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Author Topic: EP159: Elites  (Read 14462 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: May 23, 2008, 01:09:06 PM »

EP159: Elites

By Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Read by Máia Whitaker (of KnitWitch’s SciFi/Fantasy Zone and Superior Audioworks).
First appeared in Women of War, ed. Tanya Huff & Alexander Potter.

I could’ve followed the sounds. The closer I get, the louder voices grow—yelling obscenities, cheering, clapping in approval.

These women love fights.

I used to let them do it too, without interference, until the repair bills got too much. Then the House shrink told me about the added toll of repeated trauma—the fights would often replicate something that happened Out There—and I realized that no matter how much steam got blown off, the fights weren’t worth the expense.

Still, I wished for those old days sometimes.


Rated R. Contains violence, profanity, and strong themes of war and psychological trauma.


Referenced Sites:
“Recovering Apollo 8″ by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
7th Son: OBSIDIAN, ed. J.C. Hutchins



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Listener
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« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2008, 02:11:26 PM »

This is how accents should be done -- strongly enough to flavor the story, but not so strong that they steamroll it.  Good reading.

I don't really like Kristine Kathryn Rusch as a writer, though.  She lost me when she was doing Star Trek, and I didn't care for her last EP story either.  This particular one had way too much exposition, and because of that, it didn't lend itself much to audio.  The story was fine; not too much world-building, but in a story like this you don't need it.  I did like the way she built the world of the house.

I didn't really care deeply about Rowena or Zipper (?) or really any of the other characters in any way other than "oh, well, that sucks that they all have PTSD, and good for Rowena for trying to help them." 

Rusch is good at descriptions, and honestly, maybe I don't care so much for her writing because I see my own style in it from time to time.  I tend to digress using parenthetical phrases.

The ending didn't feel like much of one.  It's like, "okay, well, why don't you leave so we can just go to the government and see what they can do?"  I understood what was being said, but it didn't resonate at all.  I didn't feel bad for Rowena that she had to leave, and I didn't feel bad for the other women in the house that Carla and Amber would now most likely go to the government and share Rowena's methods with them.

So, good reading, decent story, meh ending.
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« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2008, 03:19:08 PM »

Is there anyone else out there who is completely convinced that Maia Whitaker could kick your ass?  Between this story and the Failed Cities Monologues (I know she's done others, too, but she's such a badass in both those stories), I'm pretty sure she could kick mine.  Even if it just meant giving me a stern talking to. 

I liked this story.  It's one of those that I probably wouldn't have read on my own, but I dug it anyway.  The ending worked for me.  Actually, I thought it was nice arc.  Rowena started the story trying to help others, and in the end, the others were trying to help her.  So that worked well enough for me.  Good story, excellent reading. 
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« Reply #3 on: May 23, 2008, 03:41:19 PM »

Listener brought up a good point that I'd like to address before I proceed with my own comments (and raves).

The story did seem to come to a rather unconvincing conclusion.  During the tale we see just how strong a character "the Boss" is, how much she is dedicated to going her own way, how screwed up the Treatment made her, and how little she trusts the government.  Based on those four characteristics, even with Rowena's realization that the government could honestly be of some help to the elites in her care, it felt like too rapid of a transition to be believable.  Part of me wondered if her much-vaunted and trusted therapist was actually a government dupe working her over to get her hands on the house and the full scope of "the Method".

That aside, this is a GREAT story!  Seriously, this is the kind of human exploration of emotion, bio-ethics, and the nature of war that really fires me up!

I don't make it a secret that I have a deep-seated distrust of military figures.  All the "Support the Troops" slogans we see in America right now really have me on edge.  The reason for this is an overly enthusiastic and "manly" relative who was a Marine.  He made my life rather miserable.  Add to that a family full of rather strongly-opinionated stereotypical, "hawkish" Conservatives (who engrained in me some rather nasty associations with military personnel) and I think you can see why I feel the way I feel.  It took a long time for me to trust -or even like- a person I found out was in the military.

And despite this rather nasty bigotry on my part, this story -along with "Tideline" a few weeks ago- really helped me see soldiers in a new and better light.  I don't see them as "victims" (although there is the inclination to do that) but, rather, as people -ordinary next door types- in extraordinary circumstances.

This is what I love about Science Fiction:  that it can put me in a new and different state of mind, helping me to appreciate a different aspect of the world.

