EP084: Smooth Talking

By Tobias S. Buckell.
Read by Steve Anderson (SGA Creative and Great Tales Live).

Roger sighed, shifted his position on the stump, and then turned back away from Marcus.

“What I’m trying to do, Marcus, is talk that tree into moving.”

Marcus didn’t say anything. He stood behind someone he thought he once knew and tried to figure what to say next. Not a man normally tied for words, Marcus found himself in the very surreal position of being speechless.

Rated R. For profanity and somewhat wooden anatomical descriptions.

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Comments (36)

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  1. Simon says:


    You can’t just re-cycle a comment from the threads and call it an introductory essay for another Escape Pod! Where is the insights into the nature of modern living?

    I call foul!

    (in all honesty, nice clarification Mr Eley)


  2. Eric says:

    Great story. In the words of the main character, “I’m not a treehugger”, but I did find myself rather excited and wanting to cheer when the happy ending came.

  3. Paul From Des Moines says:


    Haven’t had a chance to listen yet, but I’ve been meaning to ask, what’s going on with EP Classic? Did it die in lieu of Poddisk.com productions?

  4. Jim in Buffalo (AKA WNYRPG) says:

    Boy, was I excited to get my ten bonus points… “Till Burnham wood come to Dunsinane” was exactly what I was thinking, although in MacBeth it was merely soldiers holding up bits of tree to camouflage themselves as they slowly marched on the castle, if I remember my 11th-Grade English studies correctly.

  5. Ichigo says:

    Am I the only one who thought that Tom Selleck was reading this weeks story?

  6. Paul says:

    There appears to be a problem with the iTunes subscription link. iTunes does not recognise it as a valid podcast. Is anyone else having this problem when trying to (re)subscribe?

  7. Louis says:

    The story was quite interesting this week, more of a fantasy then true blood and guts sci-fi but its a good change of pace. Like steve says, Sci-fi is whatever you point at and call Sci-fi. Kept waiting for the trees to beam up into space or something!

  8. l.m.orchard says:

    Man, I must be listening to too many cynical stories – I kept waiting for the twist in the ending where all the dryads / trees got hit by a semi on the way to the new field.

    I was very pleased to hear a happy ending. 🙂

  9. l.m.orchard says:

    (Or, maybe it’s just all the Scott Sigler and J.C. Hutchins.)

  10. […] Escape Pod has my story Smooth Talking up as their latest podcast story. Listen to me in your car, on your ipod! Roger sighed, shifted his position on the stump, and then turned back away from Marcus. […]

  11. justJ0e says:

    It’s funny, I see from previous comments that I was not alone in my feeling of dread. For some reason, all the way to the very last words of the story I was waiting for “the bad thing” to happen.

    Thanks Steve, I’m glad you were able to get a “quality” story that had a happy ending!

  12. Pete S says:

    Me too. When the ending music came up I let out a sigh of relief. It was nice to hear a story with a happy ending. I want to append “for a change.” to that sentence but I’m not sure if it would be accurate. It just felt surprising.

    Wonderful narration job, too. I hope the narrator gets some good professional contacts out of his work here.

  13. l.m.orchard says:

    I’ll second the kudos on the narration. Steve Anderson did a great job at portraying the various characters in distinctive ways, including even himself as the detached narrator.

  14. Dave T. says:

    Very engrossing story and a good reading. At first I thought it was going to be a bit preachy (which maybe it was) but in the end, the infectious tone of the story (and Anderson’s reading) sold me on it. (And to me, Anderson’s reading reminded me more of Vizzini from the Princess Bride than Tom Selleck.)

    Steve, what happened to the “Warning” in the intro? I love that hook and look forward to it each week when I start listening to a new episode. I hope it’s not gone!

  15. Hockeyrink says:

    I wasn’t sold with this episode. I thought Anderson’s reading was a bit over-acted. But what the hell do I know about acting? All I know is I know what I like…

    The story didn’t dig deep enough into the “how’s” and “why’s” which is what I think any good SF should.

    I personally like any story that has new “rules” (being powers/environment/technology) and uses these new rules as a part of the story, which is something I found this story lacking. COOL – a chick in the woodwork….and you burn it? That’s it? To quote George R. Beard and Harold M. Hutchins: “Aw Maaaan!”

