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EP082: Travels With My Cats

2005 Hugo Winner!
By Mike Resnick.
Read by Stephen Eley.
Discuss on our forums.
All stories by Mike Resnick.
All stories read by Stephen Eley.

That night I was faced with a major decision. I didn’t want to read a book called Travels With My Cats by a woman called Miss, but I’d spent my last nickel on it — well, the last until my allowance came due again next week — and I’d read all my other books so often you could almost see the eyetracks all over them.

So I picked it up without much enthusiasm, and read the first page, and then the next — and suddenly I was transported to Kenya Colony and Siam and the Amazon. Miss Priscilla Wallace had a way of describing things that made me wish I was there, and when I finished a section I felt like I’d been there.

Rated PG. This product may be too disillusioning for young children.

Referenced sites:
PodDisc.com
DragonHearth Productions (by Tracy and Laura Hickman)

Comments (139)

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  1. Simon Painter says:

    I have to say that I really enjoyed this one. I didn’t much like Mike Resnick’s other stories that’ve appeared on Escape Pod. I found the them far too heavy handed, which is also true here to some extent, though in a more balanced manner.

    The ending was fairly predictable, but when the story is well told, that doesn’t really matter, you can just get pulled along with the flow of narrative, as is the case here.

    The romantic in me would love to think that a sequel could be written where the narrator finally finds his book and is reunited with his night-time visitor, but the fiction fan in me knows that this ending works *far* to well to spoil :-)

    I have to wonder, though, would it be worth marketing Escape Pod as a general Speculative Fiction Podcast, rather than as Science Fiction. This would probably be better descriptive of the style stories on here, and hopefully attract a wider range of writers. This isn’t a critisism (I love about 95% of the stories I’ve heard on ES) just a thought.

    Please do keep ‘em coming!

    Thanks,

    Simon Painter
    Shropshire, UK

  2. Chris says:

    While I really love Mike Resnick’s work, and have bought most of it from fictionwise.com (prior to podcasting, I loved digesting my fictions on my Palm Pilot … it’s always in my pocket when I have time to kill). This story was, in my opinion, really terrific. While it falls more to the fantasy end of the spectrum, it’s full of the feelings and emotions which I think all of us can understand. As usual, Mr. R shows why he’s received so many award nominations. He’s a master storyteller!

    As for the podcast, this is my first comment and I’d like to thank Steve for creating such a wonderful piece of entertainment. I started listening to escape pod during my commute, and now I find myself going out for a walk just for an excuse to put the ipod on and listen to this week’s story. I think you’re doing a great job, Steve, and I look forward to being, as Stephen King calls us, a “constant reader”.

  3. You’re obviously not from the North Wisconsin woods, Steve.

    Neither am I, but I have family in Rhinelander and a plane ticket to and from Wassau this Christmas.

    “Minocqua” has the stress on the second syllable and the vowel sound that the “o” makes isn’t what you said either. To pronounce it, say “mi” as you did (as in “mince”) and then say “naqua” as in the energy stuff on Stargate: SG1. The stress should end up on the second syllable. Something like “Mih-NOCK-wuh”.

    Minocqua’s actually a decent little tourist trap of a town; it has some really nice little shops (including an incredible toy store) all within walking distance of each other. There’s also a pretty good children’s museum a little ways out of town, and “Peck’s Wildwood Wildlife Park”, which is a bit pricey, but as good as any small zoo. It’s a nice little day trip if you find yourself living in Wisconsin’s north woods for a while.

  4. SFEley says:

    You’re obviously not from the North Wisconsin woods, Steve.

    This is true. Thanks for the correction, Daniel — I try my best to look up pronunciations on words and proper names, but that was one I had trouble finding. And yes, it does sound like a nice place!

  5. Jim in Buffalo (AKA WNYRPG) says:

    Mispronouncing town names happens all the time. Here in New York, we have these towns, Medina and Elmira, and they’re pronounced by locals as “meh DI nah” and “el MI rah,” (that is to say, the long ‘I” sound, rhymes with “eye”) but I’ve heard both those towns mispronounced on the national news as “meh DEE nah” and “el MEE rah.” (Side note: Medina, NY was once famous for being home to a large Fisher-Price toy factory, which has since closed, sending most of the jobs overseas)

  6. Pete S says:

    I know this is a really tangential comment, but as someone in his mid-40s, I think Resnick portrayal of the 40 year old protagonist as some old guy who has missed out on life is a bit horrifying. Hell I’m not even out of adolescence yet!!

    Yeah, that’s a real nit. Actually I enjoyed the story very much. I wonder though.. did his initial misfortune of the raccoon destroying the book happen because he lied to her? That’s was my interpretation but I’d love to hear what others thought.

  7. yak sox says:

    Pete S: It was coz he left the window open.

  8. Daniel Döring says:

    The warning for the emotionally unstable was well placed, should be something like “do not listen to this in public to avoid embarressment”. Sometimes you shoudn’t go shopping with your iPod….

    Realy, the final loss of knowlege or culturage inheritance (like men with beards blowing up buddha statues or men without beards looting the baghdad national museum) has always freaked me out!

    Daniel, Germany

  9. Luke says:

    My heart stopped between the words “closing” and “to donations”

    Great story!

