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EP086: When We Went to See the End of the World

By Robert Silverberg.
Read by J.C. Hutchins (of The 7th Son Trilogy).

Mike offered Nick some pot. “That’s really something,” he said. “To have gone to the end of the world. Hey, Ruby, maybe we’ll talk to the travel agent about it.”

Nick took a deep drag and passed the joint to Jane. He felt pleased with himself about the way he had told the story. They had all been very impressed. That swollen red sun, that scuttling crab. The trip had cost more than a month in Japan, but it had been a good investment. He and Jane were the first in the neighborhood who had gone. That was important.

Rated R. Contains drugs, swinging, and frequent gratuitous apocalypses.

Referenced sites:
Podiobooks.com
Starship Sofa (incl.: Robert Silverberg)

Comments (24)

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  1. Mitch says:

    I see in the forums that the iTunes feed has cover art for the different stories. Is there a way for us non-iTunes folks to see them? Ideally I’d like to see them here on the web site next to the titles… Or part of the feed (push out CoolStory.MP3 and then CoolStory.GIF)

    Steve – you rock! Keep up the good work!

  2. Lar says:

    When I listened to this story, I couldn’t help being reminded of the old saying:

    “Drop a frog in boiling water and he’ll hop right out. But, put him in a pot and slowly turn up the heat and he sit there and happily boil to death.”

    I enjoyed the story. And it is surprisingly timely considering its original publish date. Thanks for a great year Steve.

  3. Congratulations on attracting a Grand Master! And Lar’s right: this story’s eerily timely. I enjoyed the jab as self-absorbed yuppies (who are timeless, save for the cut of their suits) who didn’t even bat an eye at the *real* end of *their* world happening right then.

    It also is a great example of “the future as a product of the present” — every end of the world seemed to reflect the present the trip started from. Nothing heavily chained to that particular present, but loosely connected nonetheless. The idea of a future fishtailing in front of a future pushing it along is pretty cool.

    I hope Mr. Silverberg and more of the hooded and cloaked Grand Masters submit more stories to Escape Pod (I *dare* you to reject a Harlan Ellison story and post the reply he sends!)

  4. Jim in Buffalo says:

    I would think that any future one were to visit would be changed by the absence of the person visiting at the very least. Perhaps that why it was so different each time.

  5. Jill A. says:

    First of all: I’ve been listening to Escape Pod for about a year now. I think it’s a great podcast. It might be my favorite. I generally love it; you managed to make me like a genre of writing which I always hated in the past.

    However, the last few episodes (this one, “smooth talker” and “ulla”) have seemed really weak to me. Honestly, they don’t really hold my attention the way past episodes did. There is something about this story in particular that makes me feel like I’ve heard it a million times and don’t really care to hear it again.

    I’ll certainly keep listening, but I’m really hoping for more stories about worlds I’m not already familiar with.

  6. I didn’t like this story either…the descriptions were vivid and I could imagine myself there but a lot of the actual plot just made me not care.

    Is the time machine in this story based of the H.G.Wells time machine concept the descriptions of the leavers just make me feel that way.

  7. Kate G says:

    I really enjoyed the story. It was witty and well-written — the passage where Nick dances with Paula, whose husband Bob flirts with Cindy, etc. etc., with a side note that so-and-so was danced with his own wife because she was recovering from surgery, was a masterpiece of understated decadence.

    As I sit reading the news today — Polar Bears possibly becoming extinct, the Amazon rainforest likely to succeed to dry grasslands, all 41 square miles of the Ayles Ice Shelf snapped off of Canada today — I found it incredibly timely.

    On an ironic note, as the world is being destroyed we’re listening to EscapePod! Take us away, please!

  8. Colin F says:

    Must have been too subtle for me. I was waiting for some kind of clever denouement which never really came.

    Still, thanks for another year’s worth of stories. Best wishes for 2007 to Steve, his family and all the regular contributors to the Escape Pod.

  9. Simon says:

    Well Steve, you’ve bagged a Silverberg… Wow! I think you are officially a big fish.

