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Author Topic: EP160: Kallakak’s Cousins  (Read 11664 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: May 30, 2008, 01:34:07 PM »

EP160: Kallakak’s Cousins

By Cat Rambo.
Read by Stephen Eley.
First appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 2008.

“Sometimes we don’t realize that what we want isn’t good for us,” the man said, speaking for the first time. He stared intently at Kallakak.

“Dominance rituals do not work well on me,” Kallakak said, roughening his voice to rudeness. “I will see you in five days in the court.” He decided not to burn his bridges too far. “I will tally up the cost of my goods by then and will have a definite figure.” Let them think him acquiescent while he tried to find another way to save his shop. He stepped into the lift, but they did not follow him, simply watched as the doors slid closed and he was carried away.

Making his way back to his quarters, he saw three figures standing before it. He paused, wondering if the Jellidoos had decided to lean on him further. The trio turned in unison to face him, and he recognized them with a sinking heart. The cousins.


Rated G. Contains shady commerce and dim relations.


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Referenced Sites:
Wiscon 2008
The Surgeon’s Tale and Other Stories by Cat Rambo & Jeff Vandermeer



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« Last Edit: May 31, 2008, 02:34:39 PM by SFEley » Logged
eytanz
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« Reply #1 on: May 30, 2008, 01:44:52 PM »

Steve's comment after the story really summed it all up for me. This is a classic sitcom, set in a space station, but that was just a thin veneer of SF paint over a well-worn plot.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you. It was light fare, and enjoyable. I'll probably forget all about it in a couple of weeks, but it made my walk to the office in the morning enjoyable.
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« Reply #2 on: May 30, 2008, 02:01:23 PM »

Without the SF this is just some put-upon guy at a mall trying to keep his dollar store.  It was amusing in places, but took itself too seriously and that detracted from it.  Kalakkak was too straight of a character, and there wasn't enough compensatory humor.  This felt like it was trying to be a comedy, but it didn't quite get there. 

Also, the world-building was inadequate.  We know about the station, the stair, a couple of other places, but I just kept substituting the "Golden Rule" habitat from "The Cat Who Walks Through Walls" as the rest of it.  I realize Kalakkak only knows the little part of the world that he uses on a daily basis, but it didn't really do it for me.

Why were the humans called Jellidoos?  Or were those not humans?  It was unclear (at least to me). 

Kalakkak's people likewise were very interesting, but I seem to have missed what they look like beyond ear frills and two pairs of arms and that they are all born as (apparently sexless until maturity) twins.  A good start, but I needed more.

This felt like a piece of a larger work.  I was left unsatisfied.
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Void Munashii
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« Reply #3 on: May 30, 2008, 03:12:58 PM »

  This was a really fun story, and it was really nice to listen to on the way too work. I've started to rethink my routine of listening to EP on Friday mornings recently due to the heavey nature of a lot of the recent stories, but this was perfect literary popcorn, it was light, airy, and while it is unlikely to leave any real lasting impression on me, it was fun.

  I thought the world was vaguely defined, but it was plenty for me to see it in my mind. I don't know that I am seeing what the author wanted me to see, but I see something that makes the story work for me. The only think I don't see clearly is Kalakkak's race (Belladoos, was it?), but in a story as light as this, that doesn't bother me in the slightest.

  While I would not wish to see EP become all light fluff, stories like this a little more often would not be bad thing.

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« Reply #4 on: May 30, 2008, 05:09:12 PM »

I give this story a solid "Meh."  There was no reason to make it a science fiction story, there was nothing going on that couldn't have been going on in, say, any given shopping mall on Earth. 

In fact, change the races to ethnic groups (one can't lie, the other is congenitally phasmaphobic - don't laugh, things don't have to make sense in a sitcom) and you're good to go for thursday night at eight.

So:

Meh.
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alllie
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« Reply #5 on: May 30, 2008, 07:47:49 PM »

I recently read this in Asimov's and thought it was okay but not great.

