Author Topic: EP527: Plural  (Read 3901 times)

eytanz

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 6109
EP527: Plural
« on: April 18, 2016, 04:17:59 PM »
EP527: Plural

By Lia Swope Mitchell

read by Amanda Ching

This story was originally published in the February/March 2015 issue of Cosmos Magazine

---

The aliens come in peace, as they always do, bearing gifts and a banner printed with hopeful messages. Universal understanding, sharing and collaboration, the usual thing: three-hundred-year-old language cribbed from the Bebo time capsule. We install them in the quarantine tank and let them alone. We’re still processing the previous group.

The predecessors were large, their plump thigh muscles well marbled with fat. We’re dressing them in herbs and slow-roasting them, and the flavor is good, rich and unctuous, the fibers softened by their long voyage in low-G. The rest we’re making into sausage, confit, and stock. We’ve been lucky this year, with three groups since spring. Sometimes we go a long time without meat; at least real meat, better than the crawlers and birds, tiny dust-flavored things full of bones.

These new ones aren’t impressive, as aliens go. Maybe reptilian: small and sweet-fleshed. Ten forlorn figures in blue smocks, they sit on the sterile-sheeted beds and do not speak or gesture much, exchange only occasional glances. From this we conclude that they communicate telepathically. After a few hours, though, one falls ill, probably from some unfamiliar bacteria. Greenish saliva drips from its mouth onto a pillow. Soon enough they might all be infected, and already this is no great harvest.

The first gift is plants, miniature trees bearing sour marble-sized drupes. Alien plants are rarely hardy enough, although we try. Under our red-eyed sun they wither quickly, and even within the shade and cool of the Complex they give too little in exchange for the water required. Our own plants have adapted to heat and dust. They stand tough and proud in bristling rows, radiating out into the dustplains. Most years they’re enough, as long as our numbers are controlled. But any supplements that arrive, while they last, are welcome.

They brought another gift, too: squares of a glass-like material, several thin layers pressed together around dull silvery skins, about ten centimeters across. Close examination reveals no obvious function, but they’re not particularly decorative, either. The inner material is metallic but not metal, not a mineral at all. Normally we refrain from extended communication with aliens, but given the possibility of new technology, we decide to see what information they can offer.

After some discussion, Reception selects an ambassador. Sub-engineer Tres is the smallest Reception tech, physically unthreatening even to these small aliens. We dress her in a white robe and place metal circlets around her waist, throat and wrists, a tiara on her head. Worthless old-world trinkets, but aliens often interpret them as signs of importance. She looks right. A good-enough representative for us, the collective remainders of the human race.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: April 19, 2016, 04:35:20 PM by eytanz »

matweller

  • EA Staff
  • *****
  • Posts: 678
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2016, 03:42:12 PM »
Per the author - This story was originally published in the February/March 2015 issue of Cosmos Magazine

Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8657
    • Diabolical Plots
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2016, 04:08:50 PM »
Per the author - This story was originally published in the February/March 2015 issue of Cosmos Magazine

Could the information in eytanz's original post be corrected?

eytanz

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 6109
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2016, 04:35:47 PM »
Per the author - This story was originally published in the February/March 2015 issue of Cosmos Magazine

Could the information in eytanz's original post be corrected?

Done.

Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8657
    • Diabolical Plots
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2016, 05:38:27 PM »
Thankee, eytanz!

Uncanny Valley

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 26
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #5 on: April 20, 2016, 11:19:23 AM »
I felt like the story would have been better without the humans consuming the aliens.  It really wasn't necessary for the story, and I kept thinking that if this continually happened, they would have been eradicated.  Especially if the earth was being visited as often as the story indicates.  I did like the angle of visitors expecting to be restocked by the humans, and that could have been expanded upon instead.  The narration was great, as always, and I did enjoy some aspects of the story.

