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Author Topic: EP195: 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss  (Read 10917 times)

Russell Nash

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on: April 19, 2009, 02:28:17 PM
EP195: 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss

2009 Hugo Nominee!

By Kij Johnson.
Read by Diane Severson (of The Diva’s Divine Days).
First appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, July 2008.

Narration first appeared at and produced by Starship Sofa. Special thanks to Tony Smith and Diane Severson for their kind permission to resyndicate this award nominee.

She sets a stepladder next to it. She claps her hands and the 26 monkeys onstage run up the ladder one after the other and jump into the bathtub. The bathtub shakes as each monkey thuds in among the others. The audience can see heads, legs, tails; but eventually every monkey settles and the bathtub is still again. Zeb is always the last monkey up the ladder. As he climbs into the bathtub, he makes a humming boom deep in his chest. It fills the stage.

And then there’s a flash of light, two of the chains fall off, and the bathtub swings down to expose its interior.


Rated PG. Contains 26 monkeys. Also, the abyss.

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!


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Reply #1 on: April 20, 2009, 01:11:20 PM
Evocative of PC46 -- the VanderMeer story about the office building -- and I guess that's the new wave of fantasy writing: to write small chunks that eventually become a gestalt. I think the author did it in this case to keep the pacing slightly quicker because what she had (and I never knew Kij Johnson was a woman until now) was a story about magic that no one understands and an old monkey who dies.

The tale was well-told, but I don't know that I would rank it as one of the top stories of the year. I think it snatched up the nominators' attention (I don't know how stories are actually put on the ballot) because of the extremely creative title and the surrealism of a woman living on a bus with 26 monkeys and a 15-years-younger-than-her boyfriend. The ending was interesting -- that the monkeys are going to the houses of people with whom they used to live -- but, I mean... *shrug* I don't know that that particular Genre Twist (I really ought to copyright that term) was enough to turn my opinion of the story away from "not bad, not great".

The reading was listen-able. I think her accent dropped away as she got more comfortable in the reading. Also, I liked how she differentiated the characters without changing her voice too much (one of the things that really endears me to a reading).

It's interesting to me that Escape Artists unconsciously (?) publishes stories of the same vein at the same time -- a while back there was that spate of hooker stories, and now two circus stories (EP and PC) in the same week. Serendipity?

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Reply #2 on: April 20, 2009, 03:20:05 PM
I can't compare this one to PC46 -- I liked this story.  But I also wouldn't rank it among the best.  So far, not knowing what the last two stories will be, I put "Exhalation" head and shoulders above the others for now.

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Reply #3 on: April 20, 2009, 05:34:52 PM
I really, really enjoyed this one. Not entirely sure I can explain why, but it really resonated with me. It's nowhere near the work of genius that Exhalation was, but it's a thoroughly enjoyable story about losing and rediscovering faith in oneself through magic monkeys.


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Reply #4 on: April 21, 2009, 02:20:11 PM
I really liked this one, the magic- and the wondering. I also like the glimpse at the end of an answer. Gorgous story. The reader did an all  right job of it, although her voice sounded a bit flat in spots.

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Reply #5 on: April 21, 2009, 02:58:20 PM
  I was a little surprised when I saw this in the feed, as I listened to it a couple of weeks back on StarShipSofa. It was good then, and it is good now, but I still don't think it's the best of the Nebula nominees.

  I was hoping to hear a different read of the story though, not that there is anything wrong with Ms. Severson's reading, but I wondered how a different read might effect my opinion of the story.

  Looking forward to the next Hugo nominee.

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Reply #6 on: April 21, 2009, 03:41:00 PM
I got the feeling that I should have liked this story more than I actually did.  It had monkeys that teleport out of a suspended bathtub, after all.  But I kept finding myself having to 'rewind' my player because my mind had wandered and I'd stopped listening to the story.

Ms. Severson's reading was acceptable, though there were a couple of pronunciation choices with which I took issue, particularly "dace" for "dais", which for me needs 2 syllables.

However, there was a sound quality issue that distracted me - a kind of a background 'wawa' distortion of certain vowels that, when it has happened to me in the past, was an artifact of the conversion to MP3.

I vaguely recall that there was a bit of that in "Exhalation", too, though since I liked that story more, it distracted me less. Since that recording also came from Starship Sofa, I wonder if their original files had the problem, or if the files had to be converted somehow to a format/specification for EP's use and it was that process which introduced the problem.

