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EP073: Barnaby in Exile

By Mike Resnick.
Read by Paul Fischer (of The Balticon Podcast)
Discuss on our forums.
All stories by Mike Resnick.
All stories read by Paul Fischer.

“Very good, Barnaby,” she says. “And what is this?”

“Kitten,” I say.

We go through the whole book.

“Where is Barnaby?” I ask.

“Barnaby is an ape,” she says. “There is no picture of an ape in the book.”

I wonder if there are any other Barnabys in the world, and if they are lonely too.

Rated G. Contains nothing age-inappropriate. However, some listeners may find it excessively sad.

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Referenced sites:
2006 Podcast & Portable Media Expo

Comments (38)

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  1. Will says:

    Damn Resnick always makes me sad! :)

  2. Scott says:

    The story was descent. I love the variety Escape Pod proffers Blasphemy one week, politics the next. (… ‚Äúand now for something different‚Äù could be your running motto, but I like ‚ÄúHave Fun‚Äù too.). Even if he is special, Barnaby occasionally had more insight and vocabulary than I could fully believe. Overall very interesting. Keep up the diversity!

  3. Sherry says:

    I believe I remember reading this story when it originally appeared, but it was a case in point for the remarks about how sometimes a story has more emotional force when read aloud. I wasn’t particularly struck by the story when I first read it, but when I listened to it I found it much stronger and more poignant. Not all stories affect me this way–I like podcasts mainly because I’m a multi-tasker by nature and audio stories simply let me “read” more–but I especially enjoy it when I feel that a story has been improved on by this format.

  4. David says:

    What did Barnaby do? He just wanted to be happy and talk, but he got thrown out of the lab and into the jungle where nobody would talk to him. I also found it interesting that when he would sign something, both people and other bonobos thought that he was holding something in his hands. I look forward to this podcast every week. Keep up the good work!

  5. I’ve never heard Mike Reznick’s work before, but he smacks of a modern-day Jack London. I grew up on Mr. London’s tales, and I was always amazed at his ability to empathize with an animal’s perspective on things humans easily comprehend — for example, the act of throwing stones was magical and Godly to White Fang.

    I, too, found some of Barnaby’s abilities at comprehension a little too stretched, as I was expecting a more Koko-esque character. But, this minor issue is easily dismissed on the strength of Reznick’s prose.

  6. Damon says:

    Next time you run a Mike Resnick, I will respect the warning and *not* listen while at work.

    I’m lucky I finished listening while in a bathroom stall. None of my coworkers would have understood me balling my eyes out.

    My eyes are red because I’ve been having problems with my contacts. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    Thanks for this and all the other fabulous stories you run!

  7. Chris M says:

    This story was very engaging and Mr. Resnick certainly knows how to draw out the emotions of his listeners/readers. This was a great piece, reminds me of that movie with …Robby Benson… I think ????

  8. I’m with Damon, with a minor alteration: do not listen to Resnick while at the gym. One of my habits is to listen to whatever podcasts I have on hand while I run on the treadmill for a few miles, and damned is Resnick didn’t have me choking back some sobs in front of the other gym rats.

  9. Janni says:

    Interesting thoughts on why folks listen to audio versions of written stories. I sometimes think of a recording a story as one more way of illustrating it: like an illustrator, a reader takes the words on the page, brings something of his own to them, and in doing so creates something a little bit new.

    It’s a cool process. I love watching it, with voice and with pictures both.

  10. I thought the story was okay, but I didn’t see how it was scifi or fantasy, it just seemed like fiction from a different point of view (and no stormtroopers involved ther). I think I could do with less of this type of story. Not that I would not listen to a story like ti if it poped up again, but I would defineatly not be in my top ten, let alone fifty.

  11. Amory says:

    The last time I remember crying is when my grandmother died.

    No story on escape pod has ever made me cry. This story, while not making me cry, has come the closest that a piece of fiction ever has.

