EP090: How Lonesome a Life Without Nerve Gas

By James Trimarco.
Read by Frank Key (of Hooting Yard and Hooting Yard on the Air).
First appeared in Afterburn SF.

After the first week of practice, I knew how to anticipate Mickey’s
every move. I knew how to sense weariness in the jogging of his spine
and would inject increased levels of oxygen into his airflow when I
did. I knew that his heartbeat grew irregular when the platoon crossed
a rope bridge high over the practice-room floor, and for that exercise
I would work a calming agent into his stream. I liked to chant
patriotic slogans in his ear as we practiced. “Oh the children of
empire are marching,” I sang, “to crush the rebel threat.”

Although my programmers intended these songs to stimulate high levels
of patriotism, Mickey didn’t like them. Perhaps that’s when the first
droplets of doubt moistened the soil where the pendulous flowers of my
confusion would one day bud. . . .

I’m sorry, your honor, if my poetry offends you. That’s when I first
questioned his loyalty, I should have said.

Rated PG. Contains battle scenes, Imperial propaganda, overenthusiastic chemistry, and bad poetry.

Referenced Sites:
Befuddled by Cormorants by Frank Key
EP Flash Fiction Contest

Comments (36)

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  1. I really enjoyed this, and not just because I’m a fan of Frank Key’s other work narrations. It’s a genuinely funny hard-science fiction story, and I am glad you chose this one for Frank to read. It really compliments his voice and humor.

  2. Simon says:

    Hmm, just a comment on the introduction (haven’t listened to the story yet):

    5 Names: Ayn Rand, Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven, John W Cambell and Jerry Pournelle.

    Yes, you’re absolutely right, it is much easier to right left wing science fiction.

  3. Ramona says:

    I thought Steve was trying to say that the glut of submissions sent to Escape Pod are left wing.
    I took it to mean that writing left wing science fiction is not easier, but perhaps more common.

    Also the intro mentioned the general counter-culture bent of SF stories. Heinlein was counter-culture wasn’t he? He may not have voted for Obama, but he was no Coulter either.

  4. SFEley says:

    Hi Simon,

    5 Names: Ayn Rand, Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven, John W Cambell and Jerry Pournelle.

    Sure. But of those five, only one-and-a-half are part of the contemporary science fiction scene. I deliberately said “…for decades” to exclude pre-New-Wave SF, which from my reading was pretty conservative on the whole.

  5. slic says:

    Don’t forget that this is our modern day take of liberal vs conservative. Heinlein’s ideas about sex in “Stranger in a Strange Land”, “Job; a Comedy of Justice”, “The Cat who Walked Through Walls”, and just about everything he wrote was (and still is IMHO) extremely liberal. To me, stories like Starships Troopers are about societal responsibility not conservative values.

    I think sci-fi/fantasy story-telling on the whole is always pushing boundary, exploring new things and as such will always be liberal (in that conservative is much more “traditional- what has worked for so long” mentality).

    I think the point raised in the previous posts in the preachiness of the past stories. For example, “Blood of Virgins” came off saying people who ride dragons are self-centred jerks whose luxuries indirectly harm innocents – oh and did you see how I really meant SUVs when I said dragons.

    You can still see things in a different light (which is what Sci-Fi does best) without casting aspersions.

  6. Tiktok of Oz says:

    I really enjoyed this story, both text and narration. It reminded me of an old comic from 2000AD (the magazine, not the year) called Rogue Trooper, where (if I recall correctly) the soldier was synthetic, but the minds of dead soldiers were in chips in his helmet, gun, backpack.

  7. Minderwinter says:

    I read this on Baen’s Bar, when it was posted to the communal online slushpile and enjoyed it very much. It was definitely the best thing I’d found there in the space of about two and a half months. Unfortunately, the tasteless folks over there didn’t buy it. I’m very happy to see that its finally getting some exposure.

  8. […] James Trimarco’s “How Lonesome a Life Without Nerve Gas” is up on Escape Pod.¬† Cory Doctorow liked it so much he Boing Boinged it. […]

  9. Stodge.org says:

    […] This week’s story “How Lonesom a Life Without Nerve Gas” was written by James Trimarco and narrated by Resonance FM’s Frank Key. Cory Doctrow of BoingBoing states that “Frank Key, of the Hooting Yard podcast, gives it a dry, sardonic reading that fits perfectly.”, and I am in agreement. BoingBoing also link to Frank’s web-site (but sadly not the podcast feed). I’ve been trying to get Cory Doctorow to read / listen to Hooting Yard on the Air for some time now (well at least the brief time that I knew him and he lived in London). Could it be that he too is an aficionado of Frank Key’s “Hooting Yard on the Air“? […]

  10. […] Frank Key of Hooting Yard on the Air narrates this week’s SF epic “How Lonesom a Life Without Nerve Gas” was written by James A. Trimarco and published by Escape Pod, the weekly Science-Fiction audio magazine. […]

  11. […] Hooting Yard’s Frank key narrates “How Lonesome a Life Without Nerve Gas” by James A. Trimarco for Escape Pod. EP is the only weekly Science Fiction and Fantasy audio-magazine. If you like this funny story you can find 89 more of them at Escape Pod. […]

  12. Michael King says:

    I really enjoyed this one, Steve — and of course, by the end, I was chuckling — not the least reason was seeing a group of tourists wandering back to their bus behind a tour leader near the Georgia Aquarium yesterday afternoon just as I got to the end of the story…

    Serendipity is such a wonderful thing…

  13. Kaylea says:

    Wheeee! This one is a nice fulfillment of “the Escape Pod promise” — sci fi + fun + a little bit of yikes. Yum!


