Author Topic: EP383: The First Book of Flaccid Swords  (Read 10275 times)


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on: February 14, 2013, 10:15:04 AM
EP383: The First Book of Flaccid Swords

By Edward Cowan

Read by Bruce Busby

It was a snake–and Gods, what a snake it was. Fifty feet from sweeping tail to flicking tongue, its eyes as cold as deepest space and dim as the farthest star, its fangs dripping poison so vile the stench alone would kill a lesser man.

This, then, was the dreaded Doom of Lla Haathra, into whose black maw the unlucky and damned were fed to the Impotent God. Never having counted myself among His faithful, I saw no reason to submit meekly to His wrath.

His priests had made one crushing mistake when they lured me onto the trap door: they failed to relieve me of my blade. _Wind,_ they called it, those for whom that name was the last word to leave their lips. I rushed the foul altar, upon which lay my Darinda, black chains coiling about her supple form, her body purest alabaster against the crimson stone marbling her flesh. Tsutu Kalai, highest of the wretched priests, cackled as I approached, throwing the lever that opened the trap. Darinda’s scream followed me down the endless, serpentine flue. Beyond that, darkness.

Rolling to my feet, I stood in the shaft of light piercing the abyss from the chamber above, Wind held before me, daring the almost tangible shadow to draw near. Within moments came a rasping omen, as of a great mass dragging itself awake after a slumber of eons.

Now the Doom reared before me, thrusting its head into the light. We goaded one another to strike–it with the insolence of the predator that has never known failure, I with a rage that would never be clenched till the serpent’s blood coated my blade from point to pommel. From above echoed the laughter of the priests and the muffled screams of my Darinda. Here there was only silence–the sweet anticipation of the moment before death.

Finally I saluted the beast with a nod and spoke: “At least your masters have granted me a worthy adversary. Very well; let us have at it. I will not pretend to the ancient patience of the serpentfolk.”

It hissed its reply.

At that I lunged. Its mammoth head darted forward quicker than mercury, but primal speed avails not against human cunning. I ducked its strike and gripped my blade for the piercing jab: up under the jaw and through the skull. I sprang up, mighty thews tensing for the killing blow–

And found myself holding a wet noodle.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!

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Reply #1 on: February 14, 2013, 11:38:53 AM
I am King Under The Mountain!

I spent most of this story going "Oh, the irony!" and when the reveal came it was not unexpected, but still done well.
The reading was masterful. Simply masterful.

There were a few things in the story that bothered me a little bit, various tropes and cliches, but not enough for me to actually complain. I'll leave that to others.  ;)

Can we hear more Bruce Busby? I want to hear more Bruce Busby.

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Reply #2 on: February 14, 2013, 02:11:45 PM
I'm glad you liked having him read! I do a lot of amateur voice acting with the production companies mentioned in the intro, and I put a call out with them for narrators and Bruce was one of the respondents. Of course, that got me all tingly because his is one of the more prolific voices online and his work is prolific. I look forward to bringing him back again!


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Reply #3 on: February 15, 2013, 01:00:11 AM
The moral of the story: Don't let your virtual-reality therapeutic technology be designed by a bunch of Freudians.  (Not that a bunch of Jungians would necessarily be any better.)

I liked this story a lot.  I worried it would be a bit too much of a one-note story, and that all the innuendo would get stale five minutes in, but the narrator set just the right tone to keep things entertaining without it sounding overly cheesy.


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Reply #4 on: February 15, 2013, 01:23:04 PM
While the performer has a great voice, I don't know that he was the best choice for this story. He was too bombastic for this particular MC, in my opinion.

I didn't love this one.

First of all, I'm in couples therapy right now, and it's NOTHING like this. Now, I realize this is SF, and the story itself was intended to be humorous, but I think I'm too sensitized to the idea of successful, collaborative couples therapy being a thing that works to accept such a satirical view of it. I don't blame the author; this is purely an issue that _I_ have.