  10. Mike Bauer says:

    I loved that one, great story!
    Glad to hear Alex is talking now, Steve. At least now when someone asks him if he’s a God, you know he’ll be able to say “Yes.”

  11. Jim in Buffalo (AKA WNYRPG says:

    One thing about this story that occurred to me while I was listening was that the character narrating should have just gone ahead and photocopied, scanned, and transcribed the entire book into a text file and uploaded it to Project Gutenberg for everyone in the world to read. Heck, if the book “Travels With My Cats” had not been copyrighted in the first place and was that many years old, it would be public domain.

    Hey, you know, if he were to find another copy of the book and the author were to reappear, he’d sooner or later have to come clean with her about her actual literary career. Boy would she be bummed.

  12. Scottish Mike says:

    I liked this story. It was fairly emotional, but somehow not as much as I hoped from Resnick O_o. I still enjoyed it though, and I’m thankful that it didn’t make me cry or anything as I was listening to it while in public.

    I’d say something like escape pod needs more stories like this… but I pretty much think that every week..

    Keep it up , and i’m glad to hear things are cool before christmas. :D

  13. Tim says:

    This one I liked a lot. The first two of Mike’s stories, while well written, didn’t really make me cry. This one, however, almost did. The other two felt forced in trying to get an emotional reaction, this one didn’t, it felt organic and natural, not forced.

  14. I think anyone who has loved something incredibly rare and then lost it (be that love a mix tape or a movie not available on DVD, or a numbered edition rare travelogue)can feel the protagonist’s pain. While that mix tape I had in 7th grade hasn’t visited me on the porch, it sometimes gives me a pang in my heart to know I had it at one point, but lost it through stupidity or neglect. This story captures that melancholy so well, I thought it was the most emotionally resonant of the Resnick stories you’ve run. Kudos!

  15. Bumbles says:

    This story didn’t feel much like Science Fiction me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the story, but I kept expecting aliens to pop out of nowhere and say it was all a cruel joke, that they had taken her to catalog thier travels and that he was free to join them if he liked. I would hate to suggest more work for some one, but maybe there needs to be another Escape Pod — yeah, I know Psudopod — so, a third maybe. One for great fiction like this, and one for “Hard Core” Sci-Fi. Just a thought, though.

  16. In EP’s defense, the story was desribed as Magical Realism, and Sci-Fi was never mentioned. I don’t know, however, if the market is strong enough yet to successfully split EP into “hard sci-fi” and “speculative realism”.

  17. Mike Resnick says:

    *sigh* It seems that once per story I come over here to point out that there are all kinds of science fiction, that it’s a very broad tent, and that I see no reason to limit myself to “hard science” or indeed any one other kind of story. TRAVELS WITH MY CATS won the 2005 Hugo for Best Short Story; clearly the members of the World Science Fiction Convention thought it was science fiction.

  18. slic says:

    Mr. Resnick – Congrats on the Hugo, obviously deserved, however, Bumbles’ point was it didn’t feel like sci-fi to him/her, and it didn’t for me either. I agree with Arthur C. Clarke that a sufficiently advanced tech is indistinguishable from magic, but Harry Potter is still fantasy, not lost alien tech in the form of a wand.

    No insult intended, but for a site that calls itself the sci-fi podcast magazine and has a big banner with an explodng spaceship among the stars, there is very little of that harder type of story.

    I’ve made it clear that I love this site, and the work presented is usually great – but, in my humble opinion, the last 8 stories have been nano tech, superheroes, fantasy creatures, Space ships, japanese fantasy creatures, fantasy dinner companions, other nano tech,
    time travel, and Barnaby the ape.

    That’s only 8 stories out of 82, but 2 long months with only one space sci-fi story.

    Steve has asked us to let him know what we like, and that’s what we are doing.

  19. Mike Resnick says:

    I not only enjoy the works of Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Hel Clement, but I also considered Isaac and Hal to be personal friends, and Arthur is at least a good acquaintence. That in no way alters the fact that Isaac broke into print in the late 1930s, and Hal and Arthur in the early 1940s — each of them 60 or more years ago. The world has changed since then, and so has the field. Connie Willis can win a Hugo for a story about a girl who wants to have a menstreual period. I can win them for stories about forgotten books and African colonies. George Effinger could win one for a story about a thinly-disguised French Quarter popular by Muslims. Nancy Kress can win one for a novella about people who don’t sleep. And cetera. We still write about other worlds — 3 of my 5 Hugos are for stories set on other worlds — but we’re not obligated to write about them.

    The world has changed, and so have the fiction categories. You didn’t used to have cats solving murders, and you didn’t used to have stories about forgotten books and mildly intelligent Bonobo chumpanzees. They still write about hard-boiled detectives. They still write space operas (I’ve got a series of them appearing from Pyr Books right now). But, thank ghod, we are not required to
    write -exclusively- about them, as Isaac and Hal and Arthur pretty much were when they broke in.

    And for those who wish we could go back to the Good Old Days of hard science, I have been waiting half a century for someone, anyone, to tell me what Isaac’s phsychohistory has to do with hard, soft or limp science. Yet he won the Hugo for Best All-Time Series for a trilogy whose plot was based on the validity of that nonsense “science”. Didn’t make the stories any less readable or enjoyable — but it sure as hell didn’t make them true-blue science fiction either.

