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Author Topic: Pseudopod 399: The Wriggling Death  (Read 11233 times)

Bdoomed

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on: August 18, 2014, 02:15:23 AM
Pseudopod 399: The Wriggling Death

by Harold Gross.

“The Wriggling Death” is a Pseudopod original. The author says: “Best listened to with a cuppa and biscuit? This piece would not exist were it not for a tour of the Monterrey Aquarium by friend and fellow author, Pat McEwan, whose explanations of the strangest of sea life inspired the story.”

HAROLD GROSS has previously published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, other magazines, and several anthologies. Currently, “The Song Giveth…” is serialized in issues 9-12 of the online magazine, [ur=http://www.aethernetmag.com/]Aethernet[/url], based in the UK but also available electronically in the US. While he appears most often as Harold Gross, his collaborative alter-ego, Gordon Gross, appears in several venues. In addition to writing, Harold has also been caught in live and recorded performances on stage and screen. His blog at The 5 a.m. Critic currently contains a wide range of non-spoiler movie reviews as well as links to available reprints and current publications.

Your reader – Veronica Giguere – is a narrator of many genres, most notably for the Secret World Chronicle podcast novel series (which she narrates, produces and writes along with Mercedes Lackey, Cody Martin and Dennis Lee) and the cyberpunk noir podcast novel, Broken, co-written with Cedric Johnson. She can be found at www.voicesbyveronica.com and at Amazon and Smashwords. When not behind a microphone or slaving away on words, she works to release her soul from higher education in the pursuit of her doctorate.



“After finding the dell, we walked homeward in a more subdued fashion. After only a few steps, the contemplative silence was broken by the rustling of leaves behind us. We stopped in our tracks. We’d outrun Deaths all our lives and, in high Season, had even gone off into the desert to protect ourselves. More than enough females were willing to accept them into themselves and breed for as long as their accelerated aging would allow. There were always those that wanted to bear young. But that wasn’t Chalen or myself, thank you. We had our voices and our music and our fans. That was enough.

Something about that sound in that place, though, froze us. Then, as we listened more carefully, we could hear that there were more on both sides of us boxing us in. We began to run toward the house and the hedges. Sanctuary.”




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Listen to this week's Pseudopod.

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?


adrianh

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Reply #1 on: August 18, 2014, 05:54:42 PM
I liked the story on a first listen. It reminded me a bit of Charlie Stross's Equoid, which has another portrayal of alternative reproductive strategies.

Although, for a change, I didn't agree with some of Alasdair's comments at the end. Yes body horror — but body horror around sex and pregnancy. Not rape.

For me rape is about violence, power and dominance more than sex and reproduction. It's an intentional act. That's not what our narrator went through. The males don't have that kind of relationship with her. The wriggling deaths aren't sentient. What Chalen did was an act of panicked escape. At worst she threw our protagonist to the wolves — acting through fear. The underlying cause was accidental, not deliberate.

That "wresting of control" Alasdair referred to at the end… if anything that's the rape. Using sex and penetration for revenge — and the sister Chalen is the victim.



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Reply #2 on: August 20, 2014, 01:29:43 AM
This made me wonder about the larger society. In cities, are penises herded into zoos or are they running amok in subways with the rats? Do the penises grow back?
I thought it annoying that the manner of movement was not described. Then I realized that describing the movement would have pushed the visualization into absurdity.
The writer struck a good balance.



SpareInch

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Reply #3 on: August 20, 2014, 03:00:32 PM
That "wresting of control" Alasdair referred to at the end… if anything that's the rape. Using sex and penetration for revenge — and the sister Chalen is the victim.


I have to say, I saw that as the rape too. The running from the Wriggling Death (Sorry, it just sounds too ridiculous to say penises) made me think of that old joke about why Arctic explorers always set out in pairs... "You can't outrun a polar bear, but you can outrun the other guy!"

Right, so she lost the race, but if she'd spent more time looking after the old house and garden, and it seems she was rich enough to see that that happened, she'd have been fine. Taking it out by raping her sister is just... Well... Sick? Petty? Spiteful?

Take your pick.

This made me wonder about the larger society. In cities, are penises herded into zoos or are they running amok in subways with the rats?

Those are just the funniest images!

