Author Topic: EP479: The Evening, The Morning and the Night  (Read 15446 times)

eytanz

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on: February 02, 2015, 07:16:19 AM
EP479: The Evening, The Morning and the Night


By Octavia Butler

Read by Amanda Ching

This story originally appeared in the May 1987 issue of Omni

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Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



TiDinzeo

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Reply #1 on: February 02, 2015, 01:43:34 PM
Loved the story as far as I could listen to it.  Unfortunately the last five minutes or so had the outro over the top of it.  I just figured I should let someone know.



matweller

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Reply #2 on: February 02, 2015, 02:52:12 PM
I very much appreciate the heads-up! As I posted with your comment on our website, that was how the file was when I initially uploaded it, but I caught the error within about an hour and fixed it. Your podcatcher must have grabbed it in that first hour. If you delete that file and re-download you should be fine.

I’m very sorry for the annoyance. If it makes you feel any better, I realized I had made the error as I lay down in my bed at 1:30 this morning and even though I was getting up at 5:30, I rose and fixed the file before going to bed rather than letting it sit until morning.  ;D



wintermute

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Reply #3 on: February 03, 2015, 01:17:35 PM
Is it just me, or did the pre-intro section shift from side to side?

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eytanz

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Reply #4 on: February 03, 2015, 03:06:28 PM
The pre-intro section of every EP episode in ages shifts from one speaker to the next. I've been meaning to bring this up for ages but I keep forgetting, so thanks for doing so!



wintermute

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Reply #5 on: February 03, 2015, 04:13:42 PM
Ah, OK. It's the first time I've noticed.

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Dwango

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Reply #6 on: February 03, 2015, 07:51:54 PM
This story was was a tightly well woven tapestry of themes.  It touches on disease and the fear it causes, genetic modification, dealing with a handicap, self will, and what it even means to be human.  So many themes might make a short story meander, but this laid them in layers in such a way to make a cloth with one theme leading to the next in a nice way.  I felt disturbed at the end as to whether they were even human anymore, and then thought about earlier how sympathetic I felt for their plight of segregation and discrimination.  I realized that the only threat was to themselves and the fact they would form enclaves within the society, kind of how immigrants built their own sections of cities, only on a smaller scale.  I must admit, I am guilty of thinking of them forming clans and starting political wars between the matrons.  How much control do they really have?  Of course then I was thinking of the similar theme of Sigler's Contageous.  I've got my horror mixed in my science fiction. :-)



EFBQ

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Reply #7 on: February 04, 2015, 02:26:18 PM
I'd read this story years ago, and remembered it as I listened to it.   I was surprised, though, that it ended as it did - somehow in my memory it had gone on longer.  Not 'building a new society' longer (read Butlers other works for some of that) but that there was a denouement where the protagonist did go on to build her own haven, but ended her romantic relationship...   I suppose I saw Naomi's life unfold before her the same way she did.

The takeaway is - READ MORE BUTLER, and I say that to Escape Pod, but especially to those listeners who are discovering her for the first time. She gets as close as anyone I can think of to developing comprehensible alien cultures, usually peopled by quasi humans or human/other hybrids.  At least she builds two of these, developing them over a series of books, then sets them to warring with one another.



Father Beast

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Reply #8 on: February 05, 2015, 12:50:04 AM
Octavia Butler, Man...

Typical of her, this is about biology, but since biology isn't so exact a science, unexpected effects in biological things have a strong tendency to turn around and bite you. The result is almost always unsettling. That was true in the few Butler books I've read (Clay's Ark, Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago, Wild Seed), and it's true here in this story.

I think the reason I've read so little Butler is because I have to have my endurance up before I go in. Not because it's hard to read, but because the situations make me a little queasy. It's always good stuff, but I might not be able to handle it if the doses are too big. These are generally not places I would want to live.

But it's damn good science fiction, and just fascinating.

OK, let me stop slobbering over her and talk about this story.

It took until most of the way through this story before I heard about the origin of the condition, It's a magic bullet that cures many kinds of cancer, and has those treated spawn children with the condition. That means that those cancer sufferers will have greatly reduced progeny. Those children with the condition will probably choose not to breed, and those who do, their children will likely not breed. On the other hand, those children of cancer sufferers born before the treatment will be at risk for cancer, and will probably get the treatment when their cancer shows up. In a few hundred years most people with genetic risk for cancer and those people with the condition will be weeded out of the population. That sort of makes me sad.

