Author Topic: PC046: Secret Life  (Read 9195 times)


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on: April 01, 2009, 01:09:24 PM
PC046: Secret Life

by Jeff VanderMeer.
Read by Paul Tevis.

A vision of the building from on high: five glittering floors surrounded by a dull concrete parking lot. To the west lay a forest. To the east, the glint of a shopping mall, substantial as a mirage. To the north, highways and fast food restaurants. To the south, a perpetual gloom through which could be seen only more shadow.

The building housed hundreds of people. They worked day and night, as relentless and constant as the seasons. The first four stories lay open to all, but no one could visit the fifth floor without a special key. Few had ever seen the roof.

The stairs were used for emergencies only. Some of the elevators clanked and groaned. Some of the elevators, quiet and smooth as ghosts, rose and fell with limitless grace.

Most inhabitants of the building, even the janitors in the basement, it was rumored, preferred the noisy elevators. When the quiet elevators reached the first floor, a scream could sometimes be heard, as of an animal trapped and then crushed beneath their feet. The screams might continue for several minutes. No one knew what kind of animal it was, or how it came to be trapped there.

Rated R. Contains an office which in turn contains despair which in turn contains hope.

I Twitter. I also occasionally blog on the Escape Pod blog, which if you're here you shouldn't have much trouble finding.


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Reply #1 on: April 01, 2009, 02:15:47 PM
A great reading, but Tevis's style kind of goes in the same rhythm over and over. I think he would be better suited to a shorter story where I didn't notice it quite as much.

I really, really, REALLY wanted to like "City of Saints and Madmen" -- China Mieville endorsed it, and I love his writing, and anyway the concept of Ambergris really appealed to me. But I didn't like it. It just didn't click with me. I hoped that VanderMeer's shorter fiction would work instead.

I think his REALLY short fiction would work better for me. This felt like a series of flash pieces, and the only one I really liked was "Vine". The janitorial religion segment was also pretty good. But the rest of them, while I didn't mind listening to them, I don't think I actually liked them very much. They didn't stand out. Even someone like me who enjoys reading about sex didn't get even the slightest charge from the guy with the pen extracting it from between his wife's breasts. The image didn't do it for me.

In order to understand WHY the story (stories?) didn't work for me, I think it's necessary to reference WHEN the story was published -- 2002, which means it was likely written no later than late 2001/early 2002, given how long it takes for a publisher to get a traditional book out on the shelves. Back then, when someone wrote a story like this, it was newer and fresher. Now that more and more of us work in cubicle farms and boring office buildings, there are more people who have had these fantasies. (I for one sometimes feel like the Mimic, because I have to do everyone's job but do not fit in any of their departments.) Most readers can identify with at least one person in this story -- we even have a person in an office whose job it is to stamp "approved" on things, so to speak -- but as a gestalt the story seems more scattershot than anything, as if the author wanted to hit on a lot of ideas and didn't think he had a strong enough story about any one of them so he pulled them all together.

I think a lot of people will like this story; VanderMeer has a distinct style and I can see its appeal. It just wasn't there for me, for the most part.

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Reply #2 on: April 01, 2009, 03:02:46 PM
  First, let me say that the new artwork looks really nice. It really does seem to capture the spirit of the show.

  I really enjoyed this story, partly because it is very silly yet still deeply compelling, but also partly because it's something completely different after a month of "elf" stories. The reading really went with the story well, and I liked the fact that it did, as Listener said, seem like a group of flash pieces that sort of pieced together a coherent story.

  I myself find the kingdom of my office building to be a little different than the one in the story. We here on the first floor are the workers, the very foundation of the building without which the people of the other floors would fail. Being the workers we are also looked down upon by the people of the upper floors.

  The second floor are a warlike people, frequently raiding the first floor and taking our work as their own, while also passing their failings off as ours. That is not to say they are all an unpleasant people, but one would do well to remember who they are dealing with lest they end up with a ballpoint lodged in their back.  They do offer some protection from the people of the third floor though.

  The third floor is a split people; useless layabouts who take long lunches and breaks, many of whom accomplish little in their days of labor, but also the third floor is made of royalty who look down upon all of us as gods, smiting those who draw too much attention to themselves. I try to avoid the third floor as much as possible.

  Of course we all fight common enemies; outsiders who seek to destroy us, as well as the bog creatures that frequently inhabit the washrooms, fouling the air from their hiding places inside the wall.

  Oh dear, I think someone may have spiked the coffee pot with LSD....

"Mallville - A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse"

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Reply #3 on: April 01, 2009, 08:04:03 PM
I found myself laughing out loud in a few places, especially nearer to the end of the story, as VanderMeer started to pull the disparate elements together and ideas started to intersect in unexpected ways or with unexpected descriptions. 

Unexpected to me, anyway.  Myself, I haven't had fantasies like this.

As I said on the blog, near the end of the story, six words occurred to me:

"Feed me, Krelborn. Feed me now!"

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Reply #4 on: April 03, 2009, 09:07:55 PM
I thought this story was utterly charming, what a great 1st anniversary tale.  :)

It read, to me, like something a lithium-doped Frank Key would write.
Really very, very good.

