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Author Topic: EP432: Inappropriate Behavior  (Read 3785 times)
eytanz
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« on: January 25, 2014, 10:05:04 AM »

EP432: Inappropriate Behavior

by Pat Murphy

Read by MJ Cogburn

--

The Mechano:

There was a man asleep on the sand.

He should not be here. It was my island. I had just returned to my mechano and it was time for me to go to work. He should not be here.

I studied the man through the eyes of my mechano. They were good eyes. They worked very well beneath the water, at depths down to fifteen hundred meters. I had adjusted them for maximum acuity at distances ranging from two inches to five feet. Beyond that, the world was a blur of tropical sunshine and brilliant color. I liked it that way.

There had been a big storm the night before. One of the coconut palms had blown down, and the beach was littered with driftwood, coconuts, and palm fronds.

The man didn’t look good. He had a bloody scrape on his cheek, other scrapes on his arms and legs, a smear of blood in his short brown hair. His right leg was marked with bruises colored deep purple and green. He wore an orange life vest, a t-shirt, a pair of shorts, and canvas boat shoes.

He stirred in his sleep, sighing softly. Startled, I sent the mechano scuttling backward. I stopped a few feet away from him.

My mechano had a speaker. I tested it and it made a staticky sound. I wondered what I should say to this man.

The man moved, lifting a hand to rub his eyes. Slowly, he rolled over.

“Bonjour,” I said through the mechano’s speakers. Maybe he had come from one of the islands of French Polynesia.

# # #

The Man:

A sound awakened him—a sort of mechanical squawking.

Evan Collins could feel the tropical sun beating down on his face, the warm beach sand beneath his hands. His head ached and his mouth was dry. His right leg throbbed with a dull, persistent pain.

Evan raised a hand to rub his eyes and winced when he brushed against a sand-encrusted scrape on his cheek. When he rolled over onto his back, the throbbing in his leg became a sudden, stabbing pain.

Wiping away the tears that blurred his vision, he lifted his head and blinked down at his leg. His calf was marked with bloody coral scrapes. Beneath the scrapes were vivid bruises: dark purple telling of injuries beneath the surface of the skin. When he tried to move his leg again, he gasped as the stabbing pain returned.

He heard the sound again: a mechanical rasping like a radio tuned to static. He turned in the direction of the sound, head aching, eyes dazzled by the sun. A gigantic cockroach was examining him with multifaceted eyes.

The creature was at least three feet long, with nasty looking mandibles. Its carapace glittered in the sunlight as it stood motionless, staring in his direction.

Again, the mechanical squawk, coming from the cockroach. This time, the sound was followed by a scratchy voice. “Bonjour,” the cockroach said.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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l33tminion
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« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2014, 04:56:41 PM »

The first few minutes I thought the flat tone of the narration would make it hard to get through.  But then the world-building had me hooked, and the tone of the narration seemed to fit well with the voice of the main character.
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Seekerpilgrim
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« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2014, 06:46:58 AM »

Wow. There are stories I've come across in my life that I didn't like, but this is the first time in my 44 years on this planet that I've actually hated one. What an angry, bitter tale dealing with a man who almost dies because a spoiled, sheltered little girl selfishly wants to to be told stories and collect rocks. The fact that he is finally rescued in a rush towards the end where everything is quickly and neatly wrapped up (in sharp contrast to the slow, dull plodding of the other 95% of the story) doesn't make up for how aggravating this piece is, or how it is in no way make more bearable by the narrator who's performance is just as slow, dull, and plodding. There are those who may argue that the narration is indicative of the main character's persona, and that would be a valid argument except that ALL the characters are read in the same, slow, almost halting manor (is English a second language to the reader? She repeats herself at least once, as if nervously reading a speech in front of a room full of people. Not what I expect from any of the Escape Artist shows). Finally, with all due respect to Mr. Stuart, I think he gives this fiction WAY too much credit, finding nuances and layers that just aren't there. Overall very disappointing...very disappointing indeed.
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Thunderscreech
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« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2014, 12:00:10 PM »

I cannot disagree with seekerpilgrim more and I can only suspect that he or she has very limited experience with people who fall onto the autistic spectrum.  This was a fascinating exploration into how someone who isn't neurotypical might perceive the world.

It is a shameful condemnation of our society that there are people who judge those unable to meet their definition of appropriate behavior due to these conditions. 