  20. slic says:

    Mr. Resnick,
    I’ve read “Schr√∂dinger’s Kitten”, and “Beggars in Spain” and very much enjoyed them. I’m not arguing about whether they deserve to be considered sci-fi or not – blue, green or otherwise – I don’t care.

    Nor am I telling Steve that he’s picked bad stories that are all wrong for this site.

    I’m trying to point out that I don’t consider stories about magical books to be science fiction, any more than those about Japanese ghosts, or Comic Book superheroes. I’m a lazy Philistine who knows what he likes, and is hoping to hear more of it here. I’m trying to single-handedly influence Mr. Eley’s choices and your writing style through the sheer power of my persuasive comments (I need an emoticon to show playful sarcasm, maybe ;-7 )

    Finally, I really don’t understand how the Foundation series isn’t obviously science fiction. I’ve always thought psychohistory is a future imagination/combination of statistics and anthropology.

  21. Lisa C. says:

    Knowing the author reads the comments makes this harder to say. Sorry Mr. Resnick, but I really didn’t like this story. I have no issues with it’s inclusion in the genre, I just wasn’t moved. As a romance, I found it predictable and I didn’t connect to the characters. Maybe I’d like it better in print, Steve’s “feminine voice” tends to work best in comedy.

    On the other hand I really loved Barnaby in Exile and found it very touching. This one just didn’t do it for me.

  22. Mike Resnick says:

    >>I’ve always thought psychohistory is a future imagination/combination of statstics and anthropology.>I’m trying to single-handedly influence Mr. Eley’s choices and your writing style…

  23. Mike Resnick says:

    Lisa C.

    No need to feel awkward or uneasy. Tastes differ. You didn’t like “Travels” and it
    won a Hugo; you loved “Barnaby” and it lost the Hugo. That’s probably why they publish more than one story a month. Hope you like the next one.

    I’m not leaving comments to defend a story. All I’m doing is pointing out that just because a story doesn’t have spaceships, aliens and zap guns doesn’t mean it isn’t science fiction, not in -this- millennium. (Back in the 1940s, the critics were positively vicious toward Ray Bradbury because he had the termeity to put an oxygen atmosphere on Mars.
    They -knew- that all right-thinking readers would reject THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES because it didn’t fit their dedinition of science fiction.
    And of course today no one remembers Bradbury and everyone genuflects before the hallowed names of those
    who fiercely defended the true definition of science
    fiction.)

  24. Colin F says:

    I notice that Steve has put a new poll up on the web page – asking whether he should spin-off a separate fantasy podcast.

    I was really conflicted about my answer and then ended up clicking entirely the wrong button and it won’t let me change my vote!

    One the one hand, I really enjoy EP as it is – with a mixture of genres. BUT, if there were enough stories of suitable quality then by all means split the fantasy tales off into a separate podcast. I’d listen to both!

    If nothing comes of the idea, then the least Steve needs to do is add the words “and fantasy” to the text under the logo.

  25. Colin F says:

    PS

    I suspect that trying to write down any sensible and complete definition of what is and what isn’t sci-fi would be an impossible (and thankless) task. But in my humble opinion – Hugo award or not – that wasn’t sci-fi and I’m surprised to see the author claiming that it is!

  26. Mike, I have to say I dislike the defense of “The Hugo committee obviously thought it was sci-fi”; certainly, your achievement with this story is tangible, but committees have thought a lot of things in the past. Just because the Hugo commttee nominated your story, and the voters selected it as the cream of the nomination crop doesn’t mean it will resonate to all as sci-fi; nor does it mean that Slic’s opinions are woefully skewed. Great novels with stacks of rejection slips beside them make a strong case for subjectivity in the appreciation (and especially the classification) of art. One man’s sci-fi, perhaps.

  27. Mitch Wilson says:

    This comment is a slight divergance from the current thread of comments, but after just hearing the story I really want to add my 2 cnets worth.

    I just listened to the story yesterday and it struck a cord with me. Back when I was in high school (30-ish years ago), we read a book/play called Spoon River Anthology where people from the town’s cemetary are describing what their lives were like. There was one character in it who’s story has stayed with me all these years, and it instantly popped to mind as I listened to this week’s story. It’s not too long, so here it is:

    George Gray

    I have studied many times
    The marble which was chiseled for me–
    A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
    In truth it pictures not my destination
    But my life.
    For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
    Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
    Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
    Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
    And now I know that we must lift the sail
    And catch the winds of destiny
    Wherever they drive the boat.
    To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
    But life without meaning is the torture
    Of restlessness and vague desire–
    It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

  28. SFEley says:

    I usually stay out of the comment threads except for technical issues or keeping order, but this subject’s too interesting to ignore. Also, I worry that people may be getting too polarized over an easy misunderstanding. What I’m seeing is that there are two different and historically valid meanings of _”science fiction,”_ and folks are arguing about this story without coming to terms on which usage they mean.

    The first meaning of science fiction in use here, and I suspect the one most commonly understood among fans these days, is the literal “fiction based on science.” That can be a loose or tight coupling, and you can spend years arguing whether time travel or FTL or psychohistory ever made any sense, but the premise that the author presents to the reader is that the divergence from our world is scientific, not magical. This is distinct from fantasy, which is the other way around.