(and thanks for ending the "elf" blitzkrieg  :P )


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Reply #5 on: April 03, 2009, 10:07:23 PM
   I really enjoyed this story, partly because it is very silly yet still deeply compelling, but also partly because it's something completely different after a month of "elf" stories.
Didn't you know, on Podcastle  Janitors= elfs= Fae. ;D

I found I liked it overall but I had to think of it as an office building story anthology.  A bunch of short stories taking place in the same building instead of a long narrative.  I think it would almost have worked better if Mr. Vandermeer would have broken up the piece and created complete indivdual stories for each floor. 



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Reply #6 on: April 04, 2009, 02:47:11 PM
I enjoyed the heck out of this story! Fun well pieced, a great thing to listen to while doing my shopping, causing me to pause and smile often. I've only worked a few office settings- but the feel was definatly magical.  There were bits where it ran on, and the wording at times got odd and repititive, but overall the pure magic of the tale made up for everything.

Oh, great and mighty Alasdair, Orator Maleficent, He of the Silvered Tongue, guide this humble fangirl past jumping up and down and squeeing upon hearing the greatness of Thy voice.
Oh mighty Mur the Magnificent. I am not worthy.


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Reply #7 on: April 05, 2009, 10:57:21 PM
I really like Vandermeer's writing, and this story was no exception. He's one of the few authors I am aware of that can succesfully pull of this style of storytelling, using a series of vignettes rather than conventional narrative structure. I liked how three dimensional the story was - it didn't follow just one story line, but the interweaving components together combined to much more than their mere sum.


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Reply #8 on: April 07, 2009, 06:36:04 PM
I agree with the general consensus. Fascinating story, I can see myself listening to it over and over again.


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Reply #9 on: April 08, 2009, 01:37:09 AM
This was a really surprising and unusual story. I loved it!


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Reply #10 on: April 08, 2009, 05:04:00 AM
At first, i thought, "Oh great, some pretentious author attempting to write an allegory about something or other …." That didn't last long, though. Then, i thought, "I don't have any main character to carry me through this; my interest will wain before the midpoint." Then, in spite of myself, i thought, "Crap, the story didn't finish before i got home, now it'll have to wait til tomorrow's ride back to work."

While i don't think this will have any "repeat play" value for me, it has been interesting and enjoyable.


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Reply #11 on: April 08, 2009, 02:27:39 PM
Loved the story, i am a big fan of New Weird so it's nice when Podcastle has stories like this :)


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Reply #12 on: April 10, 2009, 01:14:27 PM
Enjoyed it.  The reading was very good, and I did an actual LOL at the line:  "The janitor couldn't remember a time when he wasn't alive"

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Reply #13 on: April 14, 2009, 11:09:23 PM
I have no great opinion of this story.  It seemed to be mostly about the vine.  The other elements were only tangential if they had anything to do with the vine at all; otherwise they were irrelevant side notes.  And character development ... as in lack of.  Solid "meh."

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Reply #14 on: April 16, 2009, 06:27:13 PM
really liked this one.  very much reminded me of early stephen king for some reason.  i kept hoping for some reference to the dark tower somewhere.

one thing i enjoyed was that this story brought to my mind this image: Office Revolution kinda nsfw because of naked artwork, but nothing that would be considered naughty

i would link the image within the post, but it's a very large one so i didn't want to disrupt everyone's browsing experience.


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Reply #15 on: April 17, 2009, 06:08:30 PM
Thank you, Podcastle, for bringing me audio VanderMeer. 

Love love love this story (no one is surprised, I know).  Masterfully crafted, funny and desperate and sad all at once, always just a little bit stranger than you think, and coming together from its disparate pieces to a definite whole. 

Thank you, Paul Tevis, for a reading that was true to the sense of the text!

More VanderMeer, please!  Please!

I couldn't listen to this piece right away because I wanted to give it proper time and attention.  I loved the story when I read it.  Podcastle, you have made me the happiest Anarkey in this universe. 

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Reply #16 on: May 17, 2009, 01:24:43 AM
Just got 'round to this one now having missed it when it first came out... very pleased I took the time to do so, excellent story overall :)

Will re-listen with the girlfriend sometime next week; seems like it'd be right up her alley.


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Reply #17 on: December 14, 2009, 09:45:00 PM
Having been a cube rat for lo these many years, the situations in the story really resonated with me.  I just wish the stories themselves had been, I don't know, a little meatier?  And like the janitor, I, too can't remember a time when I haven't been alive.   :D



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Reply #18 on: December 15, 2009, 05:29:19 PM
This one didn't do much for me.  It just seemed more like an allegory than something that really happened.  none of the characters felt particularly real or interesting.  Some of the sections went on forever, like the section about the pen.  Even the parts that should have been rip-roaring hilarious like the two CEOS fighting to the death on the roof, were written so matter-of-factly that they just seemed another dull detail of office life.  Maybe that's what he was going for, but it didn't work for me.

(I do work in a cubicle too)