We are shown a setting in which I -as an admittedly pacifist male- would not fit in.  The main characters are portrayed as superior to myself (at least in physical and military matters) and possessed of a disdain that would put me in the hospital should I cross their path at the wrong hour of the day.  Some might have a problem with stories that deal with female characters and the topic of manipulating hormones and emotion.  Some might have a problem with this being "just another one of those 'tough chick' tales".

I found it very humanizing.

I read a comment on the Escape Pod page dedicated to this story that categorized "the Elites" as being too much like the "Lifetime" channel and far too emotional.  In my experience those who do not like "emotion" in their fiction are also the sorts who do not like it in their lives.

It isn't that this story is "too emotional" but that its very subject matter revolves AROUND emotion ... it's integral to the plot.  Saying that "The Elites" is too emotional is like saying The Pope is too Catholic.  It's an indisposable part of the story ... the story cannot exist without all the emotion.  If that's the sort of tale you don't like, that's fine ... but it's not due to a detrimental feature of the tale, just a personal bias on the part of the reader.

Anyway, soapbox aside, I felt that this story showed a real side of soldiers:  a side I could understand and empathize with.  It showed a flawed main character at odds with her past and what's been done to her in the name of progress and military necessity.

In many ways, that story has been told before; usually with men.  I appreciate "the Elites" for giving us a different angle on it.

I'm saving this one for future listening!

Yours,
Sylvan (Dave)
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« Reply #4 on: May 23, 2008, 06:11:22 PM »

One only needs to watch a female boxing match, or a mother protecting a child, to know there is a lot of truth in the possibilities to this story. I found the changed made to the soldiers was pretty appaling. Yeah, if you are going to fight, win, but still... I agree with Steve... it gave me some kinda shiver.

I followed the story very closely, it held my attention. I found it belevable. The ending was a bit anti-climactic, seemed to not quite work for some reason, but I can't place my finger on why.

I can't say I enjoyed the story, I just hope it doesn't happen. This is one of the stories geneticists and scientests need to listen too, as well as people in charge of making the decisions to do things like that. I'm all for neat technological advancement, but not at a cost that high.
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« Reply #5 on: May 23, 2008, 07:33:50 PM »

  I liked this story, and found it rather moving, both due to the personal stuff at the ending, and the fact that Memorial Day is monday. I thought a lot of it was at least realistic enough for me to suspend disbelief, especially given the current situation that many veterans find themselves in (but that is probably a discussion for another place).

  The only thing that bothered me part way into the story was the question of why the Elites seemed to be all women. Was this a "Y: The Last Man" type of world with no men? I was therefore relieved when the explanation was given, plus it was one that I found quite plausible.

  Aside from that, the only criticism I have is one already mentioned; the ending seemed a bit off, sort of rushed. Carla and Amber's "give the government a chance" bit may have been genuine from them (or they may have been bought off/brainwashed by the government), but I have somewhat of an understanding why Roweena would be hesitant (I could not claim to have a full understanding, having never been used and discarded like she has), and the fact that she gave in so easily seemed a bit off. If there had been some indication that she had some doubts about her position before that, it may not have seemed quite so jarring to me.

  As to the accusation that the story was too emotional; I do not agree. I found the emotion in the story to not be over the top, given the experiences of the characters. They have been made to have their emotions be overactive, so seeing them act in a way that we would describe as irrational makes sense. The emotion is a lot of what makes this story work for me. This was not a story that brought tears to me eyes a la "Edward Bear" or "Barnaby in Exile", but it did make an emotional impact on me.
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« Reply #6 on: May 23, 2008, 10:57:07 PM »


I can't say I enjoyed the story, I just hope it doesn't happen. This is one of the stories geneticists and scientests need to listen too, as well as people in charge of making the decisions to do things like that. I'm all for neat technological advancement, but not at a cost that high.


If the people in charge of making these decisions perceive it as a matter of national (or I think in this case, species) survival, and the technique is considered viable and effective, I don't think there's much chance that it won't be done.  Especially if those bearing those costs directly continue to be drawn from relatively small, relatively poor segments of society with limited political power. 

We've built weapons that could scorch entire cities in a few minutes; I doubt we'll hesitate much at messing around with a soldier's brain chemistry. 