But when Steve read it I found I liked it a whole lot better and enjoyed it more.

I like Steve's reading a lot.
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Darwinist
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« Reply #6 on: May 30, 2008, 09:03:26 PM »

Meh.   Next. 

I did love the quote "dominance rituals do not work well on me".  I wish I would've though of that in high school. 
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ajames
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« Reply #7 on: May 31, 2008, 06:23:17 AM »

I enjoyed this story. Definitely on the light side, as others have said, but enjoyable. I was also wondering as I listened if there was going to be a macabre twist at the end. The missing wife, the antibiotic remedies - was it stress, or had he ingested her??  Glad it didn't go that way, but also glad it kept me wondering.

Kalakkak's people likewise were very interesting, but I seem to have missed what they look like beyond ear frills and two pairs of arms and that they are all born as (apparently sexless until maturity) twins.  A good start, but I needed more.

I pictured Kalakkak's people as having three sets of arms and hands. Although "lower hands" are not referred to, "mid hands" implied at least one set above and below. Then again, the lower set could be the legs/feet.
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Boggled Coriander
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« Reply #8 on: May 31, 2008, 08:04:19 AM »

It was enjoyable, but I wanted more information on the universe it took place in.  These... "Jellidoos"... were they an alien race, or a human culture, or what? 

I also kind of saw the resolution coming as soon as these "Jelidoo" guys were described as superstitious, but I didn't mind that.
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« Reply #9 on: May 31, 2008, 04:40:03 PM »

As previous people have mentioned, this definitely sounded like a sitcom.  I kept expecting a either a canned laugh track or Kallakak's eccentric next door neighbor with weird hair, surfing in through the open door, to interrupt the reading.
The resolution was...predictable.  After the initial hook early on explaining that the Jellidoos were superstitious, I kept wondering exactly when there would be more development on that angle, but it was instead used as a mallet to provide a cap on the end.

That said, it was enjoyable, though I doubt it'll win any great awards for content.
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bolddeceiver
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« Reply #10 on: May 31, 2008, 09:52:49 PM »

For the thousandth time (and thanks for the QotW, Steve!), the "if it weren't for ____ this wouldn't be SF" complaint totally baffles me.  Are SF stories not allowed to borrow storytelling techniques or tropes or storylines or archetypes from any other literary form?  If so, our genre is dead in the water, and we'd better jump ship before it sinks.

Yup, a contrarian as always, I liked this story.  I thought it was fun, and unlike a lot of the others on this discussion, I thought the SF elements were one of the most interesting and integral parts of the story, and didn't feel tacked-on or incedental at all.

I think some of the most interesting SF worldbuilding is that which doesn't draw attention to itself.  If a writer in a very different setting were to write about my everyday life, it would be very strange for him to have me, as the viewpoint character, notice every detail of every freeway onramp and door hinge, or for that matter the number of fingers on my left hand.  Those are things that I take for granted, so of course I wouldn't dwell on them.  As long as this kind of worldbuilding is smooth and easy enough to follow, I think it's much more interesting than the "describe every nut and bolt" school.  The little hints you get in a story like this show a tiny, everyday cross-section of an amazingly complex and interesting world.
« Last Edit: May 31, 2008, 09:57:49 PM by bolddeceiver » Logged
contra
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« Reply #11 on: June 01, 2008, 03:03:20 PM »

I agree with what everying is saying about the sitcomness of it .  But overall the stroy didn't grab me too much.

Listenable, maybe I wasn't in the mood.
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« Reply #12 on: June 01, 2008, 09:22:34 PM »

I very much enjoyed the light insubstantiveness of it. Made for a fun listen. The triplets were amusing, and I liked the concept of a race for whom being born in pairs was such a strong part of their cultural identity. 
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #13 on: June 01, 2008, 11:03:03 PM »

I think some of the most interesting SF worldbuilding is that which doesn't draw attention to itself.  If a writer in a very different setting were to write about my everyday life, it would be very strange for him to have me, as the viewpoint character, notice every detail of every freeway onramp and door hinge, or for that matter the number of fingers on my left hand.  Those are things that I take for granted, so of course I wouldn't dwell on them.  As long as this kind of worldbuilding is smooth and easy enough to follow, I think it's much more interesting than the "describe every nut and bolt" school.  The little hints you get in a story like this show a tiny, everyday cross-section of an amazingly complex and interesting world.

