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Author Topic: EP111: Mayfly  (Read 20061 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: June 21, 2007, 10:35:07 AM »

EP111: Mayfly

By Heather Lindsley.
Read by The Word Whore (of Air Out My Shorts).
First appeared in Strange Horizons, September 2006.

The reflection of what appears to be a girl of eleven looks back at me from the full-length mirror in the bedroom that was my mother’s. Together we spit out yet another baby tooth, which reminds me I need to drink another calcium-enriched protein shake. Either that, or eat what remains of my mother.

She’s the pile of coarse dust scattered across the bedsheets. Some of my kind swear by mother dust, the way certain factions among the rest of the population swear by breast feeding. And there are benefits, whether you’re still a kid with growing bones or an adult woman facing osteoporosis by the end of the week.

But my mother is not strawberry-flavored, so I opt for the shake.


Ratied R.  Contains sexual scenes and other deep biological imperatives.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!

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Russell Nash
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« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2007, 10:35:48 AM »

Episode Eleventy-one??
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SFEley
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« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2007, 11:26:13 AM »

Episode Eleventy-one??

Hey, I only get to toast the Professor with this number once.  Was I going to pass it up?
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Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2007, 11:28:40 AM »

Big "meh" on this one.

I thought the idea was very interesting–a sentient species that only lives for a week–but it didn't really go anywhere.  The premises could be used to examine lots of profound questions about the purpose and meaning of our lives, the impact of our actions on future generations, etc, all that stuff.  And it had the potential to be very emotionally moving.  The idea has an inherent element of tragedy, and tragedy often brings beauty with it.

But for all the potential, the execution was pretty dry, I thought.  The protagonist accepts her lot with a stoicism that makes it seem simply normal, like this living a week and dying is no big deal to her, just how life is.  She never seems really happy or sad or pensive about anything, and so I never got any emotional connection with her.  She came off as just a freak, without any personality behind the weirdness.

I know it's not cool to harp on plausibility, but I think this is actually important to the story: The protagonist is obviously not human.  All the differences (metabolism, life cycle, bearing only female children) are too extreme.  She is a different species.  So why does she need human sperm?  Obviously, the male isn't contributing anything to the offspring, otherwise each generation of "mayflies" would be more human, longer lived, etc.  This makes her quest to mate nonsensical.

A better (and more plausible) approach, I think, would have been to have male and female "mayflies" who live alongside humans, either in secret or openly.  The contrast between their perspectives on life could have been fascinating.  But maybe I'm asking too much: That sounds like a novel.
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eytanz
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« Reply #4 on: June 21, 2007, 12:58:30 PM »

I wasn't bothered by the plausiblity issues that Tweedy mentioned - never even occured to me, I guess I just immediately assumed a supernatural rather than natural explanation for the protagonist's species - but I agree that this story was not very exciting.

I think the problem was with the narrative structure and its not being very suitable to audio presentation - it's 1st person, and present tense, but instead of going through the experiences she's having, she's just describing them to us, in an academic style. This works ok written, but when read out loud, it sounds very detached. Normally I don't mind so much, but this detachment worked very much against the core theme here, of women with lives so short they take great care to spend every moment wisely. This just doesn't get through if you feel that the narrator is at the same time removed from the events she's describing. Some parts were less so - the clothes picking part, for instance - and those parts worked best. But all the sensual parts of life - being born, eating, sex, giving birth - were relegated to single sentence descriptions, if at that. The sex, for example, felt like TV soap opera sex - a buildup toward it, people touch each other, and - cut to the next scene.

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Swamp
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« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2007, 03:30:38 PM »

I loved this story when I first read it last year on Strange Horizons.  I thought it was a wonderful "thought experiment" as Steve put it.  I remember thinking as I read it: "This would make a great Escape Pod story!"  And, alas, I was right; it was a great Escape Pod story!

I think it works perfectly for audio presentation.

As for action, I think the strength of the story was that we followed the character through her entire life; and her life was filled with taking care of the next generation based on what she had learned from, and the resepect she had for, her ancestors.  Wasn't it just dicussed in the thread for last week's story (and intro) that the Hero is not necessarily the one who "fights the dragon" or overcomes insumountable odds?  The real hero is the one that takes care of things not only for their immediate family, but also maintaining or transcending the integrity of the family line.  This commitment was shown in what May did with her short life.  She also managed to enjoy herself with movies, ice cream, etc., but that wasn't all she did.  Can I say the same for myself in this selfish world addicted to leisure?

