EP083: Ulla

By Daniel Schwabauer.
Read by Jared Axelrod (of The Voice of Free Planet X) and J.R. Blackwell (of Voices of Tomorrow).

The world we now occupy is red, fourth from its sun, and extreme in its temperature. The atmosphere is lethal. Without our shelters we would die. But we will not be here long. Already the attack-cylinders, loaded with machinery and the weapons of destruction, stand ready in the firing tubes. Soon I shall be sending you thoughts from the third planet.

I have loved you.

Rated PG. Contains violence, chemical warfare, and heavy moral themes.

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Comments (45)

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  1. Jim in Buffalo says:

    Well, this one ought to make the traditionalists happy. Great story, too. It reminds me of when I hear tales of German or Japanese soldiers in WW2. Naturally, I don’t side with them or their cause, being an American, but it’s interesting to hear their motivations and ambitions, which are sometimes surprising. And what a great twist in this story, the self-fulfilling prophesy, as it were.

  2. You should most definitely continue to use custom pictures per story in the “album image” section on the itunes player (or whatever player is used). It adds a certain extra something to the story, even if it wouldn’t pertain to the story exactly, definitely keep it up!

  3. Skought says:

    Horrible. Not engrossing. Not worthy of Escape Pod. Familiar format Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead or The Lion King 1¬Ω. I disliked the constant sound effects.

  4. I loved it; the reverb was a little thick, but it didn’t detract after the first few minutes. I was reminded of Civil War letters when I listened to it.

    To me, EP is on a roll of late; of the last five or six stories, I only skipped one; an 80% hit rate is good in academics, and even better in sports.

  5. John Hodges says:

    Dear Steve,

    I’ve been off in a different direction for a long while, so I’m just catching up on your excellent ‘cast. Bravo on this one, though the accompanying illustration was just a wee bit spoilerish.

    Bravo as well for your second annual charitable redirect! Here’s more expository grist for your “heavy handedness” apology. Please remind all that at this time of year blood donation rates consistently drop nationwide and demand typically rises. The international supply is already at a low reserve level, which is why most ARC, bloodmobile, and hospital donor centers have “Critical Need” signs out.

    Please “give before you go”, “consider yourself asked”, “give half pints for halfpints”, or remember whatever catchphrase moves you “to be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” Call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE, surf to http://www.redcross.org/ , come to the Heinlein Society blood drive at Arisia with MGH.

    If people find this appeal heavy handed, that I’m asking for blood, not money, I’m not. I’m asking for blood, money, and time! If you’re healthy, well, and interested, please, give blood! If you can’t or won’t, fine, encourage someone else to do so! Give them a ride, hold their hand, organize a drive that’s more convenient for them to get to, do something!

    Thanks, again, for providing such a consistently high quality podcast. You started as the best and still lead. Well done.

  6. Jason Painter says:

    What does “Ulla” mean? Is it a greeting? A name? They seem to call each other “Ulla”.

  7. SFEley says:

    In this story, Ulla is the name of the female character on the home planet. The male character, the one who’s invading Earth, is named Diutheskrull.

    It’s also an allusion: near the end of Wells’s _War of the Worlds_, the narrator sees the last of the Martians wandering the empty streets howling “Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla” many times over. No explanation is given in the novel. You can read the relevant chapter here.

  8. Paul from Des Moines says:

    This story really did something for me. I have only a passing knowledge of War of the Worlds, and having read your response, Steve, about the cry “Ulla” in the original work, has really put a new context on the ending. I get it now.

    I think the vocal effects were a little overpowering at times and definatley took a little getting used to. I don’t object to them, but I’d use caution when applying them in the future.

    Overall I think it’s a very powerful story even if you haven’t read Well’s work (Yes I should hang my head in shame). It hit a real resonance for me as two entities who care for each other face the fact that they’ll never see each other again. It was very well done and I can’t wait for next week!

  9. Paul from Des Moines says:

    This is what I get for hitting “Submit” too soon.

    I had previously commented about the power two entities feel when they realize they’ll never see each other again. But in the context where Diutheskrull comes to the belief that the invasion was wrong in the first place, (at least as I interpret it), and that he is going to die as a result of it only brings more depth and meaning to me as a listener of the story.