I agree.  I've also heard this called "limited third-person perspective" and used to describe the way C.J. Cherryh writes from her characters' POV.

* * *

Am I the only one who associated the title with the Kallikak family?
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« Reply #14 on: June 01, 2008, 11:57:37 PM »

Am I the only one who associated the title with the Kallikak family?

Nope. That name rang a bell for me too.

Less fortunately, it reminded me of a nuisance song from the '60s, "Zabadak"
viz: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNQV0mboKg8
Lyrics: http://lyricsplayground.com/alpha/songs/z/zabadak.shtml
Now I have to purge myself of that earworm somehow.

Back to the story.
I should not have liked it, but I did. The comparison to an episode of Newhart is hard to avoid, but so what.

Quote
I've also heard this called "limited third-person perspective"...
Oh. That sounds like a good thing to know. Funny how once you learn the name of something, you become aware of it from then on.
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« Reply #15 on: June 02, 2008, 02:21:47 AM »


I did love the quote "dominance rituals do not work well on me".  I wish I would've thought of that in high school.
 

That quote has real T-shirt potential, doesn't it? Cheesy

As for the story -- it was OK.  Not EP's best, but by definition, you can't have the best every week.  It was light, it was fun, but it was a recycled plot.
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« Reply #16 on: June 02, 2008, 05:48:45 AM »

Quote
I've also heard this called "limited third-person perspective"...
Oh. That sounds like a good thing to know. Funny how once you learn the name of something, you become aware of it from then on.
It's called Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, after a 1970's German terrorist organisation.
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shwankie
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« Reply #17 on: June 02, 2008, 06:33:11 PM »

I love my deep, thematic stories as much as the next person, but I also really just like mind candy once in a while. This was a great piece to just listen to, without taxing the brain (which, to be fair, has been really taxed the last few weeks--all in WONDERFUL ways, but tiring nonetheless).

I enjoyed the different races. I didn't really picture the jellydoos as humans, but more...well, jelly-like. I pictured the main race as rather reptilian, with a gender-bending take that reminded me of "Left Hand of Darkness," by LeGuin. No, it won't win any content awards, and yes, it was somewhat sit-com predictable. That doesn't, IMHO, make it bad. Just lighter.
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Ocicat
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« Reply #18 on: June 02, 2008, 09:04:43 PM »

I enjoyed it.  Letting my mind picture the alien environment was a lot of the fun - that it was sparsely described helped that - I got to fill in my own details, and did so.  The plot wasn't much, and was annoyingly predictable, yes.  But I didn't mind that much.  I really enjoyed the little alien touches of physiology and psychology, though everyone was humanlike enough to be easily understood...
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birdless
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« Reply #19 on: June 02, 2008, 10:08:45 PM »

I'm a little surprised at the majority response being positive on this one. I definitely don't mind a little light fare at all, but I prefer for it to be interesting or funny as opposed a very tiny smattering of both and be predominantly boring. I don't want to get into the "is it SF or not" debate, because it's as pointless as arguing whether Mondrian's grid-based abstractions are art or not. It is for some and it isn't for others.

Sometimes, I suppose, a boring story can be made interesting by changing the setting, but it didn't work for this one, imho.

@bolddeceiver, just my 2¢ on how a contemporary sitcom could tell this story:
  • choose any devoutly religious person of almost any faith
  • perhaps it's prejudice rather than superstition, or perhaps a language barrier that provides misunderstanding
  • maybe it's a mall rather than a space station, and management rather than government
You can't use the argument that it's unrealistic, because neither of these stories are. My point being that creativity alone doesn't always work.
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