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Author Topic: EP113: Ishmael in Love  (Read 16587 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: July 05, 2007, 09:15:36 AM »

EP113: Ishmael in Love

By Robert Silverberg.
Read by Stephen Eley
First appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 1970.

I am a lonely mammalian organism who has committed acts of heroism on behalf of your species and wishes only the reward of a more intimate relationship [”love”] with Miss Lisabeth Calkins. I beseech compassionate members of H. sapiens to speak favorably of me to her. I am loyal, trustworthy, reliable, devoted, and extremely intelligent. I would endeavor to give her stimulating companionship and emotional fulfillment [”happiness”] in all respects within my power.

Permit me to explain the pertinent circumstances.


Rated R. Contains explicit anatomical description and non-human sexual activity..

Referenced Sites:
Steve’s LiveJournal (cleaning updates)


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!

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Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2007, 04:35:46 PM »

Usually when I post a comment, I try to give something like a coherent analysis, but this story inspires only random outbursts:

This story get biology all wrong.  Star Trek has proved numerous times that humans can procreate with any other species.  If a human and a Vulcan can do it, then surely a human and a dolphin should have no trouble producing viable offspring.  They'd probably be cute.

Ishmael knocks up that chick dolphin just to make Lisabeth jealous?  What a dirty bastard!

I love the image of busy-body humans explaining to the dolphin that he is a fool to be content.  He's being oppressed!  He should be angry!  Strike!  Revolt!  Reminds me of real politics, except that the dolphin didn't fall for it, whereas a human probably would.

It was funny when Ishmael felt hurt that Lisabeth covers up her "ugly parts" for the male humans, but shows them to him.  That was actually one of the funnier bits I've heard on EP.

Why do I always hear that I shouldn't "waste" water?  We can pull water out of thin air, for goodness sake!  We have so much pure, clean water that everybody can have as much as they want for less than the cost of dirt.  So I'm keeping my water-hogging toilet and high-flow shower-head, thank you very much.

Would this story fall under the "so bad it's good" category?
« Last Edit: July 05, 2007, 04:40:20 PM by Mr. Tweedy » Logged

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guypatsy
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« Reply #2 on: July 05, 2007, 08:22:25 PM »

Rarely has the maxim that there are no new ideas been so thoroughly and painfully proven to me. I am currently in the process of editing a story narrated by an intelligent, stiltedly formal chimp who learned to speak via literature and is torn by unrequited love. He labors for humanity, fails in his attempts to be more human, and is eventually betrayed by the human he most admires. Damn.
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slic
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« Reply #3 on: July 05, 2007, 09:23:36 PM »

They say bad things come in threes, and I'll be proving that old adage.

Ignoring when the story came out and the name of the author, which I think is fair given the context of this being entertainment, this was a fair story covering ground many others have tread.  This is not limited to science fiction either, the case of an outsider (space alien, monster or fairy creature) wishing for the painfully near but unattainable is a common theme.

Well crafted, but it felt like old fiction (which makes sense, I know).  I found the beginning very stilted.  While I sympathized with Ishmael's desires, who hasn't wanted the head cheerleader to find them important/heroic/sexy, I felt the story went wrong when Lizabeth did go in the water with him.  I don't think it's prudishness, it just that he's, well, to be painfully frank, a dolphin.  A dolphin who said he loved her and essentially wanted to wrap his arms around her. It's just so odd, and she's old enough that it should give her pause (If 13-15 is still the age of puberty then she'd be 26-30).  Then the story took the preditably human path of Ishmael trying to make he jealous, and then, essentially, pleading with her friends that she take him back.  I would have liked to have seen a more dolphin-like approach whatever that may have been.

I planned to be more harsh while the story was concluding, but Mr. Eley's end comment reminded me that the story is a good way to show others that we aren't alone in how much rejection hurts.  In that way, the story succeeds very well.

Now realizing the fact that the story was published in 1970, the critism mellows considerably.  In that respect, it reminds me of the LOTR books, which I find horrendously boring, plodding and repetitive.  But, in that case, it was the first of its kind and spawned such amazing works that, as a historical piece of fiction, it is fasinating. 

