EP103: The Watching People

By Paul Berger.
Read by Stephen Eley.
First appeared in Ideomancer, December 2004.

One must show the proper respect for knowledge, and learn by watching and
counting and copying. The Doctor does almost nothing but learn —
although he watches the wrong things — and some of us think he might be
a little sacred as well, which is one of the reasons he is still alive.
It might be unlucky to eat a sacred person.

But the main reason he is still among us is someday we will learn
something valuable from him, and then maybe the village will support the
lives of a few more of the People. We watch him carefully.

Rated PG. Contains mild language, some violence, and the Observer Effect gone very awry.

Referenced Sites:
Dr. Howard V. Hendrix’s “Webscab” essay
Jo Walton’s “International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day” essay
International Pixel-Stained Technopeasants Community
Air Out My Shorts

Comments (20)

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  1. naming says:

    i didn’t want this one to end. “prime-directive” stories have been a favorite of mine ever since Data went amnesic and stumbled into a pre-industrial civilizations.

    but, could someone explain the “context” that promoted their aversion to direct questions? did i miss something important?

  2. Sayeth says:

    I think the Watching People had, through evolution and culture, established such a value on gaining knowledge that asking a direct question would imply that one couldn’t figure it out on his own. It would be the equivalent to asking someone to read a sign to you when you’re able to read for yourself. The same goes with being told something directly — it’s like the other couldn’t figure it out with just a hint, and on this world, not being able to figure things out quickly would mean death.

  3. naming says:

    sayeth: thanks.

  4. Formerly Evil says:

    This was a terrific story. I especially enjoyed the alien POV and the total cluelessness of the human scientist. The scene where the Watching People communicate with “the man in the small box” was simultaneously funny and chilling. Loved it!

  5. David says:

    I absolutely loved this. Such an interesting concept to create the “Watching People”, who basically have a cult of knowledge. It’s a good POV story, and it created a sense of immersion and companionship with the Watching People. Overall my favorite story since Nightfall.

  6. Kaylea says:

    Wow — definitely a favorite. Where can I read more work by Paul Berger? My googling is coming up empty :(.

  7. Omry says:

    Fantastic story, feels like a setup for a much larger piece – which I would love to read/hear :).

  8. photogirl says:

    I think this is the same Paul Berger who has a story in the D. Moles antho “20 Epics.”

    Good stuff here.

  9. ChrisAaron says:

    Wow. ‘Chilling’ is right.

    This story sent more shivers down my spine than all but two Pseudopod episodes.

    They are warm, fuzzy, and Innocent, for now, and we all love them. Later they sweep over the galaxy and we become watchers, or extinct.

  10. Bryce Fields says:

    I’m doing something right now for the first time ever. I’m listening to a story from Escape Pod a second time! Even though I have a tremendous backlog of my favorite podcasts to wade through, it’s worth the effort to hear this story one (two, three???) more times. Very well written. Not a weak spot in the entire story.

    Nice work, Paul Berger.

  11. Bill Ruhsam says:

    Fabulous story. I especially liked how the researcher POV was aware of his own ignorance with respect to surviving in the marshes, but we listeners know that even he doesn’t know how much he is unaware of. God help that galaxy once the Watching People get out.

  12. naming says:

    god help that galaxy once the watching people discard the direct questions taboo and are capable of innovating independantly.

  13. dscarron says:

    Great story. Reminded me of a Golden Age first contact but put on it’s head.

  14. Great story!

    I wonder what the blast radius of the landing ship is like. How many survivors? And I’d also like to know if the ship will be able to take off again, and if it will, whether it will have fuel enough left to anyplace.

  15. Danthelawyer says:

    I’ve been listening to Escape Pod for about six months now, and this was definitely one of my favorites.

    Now, where can I find this in print, so I can share it? Ideomancer’s on-line archives only go back to 2005.


  16. Dave (aka Nev the Deranged) says:

    I was wondering exactly where the ship plans to land… perhaps in the middle of the village? That might work out best for the galaxy in the long run…

    Definitely one of the best EP stories I’ve heard so far, and as Chris said, more effectively chilling than many PP eps. Good choice, Steve!

  17. […] and science fiction.) While we’re on the anthro connection I’d also point out “The Watching People” which appeared on EscapePod a few weeks ago. If you’re not familiar with escape-pod […]

  18. Motti says:

    A great story! It reminded me of one of my favorites, The Flying Sorcerers by Niven and Gerrold.

  19. […] them both out at Variant Frequencies, a superbly produced collection), and Paul Berger’s “The Watching People” (Escape […]

  20. E H says:

    Fantastic story that hooked me on Escape Pod and reminded me why I have always loves SF short stories. Would like to hear more from this author.