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EP146: Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk

By Ken Scholes.
Read by Stephen Eley.

First appeared in Talebones, Spring 2001.

“Do you know what’s happened to the children?”

Edward swallowed. Suddenly, he wanted to cry. “Yes. They’re…sleeping?”

He hoped and hoped and hoped and hoped, grimacing as he did. He looked
around.

Makeshift beds lined the room. Small hands gripped blankets, small eyes
stared at the ceiling.

“No.” The boy frowned. “They’ve died.”

“Because of Something Very Bad?”

“Yes. And I need you to be a Very Brave Bear. Can you do that?”

Rated PG. Contains strong images of death and violence. Almost certainly not appropriate for small children.

Comments (83)

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  1. Sylvan says:

    This is, without any doubt, one of the most amazing tales I’ve ever heard. Pure Science Fiction with deep emotion is not easy to find. I’m telling every one of my friends and family about this remarkable tale…

  2. Ginger says:

    This is one of the best I’ve heard yet. I loved the allusions to Pooh and the toy’s dedication to the children.

  3. Max says:

    Curse you Steve Eley, you made me cry. Or I got something in my eyes while driving that required several tissues.

    It is a great story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  4. Kail Panille says:

    Wow. That was the cheesiest, most over the top, most blatantly emotionally manipulative… deeply moving and affecting story I’ve heard in a while. Kudos.

  5. Tonare says:

    Not since “Down Memory Lane” have I been this taken emotionally by a story. Kinda makes me want to go out and buy a teddy bear. Well done, Ken.

  6. Shoshannah says:

    Darn. Curled up with my cat here, this story perhaps pushed known emotional buttons, but it did make me cry.

    I’m not sure if I love it or hate it for this.

  7. Me says:

    That was wonderful.

    :’)

  8. Julio says:

    Very nice story. Touching.

  9. Shig says:

    How is it that Spielberg can put a walking, talking teddy bear into a movie, and it comes out just as annoying as you’d expect; but Scholes can not only center a story around a teddy bear, but give him a spear, a fierce growl, and a sacred quest, and somehow it works? Simple: Scholes cheats. He starts out with not just any teddy bear, but one we’ve all known intimately since childhood. More importantly, he manages to keep him that same bear, even after all the tribulations he puts him through. I’m afraid Mur Lafferty is going to have some stiff competition for that Campbell.

  10. Void Munashii says:

    What a beautiful story. Humour, action, horror, sorrow, what more could one ask for from a story? It even had a definitive ending.

    I really liked how the story had a sense of whimsy, but at the same time was very adult. I’ll admit that I even teared up a bit at the end.

  11. Ken Scholes says:

    Hi Everyone. I just wanted to thank you all for your kind words about “Edward Bear.” I’m really glad it still resonates with people. I cry every time I read it and Stephen did a great job reading it.

    It will be out in print (again) this coming November in my collection LONG WALKS, LAST FLIGHTS AND OTHER JOURNEYS (from Fairwood Press.)

    Thanks again, everyone! I’m grateful for the kind words.

  12. Robert says:

    I have a comment about the intro to the story. I find it difficult to view the feelings we get from epic journeys as jealousy, jelousy tipically makes us want to avoid or hate the subject in question. I find that heroes make us respect and admire them with their journeys, they inspire us to accomplis our own goals. Its the idea that if he or she can do that then I can do my own seemingly simple goal. Not everyone can go off and recue the damnsel in distress. So hearing about someone else’s accomplishments helps us achieve our own, in a way, just as important goals. Because while the knight is off resquing the princess his food and armor had to come from somewhere. To put it simply these stories apeal because they inspire.

  13. Isaac says:

    This story was so good, I think I’ll listen to it again; this time, without doing any chores or anything else at the same time.

    The central idea of putting Pooh into a memory-poor toy robot with a life-saving mission was a brilliant one, and the author pulled it off flawlessly. As far as I’m concerned, this story deserves a place in the Pooh canon.