Frank Evans

  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 399
    • All of Algonquin
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2016, 11:52:23 AM »
Quote
I felt like the story would have been better without the humans consuming the aliens.

Agree. I also found myself wondering why, if there were aliens dropping by frequently and the Earth was clearly dying, the humans didn't try to take advantage of one of the drop ins and get off planet? If these people were willing to kill and eat their alien visitors, I doubt they'd have any problems stealing their rides.

It seems to me that there were two stories here. The first about the remnants of a human society that has been reduced to trapping and eating unsuspecting space travelers, and the second about the Plural invasion. I think each could have been good on its own, but I'm not convinced they worked well together.

 



Totem Pole

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 6
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #7 on: April 21, 2016, 03:06:24 AM »
I think that the humans consuming aliens is great here.  Essential to worldbuilding.

I was holding my breath because, at first, I thought that the aliens swapped minds with Tres, and that the humans would realise that they have cooked and eaten a fellow human. Would they realise what they have done? Would they even care?

adrianh

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 751
    • quietstars
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #8 on: April 21, 2016, 04:01:59 AM »
This one didn't work for me — the two halves of the story didn't connect in a way that satisfied (alien eating humans + Plural's expanding borg/hive/absorbing mind). I guess we have consumption as an overarching theme, the physical on one side and the mental on the other, but the "come in peace" line wasn't enough of a payoff for me.

The disconnect the Plural alien felt in respect to humanity's view of what it was doing reminded me a little of Peter Watts excellent The Things, but that whole progression felt too rushed in this story. Maybe that was deliberate to give a feel for how rapid the spread of the Plural — but it felt like the idea needed more room to breathe than the story gave it.

The world building of the alien eating humans was a bit of a hard sell too. Especially coming so quickly after The Hunter Captain which explored some of the same themes of what counts as intelligent/conscious in more direct way. I was left unsure whether we had humans using meat consumption as a status marker (in which case I want to know more about that culture), whether we're meant to think meat consumption is "necessary" for survival (in which case the logistics don't make sense — and it just ain't true), whether the humans see the aliens as really less than human or are eating them out of "necessity" (which raises different moral issues). Unsure in an unenjoyable not-sure-I-grok-the-authors-intent way, rather than a fun gosh-this-is-interestingly-ambiguous way.

I did like the mechanics of the alien greeting / butchery though. That system made sense, even if I didn't really get how and why that system came about ;-)

Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8657
    • Diabolical Plots
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #9 on: April 21, 2016, 11:14:04 AM »
See, I thought the alien-eating was essential to the story being as good as it was.

I really really enjoyed it, pretty much from the moment of mentioning that the alien's leg was marbled (which implies meat for food) which was mentioned almost right away.

Was it strictly plausible that aliens would keep coming and coming and coming to a planet that just butchers every visitor?  Probably not.  I would expect, if nothing else, the relatives of some of the aliens would want revenge, and getting revenge on small cluster of population bound to the surface of a planet isn't that hard:  grab an asteroid on your way and drop it on them. 

But, then again, we don't know alot about what goes on outside.  We know that there are many alien races of many varieties, but not what kind of interspecies social structure they have.  I get the impression that the aliens who stop by Earth are the younger alien species who have only recently managed interstellar travel and so naively stop by every planet they can reach without shrewdly assessing the risk levels or perhaps willfully accepting that exploration is dangerous but not considering this kind of danger, and who randomly show up on the doorsteps of the first non-starfaring inhabited planets they can find and expecting a fair exchange of higher technology for some more resources for spacefaring.   So, these younger starfaring species send explorers, and when those explorers disappear they don't know what happened, and assume they were lost in any of the number of ways explorers can die in unknown territory.

