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Author Topic: EP417: Southpaw  (Read 2243 times)
eytanz
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« on: October 11, 2013, 11:15:40 AM »

EP417: Southpaw

by Bruce McAllister

Read by bdoomed

--

Fidel stands on the pitcher’s mound, dazed. For an instant he doesn’t know where he is. It is a pitcher’s mound. It is a baseball diamond, and there is a woman—the woman he loves—out there in the stands with her beautiful blonde hair and her very American name waving to him, because she loves him, too. It is July. He is sure of this. It is ’51 or ’52. He cannot remember which. But the crowd is as big as ever and he can smell the leather of his glove, and he knows he is playing baseball—the way, as a child in the sugarcane fields of Oriente Province, he always dreamed he might.

His fastball is a problem, but he throws one anyway, it breaks wide and the ump calls the ball. He throws a curve this time, a fine one, and it’s a strike—the third. He grins at Westrum, his catcher, his friend. The next batter’s up. Fidel feels an itching on his face and reaches up to scratch it. It feels like the beginning of a beard, but that can’t be. You keep a clean face in baseball. He tried to tell his father that, in Oriente, the last time he went home, but the old man, as always, had just argued.
He delivers another curve—with great control—and smiles when the ball drops off the table and Sterling swings like an idiot. He muscles up on the pitch, blows the batter down with a heater, but Williams gets a double off the next slider, Miller clears the bases with a triple, and they bring Wilhelm in to relieve him at last. The final score is 9 to 4, just like the oddsmakers predicted, and that great centerfielder Mays still won’t look at him in the lockers.

Nancy—her name is Nancy—is waiting for him at the back entrance when he’s in his street clothes again, the flowered shirt and the white ducks he likes best, and she looks wonderful. She’s chewing gum, which drives him crazy, but her skin is like a dream—like moonlight on the Mulano—and he kisses her hard, feeling her tongue between his lips. When they pull away she says: “I really like the way you walked that Negro in the fifth.”
He smiles at her. He loves her so much it hurts. She doesn’t know a damn thing about the game and nothing about Cuba, but she’s doing her best and she loves him, too. “I do it for you, chica,” he tells her. “I always do it for you.”
That night he dreams he’s in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra, at a place called La Playa. He has no idea why he’s here. He’s never dreamt this dream before. He’s lying on the ground with a rifle in his hand. He’s wearing the fatigues a soldier wears, and doesn’t understand why—who the two men lying beside him are, what it means. The clothes he’s wearing are rough. His face itches like hell.
When he wakes, she is beside him. The sheet has fallen away from her back, which is to him, and her ass—which is so beautiful, which any man would find beautiful—is there for him and him alone to see. How can anything be more real than this? How can I be dreaming of such things? He can hear a song fading but does not know it. There is a bay—a bay with Naval ships—and the song is fading away.
Guantanamera . . . the voice was singing.
Yo soy un hombre sincero, it sang.
I am a truthful man.
Why, Fidel wonders, was it singing this?


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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flintknapper
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« Reply #1 on: October 12, 2013, 10:44:54 AM »

My biggest beef with this one is that Norm said it was an alternative reality in the opening comments. I figured out it was Fidel Castro the first time I heard the guy's name was Fidel. So it wasn't a puzzle at all. I knew where it was going. I am not sure I like puzzles but in this case, the author was not explicitly saying it until the end... so I guess I thought it was meant to be.

The story was not a bad. However, I would have liked the story to read more as a period piece. I think what the story is missing is some additional subtle details of setting. Even the dialogue read as if people were talking today, I think it could have come off a bit more 50s. Maybe, it could have been something as simple as Ritchie Valens playing on the radio or something?

 
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Just Jeff
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« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2013, 01:35:33 PM »

So...what was the point? Instead of a rebel leader, Castro becomes a pro baseball player, has some concerns about what's happening back home and makes an inquiry, but carries on. Seems a very bland answer to "what if?"
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Windup
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« Reply #3 on: October 14, 2013, 12:28:23 AM »

I'm generally a big fan of alternative history, but what I like is seeing the big-picture alternate outcomes -- the Islamic Europe that arises if Charles Martel picks the wrong infantry formation at the Battle of Tours, for example. 

