Saturday, February 09, 2008

Sci-Fi Recommendations

Escape Pod is a (more or less) weekly podcast featuring original short fiction by a variety of authors, from the well-known to folks who are just starting out. I've been listening to it for just under a year now, and while I definitely enjoy some stories more than others, the sheer variety of styles, themes, plots, and characters presented never ceases to amaze me. Much thanks to host Steve Eley for hosting Escape Pod and keeping it going for the past few years.

Anyway, I am mentioning Escape Pod not just to go all fangirl on it, but to draw attention to the story Friction, by Will McIntosh, which aired February 8, 2008. It's a fairly simple story, with few characters and (seemingly) simple settings, but everything about it just fits together brilliantly and the overall effect is (at least for me) difficult to put into words.

It doesn't exactly correlate with any of the things I usually blog about here, and in some respects it's a bit of a mournful tale, but it's also quite hauntingly beautiful. I don't take life for granted to begin with, but this story made me feel even more the fierce awe of conscious existence. It might not be to everyone's taste but I liked it a lot, and figured I'd point it out.

Other Escape Pod stories I've quite enjoyed (stories quite different in style from Friction, and from each other, for that matter) include:

- Start the Clock, by Benjamin Rosenbaum

- Impossible Dreams, by Tim Pratt

- Anyone Can Whistle, by David Walton

- Save Me Plz, by David Barr Kirtley


robert de thonex said...


For those who like to read in french:

"La Tondeuse du général de Gaulle",
a funny novel about the return to youth.
You can find the book on

Sanjay said...

Hi Anne,

Thanks for letting us know about the story. I also liked it very much. I don't know why but it strongly reminded me of how I felt after seeing Hiroshi Teshigahara's 1964 film "Woman in the Dunes". If you were moved by this story, I highly recommend that you seek out this film. Trust me, it will be worth it. Try not to find out too much about the film before you watch it.


Benjamin Rosenbaum said...

Thanks for the kind words about "Start the Clock"!

Sanjay, I haven't seen the film, but I assume it's an adaptation of the Kobo Abe novel of the same name? I think Kobo Abe is greatly underappreciated...

AnneC said...

Sanjay: Thanks for the recommendation, I'll have to look that one up.

AnneC said...

Benjamin Rosenbaum: You're welcome.

I've got something of a special interest in stories that involve people and situations that challenge norms and assumptions.

I especially liked how the "kids" in the story (at least the Eights and Nines) were presented as being very adult intellectually, but more kid-like in their emotional responses -- you managed to do it in a manner that somehow avoided "creepiness".

It seemed like the kids in the story were (possibly owing to their numbers) relatively well-respected and not heavily infantilized by those around them; they were just small and liked living in houses shaped like giant pirate ships, and that was just sort of the way things were.

And...I also found it interesting thinking about the whole "virus" angle (or at least I think it was a virus, it's been a while since I listened).

It was obvious that the people who got physically stuck at whatever age they were during the CDAS outbreak weren't "sick" or "suffering" for the mere fact of being set in a particular physical-developmental configuration, so I didn't really perceive the situation as being dire.

In my opinion, just because something occurs due to a viral vector doesn't necessarily make it "bad by definition". It seemed like the "kids" effectively became something like a different species, albeit with the ability to leave that species via chemical modification if they so desired to.

The way I see it, stuff happens in life and regardless of how a person starts out, there are a number of mutually exclusive yet equally full, valid and satisfying paths they might take in life. In the context of the story, I don't think anyone could have made an airtight case for, say, insisting that all the kids "start their clocks" out of some conviction that somehow they'd "miss out" otherwise. Sure, they'd miss out on *some* things, but they'd also miss out on other things by starting their clocks. I liked how different characters in the story made different choices in this regard -- that aspect of it made it pretty clear that individuals are always going to have different ideas as to what they value most, and that they will act accordingly.

Of course, it would have been a very different situation if a large government body or corporation was purposely trying to "stall" different percentages of the population at particular physical ages, for the sake of some top-down social or economic engineering program. I think the story was very well served by *not* having that angle -- the "impersonal" origins of the CDAS made it more possible to look at the resultant society on its own terms rather than purely as some aberrant version of real-life culture.

So, yeah, "Start The Clock" is definitely a favorite. Thank you for writing it!

Benjamin Rosenbaum said...

Thanks for that excellent and engaged reading of "Start the Clock".

I will say that the tendency of older cohorts not to infantilize the Eights and Nines SO much (they still do some, as is evident in Suze's conflict with the real estate lady, and it grates) is due not only to their numbers, but also to

1) their having become quite successful -- while Teenagers have become an underclass, Eights, Nines, and Tens actually out-earn older people as they have intense competitiveness and focus, highly flexible minds, and none of those messy post-pubertal distractions; and since they live in packs, they have even greater relative purchasing power, like DINKs (double-income-no-kids) today.

and 2) a quite active political movement among the Nines -- which Suze, as a documentary filmmaker, was deeply involved in -- founded on just precisely the ideology you've articulated, or if anything a more radical version (which saw CDAS as a liberation).

I love the idea of CDAS, it actually wasn't mine -- the name is my coinage, but the idea of an age-arresting virus comes from Diana Sherman's play "Summer Children"... both her play and "Start the Clock" were written for the Exquisite Corpuscle anthology, which worked kind of like a game of telephone -- my assignment was to write a story reacting to her play.

Anyway, very glad you liked it.

Xuenay said...

Do they have transcripts? I couldn't find them with a brief looking-around, but then I didn't look very closely. Start the Clock sounds like something I'd enjoy, but I rarely have the patience for listening a story when I could read it in a much shorter time.

365 tomorrows is another site providing regular sci-fi short stories, though the quality varies a lot. (But hey, they have published three of my pieces - two that I'm pretty happy with, and one that I thought was a bit mediocre.)

Benjamin Rosenbaum said...

xuenay, you can find the text of "Start the Clock" online at (see also here for various others).

codeman38 said...

I'm in the same metaphorical boat as xuenay... as much as I'd like to listen to some of the stories on Escape Pod, my auditory attention is way too spacey to actually handle it. -_-

AnneC said...

I'm much more text-oriented myself and generally prefer to read as opposed to listen. I'm a far better reader than I am a listener -- I have taken to turning the subtitles on if DVDs I watch offer them, even if the audio is in English, because I end up "getting" so much more of the dialogue and plot that way. I'm especially pleased that the Farscape DVDs I've been watching are subtitled, because Farscape has a lot of "background noise" that makes for great sci-fi atmosphere but really poor auditory coherence.

However, there are contexts in which reading simply doesn't work (e.g., when I'm washing dishes or cleaning the fish tank or walking to the store). In those cases it's nice to have a story to listen to.

Sometimes I even find that I'm more motivated to do "annoying" tasks when I have the ipod loaded up with something interesting, though I do have to be careful I don't "zone out" too much and start dropping plates or something.

And because I'm just listening for myself and not for a class or something work-related, I can back up if I miss something or listen to the same story as many times as I want. Usually I don't "get" everything the first time through.