Author Topic: EP279: Conditional Love  (Read 21363 times)


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on: February 11, 2011, 10:58:39 PM
EP279: Conditional Love

By Felicity Shoulders
Read by Mur Lafferty


The new patient was five or six years old, male, Caucasian, John Doe as usual.  Grace checked the vitals his bed sensors were feeding her board and concluded he was asleep.  She eased the door of 408 open and stepped in.

The boy’s head was tilted on his pillow, brown curls cluttering his forehead.  Sleep had flushed his cheeks so he looked younger than the estimate.  He seemed healthy, with no visible deformities, and if he had been opted for looks, it had worked—Grace would have described him as ‘cherubic’.  He wouldn’t have been dumped if nothing was wrong, so Grace found herself stepping softly, unwilling to disturb him and discover psychological conditions.

“Don’t worry about waking him, he sleeps pretty deep.”

Grace started and turned to the other bed.  “Hi, Minnie.”

The girl grimaced.  “I go by my full name now, Dr. Steller.”  Grace brought up her board to refresh her memory, but the girl said, “Minerva.  Had you forgotten they’re doubling up rooms?”

“Yep, you caught me.”

“Is the rise in numbers caused by a rise in opting?  Or is it a rise in surrenders, or arrests of parents?”

“Lord, Minn—Minerva, I don’t know.  Planning to be a reporter when you grow up?”

“No, a scientist,” Minerva said and smiled, pleased to be asked.

“Why the scalpel-edged questions then?”

“Just curious if my campaign had had any effect,” Minerva said, nodding toward the window.  The billboard across from the Gene-Engineered Pediatric Inpatient Center flashed a smog warning, then a PSA about eye strain from computer visors, but Grace remembered when it had borne a static image:  Minnie, one year old, a pink sundress exposing the stubs of her arms and legs.  _Babies should be born, not made._  The ad had stayed up until Minnie was eight, three years after her parents turned her over to GEPIC, and apparently she had seen it.  She was twelve now, with serious eyes and a loose ponytail, dark blonde.

Rated PG-13 For swearing and disturbing hospital images

Show Notes:

  • Serious apologies – circumstances this week had me recording later than usual.
  • Feedback for Episode 271: God of the Lower Level
  • Next week… A longer piece by Blake Charleton

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: March 04, 2011, 07:07:50 PM by eytanz »


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Reply #1 on: February 12, 2011, 12:43:48 AM

I did not get that she was blinding him rather than killing him until Mur did the narration at the end.



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Reply #2 on: February 12, 2011, 02:25:48 AM
This story had me tracking with it right up until the end. I'm not a scientist, but I really think the author got their science dreadfully wrong here. You can not, CAN NOT, tell me that blind, hearing children don't imprint. So what was an apparently intelligent and well-educated doctor hoping to accomplish by blinding this child? I think that after the end of the story, the poor kid spends the rest of his life imprinting onto each person he hears. Does the doctor then spend her time blacking out his every sense in the name of helping him?
If I'm missing something, please let me know. As it is, this apparent inconsistency ruined the rest of the story for me.


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Reply #3 on: February 12, 2011, 08:10:02 PM
David's mental op only imprints on sight. when he was being read to, there were people talking outside the door and his memory did not wipe.


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Reply #4 on: February 12, 2011, 10:17:39 PM
David's mental op only imprints on sight. when he was being read to, there were people talking outside the door and his memory did not wipe.

We don't know if Danael/David would develop the ability to imprint on sounds after being blinded. It was irresponsible in so many ways to take him away like that and to blind him based on so few tests to know if he would only wipe based on seeing a different person.


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Reply #5 on: February 13, 2011, 03:31:30 PM
I have been enjoying Escape Artists for about six moths now, and plan on continuing to listen. I have noticed in some of the recent episodes that vocal flubs and repeated words are not being edited out. If you are going to present yourself as a professional publication and request donations (yes, I have donated recently by the way) then you need to keep the quality up.

I look forward to next week's episode.


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Reply #6 on: February 13, 2011, 05:24:06 PM
As far as I recall from my encounters with the ethology literature, imprinting only really happens in species that hit the ground running and so need to establish a bond very quickly. Species that don't, have a more limited version which promotes the parent/offspring bond but is relatively easy to supplant if necessary. I'm trying to think of any birds that would accept a juvenile, and vice versa, from another nest, and I suspect that it only happens if you happen to be still an egg. Fostering cats is much easier, even when their eyes are opened.
So, in short, a chilling story that loses credibility unless we suppose a) an unnaturally robust imprinting system in humans, and b) that this might persist long after it would normally have become redundant. David/Daniel is already modified so maybe that's what he was modified for. The horror of systematised breeding of victims for abuse is by far the most gripping element of this story for me but was not really explored. It would have made an extremely dark story and sonce again hown how humans are capable of manipulating science for nefarious means.