As for the story, I thought it was very good.  Enough that I stopped working for a while and sat down and just listened to it.  I agree with the sentiment that the ending was a little abrupt, and didn't completely flow from the character.  However, the depiction of "The House" rang totally true for me.  Good job...

And I'm with DKT: I am completely convinced that Maia Whitaker could kick my ass.  Or, like my Mom, quiet a classroom on the edge of complete pandemonium by raising one eyebrow. 
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« Reply #7 on: May 24, 2008, 01:56:29 AM »

I dont quite get the R rating for this, apart from some very minor violence there wasnt anything special about the story, certainly no strong themes i can remember.

I thought the story was ok, was a neat idea but it didnt really go anywhere, i get the impression that the whole war veteran thing is related to things going on in real life, bu i am not from the US so the whole theme felt flat to me
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« Reply #8 on: May 24, 2008, 02:14:11 AM »

i enjoyed this one a lot.

the ending was abrupt but more coherent than comments would suggest. the house's method was identified as her 'home,' she no longer felt like she could trust her own judgment. this is probably the worst effect of invasive psychological changes, no longer trusting what happens in your own head.

especially when your psychosis may be right. just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.

Is there anyone else out there who is completely convinced that Maia Whitaker could kick your ass?

she looks way too friendly to be one of the feral twins. =)
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« Reply #9 on: May 24, 2008, 10:39:20 AM »

After the warning in the intro I was really looking forward to a great story,but it was Ok but felt more like listening to a future self help manual than a story.  I just did not care about the characters or their situation.
Maybe being a male from outside the US is why I had no connection to it at all.
Hopefully next week will be better.
 
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« Reply #10 on: May 24, 2008, 11:06:42 AM »

Great story, wonderful setting. Very refreshing, a story with female military veterans, struggling with their emotions. As Sylvan said, some might have problems with this story being "just another one of those 'tough chick' tales" but it wasn't overly feminine to me. Of course, being female led to some problems with the veterans - as a female myself, I know exactly what they mean. Us women, we are weird, some weird things happen when our hormones go raging and usually we don't know what's happening until it's done. Or maybe that's just me! (I really don't want to offend other women, so keep your hormones in place girls)

The story was again wonderfully read by Máia Whitaker. I really love her voice, she can set a great mood for a story. Great to see the Máia behind the voice in the picture that deflective posted. She's so cute for such a strong voice! Well done, Máia!

All in all I'm very content with the story, although I'm not sure what I think of the ending. I may have suspected a more violent ending, because Máia's telling was so calm. I kept waiting for a violent loss of control or some twist, though the ending was good for the story and suited the psychology of the main character well.
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« Reply #11 on: May 24, 2008, 12:09:48 PM »

I enjoyed this story and the reading was superb.  The accents were just there enough to signal that another character was talking without being so "in your face"--like, say, the zombie story on Pseudopod a few weeks back--as to become more than just window dressing.

However, I do have one nit to pick.  Steve said this was one of three stories that he'd read that gave him chills.  This put a lot of expectation in me, and I was looking for that "chill factor."   The entire time I was listening I was thinking, "Okay...where's the chill?"

I never got it.  Maybe I'm jaded, maybe I'm not as close to the subject matter, or maybe different things chill me.  But this didn't. It was a good story, but it wasn't--for me--chilling.

So this is one of those rare instances where one of Steve's intros actually changed my perception of the story.  That's happened on Podcastle a time or two, as well.
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« Reply #12 on: May 24, 2008, 12:40:57 PM »

This was one of my favourite episodes in a while. Which says as much about the weakness of this latest Hugo Season as it does about the strength of this story, but still.

I think the ending made sense, though it felt a little rushed. What should maybe have been the climax was dealt with as an epilogue. But I think that's my only complaint. The world was believable (if not necessarily probable - I imagine it'll be a long time before the military hierarchy believes that women can be as competent as men), and the characters were both real and empathetic.

I might have to look out for more by this authoress...
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« Reply #13 on: May 24, 2008, 08:29:43 PM »

  I liked this story, and found it rather moving, both due to the personal stuff at the ending, and the fact that Memorial Day is monday. I thought a lot of it was at least realistic enough for me to suspend disbelief, especially given the current situation that many veterans find themselves in (but that is probably a discussion for another place).
 