    My internal benchmark is based around if I catch myself thinking “Now that’s a cool idea…” to some new rule or idea presented in the story.

    What happened to Roger? Did he go back and get eaten by a badger?

    Sorry, but this was the only time I’ve UNHESITATINGLY scored an EP episode “1-star” (to delete).

  16. Jim in Buffalo says:


    Oh, come on, Steve Anderson’s got the kind of voice I would give the larger of my two manly bits to have (that’s the left one). I’d listen to him read any day of the week.

    The acting was top-notch, I thought. I wish every Escape Pod episode could be read by someone of that caliber.

    As for the story, I liked it a lot. It wasn’t a tree-hugging environmentalist message, either. It wasn’t “Save the Trees,” it was “Save the Trees that Have Living Mythological Creatures in Them.”

    At the same time, I was wondering if Tobias Buckell got the idea by watching Lord of the Rings and decided to see what would happen if, instead of Merry and Pippin sitting in Treebeard’s branches while he walked, there was a present-day realtor in a suit.

  17. Hockeyrink says:

    I didn’t say I didn’t like his voice – I just thought the characters were over-animated. Over-expressed. I came to this observation in the first few minutes before I formed the rest of my opinion of this particular episode.

    Just my 2 cents (Canadian)…

  18. I enjoyed this story quite a bit; there were some points where story made me roll my eyes, but the reader carried me through them. There were a couple of points where the reader made me roll my eyes, but the prose carried me through them, as well. That’s the norm for all audiobooks, though.

    The ending was a nice bit of cheerfulness I honestly had stopped expecting from the stories on EP (not a knock on the stories, which have been top notch way more often than not).

  19. Jason says:

    I quite liked this story, and I hope that Escape Pod has the opportunity to run more stories by Mr. Buckell. Other listeners may be interested to note that he has a short piece called “Waiting For the Zephyr” on Telltale Weekly. As for the current story, Steve catagorized “Smooth Talking” as a fantasy in his intro. However, I would place it squarely within the broader definition of science fiction. What if some trees were actually intelligent beings? It certainly leads to a fun and interesting bit of speculation.

  20. EverGreen says:

    This story reminds me of some of the wisdom of Jack Handy:

    “If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.”

  21. Jack says:

    Just wanted to chime in about the narration this time around. I have to agree, I felt the reading was very “overactorly” and to be honest, for the first time, I wasn’t able to get through the entire podcast. (and I tried twice, sorry Steve) Liked the story fine, could not get past the narration. Just my two cents.

  22. I thought this was one of the best episodes in a long time. I’m loathe to admit it, but ever since reading about Tolkiens ents or Orson Scott Card’s pequeninos, I have become a closet tree hugger of sorts. There is something mystical and ancient about them, from the tiny saplings to the mighty sequoias … The story took such a triumphant turn when the dryads started moving. Can you imagine the impact such an event would have had on the logging industry?

  23. John Dodds says:

    Haven’t listened to this yet, but always look forward to Escape Pod. I’ve noticed at least one comment elsewhere about pronounciation of place names and the like. Not that big a deal, I guess, but when you live in a location mis-pronounced in a story, it does cause a slight OUCH moment. NB. In the Shoulders of Giants story, Glasgow was pronounced like Glass Cow. But it’s actually more like Glaz Go (you don’t pronounce the W at the end and the ess in the middle is like a Z). The ranting Scotsman now beats a hasty retreat. I love the pod, by the way!

  24. Josh says:

    Wow, real Spec’ Fic’. More please.

    Nice story, very well read. Loved every minute.

  25. Loz says:

    Seconded, I was a little surprised by the suddenness of the ending, reminded me of early Jonathan Carroll. Now, if Steve could get one of his short stories for the Pod (either Escape of Pseudo).

    I wonder if Marcus succeeded where Roger failed because he wasn’t nuts whereas Roger was a few Ents short of a Moot? This was one of those occasions where the sane person succeeds where the raving nutter (who normally turns out to be more ‘in tune’ with the way the world really works) fails. Although it’s never made clear I suppose we can presume the mounties carted Roger off to the padded room before returning to act as the chorus for a lumberjack to sing a song about how much he enjoyed transvesticism?