I could see how the older starfaring cultures, once they've developed more reliable travel resources, have met enough alien species so that meeting new ones isn't a grand voyage anymore, have developed self-sustaining ship systems so they don't need outside resources, would avoid planets like Earth.  And, even though they know that Earth is a danger to those who stop by, since the Earthlings are planetbound it's only really a danger to those stupid enough to land.  Maybe there are so many Earth-like planets with vicious planetbound residents that they don't think it's worth expending the resources to go neutralize the danger.  Maybe they figure that anyone stupid enough to land has to deal with the problem themselves, figuring that it's not their responsibility to save everyone from their own poor choices.  Maybe they consider Earth a protected ecosystem and want to allow the Earthlings to live or die without their intervention, maybe they're studying Earthlings' behavior from afar and want to see how they treat everyone.  I don't know, I'm just saying that with so little visbiility into the outside universe other than that there is kind of absurd number of starfaring races stopping by, one can extrapolate some things.

I also thought it was reasonably well justified why the Earthlings were so quick to eat the aliens anyway, with the described behavior and limited resources.  It was squicky and wrong and ew but in a darkly pragmatic way, if you're living on a planet on which you can no longer cultivate sufficient resources to sustain your species existence long-term, then edible foodstuffs from the sky would be a Godsend.  At this point they have no long term solution, so whatever they can do to eke out a little bit longer is what they will do.  And letting the aliens do what the aliens want to do is just a net depletion of resources from the Earthling's point of view. 

What I didn't understand, and I think it was a rather large hole, was why, as Frank Evans asked, the Earthlings don't try to either negotiate a ride off planet, or try to pilot the alien ship off planet.  Perhaps because the only kind of voyage that lands is the kind that was stupid enough to depend on finding all the resources including fuel for the return journey on the surface of the planet, and since the Earth is so depleted there is no resources to be had?  Maybe? 

The borg-like hive mind thingy did seem a little out of place at times, but I thought it worked well enough as a main plot to give a story to go with the setting.  The Earthlings are doomed anyway, so maybe the hive mind will have a better time of it, with its singlemindedness.  It made enough sense in this particular story that the Earthlings were a trap laid for the stupid but hadn't apparently considered the possibility that an alien species would see through the ruse and rather than avoiding it, would go into the trap prepared to take advantage of it.  And I liked the echo of the "we come in peace" trope at the end--in the hive's reasoning, it does come in peace--it gives its host bodies immortality because their minds live on in the collective.  All the other races that got eaten also came in peace, but they came in a different kind of peace than this one. 

In the end it felt a bit like two stories, but I thought there was enough joining of the two stories to make it work well enough.  And the invasive alien species gave enough of a plot so that the eating of all the other species could be setting rather than trying to build a story around that specific part.

I really liked it.

Totem Pole

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 6
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #10 on: April 22, 2016, 05:33:34 AM »
Unblinking, you summed my thought perfectly. That is exactly why I liked word building in this story:

Plenty od aliens naive enough to land vs. "darkly pragmatic" humans vs. threat that does not fit the pattern of previous aliens.

bounceswoosh

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 305
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #11 on: April 22, 2016, 09:57:57 AM »
+1 on Unblinking's analysis.

To me, humans choosing to eat other known-sentient beings was the most interesting part of the story. I could have done without the brain-hopping plurality. Not that it wasn't interesting, too, but my mind kept going back to how you get from our current concept of morality to ... that. Especially since it was definitely stated, or at least hinted, that the alien meat was a luxury, rather than something necessary for survival. Would it be something that humans fought to avoid, or would we be all too eager to rationalize our way into a yummy frog leg?

I'd like to read a story about the turning point - the first time that the humans of this world decided to eat their alien visitors.

Dwango

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 165
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #12 on: April 26, 2016, 04:24:00 PM »
So basically, the bad predators are devoured by the bigger, badder predators.  The moral of the story is "Don't eat your visitors, lest you want to become food."

Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8657
    • Diabolical Plots
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #13 on: April 27, 2016, 09:55:12 AM »
So basically, the bad predators are devoured by the bigger, badder predators.  The moral of the story is "Don't eat your visitors, lest you want to become food."