    By this definition “Travels With My Cats” is clearly not science fiction — it’s fantasy. I think it’s unambiguous in the story that Miss Wallace’s appearance is magical. And I find it moderately odd that people are raising such a fuss about it in _this_ story when Escape Pod has done _so many_ fantasy stories, from “Three Wish Habit” onward.

    The _other_ definition of science fiction, just as valid and arguably more historically rooted, is exemplified by Damon Knight’s famous quote: “Science fiction means what we point to when we say it.” It refers to that whole broad class of stuff that science fiction fans enjoy and gather to talk about. That’s circular, but the fans manage to figure it out. In more recent times that usage has been transferred to the more precise but less vivid label, “_speculative_ fiction.” And the Science Fiction Writers of America have renamed themselves to the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (with the second “F” still invisible in their acronym), and bookstores have begun labeling their shelves “Science Fiction/Fantasy” instead of just science fiction, and so forth.

    But the usage is still alive and common. It’s what the World Science Fiction Convention means, and has always meant. It’s how the Sci-Fi Channel gets to call itself “Sci-Fi” when they show plenty of fantasy and horror, too. It’s the usage implicit in _Asimov’s Science Fiction_ magazine — and it’s what Escape Pod means when we call ourselves “The Science Fiction Podcast Magazine.” Injecting _”and Fantasy”_ into that would be too many syllables and sound very clumsy. And calling ourselves “The _Speculative_ Fiction Podcast Magazine” would make sense to core fans but make it harder to reach out to those who aren’t in the conversation already. “Science fiction” is a household term worldwide; “speculative fiction” is not. Most people come here and get what we’re talking about, and in all longer descriptions we do mention fantasy too.

    By this usage “Travels” is science fiction, simply because it appeared in a publication catering to the self-defined SF community and its appeal is among people who consider themselves science fiction fans. What it’s about, by this usage, doesn’t really matter. It’s clear to me that this is the perspective Mike is coming from — and he’s right, it’s the perspective the Hugo voters use too. I don’t think this is any more or less valid than saying “Science fiction is about science.” It’s just different. But if neither side acknowledges that you’re talking about two different science fictions, this debate is just going to clunk along without really accomplishing anything.

    (Though hopefully the participants are at least Having Fun discussing it. I don’t object to argument here as long as no one is insulting anyone else personally — and that hasn’t happened.)

  29. Tom T says:

    I’m going to have to weigh in and say that I too haven’t found much “science fiction” on Escape Pod of late. I like to think I’m pretty open minded when it comes to my definition of “science fiction”. There is some intrinsic if indescribable essence that must be there to qualify as science fiction. As a judge once replied when asked how he decided if something was art or pornography – I can’t give you a definition, but I know it when I see it.

    I can give you an example using Mr. Resnick’s own submissions. I don’t consider “Travels with my Cats” to be science fiction. I do,however, consider “Barnaby in Exile” to be science fiction. Neither story contained “spaceships, aliens and zap guns”, but I was left feeling one was a science fiction story and one wasn’t. And while I may disagree with some of Mr. Resnick’s definitions of what constitutes science fiction, I do value his contributions to Escape Pod. I have found all his stories to be very moving and insightful.

    Everyone has their own definition of science fiction, so perhaps it’s a matter of expectations. I have enjoyed virtually all of the stories I’ve heard on Escape Pod, even if a lot of them haven’t fit my definition of science fiction. (it’s kinda ironic that the most recent story I didn’t like WAS a science fiction story.) By billing itself as a science fiction podcast, Escape Pod is setting certain expectations. Maybe the answer is in re-branding the show as one of the previous poster suggested. Since Escape Pod isn’t limiting itself to just science fiction stories, it shouldn’t limit it’s description as “just” a science fiction podcast. To give one more analogy – I recently saw the movie “The Weatherman” with Nicholas Cage. Based on the trailers I’d seen, I assumed it was a comedy and approached it with that minset. After finishing it, I didn’t feel it was a comedy at all even though it had humorous elements to it. I enjoyed the film, but when I sat down at the begining I was expecting a comedy. I’m sure many people ended up not liking the film because it wasn’t what they expected. On some level I have the same feeling when I listen to a new story on Escape Pod and feel it wasn’t science fiction. Fortunately, the quality of stories posted is usually of such a calibre that I can enjoy them even if they weren’t what I signed up for.
    (Sorry if I rambled too much)

  30. SFEley says:

    Another note… There are plenty of other definitions of science fiction, of course. Google on it and you’ll find hundreds. The above is what I think is most relevant to the current discussion, but I don’t think it’s the only way to define science fiction.

    One of my favorites is the one I heard from Teresa Nielsen Hayden at the Viable Paradise workshop several years ago:

    “If the story has horses in it, it’s fantasy. Unless it also has a rocket ship, in which case it’s science fiction. Given the presence of a rocket ship, the only thing which can turn a story back into fantasy again is the Holy Grail.”

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

    I think we should carry this discussion over to the forums. Just be careful not to click on any links that mention Britney Spears… some of them have… pictures… nasty… pictures…

  32. Mike Resnick says:

    Matthew Johnson: the Hugo Committee isn’t a small group of experts that chooses the Hugo nominees or winners. It’s the small group of people who count the votes.

