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Author Topic: EP161: Alien Promises  (Read 13347 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: June 06, 2008, 04:50:44 AM »

EP161: Alien Promises

By By Janni Lee Simner.
Read by Anna Eley.
First appeared in Bruce Coville’s Book of Aliens II, ed. Bruce Coville.

Jenny was silent for a while. “Promise me something?” she finally asked. “If they ever come for you, promise you’ll let me know?”

“Why?” I had trouble believing Jenny really wanted to leave. Maybe this was all some sort of joke.

“Just promise,” Jenny said.

“No.” Even if she was serious, Jenny was the last person I wanted following me into space.

Jenny took a deep breath. “I’ll tell you, too. If they ever come for me.”


Rated G. This is a young adult SF story.


Referenced Sites:
Secret of the Three Treasures by Janni Lee Simner
Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner
Tale Chasing - Urban Fantasy podcast



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Sylvan
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« Reply #1 on: June 06, 2008, 07:17:47 AM »

I wouldn't have been so kind.  That sort of knowledge about yourself is unsettling and sobering.  No matter where such realization comes from, it's important that it does.  In this case, that I would be more petty and shallow than someone I resemble, came in "Alien Promises".

"Juvenile fiction" may be the bookshelf classification for Ms. Simner's work but I want to make it clear that I don't think something that could impact a 40-year old man this deeply should be pigeon-holed.  I haven't felt many deep emotions in my life for a long time.  I think that's the way things are for many of us.  We are passionate in our teens and young adult years but, as time goes on, something fades.  This story helped rekindle some of that in me.

I never made that promise but I did stare at the stars wishing for the aliens to come.  When I was a kid, there was even a TV show called "Project Blue Book":  all about alien encounters.  To me, this wasn't fiction:  it was reality waiting to happen.  I really believed, strongly, that the aliens were here, they were benevolent, and -if I was very, very lucky- they would come to take me with them.

"Alien Promises", as Steve covered in his outro, is about community and not feeling alone.  And yes, Steve, you're right.  These days, thanks in no small part to the Internet, I have those acquaintances.  I belong to that network.

The story itself, I was very afraid, was going to go in the direction of the Mercedes Lackey song "Rejected".  If you don't know it, hunt it down.  The rendition I own was sung by Heather Alexander.  It, too, is deeply moving for different reasons and with a very different outcome.  In many ways, this is the bookend interpretation of the people-meeting-aliens scenario.

I was also impressed by the way Jenny was shown with some depth; that real understanding on a very common point could bridge those gaps.  This is the part that made me realize I would not be as kind.  Had I written this tale, the mean little girl would have gotten her comeuppance and no one from the popular cliques would be portrayed as having feelings.  Well, that would be my initial inclination...  How refreshing to have something different!

How uplifting!

There were a couple points in which my mind was pulled out of the story by the dialogue (it sometimes seemed too "young" for a girl of 15 years, towards the end) but if that's my only critique it's a pretty limited one.

So, as I sit here after a powerful set of storms came whipping through the Twin Cities last night, does anyone else want to help me build a spaceship?

Yours,
Sylvan (Dave)
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« Reply #2 on: June 06, 2008, 08:47:49 AM »

The voice of the main character as she narrated was captured well by the reader.

My biggest problem with the story was that, when Courtney was yelling up to the alien ship, everyone else was just standing around.  You'd think someone would've gotten mad at her for saying she deserved to go, that the aliens came for her above all others.  The other people were surprisingly well-behaved.

My other problem is more personal, and is not really related to the story as such except in that it made me think about this:

While I fully approve of the way the Promisers were going to build their own spaceship, as a person who works in news I'm forced to deal with the gritty realism that private space ventures (and non-NASA ventures, such as the Russian and Chinese space programs) will continue to be met with derision by the media, which controls what most people think.  (Not the people on this forum.  We're not most people.)  When I was a kid, I thought someday I could be an astronaut.  Now I know you either have to be rich, an awesomely-smart scientist, or a member of the US military to get up there.  And if you're lucky, you'll be able to use the toilet.  I'm just ground down on the whole common-people-in-space-in-my-lifetime idea, and that part of the denouement bothered me.