  10. slic says:

    The constant reverb/echo was too much for me – I get the idea – they are thoughts, but it was just too much.
    I agree with the feeling of Civil War letters. I liked it, and a great new perspective on a classic story. Though this is in the “space opera” vein – it could be told in any setting.
    And since this such a “me too” Comment – Give Blood – seriously, it’s no that hard and if you don’t want to wait around, find the closest blood clinic and make an appointment. For Canada – http://www.blood.ca/ (1-888-2-Donate)

  11. Josh says:

    Wow, real SciFi. Loved it. I didnt mind the effects, it kept the story Alien.

    More please.

  12. M Bauer says:

    About that reverb…a bit unnatural (aliens after all), but pleasant enough. I’m not sure it would have sounded right in a regular human voice. It was a bit more of a radio play than the EP’s that I’ve heard before so maybe it needs that extra bit of theatre.

    I loved the picture and would certainly love to see more of the same. It definitely made it more fun. Where did you get it?

    As for the story – it was really cool. When is the movie out?

  13. Dave T. says:

    I’m glad you mentioned that bit about how Wells ended “War of the Worlds” here. I enjoyed this story well enough, but I completely missed that spin and it puts the story into a whole different context. Thanks for the insight.

  14. Greg M says:

    I’m usually leery of stories with strong moralistic themes, but I think it worked well here, despite the heavy hand, and it gave [i]War of the Worlds[/i] and interesting twist. The dual narration also worked well, except for the sound distortions, which only distracted from the total effect. As a general rule, I think narrations are better when limited to a natural voice without artificial enhancements.

    The picture in the iTunes Now Playing box was amusing, but made me think of Marlon Brando shouting for some reason, even before listening.

  15. jp says:

    Great story, great delivery!
    The reverb effect was cool, but a bit too much.
    I agree with Greg M, natural voices work best. And men imitating women by pitching their voices higher – that’s just creepy and totally unbelievable.

  16. SFEley says:

    Thanks for the feedback, JP. But just to clarify: no one in this story was imitating a woman. J.R. Blackwell is female, and the voice of Ulla was her natural voice with reverb added.

  17. Hockeyrink says:

    The reverb was a tad excessive.

    The men in my family have (unscientifically) discovered a genetic trait that makes our hearing is useless in any social environment with more than 3 or 4 voices (or loud background music). The reverb took some effort to “listen” through, detracting from the enjoyment of the story.

    BTW, in regards to the latest “Union Dues” story: I distinctly recall having a hankering for another episode the day before I downloaded it. Well timed, indeed! More, More, I say!

  18. J. R. DeRego says:

    I really enjoyed this one. I think part of it is my lifelong love of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, one of the very few books I’ve reread (I reread it and Starship Troopers at least once a year between fiction projects). As soon as I saw the title I knew this was a riff on The War of the Worlds, but it seems as if it was more geared towards the George Pal film version than it was the Wells original, as in the novel the martians consume human blood to survive and it is from these pathogens that they are killed, or at the very least, the blood is another vector for the Earthly bacterium/virii to get into their systems and wipe them out, yet the male character never mentions consuming the humans. It also seemed that he had a vision of the Pal film in a dream as the descriptions of the machines he saw the humans counterattcking in were less Wellsian and much more Palian.

    Still, who’d have thought on Pearl Harbor day we’d hear from a Melancholy Martian Military Man?

    The reverb worked just fine for my ears by the way.

  19. Janice in GA says:

    I really hated the reverb. I really couldn’t understand what the characters were saying, so I pretty much missed the point of the story. I kept hoping it (the reverb) would stop, but it didn’t.

    Have pity on those of us who listen with cheap earbuds.

  20. Jim in Buffalo says:

    I listened in my car, iPod hooked into one of those cassette adapters, so I was able to understand everything except the proper nouns, like names of beings and cities or whatnot. I figured I didn’t really need to know them, though, since it was more the mood of the thing that matters.

    Side note: looking forward to new forums! Comments are nice but forums are better, with the avatars and the logins and the zing zing zing!

