Author Topic: EP447: Rachel in Love  (Read 9189 times)


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on: May 19, 2014, 07:56:00 AM
EP447: Rachel in Love

By Pat Murphy

Read by Kathy Sherwood

Originally appeared in the March, 2012 issue of Asimov’s


It is a Sunday morning in summer and a small brown chimpanzee named Rachel sits on the living room floor of a remote ranch house on the edge of the Painted Desert. She is watching a Tarzan movie on television. Her hairy arms are wrapped around her knees and she rocks back and forth with suppressed excitement. She knows that her father would say that she’s too old for such childish amusements–but since Aaron is still sleeping, he can’t chastise her.

On the television, Tarzan has been trapped in a bamboo cage by a band of wicked Pygmies. Rachel is afraid that he won’t escape in time to save Jane from the ivory smugglers who hold her captive. The movie cuts to Jane, who is tied up in the back of a jeep, and Rachel whimpers softly to herself. She knows better than to howl: she peeked into her father’s bedroom earlier, and he was still in bed. Aaron doesn’t like her to howl when he is sleeping.

When the movie breaks for a commercial, Rachel goes to her father’s room. She is ready for breakfast and she wants him to get up. She tiptoes to the bed to see if he is awake.

His eyes are open and he is staring at nothing. His face is pale and his lips are a purplish color. Dr. Aaron Jacobs, the man Rachel calls father, is not asleep. He is dead, having died in the night of a heart attack.

When Rachel shakes him, his head rocks back and forth in time with her shaking, but his eyes do not blink and he does not breathe. She places his hand on her head, nudging him so that he will waken and stroke her. He does not move. When she leans toward him, his hand falls limply to dangle over the edge of the bed.

In the breeze from the open bedroom window, the fine wisps of grey hair that he had carefully combed over his bald spot each morning shift and flutter, exposing the naked scalp. In the other room, elephants trumpet as they stampede across the jungle to rescue Tarzan. Rachel whimpers softly, but her father does not move.

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!


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Reply #1 on: May 20, 2014, 01:11:43 AM
This was a lovely story, well told and well read. 
My only problem with it was that it really, really felt like half a story. The interesting part for me is what happens the day after Rachael gets home.


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Reply #2 on: May 20, 2014, 02:34:26 PM
This has long been one of my favorite stories. I try to keep two copies of the Pat Murphy collection of short stories containing "Rachel in Love" so I always have one to give away. The first time I read it. I sobbed. Thanks for reminding me of how much I love this story.

I have to confess that I love the way Pat Murphy's stories refuse to confine themselves to neat narratives all tied up at the end. I feel like a real adult when I read her work -- trusted to imagine the characters into their futures.


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Reply #3 on: May 20, 2014, 03:15:43 PM
I was wincing throughout the story. Waiting for the other shoe to drop and for it to become a full blown tragedy. Yet I kept listening because I held out hope it would have a happy ending and it did. Or at least as happy an ending as one can have when a teenage girl's mind is imprinted on a slightly smarter than average chimpanzee.


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Reply #4 on: May 20, 2014, 09:23:59 PM
I really enjoyed this peice of sci-fi fiction. I really felt for Rachel, she had so much to deal with in the story and the fact that she was trying to realize she truly was a chimpanze. I loved the story, I was even brought to tears in places, it moved me so much. Thanks guys.


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Reply #5 on: May 21, 2014, 01:06:24 PM
I had no idea where this story was going.  It felt more original than most fiction.  A lot of times, you can sort of put a story in a box.  Even if it is very good and original, it still fits into a type.  There is a familiarity to it.  For me, that was not the case with this story.  Rachel falling in love with the janitor.  Rachel falling in love with the other chimp.  The ending at the point where you had resolution, but that there was a ton of unknown still to come.  All of that felt fresh and new and sui generis to me.

A story like this makes me realize how writing a great story is one of the most difficult and most rewarding things a person can do.