    The Hugo nominees and winners are chosen not by a committee, but by the entire membership of the Worldcon — anyone who joins has the right to nominate and vote for the Hugos, which I think validates my point about how current fans and readers (as well as writers, who also vote) define science fiction these days.

    I’ve used enough of Stephen’s space. Anyone who wants to continue this discussion with me can e-mail me through my web page,

  33. Dave T. says:

    This has more to do with the poll than the comments. If Escape Pod split into two podcasts one for sci-fi and one for fantasy, which podcast would this story fall into? I’d guess fantasy, but at the same time, would it fit people’s notions of fantasy anymore than it does science fiction? There’s no dragons or witches and wizards.

    I’d definitely listen to both podcasts but I do like the way the stories in escape pod vary each week. If it was one space ship story or one sword and sorcery story week after week, I’d get bored. I’m sure Escape Pod(s) wouldn’t go that route, the genre is so diverse these days. (And Pseudopod does a great job of having very different kinds of horror week after week.) I just don’t think it’d completely solve the problem (though it would give us more stories which is something to be happy about).

    Whichever way it goes, keep up the good work, Steve.

  34. SFEley says:

    S.T.U.N.: The forums are dead for the time being. They will be resurrected as soon as I can sit down to do it properly, with software other than the horribly insecure phpBB, and will have a legion of moderators to hunt down and kill the spam.

    I’m afraid for right now it’s either these comments or e-mail. But I respect the sentiment, and the forums will be back. Soon, I hope.

  35. slic says:

    I wholeheartly agree with Damon Knight’s quote. But then if the category becomes too broad, how does one find what they are looking for?
    Barbie outfits are in the Toy section, not the Clothing section. Why? I don’t care. But when looking for Barbie clothes, I go to the Toy section. However, to continue the analogy, if I find a Men’s coat I like in the Electronics section, I will still buy it, though I’ll wonder why I found it next to the TVs.
    Escape Pod, for me, is like a slightly jumbled, excellent department store – I find really cool stuff in places I wouldn’t expect.

    I would also like to give my opinion on why so much fantasy/horror etc. stuff shows up in Sci-Fi media.
    a)Because editors need to fill space (air or paper) and, as editor, if I receive a submission from Mike Resnick that is a great story and I know is going to sell well, I’m really not going to have a moral struggle about whether or not it is true-blue sci-fi. I’m just going to publish it.
    b)Common likes. Most of us that like science fiction (narrow definition) also like Fantasy. And probably horror (not me, but whatever). So I’m likely going to enjoy the other stuff, as well – like most of the listeners of Escape Pod do.

    The two combined have now grown the tent. Which also explains why Hugo nominated stories are so varied – most of us unwashed masses don’t care how you classify a story – we just know what we like.

    Mike Resnick:”…the Hugo Committee isn’t a small group of experts…”
    I agree, that’s the Nebula Awards ;-)

  36. Jim in Buffalo (AKA WNYRPG) says:

    I hope that forums come back to Escape Pod sooner than later.

    When you do install new forums, I humbly suggest that you reserve the names of the writers before making the announcement.

    I also suggest that search engines be denied access in order to hide the precious community from spammers. We can huddle in our secret forums the way Londoners huddled in the darkness during German air attacks in WW2.

  37. Tim says:

    I can settle this! She’s a time traveler, therefor this is science fiction. Nuff said? *GRIN*

  38. Well played, Tim. I’ll buy that for a dollar!

  39. RKG says:

    First off – Mr Resnick, I think it is very cool that your reading and commenting in this forum. Thank You. I very much enjoyed this story.

    As for Escape Pod stories being SF or not, I like Steve’s working definition, as evidenced by the stories he picks, so I listen. Haven’t been wrong yet. Besides, I’m certainly getting my moneys worth. ;-)

    One more (slightly tangential) comment –

    I was introduced to SF by Verne, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlien et al. I was 12 years old and impressionable. The stories had a huge impact on me.

    I have never again had as much enjoyment out of a story as I did the first time I read “Nightfall” or “9 Billion Names of God”, but that probably has much more to do with me than the stories. It was all new, fantastic, and full of possibilities.

    What I *really* want is to be 12 years old again and feel the joy of discovering that a planet could be made as a ring all the way around a sun.

    Can you do that for me pleeeese? ;-)

  40. Mike Resnick says:

    “Can you do that for me, please?”

    Alas, no. Sam Moskowitz used to argue that the Golden Age of science fiction was 1939. Barry Malzberg sets it at 1955. Others put it at 1971.

    They’re all wrong. For what you’re after, the golden age of science fiction is thirteen.

  41. I’m not wishing to offend Mr. Resnick, but I honestly came to this thread intending to post what so many others saw fit to already comment about, then I realized how silly it was to do so. I’ll get to that in a second. First, I just wanted to say that, while I enjoyed so many other stories of Mike’s, this one didn’t sit with me. In fact, it’s the first escape pod story I haven’t made it through in a while.

    But that’s subjectivism for you. Like another reader, I found “Bartleby in Exile” far more to my liking, and did not really enjoy this. It came across as a really well-written monologue about a midlife crisis. But “in my opinion” it didn’t satisfy my craving for some solid science fiction. I think this is why I lost interest midway through. This brings me to my point.