]
Do the penises grow back?

From what was said about males not living long, I got the impression that sex was a One Shot Deal. Once your, Umm, Wriggling Death comes off, you die.  :P
« Last Edit: August 20, 2014, 03:05:06 PM by SpareInch »

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bounceswoosh

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Reply #4 on: August 20, 2014, 05:31:55 PM
Meh. I somehow couldn't help but see this story as a metaphor for human sexuality, which made it very sex negative, which meh.

Also, with the litters and blonde hair, how did you visualize them? I pictured humanoid cats with human style hair.



adrianh

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Reply #5 on: August 23, 2014, 06:07:07 PM
Meh. I somehow couldn't help but see this story as a metaphor for human sexuality, which made it very sex negative, which meh.

I didn't see that myself — much more about reproduction than sex for me. In fact the story explicitly drew that distinction:

"It was then she finally talked to us about sex. Not the reproductive rape of the wriggling death, but the love of a willing female partner. The perpetual support that endless life together could bring. If… if… you avoided the wriggling death."




ElectricPaladin

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Reply #6 on: August 24, 2014, 02:45:58 AM
Meh. I somehow couldn't help but see this story as a metaphor for human sexuality, which made it very sex negative, which meh.

The thing is, they obviously weren't human. They were some other strange species with their own, odd, reproductive strategies. Any similarities to human sexual behavior is based purely on the bad behavior of human males... which is kind of our own problem to solve, now, isn't it?

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Reply #7 on: August 24, 2014, 02:14:14 PM
This is one of the few stories that really "disturbed" me. So much so that I was compelled to come and comment.

I was disturbed by Chalen's actions, abandoning her sister, then actively trying to keep her out of the house (whatever her reasons at the time). I was disturbed by the images of violation, of the lack of control for how and when reproduction would occur. I was very disturbed by Chalen's rape by her own sister at the end of the story.

But I think what disturbed me most was that the thing attached itself inside her body and just kept forcing her to have more children. Once a Wriggling Death gets you, its over. It is control of your reproduction from then on, mindlessly or not. There has to be an ointment or procedure or something to cure that.


In the end I was immensely cheered by Alasdair's pronunciation of "tacos." Say it again, Al....please?




ElectricPaladin

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Reply #8 on: August 24, 2014, 04:36:47 PM
...There has to be an ointment or procedure or something to cure that.

Here on Earth, we humans have got some simple and reliable procedures to prevent or terminate a pregnancy, and we can't seem to get any cultural agreement about making them available. Maybe it's the same way with these creatures? I can see some of the same stupid arguments between females who have decided that it's every woman's duty to reproduce and females who would rather let it be a personal choice. Sharon Shinn (author, most relevantly, of Heart of Gold) could write an alternate version focusing on the politics of this world... but the short story we listened to was body horror, not political sci-fi.

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lisavilisa

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Reply #9 on: August 24, 2014, 11:00:35 PM
...There has to be an ointment or procedure or something to cure that.

Here on Earth, we humans have got some simple and reliable procedures to prevent or terminate a pregnancy, and we can't seem to get any cultural agreement about making them available. Maybe it's the same way with these creatures? I can see some of the same stupid arguments between females who have decided that it's every woman's duty to reproduce and females who would rather let it be a personal choice. Sharon Shinn (author, most relevantly, of Heart of Gold) could write an alternate version focusing on the politics of this world... but the short story we listened to was body horror, not political sci-fi.

or some men could argue their choice to reproduce is taken away if a woman kills their wriggling death members.


*note: I would not agree with them.



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Reply #10 on: August 25, 2014, 01:17:44 AM
...There has to be an ointment or procedure or something to cure that.

Here on Earth, we humans have got some simple and reliable procedures to prevent or terminate a pregnancy, and we can't seem to get any cultural agreement about making them available. Maybe it's the same way with these creatures? I can see some of the same stupid arguments between females who have decided that it's every woman's duty to reproduce and females who would rather let it be a personal choice. Sharon Shinn (author, most relevantly, of Heart of Gold) could write an alternate version focusing on the politics of this world... but the short story we listened to was body horror, not political sci-fi.

or some men could argue their choice to reproduce is taken away if a woman kills their wriggling death members.


