EP150: This, My Body

By Jeremiah Tolbert.
Read by Stephen Eley.

I am the lover. I am the chef. I am the preterite priest.

I am the secret, unknowable ingredient. You may taste me a thousand times, but never hold my essence on your tongue or capture it in your memory.

I am the flavor of ecstasy. Taste me and know God.
–Prayer of the Assaisonnement Saints

Rated X. Contains graphic sexual and culinary scenes.

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Comments (44)

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  1. Jennifer says:

    Well, that was certainly interesting!

  2. V says:

    Eh. Why is that the stories that are full of sex are always fairly lackluster?

    Maybe I’m a prude, but I even found this one a little bit gross.
    I think I’d have to be more of a hetero to get this, anyhow.

    Particularly the main character’s “Iggy Pop” moment. Except of course, he doesn’t want to be your dog. He wants to be your chef.

    One of my criticisms was going to be that you usually see religions that demonize the flesh, and women usually are the folks being sexually exploited, not doing the exploiting.

    But the world is changing, and consumerism…yeah. It feels flimsy, purple, over-dramatized.

    But it could be worse. Much worse.

    Can we see some gay characters please? I haven’t seen any in recent memory.

  3. SFEley says:

    Can we see some gay characters please? I haven’t seen any in recent memory.

    Honestly, I’d like that too. Send some good SF stories to us with gay characters, or encourage your favorite authors to submit some to us. I know the stories are out there. They’re just not coming in to our slushpile yet, and I’d like to see that change.

  4. foshizzle says:

    I wanted to hate it because it was a bit indulgent with the sex scenes and predictable. However, I felt for the main character and I liked the story. Not my favorite but not bad.

  5. Nora says:

    I thought it was great, personally. I’d love to see more gay SF as well. Is there any non-Escape Pod stuff anyone would recommend? Anything by Orson Scott Card doesn’t count.

  6. I’m a devout Christian, or, at least, I try to be, but I also have long stretches where I’m basically agnostic. I like that this story is about a character whose life is dedicated to religion, and he honestly questions whether his beliefs are really valid. I could relate.

  7. Martin R says:

    It’s Figaro’s wedding in sf garb! And I think you need to be a Catholic to really grok the sex-religion-food thing. Extra kudos to Steve for his girly orgasm squeal, though.

  8. Paul F says:

    I wanted to like this one but I have to agree with V that it ended up being lackluster.

    Regarding sexuality in SF (or any fiction) stories, I don’t care about orientation as much as I’d prefer some relationships that were just less predictable and a bit more ambiguous.

  9. Hawthorne says:

    I think the concept of this story was incredible, but i would have liked to hear more story, more plot, and not quite as long sex scenes.

  10. Eric says:

    Amazing premise. Great story.

  11. me says:

    Not the best story I’ve heard here, but definitely in the top ten. The main characters reactions to his situation were consistent with accounts I’ve seen from actual prostitutes regarding their work and I enjoyed the discussion of religion used as an excuse for forcing people into sexual slavery; historically this has been more common than religion used to demonize sex (see virtually every pagan religion in Europe).

  12. Tom says:

    It wasn’t so much the sex as it was the food. Such an interesting concept, if not perfectly realized. Made me want to get the sauce cooking.

  13. Alan Schmitt says:

    By an interesting coincidence (catching up on old episodes), I started listening to EP015 right after EP150. Food, desire, and love… all over again. Well, the beginning at least 😉

  14. Delysid says:

    I’m in the “not bad, not great, but good” category on this story. I think it has potential for considerable improvement if the intriguing daughter & protagonists’s interaction w her was more fully developed. But a perhaps bigger issue is the story’s bordering on self-parody with Antonio’s seasoning & serving of food all over his body. The seasoning of raw chicken breasts on his collar-bone sorta stuff is too close to patently ridiculous to serve the more serious & genuinely intriguing thoughtfulness of the piece. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud & start internally riffing along the lines of “not having showered for some days, Antonio rubbed the chicken into his pungent armpits… He served her ice cream off his abdomen, fresh herbed bread sticks dispensed from between his aromatic butt cheeks, and later, for a snack, she nibbled the cheeze doodles held gingerly between his toes…” The story seems verged on becoming either inadvertently hilarious or far hotter & more graphically pornographic along these lines, either tendency fundamentally altering & so detracting from its intended theme & tone. To avoid straying into either unintentional farce or perversity, I’d suggest keeping the yummy flavouring of Antonio’s entire epidermis, but restrict the seasoning of food to special glands genetically engineered for the purpose on his hands only, and serve the chow in the conventional table-plate-glass-bowl-tray sorta way, with maybe the occasional playful offering on a tastefully (pun intended) deployed body part or two.