    Note the emphasis on “my opinion”. The problem with this discussion is all of you are trying to assign an absolute to a relativity. The definition of science fiction is, and always will be, a matter of personal subjectivism, best defined by the individual reader and at the expense of some imagined, ideal mutual consensus. I don’t care if ten readers on Escape Pod think this story *isn’t* science fiction, or the Hugo Committee thinks it *is* — and gave it an award after such a decision. I don’t find an argument that “ray guns and aliens” are obsolete as a definition of science fiction any more logical than one stating that some authors’ tendencies to fuse genres together IS science fiction. It’s all subjective. You’ll never write a story at at any point in time, past, present, or future, that satisfies everyone’s definition of science fiction. And the authors that try usually produce the classic “horse designed by a committee”.

    Mr. Resnick, and the Hugo folks, think this is science fiction. They’re pleased with the story and very satisfied. They’re 100% right, and 100% wrong. Big deal. Not everyone will agree with their opinion, but that’s wonderful. Subjectivism is present, insuring that this fiction we’re all fortunate enough to enjoy (and craft) will continue to grow and evolve as everyone brings their different definitions of “horse” to the table.

  42. *sigh* Now don’t we all feel better now? :)

  43. Dieter says:

    Your squabbling over semantics has become tiresome, so now’s the time on Escape Pod when we dance!

  44. Greg M says:

    The cynic in me says the Science Fiction label is only a marketing gimmick, for the most part. The massive Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson is sold as Science Fiction, but it is probably more accurately Historical Fiction. Yet the kind of people who are most likely to read it are the same one who read a lot of Science Fiction

    Then there is ORYX AND CRAKE by Margaret Atwood shelved with the literary novels, but, if that book had been written by someone else as a first novel, everyone would call it Science Fiction.

    Sure, “Travels With My Cats” is Fantasy, in the purest sense, but there is no reason why it can be in a Science Fiction magazine.

    That said, it seems to me, there is a lot more “Fantasy” in the “Science Fiction” sections of bookstores than there was 15 or 25 years ago. Or is my memory failing?

  45. Greg M says:

    I hate typos. Make that: “no reason why it can’t be in a Science Fiction magazine.”

  46. Mike Resnick says:

    Your memory’s not failing. Fantasy wasn’t even marketed as a separate category until Tolkien showed that there were 8 million people out there who almost never bought science fiction but would spend their money on what Bob Silverberg termed elf-and-unicorn trilogies. These days fantasy, derivative or not, outsells science fiction, hard or soft.

  47. Simon says:

    Hello there,

    I suspect much of this is going to move over into the next weeks thread after Steve’s intro this morning, but I wanted to add my two-pence to this conversation, so be prepared for a long one.

    Mr Resnick over here is determined for us to take a mode average view of science fiction “SF is whatever most people say it is”, and in this he’s got a fair argument. However, as an SF junkie I have to say I have a permanent itch, that this sort of material doesn’t come anywhere near scratching.

    I’m going to try to explain here what it takes to scratch my personal itch, and see if others agree with me, because I have to say Steve I can see I’m not the only one desperate for you to post less of this sort of stuff. So what follows is my own intensely personal description of what hits my SF button.

    SF isn’t rayguns, spaceships, time machines or any such device – I would place “I Am Legend” firmly in the SF bracket even ‘tho it’s a story about Vampires. What it takes in order to scratch my SF itch is a story that proposes an idea and then does it’s best to explore that idea, in such a way that the act of exploring that idea is as important as any other part of the story.

    Three perfect examples of this sort of SF that have very little “spaceship” content are the two Hugo And Nebula winning novels by Ursula Le Guin – “The Dispossessed” and “The Left Hand Of Darkness” and the short story “If all men were brothers would you let one marry your sister” by Sturgeon. In these cases the ideas the authors have chosen to address are political and gender based, not in any way about science. The key to these stories is the use of the fantastic and completely imagined in order to allow the author to fully explore and flesh out the idea around which the story revolves.

    For me, if science fiction doesn’t attempt to explore ideas, in my view fulfilling its job as the ultimate Enlightenment literature… Well I don’t care for it and wouldn’t go out of my way for it.

    I mention this because a lot of people above are rattling on with the old “SF must have space and science” dinosaur argument, and I’ve never held with that. Space Opera has always been viewed in the perjorative because it is a science fiction setting without the ideas game. The main reason I cannot stand by Resnick on this is that for me SF mostly ends in ’75 – the year Star Wars came along and turned SF to Space Opera.

    Fantasy, Magic Realism and Space Opera are all of one to me, because the author has a get out when it comes to playing with the ideas. To me this story here in no way forms SF because Resnick has made the fantastic element integral to the tone, and refuses to explain it away with a rational argument.

    I find it really depressing that this element in SF seems to have been mostly abandoned in the modern SF world, and it is because of this that I mostly bury myself in books like the SF masterworks range, ignoring the crap that I consider so inferior to the original product.