This was the opposite -- Fidel Castro takes a major league contract, gets a hot girlfriend and a nice TV.   I'm happy for Fidel, I guess, but I'd like to know what's going on in the rest of that world. Does somebody else lead the revolution?  Does the revolution fail? Are the Cuban people and the world in general better or worse off as a result? I kept thinking we would find out, and it never happened. 

So, while it was well-written and Bdoomed was spot-on with the narration, I was left disappointed by the story.


On a side note, if you're going to give warnings -- and I think giving warnings is a good idea -- I think it's good to be comprehensive with them.  If I were the parent of a young child, I probably wouldn't worry much about a single minor curse word, but I really wouldn't want to explain what "taken from behind" meant while driving to school.  Just say'n....  Roll Eyes


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Bdoomed
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« Reply #4 on: October 14, 2013, 02:47:47 AM »

I highly suggest reading the notes about the story, published on the escape pod site, after the main story text, for some context that may (or may not) change the lens with which you hear/think about this story.

As for big picture, there was no big picture, not for this Fidel.  He gravitated towards it and was repelled by the political climate of 1950s America.  I think the absence of big picture ends up saying more.  What would a baseball player know about revolution?  What does any one of us know about it?  We are over fed on media and malnourished on fact, imprisoned by our own politics, and Giants player Fidel reflects it.  It's the world where he chooses red hair over his people, continued status quo over something perhaps meaningful and dire.  He places his agency in a television star, because as an enculturated Fidel, he knows nothing else.

I admit I was rather unimpressed and unenthused after first reading the story, but it has grown on me, especially afterconsidering what the author has to say and what the story really has to say.
« Last Edit: October 14, 2013, 02:57:44 AM by Bdoomed » Logged

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MCWagner
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« Reply #5 on: October 14, 2013, 09:28:57 AM »

I actually remember reading this one way back when it first turned up in Asimov's.  That I remember it so distinctly from 1993 is a pretty strong mark in it's favor, though my puzzlement over it seems the strongest remembrance.
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DoWhileNot
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« Reply #6 on: October 14, 2013, 10:07:24 AM »

I really enjoyed the story and liked the idea of Fidel Castro going to visit Ricky Ricardo.  It was also cool to hear Bdoomed reading this - I thought your reading was great once you got warmed up, but the first couple sentences could have used a little more annunciation.

It was pretty cool to hear another baseball story and had me looking around for my old copy of The Iowa Baseball Confederacy.
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BionicValkyrie
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« Reply #7 on: October 14, 2013, 08:07:22 PM »

Liked the reading a lot; the story, kinda meh, except I kept thinking of my brother's neighbor Art Pennington who played in the Negro leagues ... and hit a home run off Fidel (guess his fast ball really wasn't so great). (Really... Google 'Art Pennington')
« Last Edit: October 14, 2013, 08:10:29 PM by BionicValkyrie » Logged

Kristin
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BethPeters
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« Reply #8 on: October 15, 2013, 12:02:10 PM »

My biggest beef with this one is that Norm said it was an alternative reality in the opening comments. I figured out it was Fidel Castro the first time I heard the guy's name was Fidel. So it wasn't a puzzle at all. I knew where it was going. I am not sure I like puzzles but in this case, the author was not explicitly saying it until the end... so I guess I thought it was meant to be.

The story was not a bad. However, I would have liked the story to read more as a period piece. I think what the story is missing is some additional subtle details of setting. Even the dialogue read as if people were talking today, I think it could have come off a bit more 50s. Maybe, it could have been something as simple as Ritchie Valens playing on the radio or something?
 

He's called Castro in the opening pre-story paragraph and a few times throughout the story as well (just in case a guy named Fidel from Cuba who is having dreams about war, revolution and overturning the government didn't tip you off.)  The author definitely wasn't going for an "It was Fidel Castro the whole time!" twist.

