August 19, 2013, 05:45:58 PM
At first I was   :-\
But then I was  ???

Hugo, what were you thinking?
I'm going out on a limb here and going to answer that with: "I didn't understand it, and nobody I knows understands it. But this is a good writer, so it's probably good art. I'll nominate that."

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SF.Fangirl

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Reply #8 on: August 22, 2013, 01:30:06 AM
It starts with a quote from John Wyndham.  Awesome.

And this bit to end the second paragraph "...but the women learned to turn elsewhere for nutrients after draining their husbands’ members, and yet the men lingered. And so their ladies continued to kill them, but slowly, in the fashioning of difficult arts. What else could there be between them?" was amusing.

This story was beautifully written and feels very arty and literary.  I actually did enjoy listening to it while being horrified at the descriptions of violence.  I certainly didn't get it, but at least it was short enough that it ended before my patience ran out.  I'm not sure I would vote for this story, though.  There had to be some better, true sci fi out there this year.  I'm a traditionalist and prefer plot, characters, and actual science fiction over a lyrical but head scratching bit of prose.



Devoted135

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Reply #9 on: August 22, 2013, 03:27:32 AM
a lyrical but head scratching bit of prose.

I couldn't have put it better myself. Like others, I found this to be a beautifully written, utterly mystifying piece that I hesitate to even call a story. Prose or poetry prose seems to fit more comfortably. Sometimes the Hugos confuse me. :P



chemistryguy

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Reply #10 on: August 22, 2013, 04:15:22 PM
Now THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!

I'm not going to claim to understand everything in this one, but whatever metaphors were too obtuse for my conscious brain must've latched right onto my subconscious.  Damn!  It was totally alien and yet so familiar at the same time.

I don't know about all you all, but when something this original and well written comes along, I don't question it.  I applaud it.


Cutter McKay

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Reply #11 on: August 22, 2013, 04:43:12 PM
I don't know about all you all, but when something this original and well written comes along, I don't question it.  I applaud it.

Oh I applaud the writing of this piece. It's beautiful and evocative. However, I prefer my stories to be, well... stories. Like Devoted135 said, this is much more poetry than story. I like at least something resembling a plot, even if that plot is buried deep and I have to dig for a while to figure it out. But with this, as far as I can tell, there is no plot. And I'm not the only one saying so.

I mean, obviously it has some merit, it got nominated for a Hugo. But I can't help but think this is a case of the Emperor's Clothes. Nobody really gets it, but it's so beautifully written that we assume there must be something to it and we'll just pretend to get it and hope that others do as well.  :-\

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evrgrn_monster

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Reply #12 on: August 23, 2013, 03:07:09 AM
I was trying so hard to understand this piece. I am so glad I was not the only one left going, "Waaaaaaah?"

To be frank, I do not enjoy works that are so lofty and cryptic that practically no one gets the point of it. If this was a poem, that would be one thing, but short stories are a completely different animal, in my opinion. Although this was pretty, it was pretty in the way that a Fabergé egg is; obviously made with care and a practiced hand, beautiful to look at, but having no real substance. I prefer the meatier stories, the ones with an actual story to tell; one I can really make an omelette out of, if that makes any sense.

...

I just made my self super hungry.


InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #13 on: August 23, 2013, 06:06:13 AM
Yeah, yeah, I'm late.


Between this and "Immersion" (about which I don't know what to say), I'm really looking forward to the end of awards month, and perhaps a return to stories that have plots and narratives. I agree with most others. It was well written, though to what point is hard to say.



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #14 on: August 23, 2013, 06:50:36 AM
I'm really looking forward to the end of awards month, and perhaps a return to stories that have plots and narratives.
Yeah... now that you mention it, it does seem like all award "stories" lack all the essential elements of a story. Why is that?

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Gamercow

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Reply #15 on: August 23, 2013, 03:04:32 PM
I'm really looking forward to the end of awards month, and perhaps a return to stories that have plots and narratives.
Yeah... now that you mention it, it does seem like all award "stories" lack all the essential elements of a story. Why is that?

They get nominated because they are "edgy" and/or "different", and/or "controversial". 

