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Author Topic: EP485: Supply Limited, Act Now  (Read 9540 times)

eytanz

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on: March 11, 2015, 06:26:54 AM
EP485: Supply Limited, Act Now

By Helen Marshall

Read by Graeme Dunlop

---

Because Larry said it would never work, we knew we had to try.

Because Larry said he didn’t want any part of it, we knew we had to try it out on him first.

That was the way it was with Larry. That’s how it had always been between us. The four of us knew it. No one questioned it. We could all see the slightly sick look come over Larry’s face as he realized. We could see him turning pale. Pushing at his taped-up glasses and starting to scramble.

He tried to say something.

Marvin grabbed the shrink ray.

Marvin pressed the button.

And the world popped and crackled around us.

*

That’s how it started.

Maybe it wouldn’t have been like that if Larry had never said anything. But when Larry had followed the instructions last time it had been a disaster.

“FRIENDS,” the ad had said. “HERE’S HOW TO GET at almost NO COST YOUR NEW, Real, Live MINIATURE DOG!”

“Supply Limited,” the ad said. “ACT NOW!!”

“Please let me come home with you,” the miniature dog begged in a giant speech bubble.

The dog was black, with long, floppy ears, cartoonishly wide eyes and a white-speckled snout. Larry, on the other hand, was skinny as a beanpole with a face full of acne. His elbows and knees were huge and knobbly. They stuck out like the knots in the ropes we had to climb for gym class. And if there was any boy who ever was in need of a dog it was him.

And so Larry sent in his coupons and waited at the door for the mailman every day.

He waited the way he had every day for the past year; while those other times it had been with terror, this time it was with stupid, fearless joy.

You see, the thing you need to know about Larry is that his brother Joe had joined the Air Force last September.

“GEE!! I WISH I WERE A MAN!” said the ad.

“Come to the UNITED STATES AIR FORCE Recruiting Station,” it said.

We all wished we could be men—of course we did!—but only Larry’s brother Joe was old enough. So he’d signed up just like it said to. They’d sent him to Honolulu for a while and then after that he had been moved to Seoul where he wrote back letters every once in a while about how hot it was and how many of the shovelheads he had killed and how much he missed his kid brother.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



TheFunkeyGibbon

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Reply #1 on: March 11, 2015, 11:29:13 PM
The best, sweetest story I have listened to in an age. Proof-positive, as if it were ever needed, that science fiction can be a framework for personal beautiful stories, that are less about the McGuffin and about the human experience.

The narration was also perfect, flawless, with the right soft and slightly melancholic tone that suited the material perfectly.

Thank you one and all for this wonderful experience.   



ediblepenguin

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Reply #2 on: March 12, 2015, 07:49:47 PM
I just want to be 12 again.

Couldn't agree with funkygibbon more.



Maxilu

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Reply #3 on: March 14, 2015, 03:41:49 AM
I spent most of this story thinking that I didn't like it. I wanted to know if everything would go back to normal, eventually. I wanted to know if Larry ever found his dog. I wanted to know if everything would go back to normal, except for a single dog that would remain shrunk that Larry would name Rufus.

But by the end, I realized, that wasn't the point of the story.

This is a gorgeous piece about growing up, and how when you're a grown-up, there generally isn't someone to come along behind you to clean up your messes. Leaving the ending vague as to if there's an un-shrink setting on the gun, or if the effects are temporary, highlight that. To clear that up, one way or the other, would cheapen the story, I think. If the shrink effects undo themselves, then there was no real consequence for the boys' actions. If the shrinking can't be undone, than it becomes the plot of a B-horror movie, quickly forgotten. The uncertainty, the Hope with a capital "H" that Norm talked about at the end is the whole point of being an adult, the point of being a human being.

I'm not sure of the choice of an Aussie as the narrator, but Graeme did a fine job.

I really appreciated the endcap of this one. I've been in a deep depression lately, and haven't been able to shake it. Norm's remarks struck home--as did the quote by Emily Dickinson.
 



Fenrix

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Reply #4 on: March 18, 2015, 12:54:28 PM
Heyyyy....you guys got magical realism in my 50s-nostalgia-coming-of-age SF story.