Overall, though, I would give the story a solid middle-of-the-road seal of mild approval.  Liked it more than Kalakkak's Cousins, didn't like it more than Friction.  When I heard it was going to be a YA story (my coworker got Steve's tweet on Tuesday), I was worried it would be another Squonk (forgive me, but I just don't like the Squonk stories) and was thankful that it wasn't.

Great title, by the way.
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« Reply #3 on: June 06, 2008, 10:01:28 AM »

  While not a fantastic story, it was very good. Anna's voice was perfect for this story, and I think really captured the character perfectly.

  For a story meant for "young adults" this story was very deep, and actually a little sad. Having been a geek and a loner myself (go figure, right?), I could identify easily with her, and with her surprise that her enemy had something so important in common with her. It's important for young geeks and nerds to realize they are not alone, and that there are others out there who feel the same way; I think the internet helps with that a lot now, and sort of wish that it had been available to me when I was in school.

  I found the speaker to be totally beleivable. The duty she felt to keep her promise, the selfishness displayed when she told to aliens to leave all the others behind, the deep sadness she felt, and continues to feel, when the aliens leave her behind; these all show a really well developed character for such a short piece.

  There may be aspects to the number of people who showed up for the ship (clearly some people had made this promise with more than just 2 other people), but if I am willing to accept an alien spaceship landing on a beach and a group of people who could easily turn into the next Heaven's Gate trying to build their own ship, then I should be able to accept the rest of it as well. This just doesn't seem like a story to pick apart to me.

  One thing that seems to show some real depth and thought in this story is the fact that even when the speaker discovers she is not alone in her desire to leave Earth behind she is still sad, and in some way still alone. Even as part of a group she still cries for the opportunity she lost. The problem isn't that she was really alone, although it sounds like she was, it's that she alone inside, and that is why lonliness can never be stamped out. Sometimes loneliness comes from the inside, and there's not always anything that can be done about it. Even if these people leave Earth they will not feel whole; they will continue to feel alone because the problem is not Earth, it's them.

  The true moral of this story seems to be a simple one to me; don't make promises. If you don't make promises then you are not honour bound to keep them. That said, I do promise that if the aliens come for me, and I am able to do so, I will let you all know  Grin
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« Reply #4 on: June 06, 2008, 11:03:37 AM »

What a lovely little surprise of a story.  I don't know if I was more caught off guard by its optimism, or the fact that I wanted to throw my arms around its optimistic approach. 

Good way to start a Friday.  Thanks for this!
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« Reply #5 on: June 06, 2008, 11:39:03 AM »

My biggest problem with the story was that, when Courtney was yelling up to the alien ship, everyone else was just standing around.  You'd think someone would've gotten mad at her for saying she deserved to go, that the aliens came for her above all others.  The other people were surprisingly well-behaved.
Yeah, I rationalised that away by thinking that her outbursts were really just her thinking it, and thinking that she'd said it, and everyone else was doing something similar.

I think it would be a decent way for an alien species to kick-start a push to space. It's certainly an alien way of doing it. anyway.
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« Reply #6 on: June 06, 2008, 01:12:35 PM »

Now that's what I'm talking about.
I was worried, when Steve mentioned that it was a YA story, thinking that it might run along the same lines as 143, Flaming Marshmallows. Fun, but not a realistic or particularly pleasant portrayal of young girls. Some people seem to think that they hit eighteen and all of a sudden they could think clearly, for the first time. Anything they'd experienced in those first 19 years  had been, well, frivolous.
I was pleasantly surprised. Good choice.
That being said, the story didn't catch me so much through the plot as through the reading. The line "It takes a lot of people to build a space ship," was delivered with such frank, wide-eyed sincerity that I actually giggled. And I'm not a giggly person.
So, well done to Anna.
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« Reply #7 on: June 06, 2008, 04:24:56 PM »

I liked the story.  I remember being that young and I would have made that deal... as Steve said... I think I still would...