Keeping in mind that the story was published 37 years ago, most of the stories I've read of a similar vein would very likely find this one as an ancestor if they could trace their literary geneology. 

So while it makes an interesting study, it's not a great tale.  Too dusty, and, at this point, unoriginal.
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Leon Kensington
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« Reply #4 on: July 06, 2007, 12:51:13 AM »

In some parts funny, in some parts, sad, in most parts I sympathized.  A great story, I hope we hear more from Mr. Silverberg.
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eytanz
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« Reply #5 on: July 06, 2007, 06:35:19 AM »

This story had a really hard time maintaining my interest. It wasn't bad, so much that I felt it's been done before, and better. Basically this is a mash-up of two literary cliches -"socially awkward guy falls in love with popular girl who doesn't reciprocate" + "the noble savage" narrator.

Other than some minor physical details, this story could have been written a few decades earlier with, say, some sort of Polynesian islander as the narrator and very little would have needed to be changed. Probably by the 70s that was already starting to be a bit problematic, but that's all the dolphin is made out to be - a foreigner from a primitive culture. I realize that this was written in a time when people thought that dolphins were really just like us only a bit wetter, but we don't live in such a time anymore.

I can't evaluate the story properly in the context of its writing, but it doesn't feel like a story that aged well. I agree with slic - it just feels dusty and unoriginal.
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lowky
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« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2007, 09:46:03 PM »

Seeing above it was published in 1970 originally, I guess it can be forgiven knowledge wise, but I believe besides humans and some other primates, I believe Dolphins are one of the only mammals to engage in sex for pleasure, and not just procreation.  That was the only part of the story that really "broke" it for me.  knowing Dolphins have sex for pleasure, made me loose my suspension of disbelief.  While It's been done before, I still found it enjoyable overall.

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Ananzi
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« Reply #7 on: July 08, 2007, 03:59:37 AM »

I remember reading and enjoying this story decades ago...funny,all I can think is that I'd love to have heard a woman read this story...but I like the job Steve did.
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Dex
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« Reply #8 on: July 08, 2007, 09:40:16 PM »

As I begin to write this I know I must be wrong in my opinion.  Why?  Because a writer wrote it and thought enough of it to submit it to a magazine.  A magazine chose to publish it an Steve Eley chose to include it on Escapepod.  Also some of the posters liked it. So I know what I am about to say is all wrong.  Also, please excuse my writting style it is the function of 25 years of corporate memo writting.

Is is Science Fiction - no - none of what might be considered science is germane to the story or only marginally.
Is it Fantasy - yes if you are a dolphin.
Are any of the plot lines really that important to the conclusion? No - Dolphin maintenance  crew - could have been Seaworld dolphin show.  Humans that wanted to distroy the desalination plant - attempt at drama? not needed.

So a half hour of my life to get to the saving grace of this story - unrequited love?

I'll show that I am crazy here and say this is lazy writting or trying to fit a story into a genre.  Imagine what James A. Mitchener could have done with the concepts of this story - an island; a local inhabitant; a beautiful blond.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_A._Michener

It is as if instead of Michener writting Mexico (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexico_%28novel%29)  he decides to tell the story about a bull that falls in love with one of the matadors.

This is the type of story that pushes me to stop listening to Escapepod.
Why am I saying this?  Because I don't want to listen to similar stories in the future.  I would rather that Escapepod was issued stories on a monthly basis if it would improve the quality of the stories.

I know I can not be the child that tells the Emperor that he is naked so I know I must be wrong about this story.
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Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #9 on: July 09, 2007, 08:37:11 AM »

I agree with Dex: He is wrong.

I didn't like this story either either, but I think the criticism are pretty extreme, and if one bad episode is enough to make a person stop listening to a free show, then that person is being too picky for their own good.  (If I'd stopped listening after "Lust for Learning," I wouldn't have heard "Squonk the Apprentice.")