As for this story, about all I'm going to say about it is that for me, it was the literary equivalent of performance art.  The literary equal of a guy standing on stage screeching like a seagull for 2 hours.  The only praise I can give it is "it was short".  This is "Spar" all over again, yet worse.  Blugh. 

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chemistryguy

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Reply #16 on: August 23, 2013, 05:01:25 PM
I'm really looking forward to the end of awards month, and perhaps a return to stories that have plots and narratives.
Yeah... now that you mention it, it does seem like all award "stories" lack all the essential elements of a story. Why is that?

They get nominated because they are "edgy" and/or "different", and/or "controversial".  

As for this story, about all I'm going to say about it is that for me, it was the literary equivalent of performance art.  The literary equal of a guy standing on stage screeching like a seagull for 2 hours.  The only praise I can give it is "it was short".  This is "Spar" all over again, yet worse.  Blugh.  

We can argue about whether this one has the required elements to make it a story or whether that one fits into fantasy or scifi or horror, but in the end those are just the nuts and bolts that I personally feel are the least interesting.  Maybe that's because I write very little.  The fact that it has been nominated makes little to no difference on my admiration of this one.

Does it have a plot?  Not in the tradition sense, no, but there's a story here.  If this is a bit too edgy for some, then I feel you're missing out.  I'll be carrying this one with me long after droves of more story-ish stories have faded away.

Oh, and comparing this to a screeching guy on a stage is hitting a bit below the belt.


eytanz

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Reply #17 on: August 23, 2013, 05:15:09 PM
Yeah... now that you mention it, it does seem like all award "stories" lack all the essential elements of a story. Why is that?

They get nominated because they are "edgy" and/or "different", and/or "controversial". 

The Hugo nominations are not selected by some sort of committee, they are selected by the general public. If the public is voting for these stories, it's because for a large enough percentage of the membership they are effective. If you're not one of that group, that's fine - there's no expectation that every story would be to everyone's tastes - but it may be worthwhile to treat other peoples' tastes with respect. So cut it out with the scare quotes, everyone, please.

That said, there certainly is a pattern in Hugo voting in recent years where nominated stories are either extremely traditional in themes and structure (e.g. "Mono No Aware") or extremely non-traditional (e.g. this one). I do wonder at the causes for that.



DKT

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Reply #18 on: August 23, 2013, 09:06:49 PM
Yeah... now that you mention it, it does seem like all award "stories" lack all the essential elements of a story. Why is that?

They get nominated because they are "edgy" and/or "different", and/or "controversial". 

The Hugo nominations are not selected by some sort of committee, they are selected by the general public. If the public is voting for these stories, it's because for a large enough percentage of the membership they are effective. If you're not one of that group, that's fine - there's no expectation that every story would be to everyone's tastes - but it may be worthwhile to treat other peoples' tastes with respect. So cut it out with the scare quotes, everyone, please.

That said, there certainly is a pattern in Hugo voting in recent years where nominated stories are either extremely traditional in themes and structure (e.g. "Mono No Aware") or extremely non-traditional (e.g. this one). I do wonder at the causes for that.

I think it's a schism in fandom to a large degree. (And schisms in fandom, from my limited experience and visibility, are pretty traditional.) Some people really adore the more traditional structure and theme type stories, other people like those that are more experimental. But like you said, I think you can trace it back at least to as long as I've been listening to EA.

It's also interesting to note that this year, only three stories were nominated. That's not because it was a lack of people voting for short stories - it's because these three stories each had more 5% of the nominations, and none of the other stories did, possibly because so many of the other stories split the rest of the votes.


adrianh

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Reply #19 on: August 24, 2013, 10:49:14 AM
Quote
Some people really adore the more traditional structure and theme type stories, other people like those that are more experimental

And some people, and I stick myself in this category, like and dislike both types depending on whether the story does anything for them ;-)

To buck the trend... I liked this story.

It set me thinking about sex, love, relationships, power and dominance (as did Spar). For me there was a pretty strong narrative direction in the tale from the progression and type of relationships / practices described. I admit I do have a soft spot for stories with this kind of repetitive folklore-ish structure.

In addition, as others have pointed out, it was a beautifully crafted piece of writing. 

I like stories that linger and make me think. This did both.