    The main reason for this, I pontificate in my own little mind, is that it is hard to not take Barnaby, the protagonist of the story, seriously. Because Barnaby has the assumed intelligence of a child, it is hard not to take Barnaby at face value as being an actual child.

    This story reminded me of every single child I have ever heard of being abandoned by their parents to live on their own. Lonliness and the desperation for intelligent (not necessarily human) contact is very evident in the story, and I blame Mr. Resnick for this all too human portrayal of an intelligent chimpanzee.

  12. S.T.U.N. Runner says:

    This was a sad story all right, poignant and touching. The writer really knows how to push the right buttons!

  13. Colin F says:

    A desperately sad tale. Amory’s comments hit the spot precisely – it’s easy to see how Barnaby’s reactions might easily map onto a child’s feelings.

    More stories of this quality please! (Although it really wasn’t SciFi / Fantasy as far as I’m concerned either.)

  14. Tiffany Hine Australia says:

    Wow, Mr Resnick has really touched me again, and I’m in agreeance with some of the other posters, it is the fact that I am listening to it rather than reading it that has really made me get emotionally attached to Barnaby. If I was reading this I wouldn’t be feeling the same emotions because the reader has added inflections and emotions to what would normally be words on a page with my own emotions. By listening, my own emotions are given a bit of a “push”.
    Great story, I think it is on the border of SciFi/Fantasy because of the perspective it has been written in and I don’t think normally lab apes (or other lab animals for that matter) are put in the jungle once they have been in captivity for so long, because they wouldn’t understand the change after being in an enclosed room. They are usually put on reserves with other lab apes and carers, and boxes and stuff they might be able to deal with better than wide open spaces. They are not just dumped in a jungle like it seems Barnaby was.

  15. Sunrider says:

    I too was left wondering how it was Sci-Fi or Fantasy.

    Regarding your list of reasons for podcasting the written word, my husband listed one that wasn’t mentioned.
    It is, after all, how stories were first communicated from one person to another. Stories were handed down by voice or by song, NOT in writing.

    What better reason do you need? ;)

  16. Harold says:

    I agree with the comments regarding this piece’s classification as sci-fi ‚Äî it is way too close to reality. At best it counts as fantasy for the ‘abstract thought’ aspect. But it reminded me of a passage from Dutch biologist Midas Dekkers’ “Dearest Pet” where he discusses these language experiments:

    As less and less prestige was attached o language experiments it became clearer what the researchers really thought of their apes. … A number of them were dumped mercilessly from the pulpit into the vivisection laboratory. … And then there was Lucy. After all the words that had been pumped into her had been extracted, she was let loose in the African jungle. Her keeper Janice Carter believes that this is where a chimpanzee belongs. Lucy did not agree. Having lived for eleven years in a human family, she wanted to sleep on an ordinary mattress, she preferred her mineral water from a bottle, before going to sleep she liked leafing through the magazine rack, and if there was one thing she hated, it was camping. Hence, finding herself in the jungle, Lucy flatly refused to forage for food. Instead she made gestures of command: ‘Food. Hurry. Give food Lucy. More food. Hurry, hurry.’ Janice virtually had to kick the spoiled brat into the trees and even showed her how to eat live ants. The most poignant detail was that Lucy was robbed of her language. Questions were no longer answered, statements ignored. When two years later someone from her previous life came to visit her, Lucy raced to the edge of her fenced-off piece of Africa and called in sign language: ‘Please. Help. Out.’

