Author Topic: Pseudopod 351: The Blues  (Read 7938 times)


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on: September 26, 2013, 12:37:49 AM
Pseudopod 351: The Blues

by Cameron Suey

“The Blues” appears for the first time here. “The Blues” was my attempt at confronting and ruminating on the limits of our adaptability, something not often addressed in apocalyptic literature.”

CAMERON SUEY is a California native living in San Francisco with his wife (who can occasionally be convinced to edit his work, as long as it’s not too gross) and infant daughter. He works as a writer and producer in the games industry, and along with several other talented writers, won the WGA Award for Videogame Writing in 2009 for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. He can be found on the web at The Josef K Stories, where he writes about writing, horror, and other influences (and maintains a repository of early drafts and finished pieces), and on twitter as @josefkstories where he promises not to bore you with tales of what he had for breakfast. He is currently working on the first draft of a novel about derelict haunted spaceships, music, and madness, as well a half dozen short stories at any given time.

Your reader this week – Gabriel Diani – wrote and starred in the award-winning supernatural comedy feature film THE SELLING and created THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN [Robotic Edition]. He is currently prepping a Kickstarter campaign for his second feature film called DIANI & DEVINE MEET THE APOCALYPSE. You can follow the movie on twitter @DD_Apocalypse or at DIANI & DEVINE MEET THE APOCALYPSE.

“The brick edifices lean over me, red canyons of abandoned history. Despite the lingering warmth of the late valley summer, dried leaves are already piling in the gutters. Without a human hand to clean them I imagine them heaping up, year after year, burying the small town in an endless leaf pile, patiently waiting in vain for a child to leap into them.

Spun off on this chain of images and ideas, I drift away from Alex and lean against the boarded windows of a storefront. The leaves are swirling now with the blues in my mind, the cool colors crackling through the warm autumn refuse. Somewhere in the middle of the conceptual whirlwind, I get sick, the bile rising from the back of my throat bringing an unpleasant fungal taste. I spit as my mouth floods with thin and bitter saliva.

‘Tell me if I can help, man.’

Alex is across the street, leaning against a bike rack, watching me. I try to shake my head, to raise an arm, but I am trapped inside the whirlwind, not sure of its boundaries and borders, not sure if I am enjoying this anymore. Leif and King’s distant, muffled voices blend into the spinning vortex.

‘Nope,’ I manage with great effort. Alex nods and looks away.”

Slusher music is “Green Olives” by Barbacoa from Music Alley

Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
« Last Edit: September 26, 2013, 06:23:32 AM by Bdoomed »

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?


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Reply #1 on: September 26, 2013, 06:18:06 PM
It took me some time to get this story (Alisdair's outro helped...) and only at the third hearing did I really enjoy it, even though I usually don't like end of the world stories. It's just so full of realism. Sometimes, the anecdotes distracted me from the story though.

Isn't Leif pronounced like "life" though (in German it is, I don't know about Scandinavian languages. wouldn't Leif have introduced himself with the way his name is pronounced?)


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Reply #2 on: September 27, 2013, 10:06:18 AM
I liked this one too, and normally I hate slow-apocalypse stories. I'd agree with Alasdair - it's the kindess in the relationship between Alex and Roger that makes it work.

As someone who has a pretty average name that people still manage to get wrong EVEN AFTER I'VE TOLD THEM SEVERAL TIMES, I can see how Roger, King and Alex would keep mispronouncing it. Especially if they messed up the first time, and he was just too polite to call them on it, and it became habit.

Something about this story made me really curious... I mean, humanity's got through mass-mortality plagues before (wasn't the death rate of the black death about 50%? - ok, wikipedia says 30-75%) and life kept on going - we even have some first-person accounts.

Samuel Pepys wrote his diary through the outbreak and it's fascinating to hear how he lived his life under the apprehension  of his possible demise: "In the evening home to supper, and there to my great trouble hear that the plague is come into the City (though it hath these three or four weeks since its beginning been wholly out of the City); but where should it begin but in my good friend and neighbour's, Dr Burnett in Fanchurch-street - which in both points troubles me mightily. To the office to finish my letters, and then home to bed - being troubled at the sickness, and my head filled also with other business enough, and perticularly how to put my things and estate in order, in case it should please God to call me away - which God dispose of to his own glory. (June 10th 1665)"

(And the fact that a goodly chunk of the rest of his memoirs, iirc, involved various attempts at tumbling the chambermaid, just makes him all the more human).