But the main thing that got me at the end is that it sounded like the beginings of a cult...
And from such I nice story, my mind goes straight to the darkness of what could happen....
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« Reply #8 on: June 06, 2008, 06:29:12 PM »

My biggest problem with the story was that, when Courtney was yelling up to the alien ship, everyone else was just standing around.  You'd think someone would've gotten mad at her for saying she deserved to go, that the aliens came for her above all others.  The other people were surprisingly well-behaved.
Yeah, I rationalised that away by thinking that her outbursts were really just her thinking it, and thinking that she'd said it, and everyone else was doing something similar.

i like to think that they understood where she was coming from. everyone wanted the same thing she wanted, everyone would have an idea what it would be to lose your personal ride because you tried to share it.
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« Reply #9 on: June 06, 2008, 06:45:41 PM »

I agree with Steve that there are several problems with the plot, but I also agree that I really don't care. It was all about the people. I liked the people. I can relate with the people. I'm reminded of Signs and all the people who hated it for the reasons of the aliens. I didn't care about the aliens, I cared about the people who had to deal with the aliens. Why did I like Iron Man a lot? Because I got to see Tony Stark change, not because there were explosions.

I really think the story tells us this truth: We are not alone, and I don't mean the aliens. Humans are built to be social creatures and want to find a group of people I fit in with. There is a huge problem with the world, or at least America, in which so many people are self-contained. The problem is, life isn't any fun, or very productive like that. Having been of the end of having very few friends, this story is a good reminder that all I have to do is look to find them, and make a little effort to get to know them.
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DarkKnightJRK
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« Reply #10 on: June 07, 2008, 04:46:46 AM »

I remember that the first thing I wanted to be when I grow up was to be an astronaut, in-between being a archeologist, a pro-basketball player and a dinosaur hunter--as you can see, I had high aspirations. I was definately one of those kids that looked up at the skies and want to explore them. So, needless to say, I definately related to, and was moved by this story.

I espicially liked how our nerdy main character's wishes to go into space with the aliens was shared by the popular girl. There's something about growing up that we forget that we all had that same wide-eyed wonder about the world around us and the potential of what we could find just around the corner. While I may have openly read a lot of sci-fi and openly expressed my love for it, I know that even in the most meatheaded of the jocks there is if only a faint solidarity. Like Steve said in this, "We are not alone."

While I fully approve of the way the Promisers were going to build their own spaceship, as a person who works in news I'm forced to deal with the gritty realism that private space ventures (and non-NASA ventures, such as the Russian and Chinese space programs) will continue to be met with derision by the media, which controls what most people think.  (Not the people on this forum.  We're not most people.)  When I was a kid, I thought someday I could be an astronaut.  Now I know you either have to be rich, an awesomely-smart scientist, or a member of the US military to get up there.  And if you're lucky, you'll be able to use the toilet.  I'm just ground down on the whole common-people-in-space-in-my-lifetime idea, and that part of the denouement bothered me.

That reminds me--have you seen The Astronaut Farmer, starring Billy Bob Thorton? It has a similar premise--about a guy who tries to build his own rocket so that he can orbit the Earth, and the complications that come from NASA, media, and his family coping with it all. It's a VERY good story in the same vein of opening up that childhood wonder.
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« Reply #11 on: June 07, 2008, 05:25:05 AM »

Ok, seriously, I will be so disappointed if you go and leave me behind, please send me a message when they come for you. … and yes, I’ll help build OUR spaceship, IF I can be of help, that is. I am sure I can help with design issues, we can hang some paintings, or I can come up with a colour scheme, not sure that kind of thing will be a priority  Smiley