Second, and again because the story was a funny one and giant sweeping generalizations and stereotypical characters are permitted in the humor medium, I just didn't like the way the story was told. For whatever reason, it felt very sitcom-y, where the therapist and the wife argue a lot until the husband (I know, they weren't married yet) does something totally romantic that makes the studio audience go "awwwwwwww" and the story ends. I'm way burned out on stories like that -- both televised and written. Even in a humorous story, I needed something a little more than what I got.

Third, I didn't much care for the "traditional relationship" overtones of the story, where the guy feels as though he has to be the white knight, riding in on his charger (or spaceship) to save the girl. Once more, humor, but still -- there was an element of d/s to the story, a subtle one in my opinion, that rubbed me the wrong way.

That said, I did find it interesting how it was the wife who took control of the immersion and came up with a scenario that would get the husband to break through.

Overall... this just wasn't the story for me.

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Reply #5 on: February 15, 2013, 07:04:14 PM
Mostly I was just irritated listening to the lady and Herr doktor.  I wasn't too keen on the main character either.  The story left me wanting.

this just wasn't the story for me



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Reply #6 on: February 15, 2013, 09:59:00 PM
For whatever reason, it felt very sitcom-y, where the therapist and the wife argue a lot until the husband (I know, they weren't married yet) does something totally romantic that makes the studio audience go "awwwwwwww" and the story ends.

Ah but how do we know he isn't still in the virtual reality rig and that carrying his wife out of the councilor's office wasn't just a continuation of his fantasy?

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Reply #7 on: February 16, 2013, 03:06:19 AM
Bruce Busby=Awesome

The story may have been a bit cliché-dependent, and a bit unrealistic, but I enjoyed all of it, it entertained me throughout my entire drive home from work, and I laughed aloud more than once. That's a success if you ask me.


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Reply #8 on: February 16, 2013, 03:14:03 AM
ha this story reflects one of the biggest arguments my wife and I ever had. her argument, or at least the way I understood it, was that sci-fi removes a person further from reality than other types of fiction. therefore other types of fiction are "better"
 I know my wife, and whatever her original intentions, I know she did not mean to attack me personally. still we argued for over an hour.

 this story was almost like therapy for me.. it help me to think about that argument and why I got so angry. since I value something so highly, how will I ever have the respect of a person who sees it as inferior or useless? sorry, your princess is in another castle. she will always be in another castle.

I like the wife purposely boosting his confidence. she knows him. my wife has done the same at different times, knowing me. I may not have the power to save my wife from aliens or a giant snake but I will be the hero she needs me to be when she needs something from me.

anywhoo I hope my thoughts are coherent


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Reply #9 on: February 17, 2013, 02:46:13 PM
*Plot Twist*: The guy never had a problem with low self-esteem. They scheduled the appointed because he beats his girlfriend, but told the doctor it was low self-esteem.

The reason why he keeps conjuring up these "damsel-in-distress" scenarios is because he doesn't want to save her by "being her man", or whatever. He wants to save her by mustering up the courage to let her go. He knows he's not good for her. His conscience is actually making these scenarios. In the dream of the counseling room, the girlfriend isn't even truly there. That's his conscience manifested as the girlfriend to provide a solid beard for the doctor.

Also, instead of putting a disfigured version of himself in the super-villian role, perfectly depicting every internal conflict cliche in all of history, he puts the doctor in that place. That is because he is blaming his sad realization that she's better off without him on the doctor. This depicts another, smaller problem of not taking responsibility for his mistakes.

She still accepts him at the end of the story when he goes back to dominating everyone that gets in his way because she's used to it. She tells herself that because he would virtually save her from an annoying doctor by *killing him* (a red flag that she ignores) that he will always be there for her and that makes whenever he hits her okay. This also explains why the doctor is so upset that the couple up and leaves when he's just beginning to understand the intricacies of their relationship.

I bet you guys weren't expecting that much depth out of this story, were you? :P

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Reply #10 on: February 17, 2013, 10:05:24 PM
I looked at this comment page very early on and didn't see alot here because I thought people did as I did they liked it but it was just a fun romp not anything remotely serious but it looks like I was wrong...

