EP063: Observations From the City of Angels

By William Shunn.
Read by Stephen Eley.

“It’s not just that, Brian. Think about this technology.
The experiment’s been successful beyond anyone’s expectations.
Spyware fittings for registered offenders will no doubt go into
effect next year. But why stop there? Can you imagine having a
therapist, a financial counselor, a social secretary, a
nutritionist and personal trainer at your beck and call twenty-
four hours a day? You’d like to get rid of that spare tire,
right? We could help you. Really.”

Hayes shivers, though the climate inside the car is
perfectly controlled. “Sure,” he says. “And I could have the
whole world watching everything I do, for the rest of my life.”

Rated R. Contains profanity and sexual themes.

Referenced sites:
Guild Wars
The ShunnCast
EP BitTorrent Archive

Comments (23)

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  1. Jeff S says:

    Since no one is commenting…

    Not one of my favorites…but not a bad story at all! Took me a while to get into it is all. I was more interested in the talk of Guild Wars to be honest. The story just seemed to start off a bit slow. I did get into it eventually and enjoyed what was left of it.

    Also, Steve, I’m wondering when this story was originally published. Do you normally say that at the beginning on the podcast? I know you always say where, but I don’t recall you saying when. I would be interested to know when some of these stories were written.

  2. SFEley says:

    Oops. I *think* I said it, but didn’t call much attention to it… This story was first published in Salon in 2003.

    Thanks for the feedback!

  3. Jim in Buffalo says:

    Usually the Salon sci-fi is pretty good.

    I stopped listening to this one about ten minutes into it. I just lost track of where it was going, and couldn’t figure out what was going on. Maybe this is the kind of story that works better as something to read instead of something to listen to.

    I wish Escape Pod could pick up the story “The perfect man,” from Salon.com, about the techie woman and her virtual boyfriend. It starts out as a “Sex and the City” style dating confessional and ends up, well, it’s worth reading it to find out. Mur would be perfect as the reading voice of the narrator, and then the guy who does the intro for “Does My Geek Look Big in This” would probably be perfect as the voice of Pritchard.

  4. Lar says:

    Thanks for the tip on “The perfect man” Jim. It was very good.

    As for this week’s Escape Pod, I found the premise much more interesting than the story itself. It presents a very plausible extension of reality TV in the future. I don’t watch reality TV myself, but it fascinates me from an economics perspective.

    Take Survivor for example. Standard 24 episode season. Take a bunch of people, stick them on an island. Make them camp out, feed them bugs, etc. Pay ONE of them $1,00,000.00 at the end of the show. Talk about a low overhead to produce.

    For comparison, to make a single half hour episode of Friends, producers paid out $6,000,000.00 in salaries alone. That’s a $144,000,000.00 per season for casting compared to the $1,000,000.00 for the entire season of Survivor (yes, a 144:1 ratio). And Friends is only a half hour show. You can have more ad sales for a 1 to 1.5 hour long Survivor episode.

    It is a wonder all shows aren’t reality shows.

  5. Ryan Nichols says:

    I enjoyed the story a great deal. I teach a course on philosophy through science fiction, and I found this one thought provoking. Is the protagonist to be praised as a result of taking a job that would put him so extensively in the public eye since his goal was to be faithful? Or should we fault him for not having greater moral resolve to reckon with his temptations in a way that wouldn’t jeopardize his marriage? Interesting… not to mention the meta-perspective elicited through the description of what subscribers feel watching the character that the author is describing to us in prose! Funky.

    This is my first post ever, so pardon me if I’m prolix. But I wanted to note how many wonderful moments I’ve had listening to your podcast–moving, weeding, painting, brewing beer, folding clothes, driving. I’m trying to write up a summary and study questions for the philosophical stories I hear and read for future use with my philosophy students. Many times Escape Pod has sent me scrambling across the yard or house in an attempt to track down my note pad. So many ideas, so little time.

    Oh, I’ll paypal you soon, Steve. Mark my words! I absolutely love Escape Pod. I’m getting ready to move alone cross-country from MI to CA, and I’ll look forward to listening to you and your commentary on the road.

  6. Jeff S says:


    I would say that the protagonist had good intentions, but that his fault was ignorance (if not stupidity) for agreeing to engage in a program where everyone watching could sense/feel his emotions and desires. He was just asking to be caught in the thought (so to speak) of thinking something that someone close to him would object to.

  7. Pete Butler says:

    I enjoyed this one; I can sympathize with the folks who didn’t care for it and bailed early, but it held my attention well enough. It took on a topic that tends to inspire passionate emotions in a lot of people (the right to privacy in the face of technology that makes surveilance oh-so-easy) in a way that was thought-provoking without ever being strident. It’s a keeper.

  8. Steve Z. says:

    This thing is real.
    I was unwittingly the test-dummy for this bio-chip from 1992, when it was implanted during a root canal operation.
    A nightmare of being always under surveillance by cops and their scummmy underworld friends; chased across the country and back. GPS, helicopters, cars, voice, blood pressure, speech, etc.
    It is now secretly being used fopr surveillance of thousands of Canadian ex-prisoners.

  9. Archie says:

    As a married man I had to chuckle at the man’s discomfort at getting home and being challenged by his wife. (Not that I hang out with ex girlfriends). A man should be allowed his thoughts as long as he doesn’t physically (or I guess verbally) stray from the path of monogamy. This poor chap had a natural male reaction to a situation and because of the spyware was held accountable for biology.

    Interesting premise and sadly the idea of his subscribers logging off when he wasn’t doing something explicit was an all too accurate commentary on modern western society.

    Not quite sure how the robots fitted in or who was behind them but a fun read.

    Thank you as every escapepod – I’ve only been on board since The Baby and the Bathwater but I love the show.

    Regards from Britain.


  10. 3CountyLaugh says:

    I have to admit I perhaps read a more disturbing subtext in this one. When you concentrate not on the ‘subject’ but on the emerimenters the story is really a different critter. Some how the line describing our protagnists “thorax” sent shivers up and down my spne contemplating an alien intellegence, likely insectile, experimenting with the social structure of humans… I mean they engineered the make-up providing the deeply rooted scent cue that really triggered their passionate reunion… I loved the reading of the subtext.

  11. Tim says:

    The thing about this story is, how far off are we from being able to do this?

  12. Abby says:

    Hey, this was a great story. I felt like a subscriber while listening. Great use of a “we” POV … what is that, fifth person limited?

  13. LOL the comments about the podcast are great. I am a philosophy major and did agree about the protagonist perspective. As far as the “It is now secretly being used fopr surveillance of thousands of Canadian ex-prisoners.” As realistic as it probably is… How far are we to go??

  14. […] This week on Retrieval Detachment: Municipal Surveillance And The Perfect Blog – Subscribing To A Person’s Psyche. We discuss the Escape Pod episode ‚ÄúObservations From The City Of Angels” by William Shunn. […]

  15. Mitch says:

    I just read a news posting on yahoo about some folks who are “lifecasting”, putting up video from their videocams 7/24 (almost). It sounds way to close to what was in this story for my comfort. If you’d like to read the yahoo article, the link is: http://potw.news.yahoo.com/s/potw/40075/the-real-reality-tv
    (note: I also posted a comment there saying that folks may want to come here and listen to this story)

  16. scatterbrain says:

    Well…that was bollocks.

  17. Vytautas says:

    I like your office raises)

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