I also can't agree with your other point about setting.  His wife loves watching Lucille Ball on TV, the TV is black and white and he says he's going to get her a color TV when they come out.  There are lots of things that place this in the 50's.

I thought the Desi Arnaz tie in was cool, Desi being a Cuban also.  I agree with Windup that it would have been interesting to see what else would happen in this world as a result of Fidel staying comfortably nestled in capitalism and American life, but at the same time... this is a short story.  It gave us a chapter from a world, concluded nicely while leaving us to wonder about the rest.  I was nervous about it being a "baseball story" because it's not at all an interest of mine, but fortunately this was much more. 
Also, great reading and great outro by Norm.
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AlternateID
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« Reply #9 on: October 16, 2013, 10:12:55 PM »

I wasn't a huge fan of the story. My comment is directed at Norm's post story comments. 

Firstly I do love escapepod and plan on making a donation to shows my appreciation of all of your hard work.

That stated, I was disappointed to hear that his post-story comments used a Snopes.com article on Castro word-for-word. Several paragraphs were lifted from the original author and was not cited.

You all do such professional work and are talented artists. Please remember your integrity even when faced with deadlines and financial constraints. 

Again, I love the program and encourage all listeners to make a donation.
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silber
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« Reply #10 on: October 16, 2013, 10:47:15 PM »

I enjoyed this one a good bit, although it's not the type of story I usually expect from Escapepod.  Castro was an interesting character and it makes you wonder what any of us might have been in the reversal, if we'd been born in historic situations ripe for revolution or otherwise. 
Also the narration was outstanding for this I thought.  Well done!
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Myst
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« Reply #11 on: October 17, 2013, 12:35:10 AM »

My big take away from this story. Who was the Mysterious Cuban who visited Castro and got him thinking about home? Was he just some random Cuban, Was he another alternative history Fidel Castro who lost his revolution and now roams from timeline to timeline searching for one he can "correct"? Or was he just a time traveling troll..
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evrgrn_monster
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« Reply #12 on: October 17, 2013, 10:10:43 PM »

I tried really hard to like this, because the writing was great and the narration was engaging. (Bdoomed, you were so cute when you started singing. ) However, alternative history has never been an easy sell for me, and though, with its easy-going pace and ultimate lack of major conflict, this story was not like most A.H. I've seen, it still didn't do it for me. I can lift my disbelief for dragons, spaceships, and Cthulu, but Fidel Castro as a sweet baseball player who just wants to love his girlfriend and watch TV just cancels out any suspension that I could have.

Since we were warned about the one curse word, I was really on the look out for it. However, and I cannot believe I'm writing this sentence, the "ass" in this story was weird. It didn't really match the tone, since the character was using euphemisms for sex and other things. I think a more gentle word would've fit this more gentle man.
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Windup
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« Reply #13 on: October 17, 2013, 11:39:21 PM »


I highly suggest reading the notes about the story, published on the escape pod site, after the main story text, for some context that may (or may not) change the lens with which you hear/think about this story.

As for big picture, there was no big picture, not for this Fidel.  He gravitated towards it and was repelled by the political climate of 1950s America.  I think the absence of big picture ends up saying more.  What would a baseball player know about revolution?  What does any one of us know about it?  We are over fed on media and malnourished on fact, imprisoned by our own politics, and Giants player Fidel reflects it.  It's the world where he chooses red hair over his people, continued status quo over something perhaps meaningful and dire.  He places his agency in a television star, because as an enculturated Fidel, he knows nothing else.

I admit I was rather unimpressed and unenthused after first reading the story, but it has grown on me, especially afterconsidering what the author has to say and what the story really has to say.


I read the notes, they were interesting, but they didn't alter my basic opinion of the story.  I get the idea that "A solid contract and a good woman have been the ruin of many a good revolutionary," the anesthetizing power of wealth, imparting political acumen to celebrities, and all that. 