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Reply #6 on: May 21, 2014, 05:43:52 PM
Wow, two weeks in a row with with favorite Escapepod stories ever.  The podcast is on a roll!  No but seriously I loved this story so much and so thank you Norm for getting it on the show.  It will be with me for awhile.
I can't really ad anything to the person who posted before me.  I agree that Rachel's journey has stretched my perception of what a story can do to a reader.

And speaking of readers... great reading! :)

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Reply #7 on: May 22, 2014, 11:33:52 AM
I had mixed feelings about this one, but that is probably because of my background, so I listened to a second Pat Murphy story (Inappropriate Behavior).

Let me start with the good parts:  The story was engrossing and the moral implications were extremely interesting.  I liked the pace and style.  She made me feel for the main character and enjoyed the story overall.  I thought that it was a very interesting aspect and have been wanting to write a story about lab animals myself because I work with them (mice). Which lead me to my criticisms:

1) Mad scientist takes his work home with him - very cliche
2) I am pretty sure that a Chimp from a private home would never land at a research facility ( at least not through official routes), there are too many behavioral variables
3) Treatment of scientists in general (in both stories).  In both stories the scientists were treated in a one dimensional way, we are all people worshipping the greater good of science and void of any moral sense for good or for bad.  Sterile.  All experiments performed seemed cruel and were passed over as if they would offer absolutely no important data.  None of the scientist were at all observant, all were working on extremely liner lines of thought.  All working for a 'greater good' not worth achieving.

This is not an endorsement for primate or animal research.  I am not sure if primate reseach is moral, and therefore would never work with them.  I will not even work with rats.  I feel terrible everytime I have to kill a mouse in lab, it ruin my day.  

That is also not to say that I have an aversion to stories where scientists/science are the bad guys.  It is important to constantly question the morality and ethics of our actions.  'Cats Cradle' is one of my all time favorites, maybe #1, but in that story, every one gets the same treatment, and not all of the scientists/Dr.s are treated the same (Breed's son, Julian Castle, and Dr. Schlichter von Königswald vs. Felix Hoenikker, Asa Breed, and Harrison C. Conners.)  
« Last Edit: May 22, 2014, 11:45:33 AM by Richard Babley »

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Reply #8 on: May 23, 2014, 02:06:00 AM
Am I the only one who wanted to hook her up with the ape from Barnaby In Exile? I don't think they are the same species, but I felt the urge all the same. At least they both would have some decent conversation.

I swear I have heard or read this story before, but I don't recall where.

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Reply #9 on: May 23, 2014, 10:55:56 PM
So, to me, this story was about seizing one's own agency. I remember being taught how evil the world "out there" is, and I identified with Rachel's journey- that leap of faith toward what she thought she wanted life to be, without talking herself out of it out of fear of the unknown, or blaming the world for its injustice and shutting down.

It helps that we get to see the implied happy ending, but you know life never works out neatly. I just like knowing that Rachel didn't cave!

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Reply #10 on: May 23, 2014, 11:22:52 PM
If someone told me going into this that I would come out really enjoying a story rife with monkey erotica, I would have called them crazy. Of course, I'm being facetious, but I did really enjoy this story. The dichotomy of a young woman trapped in a chimpanzee body, and being a part of both worlds, but apart from them as well, was really fascinating. I struggled to decide if I should be cheering for her relationship with the janitor, who is of like mind, or Johnson, who is of like body. Only the latter would be socially acceptable, but even then it's a human having relations with an animal. So where's the line? I really appreciate how this story made a call and stood by it.

One thing that I really liked about this story compared to other tales of human minds in non-human bodies, is how the chimp mind remained when Rachel's mind was inserted. In most stories of this nature, the original mind is overwritten, so you have just a human mind in an animal body. But in this story, Rachel is both a young woman and a young chimpanzee, with the memories, instincts, and urges of each. So her struggles with identity are very real.