For myself, I thought the water plant with the dolphin maintenance crew was the coolest part of the story.  The unrequited love was so ridiculous that it was comical (which may have been the intention), but the water plant was cool.  It's one of those examples of strong "sci" in the "fi" that was being discussed in the "Giving Plague" thread.  The plant uses a novel but totally realistic means of purifying water, and hearing the story was an object lesson in physics.  I like that.
« Last Edit: July 09, 2007, 08:42:34 AM by Mr. Tweedy » Logged

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ClintMemo
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« Reply #10 on: July 09, 2007, 10:57:43 AM »

Overall, I liked this story and the style it was written in, which is not surprising since I am a fan of "old" SF.  The only two criticisms I have are that it seemed to end before I expected it to.  I was expecting Ishmael's behavior to escalate into something more violent or suicidal. 
I also kept waiting for him to say "Fa loooooves Be."  Tongue

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Biscuit
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« Reply #11 on: July 09, 2007, 05:17:22 PM »

Ahhh, anthropomorphization!

"Creature X" claims knowledge and superiority to "Species Y", but for drama/laughs "doesn't understand why they do Z".

To me, it serves to make Creature X look less credible, and humans superior "because WE understand, you silly Alien!"

I didn't like this story very much because at the beginning, our alien creature states he will not lower himself to human standards, but by then end, he does. That's simply applying human emotions to a creature we do not understand, or are too lazy to get inside the mind of.

I agree with Tweedy, I liked the "science".

My "But" to the whole argument is, as stated before, this is Silverberg of almost 40 years ago. Writers - even the great ones - will learn lessons from writing of the past.

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jahnke
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« Reply #12 on: July 09, 2007, 10:19:19 PM »

Ishmael seemed a bit like a pervert to me. After all isn't that what we would call a guy who loved his dog? Or his horse or his goat? That boy ain't right.
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Russell Nash
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« Reply #13 on: July 10, 2007, 07:44:28 AM »

Is is Science Fiction - no - none of what might be considered science is germane to the story or only marginally.
Is it Fantasy - yes if you are a dolphin.

And if the Millenium Falcon was a stage coach and Alderan was the Alamo and the Empire was the Mexicans, then Han Solo would have been Davie Crockett.  So Star Wars isn't SF, it's just another version of the Alamo.  And Lucas being such a Hollywood jerk changed the ending to the Texans winning, just so there would be a happy ending.

Unrequited love goes back to the stories of the Greek gods and before.  It's been done in every single genre in almost every language (it probably wasn't done as SF in Sioux).  To say that this isn't SF, because it's unrequited love.  Is to say that Sense and Sensibility wasn't an Empire Era custom drama, but a greek drama.

This story get biology all wrong.  Star Trek has proved numerous times that humans can procreate with any other species.  If a human and a Vulcan can do it, then surely a human and a dolphin should have no trouble producing viable offspring.  They'd probably be cute.

Viable offspring wasn't the problem.  The problem was that he's to muscular and big, and she's small and fragile.

Why do I always hear that I shouldn't "waste" water?  We can pull water out of thin air, for goodness sake!  We have so much pure, clean water that everybody can have as much as they want for less than the cost of dirt.  So I'm keeping my water-hogging toilet and high-flow shower-head, thank you very much.

This was solid science.  Put a cold glass of ice tea outside on a humid day and you'll see the condensation.  The idea of pulling cold water up to be used as a refidgerant is being used to cool skyscrapers in Toronto.  The reason it's not being used is the cost.  In the story they have a secondary use for the water that generates enough money to cover the cost.

The military uses dolphins to do lots of different activities where their speed and ability to dive is of use.  The only real problem I had with the cleaning of the intake was that I think the intake could have been designed with a mechanical cleaner that would work better.  Also dolphins are notorious for getting bored with repetetive tasks.

I won't comment on the speaking dolphin or on the love story.  That part didn't intrigue me as much as the water plant.
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eytanz
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« Reply #14 on: July 10, 2007, 08:07:52 AM »

Why do I always hear that I shouldn't "waste" water?  We can pull water out of thin air, for goodness sake!  We have so much pure, clean water that everybody can have as much as they want for less than the cost of dirt.  So I'm keeping my water-hogging toilet and high-flow shower-head, thank you very much.

This was solid science.  Put a cold glass of ice tea outside on a humid day and you'll see the condensation.  The idea of pulling cold water up to be used as a refidgerant is being used to cool skyscrapers in Toronto.  The reason it's not being used is the cost.  In the story they have a secondary use for the water that generates enough money to cover the cost.