I was going to say the same thing.  Because of Memorial Day I've been reading stories in the local rags and seeing stories on TV about veterans and the horrors some of them had to deal with.  I don't know if I could have survived some of the ordeals some of these people endured without losing my mind.  The story hit a nerve with me.  War is hell.   
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« Reply #14 on: May 24, 2008, 11:24:09 PM »

I think people not getting the ending has a lot to do with the idea of an untrustworthy narrator. The narrator is literally incapable of evaluating the possible consequences of sharing the method because she is programmed to defend it at all costs. Her walking away from the house and her method is exactly the same psychologically as a mother abandoning her children. The narrator's ability to do so rationally, is a great step forward.

(On the other hand, maybe the government has finally duped her and will do terrible things.)

I have two problems with this story. First, as has been said, there is really too much exposition for an audio form. Second, I felt that the narrative was a bit too detached for what it was supposed to be which caused the ending to be less powerful than it might have been.

Great ideas, less than perfect execution.
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« Reply #15 on: May 25, 2008, 03:21:28 AM »

Like others mentioned, the main problem with the story is the overexplanation--I think a lot of the character things written could have been condensed and have the actual actions of the characters show the rest--and the wierd, WTF-ish ending--it kinda was a ending that basically said, "let's try trusting the government" when they haven't been shown to be in any way trust-worthy. Granted, that last part could be an unreliable narrator, but there wasn't enough there, I think, to really drive home the point that the MC's emotions weren't clouding her judgement.

But, I also have to say that the reading of the piece was excellent. After hearing and now seeing her, I'd gladly let Maia kick my ass. Grin
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« Reply #16 on: May 25, 2008, 01:17:29 PM »

Qwints brought up some excellent points that I really wanted to expound upon...

I think people not getting the ending has a lot to do with the idea of an untrustworthy narrator. The narrator is literally incapable of evaluating the possible consequences of sharing the method because she is programmed to defend it at all costs. Her walking away from the house and her method is exactly the same psychologically as a mother abandoning her children. The narrator's ability to do so rationally, is a great step forward.

This is a very adroit observation and, in fact, is a remarkable element of the story that was so expertly woven into the action and dialog, that I didn't even notice it.  Very subtle meaning in a very overt tale.  Indeed, since we are told this story through "The Boss'" eyes and experiences, it is sometimes hard to remember that this lens is just as cracked and injured as any of the other Elites living in the house.  Her decision to walk away, for better or for worse, shows a step in healing that is probably the real point of the story.

Thank you, Qwints, for bringing my attention to this point!

I have two problems with this story. First, as has been said, there is really too much exposition for an audio form.

That the story had too much exposition has been stated several times and not just by Qwints.

In this, I respectfully disagree.

To my way of thinking, liking or disliking the amount of exposition is more of a personal choice on the part of the reader as well as an inherent part of the voice of the author.  For me, the exposition enhanced rather than distracted from the circumstances of The Elites and, therefore, only served as a pacing tool.  It slowed what was an inherently fast-paced concept down to an intimate crawl.

In this case, the abundance of exposition brought me into the headspace of people I can honestly say I've never experienced.  It slowed my introduction as well by providing me with long, emotion-laden passages that helped me connect with them, first, and see them in my mind's eye, later.

But, as I said before, this is largely an individual bias.  I can certainly see why readers might think that the amount of exposition was too much.

I wonder, though, if we can guide our minds into a story in different ways to allow ourselves to enjoy different types of storytelling that we might otherwise not enjoy?  I don't know if this is possible or even a good thing, but it would be interesting to see.

Certainly, when seeing a movie I know that my mood can radically impact how I experience the story.  I've seen "What Dreams May Come" three times in my life.  The first time, I developed a stomach illness during the film.  I really found it too long and laborious; it made me uncomfortable and annoyed.  The second time, owing to a recognition that my mental state when I first saw it was influenced by illness, I really found it engaging and noticed things I hadn't the first time through; it was creative and beautifully melancholy.  The third time was just after my father died.  It was heartbreaking and sad-without-hope.

In a similar way, I have to ask if reading or listening to "The Elites" with an eye for the amount of exposition being a narrative tool to bring us into the mind of the narrator, would make those who think it "too much" enjoy the story more.

I don't know but it's interesting to think about.

