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Author Topic: EP134: Me and My Shadow  (Read 16285 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: November 30, 2007, 04:20:26 AM »

EP134: Me and My Shadow

By Mike Resnick.
Read by Stephen Eley
First appeared in Unauthorized Autobiographies and Other Curiosities, 1984.

Of course, even if we had met before, they couldn’t recognize me now. I know. I’ve spent almost three years trying to find out who I was before I got Erased — but along with what they did to my brain, they gave me a new face and wiped my fingerprints clean. I’m a brand new man: two years, eleven months, and seventeen days old. I am (fanfare and trumpets, please!) William Jordan. Not a real catchy name, I’ll admit, but it’s the only one I’ve got these days.

I had another name once. They told me not to worry about it, that all my memories had been expunged and that I couldn’t dredge up a single fact no matter how hard I tried, not even if I took a little Sodium-P from a hypnotist, and after a few weeks I had to agree with them–which didn’t mean that I stopped trying.

Erasures never stop trying.


Rated R. Contains violent crime, violent imagery, and themes of violence.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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eytanz
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« Reply #1 on: November 30, 2007, 12:31:57 PM »

I really liked this story for the first half, and then it sort of lost me a bit. Not a huge amount - I think it still is a good story - but I just felt that it ended up short of what it could have been.

The problem for me was as follows: it started up by setting up an intriguing psychological drama. The narration by the erased person was intriguing; the possibility of having an unknown past, and having to live with the questions, was great. And the tension between living in the present and the shadows of the past was also very well done.

But then, the story made several missteps. First, the narrator displays a lot of concern with the physical skills associated with his past, but seems to click back into being a murderer with hardly any qualms at all. This is not the story of a man fighting against dark urges, it's the story of man, discovering his dark urges, going "huh, that's where that was", and easily adapting to it. That makes it pretty ineffectual as horror, since I can't emphasize with him anymore. In order for this sort of horror to be effective, I need to either be able to place myself in the position of the victim or of the perpetrator. Without empathy, all we are left with is the fact that some people do horrible things to other people. That's not horror, that's reality. I can learn as much from picking up any newspaper.

The second misstep in my opinion is the fact that the voice in the narrator's head goes from being an abstraction early on to being a full-fledged second personality, one that can hold discussions with the narrator, take over his body on request, and basically act as a fun little friend. This totally undermined any realism attached to the notion of erasure. I'm not arguing about whether the story is plausible. I'm perfectly happy to buy into the notion of mind erasures, and the fact that they can be imperfect, and that stuff can "leak" through. So far, so good. But the fact that the "leaking" can take the form of a fully functional personality with its own memory and independence is just outright silly. Again, the story started from one premise - struggling with a hidden memory, and ended up somewhere totally different. And worse, this seemed totally pointless. It felt like either the author was not giving me enough credit ("the reader will not understand that the old personality is coming through if it's not made into a character"), or that he was lazy.

And mostly, these flaws were a shame because they obscured much that was good about this story. The fact that the erasure was faulty was clear from the get-go, but the fact that the new personality combined with the old to make a worse person was very cool. It's a shame it was overshadowed by the silly multiple-personality thing. If the narrator wasn't as quick and happy to become a psycopath, and the depiction of the dual personalities coming together played subtly instead of as a Saturday morning cartoon, I would have really loved this story. Now I liked it, but I can't think about it without wishing it was simply better.
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Anarkey
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« Reply #2 on: November 30, 2007, 08:13:52 PM »

I like (and agree with) most of eytanz' commentary.  But if there is ONE single thing that would have made this story better for me (and by better I mean acceptable, really) it would have been giving a pass to the tired and tiresome cliché of hooker as convenient body count.

I have perhaps discovered a new show-stopper pet peeve.
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ajames
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« Reply #3 on: December 01, 2007, 07:11:20 AM »

I am very grateful for Escapepod featuring some of the more prominent authors in the field - as I am not widely read in this area, my first exposure to the stories of Mike, Corey Doctorow, Ron Silverberg, Nancy Kress, and others came through Escapepod.

