EP076: The Dinner Game

By Stephen Eley.
Read by Maia Whitaker (of Knitwitch’s SciFi/Fantasy Zone)

“Do I know you?” she says.

“I remember you,” he says, and she smiles. It’s another game. He has been a spy fleeing his country. She has been an adulterous First Lady. They have been psychiatrist and schizophrenic; vampire and victim; two blind people speculating on the world they cannot see. They will make love as themselves when they leave the Rose for a room upstairs, and tomorrow he will finish his business and leave her city. But first they dine as other people.

Rated R. Contains sex, violence, sacrilege, and other epic necessities.

Referenced sites:
Twenty Epics (Amazon link)
Twenty Epics (PDF download)
Silent Universe

Comments (80)

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  1. omar reyes says:

    outstanding work. Normally I can’t stand epics, but this was short enough, and interesting enough, that it kept my attention the whole time.

  2. Spork says:

    Hey, Resnick.

    If you serve a bowl of soup with a turd floating in it in a soup kitchen, does the hobo not have the right to complain a little? I suppose you’d just tell him to go ask for his money back, huh?

    Free has nothing to do with my right to bitch and moan about it. Just as it has nothing to do with my expectations of quality. I expect quality, and usually get it from here. When I don’t, I pipe up to try and get things back on track.

  3. Chris Lester says:

    Hey Steve! For my money — and unlike some people who comment here, I AM paying for this podcast :) — this story was entirely worthy of being included in Escape Pod. Yes, it broke the Show-don’t-Tell rule so thoroughly that creative writing professors in the Andromeda Galaxy are still recovering the pieces, but it’s a MYTH. Myths are made for skalds and tribal elders to share with their people around the campfire, and they very rarely contain the sort of dialogue and action that you would expect in a modern novel. To me, this story evoked that same sense of classical storytelling. I wouldn’t want every story to be like this, but it was a nice change of pace, and I think it was the only way to really present a story of this magnitude in such a short amount of time.

    I do have to agree with the other Chris (comment 34) when he says that the ending was a bit weak. I was hoping for something that would hint that these people really might be a pair of eternally star-crossed lovers, and not just an adulterous couple sharing a spicy bit of role-playing. I didn’t really get that sense from the ending as it stands — it seemed to fall back into the world of the mundane, which was a bit of a let-down after the epic tone of the rest of the story. That said, though, I still enjoyed it, and I look forward to the next time you run one of your stories.

  4. ApocD says:

    I never thought I’d agree with anyone named Spork or Art Carnage, but I have to say I didn’t care for this story at all. I thought there would be listener backlash on this one, so I’m surprised to see that most of the comments here are positive.

    I first started to worry about Escape Pod when Steve started running Sigler and Lafferty stories. It seemed too in-house for me. Then, when he ran his own story for the first time, I almost unsubscribed. I thought about it, though, and decided that with all of the work he puts into the show and all of the entertainment I’ve gotten from it, I should give him a break. Now, I’m ready to unsubscribe again. I know no one’s forcing me to listen, but it’s hard to unsubscribe. I like Steve’s commentary and most of the stories. It’s just hard for me to respect an editor who runs his own stories; I thought Steve was better than that. OK, that’s enough moaning. (from me, at least)

  5. Chris Lester says:

    In fairness to Steve, ApocD, he’s only run two of his stories out of 76 episodes, and he asked other people to make the call on whether they should be included. As far as running Sigler and Lafferty stories — well, you can say what you want, but it has probably brought Escape Pod a lot of new listeners who otherwise might not have found it. I know that I only gave it a try because of Mur’s “I Look Forward To Remembering You”, which she mentioned on I Should Be Writing and Geek Fu Action Grip.

    I don’t see how anyone could claim favoritism here. Yes, Escape Pod has run a few stories by Steve’s friends and associates in the podcasting community. So what? It’s also featured stories from Hugo Award winners, bestselling authors, and unknowns who are getting their work published for the first time anywhere. It’s a good mix, and I for one enjoy it.

  6. Nick DeLong says:

    I am very impressed by this story. It, like some of my favorite short stories by Asimov and others, accomplishes a lot in a small space.

    If this is what is in store in other “Twentty Epics” stories, I’ll definately check it out.

  7. slic says:

    Spork:”Free has nothing to do with my right to bitch and moan about it.”
    You’re right. But the point being made by everyone who has commented on your input is about the civility of it. The bum with the turd is still a jackass if he throws his soup in the face of the guy serving it.

  8. ApocD says:

    I’m sure Scott Sigler’s stories brought in a ton of listeners, too. I just hope stories are being chosen for their quality and not for the number of listeners they’ll bring in. (full disclosure: I liked Hero)

    This is a podcast, so I understand that Steve can do whatever he wants. I don’t want Escape Pod to just be another podcast, though; there are already plenty of those. I’d like to see Escape Pod up there with the top SF markets,and I don’t think that will happen if he runs his own stories. If I saw a copy of F&SF at the bookstore with a Gordon Van Gelder story in it, I would know the end had some for the magazine.