  15. Void Munashii says:

    This story did not do a whole lot for me. I found the concept quite interesting, but the story itself was fairly predictable aside from the science fiction trappings. I found the ending to be a bit dissapointing, but I cannot really think of an ending to this that I would find particularly satisfying, so it’s not really a fair criticism.

    I think the only reason I find my lack of opinion on this story weird is that so many stories lately have formed strong feelings in me, and this one just didn’t. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t awful, I would say it was fun, but at no point did I feel like turning the story off. It was just there.

    One question comes to mind though. If Antonio went swimming in the pool, would it become broth?

  16. Thomas says:

    I agree that the premise and main character were great, but the story itself didn’t live up to its potential.

    The real genius in this piece is from Steve- posting it on Maundy Thursday.

  17. Chris in Austin says:

    This was an intriguing and engaging story. I like the way the author used the “sci-fi alternative universe ray gun” to play around with our religous and cultural taboos and fetishes, to gain a certain insight into what all this religious and cultural rigamarole may be about in the first place. Now in this case I think the author arrives at what might be a rather bleak conclusion regarding the inherent value and efficacy of religious ritual. One is left sympathizing with the protagonist forced into this form of crazy religious-prostitution, and must merely presume that he has his Razor’s Edge moment later in life, or perhaps just gets to live a normal life?
    One may never look at the Waiter with his thumb in the soup the same again 😉

  18. AmberBug says:

    I was turned on..
    Then made very uncomfortable..
    then turned on again..

    So! Now, I’m confused, hungry, horny, and a little grumpy!

  19. Lorthyne says:

    Meh, another mediocre take on a science fiction cliche, disguised by gratuitous titulation of it’s audience. I turned off the story in about the middle, as it wasn’t doing much for me. The connection between sex and food was interesting, but the author took the story into a boring rehash of a familiar plotline, rather than exploring the new and cool ideas that this religious practice suggests.

    We’ve all seen this plot before. Dehumanized intelligent being (whether it be robot, alien, slave, or prostitute with a flavored skin) attempts to become rehumanized, facing opposition at every turn. The plotline can be summarized thusly: ‘Barely Cooking’ meets ‘Ghost in the Shell’

  20. I hate to say this because I’ll be label a bigot, but I have no desire to hear a story about a gay SF character, because they are gay.
    Do I hate gays: no, nor do I hate blacks, robots, lizard people etc. I want to hear stories about compelling characters, places or events. Not stories about purple-people-eaters, ice spider, thinking viruses, robotic teddy bears on a mission to save the children, only because there is a call from some group that feels it would be “cool” to have a story about whatever label they are waving about. I don’t want to hear a story that some group feels advance some agenda. (Expect for evil space overlords!
    I want good stories. I wouldn’t care if the characters were gay (robotic, digital, spacers or a disembody head on a cart) if it makes sense for the story. Making a character gay, green, mega-strong or dog-faced only to address the demands of posters on a web site is wrong and ultimately leads to bad fiction.

  21. Craybe says:

    I liked it, the sex/religeon stuff really didn’t upset or excite me… what really appealed to me was the sence of the world. With barely any descriptions a lush and deep history was conveyed brilliantly. Good work, this was worth the long ep.

  22. L33tminion says:

    The story was pretty good, but I think it was somewhat longer than necessary.

  23. Delysid says:

    I’m a little new to these forums, so I hope it’s OK to follow the gay tangent raised above.

    Now I’m as straight as the next fellow — no, not the one in leather pants. The other fellow, with the mullet.

    Yet I’ve often very much enjoyed and been moved by stories of sex, romance, & intrigue featuring gay protagonists, including those centring on a particular couple’s trials & tribulations.

    The literary work of Jean Genet is one landmark example, & in film I can think of Fassbinder’s “Fox & His Friend” (great film if you can find it) or Almodovar’s “Law of Desire” featuring a young & ultimately scary Antonio Banderas in a stalkerish role.

    Can’t think of any lesbian examples off top of my head, perhaps cuz I’ve blocked them along w other things associated with my tragic lifelong tenedency to have crushes on girls who turn out to prefer girls. But I digress.

    Judging from the success of the artists above, and of other stories on paper or screen featuring the lives & loves of gay main characters, I’m obviously not the only hetero sort of person who enjoys such works.

    I reckon it’s for much the same reason we enjoy sci-fi, and representational art & narrative fiction in general. In taking our everyday life and then altering it in interesting ways, art makes the familiar “strange” or simply unfamiliar in interesting and compelling ways.

    It’s a truism that sci-fi is really about the present, transformed in ways that pull out aspects of our everyday world and cast them in new contexts or configurations that let us see them anew, and thus understand them better. I suspect even stories sent back from the future by time machine, which would be “real” sci-fi, speculative fiction based in future fact, would still be read & have meaning for us in the same way, and illuminate our present far more than our future.