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Reply #7 on: April 21, 2009, 07:37:20 PM
Another solid entry.  I agree with stePH and eytanz: It's not on the level of Exhalation, but still a very enjoyable story.

I was grinning like an idiot at the 'reveal' at the end.  Somehow didn't see it coming, and was thoroughly charmed by it.

rkg  101010


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Reply #8 on: April 21, 2009, 09:06:06 PM
no matter how many times i'm reminded that the hugos are for both sf and fantasy i'm always a little surprised when a fantasy story shows up.


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Reply #9 on: April 22, 2009, 07:34:51 PM
A great little story... Monkeys in a bath on stage!?!?  Was the author writing from a rubber room by any chance?


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Reply #10 on: April 23, 2009, 03:17:26 AM
Oh my. TWO "absolutely great" stories in a row (even among the Hugo run usually most are just "very good" in my opinion).

This was sweet, charming and touching. I enjoyed the format - it seemed almost set up like a magic show itself, in a way.  There was even a "reveal" of sorts at the end.. we never learn HOW the monkeys travel, which maintains the illusion, but we find out why!

Probably me reading too much into it, but I really really loved this. It made me tear up a little actually. One of my favorite EP episodes ever of all time (even if it is fantasy, heh).

As an aside, I see not everyone is as in love with it as I am. I donno, something about it really, REALLY struck a chord with me.


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Reply #11 on: April 24, 2009, 12:13:45 AM
Another thumbs up here!  No, not nearly as fantastic as Exhalation, but a really fun yarn.  With Monkeys!  Also, the abyss...

And really what else is there to say?  The title pretty much covers it.


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Reply #12 on: April 24, 2009, 03:44:07 AM
I really didn't care for this story.  I felt like I've heard it before, and only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.  There was nothing specific, but if you changed monkeys for people and the bathtub for, I dunno, a warp gate or something, it's nothing new.  Sorry, but adding monkeys (and a chimpanzee) isn't enough for me.  Again, I am disappointed with a Hugo selection.


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Reply #14 on: April 25, 2009, 05:29:51 PM
How is it that a story with teleporting monkeys completely fails to keep my attention? Surely something has gone seriously wrong there...


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Reply #15 on: April 25, 2009, 08:01:24 PM
I really did enjoy this story, although the constant number breaks did take away from the story a little.

I was fascinated by the premise.  Who in their right mind would conceive of sticking monkeys in a suspended bathtub and expecting them to disappear with no trick involved?  I wanted to find out who the first monkey wrangler was, and that missing piece of the story kept me intrigued through the end.   Even though  it was not answered the reveal was satisfying and completed the story for me.


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Reply #16 on: April 30, 2009, 12:19:20 PM
I just loved this woman and the description of her life.
She seemed to be a fun girl to be around!


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Reply #17 on: May 01, 2009, 10:38:06 PM
To be honest, this story just didn't do it for me. Not sure what it was, although the title put me off before I even started to play, so maybe that jaded my view somewhat - still, I found the telling of the story, and the story itself somewhat ... just non-gripping. Ended up switching off half way through.


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Reply #18 on: November 05, 2009, 07:15:03 PM
Why is it that my very favorite stories always get a flood of "meh" and "not great" and "didn't hold my interest"?

I thought this struck a fine balance between surrealism and naturalism.  It felt very true, and the ending was just perfect.  I had no idea where it was going with the idea and was worried that whatever it came up with wouldn't be able to match the buildup. 

Honestly, I liked this a lot more than "Exhalation." 

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Reply #19 on: April 29, 2010, 01:47:41 PM
Great Title!

And if I'd just heard a plot synopsis I'd probably say "Teleporting intelligent monkeys!  Wow that sounds like a great story!"  But the actual story didn't do much for me, I'm afraid.  It might've been because it seemed like every other sentence was "I wonder where the monkeys go?"  I get it, the monkeys disappearance is a mystery, I came up with that question myself and so hearing it repeated dozens of times is not entertaining.

Once the story was set up it didn't go anywhere I didn't expect, except the slight twist at the end.  It was clear at the beginning that the monkey migration is a cyclic thing, so I knew that the monkeys would pass to another owner at the end.

The reveal was so quick at the end I missed it the first time, and it didn't make up for the earlier repetition. 

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Reply #20 on: December 16, 2012, 12:54:01 PM
got into it, didn't wan't to get out of it