As much as I enjoy stories by these authors, I would like to hear more stories from other authors.  This is not meant as a criticism, as I have no idea of the submissions and therefore the pool of stories and authors to choose from, but merely as a statement of preference.  All things being nearly equal, I'd prefer to hear a voice I haven't heard before [author's voice, not reader's - though variety is good there, too].  If things aren't nearly equal, then definitely I'd prefer the better story. 
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eytanz
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« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2007, 10:34:59 AM »

ajames - I am under the impression that Escape Pod posts all the stories that are sent to it that are of sufficient quality, regardless of who the author is. I'm not sure what your point is - are you implying you think Steve is rejecting other stories in favor of stories like this one by prominent authors? He has denied that on multiple occasions, and I think we have every reason to believe him. Or are you suggesting that he reject more stories by prominent authors in order to change the ratio?

I should point out that despite the fact that I feel this story is not as good as it could be, I also certainly think it deserved a slot out of its own merit, and not just because it has the name "Mike Resnik" attached to it. I think Steve would have been equally likely to accept it if it was submitted with any other name. I think that's true of almost all stories by prominent writers published recently (except possibly Silverberg, who I think might have gotten away with stories an unknown wouldn't have) - even though most of the stories by prominent authors happen to also be ones I liked less.
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ajames
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« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2007, 06:09:28 PM »

No, I am definitely not trying to second-guess Steve's selections or his selection process, nor am I implying that any story that has been featured on Escapepod was selected only because the author was well-known.

My point was intended to be this:  I am sure Steve takes many factors into consideration when determining the next story for Escapepod.  As a regular listener over the last year, and an Escapepod Classic listener, I have enjoyed the variety of topics, styles, authors, etc. that have been featured.  On more than one occasion, exposure to authors has led me to buy other works they have done.  Lately, there seems to be a little less variety in the authors, and I was trying to let Steve know that I value this variety.

That is all I intended to say.  And I fully realize I am only one listener, and others may feel differently.
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ajames
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« Reply #6 on: December 01, 2007, 07:24:10 PM »

And as I know that Mike Resnick does read these boards on occasion, I should probably add that my posts here are not meant to imply that I did not like this story, or his stories in general.  At least one of his stories ranks up among my Escapepod favorites. 

Rather, the reason for the posts has to do with a train of thought triggered by what I believe was an error in the initial posting of this story stating that the it was by Cory Doctorow [either that or my eyes were really playing tricks on me].  When I read that I thought - '2 stories by Cory Doctorow in a row??'  Not that that would be such a bad thing, but it did get me thinking about variety.  And thus the posts.
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Drakoniis
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« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2007, 01:02:28 AM »

This was very very different for a Mike Resnick story. Actually, it reminded me of a lot of the other, more widely-recognized dystopian works that have been created lately, specifically Ghost In the Shell and Minority Report. Ghost In the Shell, because of the idea of a "ghost" or an inner soul that doesn't change and is constant regardless of what body you exist in (think human consciousness, but more specific), and Minority Report because of the way the story broke a "flawless" system of some sort. Although that beltway... gave me images of The Jetsons (another, altogether too-optimistic societal system).

I genuinely liked it, and I want to hear more like this. Even though at first it seems to fall into the "mainstream" vein of sci-fi, its nice to hear something novel done with a genre. After all, the very reason this type of story is now common is because it directly applies to the immediate state of our current society. There will always be some people you cannot re-engineer, regardless of what kind of technology becomes available.
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contra
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« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2007, 04:51:34 AM »

A agree that it was similar to Minority Report in the world that it set up.  Similar to ours but with an extreme solution to crime.

I understand the critisisms that people made; the voice did jump from being a feeling to another person fairly quickly; and the main character did accept this was another person and not himself having created it a little too easily.

As for the person just accepting his dark urges, I think he accepted it becausde it was a part of himself he didn't know.  It was a part of his former self.  He was just happy to have a part of himself again.  The same way that the other eraser had enjoyed listening to certin music; probably had all that entire record collection to try anf get another responce like that inside them.

I liked this story; and I like the system failure making something worse.  I can see it happening that people down the system did not see how making someone a stickler for detail may prove to bite them in the ass later on. 

I also like that this question leaves you wondering where this punnishment came from; if it was to keep the prisons emptier, to try and give people a better life, opted into for press jail time, or if the main character confessed to everything, giving all details to the police in exchange for this happening to them.  A new witness protection program of sorts, for those already behind bars.