    Straight folks attending to a gay love story are the same way — by being the same yet different than our own romantic/sexual experiences, such tales cast new and often fascinating light on our own hetero lives.

    For gay folk, on the other hand, perhaps the superabundance of hetero fiction would not have quite the same effect since it wouldn’t be so novel strange, but rather perhaps be all too common! Dunno.

  24. B.Ruhsam says:

    Nope, didn’t like this one. It was too long without any real pay off. The story was entirely predictable from the moment that his contract was purchased and he was warned to not touch the daughter. Gustav was also an obvious character. I will confess that I totally didn’t understand the dualism between the wife being “addicted” to him, then the sudden revelation that she was doing this all to get closer to god. Huh?

    To top it off, no Edward Bear feed back. Argh!

  25. Scott Sigler says:

    This was absolutely outstanding. I can’t say enough good things about it. This is an original concept, which is so fucking hard to find in SF. I thought the painting of the larger world was done with subtle, exceptional strokes.

    I can see what the other posters are saying – this story didn’t “go anywhere.” I also do NOT like stories with sex in them, I think most people add sex to make the story “controversial” and so the writer can be perceived as “exotic” and it’s usually trite trash with no application to the storyline. However, the whole religion built around a genetically modified love slave who can use innate biochemistry to modify food, as part of a high-tech religious cult? Everything in this story served the purpose of the story.

    I can honestly say I respect some of the negative comments in here, but as an author, this one kicked my ass. Fantastic. And I must iterate – I DO NOT LIKE THIS KIND OF STORY! In fact, I HATE THIS KIND OF STORY. And even with that in mind, Mr. Tolbert blew my doors off.

  26. Leo says:

    RE: Gay Sex in stories.
    I agree that more stories should have gay protagonists, they do not necessarily have to be erotic stories however.
    It’s the other parts of the relationship that are the focus of so many stories, meeting, missing, arriving, parting, conflicting, resolving.
    99.9% of the time people are not having sex, even gay people.

  27. Sam says:

    What struck me about this story was that it broke with a traditional staple of SF: world-building. For all the advancements Tolbert’s society seems to have made in the field bio-technology, earth is fundamentally the same place. Yes, we have colonized other planets. Yes, apparently we have flying cars. But the thrust of the story has little to do with how technology has changed the structure of society. We still watch sitcoms, cook food in kitchens, even use paper money. You could call this laziness on the author’s part, but I don’t think you’d be right. Tolbert made it a point to refer to Antonio’s servitude as a “contract,” one which he is fiscally obligated to fulfill. The only hold his masters literally have over him is financial. Yes, he’s basically a slave -and, for all his sexual prowess, a eunuch to boot- but that’s not so foreign a concept as we’d like to think. Our world is full of sex workers at the mercy of their pimps looking to hold out just long enough to make a better life for themselves. Tolbert is breaking any boundaries there.

    The question “This, My Body” seems to ask -and I think it’s a relevant question- is what waits for someone on their way to reclaim their humanity? Antonio has been mutilated, and even though there is a process to reverse his mutilation, will he ever be whole? Will he truly find “other flavors, other ways” and adapt to being as bland and salty as any other man? To this end, I wish more had been made of the revelation that Gustav was once an Assaisonnement himself. He seems to be a wise and relatively well-adjusted human being, but I think the discovery could have been more dramatic and poignant.

  28. Pete S says:

    Well, I can’t say I liked this one much at all. As many have said, it was very predictable. And the whole flavored body thing was just ludicrous. I find myself wondering how he got the salad to stick to his legs and stuff.

    As someone who has worked in the food service industry, the scene where he rubbed raw chicken all over himself, combined with the knowledge that he isn’t allowed to shower, just about made me lose the contents of my stomach.

    So to me, absurd concept, predictable story, tepid sex scenes, and too long. One of my least favorite EPs in recent memory.

    All that said, I did enjoy the author’s ‘technical’ skills and would like to hear more from him.

  29. Audita Sum says:

    I was able to suspend my disbelief for this one. Like anything out there it has its flaws, but I felt that it was written well and is centered around interesting and original ideas.

    As a somewhat gay person, I too add to the requests for more gay fiction on Escape Pod. I also disagree with Welcome Overlords’s idea that it’s wrong to write a story with a gay protagonist soley because of Escape Pod’s lack of gaiety. If the comments on this story sparked anyone’s imagination and they ended up writing some good fiction because of it, who has been harmed?

  30. Sam says:

    I agree with Audita. That being said, I actually think making Antonio “straight” was a little unnecessary and a little nonsensical. How would someone who has never felt sexual desire know anything about their sexual orientation?