Do we mock the paraplegic for not being able to walk?  If we don't, then how can we look down at someone who is autistic for not being able to follow the same social cues and empathy we are expected to? 

Here's a question, though...    was the moral of this story that an autistic child could overcome significant barriers to save the man?  Or was her victory a result of her 'not being autistic' long enough to get it done?  If the latter, then there's a missed opportunity here.
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Dem
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« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2014, 02:32:50 PM »

The first few minutes I thought the flat tone of the narration would make it hard to get through.  But then the world-building had me hooked, and the tone of the narration seemed to fit well with the voice of the main character.
Me too, but then the narration seemed to so exactly fit the character of Annie that I began to wonder if the voice was simulated. Whatever, it was a superb match.
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Dem
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« Reply #5 on: January 26, 2014, 02:42:53 PM »

I cannot disagree with seekerpilgrim more and I can only suspect that he or she has very limited experience with people who fall onto the autistic spectrum.  This was a fascinating exploration into how someone who isn't neurotypical might perceive the world.

It is a shameful condemnation of our society that there are people who judge those unable to meet their definition of appropriate behavior due to these conditions. 

Do we mock the paraplegic for not being able to walk?  If we don't, then how can we look down at someone who is autistic for not being able to follow the same social cues and empathy we are expected to? 

Here's a question, though...    was the moral of this story that an autistic child could overcome significant barriers to save the man?  Or was her victory a result of her 'not being autistic' long enough to get it done?  If the latter, then there's a missed opportunity here.

Yes indeed. While the repetitive labeling was a bit irksome (to me anyway - I'd made the leap pretty soon, being a psychologist) it's clear that it was necessary and, in fact, might even have been inadequate, given that earlier response. Of course we should tolerate/understand/make allowances for the likes of Annie, but seekerpilgrim shows that for the most part, we're not there yet. I could find no fault at all in the representation of the autistic spectrum in this story; nothing about it felt lacking in authenticity or genuineness. If that kind of situation arises for someone whose perspective on life is filtered by ASD, then that is how it will pan out. Add to that a pretty good story about the use of sensorially depleted environments and remote inhabiting of ASD-friendly 'bodies' and I think it hit a sweet spot.
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troubler
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« Reply #6 on: January 26, 2014, 03:46:33 PM »

I cannot disagree with seekerpilgrim more and I can only suspect that he or she has very limited experience with people who fall onto the autistic spectrum.  This was a fascinating exploration into how someone who isn't neurotypical might perceive the world.

I agree that seekerpilgrim was missing the point. Like, every point. I don't see any evidence she was spoiled or selfish? How many times did she state explicitly that she was trying to be helpful? What part of selfishness is spending hours getting coconuts and the like for the man? A 12 year old may not understand the same things about priorities that an adult does, again even before the issue of her very clearly described non-neurotypical mental situation. But also there is a question of power - How one could blame a 12 year old in girl for not immediately forcing people to hear her voice in a hierarchical organization made up of professional adults in a mining company and a medical hierarchy, and run by that doctor who doesn't respect her voice or pay attention to what she says?

For me that was one of the well-written parts of the story - her worldview and mental processes while interesting and relevant, ultimately are only a part of the explanation for why she doesn't get heard.

I was a little distracted by the narrator's stumbling on the reading, though - although I agree about her vocal affect contributing to the feel, I did get a bit impatient with the hesitations and misreadings. I suppose that could be considered part of the atmosphere too..

and I like Thunderscreech's question! I thought the author was addressing that in the use of fairytales. The way Annie responded to the fairytales did suggest to me that if our society treated non-NT people as whole people with their own priorities worth respecting it might radically reshape our social relationships and expectations.
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Warren
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« Reply #7 on: January 26, 2014, 07:24:17 PM »

I eventually quite liked the story (though I'm deeply skeptical it hangs together on further consideration; among other things, the mechanoid's cameras and other logs could presumably be accessed by the doctor who's so upset to have lost video surveillance; modern sailing ships have distress beacons,and the sailing ships of a world with direct neural interfaces should have more; and the idea that the autistic child should, without being asked to do so, find and recover gold-bearing rocks not found by previous, dedicated survey efforts seems unlikely).