    So yeah, Steve, I think it’s fair to say there are a good proportion of us who don’t follow with Fantasy in any way, and I hope it’s clear from the description I’ve given here that it is almost impossible for fantasy to do what SF can do – otherwise it turns into something like Niven’s The Magic Goes Away series. I hope Resnick stops lording it over those of us who disagree with him with his publishing figures, and I really support hiving off the fantasy – it fundamentally does not do it for me – but then nor does Star Wars or Dune (Not SF, sorry guys you’re WRONG).

    Cheers!

  48. Simon says:

    In one little qualifier to the above piece I wanted to mention the story “The Demolished Man” by Bester. I bring it up because this, much like The Magic Goes Away series is a perfect example of the author saying “Ok, there are no magic/psychic powers… but if there were what would the world be like”. There are absolutely no limits on what it takes to make something an SF story (I would be tempted to call the Nolan movie Memento SF because of the way it addresses its core concepts, even tho there is not a single SF element in there), it’s about how you approach constructing the story around the idea.

  49. Michael King says:

    Steve —

    Though Resnick’s stories seem to be less science fiction and more cerebral fantasy (though usually well-written in any event), I really loved this one — it had a vibe that reminded me of the Christopher Reeve-Jane Seymour film “Somewhere in Time,” albeit peripherally.

    Indeed, it was impressive…

  50. SFEley says:

    Response made to Simon in private e-mail.

    (In summary, it came down to: “Good insights, and it’s great to let us know what you want _more_ of, but telling us you want _less_ of stories that other people enjoy… Well, that just ain’t gonna happen.”)

  51. slic says:

    Simon – I agree with most of your points – for me Sci-Fi isn’t about the setting, it’s the idea. It’s why in my mind most of the Original Star Trek episodes still hold up when Voyager mostly doesn’t. And that is what I meant by the “harder type of story”
    Star Wars is indeed High Fantasy with laser swords, though I can’t agree so much with your comment on Dune.

  52. Mike Resnick says:

    Most of you have heard about the Old Wave/New Wave wars of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but don’t realize how vicious they were, with each side literally trying to drive the other side out of the field. When the dust had cleared, about the only positive thing — some here might consider it negative — was the admission by both sides (or perhaps the realization) that science fiction might or might not be a literature of Ideas, but if it was to have any validity as fiction, it had first and foremost to be a literature about Characters. Today’s hard science specialists write stories that are as idea-laden as anything that ever appeared in John Campbell’s Astounding, but they are better written, and they are about People.

    Ny own feeling is that if you can make the reader Think, so much the better, and you’ve written a better story for it — but if you can’t make him Feel, can’t make him love or hate or fear or long for something, then all you’ve done is written an essay or a polemic disguised as a science fiction story.

    OK, fire away.

  53. Simon says:

    Cheers Steve, humbled…

    You’ll be getting a response to that email soon enough.

    Glad you agree, Mr Slic, I stand by the above opinion (even patronising Mr Resnick over there).

  54. Brewhaha says:

    Two great things about Escape Pod:

    1) If you don’t like this week’s story, there is always next week’s story to try.

    2) It isn’t Oprah’s Book Club.

  55. slic says:

    My anonymity in this discussion is bothering me, so first off, I’m Stephen Lumini. slic is an acronym I have been using for years.

    Mr. Resnick,
    I agree wholeheartedly that a great story is one that gets the reader to connect to someone in the story. Which in part explains the unrealistic humaness of aliens in sci-fi (see story #83). Nevertheless, great character stories aren’t automatically sci-fi anymore than a story that happens to have a ray-gun in it.

    My whole point has been categorization (maybe it’s the engineer in me). If I go to a Chinese Restaurant and they serve mostly burgers (tasty burgers, even), after a while I’ll wonder why they call it a Chinese Restuarant (even if they have some great Chop Suey). And if the Chop Suey is really good, I may even muster the courage to ask the proprietor why they don’t have more Chinese Food.

    In this case, Steve has mentioned that great Chop Suey is very hard to find. But hopefully, because we asked, someone with great Won Ton will come to the restaurant – you won’t know, if you don’t ask.

    Finally, using your description, I’m happy to read (or, in Escape Pod, hear) a really good polemic chock full of ideas or exploring a part of human nature rather than a heart-string tugging story about a chipmunk – that’s my taste, and I’m just letting people know.

  56. Argent23 says:

    This is really strange, those connections the Mike Resnick stories you brought have with important dates in my life.
    As I was listening to Travels With My Cats I was driving to University for my final exam in my molecular biology major…and it went great!
    I listend to Down Memory Lane (which is my most favorite story this year, despite all the SF – not SF discussions) just a day before I married my girlfriend of 8 years…and she said yes! ;-)
    As you can definitely imagine, the story hit me really hard, as I was looking forward to all those years these elder people had behind them.
    And now I’m trying to think what happened to me shortly after I listened to Barnaby In Exile…I don’t know yet, but it must have been positive.

    Alex from Germany

  57. Mark says:

    I got a bit behind in my listening and have to say “Travel with Cats” is the best episode of Escape Pod I’ve listened to in quite some time.

    As for the sci-fi vs. sci-fi semantic argument in the comments here, well… we get all this for free*. If you land on a story you don’t care for, just hit the stop or the next button on your MP3 player. On the other hand, since the Escape Pod website runs on WordPress and WordPress can generate RSS feeds for each categor. Maybe more categories can be created to sort the stories into their various types (e.g. fantasy, superheros, hard sci-fi, etc..) and then the stories can be separated into those categories for those you only want specific kinds of stories?