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Reply #7 on: February 13, 2011, 05:28:24 PM
I too loved this piece until the very end.  A wonderfully crafted world with some great back story, and characters developed well enough that  felt for them - again - until the end.

One would think the protagonist, being a doctor (though an emotional one) would at the very least do some sensory deprivation tests before cauterizing Daniel's/David's eyes shut.  There is no indication this was even tried and is inconsistent with the character.  While I believe that people can blind themselves into believing they are doing the right things, (and yes I caught the metaphor)  I have a very hard time time believing she would do this without quantifiable tests to show her it would work - she seems to care too much about Daniel/David to do something so rash otherwise.

I would have given the story top marks if there was even a hint these tests were done, so for me it started as a strong story that ended with a whimper for me.

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Reply #8 on: February 13, 2011, 08:50:40 PM
I'm not sure how I feel about this story.
For most of it Minerva's mode of speech bothered. She did not sound like any twelve year old I know. Only towards the end did we learn that her opt was for higher mental acuity. (Typing opt now without a slash is really hard for me  ;) )
I totally bought the idea of a perpetually rebooting, adorable little 6 year old. At that age, and for the first few times it's cute. I'm proud to say that my mind did not immediately catch up with more gruesome ramifications of such an optimization. But it very quickly got old, and I'm glad that the author didn't trouble us with it too many times.
I can understand why Grace did what she did. It wasn't entirely out of love for the kid, but it was also (at least I think) partly because of her dead-end life. Here she is, a middle aged doctor, living alone, trying to find something to latch on to, something to commit herself to, and wondering where her idealism went. Daniel/David landed right in her lap. He is exactly what she needed. The better question is, is she what he needs?
I'm not worried about the ramifications of her blinding him on so little evidence. In a world where children are designed per spec, and a child can regrow limbs a couple of eyes are a piece of cake.
What bothers me is that he will become irrevocably attached to her. She won't even be able to go the bathroom by herself. How does this kid go to school? Meet other people? How can his "mother" have any kind of life without him tagging along all the time.
Worse, she is 40 years older than him. What happens when she dies? (hopefully of old age) How does he carry on?
This was an impulsive decision on her part, and it probably will not turn out too well for either one of them.
But at the very end, my thoughts turn to Minerva.
She was, in my opinion, a much better character. She made a well-informed decision, and could probably stick it out. She is a much more believable character (once I realized she was optimized for being super smart).
The world building was very good. It's true, we don't see enough medical sci-fi, but this one had a very well fleshed-out world. I would like to hear more stories in this world, perhaps staring Minerva.
(A museum paleontologist is too boring for a person like her, she needs to become an armchair detective).

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Reply #9 on: February 14, 2011, 02:43:44 PM
This story was quite good.  I'd predicted the ending about halfway through, as I was trying to work out ways that Daniel could live a more normal life.  My first thought was to live only around children, but that couldn't really work very well, as someone'd need to take care of them, and sooner or later they'd grow to adults.  My second thought was of sight deprivation.  I do agree with Asgardian though that it would've made more sense if she'd tried some sensory deprivation tests at the lab first, putting on a blindfold for a few visits to see if the memory wipe occurs.  I'm guessing that the story didn't do this because the author wanted it to have a twist ending. 

Overall, good though.


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Reply #10 on: February 14, 2011, 05:16:07 PM
So Grace wants kids, after having known David for a few days she decides that his condition is never getting better and cant be cured, so she kidnaps him and then blinds him so she can be his mother.. How is that any better than what the people who made Daniel did?

Didnt care for the ending obviously, but otherwise i liked the story, and would have liked to hear more about the world.

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Reply #11 on: February 14, 2011, 07:23:39 PM
So Grace wants kids, after having known David for a few days she decides that his condition is never getting better and cant be cured, so she kidnaps him and then blinds him so she can be his mother.. How is that any better than what the people who made Daniel did?

Who - besides Grace herself, perhaps - thinks it is?  It isn't a good solution and the story, as far as I can tell, doesn't make the claim that it is. There is already evidence that Grace has taken matters into her own hands in the past, with - at best - mixed results.

I suspect that the 'twist' was as much about finding out that Grace, for all her idealism, has feet of clay, as it was about what she did.