I guess - he's a city-dweller, he had no skills in terms of farming or hunting, to get him through - would it be that the localised production/exchange networks they had in place would have been less disrupted by the death of so much of the workforce that they *were* able to pick up the pieces? I mean, it was a massive impact, it took generations to recover from, it totally changed the way inheritance law and the economy worked, and some key figures in political & religious alliances just DIED so the western world at least is totally different than how it might have been ... but are our diffused/overstretched exchange system and last-minute food delivery systems just not capable of dealing with that kind of shock? Is 25-70% of a robust agricultural economy enough to keep at least some of the non-producing urbanites alive? The 1918-1919 influenza epidemic killed between 10-20% of those infected and the world economy kept going, but in terms of interconnectedness, it was probably more similar to Pepys' economy than ours.

(please, historians or economists, correct me!)

It would be interesting to know the mortality rate of The Bug in this story - are we so vulnerable and over-stretched now that something like a 10-20% death rate could knock our system over, or is it more like Captain Trips at 99.4%?

Sorry, overthinking things. The narration was lovely.


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Reply #3 on: September 30, 2013, 03:13:10 AM
Oh wow, you want to discuss the mortality rate of the Bug? This makes me deeply happy. Apologies for the forthcoming wall of text.

So, I'm only passingly educated on epidemiology (Tulane turned me down, so I majored in film), but since it's my story, by god, I get to make it up as I go along. It may not be accurate, but it's fiction, so it does what it needs to do. I'm more interested in the characters and drama in the wake of a global event that changes everyone's life, but I've written a few stories that are loosely in the same timeline, so there's a little more information about the Bug scattered around. I tend to slice away as much exposition as I can possibly stomach in these stories, because as much as I am interested in those sorts of world-building details, I prefer, as a reader, to have only hints and implications that I can build off of, rather than hear exactly what the author thinks they are. I find if I know the details and keep it consistent, that's far more compelling and lets the characters shine through, rather than providing an info-dump, which is essentially dead once it hits the page. There's no mystery and no interpretation.

That said, if you really want to know, here's what I know about the Bug.

The Bug has a nearly 100% mortality rate to those that contract it, at first. It's an engineered plague designed to wipe out the species, but it has some special quirks: some people, maybe ten percent or more stay asymptomatic for weeks to months after contracting it. The Bug is fast moving (close to, but not quite, Ebola fast), and avoids burning out host populations by being spread by carriers, who slip past most attempts at quarantine. The genesis of the Bug and why it caught the modern world off guard are the primary focus of "Zero", an epistolary story that first appeared in Mad Scientist Journal.

There's another story I've recently sold called "One" that's more focused on people who are equipped to survive purely off that land, but it's more about the issues of trust and guilt that any survivor is going to have. It takes place just a few months after "The Blues." But here's the other thing, and this irrelevant to the events of "The Blues", the Bug has a piece of genetic code hidden in it, borrowed from Rabies, and that won't express itself for a year or two after pandemic, just when the survivors are starting to figure out how they're going to survive and move on, it's gonna get really weird. That's detailed more in a story that takes place a few decades later, called "Before". I sold that story to Nightfall magazine, which unfortunately folded before printing the first issue, so that story is still in search of a market.

Basically, the Bug (I've sort of christened this group of stories "The Plague Years") is my open ended canvas for any disease, pandemic, apocalypse, or, much later, zombie flavored story that I want to tell. Does the science or sociology hold up? Probably not at all. But it gets me to a place where I can tell the story of Alex and Roger's final days.

As for the name, I knew a Lief who pronounced it Lay-ff. That's as much as I know. And I had another friend who told me two years after I knew him that I was pronouncing his name wrong. I was King in that exchange. Sorry, Ronen. And I am totally thrilled with Gabe's narration. He nailed more things than I thought possible. I love not being involved in adaptations of what I write. If I tell you exactly what I imagine, I'm robbing you of any other possible interpretation and I'd rather be surprised by how a story filters through other people.


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Reply #4 on: October 01, 2013, 05:00:33 PM
Cool, thanks!

