EP113: Ishmael in Love

By Robert Silverberg.
Read by Stephen Eley.
First appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 1970.

I am a lonely mammalian organism who has committed acts of heroism on behalf of your species and wishes only the reward of a more intimate relationship [“love”] with Miss Lisabeth Calkins. I beseech compassionate members of H. sapiens to speak favorably of me to her. I am loyal, trustworthy, reliable, devoted, and extremely intelligent. I would endeavor to give her stimulating companionship and emotional fulfillment [“happiness”] in all respects within my power.

Permit me to explain the pertinent circumstances.

Rated R. Contains explicit anatomical description and non-human sexual activity.

Related Links:
Steve’s LiveJournal (cleaning updates)

Comments (30)

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  1. I can’t believe no one’s said anything yet. I hate to start it off so lukewarm, but…

    I’m just not a fan of love stories in the short story format. I felt the same about Robert’s “+n, -n”. I think it’s far too complex to develop to the point where I care very much, or that the story simply becomes way bogged down with,

    Padme, “I love you.”

    Anakin, “I love you more.”

    crap 😉 I mean, I have enjoyed some before, but they would have to be exceptional. I know Steve loves them, but it’s just not my thing. I did think that Robert’s humor was decent though (I remember thinking the same thing about one of his stories before, which really makes me root for him), which made it closer to a 5/10 thing.

  2. L33tminion says:

    I sort of agree with Brandt, but I really like stories written from the perspective of an “alien” mind (whether literally alien or more terrestrial). That’s one of the harder tropes in sci-fi to pull off well, I think.

    Come to think of it, you could view “+n, -n” as that sort of story, too. One of the reasons that story wasn’t as good is that the love aspect of that plot really got in the way of the alien mind aspect (quite directly, since the main character gave up his unusual mind for the sake of love).

  3. dave says:

    Frankly, inter-species romance seems kinda strange to me. Had it been more revenge motivated, kinda Charlie-Brown-kill-the-red-head-girl, that would’ve been more interesting … but that falls into Mur’s Pseudpod area !

    Still, I like “Impossible Dreams” & “N+1, N-1” more. Can’t put my finger on it.

  4. Pfft! I thought the girl-on-dolphin action was HAWT. I liked ‘Impossile Dreams’ alot too, but I think it was because I wasn’t being blugeoned to paste with the love story, which made me root for them even more! Subtley ftw!

  5. Ed says:

    I too feel lukewarm on this story. I liked the exploration of an alien intellegence and the juxtaposition of an outsider’s view of human relationships while trying to form one of his own. It does serve to highlight the differences between emotional intelligence and plain “smarts”, but I just don’t buy the Ishmael’s physical attraction to be anything but pathological. He himself admits that is most likely a misplacement of his affection into a part of his brain where it does not belong. I will always empathize with a character suffering unrequited love, but in this case I can’t help but look clinically at it as a disease.

  6. Anyone else finding this episode impossible to download through iTunes? I’ll try direct download.

  7. Brian says:

    I can’t download this episode at all. Not through iTunes; not direct download. Can’t even play it in the browser – I get ‘Error Opening File’ in the flash player.

  8. Tim says:

    I haven’t been able to get it from iTunes either. It downloaded 2.5 MB and then stalled. This is the 4th time I’ve tried.

  9. Sorry 4 “me too” but um, yeah. Me too. Or “me neither!” Clicking “get” in iTunes doesn’t do anything.

  10. Mogadeth (aka Kevin from PDX) says:

    Had, to pass on this after first four minutes just gave me an ‘ick’-factor feel. Not sure what caused it, oh well… There always next week.

  11. I thought that the story was much too short to delve into the realm of jealousy.

    The last segment of the story was tough to swallow after learning a bit about how the author presented the dolphin thought process to then say, he found a female dolphin, had sex with her, and tried to make the human jealous. This part felt like the author was just trying to wrap up something that should have been a complex and drawn out process.

    While the reader might infer that this is some of the things the dolphin learned of human behavior from the various spools he’d read from the sabatours, it would have been nice to have been led down this path with a bit more finess.

    I would have liked to have seen Ishmael run out to sea, build a vast aquadic armada, and then lay seige to the water treatment plant in something like a modern Helen of Troy love story. Or at the very least, tied his actions to something that he had learned from his readings of human interactions.

    I was with you through the consipiracy part, just thought the last segment could have used a bit more polish.

  12. Janni says:

    I found this one intriguing. Not perfect, perhaps, but I did enjoy it, quite a bit more than +n, -n actually. An interesting exploration of an alien mind, with some solid, even lyrical writing and something of a sense of character–all things that are often missing from (and often keep me from enjoying) other hard SF stories.

    And I certainly think love stories can be told in short story format. It’s difficult, but no more difficult than telling any other sort of story in this format.

  13. Lizzie says:

    I thought the perspective was interesting, but the inter-species romance creeped me out and the way Elizabeth reacted to Ishmael’s love really pissed me off.