  31. Norm says:

    Sorry, made me physically sick!
    Didn’t care for it!

  32. Will SK says:

    I can see this was a “Split the audience” type story. Personally I /really/ wanted to like the story. After the great intro about Arthur C Clarke and it being Episode 150 I was all psyched and then…nothing.

    I could see what I was supposed to like, but it just fell utterly flat. Totally level with “Other peoples money” the only other Escape Pod story I didn’t like.

    Wait a minute … I’ve listened to 150 SF stories and gotten 2 rubbish ones and 148 gleaming gems…

    Not a bad ratio when you get right down to it.

    Keep up the good work!

  33. scatterbrain says:

    I like weird futures, but there seems to be something inherently wrong with this one.

    It was all over the place.

  34. nojojojo says:

    I can’t figure out whether the story felt lukewarm to me because I didn’t find the “erotic” scenes erotic, or because they were supposed to be unerotic — prostitution rarely is, from the prostitute’s PoV — and I was just picking up on that. I did like the concept of flavored skin**, and of course food as a mystical/spiritual substance is definitely a personal kink, but the story didn’t go in any of the directions I wanted it to go, and just sort of maundered around. In the end, it was fascinating, beautiful, magnificently-written and -characterized… yet ultimately unsatisfying.

    (**Though I was a little put off by the protag’s statement that he didn’t bathe. That made him sound less… appetizing. ::slaps knee:: GET IT?! Less appetizing! Yeah.)

  35. DaveNJ says:

    Well, I agree with the lukewarm responses. I came away from this thinking about the interesting concept, and the pretty deep main character, but the story itself didn’t succeed on this same level. I’m left thinking the potential to describe a really interesting religious/social hierarchy was wasted to throw in some more sex scenes, and that just leaves me feeling a bit cheated.

  36. Huh. I’m one of those strange people for whom sex and food do not go together. The idea of some guy rubbing his sweat on my food on purpose frankly makes me sick to my stomach. And the idea of fucking someone while they still have my meal all over them is likewise disgusting.

    That said, the story all that stuff was color for was well written and well told. I winced at the deliberate foreshadowing of Antonio’s doom, knowing it was only a matter of time before he screwed it up- whether accidentally on purpose. You knew from his first interview with Senor Escarmilla that he’s going to end up with that cane upside his head eventually, and waiting for that shoe to drop had me flinching all through the story. It was almost a relief when it happened.

    It felt like we got a bit shortchanged that Antonio didn’t get to develop the relationships with either woman, and the contrasts between them… but ultimately this was a story about transition, about Antonio’s relationship with himself and with his beliefs, rather than with other people.

    Is it just me, or did Antonio completely miss Gustav’s throwaway mention that he had been a chef-prostitute too? Or did I misinterpret that myself?

    I can take or leave sex scenes in audio format. I like watching them sometimes, I like reading them, and I like performing them… but for some odd reason, listening to them has never done a thing for me. I don’t know why.

    Anyway, good story. Took me 2 days to finish listening to it.

    Here’s to another 50!

  37. Ben says:

    I just finished listening to this and I have to say that the story is interesting, but I am not commenting on the story but the commentary after the story.

    Steve said he would never buy “The Star” for the Escape Pod Christmas story. As a child I remember reading that story not too long before Christmas and it upset me, so I am holding Steve to that promise not to read that at Christmas.

  38. Ashley P says:

    We need a second mention of Martin R’s comment, “extra kudos to Steve for his girly orgasm squeal.” That was some mad skill.

  39. araña says:

    third mention.

    girly orgasm squeal ALMOST better than the two billion voices in “Artifice and Intelligence”

    I second V’s request for more gay SF, but the Steve-on-Steve voice hetro action didn’t entirely turn me off; it made me giggle a bit.

    this one reminded me of “The Girlfriends of Dorian Gray”…for obvious reasons.

  40. fishyswaz says:

    Food and sex as religion (don’t tell me it already isn’t), great stuff. The premise was great and while a bit uncomfortable at times kept me hungry for more (sf) from Tolbert.

  41. Icepick says:

    Well, that was boring. Sorry, didn’t find much to like about it.

  42. […] My story from Interzone 199, “This, My Body,” a sensual tale of sex, food and religion, is now live on Escape Pod. […]

  43. Sushma says:

    The premise was great, but the stuff about the religion wasn’t quite convincing, so it fell a bit flat. And it didn’t help that the story seemed a little thin on the plot. despite the amount of time the story spends on character, they were just too passive. And oh, the sex scenes were long and boring.

  44. Azure says:

    I agree that the concept was fascinating, but I was a little disappointed. The whole time I was listening I kept thinking that this was “Kushiel’s Dart” + Cheesecake.