Most of the action in this story is these people with a terrible condition trying to make some sort of way in life before their inevitable doom descends on them, and then they are offered some sort of hope of something more than their bleak existence. It's not so great, but at least it's something.

Story sure sticks in my head, but I'm not sure I could stand to listen to it again. Take that backhanded compliment how you like.



davidthygod

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Reply #9 on: February 05, 2015, 07:35:40 PM
Great story, I will definitely pick up some more Octavia Butler.   My one very flippant observation would be that I couldn't stop thinking that Ms Butler came up with a nice, scientific reason why women tend to hate on each other.  Its all about the pheromones.

The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad.


Varda

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Reply #10 on: February 05, 2015, 10:33:09 PM
My one very flippant observation would be that I couldn't stop thinking that Ms Butler came up with a nice, scientific reason why women tend to hate on each other.  Its all about the pheromones.

Huh. Funny. I'm a woman, and I don't "hate on" other women. Nor do I observe this about other women.

Let's can the flippant sexist jokes, shall we? Thanks.

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Ariadnes-thread

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Reply #11 on: February 06, 2015, 06:37:58 AM
I loved this story so much. I'm already a huge Butler fan, but before this I'd only read her novels, not her short stories. After this one, I'm definitely going to seek more of her short stories out; it's amazing how detailed a world she builds in this short a narrative, and with such an emotional impact, too. I really appreciated the story's themes about how we treat (or, rather, mistreat) people with disabilities in our society, which I thought were beautifully handled.



Varda

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Reply #12 on: February 06, 2015, 12:16:16 PM
As for this story, I straight-up loved it, (and I'll definitely second Norm's recommendation of Bloodchild over on the Drabblecast). The disease reminded me a bit of an SF variation on autism, like what it would look like if autism struck in your middle or late years instead of early in life, especially the pattern of normal development--> sudden regression, and details like the self-stimming behavior and obsessive focus on a particular hobby or topic. And of course, autism spectrum disorders have been really stigmatized misunderstood, especially historically, which makes sense when you take into account the diagnosis didn't even exist in its present form until around the 1960's (the symptoms were there, but nobody had fully connected the dots before then). I love how part of the challenge in helping the regressing DGD people is just understanding them and their motivations to begin with. It was a fantastic picture of neuroatypicality, and how this looks really scary from the outside.

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Reply #13 on: February 06, 2015, 02:45:11 PM
Octavia Butler!  *swoon*

I have not honestly read much of what she's written.  But the two things I have read have been amazing--her novel Wild Seed and her short story Bloodchild.  Looking forward to this.

And that reminds me that I need to look up more of her stories--or my favorite podcasts could just buy the right to record them all.  :D



Ariadnes-thread

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Reply #14 on: February 06, 2015, 04:26:06 PM
I definitely thought of the autism thing, too, Varda! Even more so in terms of the stigma society attached to it and the way the misunderstanding and low expectations of society were what made them so much worse than letting them be who they were and do what they wanted. The symptoms, too-- the self-harm (that is worse in a bad environment), the focus and interest in one thing. (I have Asperger's myself and was definitely thinking about the autism connection throughout the story, but I wasn't sure if I was just reading that into it because I spend a lot of time reading/thinking about autism acceptance stuff, so I'm glad too hear my reading confirmed by someone else!)




albionmoonlight

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Reply #15 on: February 07, 2015, 02:31:11 PM
We are so bad at dealing with mental illness.  I love that this story did not fall into the simplistic trap of having organized lynch mobs out to kill all the DGDs.  Instead, the DGDs were still marginalized, but by well-meaning people who just did not know how to handle them.  Which is pretty much how we handle mental illness.  No mainstream schools of thought are opposed to the mentally ill.  We all feel sympathy and want sick people to get better.  But we still manage to isolate and marginalize and ignore and mistreat mentally ill individuals.  Because we don't know how to do any better.  And because we lack the will to commit the resources to applying what we do know will make their lives better.

A very powerful story by an author that has a great sense of how to reflect the real world through the mirror of speculative fiction.



jkjones21

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Reply #16 on: February 08, 2015, 01:53:55 AM
Loved the story, and definitely got the autism vibe as well.  I was a little saddened by the explanation of DGD's origins, simply because it mirrors so closely the misinformation that just won't fucking die about autism being linked to vaccination.  Obviously Butler couldn't have foreseen that particular travesty, but it sours the autism comparison for me slightly simply because I imagine anti-vaxxers running with the story's concept as some kind of horrific tale about the cost of lifesaving medical technology.