*note: I would not agree with them.

I get the feeling that men are not choosing or arguing members of this society.

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lisavilisa

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Reply #11 on: August 25, 2014, 04:03:11 AM
I get the feeling that men are not choosing or arguing members of this society.


Touche



Unblinking

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Reply #12 on: August 25, 2014, 01:48:37 PM
Wow.  And ew.  And wow again.  This story should've been disgusting and absurd.  Okay, it was disgusting and absurd, but it was also very powerful.  I don't know how that got pulled off the way it did.

The initial reveal catching the brother's Wriggling Death detaching in the woods was done very well, because it was staged as the end of naivette at the discovery of sex.  I mean, I already knew they were very humanish but weirdly inhuman at the same time with all the litters and whatnot, but suddenly at that moment when the Wriggling Death detaches, the whole story suddenly turned about 90 degrees.  And while the image of the inchworm penis pursuing them into the bushes was absurdly funny, it was simultaneously freaky.

I liked how the differences in how the sexes work here was explored with the consentual sex all happening between the women, and the men holding no social power because of their lifespan and limited function (kind of like bees, I think). 

I thought the ending was pretty horrifying.  I'm not sure what I think about that, to me it made the character take a sharp twist in personality that didn't seem to match what came before.  I think the story works better without that.

Interesting comments by Alasdair.  Personally I didn't think it was so much about rape (though there were certainly elements of it, especially as she's staggering to the house with them crawling all over her, that could've been a gang rape).  Personally, to me, it reminded me of how in many time periods and settings women have been treated as reproductive vessels and little else.  Especially the TV image of 50s housewife whose purpose is to be a mother and to clean and etc, but also to some extent noblewomen who are expected to produce heirs for their husbands.  In these settings, an unmarried woman can hold a fair amount of power as she's being wooed and courted, but once the marriage happens and she becomes pregnant, everything is expected to change.  She can't be an object of sexual desire anymore!  She's a mother!  Think of the children!  Which is of course, absurd--after all, unless we're talking about adoption or modern medical technology, having sex is a prerequisite to becoming a mother, and the desire doesn't turn off just because a baby has happened.  (Not that a new baby can't provoke a dry spell, mind you, caused by sleeplessness, the woman's physical and emotional healing from the pregnancy and birth, shifted focus in the relationship from each other to childcare, but I mean that a mother doesn't stop having sexual desires just because she's a mother)  So to me the fact that her sex organs are now blocked and unusable made me think of how a woman might feel after becoming pregnant where she felt social pressure to completely devote herself to being a mother and suppressing sexual aspects of herself.







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Reply #13 on: August 25, 2014, 01:55:53 PM
...There has to be an ointment or procedure or something to cure that.

Here on Earth, we humans have got some simple and reliable procedures to prevent or terminate a pregnancy, and we can't seem to get any cultural agreement about making them available. Maybe it's the same way with these creatures? I can see some of the same stupid arguments between females who have decided that it's every woman's duty to reproduce and females who would rather let it be a personal choice. Sharon Shinn (author, most relevantly, of Heart of Gold) could write an alternate version focusing on the politics of this world... but the short story we listened to was body horror, not political sci-fi.

I think ElectricPaladin could be right.

Also, with the species depicted here, it might actually be important for the survival of the species to not take any medical action once a coupling has occurred.  Even though males are apparently born at a much higher rate than females, the males only get one shot at reproduction, and it's apparently a pretty common occurrence for the Wriggling Deaths to get smashed with shovels and the like.  But the equation has so far worked out because one coupling produces many  children who are mostly male, and because the coupling can happen occasionally.  If medical technology also offered a way to detach them, then there might be danger of not having a next generation.

Also, I got the impression that the coupling would be irrevocable no matter how badly you tried--that the organs actually fused together, so that to cut the Wriggling Death out would involve necessarily mutilating what it was attached to and rendering those parts either scarred and insensate or so raw and painful as to either way be useless for sex.  And, given that even to try to do this would be horribly risky for the mother, and would prevent the birth of her inevitable children that may be necessary for the continuation of the species, there would not be much incentive for the medical research for this to happen--except perhaps in cases where something goes wrong and the litters don't appear to be viable anyway, but that's outside the scope of this story.