But, like most people here, my main reactions were to the reader. I'm sympathetic to the argument that the reader's halting, oddly emphasized, and frequently mispronounced delivery were in some way deeply appropriate to the autism of the main character and narrator. But even giving this argument all the credit I can muster, the style was just too enormously off-putting for far too long before any possible pay-off from this sort of characterization can be realized, and (as noted above) the same vocal quirks were in evidence when the reader was performing other, neurotypical characters, not merely when the reader was portraying the little girl. I don't think the selection of the reader or the decisions of the reader, whichever it was, were a good choice.
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merian
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« Reply #8 on: January 27, 2014, 01:38:31 AM »

This was a very sweet story: a coming-of-age story of an autistic girl, which I thought was a surprising and original idea, with good execution. I'm not the hugest fan of explicit POV changes (though paradoxically I enjoy epistolary novels/stories), but it's a choice I can respect.

The only disclaimer I would make is that I'm concerned about appropriation -- I don't have a sliver of expertise in autistic spectrum disorders and therefore would take any criticism of people with first or second-hand experience over my enjoyment.
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fractaloon
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Re:
« Reply #9 on: January 27, 2014, 12:39:47 PM »

I found this story painfully slow to. Not in the narration, but in how hard it was for Evan Collins to get rescued.

I think Alisdair got it wrong in the closing. The doctor was not a dumbass. If Uncle Mars had not been petty and stayed away from the island, the doctor would not have assumed it was a tech.

Evan never realized that what saved his life were the two fairy tales be told. Cinderella followed all the rules and got punished by a life unsuitable for the narrator. Trying to tell the doctor about Evan went nowhere and even got the cold scolded. Trying to follow the rules didn't work out.  Jack, did evening he wasn't supposed to do in his fairy tale and was rewarded in the end. I think the girl from these lessons and applied them to herself. She broke the rules by leaving her job, talking loud and getting the nurses attention. It saved a man's life and got her a job she liked.. All in all, a very happy ending for a little girl.  I think she finally learned how not to be a square peg in a round hole.
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lisavilisa
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« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2014, 09:09:03 PM »

Did Uncle Mars pull strings to get the program dissolved so he could have access to Annie? I mean Dr. Rhodes had ignored some of her explicit request, but I bet he could have gotten away with only a slap on the wrist if it was just left up to the academic hierarchy.
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lisavilisa
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« Reply #11 on: January 27, 2014, 09:54:46 PM »

I'm having conflicting feelings toward Dr. Rhodes.

On one hand he's probably spent the last 32 days talking to Annie. A girl who is by definition not good at communicating. He's gotten practiced at extrapolating from clues she gives him. How is he supposed to be able to tell that when she's raising her voice and repeating something that this time it's important?

On the other hand, Dr. Rhodes is supposed to be an expert at dealing with autism spectrum disorder and has personally taken charge of Annie because he has assured her parents he can work with her. So my sympathy for him stops there.

I guess what makes me worried is that I'm not a trained professional, but I do have people in my life who are neural atypical. Most of the time we communicate well but what if one day they try to communicate something important to me and I don't pick up on it?
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skeletondragon
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« Reply #12 on: January 27, 2014, 11:49:42 PM »

Dr. Rhodes seems to be heavily focused on getting Annie to conform to "NT" standards of social interaction. I'm curious about how the program was intended to work, and how long it was to last. Was she eventually supposed to stop spending most of her time in the sensory deprivation chamber, or was the intention all along to have her continue operating the Mechano for the rest of her life? This would seem counterproductive, since Dr. Rhodes and probably her parents seemed to hope she could learn the "unspoken rules" of socializing and somehow integrate into society. And at the end Uncle Mars apparently has to do some persuading and string-pulling to allow her to continue.

On a different note, I thought it was interesting how, when people failed to understand her, Annie's first thought was that they must not be able to hear her over the sound of the lights and air conditioner, so she raised her voice and repeated herself. Whereas for Rhodes and Kari (sp?), the problem, eventually overcome, was that Annie couldn't know how she needed to phrase things to make them understand. Most of what she told Dr. Rhodes was "there is a man and he needs HELP", which, yes, he should have paid more attention to, but it's a lot easier to ignore than "there is a man and he needs MEDICAL ATTENTION".
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Seekerpilgrim
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« Reply #13 on: January 28, 2014, 12:20:32 AM »