  17. Phillip Rosenthal says:

    Mr Eley,
    I have been listening to Escape Pod for a short while, after being mentioned on either Scott Siegler or JC Hutchens (don’t remember which) and I have throughly enjoyed it. I generally enjoy your short intro/outro as much as the story. Today’s story was indeed sad, and had to fight back blurring eyes as I drove to work (not good, I might add – your warnings have been dead on and I should really pay more attention to them). Your intro mentioned the difference between hearing a story and reading a story. I enjoy both, reading lets me go much faster, but to me hearing a story is like hand-writing a letter vice a typed one. Hearing the story (and hand-writing) allows for PERSONALITY to pervade the manuscript. You can “see” the personality of the person writing a letter, unlike now as you read this on your computer. No matter how I feel as I type, you have no idea unless I use the limited actions available to me to indicate stress (capital letters, italics, quotations, etc.). With handwriting, you can see every single letter’s feeling – was it extended, compressed, hurried, scribbled, carefully written? With audiobooks/podcasts I can hear the timbre in the voice, the stress, the intonation (connotation). To me, listening to the stories is just as important to society as is reading them. And, I hope, hand-writing will never be completely replaced by the keyboard. All forms of communication have their particular place in society, and it’s to society’s demise if any of them are removed.

    V/R,
    [Very Respectfully,]
    Phillip Rosenthal, TSgt, USAF

  18. Mike says:

    Damn… that was a good story… though I’m using my flatmates computer… I’m glad I left it till she was out of the flat before I listened to it…

    As I sit here tears on my cheeks…

  19. Mike Resnick says:

    In answer to those who question whether this or my previous Escape Pod story are “real” science fiction, my answer is: of course they are. They were both Hugo nominees, so the voters certainly thought so. They both appeared in Asimov’s, the leading science fiction magazine of the past two decades, so the editor certainly thought so. They have both been sold abroad, many times over, to nothing but science fiction markets, so the foreign editors certainly thought so.

    I think some of you might consider broadening your definitions of science fiction to accomodate what’s actially being written and sold in the field. This link from Locus might help (or outrage) you. It shows the all-time award leaders, living and dead, for short science fiction, and who’s not on it may surprise you every bit as much as who -is- on it:

    http://www.locusmag.com/SFAwards/Db/TableT13.html

    Finally, for those who think I must be a truly morose guy who only writes sad stories… I have sold more funny sf stories than any writer since the late Robert Sheckley. Who knows? One of these days some of them may turn up here. It all depends on Da Boss (Stephen Eley).

    – Mike Resnick

  20. Dave says:

    Generally speaking, I feel a story in my gut much more when I read it than I do hearing someone else read it aloud to me. There are a few exceptions (I think Neil Gaiman, for example, is a very gifted reader), and this story was one of them. What surprises me more than anything is that I’m almost certain this story would not have engaged me as much if I had read it myself as opposed to listening to it on escape pod. Good job, guys!

  21. Matt says:

    I wonder if Harlan Ellison would through a tissy fit if someone at an event asked him about Mike Resnick. He’s fun to set off… if a little dangerous from a legal standpoint.

  22. Simon says:

    Hmm, It seems this entry caused a bit of a Flowers For Algernon reaction from a lot of the readers. I have to admit, it didn’t do that to me – I kept thinking how much I preferred Daniel Keyes’s take on it, but I think that says more about me than it does about this story.

    The inversion of “Mighty Joe Young” that this is built around is pretty cute – and since there is no WAY MJY is science fiction I can see where the other readers are coming from.

    I have to say I am rather surprised to see Resnick’s reaction on here. Publishing clout really means very little to me Mike, your ability to tell a good story is what matters. There are plenty of massive selling hacks in the field, so i’ll keep judging you by the standards of Sturgeon and Pohl, not McCaffey and Eddings. To put it another way – you got Steve Eley’s cheque Mike, by what you’ve just said, that *should* be enough for your ego.

  23. GJK says:

    I think this was a very borderline Sci-Fi story. However, like other stories by the author, there was a lot of emotion involved. After listening to the first five minutes, I didn’t think I’d be too into it. However; by the end I had to admit that it was an interesting story.

  24. john says:

    Innocent protagonist, given knowledge, then thrown back into eden. WOW, what a great read! This story ties together nature versus nurture, can you ever go back home, and a friendly dose of theology in a great eye misting tale. Gives you plenty to think about without ever straying from a compelling narrative.