Dwango

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Reply #14 on: August 25, 2014, 02:13:50 PM
The males in the story (I wouldn't call them men), really get the shaft in this one.  They start out with the same intelligence as the females, only to lose their freedom and future once they give up their death.  Its another aspect of the horror in this piece, that they get treated as slaves.  Of course, I would wonder why they wouldn't just lock them up from birth.  I also wonder how unintelligent they really are.  Historically, slaves were always considered stupid so the slavery could be excused as "caring" for them.  There is also a cold aspect to the females consideration of the males, as they have no consideration for their feelings or thoughts.  This can lend itself to the ability of Chalen to so coldly leave her sister to her fate and leave her without caring, applying the feelings to the protagonist as she can to the males.

The part where Chalen can betray her sister was disturbing, and I can understand the protagonist's actions.  She feels left behind and wants her sister to suffer her own fate.  If you have been betrayed by someone so close to you, her anger can be understood.  The problem is it won't resolve her situation and it shows the cancer of her hatred.  She needed to look at her life and reexamine her priorities, instead of focusing so much on her sister.  It's hard to let go of the anger, and the final act will only cement the bitterness as she passes on.  Add in the aspect of rape, it becomes a much more disturbing view of revenge and how it only furthers the hatred, not releases it.  Very complex piece, very disturbing.  Good horror.



adrianh

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Reply #15 on: August 25, 2014, 03:51:05 PM
Quote
The males in the story (I wouldn't call them men), really get the shaft in this one.  They start out with the same intelligence as the females, only to lose their freedom and future once they give up their death.  Its another aspect of the horror in this piece, that they get treated as slaves.  Of course, I would wonder why they wouldn't just lock them up from birth.

Slaves? Where did that come from? From what I remember they were educated in the same establishments as the females and the narrator and her sister treated them as peers (indeed, couldn't really tell the difference) — and the story doesn't reveal what happens once they release their death (or — indeed — whether it's just the one). They're mortal, so ephemeral to the non-reproducing females, but they didn't seem to be a slave race from what I remember, or lose their intelligence — or did I miss something?

From the intro I'm guessing the author came up with the idea from the angler fish's odd lifecycle (http://mudfooted.com/deep-sea-anglerfish-bizarre-reproduction/), but with the males living on after releasing their deaths. I'd assumed with the mention of the "season" and the numbers of deaths that must be around that it was an annual event for mature males.

And from immortal female perspective "short lived" might be a pretty long time (since the narrator of the tale talks about the 20 year odd period of raising her children as if it was no time at all).



Dwango

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Reply #16 on: August 26, 2014, 03:03:08 PM
I thought they mentioned that after their coming of age, the males become less intelligent and serve the females for the rest of their lives.  They were discounting the males rather quickly, at an early age.  The males also did their wriggling death thing rather early, as the scene in the story wasn't that much later in their lives from when they were playing.  Guess I will have to read it again an double-check,  maybe I misinterpreted some parts.

Checked and early on in the story, they indicate the status of males as servants, so maybe I used too strong a word, but they are similar to slaves after:

"Chalen and I were the only two in our litter, not including the males, but they were never counted anyway."

"I look at them (the males) and wonder why so many of us found them frightening at that age.  Only a few years later they would all just be silent servants."
« Last Edit: August 26, 2014, 03:33:26 PM by Dwango »



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Reply #17 on: August 26, 2014, 03:24:11 PM
I thought they mentioned that after their coming of age, the males become less intelligent and serve the females for the rest of their lives.  They were discounting the males rather quickly, at an early age.  The males also did their wriggling death thing rather early, as the scene in the story wasn't that much later in their lives from when they were playing.  Guess I will have to read it again an double-check,  maybe I misinterpreted some parts.

that was what I thought too.  I think the wriggling death separates at puberty, as you'd guess.  She didn't realize there was a difference when they were very young, before her brother came of age, but she never interacted with him again after that. 



adrianh

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Reply #18 on: August 30, 2014, 12:47:05 PM
"I look at them (the males) and wonder why so many of us found them frightening at that age.  Only a few years later they would all just be silent servants."

Ahhh. You're right. I read that the first time around as an individual cases, those particular males became servants, not a general case. But you're right — it makes more sense that it's a general thing.