The problem with using condensation as a water source for an industrial country (as opposed as something like a refrigeration system which requires considerably less water), is not simply cost. Partially, it's the fact that it's only a viable solution if the humidity is consistently high. That means basically only the tropics, and only near the sea. And here, the fact that this is 70s technology becomes apparent, because nowdays, if you have a source of salt water, desalination is far more cost-effective than condensation of natural airborne humidity.
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capteucalyptus
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« Reply #15 on: July 10, 2007, 08:21:07 AM »

Star Wars isn't sci-fi, it's clearly fantasy.   Wink

While the whole thing didn't creep me out completely (thanks to the author making clear that the dolphin knew that wouldn't work) it did make me uncomfortable.  I don't think that's a bad thing.  It intensified the feeling that there was no way this could work out.  If you weren't bothered that would be bothersome.  If the Ishmael and Lisabeth had gotten together that would have blown it completely.  As it is I did find it weird that she took her clothes off and got in the water. 

This was by no means the greatest EP story I've heard, but it was by no means the worst either.  The ending was a little corny (SWD seeking open minded SWHSF) but overall it was a half hour that I enjoyed.
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Russell Nash
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« Reply #16 on: July 10, 2007, 01:05:06 PM »

Why do I always hear that I shouldn't "waste" water?  We can pull water out of thin air, for goodness sake!  We have so much pure, clean water that everybody can have as much as they want for less than the cost of dirt.  So I'm keeping my water-hogging toilet and high-flow shower-head, thank you very much.

This was solid science.  Put a cold glass of ice tea outside on a humid day and you'll see the condensation.  The idea of pulling cold water up to be used as a refidgerant is being used to cool skyscrapers in Toronto.  The reason it's not being used is the cost.  In the story they have a secondary use for the water that generates enough money to cover the cost.

The problem with using condensation as a water source for an industrial country (as opposed as something like a refrigeration system which requires considerably less water), is not simply cost. Partially, it's the fact that it's only a viable solution if the humidity is consistently high. That means basically only the tropics, and only near the sea. And here, the fact that this is 70s technology becomes apparent, because nowdays, if you have a source of salt water, desalination is far more cost-effective than condensation of natural airborne humidity.

But in an area where you have all of the natural conditions to make such a system viable they don't use such a system, because desalinization is a more affordable and dependable solution.  If they could make this system work for less (by offsetting the cost like in the story), they would use it.  They are using this system in Toronto to cool buildings, because they can do it on a scale that makes it greener and cheaper than standard refridgeration (air conditioning).
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darusha
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« Reply #17 on: July 10, 2007, 02:29:07 PM »

It makes me strangely happy that more comments about this story are dissecting the details of the water plant than discussing the hot-chick-banging-a-dolphin angle.
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Dex
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« Reply #18 on: July 10, 2007, 02:37:33 PM »

Is is Science Fiction - no - none of what might be considered science is germane to the story or only marginally.
Is it Fantasy - yes if you are a dolphin.

And if the Millenium Falcon was a stage coach and Alderan was the Alamo and the Empire was the Mexicans, then Han Solo would have been Davie Crockett.  So Star Wars isn't SF, it's just another version of the Alamo.  And Lucas being such a Hollywood jerk changed the ending to the Texans winning, just so there would be a happy ending.

Unrequited love goes back to the stories of the Greek gods and before.  It's been done in every single genre in almost every language (it probably wasn't done as SF in Sioux).  To say that this isn't SF, because it's unrequited love.  Is to say that Sense and Sensibility wasn't an Empire Era custom drama, but a greek drama.


I would be happy to discuss this topic with you - a couple of point though.
1. I didn't assert in my comments that the story wasn't SF because it is another version of something else.
2. I didn't assert in my comment that the story wasn't SF because its theme is unrequited love.
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Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #19 on: July 10, 2007, 03:22:55 PM »

Is there a category for stuff that's just goofy?  I think this story goes in that category.

Farce (Oxford English Dictionary): A comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations.

I'd call this a farce (that happens to take place in a water purification plant).
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