Monday, September 23, 2019

Quick Sips - Escape Pod #696-697

Escape Pod has two original stories this month, and while they cover some very different ground both thematically and stylistically, they are united by perhaps a certain preoccupation with...death. Both stories approach the idea of death in very different ways, though, one of them looking at the lengths people will go to in order to try and revoke death, to overcome it, to erase the grief of loss and maybe pull something back from the abyss, while the other looks at the utility of death, the culture significance and the power of death as a driving force of human art and expression. The episodes are tightly written and at turns tragic and fun. So without further delay, to the reviews!


“The Homunculi’s Guide to Resurrecting Your Loved One From Their Electronic Ghosts” by Kara Lee (2671 words)

No Spoilers: This story is framed just as it’s titled, as a guide for those who want to resurrect their dead loved ones. And it does that using their electronic remains, the bits of themselves that got lost in the wires, via telephone or email or social media or text. The piece is written as an instruction manual but also something of a warning, and definitely something of an entreaty. Because those lost on the wires want to be found, want to be pulled back to life, and they’re hoping maybe you will help them out. It’s a strange, pseudoscientific piece, wondering perhaps about the nature of the human soul, and what some people would do and risk to bring back those they have loved and lost.
Keywords: Ghosts, Loss, Grief, Transformation, Bargains, Electricity
Review: Not to be too on the nose about it, but this is a rather haunting piece for how it imagines the electronic world as full of lost bits of people’s souls. Where the quiet vastness of the internet is home not just to information but to parts of people that were sent out and never received. Parts that might end up constituting something of a vast collective waiting, hoping to be found again, rescued, seen. As the narrators of the story, this group is speaking out from their strange exile and imprisonment to you, to a person who has lost someone and is now desperate to bring them back. And it’s striking to think of the...graveyard, I guess, that is the electronic world, so full of messages that have never gone through, that might be carrying little parts of people that carry on in that void and have found here a voice through which to speak. The question, as I see it, is if the story is one driven primarily by longing and grief or if it’s run through a bit more by something darker, by a slice of horror. Because the narrator of the piece is quick to admit that they aren’t nice. It’s not exactly the kind messages that get lost. It’s the angry ones sent to people who have you blocked. It’s the drunk tweets and emails to people who have died without you realizing it. The things sent with misspelled email addresses. Phone calls that never connect. And for me at least I can’t fully shake the feeling that there’s something not wholly honest about the piece, some part of this narrator that isn’t exactly reliable. Because they seem to be luring people in at their weakest moment with the promise of reconnecting them to a loved one, and it almost seems too convenient, too easy, like it might just be making room in their body not for their loved one but for them, for a part of the great collective that has been waiting and waiting to return to the world of flesh. And if not it’s still a piece very much about longing, and the danger of longing, the prospect of losing yourself chasing after ghosts that might never really bring back the person you miss, and even if it did not in a way you could enjoy. It’s a strange read, but I think definitely a story to spend some time with. A fascinating experience!

“The Last Stellar Death Metal Opera” by Elly Bangs (1904 words)

No Spoilers: Raya is trying to die. But she’s not really trying to kill herself. Immortal and having lived for hundreds of thousands of years, what she’s doing has more to do with exploring death and its possibility and through that possibility the limits and beauty of human life. Which is pretty fucking metal. And in a universe where humanity is looked after by the Unimind, an AI that is designed to help humanity and sort of chaperone them in their immortality, being metal is something that’s often at odds with the mandate of helping humans live harmoniously with themselves and their environment. There’s something about the energy and violence and emotion of death metal, though, that speaks to Raya, the thought of death neither wholly frightening or tempting so much as human.
Keywords: Death Metal, Stars, AI, Immortality, Death, Sacrifice, CW- Suicide(?)
Review: It’s fascinating to me to think about what death would become for those who could be immortal. For this humanity, spread out among the stars and watched over by the Unimind, death just doesn’t seem a part of people’s lives. Which to the Unimind doesn’t seem like a bad thing. They’re something of humanity’s therapist, after all, and they’ve placed a lot of value on prolonging human life, on trying to make sure that each person wants to live. In doing so, though, death has taken on a negative value that Raya is rejecting. For me, at least, it’s not that she wants to die, but that she wants to remind people (and herself) that death is a part of humanity’s history and isn’t necessarily just a challenge to be overcome. How people handle death tends to reveal a lot about cultures, and for this one to adopt an attitude where death is taboo, I do think there is value in confronting that. Plus the story is just a lot of fun, and Raya plan is incredibly awesome, hurling one star at another about to go nova in order to shift its blast to spare a race of octopodes. More than that, though, I think that urge to remind humanity that death isn’t something to shut out is an important one, because where the assumption that death is a moral wrong exists, it steals a kind of vital spark of free will. And it removes humanity from its own context, from its own roots. It claims a superiority over those who die, without actually requiring humans _be_ superior in their actions or opinions. Ultimately, I feel the story is about embracing change, and pushing back against a system that for some must be a kind of violence. It’s complex because the urge to die, the finality of death, is a tricky one to approach and to depict, but I feel the story handles that compassionately and responsibly. Certainly proceed with some caution because of the subject matter, but definitely do check this one out. A fantastic read!


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