    I’m sorry about all that, it’s just been one of those days…

  26. Kendall says:

    This story very strongly reminded me of a short story I read many years ago (probably in F&SF or an anthology…so, probably about 15-20 years ago). Buckell’s story was a little simpler and just kind of stopped at the end. (I’m not complaining; I enjoyed it.)

  27. Gary H says:

    Liked the story alright, not a 5, but a 1 either. For me it was less about saving the trees and more about the man saving himself. Maybe I read more into it than was there, but it seems like once he realized what he had done with his life, and how it wasn’t that great of thing, that’s when he was able to save the trees. It wasn’t so much the smooth talking that convinced the dryads.

    RE the sci-fi/spec-fic debate – who cares what you call it as long as it is enjoyable and makes you think, at least a little bit. For my money, escapepod hits the mark.

  28. Just wanted to thank Steve (for his hospitality), those who’ve left such kind comments (thank you), those who’ve left constructive criticism (without which I don’t grow), and you (yes, you, lurking there) for listening.


  29. Bob says:

    I was disappointed by this story, and I felt it was somewhat trite. I’m all for the idea of bettering outselves and improving the environment, but I can’t really say I felt anything towards the narrator when his chief motivation for getting the trees to move is apparently either “I’m not that much of an asshole” or “I’m not crazy.”

    Maybe I’m being unfair, it’s hard to say. I just didn’t enjoy this story the same way I have others.

  30. phignewton says:

    how incredibly speciest! only excepting trees as having the right to live if they carry spectre like proto human forms within them! shamefull! of course if driads actually did imhabit trees i’m guessing they would hang about in the living outer layers that are like alive and such with sap and green stuff, not the innert inner structural bits… good story though, very nice.

  31. Mitch says:

    Not thrilled with this story. Felt like I was being lectured to by a tree hugger. A tree hugger obsess with describing the female form. I get it alreay- mankind bad, nature unspoiled, pure & good. (Same for “Mountian, Man” really…) Kinda runined both of them for me.

    There was another point that the author’s lack of knowledge bothered me- what a realtor does. Realtors don’t build houses. Realtors don’t develop subdivisions. Realtors don’t even buy & sell houses. They do some of the paperwork for other people who are buying & selling houses. They’re salesman selling something they don’t own.

    The story really only got started for me once the trees started moving- I was hoping for more… I too was wondering how the trees would cross a freeway!

  32. Paul Fischer says:

    I really like this story. It went in a few directions I didn’t expect which is always thrilling to me. It struck me that the protagonist was taking responsibility for a situation he created. I liked that angle as well.

    I think the story really falls down at the end. The Dryads go marching off to a park, that’s nice. But the construction workers are standing there dumbfounded. I expected them to be pulling out cell phones, digital cameras, camcorders and the like. There should have been tons of evidence of the event, and someone was sure to call a news crew.

    This story is happening today in our world. Yet the people in the world don’t react normally in my opinion. I think the author should have made some mention to the march being filmed and photographed. Mention of the fallout from an event like this, its historical significance, and where the human race goes from here, is my biggest unanswered question.

    Would people waste so much if they saw the evidence of this event. Who would be standing up denying it? What new or old religion would flock to this park in a vein attempt to communicate with the Dryads? What would the lumber industry do? The housing industry? New home buyers? Would people recycle more wood and paper?

    It seems to me that the author should have made the story a little longer and really speculate on the repercussions from this event.

  33. I, too, felt the end left more to be desired. I kept wondering, after it was over, if I had missed something.

    The “heavy push” of the “treehugger” variety at the beginning was a little tough for me. However, I kept the ‘cast going and I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed the entire episode.

    I felt that Mr. Anderson’s voice acting fit the sense of extraordinary that this story evoked. The story was a little of “too much to be believed” and his voice acting brought that out for me.

    Will the Computer Guy

  34. spycer says:

    I did spend the last third or so of the story wondering what happened to Rodger.

  35. Chris says:

    I don’t know why, but the reader’s voice was distracting to me. When he’s read other stuff for you guys it wasn’t this bad. Maybe I was just in a weird mood.

    The whole thing wasn’t bad, but not really one of my favorites. As with all Escape Pod stories, however, I clung to every second.

  36. […] Mongoose, so I jumped at the chance to pick up a short story collection. I first experienced Her, Smooth Talking and A Green Thumb over at EscapePod and I’ll take any excuse I can get to send them some […]