(I'm also somewhat confused by several commentators who seem to associate poetry with lack of plot... Gilgamesh? Odyssey? Aeneid? etc. etc.)



Dem

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Reply #20 on: August 24, 2013, 12:48:18 PM
I can see why people are wondering how this can be a short story at all, never mind a nominated one, but there's an increasing trend in, admittedly literary, short story writing to give weight to the process rather than the outcome. In other words, the interest becomes less the 'whodunnit' than the 'how or why dunnit' - or even what got dun at all. Some of these I find utterly deadly - a kind of self indulgent lyrical rumination on ordinariness, but others are jaw-dropping in their expansiveness of concept. To me, this is one of the latter because of the layers of understanding from the superficial chomping away on insectoid mates down to the social and physiological evolution that underpins its redundancy but does not stop the male mantises engaging willingly in their own torture and death. For me, that's why this is a nominee - its depth and conceptual originality.

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Devoted135

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Reply #21 on: August 24, 2013, 04:11:23 PM
(I'm also somewhat confused by several commentators who seem to associate poetry with lack of plot... Gilgamesh? Odyssey? Aeneid? etc. etc.)

I would argue that while poetry clearly can have plot, it doesn't have to feature a plot. However, I suppose I'm a bit of a traditionalist when I say that IMHO one requirement to be called a story is the work must contain a plot.



flintknapper

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Reply #22 on: August 24, 2013, 06:07:40 PM
As I said at the beginning of the thread, this story did not invoke any strong reaction from me, but I am digging all the comments.

Realistically, I do not think this story has a chance at wining against the other two nominated stories, but all the same, if it inspires a discussion about story telling and genre fiction it must be doing something right. It was also really well written, even if you didn't like it, you have to admit the author did a great job fleshing out the mantis relationship.

For my part, I think Liu should win, but that is probably my fanboy coming through because I have been gravitating towards his writing recently.



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #23 on: August 25, 2013, 07:16:21 AM
(...) but all the same, if it inspires a discussion about story telling and genre fiction it must be doing something right.
Not necessarily.
If I were to come up to you and your friends at a con, punch you in the gut, slap your friends in the face and steal someone's purse while chanting "Your fandom sucks, my fandom is better" (not that any of the above is something I'd be likely to do) it would perhaps inspire a discussion about your fandom and mine, comparing and contrasting them, but I did nothing right.
Not that I feel punched in the gut or slapped in the face by this story. But having something as respectable as the Hugo Awards present me with this piece of fiction (I'm not sure what to call it, a story? a poem? concatenated blog posts?) saying that a significant percentage of the Hugo membership liked it enough to get it nominated for one of the most prestigious genre fiction awards in the world as a short story, that hurts.
Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, and nobody should have to have anybody else's opinion forced upon them, but this is really borderline here. This, in your opinion, is the best short story written this year?! Really?! I really am tempted to think that people voted for this to try and impress other people. "What, you don't understand it? How non-open-minded of you. The imagery wasn't powerful for you? It didn't move you to tears or other emotional outbursts? You must be a robot." Sort of like the posers you find in art galleries (not all people in all art galleries are posers. Some people in some art galleries are). Pretending to like things they don't understand so that other people will like them.
Now, I know that that was harsh and probably offensive to several people, but there is a trend here in Hugo nominations, and it doesn't look like the Hugo Awards of ten or twenty years ago.
* Max e^{i pi} shrugs
Maybe that makes me old. Maybe that makes me set in my ways.
I'll tell you what it does make me: someone who knows what he likes in genre fiction, and apparently it is not what the Hugo Awards like.

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eytanz

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Reply #24 on: August 25, 2013, 09:58:34 AM
Now, I know that that was harsh and probably offensive to several people, but there is a trend here in Hugo nominations, and it doesn't look like the Hugo Awards of ten or twenty years ago.

Did the Hugo awards ten or twenty years ago look like the Hugo awards ten or twenty years prior?

Tastes evolve, fashions in literature, whether it is genre literature or not, come and go. That's the way of the world, and it always has been. It may mean that you no longer have the Hugos to look forward to as a guide for what to read, but it's far better for the field as a whole to keep changing than for it to stagnate and nominate the same type of stories for twenty years.