Yours,
Sylvan (Dave)
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« Reply #17 on: May 25, 2008, 04:09:02 PM »


I can't say I enjoyed the story, I just hope it doesn't happen. This is one of the stories geneticists and scientests need to listen too, as well as people in charge of making the decisions to do things like that. I'm all for neat technological advancement, but not at a cost that high.


If the people in charge of making these decisions perceive it as a matter of national (or I think in this case, species) survival, and the technique is considered viable and effective, I don't think there's much chance that it won't be done.  Especially if those bearing those costs directly continue to be drawn from relatively small, relatively poor segments of society with limited political power. 

We've built weapons that could scorch entire cities in a few minutes; I doubt we'll hesitate much at messing around with a soldier's brain chemistry. 

Definitely. There's no doubt in my mind that within twenty years from now, (genetical) manipulation of this kind will be possible (and maybe even a lot more). Humanity has always made use of every available technology, for good and for bad. Therefore, we will use this too. Exactly what shape it will take is still to soon too tell, but I'm so convinced of it's inevitability, that any SF without at least some physical enhancements just doesn't come across as 'a real future' anymore.

About the story itself, it was well written and nailed my attention. Even though there wasn't that much happening and I personally feel the characters didn't develop in any true sense, I still enjoyed it very much. For me, it was one of those stories that just felt right. And yeah, really ace reading by Maya.
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« Reply #18 on: May 25, 2008, 06:11:14 PM »

I kept waiting for the promised hard, challenging thinking, and never found it.  Chalk it up to my postmodern tendencies, but none of the "big ideas" seemed that big, or that challenging.   

  • Women fighting - and kicking more ass than men?  I was surprised that Ms. Rusch found it necessary to appeal to a technological "fix".
  • Altering one's chemistry, one's biology, to achieve different mental states?  Again, not a surprising thing.  While somewhat less drastic, I can feel the quantitative and qualitative difference in my affect after eating a bunch of carbs.
  • Government out to get, screw - or at least meddle with - veterans?  Um, yeah.  Unfortunately not a surprise either.  And I have to say I'm with the Boss (though I wish I wasn't):  bureauracracies (sp?) tend to lose sight of what their purpose rather quickly.  No evil intent required.

They're all great ideas, they're all good story material... but they aren't deeply shocking, surprising, or unsettling.   (Not that they're good as mentioned above, but....)   Maybe it was Steve's intro that got my hopes up.  I can understand where that resonates more for him (or anyone else on that type of journey).  Having already been on that journey myself, those facts alone are not enough to give some extra ooomph.   (Vampires in space with utterly alien aliens.... well, that story really twisted my worldview.)

What was utterly and completely compelling was the moment that the situation - tragic, but neither implausible or very compelling to me - changed.   The moment the apparent victim was suddenly the (an?) aggressor:  That was the moment I sat up and started to really get interested.  That was the moment the mystery hit the story, and it really didn't let up after that.   

And I adored the reading by Máia Whitaker.  The accent reminded me of Gina Torres playing Zoe in Firefly.  Given that character's history, it worked very very well.
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« Reply #19 on: May 25, 2008, 09:39:19 PM »

I kept waiting for the promised hard, challenging thinking, and never found it.

try this on.

a core principle of military service is sacrifice. sacrifice of personal comfort, sacrifice of the few for the many, ultimately a willingness to sacrifice your life. this was the decision these women made when they agreed to become part of the elites.

now, by the end of the story, our protagonist is trying to separate her programming from natural feelings about the house's method. she thinks that there is a very real possibility they are one and the same this time. there are some well established reasons for keeping it private (the elites distrust the government, could they really make progress in a government run institution? etc.) but there's also the possibility that she is the reason for the house's success.

everyone thought she had overcome her programming, was well on her way to healing, but the trigger had just been misdiagnosed. in fact, she remained just as damaged as the women coming through the door. this may have been the x factor in the house's success. she could understand these women and see potential when no one else could, it may have helped the women relate to her.

assuming that it's true, we come to the big question. if the house needs a leader still under the effects of programing does she even have the right to remove herself and get better? and stay true to herself i mean.

we know that she made the decision to have this procedure done. she decided that the sacrifice was worth it, maybe for the people she's protecting. the changes made her much better at her job, saved the lives of her sisters. and, now, nothing has changed. staying under the effects of the procedure could allow her to change the lives of dozens or even hundreds of elites.

can she now remove herself to heal and stay true to the principles that caused her to make the changes in the first place?
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