  14. foshizzle says:

    I was a little wary about the allusions to Pooh because he’s such a well known character and with the “Zen of Pooh” and the “Tao of Pooh” and probably a bunch of other titles, a bit overdone. However, I thought it was a good, creepy story.

  15. AmazingSteve says:

    I loved that Edward’s heroism grew out of the capabilities and values designed to support a limited role as a guardian of children. He exceeded his programming, but in a benevolent way. I saw this as an inversion of the traditional “AI run amok” story. Good stuff!

  16. MadJo says:

    Nooooooooooooo, don’t die, silly old bear. You are a brave bear, Edward, and you deserve to live. :(

    Great story, Steve (not mr.) Eley, thanks to Ken Scholes for writing this amazing piece of fiction.
    It really had me to tears.
    Thank goodness, I was at home when I listened to it, instead of driving my car, which is where I normally listen to Escape Pod. :)

  17. Hands down the best story I’ve heard on Escape Pod. As a dad with young kids, I simply lost it at the end.

    The story itself is brilliant, but kudos also to Eley’s reading. Spielberg couldn’t make us love a mechanical AI bear. But Stephen Eley did.

  18. [...] I can’t wait to listen to this. I’m debating on whether I want to do this for lunch or just wait till I get home. It’s one of the few times I wish I had an MP3 player. [...]

  19. Alan S says:

    It’s Poohlysses! (Tales of brave Poohlysses?)

  20. kirkjerk says:

    Is there a written version of this somewhere?

    I like reading more than listening…

  21. Peter says:

    Two quick(ish) comments:

    The first is that I would like to suggest that part of our affinity toward quest stories and the hero’s journey comes from the fact that each and everyone one of us recognizes that journey from our own lives, albiet in more prosiac forms such as Graduate School, caring for a dying loved one, heck all of puberty itself is like one long long walk toward a goal that we never quite believe we will reach (and then when we reach adulthood we find it’s just the beginning of another long long walk).

    The second is that this is one of the best stories I’ve heard on Escape Pod and I sincerely want to thank Ken Scholes for writing it and Steve Eley for publishing and reading it. I have nothing pithy or clever to say about it, just . . . “thanks.”

    (And congrats on getting BoingBoinged!)

  22. ESR says:

    I am pretty sure I read some of this years ago but I really needed this. Thank you for one of the best sci-fi stories I’ve ever read.

  23. I think I have my Gen Con 2008 RPG game idea now.

  24. [...] Pod features readings of short sf stories.  This episode, Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk, is a touching story of a brave AI toy bear given a very big responsibility.  I wont give any more [...]

  25. Greg says:

    Thanks for a great podcast. I’ve been listening intermittently for a long time, but this is the first time I felt the need to shout out a bit.

    I fixed my iPod over the weekend and was directed by BoingBoing to listen. Fortunately, I had already downloaded this episode. Unfortunately, I have a short commute, so I had to spend a good amount of time in the car listening to the entire thing.

    Not to sound too trite — and I apologize in advance for the sappiness to follow — but parenthood changed me. I can’t listen to a story like this in the same way I could just three years ago. Well-told tales of children suffering affect me differently now. I don’t anticipate being able to get the opening scene of this story out of my head for some time.

    This reminds me of the pain I felt somewhat a few months back when, for some reason, I watched Grave of the Fireflies for the first time. I don’t think I ever cried so hard. Obviously, Edward Bear didn’t affect me as severely as Grave, but it remind me of the hurt. And that’s a good pain; it grounds me and makes me a better, more compassionate person.

    Nice job of reading Stephen. Nice job of writing Ken, I look forward to picking up your collection.

  26. Irked says:

    I don’t know if perhaps in the US where people are constantly innundated with advertising, the 150 second intro might seem like a “bearable” tax.