  14. Great stuff here, Steve, and easily my favorite since the last Union Dues piece.

    Thanks for addressing my concerns, too. For the record, I’m a moderate (I’m actually very much a conservationist), but even when I agree with some aspects of the political vein of a story, it still gets tiring when seen week after week.

    Thanks again.

  15. oddpod says:

    fab stuf , reminded me of roge trooper and his bio-chip budy’s also

  16. Simon says:

    Second comment:

    Firstly – WOO! Two consecutive weeks of being quoted in the outro for comments… That must be some kind of EP record! Thanks.

    Secondly – Has the slush pile just got massively better recently? You are on a hell of a good streak at the moment! I can see the Rogue Trooper similarities, but the tone reminded me of Haldeman’s The Forever War. No small achievement since that is always listed as one of SF’s all time masterpieces.

    Steve… Keep it up!

  17. Simon says:


    Firstly: Woo! This makes two consecutive weeks of my quotes turning up on the outro! That must be some kind of EP record – thanks Steve.

    Second: Cracking story, has the slush pile just got much better recently? It reminded me of Rogue Trooper and Haldeman’s The Forever War – no small achievement since that is one of the genre’s all time masterpieces. I find it hard to believe you can maintain this winning streak for long.

    Also, much credit for the reading. Usually I find the Brit readers on EP a bit distracting, as a Brit I find I have too many associations with the accent – for this reason I have real trouble with Starship Sofa – but this guy was so clear and easy I loved it.

    Credit where it’s due.

  18. Simon says:

    Argh.. How not to have an argument with your browser. Sorry for the double-post.

  19. Simon & All, if you enjoyed this narration (by Frank Key), there is a whole load more by him. Frank is a somewhat obscure radio personality in the UK (he has done a weekly show on Resonance FM for the past three years).

    Steve E. carefully chose the story to compliment some of the themes that Frank’s own work often deals with.

    Check this out:

    Remember this was done live, with no edits. Matchless stuff!

  20. Also, much credit for the reading. Usually I find the Brit readers on EP a bit distracting, as a Brit I find I have too many associations with the accent

    Me too… as a Brit, I find British fantasy / sci-fi slightly unnerving. It’s almost taken for granted that elves and wizards usually speak with an American accent.

    Jedi knights on the other hand are permitted to speak in a sort of “RP” British stage-school accent.

    I’m afraid that owing to certain historical oddities and numerous colonial wars we Brits have a propper place in sci-fi and that is to play the baddie. Any violation of this rule risks creating a rift in the ether, timequakes or unleashing a hithertoo unknown “ultimate virus” which will wipe-out life as we know it.


  21. Chris says:

    I thought this was fantastic. I love stories that deal with AI, and the idea of an AI on trial is really cool!

    Great job!

  22. Dave T. says:

    Wow, this story blew me away. I haven’t had a chance to read a lot of military sci-fi (with the exception of Starship Troopers), but this story was unbelievably fun and exciting. The reading was great, too.

  23. Tiffany Hine Australia says:

    Enjoyed this story immensly. It was really well written and having Frank Key read was a stroke of jenius! I realy enjoyed listening to the other story he narrated ages ago, the Flash Piece: Team Mate Reference Problem In Demon Confontation. He has a very Hitchhiker Guide sounding voice (did he do the Guide in the recent movie I wonder?) that suited this story so well.

  24. “did he do the Guide in the recent movie I wonder?”

    Sorry, no!

    There is plenty of Frank Key audio for free download. Please subscribe to “Hooting Yard on the Air”. It’s on every single podcast directory. I know because I put it there.


  25. George says:

    I enjoyed this story quite a lot — and love Frank Key’s narration in general. Good choice.

  26. justa J0e says:

    That’s odd.

    I want to critique the story but my computer seems to be refusing to let me do so.


  27. Thanks, all.

    I’m glad so many of you enjoyed the story. I’ll definitely send Steve some more in the future. I listen to EP a lot and it’s great to be featured here.

  28. Janni says:

    I enjoyed this one, too!

  29. Cristren says:

    Having just found Escape Pod, I have been grazing through the archives. What a delicious find!
    “How Lonesome a Life without Nerve Gas” is another jewel…took me back to being thirteen poring over Sci-fi anthologies during summer vacation. I’ve been a short fiction fan ever since. This story is new favorite! It is so well written, and well read. Hope to see more from Mr. Trimarco. Thanks.

  30. […] not his original writing, he’s also read a couple stories as part of the Escape Pod series, How Lonesome a Life Without Nerve Gas and Hesperia and Glory, both of them worth a listen.  Standard Podcast: Play Now | Play in […]

  31. scatterbrain says:

    Only Frank Key could be the voice of an AI mecha suit.

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  35. […] for its owner’s dental health and promises to train its own replacement. The other is ”How Lonesome a Life Without Nerve Gas” by James Trimarco. This story features the court interrogation of a futuristic battle armour with […]