That idea entertains me, and will so for the 4 hours i'm about to be at work for.  I agree that it could have been a better story though; ie top 5 escape pods in my opinion and not the top 20 it probably now is.
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« Reply #9 on: December 02, 2007, 06:56:19 AM »

I overall liked this one. I'm surprised and a touch disappointed that two listeners compared this to Minority Report. My first thought was that it felt like a nice homage to Bester's classic The Demolished Man. Mr. Resnick is enough a student of the genre for me to be confident that this was intentional.

I agree that the change from mild-mannered accountant to psycho killer was a bit fast, but it worked with a theme that who we are isn't easilly changed. There's also a nice bit of unintended consequences in that the very traits the brainwashers tried to enhance - stability and order - might have just created that much more dangerous a killer. Nice little story.
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eytanz
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« Reply #10 on: December 02, 2007, 09:57:49 AM »

Quote from: contra
As for the person just accepting his dark urges, I think he accepted it becausde it was a part of himself he didn't know.  It was a part of his former self.  He was just happy to have a part of himself again.  The same way that the other eraser had enjoyed listening to certin music; probably had all that entire record collection to try anf get another responce like that inside them.

I agree that the change from mild-mannered accountant to psycho killer was a bit fast, but it worked with a theme that who we are isn't easilly changed.

Just to clarify my position here, I agree that the quick transition to killer made perfect sense within the story. My point was that it did so at a cost, which was break the empathy I had with the character. The beginning of the story was effective because I thought I could relate to the narrator. Then, mid-story, it became clear to me that I was mistaken - I couldn't really relate to him. I was still interested by him, and I had an opinion of his actions, but it was no longer a shared experience - there's just no way I can imagine myself acting as he did. So the story lost the layer of "what would happen if I would have been in his position" - since clear, if that's the sort of person who ends up in that positon, I won't be. I felt that was a bit of a shame, since it's not like I'm a perfect human being, and it's not like I can't be made to empathize with someone losing the struggle with a darker side of their personality. I just can't emapthize with someone so readily willing to embrace them.

If this would have been a story about someone trying to avoid his darker side while being more and more drawn to it until finally succumbing (and then perhaps discovering he was happier that way), I don't think anything you said would have been invalidated, but at the same time it would have also worked better on other levels.
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eytanz
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« Reply #11 on: December 02, 2007, 01:01:54 PM »

And let me clarify something else: it's not particularly fair to compare a story to what might have been if the author made different choices. I know that, and I know that I have a tendency to do that and I'm trying to avoid that. But in this case, my complaint is not so much with what could have been, but rather about my reading experience - the story had me quite involved in the beginning and up to the murder, but mid-way I got a lot less interested. My main point above is not that this story didn't get my attention, but rather that it had it partway then lost it and I'm trying to explain why.
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Listener
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« Reply #12 on: December 03, 2007, 10:39:35 AM »

Ah, yes, another entry on ResnickPod... I mean Escape Pod.  (Sorry, it just seems like there's at least one Mike Resnick story a month.  Do no other talented SF authors submit to EP?)

I enjoyed the story, though I agree with eytanz that, on further review, Jordan did fall back into being a murderer pretty easily.  The idea of erasure and what happens when it goes wrong is pretty interesting.  SF like this, though, seems even more interesting when (ie) the erasure gets erased again and then has both the original memory and the memory of him/herself as an erasure the first time around.

I have two criticisms not yet pointed out:

1.  He starts out sort of talking to the reader ("you thought I wouldn't get back to that" or something, regarding the backfire), and then it more or less becomes an internal monologue, not an internal dialogue with someone beyond the fourth wall.  The choice to break the fourth wall in the beginning, in that case, seems discordant to me.

2.  Too much action began with "I did x, y, z" in a very straightforward manner -- I got up, put on my coat, went out, et al.  It didn't flow for me amid the rest of the prose.

Still, an enjoyable piece.
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DKT
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« Reply #13 on: December 03, 2007, 12:38:41 PM »

I don't know, Listener...We got a co-Resnick story in October and the last one before that was July.  So it's more like a Resnick story every other month.  But we also have gotten stories from Silverberg, Cory Doctorow, Nancy Kress, and Neil Asher this year, so I think it's fair to say there are prominent authors other than Resnick submitting their stories to Escape Pod. 