    But to me, in the UK, with no TV and ad-blockers filtering the web, it seems excessively intrusive. So I paused it there (I hope the story’s about to start finally…)

    AFTER the story, sure, I want to discuss it, listen to others’ thoughts on it, have the cool bits I might have missed pointed out, to hear about the author and so on.

    Before, I definitely do not want metacontent and discussion and critique and author bio and ads and electronic voices telling me what it is, and to hear the title of the story half a dozen times.

    What I want, is quite simply to hear the story.

    Podcasters always get this wrong: they frontload the podcast with the metainfo, instead of appending it afterwards, at the point where it would be of interest.

    Almost nobody watches the DVD extras BEFORE the movie.

  27. Gillian says:

    And there will be stories, and statues, and a song about honey.

  28. Magic Moses says:

    is there a text version for those of us who are deaf?

  29. Irked says:

    Frontloading ends at 3:20. Story ends about 42:00 and backloads to 45:00 – only 3 inutes of commentary. Personally, I’d vote for more commentary, just after the story.

    Commentary before is an insult to the author. You are colouring the reader’s perception of the story so they see the story in the light YOU want to project on it (“Hero’s Journey”, FCOL!), rather than letting them experience the story in the way that the author intended.

    Would you try introducing the story as an allegory of modernday politics? No, because that would be projecting your political views onto the author’s story. So why project your literary opinions all over it?

    Other than that, the story’s sweet, and is read well.

  30. MadJo says:

    @Irked, Steve wanted to make sure that you don’t let kids listen to this story before you as a parent did.

    I’m Dutch and we also aren’t used to ‘long’ breaks before or during a show.
    But the intro works for me, because I want to hear some of Steve’s considerations, and what the story is about, and I want to hear his view on matters.

    BTW, Your mp3-player allows you to skip forward if you don’t like it. Incidentally pausing it doesn’t work, because it makes the ‘break’ longer. ;)

    If it were the other way around, an ‘intro’ of about 30 minutes and a 3 minute story, I’d agree with you, but this is just 3 minutes. Less than 10% of the amount of time the story took.

    And about colouring someone’s perception, I hope you are less impressionable than that. I’ll make up my own mind about the story thankyouverymuch, during the reading.
    But if after the intro I don’t like the preface of the story, I can easily skip to the next track on my mp3player.

  31. Peter says:

    I’m going to disagree with those who are anti-intro. Whether you come to a story through a magazine, a book, or a podcast, there is always context and editorial of some sort. Just from posting this story to a science fiction podcast, the story has a context that is a literary construct. Editors have always been welcome to comment upon the stories that they present and there is no need to take what they say as scripture. Editors provide only a small window upon a story and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

  32. [...] Escape Pod » EP146: Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk (tags: audiobook sf) [...]

  33. Connor Moran says:

    So THAT’S what would have happened if Pooh had ever caught those darn Heffalumps and Woozles.

  34. [...] Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk Permanent Link [...]

  35. Kurt says:

    As far as intros go, most good anthologies have a quick paragraph before each story to set the stage or introduce the author. Asimov’s and F&SF also do this. Don’t you ever read the inside flap of a novel before you read it? If hearing a little about the story influences your impression then I hate to think what election year must be like for you.

  36. Peter T says:

    I loved the story – one of the Best Escape Pods Ever.

    But…

    Based on human history, the parrotishes may come to wish they’d never helped Edward.

  37. [...] Ken and I were in Writers of the Future, Volume XXI, together.  Anyway, his story "Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk," which I loved when I read it a few years ago, is now available in audio format at Escape [...]

  38. mircea says:

    hehe, i guess it shows that escape pod was boinged-boiged and people who don’t know how things work around got to comment on the forum. i almost felt a holy wrath when i read the previous coments on the supreflousness of the intros :)

    keep up the intros steve, without them escape pod would not be escape pod anymore :)

    and the story was a super.

  39. Shannon says:

    Steve, I’m not sure I’ve left a comment here before, but have been listening faithfully to EscapePod since we met at Dragon*Con 2006.