I really liked the reading I thought it was fantastic actually. The story was fun but not a whole lot more it lacked the punch, it was as I said just a fun romp.


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Reply #11 on: February 18, 2013, 03:03:55 AM
My biggest complaint about this story was the number - ok, just 2, but still - of stereotypes that relied on, namely the German shrink and the shrewish girlfriend. Yes, it was humor and humor often trades in stereotypes, but these two seemed a little dated. The girlfriend bordered on the offensive, until we're shown that, Inception-style, it's a VR-dream within a VR-dream. Not sure her "real" character was all that better, though....

I will say the goofy narration of Bruce Busby did help it go down more smoothly.

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Reply #12 on: February 18, 2013, 05:12:04 PM
I thought this was a fantastic V-Day story. Light and fluffy with a touch of technological intrigue. The idea of doing counselling of any kind via VR devices is interesting. Like Listener, I've been through couples counselling (though it was a few years ago which may be why this story didn't bother me the way it did him) and I can't help but wonder how much more interesting and productive--or conversely, terrible and destructive--our sessions would have been in this format.

I agree with InfiniteMonkey that the characters were on the cliche side, but at least it was addressed to some extent when the doctor said that studies have shown that his kind of therapy is what people expected these days.

The humor had me laughing all the way down the freeway, though, and that's what made this little gem do it for me.

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Reply #13 on: February 20, 2013, 02:03:29 AM
I could see how the story was supposed to amuse the listener, but I wasn't amused.  No personal or deep reasons that I wasn't amused; the story just didn't tickle me.  I did like the reader, though.  Also, I was meta-amused because some of the phrases in the story reminded me of "The Gift of Garigolli" by Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth, a story I originally read in Pohl's "Critical Mass" collection back in the 1970's and did find very amusing.  You must go, straight as the flight of Ung-Glitch the soaring vulture, and read it.  It is available, in complete form, on line.  I do not link to it for I am ignorant as to whether all copyright laws have been respected.


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Reply #14 on: February 20, 2013, 07:32:16 PM
I was meta-amused

I like it.  Adding it to vocab.


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Reply #15 on: February 21, 2013, 04:16:04 PM
Yeah, the reading was great. :)

I'm so glad that the first scene ended when it did, I don't think I could have taken another minute of those terrible, terrible innuendos. :P That said, I enjoyed this story overall. While it did rely heavily on various tropes/stereotypes, it was self-aware and tongue-in-cheek enough that it enhanced rather than squelched the comedy. (YMMV) Overall, a fun romp for a silly holiday. :)


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Reply #16 on: February 21, 2013, 04:24:36 PM
The stereotypes in this one frustrated me, mostly the relationship that was like a sitcom relationship and the psychologist.

I hadn't realized the Freundlich was a common surname as I was listening.  I had only been aware that the word means "friendly" or something like it.  So, as they woke up from the first genre simulation to a world of Dr. Friendly the Freudian psychologist, I immediately assumed that this was another part of the simulation, but of a different genre's cliches.  When Dr. Friendly started acting all supervillainy that confirmed it, and I was at least happy to have predicted the double-level simulation based on the name.  Until they woke up from that simulation only to find the real Dr. Friendly.  Right conclusion, wrong evidence.

The narrator did a really nice job and made the whole experience enjoyable.


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Reply #17 on: February 22, 2013, 06:00:24 AM
Although the narrator had a great voice and style, I didn't feel it was suited toward this story. If I had to be specific, I felt that all the parts aside from the dialogue sounded great; the actual dialogue sounded... emotionless, I suppose. Performed well, but without sincere feeling. Almost like the way a cowboy or superhero would say his lines in a 1930's radio drama.

The story itself, despite utilizing futuristic VR, felt dated. Too many stereotypes and clichés, as others have mentioned in this thread, but one important one that no one has mentioned: that of the actual therapy. Anyone who has been to therapy knows it is nothing like this. In fact, the setting and method of therapy in the story sounds like the description someone who has never been to therapy would think it was like... if it was the 1980's.