In regards to this story, I'm conflicted -- much for the same reasons Eytanz pointed out.  The set-up and the idea of erasures was fascinating.  But once the voice showed up and he started dialoguing with it, and not just dialoguing but bantering, I had a hard time.  Killing just became so esasy.  And maybe it's a difference of our age now and when the story was originally written and published, but karate chopping furniture didn't make me terrified, it made me want to laugh. 

So, not my favorite story by Mr. Resnick, but I'm looking forward to the next one. 
« Last Edit: December 03, 2007, 01:04:35 PM by DKT » Logged

mike-resnick
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« Reply #14 on: December 03, 2007, 01:37:48 PM »

Genesis: One day in 1983, Barry Malzberg mentioned that Bob Silverberg had come up
with the perfect answer to the Demolition process in Alfie Bester's THE DEMOLISHED MAN,
and that it was codified in Bob's novel, THE SECOND TRIP. I went out and got a copy, read
it that same night (not all novels were hernia-makers back then; this was barely 150 pages),
and told Barry the next day that it was a nice story, but that wasn't how Demolition would work
out or go wrong. So Barry challenged me to write my version, and this is it.

I was the GUest of Honor at ConFusion in January, 1984, and they wanted to put out a
chapbook of some of my stories, including one never-before-published one, and since I
hadn't yet submitted "Me and My Shadow" anywhere else, I gave it to the chapbook. I
don't think they could have printed 300 copies, but someone one of them made its way into
Jerry Pournelle's hands, and he included "Me and My Shadow" in SCIENCE FICTION YEARBOOK,
his best of the tear anthology. First of my stories ever to make a year's-end best-of book.

-- Mike
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Listener
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« Reply #15 on: December 03, 2007, 04:56:09 PM »

(not all novels were hernia-makers back then; this was barely 150 pages)

THANK YOU!!!  I'm so glad to hear a professional, well-known SF/F author say something like this.

Honestly, the amount of doorstops in SF/F has just become insane.  And they become trilogies, or tetralogies, or however many are in Wheel of Time.

I'm all for a doorstop that makes sense and is full of story, but just padding for the sake of padding?  *sigh*

(I know this is O/T but I HAD to say it.)
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gelee
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« Reply #16 on: December 03, 2007, 05:29:20 PM »

1.  He starts out sort of talking to the reader ("you thought I wouldn't get back to that" or something, regarding the backfire), and then it more or less becomes an internal monologue, not an internal dialogue with someone beyond the fourth wall.  The choice to break the fourth wall in the beginning, in that case, seems discordant to me.

I have to agree with Listener on this point.  I did notice a shift in the posture of the narration.
Aside from that, I'm really surprised at the feedback this story is drawing.  I haven't enjoyed anything this much on escape pod since...wow, since EP128.
The way I interpreted his conversation with the little voice was that the erasure was incomplete, and that his old self was still hiding somewhere deep in his mind.  The conversations were a construction of his own making.  It was a way for his new self and his old self to reconcile. 
I also didn't have a problem with Jordan accepting his urge to kill.  He was a killer.  He fell back in to his old ways easily because it was in his nature to be a killer.  I thought this was a "Can You Change the Nature of a Man?" story. 
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StudentoftheDarkArts
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« Reply #17 on: December 03, 2007, 06:13:52 PM »

All I can say is Wow...I think this story was meant for me....now I feel like I need to go out and kill someone!
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Hazimel
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« Reply #18 on: December 03, 2007, 06:29:56 PM »

I'll admit I am a Resnick fan.

There were two things that nagged at me in this story. First, Jordan never mentions picking his wallet back up after the mugging. That's no minor omission, given where the story goes. Second, he calls the doctor from his home, which even in 1980 would be traceable. Maybe I've watched too much CSI, but I think this story could use some of that. I realize that a murder procedural was not exactly the point, but still.

Anyway, it was fun. About half way through I stopped thinking about it as a Mike Resnick Story and just enjoyed it for its own sake. It was an interesting change from the other Resnick EP stories, by virtue of not having a heartstring-tugging end.

Thanks for the background info, Mike. And on behalf of my entire crew of SF geek friends from high school in the 80's, thanks for Santiago, one of our all-time favorites.
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Leon Kensington
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« Reply #19 on: December 04, 2007, 12:10:39 AM »

One of my favorite EP stories, as most of Resnick's are.

I especially liked how the story was weaved, I can't really explain it but the style...or the voice...or something...was just amazing!
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