If this had been a longer story, the daily play-by-play would have become more monotonous, but the author wisely kept it short. 
« Last Edit: June 22, 2007, 03:05:54 PM by kmmrlatham » Logged

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Swamp
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« Reply #6 on: June 21, 2007, 03:38:14 PM »

This makes her quest to mate nonsensical.

Except for the fact that if she didn't mate, she would not have carried on her family line.

I see what you're saying about the male mayflies, but that would probably have lost the focus of this short story.
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Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #7 on: June 21, 2007, 03:50:45 PM »

This makes her quest to mate nonsensical.

Except for the fact that if she didn't mate, she would not have carried on her family line.

I see what you're saying about the male mayflies, but that would probably have lost the focus of this short story.

But she's mating with a member of another species.  It's like a cat mating with a dog to make kittens.  Logically, the offspring should be half mayfly, half human, not more mayflies.

Unless she needs some chemical in semen to catalyze a cloning process.  The babies are just hers, but she needs a specific human chemical to make them.  I guess that could work.  Kind of like a mosquito needs blood from another species in order to make more mosquitos.  So I just defeated my own implausibility argument...  Um, good for me, I guess.
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eytanz
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« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2007, 05:44:30 PM »


If this had been a longer story, the daily play-by-play would have become more monotonous, but the author wisely kept it short. 

I wasn't saying I wanted it to be longer, but that I wanted it to have a somewhat different point of view - have the narration be less blatantly "explaining my life to an outsider". I should try to get a hold of the print version and see how it reads.

I wonder if I would have enjoyed this episode more if I had previously read the story - is that a factor in our different reactions to it, or is it just a matter of taste. Hmmm... I wonder how to phrase the grant application so I can get funding for a controlled experiment...
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DKT
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« Reply #9 on: June 21, 2007, 05:51:44 PM »

There's a link to the Strange Horizons version in the original post.
I should try to get a hold of the print version and see how it reads.

There's a link to SH (where the story was first published) in the original post.  Just trying to be helpful.  Smiley
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eytanz
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« Reply #10 on: June 21, 2007, 05:54:52 PM »

Ah - thanks!

Edit - Ok, now that I've read it - yes, I found it to work a whole lot better in print. Of course, I'm biased since I thought it would before I started, but I appreciate the story a lot more now. And I feel that for me, at least, it was not well suited as an audio story, but then again, I probably would never have read it if it weren't on EP, so I'm still quite happy it was on.
« Last Edit: June 21, 2007, 06:00:38 PM by eytanz » Logged
schark
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« Reply #11 on: June 22, 2007, 12:35:08 PM »

Hello all, long-time lurker, first-time poster.  I just had to write something in response to this story.  Two things, really:

1.  Can the Word Whore read every story?  Or at least many of them?  I love her voice, her style, everything.  Her reading of "Just Do It" a little while back is what got me hooked on Escape Pod, actually.

2.  I really loved this story.  I've been a little disappointed with some of the recent offerings, notably "Frankie the Spook" and "Impossible Dreams", which both struck me as derivative of old "Twilight Zone" episodes, but this is what I look for in a story.  I didn't mind at all that there was very little plot or that the science may not quite hold together (although the mayflies could be approached as more of a human mutation rather than a separate species).  As an actor myself, I tend to be fascinated by character explorations.  I felt similarly about "Eight Episodes", although I was less enamored of its reading.  If the subject matter or character is interesting, sign me up.

Thanks for the great stories.
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shiatis
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« Reply #12 on: June 22, 2007, 12:35:38 PM »

Hey, you got your Pseudo Pod in my Escape Pod!

It seemed a little dark, especially after Frankie and Squonk. Does anyone else think this would have worked better on PP?
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sayeth
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« Reply #13 on: June 22, 2007, 01:03:12 PM »

Mr Tweedy, no offense, but I believe you're confused on Mendelian genetics. The phenotype is improbable: extremely rapid maturation, transfer of memories, sex selection. However, if these particular maternally inherited traits are dominant, then it doesn't matter what the male contributes with regard to continuation of the mayfly phenotype. There's indication in the story that selection of the father is somewhat important, so other traits seem to be inherited from either parents.