    I thought I’d do a brief dissection of this piece, because on some front I love it, and on others I’m a little less than impressed. Silverberg is enough of an artist that he manages to knot all the elements into a piece and so, despite it’s flaws, everything draws together to give it a good tone.

    As a lover of retro-sf I couldn’t help but get a warm glow when his characters started smoking joints, showing horrendous 1970′s class bigotry and giving us a setting that drips of Soylent Green. Presidential assassinations, escaped viruses.. Hmmmm… Capricorn One and The Andromeda Strain – it makes me feel all snug and tingly.

    However, I really don’t know what he was doing when it came to character naming. He’s got more characters than I can count in here and they have absolutely no individual traits to identify them, nor has he focused on a few so that we can ignore the rest. I remember Orson Scott Card discussing (in the introduction) a similar problem in giving identities to the children in Speaker For The Dead, but I don’t think Silverberg has done enough to get away with it here. Hutchins does his best to give them subtly different accents, but my impression is that Silverberg is saying “these people are all scum, so don’t worry about who they are, just hate them all” and he’s a good enough writer to almost get away with it, almost.

    Next, there is no denouement. He has no way to close it out either in terms of an idea/twist or some sort of emotional closure… That’s understandable because he hasn’t allowed us to even know who any characters are, so how can we get emotionally connected to them? This is sloppy, and so the only way he has to end the scene is to end the party.

    However, this IS Silverberg we are talking about, and he manages to get away with both of these just by sheer vivid imagery and by making it all hold together as a piece. As a geologist I loved the variations on the end of the world he drew (Although for gods sake Robert, please, everyone knows that rising sea level thing is impossible) and the crab thing on the beach was charming.

    All in all, I really really enjoyed this, but I repeatedly wanted to grab Silverberg by the neck and say “Fix this element NOW”. I’m extremely impressed that Escape Pod managed to bag a Silverberg…

    So, if we are playing fantasy Grandmaster – get a Fred Pohl! Please god get a Pohl… If you can get your hands on The Tunnel Under The World I will donate you my first born!

  10. The generic regard to the characters and their names is deliberate effort. At first I saw it as annoying, until I realized the subtle craft at work here. Mr. Silverberg wants us to see these generic anyones as a trite, self-absorbed slice of country club ignorance, wrapped in a facade of competitive bliss.

    The fact that signs are all around them, and are regarded only as a potential impediment to travel plans, further emphasizes the nature of these characters. The deliberately stilted descriptions of activity at the party serve as reinforcements to the idea that nothing they are doing is truly important against the backdrop of the larger events occurring.

    I was very impressed. More solid science fiction like this, Stephen, please!

  11. I kept chuckling at how the characters kept missing what was going on around them as tragic as the “end of the world” they were visiting.

    The vacation is probably either a holodeck or hallucination brought on by fumes and pressurization in the “little submarine” (smacks of Beatles Yellow Sub).

    What a really strange trip this was
    ;)

    WtCG

  12. slic says:

    This is the type of story that might come off as cliche by someone with less talent. Mr. Silverberg tells a tale of “living with blinders on”, but throws in the right type of self-absorbed characters to accentuate the point and then gives them an almost “grass is greener” type of setting with all the present-time disasters.

    And, for me, the interchangability of Dave and Phillis and Mary or whoever was a calculated risk that paid off – of course I couldn’t care less about Nick’s hurt feelings from not being the first to time travel – so why waste time getting me invested into people I will care nothing for?

    My only critism is that I found myself tuning out a bit in the story trying to figure out why they saw different world endings – I didn’t figure out what the author was trying to tell me.
    Other people must have noticed this. I’m sure others would have been angry because they assumed they had been ripped off, and yet we saw hear of a report for the business with no mention of the different “experiences”.
    I personally don’t buy into the “time is fluid” theory (see below), but even if that were true – then how would the “all-knowing voice” in the sub know what they were seeing?

    I didn’t see the timeliness aspect of the story that others did – the world has been ending for decades (ozone depletion, carcinogens in everything from food to housing, etc.). Which might be why global warming and all the rest are so blithely ignored now – the guy with the End of the World sign is only shocking the first couple of times.