In response to Thunderscreech: it's true I don't have any experience with autistic people, but that is, to be blunt, irrelevant. I didn't like ANY of the characters. I found them all to be frustrating and annoying. I didn't enjoy the story...period. A tale I don't care for doesn't get a pass because one of the characters has a disability or is different. Am I going to get criticized for not liking a story that happens to have a homosexual or transgender character?
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Seekerpilgrim
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« Reply #14 on: January 28, 2014, 12:31:14 AM »

In response to troubler: I didn't miss the point of the story. I understand it was mostly (though not entirely) told from Annie's point of view, but when she (repeatedly) doesn't want to answer any more questions and instead wants to be told a story or collect more rocks (i.e. pouts because an adult is asking her to do something she doesn't want to), then she is acting spoiled and selfish, just like any other 12 year old acting the same way. Also, I stand by my dislike of the narration. The same monotonous style was used for all characters, so the argument that speech pattern was character flavor (which would have worked very well IF the other characters were read differently) fails.
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Seekerpilgrim
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A pilgrim searching for his path and his tribe.


« Reply #15 on: January 28, 2014, 12:37:04 AM »

In response to Dem: I'm not sure how you make the leap from I didn't like this story to I have no tolerance for autistic people. That sounds very politically correct and rather simple. I didn't like the characters (notice plural) or the narration...period.
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zoanon
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« Reply #16 on: January 28, 2014, 12:46:30 AM »

all I thought when I finished this story was how very NT the ending was.
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Dem
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« Reply #17 on: January 28, 2014, 04:23:46 AM »

In response to Dem: I'm not sure how you make the leap from I didn't like this story to I have no tolerance for autistic people. That sounds very politically correct and rather simple. I didn't like the characters (notice plural) or the narration...period.

I didn't say that, I was making the point that we have a long way to go before most people, as opposed to just people in their immediate circles, will understand or appreciate the way autism works. Liking the person or not doesn't really come into it and in a work of fiction, maybe especially not, but having an idea of what drives them is quite important. Annie is driven by rigid internal cognitive structures, empathy is impossible, and she is learning social behavior by numbers so that the unexpected throws her and she retreats. It's a very authentic portrayal of what can be an extremely disabling condition.
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Dem
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« Reply #18 on: January 28, 2014, 05:11:38 AM »

I understand it was mostly (though not entirely) told from Annie's point of view, but when she (repeatedly) doesn't want to answer any more questions and instead wants to be told a story or collect more rocks (i.e. pouts because an adult is asking her to do something she doesn't want to), then she is acting spoiled and selfish, just like any other 12 year old acting the same way.
I think this is where the problem lies in understanding Annie's character - she isn't selfish in the sense of cynical manipulation of other people, she is doing her best using the abilities she has, which are actually pretty smart given her age. Social behaviour is as difficult for people with autism as distinguishing colour is for people who are colour blind, which means it's possible to generate rules as templates but not to build in flexibility or generalisability - the top traffic light is almost always red but not all apples are so you might do pretty well on the roads but not so well finding red fruit.

Actually, the people I found most uni-dimensional were the neurotypicals: the thoroughly patronising and self-interested doctor and the greed-driven mine owner - both of them exploiting this naive child for their own purposes but without much character development to give them depth; the nurse who was stereotypically 'nice' and handily the niece (?) of the owner so she could intervene, and the man on the beach was rather thin as a character when a few words about why he was there might have helped. As a tight focus piece about how someone like Annie might react in an emergency situation, I thought it did a fine job (I didn't hear a pout or I'd have been yelling about inconsistency - where was that?) but the supporting characters I felt were rather weak.

Let's be careful though not to make this about whether or not you 'get' autism and blaming people who don't. If you get it, like you might 'get' someone who constantly sabotages relationships or strives to be the centre of attention at the expense of everyone else, then you can infer more about why things are happening. If you don't then it might make less or different sense to you, and that's just a people thing.

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DerangedMind
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« Reply #19 on: January 28, 2014, 06:40:43 AM »

It was very hard for me to sperate this story from the narration - especially since I'm used to the very high standards that escape artists has. I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt and assume something happened to cause this to be used in a rush.

I struggled to make it through the story. The pacing seemed very slow and the characters one dimensional.  It appeared to be written mainly to educate about autism - and it does a good job doing that.  I dunno - maybe with different narration it would have done better for me.  The stumbling over words disrupted the flow of the story and pulled me out from being immersed.

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