Setting that aside, I did think the picture painted of how people suffering from DGD would eventually organize into collectives established under a biological hierarchy was pretty bleak, perhaps simply because it's a very alien social structure in comparison to what we'd ideally strive for as humans (on a side note, the only other Butler story I'm familiar with is "Bloodchild," and that piece also deals heavily in alien social structures that appear to be inspired by insects; I wonder if Butler took arthropods as a major source of inspiration for her creations).

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Zelda

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Reply #17 on: February 08, 2015, 08:12:02 AM
I can see a weak similarity to autism but the central concerns about DGD seem to me to be quite different. Uncontrolled DGD triggers violence against others, in addition to self harm. The main character's father killed her mother. During her boyfriend's reunion with his mother, Beatrice, the main character and the boyfriend all watched the mother carefully for any threatening actions against her son and all three had to intervene to deflect such actions. Most of the violence might be self harm, but enough of it was directed outward to make uncontrolled DGDs a realistic concern for society.

The little we learned about DGD raised a lot of interesting questions. The story answered only a few of them because only a few fell within the its scope. I liked this story very much.



hardware

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Reply #18 on: February 09, 2015, 04:34:49 PM
Woah. That might just be one of the best stories I've had the pleasure to listen to in this podcast. It reminded me in parts of 'Never Let Me Go' in it's depiction of a biological underclass with not much prospects, but then had so many more interesting ideas hidden in all we learn about the disease and it's consequences for society, biology and psychology.



Bruce Arthurs

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Reply #19 on: February 09, 2015, 05:13:14 PM
Loved the story, and definitely got the autism vibe as well.  I was a little saddened by the explanation of DGD's origins, simply because it mirrors so closely the misinformation that just won't fucking die about autism being linked to vaccination.  Obviously Butler couldn't have foreseen that particular travesty, but it sours the autism comparison for me slightly simply because I imagine anti-vaxxers running with the story's concept as some kind of horrific tale about the cost of lifesaving medical technology.

I'm pretty sure the parallel Butler had in mind was the Thalidomide tragedy in the late 50's, when a new prescription sedative turned out to cause horrifying birth defects when taken by pregnant women who also had a vitamin-B deficiency. Thousands of children were born with truncated or missing arms and legs, most in Europe. It would have been a HUGE news story when Butler was a young teen; I was a pre-teen about that time, and remember the reports pretty clearly.

(In the US, a minor official at the FDA, Frances Oldham Kelsey, refused to approve sales of the drug in the US without further testing, despite intense pressure from pharmaceutical companies. Because of her, only 17 "thalidomide babies" were born in the US, rather than the thousands in West Germany and other countries. She later received a Presidential medal for her caution.)



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Reply #20 on: February 10, 2015, 05:16:49 PM
A great story, as I've come to expect from Butler.

I did see the autism parallel though the more violent manifestations reminded me more of something like schizophrenia. 

The most interesting theme I saw in it was exploring the idea that no matter what our intellectual capabilities are, we are at our core products of our biology, something which we have little conscious control over.  Our minds are capable of amazing things, but much of our motivations are driven by chemicals swishing around in our wetware that are evolved to drive behaviors that are now mostly obsolete.  Our minds are also very good at self-justification and revising their memories, so I imagine that if she stays with him, he'll have soothed out his own qualms about the situation in short order.

It seems to me that this condition will produce a new society that is biologically the same species but with a different social order that would make it very interesting to use as a counterpoint for understanding human psychology and social behavior on a much deeper level.

I thought the story did an interesting and gradual reveal that held my attention, though I felt that it was trying to convey a tension between options that I didn't really feel.  This facility sounds amazing in every respect.  To the patients living there, they have the opportunity to pursue whatever makes them happy and to live a long life, and I think they'll probably be happier than your average person on the balance, and it seemed like they had a fair amount of free will within the facility--his mother was an extreme case by everything we could see.  To the matron of the facility, she knows that she is making all of their lives better and has a lot of freewill for herself--most of her effect happens just by her being there--it sounded like his mother's behavior only needed to be monitored so closely because of the brain damage and the interruption to her routines.  To society as a whole, this facility is hugely beneficial both by helping have an example to the population about how the condition doesn't have to be a death sentence and also as a source of technological innovation.