  21. noyb says:

    This is the first Escape Pod I haven’t been able to listen to. I stopped after a minute or so. Axelrod and Blackwell’s podcasts are so beautifully produced that I’m surprised at how excessive the audio effects were in this reading.

  22. Michael King says:

    I didn’t mind the reverb — it was a nice change, and, as another poster mentioned, it lent an air of otherworldiness to the dramatization.

    And let me add my chorus to those who have already ranted and raved the latest Union Dues story: “More, please. And soon.”

    By the way, as a reformed radio talk show host, I’d be glad to voice a segment or three of Escape Pod, if you are in the need of voices…

  23. yak sox says:

    I liked this. Didn’t find the effects excessive. And I really liked the reading voices, particularly the woman’s.
    I guess that’s saying something about how I’m letting the mainstream media shape my opinion about what makes a listenable accent (ie no accent, or ‘universal’ accent) but at least I’m aware of it.

  24. Tom says:

    Just wanted to say, that the two separate voices really works best for dialog. There was never any confusion about who was talking, even when my daughter had a bit of a bad dream in the backseat and caused me to miss a little bit.

  25. Pierre Dacres says:

    Well, as much as I like to be open minded and relaxed with other authors perspectives, this one was just not worth it. The story was far to abstract to be meaningful, the affection between the characters was pasty and laboured, and I found the whole experience quite tiresome…even more so than the six mile run i do everymorning while listening to Escape Pod stories.

    UK listener – fantastic site

  26. YES! I love *War of the Worlds*, so this one really hit it off for me. Only one cringe-worthy moment: the final “Ulla”. I was so afraid he’d say the name three of four times, and the story would become cheesey. Luckily, this was not the case.

    Good stuff. Keep it coming!

  27. I was waiting for the cry from the WotW rock opera to kick in, personally. 😀

  28. Pete S says:

    War of the Worlds was my introduction to sci-fi at the ripe old age of about 8 or 9… so I loved this one.

    The reverb wasn’t too much for me, though I’ll admit I never did work out what the male’s name was until I read it here.

    Oh, and on the question of whether it was based more on the book or the movie…don’t forget, in the movie (the original movie I mean, not the Tom Cruise movie) they didn’t have tripods, remember? They had those hovering ships…

  29. Tiktok of Oz says:

    This was very well read–I love the voices, and the reverb did the part for me. I didn’t enjoy the story as much as I might have, largely because there was nothing new. I read (listen to) science fiction for the new idea; characterization is just a way to express the new thought.

    The idea that the enemy is human isn’t a new one to me; it’s the tragedy of war. We have to dehumanize to kill; we have to humanize to stop killing.

  30. Alright — hopefully Steve won’t mind this discussion (since the forums are broke): But which incarnation of WWoW did all you fellow geeks like the most? The original novel, the 50’s movie, or the newer Spielberg version?

  31. Dave T. says:

    Don’t forget the infamous Orson Welles broadcast!

  32. slic says:

    For me it goes in this order:
    the radio broadcast,
    50’s movie

    I disliked the newest movie – maybe because it was rushed, but there were too many “lucky” co-incidences to keep my disbelief off the ground.

  33. Alasdair says:

    Excellent:) I’m a sucker for this sort of story at the best of times, but this was unusually good. Smart, affecting, and slotting beautifully into an established story.
    Oh and regarding War of the Worlds, I first heard the story as Jeff Noon’s epic rock opera when I was about ten. I slept again around the time I was sixteen and still can’t look at the box without feeling a little twinge of fear.

  34. Susanna says:

    I’ll side with the people who enjoyed the reverb, I think. And add that this piece made me cry. Despite being very soft-hearted and having learned my lesson never to go to the movies without at least a full pack of handkerchiefs in my pocket, EP stories have – until now – never brought tears to my eyes. Not even “I look forward to remembering you” (that was a close call, though). Something about the futility expressed in this story, and the change in tone in their messages really got to me.

    Also, I’m a sucker for re-tellings and variations of well-known stories, so this suited me perfectly!