Obviously I would have loved to see the end of the story, rather than ending on such an unknown event. But I think Pat Murphy did a great job setting up just enough foreshadowing of support that we can assume a happy ending. Still, even if they're caught and accepted by the news people and other supporters, this question of "Should a young woman really be romantically and physically involved with a chimp?" is going to come up and going to cause considerable problems. Religious people will rail against it, while others may show love and support. There are so many questions of what happens after they get home that I can understand slic's comment that this feels like only half the story. We want to know more...  :)

Great choice, EP, great production. All around satisfying episode.

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Reply #11 on: May 24, 2014, 05:18:58 PM
One of my all-time favourites. Wept like a girlie. Possibly partly because I lost my 17 year-old-dog recently and the furry innocence reminded me of him but this also reminded me of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, also one of my favourites. I listened at 3am trying to get through yet another bout of insomnia and I had to chase this with two old episodes of scrubs to cheer myself up!


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Reply #12 on: May 24, 2014, 10:37:42 PM
I loved this story. Rachel's fate rested with acts of mercy from the janitor and the farm woman and lastly her father/creator. We are all at each other's mercy.


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Reply #13 on: May 29, 2014, 02:42:54 AM
Wow, what an amazing story! It was truly worth the effort that Norm and others put into getting it on the podcast, and I definitely appreciate that!

I have to say that I agree with Richard Babley's complaints about the treatment of scientists in both of the author's stories. However, it wasn't enough to make me dislike the story, given how strong the rest of it was. The technology posited - being able to download a person's consciousness into another entity - is actually terrifying to me. I think the story was overly optimistic about how well Rachel's two minds would co-exist, and given that they co-exist, how well-adjusted Rachel would be. Fascinating thought experiment. :)


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Reply #14 on: May 29, 2014, 12:05:57 PM
I had mixed feelings about this one, but that is probably because of my background, so I listened to a second Pat Murphy story (Inappropriate Behavior).

I'm glad I didn't realize that this story was by the same author of 'Inappropriate Behavior' before listening to it!  For whatever reason that story hadn't worked for me, and I may have carried that attitude over to this one.  And that would have been a terrible thing, as I really liked this story!


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Reply #15 on: June 02, 2014, 08:10:53 PM
I had mixed feelings about this one, but that is probably because of my background, so I listened to a second Pat Murphy story (Inappropriate Behavior).

I'm glad I didn't realize that this story was by the same author of 'Inappropriate Behavior' before listening to it!  For whatever reason that story hadn't worked for me, and I may have carried that attitude over to this one.  And that would have been a terrible thing, as I really liked this story!

I actually did recognize the author's name from "Inappropriate Behavior", which I disliked so much I stopped listening part-way through, but I gave this a chance anyway (mostly because Norm so liked it). And I'm glad I did! Though I agree that the representation of scientists was weirdly one-dimensional. I say weird because of what the author's bio says about her experience with scientists and even as a scientist.

I have to disagree with the folks who wanted the story to continue after Rachel goes back home. I think the story ended exactly where it needed to. It was a story about Rachel finding herself and -- as someone said -- finding her agency. What happens once she's back home is not part of that story.


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Reply #16 on: June 04, 2014, 02:14:06 PM
Wow, I really enjoyed this story.

I didn't know where it was going, or even where I wanted it to go.  I wanted Rachel to find the relationship that would be best for her, but I wasn't sure if it would be worse for her to have sex with a human who would be willing to have sex with a chimp, or for this girl to have sex with a chimp herself willingly or otherwise.  I was glad that she at least went willingly into her relationship with Johnson.  And that seems true to form because no matter what she's got going on in her head, when it comes to sex the higher brain functions have little to do with it--those justify and build a story around the sex but the sex is driven by the brainstem and the hormones that are all chimp.  I'm glad that her higher level brain functioning was able to cope with it because I could see that being a very traumatic depressing event once the sex hormones passed and the part of her that is girl realized what she'd done. 