I did love the use of the title phrase in the story. We should treat every day as if the supply is limited, and to act now. Taking that clarion call of materialism and turn it on its head to be the modern translation of carpe diem was some spectacular writing.

Great stuff. Would love to hear more from this author.


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Chairman Goodchild

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Reply #5 on: March 18, 2015, 01:38:34 PM
This one's on my shortlist for best of 2015 already.  It was well-written as it was well-narrated, and a joy to listen to.  And I really liked the ending as well.  Normally I don't like unresolved stories, but here the lack of a resolution and open-ended note that the story ended up on was perfect for the themes that the story was exploring.  I can see that the story really would have suffered for the time it would have spent coming up with an acceptable resolution.  It really went out on the note that it was supposed to.  Poignant without being maudlin.  Anyway, it's hard to be maudlin when there's a super-powered shrink-ray involved.  

There may have been an allegory or two in this story as well.  Just enough for a doctoral dissertation, anyway.  And while normally I don't like fiction with so much symbolism involved, it worked perfectly here.  If I would have been told before I listened to it that this was a heavily allegorical coming-of-age science fantasy story set in the 1950s involving a magic shrink-ray gun, I would not have been very enthusiastic about listening to this episode.  And that would have been my loss. 

Lastly, I was very surprised to have found that a pitch-perfect story about adolescent boys was written by a female author.  I would not have expected that.  Helen Marshall is all the more talented for really delving into the psyche and confusion of young boys on the cusp of adolescence and doing this great of a job of it. 
« Last Edit: March 18, 2015, 01:57:27 PM by Chairman Goodchild »



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Reply #6 on: March 18, 2015, 02:03:11 PM
I didn't think I was going to like it as it started out, seemed like just another coming of age story at first.  But by the end it really won me over, about  at the point where they realize that Melanie is not only the mutual love interest, but also the voice of reason that keeps them all from being completely destructively insane and that that is why she has been such an important part of the group.  Throughout the whole story I was waiting for them to think about the consequences of shrinking their friend down because there was no hint that growing back up would be a chance--sure on this day it's fun to carry Larry around and have him be part of the hijinx, but what about when the friends grow apart as friends do--he's too small to drive, and if he doesn't have someone carrying him around he'd be in constant danger from cats and cars and pedestrians, unable to have any kind of sexual relationship with a regular-sized person, etc.  So I was glad that at the end it took a turn for the contemplative, thinking about all the destruction they'd caused and what might result from it.

Top marks.  Norm's comments at the end were great too, somewhere around Alasdair caliber (that's good).



Talia

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Reply #7 on: March 18, 2015, 02:13:37 PM
I have moved the commentary on EP's submissions to its own post
so as to keep the discussion thread focused on the story.

Thanks for understanding.
« Last Edit: March 18, 2015, 02:39:38 PM by Talia »



Dwango

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Reply #8 on: March 18, 2015, 02:38:23 PM
This kind of reminds me of Steven King's the Body (aka the movie Stand by Me).  They get access to something kids don't normally have or experience, and the trip along the way is the growth experience, not the item they thought they wanted to have or see.  The kids are very real in their "of the 50's" way, and they feel like what kids would be like given too much power, kind of the realism King liked to give his characters.  I too liked the idea of being an adult means there are consequences to actions.  They shrank it all to hell and now they have to look at what they have done and realize there was weight to their actions, even though they didn't realize it until the end.  It seems like a lot of people don't realize it even when they are way past the age of these kids.

Melanie is becoming an adult, but I think Larry is also a part of becoming adult, crying out for some power of things he can't control.  When he cries out for finding his dog, shrinking his way to Korea, I can also see the adult side of finding out that the world won't bend to your will, and you not only won't get what you want, things will happen you can't predict or control.  Melanie is accepts that fact and knows that lashing out or losing your temper when the world isn't going your way won't solve anything.  You might do things that make the situation worse, and still not fix the actual situation.  Larry's brother won't be coming back, and nothing can change that.