  35. Louis says:

    I really had to sit down and listen to this one.. I will admit I have never read the wells version and only saw the tom cruise movie half way then walked out.. the audio voice effects took some getting used to but it was an engrossing story.. very rarely do I feel the emotions in a story but I did in this one.. amazing that the aliens visons prompted an attack and also started the attack they know to come. It says something about the notion to strike first…

  36. Jason says:

    I’d like to chime in as one who enjoyed the voice effects in Ulla. It came through quite clearly through the headphones I use while exercising. While the subject is open for discussion, I have also enjoyed past episodes with music and sound effects such as “The Great Old Pumpkin” and the piece about the president’s barber as narrated by Wichita Rutherford. One of the things I most enjoy about Escape Pod is the variety. Please don’t eliminate creative use of sound effects when they fit the story.

  37. Jason says:

    A comment on your latest poll: I would like to see separate podcasts only if the story quality remains at the same high level it is now. If Steve is not confident in getting enough good stories, I think that we should trust his judgement. In time, EP will only attract more attention, more well known authors, and be able to pay more for stories. Steve is the best one to decide whether or not that time has come.

  38. J.D. Harper says:

    Excellent story. I love stories that take well-known stories and look at them from someone else’s point of view. I liked how the author made the Martians more intelligent and with a decent motivation, as opposed to the mere monster story that Wells wrote.

    I thought that the reverb effects were fine, but I was listening to the story on my headphones. Perhaps the people who didn’t like it were listening to it through speakers or something. ::shrug::

  39. Tharg says:

    A very touching (and spooky) story. I see a few comments about the reverb effect but it didn’t bother me.

  40. Dennis says:

    I liked this story very much. This is what Short scifi is about. Keep’em comming.

  41. Will says:

    Fabulous story… definitely real science fiction. much appreciated.

  42. James says:

    Excellent story. Personally, I loved the effects, for me, they added to the atmosphere. I first read the WOTW 40 years ago, so this different twist took me back to ancient times!

  43. luogo interessante, soddisfare interessante, buon!

  44. scatterbrain says:

    Alright take on a classic.

  45. John Easterling (wolf) says:

    For any that may not have listened to the short clip of the Radio Play ‘Ulla,’ I encourage you take a few moments of your precious time and tune it in. It is a riveting rendition of the story ‘War of the Worlds’ told from the Martian invader’s perspective. Not to spoil the plot for you, Diutheskrull, the Commander of the invasion force is heard speaking his thoughts as the force is prepared for the flight to and the destruction of Earth.

    During the actual time the force is on our “Third Rock from the Sun” he speaks to Ulla, which I presumed to be his ‘wife’ or at least his sharing partner of many centuries by some form of thought communication. I developed a sharing of his mind as he was mentally in conflict with his inner hatred of killing and war in general and the pressing need for some of his land to mask their real feelings and assume the role of ‘killer.’

    Listen to this with an open mind that is so commonly shared by those of us with this inner desire to emulate the wonderful or the mutated lives of others on the stage of life. Do we all wear the ‘false face’ of the player when we walk among other mortals? Perhaps.

    I will also share a short poem, which I penned some time back as I thought of one of my encounters while at “war” with other human souls.

    Was he an enemy or a hero? You can decide as I have over the years:


    He lost his arm at Dien Bien Phu.
    Freedom was what he was fighting for.
    A Royal Legionnaire was defending.
    The arm was a small price to pay.
    The Legionnaire lay dead.

    I never knew the man.
    We chased him around a piece of land
    that wasn’t even his.
    Of course it wasn’t ours either.
    Freedom was what he fought for.

    We heard of him.
    Nugyn was what they called him.
    He was much older then.
    He could speak of war.
    He fought for freedom.

    Perhaps we did meet.
    One night in a small hamlet
    the local men were all excited.
    A one armed man spoke to them.
    He spoke of freedom.

    We lay, quiet as death.
    It was not our place to kill him.
    We watched and listened as he spoke.
    He knew the price of war.
    He knew the price of freedom.

    He died one moonless night.
    A Royal Thai Soldier was defending.
    My House Boy told me the next day
    “The one armed man is dead.”
    He died for freedom.

    wolf 04

    Thank you for your thoughts,