    This story moved me in a wonderful way. I felt it was a bit slow to start, but epically heroic by the end.

    As you mentioned in your intro, epic hero stories tend to move many people, and I’m included in that group. I always love a story where an unassuming protagonist steps beyond their normal life to do something unimaginable. I can get quite emotional to such stories.

    This story moved me to tears at the end. The interwoven bits referencing Milne’s classic tales were fantastic and helped enhance the story all-around. I’m very proud to say that I cried both from joy and sorry at the end of this, which I believe is my favorite of all time, Escape Pod story.

  40. Dom says:

    I gotta say Steve, your reading completely sold this story.

    Tastefully done, and so not over the top.

    Well done. And thank you.

  41. One of my favorite escape pods. This one will be with me for a while.

  42. Daniel Cotton says:

    This was a good story, well read. It didn’t resonate particularly with me but that might just mean I’m emotionally stunted.

    As regards the intro. In general I agree with Irked. I avoid “trailers” like the plague if I know I’m going to see a movie, because I want the storyline to be a surprise – to be part of the experience for me. The same goes for my fiction. However, I feel most of the time Steve does a good job, and in this instance he didn’t give away anything that the title didn’t already allude to. I’m happy to hear about the author and where the story first appeared and when. The warnings/rating are of course important. It’s just if possible I would like all the references to what occurs to be left ’till after and discussed then. At that point I might even listen a second time to see if I agree.

  43. Tom Zimmerman says:

    Personally, I really like the intros, and don’t want to see them go anywhere. They give the whole site and endeavor a face and identity that I tap into. Also, 2 minutes of intro to get to a great story like this is no big sacrifice.

    I picked up the Pooh references late into the reading, and I was already picturing Edward as my childhood teddy bear. But that only added to my enjoyment of the story.

  44. Nora says:

    I really liked this story, but I don’t think it was really suited to be used for audio. One of the things that stands out to me consistently about Pooh stories is there use of capitalization for emphasis, something that drives me completely up a wall in any other context but is somehow endearing when done by a Bear Of Very Little Brain. That sort of comes across in the reading, but not as well as it would do on the page.

  45. Void Munashii says:

    Personally, I love the intros. They make it feel more like Steve Eley is a real person, and almost a friend I look forward to visiting with every week, but then I really enjoy personality driven radio and other podcasts as well.

    @Nora

    I though that the capitalized phrases came across pretty well in the reading, although I did mentally picture the reader doing finger-quotes during those parts as opposed to just capitalizing them.
    I will agree that some things can never come across as well in other mediums as they do in writing. This why so many movie adaptations of novels rarely do the story proper justice.

  46. Jim Cox says:

    Along with the parental advisory intro, this one desperately needed a “WARNING: TEAR JERKER” advisory.

    This is a stellar piece of writing.

  47. Karle H. says:

    I really enjoyed this story. I will agree it was definitely a tissue-required item (even the second time through with the wife). I did find one thing a little disturbing though. In the story it is apparent that Edward has a functional AI to allow him some leeway in his interactions with others. The known fact that my child talks to his stuffed animals, and the fact that they “talk back”, makes me wonder just what would happen if he had a bear like Edward.

  48. Paul F says:

    Thanks for such a great story. Ken’s story is a great mix of the hero’s journey and child-like exploration of the world around us. All layered on the classic scifi themes of how an artificial intelligence might actually respond to human tragedy and emotional challenge. Brilliant.

    I was introduced to EscapePod a few months ago and it has been a great way for me to keep my hands warm while waiting for the bus to work (I live in the northeast US and usually read a book). I get the feeling that Steve has read a few Pooh stories aloud…his voicing of the “oh bother”s and “expotition”s were spot on. On the introductions…I personally like them. I like the information about the authors and the tie-ins of the story to current goings-on. Thanks Steve and keep up the good work.

