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Author Topic: EP118: The Veteran  (Read 7605 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: August 10, 2007, 02:24:31 AM »

EP118: The Veteran

By Neal Asher.
Read by Stephen Eley.

Seated on a bollard, the man contemplatively removed his pipe, as if to tamp it down or relight it. Instead, he placed it stem down in the top pocket of his shirt, then reached up and pressed his fingers against his cheekbone and forehead. His face came away from his hairline, round behind his ears, down to a point just above his Adam’s apple. The inside of his mouth and much of his sinus were also part of the prosthesis, so only bare eyeballs in the upper jut of his skull remained – the rest being the black spikes and plates of bio-interfaces.

Cheel gaped. From another pocket, the man took some sort of tool and began to probe inside the back of his detached face. He put the prosthesis in his lap, then took up his pipe and placed it in his throat sphincter. Smoke bled from between the interface plates of his cheeks. His bare eyeballs swivelled towards Cheel then back down to the adjustments he was making. She suddenly realised who this must be. Here was the veteran who worked on the ferry. Here was one of the few survivors from a brutal war between factions of dense-tech humans. Not understanding what was impelling her, she walked out on the jetty and approached him.


Rated PG. Contains slight profanity and high-tech violence.


Blog of the Week:
The Angriest Rice Cooker in the World


Referenced Sites:
Ecru: The Butcher of Balis
Zojirushi NS-ZCC10 (Steve’s Rice Cooker)
Casio GW-300 (Steve’s Watch)



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Zathras
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« Reply #1 on: August 10, 2007, 08:19:44 AM »

Overall, I liked this story.  Some of the action scenes aboard the ferry towards the end lost me a bit but I liked the overall tone of the piece.  I thought the description of the Veteran was cool and loved the creepy blood-thirsty water creatures (can't think of their name off the top of my head).   The story was a nice little kick on my drive to work today.
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Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #2 on: August 10, 2007, 09:13:55 AM »

"War does not determine who is right - only who is left."
 - Bertrand Russell

It's one of the quotes that flashes on the "game over" screen when you die in Call of Duty 2.  (Video games are educational!)
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ajames
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« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2007, 06:18:50 PM »

I had a lot of fun listening to this one.  I'll have to look for more written by Mr. Asher.
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Sith Lord 13
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« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2007, 06:02:23 PM »

It was enjoyable but not terrific. It just lacked a certain j'ne sai quais (sp?) I've come to expect from Escape Pod stories.
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BSWeichsel
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« Reply #5 on: August 12, 2007, 07:54:43 PM »

really liked the story. Felt somewhat like a anime to me with the powers that are just out there and far beyond logic.

The ending with craven and why the veteran let him live was a very interesting plot point. Only complaint I had is I want more form this world.
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eytanz
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« Reply #6 on: August 13, 2007, 12:41:26 AM »

I enjoyed this story - I think it had pretty good character development for a story this length. I do agree that the actions scenes were confusing - and again, I am led to wonder how much this is the medium's fault. Audio in a way has the worst of both worlds for action - it lacks the visual straightforwardness of video, while at the same time proceeding at its own pace. When I read, if I'm not sure what exactly exploded and where relative to the characters, I can stop, reread the sentence, maybe back up a few sentences and reread them. With audio, pace is dictated (of course, I can pause my iPod, but there's no easy way of skimming what I already read to reorient myself).

This story made it worse since the technology was unfamiliar - even the ferry, let alone the weapons, were not objects I could just visualize based on my world knowledge (I kept having to revise how big it was in my mind). The end result was that I decided not to worry about it, but that meant I ended up missing about 15% of the story.
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Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2007, 10:11:00 AM »

My response to this is very mixed.

I had no problem following things: No production gripes, and no gripes about the quality of the story.  It was very well done.  Great "visuals", tight plot, ideas that are fresh and cool, real suspense, and a great vibe of coherent otherworldliness.  The twist at the end was just as a twist ought to be: I never saw it coming, but it made perfect sense in retrospect.  (The twist of course being that the Veteran really didn't care a whit about any of the other characters, but only helped Cheel for his own selfish purposes.)

I have always loved stories that trample all over genre lines.  This story has steam-age technology, gangsters, high (it-might-as-well-be-magic) tech, giant lizard things, a galactic war, some touching personal drama, and a guy struggling with his fading charisma.  What genre is this?  I couldn't tell you, and that, in itself, is very cool IMHO.  Stuff like this has been called "weird" and I think that's an adequate descriptor.  It reminded me very much of another genre-trampling story I read recently, "The Scar" by China Miéville.

And my reaction to this is mixed for some of the same reason I felt so very torn over The Scar.  Both created a unique and compelling world, filled with interesting people, amazing things, intriguing conflicts, and gripping events, but both were nihilistic.  In the midst of the amazing scenery, the lives of the characters are futile and meaningless.