    Time/Future is not Fluid:
    Basically, I see time as a VCR tape – if I tape a soccer game overnight, and, immediately on waking up I watch the game, it is real time for me. The events have all unfolded, the history is written – nothing I can do will change the outcome of the game, but it’s all new to me.

    I sum up my arguement with one statement: Everyone’s future is someone else’s Past.

  13. Simon says:

    Yeah.. Definitely wanted to pipe up and say *MORE PLEASE* again…

    Quick comment to John and Slic – it’s difficult to openly make friends on here but you guys rock, always enjoy your insights…

    Now, since Steve has run his first retro SF story here, I’m going to do my best to irritate him with a little idea – as an EP fan and a fan of old SF I had been wondering about the status of Stanley Weinbaum’s classic SF stories from the ’30s…

    Now, correct me if I’m wrong but his ‘A Martian Odyssey’ is one of short SF’s all time classics (and still a quite enjoyable read) and was published in 1934. Weinbaum then died in ’35…

    Under the terms of the Sonny Bono copyright extension act (70 years after the death of the author) Weinbaum’s work went PD in ’05.

    At this point I move into the territory of editor begging – come on Steve, pretty please? ‘A Martian Odyssey’ weighs in a bit long at 10 000 words, but ‘The Point Of View’ comes in nicely at 6,573… Does Mr Weinbaum fit into EP’s submissions criteria, or is it not enough fun? I realise PD SF is a bit of a sidestep for EP, and that it is your baby personally… But Weinbaum sits their in a remarkable position as the only classic pulp short SF writer who has gone PD already, is there any major reason not to raid the PD sf archives?

    Anyone interested in reading Weinbaum’s work can read it all over at the Australian Project Gutenberg site, indexed here

  14. Jim in Buffalo says:

    Hey, is there going to be a page about that writing contest mentioned on the show?

  15. Simon says:

    To further my last comment… Quick note to Mur at Pseudopod: Mr H.P went and died on March 15, 1937…

    Tempted to put the Call Of The Cthulu up on Pseudopod on the anniversary of his death?

  16. Josh says:

    I thought it was a bit boring. No punch at the end. Nothing really happened. Characters just told us what they had done. No explanation why thier experiences were differn’t.

    Sad.

  17. slic says:

    Simon, thank you for the kind words. I also look forward to some of the posts here, and you have definitely given me food for thought on different stories. I don’t recall ever hearing of Stanely Weinbaum, but will go and read some of his fiction. I’m also of mixed feelings about the Forums – I like the one stop shopping here, and wonder what I’ll miss.

    Mr. Eley, I’m curious about how a story like this gets submitted – do you solicit some of your favourite authors? It just seems odd that Robert Silverberg would submit a 20 year old story out of the blue.

  18. David says:

    Unfortunately, this story ended for me with one of those, “That’s it? I don’t get it” moments. That could mean that my intellectual lamp is on the dim end of the spectrum, but I prefer to blame it on the story. On the whole, it seemed to me a jaded story with one-dimensional characters and oblique doomsday references. The only redeeming feature was its incisive portrayal of the human tendency to “fiddle while Rome burns.”

  19. Scott says:

    But see that’s what it was about. It wasn’t about why their experiences were different, it was about their general cluelessness that if they wanted to see the end of the world all they woulf have to do is step outside.

  20. Scott says:

    Oh and great reading JC!

  21. Ramona says:

    I thought the different ends were also implying that everything that was happening, what people were doing, was affecting the outcome of the end of the world. And they were so close to it that every event was really changing the future.
    I thought it was a nice argument for free will. The end is not inevitable. Well, the end is, but they _way_ it ends isn’t…
    So maybe a cynical argument for free will, but argument none-the-less? Maybe I’m reading too much in here, Steve said it didn’t really matter, so fine.

  22. scatterbrain says:

    Completely madcap.

    Middle class jewish americans go on as empty minded and turgid as always.

    The carb and beach an obvious nod to The Time Machine.