Chairman Goodchild

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Reply #9 on: March 19, 2015, 01:03:22 PM
I spent most of this story thinking that I didn't like it. I wanted to know if everything would go back to normal, eventually. I wanted to know if Larry ever found his dog. I wanted to know if everything would go back to normal, except for a single dog that would remain shrunk that Larry would name Rufus.

I'm just going to take a stab at this here.  Larry never finds his dog because his dog is a symbolic representation of a child's ideal of an adult's world, where grownups make all the rules because they're wise and never would screw over a kid with a fake mail-order dog.  Larry can't move past this point in his development, and he becomes literally the first thing that the rest of the gang 'outgrows', and as the group 'outgrows' more and more of the town, Larry does not, because of his childlike worldview.  And a sweet-ass magic shrink-ray gun.  
« Last Edit: March 19, 2015, 10:02:29 PM by Chairman Goodchild »



hardware

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Reply #10 on: March 23, 2015, 12:06:37 AM
Yes, this was coming-of-age done right, using the SF element in service of the story rather than the other way around. Agree that it reminded me a little bit of Stand By Me, it had that superficial innosence that just barely let you glimpse the darkness in these kids lives, and the great unknown lying before them. I didn't even mind the soldier brother strand, which has been done a million time. But the kids reaction felt true to life, and that's what counts in a story like this.



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Reply #11 on: March 23, 2015, 02:11:45 PM
I didn't even mind the soldier brother strand, which has been done a million time.

Sometimes there is a good reason for something having been done a million times--because many many people actually went through it and are going through it.  This seems like one of those times.



Devoted135

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Reply #12 on: March 24, 2015, 07:47:22 PM
Joining in the chorus of praise for this one. I was sort of holding my judgment until the end, waiting to see where the story would take it, and I'm glad it landed where it did. For me, the turning point was where Melanie starts berating them for being so immature and never thinking about the consequences of their actions. All of a sudden they look around and see the destruction that is so obvious to us as readers, and realize that their childhood is essentially over.

Norm did a really great job with the intro/outro, I really appreciated that he took some time to provide thoughtful commentary. And of course Graeme's reading was really great though I did smirk a little at hearing an Aussie reading a story that takes place in Michigan. :P



kibitzer

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Reply #13 on: March 24, 2015, 09:49:55 PM
I did consider using an American accent but decided I couldn't convincingly sustain it :)


Varda

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Reply #14 on: March 24, 2015, 09:56:03 PM
I did consider using an American accent but decided I couldn't convincingly sustain it :)

Who do I have to shrink-ray to get outtakes of this?! :D

Seriously, though: awesome reading, Graeme. Thoroughly enjoyable, start to finish. :)

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Zelda

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Reply #15 on: March 25, 2015, 08:08:17 AM
I didn't even mind the soldier brother strand, which has been done a million time.

Sometimes there is a good reason for something having been done a million times--because many many people actually went through it and are going through it.  This seems like one of those times.

Or something sort of like it. All the language about the letter and emotions while awaiting the mailman's arrival kept yanking me out of the story. During Korea, as during WW II, next of kin were notified by telegrams which could arrive at any time of day. "We regret to inform you . . . etc." Centering the story around what is, to me, a significant historical inaccuracy seriously interfered with my ability to enjoy it despite the beauty of the writing.



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Reply #16 on: March 25, 2015, 02:23:09 PM
I didn't even mind the soldier brother strand, which has been done a million time.

Sometimes there is a good reason for something having been done a million times--because many many people actually went through it and are going through it.  This seems like one of those times.

Or something sort of like it. All the language about the letter and emotions while awaiting the mailman's arrival kept yanking me out of the story. During Korea, as during WW II, next of kin were notified by telegrams which could arrive at any time of day. "We regret to inform you . . . etc." Centering the story around what is, to me, a significant historical inaccuracy seriously interfered with my ability to enjoy it despite the beauty of the writing.

I thought that this kind of news wasn't delivered by post at all, I thought it was typically delivered by a serviceman knocking on your door, so if you open your door and there's an unfamiliar guy in a military uniform with his hat under his arm then the reflexive reaction is for your stomach to drop into your feet.  But I figured maybe I was remembering that wrong, or maybe it has varied over time.