The main downside I see is that it seems that the matron is socially isolated by her nature.  She can never interact directly with peers because there is an inborn hostility with other matrons.  Her patients can't be peers because in her presence they are subordinates--she can be friendly and converse with them of course but there can never be any illusion that they are on the same level, they can't disagree with her.  Even over the phone I doubt she'll love talking to other matrons, though they can get by in that situation.  She can stay with her fiancee if she wants to--she can get some comfort and sexual release from the relationship at least, but I'd think it would be constantly troubling to realize that your husband has no choice but to be your husband, though I suppose it might also be reassuring to know that he will always be there for you.




jkjones21

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Reply #21 on: February 10, 2015, 06:36:46 PM
Loved the story, and definitely got the autism vibe as well.  I was a little saddened by the explanation of DGD's origins, simply because it mirrors so closely the misinformation that just won't fucking die about autism being linked to vaccination.  Obviously Butler couldn't have foreseen that particular travesty, but it sours the autism comparison for me slightly simply because I imagine anti-vaxxers running with the story's concept as some kind of horrific tale about the cost of lifesaving medical technology.

I'm pretty sure the parallel Butler had in mind was the Thalidomide tragedy in the late 50's, when a new prescription sedative turned out to cause horrifying birth defects when taken by pregnant women who also had a vitamin-B deficiency. Thousands of children were born with truncated or missing arms and legs, most in Europe. It would have been a HUGE news story when Butler was a young teen; I was a pre-teen about that time, and remember the reports pretty clearly.

(In the US, a minor official at the FDA, Frances Oldham Kelsey, refused to approve sales of the drug in the US without further testing, despite intense pressure from pharmaceutical companies. Because of her, only 17 "thalidomide babies" were born in the US, rather than the thousands in West Germany and other countries. She later received a Presidential medal for her caution.)

That really helps with the context.  Thanks!

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InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #22 on: February 11, 2015, 05:43:53 AM
I read this shortly after it first came out, and DGD scared the crap out of me.



Father Beast

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Reply #23 on: February 11, 2015, 11:29:47 AM

It seems to me that this condition will produce a new society that is biologically the same species but with a different social order that would make it very interesting to use as a counterpoint for understanding human psychology and social behavior on a much deeper level.


If the causes of the condition are clearly defined (which it seems that they are: Every child born to a cancer recoverer after their treatment, every child born with a positive parent), then the children born with this condition will fall off rapidly with each generation. The society that the story characters are experiencing is about as populous as it's going to get. This society will become a footnote in history, a disease that has been overcome, long before they get their feet under them as an independent society.



Varda

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Reply #24 on: February 11, 2015, 12:39:19 PM

It seems to me that this condition will produce a new society that is biologically the same species but with a different social order that would make it very interesting to use as a counterpoint for understanding human psychology and social behavior on a much deeper level.


If the causes of the condition are clearly defined (which it seems that they are: Every child born to a cancer recoverer after their treatment, every child born with a positive parent), then the children born with this condition will fall off rapidly with each generation. The society that the story characters are experiencing is about as populous as it's going to get. This society will become a footnote in history, a disease that has been overcome, long before they get their feet under them as an independent society.

That's not the case at all, though. Natural selection doesn't work quite like that, and especially not in human populations. There are plenty of conditions (even very severe ones) that are both genetic and persist in the general population long after their etiology is known. And that's especially true of diseases that don't hit until after reproductive age. Unless there is a sustained, society-wide attempt to eliminate them through forced sterilization and eugenics, people with disabilities (even really scary ones) can and will choose to have children, and the genes will persist. I might point to Huntington's Disease as a good example of this. It's both a REALLY scary heritable disease that might cause you to choose not to have children, and one that isn't going anywhere, in the sense we're not banning anyone from reproducing.

Whether the DGDs will be able to build a separate society in time is another matter, and perhaps has less to do with genetic pressures and more with their relative power in society, and whether lawmakers and others in power are persuaded to see DGD as a difference rather than a disease. There are parallels here to the conversations surrounding both d/Deafness (is Deafness, in a Deaf Culture sense, better treated as  a disability, or a linguistic/cultural difference, or something of both?) and neurotypicality (is Asperger's a disorder in need of a cure, or a less common but perfectly healthy neurological variance?).

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