  14. Tim! I was hoping for the EXACT same thing! Dolphin revenge for the win!

  15. Aaron Morris says:

    I liked this one. Based simply on the title alone, I had no idea what was the sf focus was going to be. Then when I read “lonely mammalian organism who has committed acts of heroism on behalf of your species,” I initially thought that it was a story based on Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael books (about a talking gorilla named Ishmael).

    Overall, my only real issue with this episode is the date. While I have nothing against classic sf, there is something that I find almost depressing about potential futures (when they were written) becoming alternate pasts (when they are read). Despite this, the story was still a worthwhile listen.

  16. Gary H says:

    The one thing that got me thinking was the notion that maybe humans aren’t the only sentient beings on this planet. Who’s to say another species on this planet can’t evolve to that point, or hasn’t already? We only assume we are superior (thus the girl’s reaction to Ishmael) to all other species. Wouldn’t it be cool if first contact actually came from our own planet?

  17. Irv says:

    “Wouldn’t it be cool if first contact actually came from our own planet?”

    I believe that it already has but humans feel so superior that we continually make higher standards for “intelligence” so that we are the only “intelligent” species on the planet.

    I believe that Apes, Chimps, and such are in fact intelligent. Yes, we do have to teach them sign language. But don’t you have to learn Spanish or French to talk to someone from another country (or they have to learn your language).

    First Contact has occurred. Get used to it.

  18. Jose says:

    I resisted the urge to skip to the next podcast about three minutes in. I wish I had gone with my instincts.

    Betrayal would be a much more interesting attribute of humanity to explore then that oldest cliche, unrequested love. Elizabeth being in on the plot to bring the downfall of St. Croix, even coupled with the cheesy love story, would have made for a much more engaging story.

    Point two. Why do so many science fiction love stories focus on well developed milk glands and bulbous hind-regions? Does there always need to be such an attempt to appeal to our internal oversexed teenager? I’m sorry to say but the reading only added to this effect. This story was downright creepy. I’m not sure how Steve could of read it differently but I felt as though I should be listening to it in the dark with the curtains drawn so my neighbors couldn’t see.

    And another thing, Escape Pod kicks ass.

    Thanks Steve!

  19. Dave (aka Nev the Deranged) says:

    Steve made this story fun to listen to, even if love stories are not my thing. I’m with some of the other commenters that alien minds are fun to explore- but it annoys me when HUMAN minds get caught up in the glandular stupidity we call love, to have alien ones fall prey to the same trap just frustrates me. Ishmael was brilliant and lucid and I was rooting for him right up until he started acting like a hormone drunk teenager. What the hell? I had such high hopes for him after the well-thought out intro.

    I guess it just goes to prove that love makes fools of all… at least all who let it.

  20. David says:

    At the risk of sounding cranky, I couldn’t help thinking that this is what happens when you’re an accomplished writer trying to come up with your 500th story (or however many it is for Robert). It had a lot of professional touches, but just ain’t got that zing. Like spiced-up oatmeal at a fancy restaurant.

  21. ruthling says:

    Although I don’t know when this stopry was published and I assume it was a product of its time, I was annoyed by the continuous sexism in this story. Not just how ‘lizabeth was the pretties most delicate thing going (which was dumb), but by how incredibly airheaded she was (pardon the pun). Face it, if the culture is as sexist as it seemed, to get a position of authority or responsibility like hers, she’d have had to be damn good at her job. Instead she’s cheerfully naming all the pretty animals, going for whoowhoo rides on them and completely failing to comprehend his attachment to her. Dumb. And like previous posters, I’m not impressed by the continual babbling about “mammary glands”. I’m not a 14 year old boy, and I don’t like reading stories obviously meant for them.

    I did enjoy the early parts of the story. The conspiracy plot, though a bit tacked on (“ohh, I need a plot”), was kind of interesting, contrasting Ishamaels quick comprehension of the saboteurs motives with his inability to get human love relatioships.

  22. Elias Gant says:

    I thought this story was going to end up being his suicide note.

  23. Hawke says:

    Is there a manuscript of this?

  24. Apollo says:

    Gah! He’s a technician! The Recorders are more lively than this speaker.

  25. scatterbrain says:

    Another Human-Animal love triangle.


  26. sarah says:

    I might have cared if ishmael had been a decent guy/dolphin, but he was an uptight, tedious pedantic bore. If he had been human he’d be the kind of guy who sits across the restaurant table from you talking about how everyone in the accounting dept. respects him because of his kick-ass pencil organising skills. Gack.

  27. Davis Kerr says:


  28. A Bary says:

    Human animal love?? Gmee a break!

  29. […] Ishmael in Love, Robert Silverberg. A talking dolphin inexplicably falls in love with a human woman. Extreme ickiness ensues, in the way that only obnoxiously sexist 70s sci-fi can be icky. […]