If it's just this collection of traits that defines a mayfly, there's no reason to assign her to a separate species, at least from the standard Ernst Mayr definition of a biological species (you can debate other definitions, but that's another discussion entirely).  The biggest barrier to plausibility I saw was the memory transfer, but if you can overlook that, then it's a nice enjoyable story.
« Last Edit: June 22, 2007, 02:10:09 PM by sayeth » Logged

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ClintMemo
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« Reply #14 on: June 22, 2007, 02:05:04 PM »

I liked this story overall. It was a nice combination of "what if?" and "a day in the life."
And I always enjoy the Word Whore's reading.  I find her voice just very *comfortable* for lack of a better term.
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Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #15 on: June 22, 2007, 02:11:34 PM »

Mr Tweedy, no offense, but I believe you're confused on Mendelian genetics. The phenotype is improbable: extremely rapid maturation, transfer of memories, sex selection. However, if these particular maternally inherited traits are dominant, then it doesn't matter what the male contributes with regard to continuation of the mayfly phenotype. There's indication in the story that selection of the father is somewhat important, so other traits seem to be inherited from either parents.

If it's just this collection of traits that defines a mayfly, there's no reason to assign her to a separate species, at least from the standard Ernst Mayr definition of a biological species (you can debate other definitions, but that's another discussion entirely).  The biggest barrier to plausibility I saw was the memory transfer, but if you can overlook that, then it's a nice enjoyable story.

That's funny, because I didn't find the memory transfer implausible.  With all the other differences, I figured the mayflies would have a mechanism for priming the baby's brain (especially if the babies are clones).  Actually, the memory transfer is essential, because the offspring don't have time learn how to pay bills on their own.  The species could not exist without inherited memories.  I picture a modified umbilical chord which includes a neural line between the fetal brain and the mother's spine, priming the brain as it develops.  Hey, why not?
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Rachel Swirsky
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« Reply #16 on: June 22, 2007, 02:23:47 PM »

I take it no one's read Suzy McKee Charnas's _Motherlines_.

Continuing to love this story, as I have every time I've read it.
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sayeth
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« Reply #17 on: June 22, 2007, 02:44:17 PM »

That's funny, because I didn't find the memory transfer implausible.  With all the other differences, I figured the mayflies would have a mechanism for priming the baby's brain (especially if the babies are clones).  Actually, the memory transfer is essential, because the offspring don't have time learn how to pay bills on their own.  The species could not exist without inherited memories.  I picture a modified umbilical chord which includes a neural line between the fetal brain and the mother's spine, priming the brain as it develops.  Hey, why not?

Good point, but I still think memory transfer is biologically implausible, given how memories are thought to be stored. You'd need basically a second nervous system during pregnancy to recall and transmit the loads of memories into an unformed brain that's relying on certain patterns of input to form its basic circuitry. You can't just data dump info into the human brain - if too many neurons start firing at once, you get an epileptic seizure. Sure, you could invent some ways around these objections, so I stand by it being implausible, but not impossible. Of course, this story doesn't pretend to be hard-SF, so I'd give a pass to most any explanation given, even psychic powers.
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Swamp
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« Reply #18 on: June 22, 2007, 03:18:35 PM »

Hey, you got your Pseudo Pod in my Escape Pod!

It seemed a little dark, especially after Frankie and Squonk. Does anyone else think this would have worked better on PP?

Naw, the PP listeners (yes I am one) would just complain that the story wasn't dark enough for horror.  Wink

And really the only dark part of it  is the trivial way in which she talks about her mother's ashes and I think that is just part of her pragmatic nature that has developed over the generations.
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Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #19 on: June 22, 2007, 03:52:36 PM »

You can't just data dump info into the human brain - if too many neurons start firing at once, you get an epileptic seizure.

What?!  What about The Matrix?  You mean you can't really learn kung-fu in 5 seconds?   :'(

Maybe you can't data dump into an adult brain, but these memories are going into the brain as it forms.  The neurons would grow into the desired configuration from the get-go.

(Of course, they'd also burst into flames from the extreme metabolism, but who's keeping score?  If the Alien can do it, so can mayflies!)
« Last Edit: June 22, 2007, 03:57:59 PM by Mr. Tweedy » Logged

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