To be fair, they probably would've been eaten by these creatures even if they'd been friendly. :) 

dinovasya

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 1
  • https://www.qiwigame.ru/?ref=189
    • Qiwi Game
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2016, 11:09:54 AM »
The borg-like hive mind thingy did seem a little out of place at times, but I thought it worked well enough as a main plot to give a story to go with the setting.  The Earthlings are doomed anyway, so maybe the hive mind will have a better time of it, with its singlemindedness.  It made enough sense in this particular story that the Earthlings were a trap laid for the stupid but hadn't apparently considered the possibility that an alien species would see through the ruse and rather than avoiding it, would go into the trap prepared to take advantage of it.  And I liked the echo of the "we come in peace" trope at the end--in the hive's reasoning, it does come in peace--it gives its host bodies immortality because their minds live on in the collective.  All the other races that got eaten also came in peace, but they came in a different kind of peace than this one.

Fenrix

  • Curmudgeonly Co-Editor of PseudoPod
  • Editor
  • *****
  • Posts: 3794
  • I always lock the door when I creep by daylight.
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #15 on: May 02, 2016, 02:49:10 PM »
That we were on Earth wasn’t clearly identified until halfway through the story, and we weren’t talking about Voyager or another high-visibility device, therefore I was envisioning a collapsed colony. I would have been perfectly satisfied to see "CROATOAN" carved into the walls by the end. I love that the consumption of the aliens is a civilizing factor, because the alternative is for the humans to kill and to eat each other.

A common theme during the failure of colonial efforts is cannibalism, such as Roanoke, Jamestown, and the Donner Party. The flip side of this coin is insular degeneracy where you have the rural poor as the monstrous other. This story has humanity as the Gein family consuming hapless visitors. I bet these visitors had the opportunity to investigate further, that there were likely warnings at the gas station, and they decided to head to the cabin in the woods anyway. I visualized an establishing shot of the frog aliens being welcomed inside, while the camera sweeps out to reveal Norman Bates pushing their ship into the swamp or dragging it out to the car graveyard.

So I had a lot of fun thinking about this story. And the inversion with the Plural was a lot of fun.
All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”

Dwango

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 165
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #16 on: May 04, 2016, 09:47:05 AM »
So basically, the bad predators are devoured by the bigger, badder predators.  The moral of the story is "Don't eat your visitors, lest you want to become food."

To be fair, they probably would've been eaten by these creatures even if they'd been friendly. :) 

Good point.  Then the moral of the story is... "Be a vegetarian"?  or "Beware of Strangers"? or "Don't take cubes from strangers"?... Oh never mind.

Lionman

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 148
  • Next time, I'll just let sleeping dogs lie.
    • The Practice of IT.
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #17 on: May 09, 2016, 03:03:51 PM »
I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop when the story started playing out as alien contact being 'routine.'  You just knew something was going to happen.

Overall, it was a good story.
Failure is an event, not a person.

Devoted135

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1252
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #18 on: May 18, 2016, 10:47:55 PM »
I agree that this felt like two stories crammed into one. Strangely, the hive-mind-invasion part seemed to fit in the short story length more comfortably than the humanity-eeking-out-existence-on-a-dying-Earth part. I was definitely waiting for something weird to happen the moment that the new girl was sent down to greet the aliens. There are still so many taunting questions about how humans got to this point, and what everything outside of the base looks like. But, the hive mind taking over was interesting. I would have liked it if the background was more "bland" if you will, so more of the focus could be on the takeover part.

CryptoMe

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1042
Re: EP527: Plural
« Reply #19 on: November 21, 2017, 01:42:34 AM »
I found it very weird to be listening this story while I was cubing meat for a saucy dish.... Too many parallels between the descriptions of the aliens meat and what I was cutting.

Anyway, I thought the "two stories" fit very well together. You needed to know about the visitor-eating humans so that you would actually root for the cube aliens in the end.