To me, the most striking and memorable image in the story–bar none–was conveyed in a single sentence about a woman trying to hold her baby up out the water, spending her last breaths struggling in the futile hope of keeping her child from being eaten be the aquatic monsters in the river.  I don't know about anyone else, but as soon as I heard that, the focus of my attention was on the woman, her baby, and the other hapless bystanders sharing their predicament.  I cared about them.  That they are horribly devoured is not, of itself, a source of discontent (stuff like that happens).  It's the tone: In the context of the story, these people don't matter.  Every character in the story, save the Veteran, either dies a pointless death or ends up in a state of suffering worse than that in which they started, and I get the impression that the narrator has no more compassion for them than does the Veteran.  The people are just literary object, to be killed as is expedient, and who cares about them anyway?  Their lives are petty against the backdrop of the Veteran's war.

Miéville does the same sort of thing.  He builds these full lives for his characters, makes them seem real, makes you care about them, and then dismisses them to death and despair with a shrug, moves on.

I feel like I've devoted a lot of space to complaining.  That's because my complaint is strange, and it seems like might need some explaining to make sense to others.  The length of the complaint does not equate to disparagement of the story.  This story is certainly of high quality.

But (to me at least) it isn't fun.  I keep thinking of a mother holding her baby out of the water, and I feel a need for that image to be justified somehow, for it to mean something.  But it doesn't.  That leaves a bitter aftertaste, and I'm not sure if intriguing fantasy is sweet enough to balance it.
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DKT
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« Reply #8 on: August 13, 2007, 10:52:41 AM »

I had a lot of fun listening to this one.  I listened to it twice in one day. 

I'm pretty sure I've heard of Neal Asher before, but I've never read anything else by him and am not even sure what novels he's written.  Maybe that's because his titles seem pretty blase and don't really stir my imagination.  But after listening to this one, I'm going to be on the look-out for other stuff he's written. 

One thing I really liked was how jaded the Veteran was, despite being around for 200 years.  A lot of times, we read stories about how the longer people live the more empathetic they become with people.  I liked this take, that a longer life just makes for a more jaded life.

Every character in the story, save the Veteran, either dies a pointless death or ends up in a state of suffering worse than that in which they started, and I get the impression that the narrator has no more compassion for them than does the Veteran.  The people are just literary object, to be killed as is expedient, and who cares about them anyway?  Their lives are petty against the backdrop of the Veteran's war.

Miéville does the same sort of thing.  He builds these full lives for his characters, makes them seem real, makes you care about them, and then dismisses them to death and despair with a shrug, moves on.

I feel like I've devoted a lot of space to complaining.  That's because my complaint is strange, and it seems like might need some explaining to make sense to others.  The length of the complaint does not equate to disparagement of the story.  This story is certainly of high quality.

But (to me at least) it isn't fun.  I keep thinking of a mother holding her baby out of the water, and I feel a need for that image to be justified somehow, for it to mean something.  But it doesn't.  That leaves a bitter aftertaste, and I'm not sure if intriguing fantasy is sweet enough to balance it.

I find this interesting, because with both this story and Mieville's the Scar, I thought the deaths of characters worked on many different levels.  In this story, the woman trying to hold the baby above the water (yes, it was a terrifying, striking image) told a lot about the Veteran's character, and also moved Cheel to a greater understanding about the two men she was with and pushed her to try to take action by saving the people in the lifeboat.  So it definitely meant something to me when I heard it. 
« Last Edit: August 13, 2007, 10:54:20 AM by DKT » Logged

eytanz
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« Reply #9 on: August 13, 2007, 10:59:45 AM »

Tweedy - I feel like you totally misinterpreted the story. As far as I could tell, it's a story *about* how human lives are not meaningless - the veteran may not really care about the people he's killing, directly and indirectly - for him they're just backdrop - but the story condemns this view - in a subtle, non-explicit way - rather than share it.
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Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #10 on: August 13, 2007, 11:16:12 AM »

Tweedy - I feel like you totally misinterpreted the story. As far as I could tell, it's a story *about* how human lives are not meaningless - the veteran may not really care about the people he's killing, directly and indirectly - for him they're just backdrop - but the story condemns this view - in a subtle, non-explicit way - rather than share it.

Did you think so?  I didn't feel like the story condemned anybody or any view.  The Veteran's actions seemed to be neither justified nor condemned.  He just did what he did because it's what suited him, and the other characters did what suited them, and that's that.  Amoral.

The Veteran suffers no rebuke and feels no guilt.

I'm curious to hear an elucidation or your view, since yours is so different.
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DKT
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« Reply #11 on: August 13, 2007, 12:11:23 PM »

I don't know about that.  Cheel realized the Veteran was no different than her ex-boyfriend's (can't remember his name).  She definitely condemned *him* in the end, right before she walked away from him. 