I wasn't sure how to feel about the decision made by the guys - was their decision to end their lives in a way of their choosing, as they weren't "survivors", a result of the *actual* total devastation of the human species, or was it a sign of their lack of confidence or lack of will to rise to the challenge in a situation that wasn't possibly *that* bad? (e.g. a situation that an unskilled urbanite would quail at but someone raised to a more self-sufficient lifestyle would feel more equipped to handle. What if it had been a quick-acting disease that burned itself out, and took all major population centres with it, but didn't reach remote/rural communities... would any immune urbanites be able to seek out surviving isolated groups and stay with them?) <-- the things I think about on my commute... 

Although it was pretty clear in the story that all the cities were gone, I wasn't sure if it was worldwide, so I was divided between seeing Alex & Co.'s decision to take their own lives as a courageous one, or a sign of their lack of confidence in themselves when there *was* a chance of a future somewhere over the horizon.

Anyway - now I know! Thanks heaps for taking the time to explain. I'll track down your other stories - I love it when a series of stories tackles a bigger narrative at different stages.


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Reply #5 on: October 04, 2013, 02:05:30 AM
This is one of the few apocalyptic stories that I've actually felt a connection too. See, I would totally be Roger. I would be horrified of living and fighting, but equally terrified of dying. (Seriously, my zombie plan is to hopefully be Patient Zero. That way I have none of the fear that comes with the zombie apocalypse, I might get some tasty brains out of it, and I probably die from getting shot in the head, straight easy kill, if the movies are to be believed.) It's a very new thing for me to read something where the main character isn't brave in the face of pointless life, and honestly has no idea of what to do.

I liked the conflict in this story as well, with the oddly homicidal King chasing after them through the rotting city. The tension was well written, and I honestly wouldn't have been surprised if Roger had died at the hands of his friend, although I thought the ending that was chosen was pretty much perfect.

By the title, I totally was assuming this story was going to have something to do with blues as a music genre. This was a pleasant surprise.


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Reply #6 on: October 05, 2013, 09:37:55 AM
I really enjoy postapocalyptics, but this one didn't stand out for me. Really enjoyed Zero (which the author posted a link to in the comments thread) though. Would love to check out the other stories in this cycle.

Every day is an adventure.


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Reply #7 on: October 09, 2013, 02:08:22 PM
I'm afraid I didn't get super into this one.  I liked the characters, and they felt like real authentic people, but I just wasn't that interested in what was happening--I'm not exactly sure why, but there it is.

I'm more interested in what the author said about the world as a whole in his post here, particularly the rabies wrinkle that will show up later.  Rabies has weird and interesting characteristics, and (like the platypus) I would probably dismiss it as pure fantasy if I didn't know there was solid proof of its existence.


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Reply #8 on: October 13, 2013, 05:59:38 AM
I registered just to comment on this story. Rather, to comment on an aspect of this story.

The author is correct, the proper Scandinavian way to pronounce Leif is "layf." Moreover, by the "i before e, except after c, or as in 'a' as in neighbor and weigh" rule, Leif is pronounced "layf."

"as in neighbor and weigh, and Leif"

I live in Luxembourg and work with a lot of Germans, French, and French speaking Belgians. Moritz is right, the Germans pronounce it "life." The French speakers pronounce it "leaf." They are both wrong.

The Luxembourgers, on the other hand, get it right. Possibly because they have the word "leif" in their language and it's pronounced the same. (It means either "kind" as in benevolent, or "lion") It is used like "Dear" in business letters or to address customers at the grocery store when they are announcing they are about to close. At 7:45, I'll hear "Leif clients..." (Dear customers) over the PA. It's a little weird. I haven't received a letter that starts out "Leif Leif," yet, but I suspect that's just a matter of time.

My name has led me to understand a truth about human nature: People don't really listen.

Person: What's your name?
Me: Leif
Person: Cliff? (or leaf, or life, or Steve)

The idea that characters could mispronounce their friend's name for years is sadly plausible. The idea that one of them would continue to do so after being corrected is also sad and plausible. I was pretty sure this was part of the story the author took from real life.


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Reply #9 on: October 14, 2013, 02:48:57 PM
For those who would like to see the real-world locations from this episode:


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Reply #10 on: October 15, 2013, 09:52:21 AM
Okay, that's awesome.

Thanks for sharing!