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Reply #18 on: February 23, 2013, 08:09:10 PM
I thought the story meh, but that was my favorite narration I've heard on EP.  He made the story enjoyable.


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Reply #19 on: February 26, 2013, 01:12:25 AM
I could see how the story was supposed to amuse the listener, but I wasn't amused. 

Same here.  I didn't find the silly VR hero rescues the damsel cliches amusing nor the stereotypical couple or shrink.  And again (I am getting repetitive with my concrit for EscapePod episodes) well before reveal (honestly the moment it was revealed that they had been using VR), I knew that they hadn't actually left VR yet.

Very "meh" and forgettable for me.  Maybe it's because I could not have cared less about whether the couple improved their relationship at all.  Were we supposed to rooting for them against the evil shrink?  ... because I think the three of them deserved each other.


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Reply #20 on: February 26, 2013, 06:26:33 PM
Wow, this one took some chances with a layer cake of stereotypes. I found the Freudian humor just funny enough to not be irritating, but found the "damsel" scenarios off putting because of my reflexive irritation at women being portrayed as helpless victims.

I thought there was just a smidge to much authorial cleverness and not enough actual, you know, plot and character development, for me to really get into it.

Another one for the Peeps pile.

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Reply #21 on: March 04, 2013, 04:49:59 AM
I really loved this story!! enough to register on the forums to say so.
I like old science fiction; Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Beam Piper, old science fiction pulp magazines like Astounding Stories. I've been browsing through the stories on Escape Pod and Pod Castle on and off for several years now. When I saw a story with a hero with a sword, a naked heroine tied to an altar, and a PG rating you had me.
I thought it was just going to be a spoof of the kind of stories I love, but I found it a real science fiction in itself. The narrator's voice was great for a spoof and worked out fine for the hero's inner self (based on what we know of his imagination).
The novel science for me was not the virtual reality but the science of psychology. I thought it worked.  I've read Burroughs's books to my wife for 30 years, she's role-played through my D&D dungeons along with other husbands and wives, and Jessica’s attitude to a good men’s adventure novel plot was perfect. Joseph’s attitude to therapy and his problem's bases was understandable and I think Jessica’s solution was a master stroke, it worked. The hero gets the girl and the villain was conquered and punished in the worst way.
I let my wife listen to this story with me and we both laughed at Jessica's “and why am I always naked?”
Hey, if anyone else loves old science fiction, has Burroughs, and Piper and H.G. Wells and anything else older than 75 years as free public domain audiobooks.


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Reply #22 on: March 06, 2013, 12:11:16 AM
1) Uncanny Valley's avatar is the most fitting avatar ever.  Perfect uncanniness. 
2) Bruce Busby is awesome.
3) I liked the story, but I agree with FireTurtle, there was a part of me that rankled against the "female victim" trope, even if it was being poked at satirically. 

All in all, a flawed piece performed masterfully.

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Reply #23 on: March 08, 2013, 04:04:30 PM
Pretty fun story, and excellent narration (I'm gonna go ahead and disagree with some other commenters and say it was PERFECTLY suited to this story. Though I guess the sharp division on the subject shows no matter how hard you try, pleasing everyone is impossible .. :)).

Didn't care about the female victim trope myself, but I did find the girlfriend extremely irritating (that's not intended as a criticism). I would have liked the ending better if he had ditched her unpleasant butt and run off with the psychiatrist or something. :)


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Reply #24 on: March 08, 2013, 04:26:51 PM
I'm a bit confused about everyone worrying about the female victim trope here.  As has been pointed out (sometimes by the same people complaining about the victimization of the woman) it is obviously meant satirically.  She complains about it in-story and she is the one that really solves the problem.  She strikes me as an empowered female character, and not in the condescending way where all women must suddenly be badass in order to overcorrect for centuries of damsels in distress.  He has dreams where she is tied up and helpless and she has a problem with this, I'm not sure how that is remotely sexist.

I quite liked this story.  I loved the narration, and yeah I listened to it with my girlfriend who thought it was hilarious.