I think there was definite condemnation in the story, it was just on a more subtle level: with actions instead of speeches.
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eytanz
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« Reply #12 on: August 13, 2007, 12:20:11 PM »

I didn't feel like the story condemned anybody or any view.  The Veteran's actions seemed to be neither justified nor condemned.  He just did what he did because it's what suited him, and the other characters did what suited them, and that's that.  Amoral.

The Veteran suffers no rebuke and feels no guilt.

True. The story is not one of the veteran growing to appreciate the lives of those around him. Rather, it gives us his view unadorned by commentary, and at the same time belies it by also showing us the people that fall beneath his attention, and by presenting the alternate perspective of Cheel, and her loss of innocence as far as the admiration of the high-tech humans is concerned, and her ex-boyfriend (whose name I also forgot). The two of them may be stupid and selfish, but they are complex people with multiple layers to their personality. They might make bad choices, but the fact that they are making choices at all is important, just like the woman with the baby. The narration does not condemn the veteran's actions. It condemns his disregard for the lives of those around him by showing us parts of those lives - as you notice yourself, it doesn't take much to see that a life has value, and life does not lose that value just because the person loses control over their fate. The veteran, ultimately, fails to notice this, or care, but the narrative gives us enough to notice what he doesn't.

It seems to me that any explicit morality in the story would weaken this point, not strengthen it.
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DKT
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« Reply #13 on: August 13, 2007, 01:51:54 PM »

I'd also add that just by seeing something like that happen in the story -- like seeing a lady drowning in the water, trying to hold her baby above the surface, hits us on a very primal level: someone *needs* to help her.

And there's a reason why no one does, because it tells us a lot about the characters in the story.  I don't think it was just dropped in there by accident.  Asher had a very specific reason for including that image.
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darusha
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« Reply #14 on: August 13, 2007, 02:36:03 PM »

I found there to be a definite moral point in this story, but it was in the form of the change in Cheel over the course of the tale.  I found her to be opportunistic, conniving and kind of stupid at the beginning of the story, but at the end she had become a much "better" person.  I thought her relationship with the gangster was her attempt to cling to power, and her theft from him added to my poor opinion of her.  But at the end as she's helping the survivors and rejecting both the Veteran and her gangster boyfriend it's like she grows up somewhat. 
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Ananzi
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« Reply #15 on: August 13, 2007, 08:06:40 PM »

 I did enjoy this story alot ;I found the social dynamic of the dense tech haves and haves nots compelling.However,I found it strange that Cheel didn't recognize or acknowledge her own guilt in helping to create the disaster.
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Leon Kensington
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« Reply #16 on: August 13, 2007, 11:42:44 PM »

Okay story, good read.  Not my style but you can't win them all.  Reminded me a bit of Stephenson's Snow Crash.
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Listener
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« Reply #17 on: August 16, 2007, 12:35:39 PM »

Overall, I liked the story.  My complaint, though, is that I didn't really understand the Craven character adequately. So he loves Cheel, but he's evil, so he lets her go, even though he was evil before and would have beat her?  I think he was too conflicted, not clearly-drawn enough to really feel for him.

I personally understood him, but from a literary perspective, I feel the character was somewhat lacking.

Otherwise, fairly enjoyable story.
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ajames
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« Reply #18 on: August 17, 2007, 06:54:21 AM »

It is clear that the veteran won't win any awards for his humanitarianism.  Is his callousness a result of his participation in a long, dehumanizing war?  [Talk about dehumanization, this character doesn't even have a real human face!]   If the author had an intended message, I'm guessing that would be part of it.

Is the veteran totally devoid of compassion for others?  True, his apparant act of compassion for Cheel turns out to serve his purposes quite well.  But I'm not certain that compassion didn't play any role in his decision, albeit compassion of a very reduced sort.  As the veteran saw it, Cheel was going to die.  Not only was she going to die, she was going to be brutally beaten and raped, and then killed.  By intervening, the veteran gave her a chance for a quicker, less painful death.  If this consideration played any part in the veteran's calculations, it perhaps goes to show what his humanity has been reduced to after so many years fighting an apparently endless and pointless war. 

I'll have to listen to the story again to determine if there is any possible compassion in his treatment of Craven.  If I remember correctly it seems there might be, though of a limited nature once more.

Oh, and Mr. Tweedy, I must say that I have been most impressed by your posts, here and elsewhere.  I don't always agree with what you say [though I often do], but you always make me think. 
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Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #19 on: August 17, 2007, 09:44:35 AM »

Oh, and Mr. Tweedy, I must say that I have been most impressed by your posts, here and elsewhere.  I don't always agree with what you say [though I often do], but you always make me think. 

Same to you.
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