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Reply #19 on: September 01, 2014, 12:06:11 AM
Meh. I somehow couldn't help but see this story as a metaphor for human sexuality, which made it very sex negative, which meh.

I second the "meh" for similar reason as mentioned by bounceswish.
It has a very... well, is there a female version of the word misogynistic?




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Reply #20 on: September 01, 2014, 01:23:28 AM
Misandrist.  Sorry it didn't work for you.



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #21 on: September 01, 2014, 05:39:24 AM
But the weren't andros. You can't have misandrisy without the andros!

What I mean by that is this: why does everyone insist on seeing these characters are people. They are obviously not. I don't know about you, but my penis hasn't broken off to become a wormlike rapemonster while my brain experiences some kind of accelerated cranial neuropathy, leaving me a pliable but barely intelligent slave creature. This is not the mating behavior of humans. It's the mating behavior of things. It's a horrible biological limitation, to be sure, and fascinating to examine and consider the implications of, but it's not human.

If you couldn't look past the fact that technically their sperm-producing "males" were called "males" or "men," well... that says a lot more about you than it does about the story, and I invite you to examine that.

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albionmoonlight

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Reply #22 on: September 01, 2014, 01:47:54 PM
I liked this story.  I agree with Unblinking's take on this.  I saw the story as a metaphor about the choices women have to make, and how our society treats women once they choose to reproduce.  And the zombie-like pressure of the deaths fits into that.  It made me think of Mrs. A's female friends who have chosen not to marry of have kids in order to pursue their careers.  They definitely feel pressure, both overt and subtle, to settle down and have kids.  That does not seem to go away.

And then what she does to her sister at the end strikes me as a comment on how it is not just men who enforce these gender norms and expectations.  Both men and women have bought into this system of how things should work and will do their parts to enforce it.  Nowhere do I see "mommy-shaming" as prevalent as on the Mommy Blogs written by other women.

My only issue with this story (and it is more with me than with the story) is that I read it as such a strong metaphor that I did not pay enough attention to it as a story.  I think that it works well on that level, but I'd have to listen again to see.



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Reply #23 on: September 01, 2014, 08:28:58 PM
What I mean by that is this: why does everyone insist on seeing these characters are people.

I think that is a commentary on the creativity level of Pseudopod listeners. It would seem that we are a group with a very good imagination and as such, it does not take much to see the social commentary that lays just below the thin veil of this stories setting.

Like with the fable of the Fox and the grapes - Sure, it's a story about a fox and some grapes but I know that it is not really a story ABOUT a fox and some grapes.  :)

Here's something that I had been thinking about since I posted my first comment on this story.
Writing about the possible "negative aspects" of having a family is not a subject our society really wants brought up. It goes against the popular "American Dream, 2.5 kids and a dog" narrative. So disguising that sort of commentary as an allegory would seem the best way to go about broaching the subject without seeming like you were some radical just out to kick society's dog.
 I have seen how having children can sometimes result in rapid aging and physical degradation in the parent and how it can end the life that the parent may have had before kids. A life that they were really enjoying.
That was what I saw in this line -
"I look at them (the males) and wonder why so many of us found them frightening at that age.  Only a few years later they would all just be silent servants."
It's that guy you knew who was the life of the party in his 20's. He was always getting "the gang" together for something or another. Then he got married, had kids and no one saw him much anymore as he became just a silent servant for his wife and kids.






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Reply #24 on: September 01, 2014, 08:53:07 PM
What I mean by that is this: why does everyone insist on seeing these characters are people.

I think that is a commentary on the creativity level of Pseudopod listeners. It would seem that we are a group with a very good imagination and as such, it does not take much to see the social commentary that lays just below the thin veil of this stories setting.

Social commentary? Sure. In our world, we assume that because women have the biological ability to reproduce, they have an obligation to do so, that they belong to the world of reproduction, the private sphere, and they are harassed and maltreated if they dare to venture into the public sphere, and that's pretty lousy.

But I think "it's a story uses metaphor to bring up the way we treat women in our society" and "the things they call 'men' aren't being treated the way men should be treated and that makes the story misandrist" are very far apart. The latter requires a dearth of imagination, not a surfeit of it.

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