I almost feel that this story belongs more in Pseudopod, but I think just it being there would have telegraphed the ending and given it much less of an effect.

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Reply #12 on: February 14, 2011, 11:51:00 PM
The mention that the doctor had prescribed a lethal dose of medicine "by accident" to a patient who actually needed to die, was the primer for the idea that she would blind a patient who needed that, too.  The fact that Daniel didn't imprint on voices that were out of sight, was the primer for the idea that blinding would be all he needed.  The child who didn't want legs, who would do fine without them, was the primer for the idea that Daniel would do fine without working eyes.  All very elegantly laid out.  It has that "inevitable surprise"element that is supposed to make a plot twist work.  Everything came together perfectly at the end.

But here's the important thing...

All of those elements were in place at the beginning of the story.  I'll ask again, as I find myself doing for so many Escape Pod stories...

What is the character arc?

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Reply #13 on: February 15, 2011, 09:51:20 AM
I thought this was a good story, well read as usual by Mur Lafferty, and entirely plausible. In the next few decades, technology like this is going to come along, and there will likely be a lot of problems on the way to transhumanity.

I found the ending very disturbing. While I can sympathize with Grace's position and her feelings of despair, I was shocked that she would have Daniel imprint on her and then blind him. I can see that she would look at Minerva's decision (which Minerva is old enough and smart enough to make) to be have a life without legs instead of remaining a permanent patient. But I think that Grace learned the wrong lesson from Minerva. While Minerva seems to say that you can live with imperfection instead of striving for perfection, Grace seems to think that she has to "fix" Daniel. This, sadly, seems to be a reflection of the same obsessive, selfish need for, not just a child, but the best child possible, that led to the creation of opts in the first place. To save Daniel, it became necessary to mutilate him.

Even worse, I can easily imagine Grace being arrested for kidnapping Daniel at some point in the future and he'd end up right back in the same position or, even worse, Grace realizing she can't cope with raising a blind child in secrecy and dumping him. Either way, this seems to be more about what Grace wants than what's truly best for Daniel. That she's also probably screwed up her own life beyond hope is the final note in this tragedy.


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Reply #14 on: February 15, 2011, 01:08:04 PM
Well, I didn't see the end coming, though I could have guessed the kidnapping part of it. It really shocked me and changed it from a vaguely disturbing sci fi piece into horror. I actually said "holy crap!" aloud after it ended. (fortunately I was alone in the car, no witnesses to my shenanigans :P).

Creepy and effective.

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Reply #15 on: February 15, 2011, 01:24:50 PM
I actually loved this story.   Its rare that a story hits me in the way that this did.  I physically stopped what i was doing (while at work) and said 'Damn' This is the sort of story that obviously has people talking and thinking about because of what it is talking about and i have only flicked through a couple of the comments as i'm tight opf time at the moment but for me and i think a fair few others it was just a damn good story.  I am going to check out more of this authours work.


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Reply #16 on: February 15, 2011, 03:26:13 PM
This story does what a great science-fiction story is supposed to do: jar your mind into new places and forces you to think about it.  I liked the setup and the sparse background story-building: It just gives you enough to let the story be internally consistent, and leaves you to fill in the missing details.  For my money, what Grace did was the compassionate and right thing.  Medical plausibility aside, if blinding him would actually stop him from imprinting (as the story obviously implies) then I think this was absolutely the best thing for Daniel. 

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Reply #17 on: February 15, 2011, 03:56:07 PM
  I found this to be an enjoyable story, but the very end does put this almost in Pseudopod territory for me. When I realized what Grace was about to do at the end my thought was "That's F'ed up", and the fact that she hadn't even done any sort of experiments to see if this would work makes it even worse.

  Based on the information in the story, I do not think Daniel/David imprints on voice alone, as hearing the voice of the nurse while Grace was reading "Charlotte's Web" did not seem to have any effect on him at all. It wasn't until another adult actually entered the room that he reset. Still, Grace should have spent more time with the kid before taking such drastic, and presumably irreversible, action.

  Even if Grace's blinding of the child works, what is he going to do when they are eventually caught (someone who does such a poor job of long term thinking in a world with such an advanced level of technology will undoubtedly be caught sooner or later), and they are separated? If  Daniel/David is permanently bonded to her, the mental damage caused by her removal will be tremendous.

  At first listening, I was unsure if what Grace did was right or wrong, but the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that she is going to do far more damage to the kid in the long run that just leaving him in his current state would have.