"Juvenile fiction" may be the bookshelf classification for Ms. Simner's work but I want to make it clear that I don't think something that could impact a 40-year old man this deeply should be pigeon-holed.  I haven't felt many deep emotions in my life for a long time.  I think that's the way things are for many of us.  We are passionate in our teens and young adult years but, as time goes on, something fades.  This story helped rekindle some of that in me.
Yours,
Sylvan (Dave)

I completely agree with you there, classifying this story as ‘young adult fiction’ to my mind is slightly beside the point, for it is clearly targeting at an audience that is very likely to have experienced similar things in their life, no matter what age. Too bad though that the realization “we are not as different as we think” comes much later in life. Thinking back now, when I was a teenager I didn’t know anyone with similar interests and passions, but now I know I might have passed people by, sat next to kids who did in fact share these passions, but social restraints, stereotypes, …whatever…  kept us from finding out. Sounds sad, but I think that is our reality. It takes a lot of effort and time to get to know people, we don’t want to force ourselves on others and will remain at a stage where we think of someone as a “jock”, never knowing that “jock” might have just read one of our favorite books.

The social retreat and solitude that some teenagers seek is a very dangerous phenomenon IMO, for especially teenagers and children need social interaction to find their place in society, as someone else has mentioned before, human beings are not ‘islands’, we need other people. This reminded me very strongly of Hikikomori (extreme agoraphobia as a social phenomenon amongst Japanese teenagers, who never leave their home and don’t communicate with anyone. I listened to something about that on the BBC4 Thinking Allowed podcast.)

And Sylvan, it made me sad to read that the 'passion' in your life has faded … see my experience is very different, I have never been as passionate as I am now. As a teenager I was so occupied with figuring things out, finding my place, … so that my ‘passions’ were a bit all over the place and it took me a long time to figure out my priorities. Now that I am in my thirties I KNOW who I am and what I like, I know what makes me tick and I am very passionate about a lot of things. The problem is, that as a teenager it is much more accepted that one is enthusiastic and passionate about things, when adults act like that, they are often considered immature.

Ok, to summarize, a great story and perfect for this audience, for most of us can somewhat identify with it.
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Enigma K
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« Reply #12 on: June 07, 2008, 04:17:10 PM »

I'm not sure how much I agree that the other promised people would be angry.  This main character was the one approached by the aliens.  The others were all latching on, and should have known it.

Stories like this are why I keep playing the Escape Pod before Podcastle or Pseudopod.  People do things

The characters in Alien Promises addressed their problems and acted to make their lives better.  This is something I find to be very lacking in almost all entertainment these days, and more than enough of a recurring theme in Escape Pod to keep me coming back regularly.

I thought the bulk of this was well-written.  The description of the bully's home life was very impressive, in that it described her problems plainly without dwelling on the obvious or miserable.  Even the way she handled the loneliness always felt hopeful instead of crushing or overbearing.  Hope was a second and unnamed theme to the entire piece.

I really appreciated this story.
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« Reply #13 on: June 08, 2008, 09:07:36 AM »

[me] "Hi. I'm John. I'm a Reader. I've been book-free for two days"
[others, in unison] "Hello John."

So, did the aliens take anybody with them? It doesn't sound like they did. If not, then why did they bother to show up? They say "Yes, you're the one we came for". Then they pat her on the head and say "You are not alone", which in her mind evades the issue (of who they should take).

Whatever.

I found the story engaging, even though I guessed early on that the ending was probably going to be one of a limited number of outcomes, much like an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Casting for the animated feature film:

(Violet "invisible girl" Parr)

Movie sequel: October Sky
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« Reply #14 on: June 08, 2008, 10:11:14 AM »

[me] "Hi. I'm John. I'm a Reader. I've been book-free for two days"
[others, in unison] "Hello John."

So, did the aliens take anybody with them? It doesn't sound like they did. If not, then why did they bother to show up? They say "Yes, you're the one we came for". Then they pat her on the head and say "You are not alone", which in her mind evades the issue (of who they should take).