  25. Rupert says:

    Awwwww….. That truly was bloody heart touching…. I’m going to burn that to a disk and pass it around to my non-EP regular friends…

  26. J Clark says:

    Reginald Bretnor defines science fiction thus:

    “Fiction based on rational speculation regarding the human experience of science and its resultant technologies.”

    Teaching apes to think, communicate, and to a point act like humans is certainly science, and as others have mentioned, seeing ourselves through Barnaby’s eyes in certainly an examination of the human condition. Just putting human thoughts into the mind of an animal, or experiencing an animal’s thoughts in a human way depending on how you view it, would fulfill that definition.

    That said, author’s in general would do well to remember that they can’t argue with everyone who reads their stories, best to let them stand on their own and let people think what they will.

    This story certainly does stand on its own, too. I really should listen to Mike Resnick’s stories at work, both of the stories so far presented in Escape Pod have left me emotionally devastated for the rest of the day. I end up seeing things differently afterwards, and feeling everything a bit too much. I can’t help but look at my dog, for example, and imagine the simple, innocent thoughts going through his head, and feel terrible about every time I’ve ever lost my temper or ignored him.

    We learn a lot about ourselves when viewed from the outside. Unfortunately, we won’t always like what we see.

  27. J Clark says:

    Even better, here’s this definition from Dick Riley:

    “At its best, science fiction has no peer in creating another universe of experience, in showing us what we look like in the mirrorof technological society or throught the eyes of a non-human.”

    The point is, science fiction doesn’t have to involve ray guns, star ships, and robots. Anything unreal or unknown counts. The important part is that it uses those unreal or unknown elements to examine a place, a person, a people, or an idea in a way that wouldn’t be possible without those elements.

  28. Mike Resnick says:

    I think the best definition of science fiction I’ve yet come across (and that includes literally hundreds of them) is: Science fiction is that branch of literature that deals with an alternate past, an altered present, or an imagined future.

    My favorite, though, is Damon Knight’s: Science fiction is whatever I am pointing to when I say “That’s science fiction.”

  29. Erez says:

    Great great podcast. And the reading was right on the money.

    In a nutshell: the most humane story I’ve ever listened to.

  30. Terry says:

    I really enjoyed the story, posts have commented on if it was Sci-fi or not, but to me it doesn’t matter it’s not the most important reason why I listen to Escape Pod. I listen to hear good stories; ones that make you think, question and/or feel. This story did that.

    Keep up the great work at selecting stories.

  31. Jeff says:

    I too immediately thought of Flowers for Algernon when I listened. I prefer the term speculative fiction anyway and imagining the throught process of a chimp is certainly speculative. Thanks for the enjoyable listen.

  32. Kaylea says:

    Sweet & touching story — although the overall story arc has been done before, the voicing really made it something special.

  33. Paul Fischer says:

    I want to thank you all for the nice things you said about the reading. I also want to thank Mike Resnick for writing such an emotional piece and Steve Eley for giving me the chance to read it.

    I’ve been an Escape Pod fan since I first heard about it over a year ago. I’ve been dying to read for everyone since I first heard EP, and Steve has always said he was waiting for the right story. I’m glad this story came along.

    Thanks again Mike & Steve and all the EP listeners.

  34. Anonymous says:

    A story does not have to have space-ships or elves in order to be science fiction. That this suggests a nonhuman intelligence, and that we as humans do not understand our world fully as it is makes this a pure science fiction story.

    If you are good, maybe god will let you out of your cage.

  35. scatterbrain says:

    A rarity in contempory fiction: true emotional depth.

  36. zZzacha says:

    Wow. Mike, you’re good! Thanks for this wonderful story, hope you write more like it!
    I enjoy almost every story EscapePod brings to me. This one however, really got to me. Paul Fischer also did a great job of telling the story, which counts for a great deal (in audiostories at least).

    Thanks for this wonderful present on this wonderful sunny afternoon in Holland (where it’s almost NEVER EVER sunny, so I just had to say that)
    Lots’o’Love!