    Escape Pod is Steve’s, so he’s free to take it in whichever direction he likes. It just doesn’t seem to be going in the direction I once thought it would.

  9. L33tminion says:

    I enjoyed the story. I found the ending incredibly sad, for some reason. I’m not quite sure why.

  10. JClark says:

    Spork said: “If you serve a bowl of soup with a turd floating in it in a soup kitchen, does the hobo not have the right to complain a little?”

    Certainly, but that’s a really bad analogy. Soup with a turd in it isn’t edible, it would be gross and dangerous to eat, and maybe one in (I hope) many thousands of people would even attempt it. Besides, even soup kitchens have to meet sanitation and health requirements or be shut down. That makes it a false analogy, just one of many types of logical fallacies I’m sure you hold near and dear.

    A better analogy would be a hobo going to a soup kitchen and getting tomato soup when he wanted chicken noodle. Most everyone there is happy with it (as most everyone is happy with this story, don’t assume your opinions are universal facts, especially when looking at a long page of mostly contradictory evidence), but this one hobo doesn’t like tomato soup. Would he have the right to complain then?

    The answer is no, he wouldn’t. He’s being offered free food, the soup kitchen operators did their best to please everyone, and most everyone is pleased. They don’t deserve to be screamed at by the one guy who seems to think they should consult with him before every meal.

    Your analogy would be like me bitching about a car my mother gave me – that worked fine but I didn’t like – by saying “if someone offered you shoes then nailed boards to your feet, even if he did it for free, you’d complain wouldn’t you?” Of course, but that’s a terrible analogy, and exactly what you were doing.

    By the way, I’ve taken the trouble of coming up with a catch phrase for you, which you can have for free (though you’ll probably compare it to me pissing on you or something, seriously dude, get that scatological obsession checked out before it’s too late):

    “Spork: If I can’t work in the word ‘shit’ at least once per post, it’s just not worth my time.”

  11. Spork says:

    (Comment deleted. That’s strike two. Insult your fellow listeners a third time, and you’ll be banned. –Steve)

  12. Emma says:

    Spork, where is all this anger coming from? It must get tiring lashing out at people you dont know on the internet!

    Anyhow, just wanted to say that I enjoyed this story. I dont always like the stories on Escape Pod, but the way I figure it is that if I buy a monthly magazine and it has four stories in it, then I might only like two or three. And I think its cool when a story like this comes along and I enjoy it, because left to my own devices I would prefer to read hard science fiction. So thanks Escape Pod, for moving me out of my comfort zone and bringing me so much great fiction.

  13. Michael says:

    Steve — This is the first story from Escape Pod that I can say truly made me work to listen to it. It was mentally draining, and while it was passable, it didn’t digest very well.

    Could have been my mindset (I had hand surgery this morning, so I’ve been grouchy the past week, much to my wife’s chagrin = and, yes, one handed typing is a pain, but the drugs are at least decent), but something just didn’t feel right about it.

    The characterizations were good, the motivations seemed right, but something was just a bit “off”.

  14. Spork says:

    That’s nice Stevie. I come on here, comment about the story, other commenters come at me, and make it about me, and you hold me accountable where you let them off the hook.

    My comment stands. If you don’t like my comments, don’t read them.

  15. SFEley says:

    There’s nothing wrong with responding to other comments, Spork. There’s nothing wrong with dialogue.

    The reason I’m deleting your comments and no one else’s is because no one else is directing profanity at other people. Stop calling people names, and we’ll get along fine.

  16. Spork says:

    Shit, there you go again, being all fucking reasonable-like.

  17. [...] This week on Retrieval Detachment: Flash Fiction – How Word Count And Story Size Need Not Matter. We discuss the Wired article “Very Short Stories”, and the Escape Pod episode “The Dinner Game” by Stephen Eley. [...]

  18. Kaylea says:

    I thought the concept was interesting, original, and worthwhile, but it might have benefitted from more production — two voices might have kept the ‘oof, this is a lot of telling rather than showing’ sentiment to a minimum.

    If I had been reading this from the page, I probably would have created (in my head) more distinct voices for the two characters and felt less “told to” because of it.

    Also, maybe a filter on the audio would have been helpful? I am by no means an audio expert here, and I have enjoyed Knitwitch’s reading in the past, but for some reason this time there was a whistling noise with all of the ‘s’ sounds, which distracted me :( like fingernails on chalkboards. Audio quality on EP is usually high, but those darn sibilants tripped you up this time. (Ooh, I used a fancy word!)

    I just doublechecked the submission guidelines, and they do explicitly say that “fantasy” falls into the scope of the podcast — maybe some of the folks who are critical of the selection are expecting more “hard core” sci-fi? Perhaps some listener expectation management is in order?