I thought the janitor was an interesting character, wasn't really sure if I liked him or not.  Thought it was creepy that he'd sit around and masturbate to nudy mags while hanging out with chimps on the night shift, but I liked how kind he was to Rachel for the most part and I liked how they could be buddies despite the obvious reasons why they shouldn't be. 

The media coverage of her disappearance was an interesting twist--I've always found it odd how the tone of media coverage can change the effect of something like this.  If not for the media, the apes would either have been tracked down and thrown back in their pens for sure to be treated as they had before minus the janitor since he'd been fired, or they would've escaped and lived as apes.  The media allowed for a third option where the public has fallen in love with them and so they might be allowed to have a life as more than mere beasts.

I found Rachel about as relatable as a character ever gets and I genuinely wanted her to be happy but the way the story was setup made me unsure what would actually provide that.  It kept me guessing, and I was surprised and pleased at some of the turns that came in the story.  I think the story turned out as happily for her as was possible. 

I didn't cry, but I rarely do for any circumstance, even more rarely for stories.  But it made me feel nonetheless, and did so in memorable fashion.

Thank you, Norm, for doing all the extra work it took to be able to get the audio rights for this story.  That effort was well spent to make this story a part of Escape Pod and share it with Escape Pod's audience.


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Reply #17 on: June 04, 2014, 02:17:51 PM
This story reminded me of a real story about a chimp on "This American Life" in an episode called "The Parent Trap".  Scientists tried to raise a female Chimpanzee as a person, only to abandon the experiment when she grew up and became difficult.  That story ended more tragically and I am glad this story had a more happy ending (though we really don't know how it ended).  Scientists are just people and as such can be great or terrible, or mostly somewhere in between.

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Reply #18 on: June 10, 2014, 06:03:49 AM
Joining the chorus of "yay"s here.

Reading this thread it's very interesting to see that pretty much everyone enjoyed the story, for very different reasons.
What I particularly liked was the constant battle inside Rachel between her humanity and her chimpanity. That was (in my mind) the single most important thread throughout the story. We see it right in the beginning (watching Tarzan movies on the one hand, but not howling because her father is sleeping), during her interactions with both humans and other chimps, and in her dreams.
In her dreams this conflict is most real. She sees herself as a human in a house, as a chimp looking in through the window superimposed on the human looking out. Is the house the human mind? The chimp's mind? The chimp's body? It doesn't matter. The conflict is bright as day, and it finally gets resolved during her trek when she finally opens the window to let herself in. She is both, human and chimp and she was finally able to reconcile both of those people inside one mind and one body.
That (in my opinion) is what the story is about. Are you prepared to redefine your notion of what it means to be human? Rachel is.

Finally, thank you Norm for going to all that trouble to track this one down, it was worth it.

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Reply #19 on: June 11, 2014, 06:11:59 PM
Count me among those who enjoyed it in spite of initial expectations. I was convinced everything was about to slide downhill. I kept waiting for this to end in either a hideous brain dissection or a hail of bullets and screams.

I'm also glad that Johnson turned out to be a good chimp after all.

Was I the only one who thought of Taylor in the cage in Planet of the Apes??


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Reply #20 on: July 14, 2014, 01:27:04 PM
Many thanks to Norm for putting in the time and effort to get this story to us. It was totally worth it.

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Reply #21 on: August 19, 2014, 01:10:42 PM
Yes, this was a good story, I really felt for the impossible situation Rachels father ('father') has put her in, and her adolescent confusion was well captured. I was really afraid it was going somewhere really dark and was glad it didn't, although one might think it worked out a little too conviently for the two of them in the end. I can agree that the science community doesn't come out in a very flattering way (although it seemed not much actual science was done in that station) while media came out in a surprisingly positive light. You don't see that too often in modern stories ....


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Reply #22 on: January 26, 2015, 04:12:35 AM
I liked this story too. I did notice the negative treatment the scientists got, but I wasn't too put off by that, because I understood this to be Rachel's interpretation of the scientists and their motives. It shouldn't be surprising if Rachel doesn't get the full impact of what the scientists are doing and why.