  49. mrgoldenbrown says:

    I am chiming in with further defense of the intros. Escape Pod was my first foray into podcasts, and having now explored many others, not all of which are at the same level as EP, I am aware of how spoiled I was to start with EP. My friend said it best when she declared
    “I’ve never wanted to say ‘Steve, shut up.'” This is an awkward way of praising Steve, but to me it sums up the situation perfectly.

  50. Marion Siegel says:

    Fabulous. I sat on the subway crying. .

  51. Scotty says:

    I can understand y u think its emotional but i believe its pretty lame and completely unintresting spend ur time on something that matters besides a bad rip off of winnie the pooh

  52. Robb says:

    I really enjoyed this story

  53. Michael says:

    I really wasn’t emotionally tied to the bear, so this story had really no effect on me. Sorry, Ken.

  54. Mr Hollister says:

    Man this story sucks

  55. Me says:

    I did not cry, but it was a moving story nonetheless. I was pleased that the bear had a limited intelligence. I think it’s difficult to imagine what a limited intelligence would be like as compared to a super-intelligence. In fact, I think it’s interesteing that the ships computer (presumbably a strong AI) is helpful and caring in its death. And beautifully ironic that a small, simple, bear is the hero.

  56. ThermonuclearPenguin says:

    Proof that it is the simplist of us that do the greatest things.

    This is a top five for me Steve. Now I have to go cry again……….

  57. Alex says:

    Outstanding.

    Touching, in a very thoughtful way.

    Yes, you got me to cry, and feel like I am not such a silly bear after all.

    Thanks.

  58. Ari B. says:

    A wonderful, wonderful story. Thanks so much for podcasting it.

  59. ew3 says:

    amazing! one of the best if not the best one ever! a truly fantastic story!

  60. This was an amazing story. I enjoyed stories about Pooh when I was a child. And one of my greatest joys is reading those same stories to my children.

    The impact of hearing a character that represented this beloved friend going through the trials he did, and showing the courage that he did, made me proud and sad at the same time.

    It is the reluctant loss of innocence that we all dread to see in our own children that is the source of our fear. And yet the hero in this story is able to maintain that to the very end.

    This is a story I will not forget. Congratulations.

  61. AmberBug says:

    This was wonderful. Ok, at first I was a little weirded out by the obvious Winnie the Pooh bent. Really weirded out by dead kids and a computerised C.R. But.. in the end I cried like a little girl. And.. sometimes that’s good.

  62. Vee says:

    Amazing. Winnie the Pooh meets Lord of the Rings. And it actually WORKED.

    Bravo, Mr. Scholes. You have managed to sample from two very BIG, heavy-hitting concepts in literature and managed to have a story that is simultaneously a nod to the originals, and stands fabulously well all by itself.

    I’d even go so far as to say that anyone who has heard of neither Winnie the Pooh, nor Lord of the Rings (assuming of course that such a person exists in this world today who’s over the age of 3), would still be pleasantly stunned by this story.

  63. Doc Rocket says:

    The Intros are great! They make me think and as others have said – set the stage for the reader/listener.

    However, in this case, I’ll disagree with Steve’s intro – I don’t think that we like Hero Journey stories b/c they are so different from our normal live. I think we like them b/c most of us see our lives as adventures everyday with hurdles and obstacles to overcome. Okay, maybe not life and death hurdles, but hurdles nonetheless.

    This is no more evident than in the college students I teach to whom every hurdle is a major-coping experience and traumatic. Most of them figure that if they can just get through the unknown of the day, they win!

    Thus, I think we like these stories b/c we all relate – maybe in just a small way – with the hero, as we trudge off to our jobs/careers/etc. not knowing what we’ll have to overcome to make it back home later.

    And on top of that, the story was great!

    Thanks Steve for the consistent high, high quality!

  64. This is a very great pooh-like story. So good it made me misty-eyed at the end and long for some pooh reruns. Oh bother.