Fenrix

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Reply #17 on: March 25, 2015, 02:57:02 PM
I didn't even mind the soldier brother strand, which has been done a million time.

Sometimes there is a good reason for something having been done a million times--because many many people actually went through it and are going through it.  This seems like one of those times.

Or something sort of like it. All the language about the letter and emotions while awaiting the mailman's arrival kept yanking me out of the story. During Korea, as during WW II, next of kin were notified by telegrams which could arrive at any time of day. "We regret to inform you . . . etc." Centering the story around what is, to me, a significant historical inaccuracy seriously interfered with my ability to enjoy it despite the beauty of the writing.

I thought that this kind of news wasn't delivered by post at all, I thought it was typically delivered by a serviceman knocking on your door, so if you open your door and there's an unfamiliar guy in a military uniform with his hat under his arm then the reflexive reaction is for your stomach to drop into your feet.  But I figured maybe I was remembering that wrong, or maybe it has varied over time.

At least this is what Hollywood would have conveyed to Larry, which he fully believes. He still believes his mail-order dog escaped, not that he was scammed with a gag gift. I always stared at those pages full of amazing sounding junk, but never bought anything. I always wondered what those X-Ray specs did, though...

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kibitzer

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Reply #18 on: March 25, 2015, 10:17:51 PM
Kind of off topic, but I totally remember those ads in the American comics I read. There was this one about a submarine that clearly implied you could get inside it and, like, use it in the pool underwater or something. I SO SO wanted that!


kibitzer

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Reply #19 on: March 25, 2015, 10:20:14 PM
...and blow me down, here it is!! The last ad of the 11 in this article (which includes a MINIATURE MONKEY!!!)

http://mentalfloss.com/article/30420/11-shameless-comic-book-ads-cost-us-our-allowance-money


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Reply #20 on: March 25, 2015, 10:31:37 PM
I thought that this kind of news wasn't delivered by post at all, I thought it was typically delivered by a serviceman knocking on your door, so if you open your door and there's an unfamiliar guy in a military uniform with his hat under his arm then the reflexive reaction is for your stomach to drop into your feet.  But I figured maybe I was remembering that wrong, or maybe it has varied over time.

Today the news is always delivered in person. During WW II (which the characters in the story are old enough to have memories of) and Korea it was sent by telegram. Recent Hollywood movies accurately show the current procedure of notification in person. Movies that were made in the forties and fifties show notification being made by telegram.

I don't know exactly when the current protocol of in person notification was adopted. Notification was made by telegram well into the Vietnam War.



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Reply #21 on: March 26, 2015, 01:14:22 PM
Kind of off topic, but I totally remember those ads in the American comics I read. There was this one about a submarine that clearly implied you could get inside it and, like, use it in the pool underwater or something. I SO SO wanted that!

I've collected a few of the big Marvel comic bundles that were released through GitCorp.  They were only available in retail for part of a year before Marvel decided to peddle their backlog by website subscription instead, so they're hard to find now.  Anyway, each one is PDF scans of 40+ years of a particular Marvel franchise comic, most of which started in about 1963.  Fascinating to see those old ads, and see how the adsd progressed over the decades from 98-pound-weakling ads and X-Ray specs to Transformers and toys like that and so on.  Even if I didn't read the comics at all, the ads alone would be worth something to see the progression.



matweller

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Reply #22 on: March 26, 2015, 07:17:53 PM
Reminds me of the story of the mail order monkey that's been on several storytelling shows. I first heard it on Risk! but it was also on Snap Judgement - https://soundcloud.com/snapjudgment/monkey-madness-snap-judgment-fools-gold



albionmoonlight

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Reply #23 on: March 27, 2015, 01:08:15 AM
I don't want to derail the mail-order monkey discussion that is developing here, so I will just quickly pop in to agree with the universal praise here.  I feel confident saying in March that this will certainly be on my Best of 2015 short list.

Now, back to the monkeys . . .



matweller

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Reply #24 on: March 28, 2015, 03:53:16 AM
Hey, hey!

« Last Edit: March 28, 2015, 03:55:29 AM by matweller »