    Eh, random musings.


  19. DanielD says:

    Although this is one of my favorite Podcasts… this particular story, although somewhat interesting, just didn’t seem to fit the context.

    It wasn’t disagreeable, I just can not seem to come up with any words to describe what I did or did not like about it. This is probably my biggest complaint.

    Maybe I didn’t pay enough for it… I’ll make a donation and see if it helps.

  20. Gary H says:

    Regarding Steve podcasting his own work:
    1. It’s his podcast.
    2. The work was previously published.

    Out of 76 episodes, it wasn’t my favorite and it wasn’t my least favorite, but will one episode make me stop listening? No. Thank Steve for his hard work, don’t insult him or other listener. I don’t donate near enough for the value I get out this podcast.

  21. Martha Holloway says:

    It was a solid story although it left me a little dissatisfied. I never was quite sucked into the ancient warrior/scholar pursuing his beloved and hated night goddess lover aspect though. I think it had to do with certain modern phrasings in the way he told his story even as the setting was becoming more and more timeless–time seeming to pass without notice (suddenly empty dishes removed from the table), the two lovers alone in that place (the restaurant growing darker and emptier, the sound of other diners muted and more distant). The scene returns to the mundane as they leave, with the restaurant peopled and lighted as it was at the beginning of the dinner. The mythic evaporating into the quotidian.

    Of course, it would take either a supremely confident goddess, a lover too well versed in role playing, or a supremely oblivious woman to be unconcerned about a man who confesses that he has sworn to kill her and who simply goes off to bed with him. There, that’s it–Goddesses who have had their secrets revealed are more fickle, more dangerous. The woman does not seem dangerous enough or deceptive enough in the modern scene to be the deadly, cruel, deceptive goddess of night depicted in the man’s story.

    Oh, and KnitWitch did a fine reading. I also heard some sibilance in the recording that detracted from the story and I listened to the story on the drive home on an iPod transmitter and my car speakers.

    The pronunciation of “Boojolais” did not bother me as much as the wine later being referred to as a Burgundy. Nononono, Steve, Beaujolais wine is produced from Gamay Noir grapes “The flavors are of wild, red fruits such as red currants and fraises des bois, with suggestions of something darker like mulberries or raspberries” [www.burgundywinecompany.com] and it is a light, drinkable wine. Burgundy wine is usually made from Pinot Noir whose “aroma is often one of the most complex of all varietals and can be intense with a ripe-grape or black cherry aroma, frequently accented by a pronounced spiciness that suggests cinnamon, sassafras, or mint….It is full-bodied and rich but not heavy, high in alcohol, yet neither acidic nor tannic, with substantial flavor despite its delicacy.” [www.winepros.org] In other words, although the Beaujolais district is considered geographically part of the Burgundy wine region, Beaujolais wine is distinct from classic Burgundy wine and you really shouldn’t call them by each other’s name.

    Looking forward as always to next week’s episode.

  22. Martha Holloway says:

    Damn, it stripped out my fake HTML code poking fun at my own pedantry! Read all that wine snob hoo hah as tongue in cheek, please!

  23. mike el says:

    wow steve i want to thank you for this story, this is the reason that i listen to escape pod, to be taken away by a stoy. to allow the writer to show you a door in your own thoughts, real or otherwise, that you can peek out of this world and into another. it was a story that i listened to 4 or 5 times and still enjoy

  24. Winsmith says:

    Astounding and truly Epic!

  25. Bob says:

    Nice story. Not something I would have chosen from a list of stories but it grew on me.

    I liked the way you leave it up to the listener to decide whether it is just a kinky dinner game or the culmination of an epic.

  26. Susan says:

    I loved your story. It was open enought to allow each hearer to bring their own experience to colour the tale. In my case it brought flooding back memories of a similar game played with an ex boyfriend. the ending also was open which was great.
    Sorry to take so long to show my appreciation but I have to wait for a friend to download the podcasts for me and pass them on. No money changes hands just a lot of gratitude.

  27. Chuck LeDuc says:

    I didn’t like it: I found it boring, and eventually it put me to sleep, a first for Escape Pod. It was high on pretense but absent of suspense. I felt like I was reading Cliffs Notes for a series in which Piers Anthony channels H.P. Lovecraft. It takes courage to put up your own work, Steve — in this case it didn’t pay off — so keep trying.

  28. Martin says:

    Hi, I’m a big fan of Escape Pod. Your pod casts keep me sane…ish at work.

    I have never felt compelled to leave a message, but this is the best story I have heard on Escape Pod! Great stuff! Keep up the good work!

  29. scatterbrain says:

    Is it me, or is there too much shagging and obnoxious goddertry in legends and myths?

  30. TerminusVox says:

    I liked this story. I liked it so much I dug through the discussion boards until I could find this thread and comment on it. Good work Steve!