  65. Captain Flint says:

    Though I didn’t get misty-eyed, it was a truly amazingly good story. While I actually was rather put off by the obvious association of the cartoon bear and the robot one, the story was solid enough to rise above that.

  66. scatterbrain says:

    I feel it’s a bit empty and I would have liked to know what the button actually did.

  67. Lizz(ard) says:

    I like the intros and outros. I am not so easily swayed by someone else’s opinion that I can’t form my own after hearing theirs.

    @Daniel Cotton: how do you know you want to see a movie without seeing the trailer? Do you guess by which actor/director/screenwriter/caterer is involved in the movie? You are influenced SOME way, so why not watch the trailer? I often get a kick out of watching what turns out to being a truly crappy movie by trying to assimilate what the trailer promised with what the director delivered!

    Anyway, Steve, don’t do away with the intros, please! Perhaps you can give a specific timestamp at the beginning to let those who don’t want to listen to skip and not have to guess where the story starts. Their loss, not mine!

  68. E H says:

    Just finished listening for my third time through.. Once because of the kids warning, second time with the kids, third time with the second kid that had to get out of the car half way through. Quite moving every time. Great story! Thank you!

  69. Mari Mitchell says:

    I would not have a problem with my kids listening to this. In fact, if they got the story, in any of a dozen sticky honey ways, I would be very proud.

    Pooh and I have long been friends and I am very glad to met Edward.

  70. [...] but the majority of the stories are excellent. Two that are though were outright amazing were Edward the Bear and the Very Long Walk and Homecoming at the Borderlands Cafe. I’ve listened to quite a few of the backlog now [...]

  71. Pops says:

    Really good. Thank you.

  72. ChairmanDances says:

    Excellent story!

  73. Bryan says:

    Heard this this morning while driving to Balticon. Beautifully rendered prose: it’s simple, yet I was able to see the world very clearly. Although I saw the ending coming, it was no less effective for that. Well done to Mr. Scholes for crafting this fine work and to Mr. Eley for his reading.

  74. [...] am discovering that I like stories by Elizabeth Bear. And recently I heard a delightful reading on Escape Pod of “Edward Bear and The Very Long Walk,” by Ken Scholes. It begins when A Bear of [...]

  75. Fred McDonald says:

    Wow. I’m still working my way through the archives and listened to this one on the way into work this morning. First I had to sit in the car for a few minutes to hear the ending. Then I had to sit there a few more minutes to cry a bit. I suspect I am in for more crying as I play this one for my sweeties.

    Thank you!

  76. BlahDeeBlahEnCroute says:

    I don”t get calling a blatant rip-off – flddled, boringly, tediously, into another genre – “creative” and lauding it to the skies just because it makes you cry. Take one simple-minded character, make him act outside his simple-minded comfort zone and, then, die as a result and, voila: instant boo hoo. Jeez. As for intros… I have no problem with the intros, except for they’re too damned long. Spit it out and let me hear what I’m here for: the story.

  77. [...] to save humanity and find them a new home. In “Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk,” [read | listen] a toy bear is asked to stretch far beyond his programming in a colony effort gone wrong. And [...]

  78. [...] read the tale online. Audio: Escape Pod. Listen online or download the MP3. 45:00m. MP3 30.92 mb [link] Text: RevolutionSF [...]

  79. [...] and Pseudopod. RECOMMENDATION(S): Robots and Falling Hearts, by Tim Pratt and Greg van Eeekhout; Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk, by Ken Scholes; End Game, by Nancy Kress; and Save Me Plz, by David Barr [...]

  80. [...] and Pseudopod. RECOMMENDATION(S): Robots and Falling Hearts, by Tim Pratt and Greg van Eeekhout; Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk, by Ken Scholes; End Game, by Nancy Kress; and Save Me Plz, by David Barr [...]

  81. [...] all with a sense of wonder, every episode is joy to the ears. I think my personal fave is “Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk“,  about a robotic children’s toy that bares a resemblance to a certain silly old [...]