    * Or at least we’re not required to pay anything, just encouraged to donate.

    Lastly, I run phpBB on multiple sites and don’t find it to be “horribly insecure”. Though I’ll grant I don’t get anywhere near as much traffic as Escape Pod. To keep my forums as clean as possible, I find it best to require the user to authenticate their registration via email. This killed the vast majority of the spam bots hitting my forums. Whenever a spammer does sign-up and begin posting; I kill their posts, their account and ban people using that domain from registering for another account. It’s worked really well for me. If that wouldn’t work for Escape Pod; there are also mods out there for phpBB to help deal with the spam problems.

  58. CoronaKid says:

    I’m a fairly new Escape Pod listener, but I have to say that this is my favorite one by far. I was really pulled into the story and touched by its simple but powerful message.

    After I listened to this story, the first thing I did when I saw my wife was give her a great big hug and a kiss. I don’t want to have any regrets.

  59. minx says:

    First, re: pronunciation–well, I made the gaffe of mispronouncing “samhein” on my own last podcast, sending pagans rushing to their laptops to correct me. So I can easily forgive “Minocqua.” And yes, the lake there is lovely.

    As for the story, it touched me. While I can’t say that I cried buckets, it did bring tears to my eyes as some memories from my own past came rushing to the fore. I remember grousing aloud in the car, “Stephen, you said this wouldn’t make me cry!”

    I think the appropriate term for stories like this is “poignant.”

  60. Loz says:

    PURPLE!

    GREEN!

    Ahem.

    I did enjoy this story, for all the arguing over what genre it belonged in, if the last few minutes were longer and harsher it would have edged into horror.

    I’m curious about the subject of donations. Do donations to Escape Pod get shared equally with Pseudopod, or is it the situation that Escape pod is doing quite well donations-wise but Psedopod is struggling (which was the impression from something Mur said in one of her intros)?

  61. justJ0e says:

    Damn you Mike Resnick!!!

    You’ve gone and gotten me all choked up again with one of your stories. I’d demand that you cut that out … but I’m really enjoying them too much!

    Thanks for bringing this one to us Steve.
    On an side note, I am wondering why your “female” voice never bothers me. Seems like it should but somehow, it’s just never a problem for me.

    Perhaps it’s that the stories are so good the voice can’t distract me from them or maybe that you’re readings are so well done that it just works.

    In either case, I think I’ll try to stop pondering the ingredients and just enjoy cake!

  62. Amber says:

    While I loved “Down Memory Lane”, and was touched by “Barnaby in Exile”, “Travels With My Cats” just didn’t do it for me. Although I’m more of a fan of the fantasy and spec. fiction than the ‘hardcore’ sci fi many people seem to be defending so strongly here, “Travels” just didn’t have enough to separate it from normal fiction in my head. I have to say I was somewhat let down after hearing it, because I loved Mr. Resnick’s stories and I assumed it would be great by the Hugo award it won.

    However, I have no problems with Eley’s choices in literature on Escape Pod. He’s done a wonderful job of picking a broad range of interesting stories and I think listening to Escape Pod has broadened my view of the science fiction/fantasy genre. For many years I was a hardcore Harry Potter/LOTR type of person and after listening to the sheer varitiy of stories on here, I have grown to like and even seek out more diverse fiction.

    On a side note, Escape Pod is one of the first podcasts I’ve subscribed to and I look forward to it every week. Through it, I discovered the podcast novels Earthcore and Ancestor, and I have listened to Pseudopod ever since it was started, broadening my tastes to even include some horror.

    I just wanted to say thank you, Mr. Eley for starting this humble little podcast seems like forever ago, because it really has made a difference to me, and don’t stop putting out anything and everything good that comes your way.

  63. Seainni says:

    Wanted to put in a word for the fantasy portion of the podcast. I don’t know why science fiction readers always get so grumpy when they think there’s too much fantasy, but I like a good speculative fiction story whatever the genre, and I’d hate to see the fantasy spun off someplace else. Especially since it seems–to this listener anyway–that the fantasy stories you’re publishing are, overall, stronger than the science fiction.

  64. [...] at Asimov’s website. ‚Ä¢ If you would rather listen to Travels With My Cats you can find a free audio version at Escape Pod – though you may have to put up with a few [...]

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  66. [...] alle, denen die Magie des Lebens verloren gegangen ist: Travels With My Cats [...]

  67. scatterbrain says:

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  81. [...] The audio production of “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge” runs two hours and twenty minutes and is seven short stories encased in a fictional frame.  Resnick infuses his firsthand knowledge of Africa into this tale, and uses Olduvai Gorge as the touchstone setting for the seven visions and the frame.  It works fantastically well on audio, and reminds me of a shorter version of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man.  I’ve always considered Bradbury the anti-science fiction science fiction writer because he fears the future, and sees so much horror in the nature of man.  “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge” could be a homage to Bradbury.  I always like Mike Resnick’s prose because he’s better than most science fiction writers at blending emotion into his stories.  One of my all-time favorite short stories is his “Travels with My Cats.” [Also on audio at Escape Pod.] [...]