But without a window to the wider world, I don't see how you can tell if that's a Good Thing or a Bad Thing.  Sure, this Fidel is less politically aware.  You can argue that by trading a mediocre baseball career for national leadership, he's failing to reach his potential.  But what happened as a result?  Did someone else lead the Cuban revolution?  Maybe in a more democratic direction?  Was there reform in the existing regime?  Or, without Fidel's leadership, did things get much worse? 

Without the answers to those questions, I can't get all that excited about the problem of whether Fidel achieved self-actualization or not. 
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #14 on: October 18, 2013, 01:11:01 AM »

I think I must have read this story when it was printed; it feels very familiar.

The question that I have is: what does Desi know that he's not telling? Clearly he knows more than Fidel, but what is that? Is he more aware of a different reality? More juiced in with more connected and powerful people?

I don't fault the story for not telling me, but I can't help wondering....
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« Reply #15 on: October 18, 2013, 05:17:47 AM »

I found this story very dull.  Not being interested in baseball might not have helped, but really I think the problem is that the events of the story can only possibly be interesting in contrast with real events. 

I mean, obviously that comparison is the entire basis of alternate history, so that being a factor isn't a problem.  But to me at least a story has to be a good and entertaining story apart from any genre considerations expected of it.  If you read alternate history with knowledge of what has changed, you should appreciate it MORE.  But if you aren't aware of what's changed I think that something should still happen. 

A Cuban comes to America to play baseball, and likes it.  He has little interest in politics.  He talks to a famous actor.  The End.
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SF.Fangirl
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« Reply #16 on: October 19, 2013, 10:52:55 AM »

I found this story very dull.  ...

A Cuban comes to America to play baseball, and likes it.  He has little interest in politics.  He talks to a famous actor.  The End.


That really nails my thoughts.  The story really had nothing to it; nothing happened.  We're supposed to use our meta POV to realize what Fidel was ignoring/giving up. Instead of asking "what if Castro became a baseball player instead of a leading a revolution?" this story addressed "how might Castro end up a baseball player instead of leading a revolution?" and the how was pretty dull.
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InfiniteMonkey
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Clearly, I need more typewriters....


« Reply #17 on: October 19, 2013, 11:01:38 AM »

That really nails my thoughts.  The story really had nothing to it; nothing happened.  We're supposed to use our meta POV to realize what Fidel was ignoring/giving up. Instead of asking "what if Castro became a baseball player instead of a leading a revolution?" this story addressed "how might Castro end up a baseball player instead of leading a revolution?" and the how was pretty dull.

I think there's a little more going on than that. Clearly Castro is having flashes of his "other" life, which of course begs questions of "destiny" (whatever that means).

Then there's the forces in his world trying to push him one way or another. What do they know? Why chose this ball player? Why try and and knock him off this course?
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #18 on: October 19, 2013, 08:57:59 PM »

I think there's a little more going on than that. Clearly Castro is having flashes of his "other" life, which of course begs questions of "destiny" (whatever that means).

To me it doesn't so much beg questions of "destiny" but it seems like a clumsy attempt by the author to work in mention of the revolution.


Then there's the forces in his world trying to push him one way or another. What do they know? Why chose this ball player? Why try and and knock him off this course?

Why NOT choose this ball player?  Why not just approach every Cuban baseball player in the American pro leagues because they have enough pull with the public that their opinions could make some difference?  There's no way to tell how many of them have been approached.  I don't see this attention as making Castro special in this world.
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adrianh
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« Reply #19 on: October 20, 2013, 04:02:50 AM »

I enjoyed this, but it a very quiet way. For me it was one of those stories that goes exactly how you think it will go - but the journey is enjoyable despite that. I guess my only criticism is that it seemed just a tad too long establishing Earth 2 Castro's lifestyle before his failure to engage in the wider political world.

I also wonder if this is a story that feels different to US readers. Both because of baseball & the way that Castro/Cuba is seen.

On an unrelated note - I got the feeling that Nancy was intended to represent an historical character too. Anybody else get that? If so who?
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