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Reply #18 on: February 16, 2011, 02:31:02 AM
I am glad to see I was not the only one creeped out by this story. And for the record, I did not see the ending coming.

I actually found Daniel's condition scary, for the same reason I find Alzheimer's scary. Imagine your memory only lasting until the next imprint. Frightening, in my opinion. How much of yourself is lost?

So you can imagine how twisted the ending felt.  On the one hand, she was "curing" the problem. That's good. But she was blinding and kidnapping him! That's very bad. It was relieving, with a slimy guilt aftertaste.

Good story. I enjoyed this one.

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Reply #19 on: February 16, 2011, 04:49:30 AM
I think the story is as much about this job effing up a very effable doctor, as it is about the technology effing up the very effable children.  Void Munashii pointed out why (within the story's logic) blinding this child actually would stop the reboots.  So it turns into another "Who are you to play God? -- Well, someone has to!" story.  Some of those can be excellent: COLD EQUATIONS, FAIL SAFE...  Didn't Haldeman have a story about a blinding procedure that turned people into geniuses?

What would have been written. 

Spoiler (click to show/hide)


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Reply #20 on: February 16, 2011, 11:20:42 PM
I'm with you guys. Frankly, I'm disturbed by the end.
However, for me, it's not so much for the "omgblindnesswtf?" as for the "Wait... she left it all behind to kidnap the kid?" I'm not completely thick - I knew the story was heading that direction - but I spent most of the plot asking "Why are you about to do this thing?" I get that she was feeling lost and purposeless, I get that the psych ward was little better than a "warehouse", but kidnapping was the best solution she could come up with? Had we really exhausted all other avenues of thought here? Maybe it's because I'm immature and irresponsible (and childless) but I couldn't relate to the urge to rescue this poor child like an abandoned puppy.

I can tell this is a good story because I'm arguing with the character over her actions, rather than with the author for writing it that way.


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Reply #21 on: February 17, 2011, 04:16:41 PM
I liked the story, but did not like Grace.  At all.  To me, she came across as self-martyring, short sighted, and selfish.  Instead of looking for help for Daniel, or investigating options for his care,(how long did it take the forum to come up with the blindfold idea?  5 posts? 3?) she takes it in her own hands to steal this kid from the hospital, making both their lives more difficult, and to what end?  So she can take care of him, and be miserable in doing so, I'm sure.  She wants things difficult, plain and simple, and is happiest when the worst is happening to her. 

What bothers me is that he will become irrevocably attached to her. She won't even be able to go the bathroom by herself. How does this kid go to school? Meet other people? How can his "mother" have any kind of life without him tagging along all the time.

This is what I'm talking about.  I'm betting that, if this happened, she'd be over the moon in her misery/happiness.

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Reply #22 on: February 17, 2011, 06:59:26 PM
FWIW, I can handle a few vocal flubs, but that snap used to mark edit points is quite jarring.

I liked this story much more for the setup than for the plot and arc. The world created was completely plausible, and the concept of Minerva being born without limbs was extremely scary, especially since I'm a parent. Bob Kefoori (or however you spell it) was a nice supporting character.

But where the story fell down was when it left the hospital. Not just the ending, which others have addressed, but even when Grace just went home. I felt like it distracted from the world that was so capably built inside the hospital (and even the sign outside). I suppose I understand why the author did it, and without leaving the hospital we couldn't have had the ending we did, but this really felt more like it should've been a bottle episode.

I find that Mur really has a knack for female child characters, perhaps because her own child is one (and she was one).

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Reply #23 on: February 17, 2011, 07:08:33 PM
I have the same problem with this story as I do with HOUSE:  the doctor in both of them is acting like a medical student about to flunk his rotation and get thrown out of med school as grossly unfit.  I like this story because I remember exactly the people who were like that in med school, on at least a few occasions.  And, yes, every once in a while a thoroughly stressed out physician will have a "what was I thinking?" moment like that.

It also reminds me of the real life story of the woman astronaut who stalked "the other woman".  Also, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

What would have been written. 

Spoiler (click to show/hide)


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Reply #24 on: February 17, 2011, 08:57:34 PM
All of those elements were in place at the beginning of the story.  I'll ask again, as I find myself doing for so many Escape Pod stories...

What is the character arc?

"I have failed in the past.  I will do better.  I will do better."
"I can't do better.  Everything is terrible."
"Eff this."

It's a downward arc, a failure to achieve a goal rather than a success, but it's still an arc.  She's aiming to recover from her past mistakes, to atone, to fulfill her ideals, but in the end she falls to her less noble desires.