Whatever.

I think the aliens were part of the Valuable-Lesson fleet of the Interstellar Alliance of Sentient Races and Thin Metaphors, or something like that. They probably never planned to take anyone with them, they just pop around the galaxy teaching socially awkward teenagers that they are not alone. Otherwise, why did they make her wait until dawn? Smiley

Kidding aside, I enjoyed this story. It was very well written, and engaging. Though while I remember being twelve well enough to not find the story implausible in the way Steve mentions, I guess I don't remember it well enough to connect. Or maybe it's just because, even as a kid, change always scared me more than loneliness, so I would have much rather stayed somewhere I was unhappy but knew exactly what to expect then risk going somewhere where things may be different in all sorts of unexpected ways.
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« Reply #15 on: June 08, 2008, 03:20:05 PM »

Quote from: Steve
"In an almost literal sense, [making that promise is] what I've been doing this past few years."

"It's a collective shout that 'You are not alone.'"

Ex-ACT-ly right.  That's why I've been so excited about what Steve is doing with Escape Artists, and why I'm so pleased to see it succeeding.  (And once two more irritating financial hurdles are ... um... hurdled, I'll be able to put my money where my virtual mouth is on this!)

This is also what motivated me to write my first submission to Escape Pod, Upstairs (which was rightfully rejected); that deep-rooted, childhood wish that we could go "out there" and that all of these crazy, fantastic ideas we enjoy as entertainment might just be true.

It's sad, but necessary, that we have to learn to accept that some things are impossible; but that just means it's that much more important that we work on bringing the things that are plausible into reality.

Maybe there aren't any aliens out there waiting for us (maybe there are?)... but building that ship is no less important.  And I promise, if I find out anything about it, I'm telling you.  Smiley
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« Reply #16 on: June 08, 2008, 05:03:50 PM »

Wheel of morality turn turn turn, tell us a lesson that we should learn.

I just felt that it was so swollen with morals that there was not enough space for good storyline.
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« Reply #17 on: June 09, 2008, 07:32:49 AM »

So, did the aliens take anybody with them? It doesn't sound like they did. If not, then why did they bother to show up? They say "Yes, you're the one we came for". Then they pat her on the head and say "You are not alone", which in her mind evades the issue (of who they should take).
My guess is that it was some inscrutably alien way of kick-starting Earth's space programme. Figure out the webs of trust amongst socially awkward teenagers, visit a carefully chosen few, and give them time to get the word out, and leave them to build their own space ships. If they manage to get something that even takes off without killing its passengers, then that inspires other groups to do the same, and eventually you have a grassroots space programme setting off for Wolf 359!
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« Reply #18 on: June 09, 2008, 01:22:14 PM »

Ugh.  This story is in the worst tradition of YA fiction: the after-school special, in which the protagonist Learns a Valuable Lesson.  Even as a kid, I was suspicious of that sort of thing; as an adult, I really can't stand it.  Not a fan of this one.
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« Reply #19 on: June 09, 2008, 04:29:34 PM »

The best thing about this story for me was the reading. It was the first one I'd heard Anna read.

I enjoyed the story, especially the point that "we are not alone," but in the end, I felt betrayed by the character's selfishness. Suddenly my compassion and empathy for her were stung by this self-centered, self-absorbed, uncaring attitude. I can plainly remember when I drifted into the age where the social divides began to segregate me into the isolation of the offbeat. But even as a teenager, I wouldn't have assumed that this huge crowd of people were somehow less worthy than myself to accompany these aliens. It would have been heartbreaking to be left, especially since I was the original recipient of the alien offer, but that would have only made it only marginally less painful (if at all) for all the others who would had been left behind. Maybe the love of my family and the few friends I did have put me in a position where it's hard for me to relate to this girl. But for me, I was just a little taken aback at the selfishness she displayed in the denouement.
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