EP151: Behind the Rules

By Stephanie Burgis.
Read by MA in PA (of Better Late Than Never).
First appeared in Forgotten Worlds, July 2006.
Closing music: “I Feel Fantastic” by Jonathan Coulton.

The first Jacqui wrote me out a list of instructions
thirty pages long. It contained all her history with
Robert, in detail. It gave me a list of all the things
to say and do when he’s hurt, or angry, or depressed.
I think she was the perfect wife. When I think about
how hard it is to measure up to her, my stomach feels

I’d been doing this job for three months. It was
supposed to get easier with time, not harder.

Rated R. Contains strong language and relationship drama.

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Comments (26)

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  1. val says:

    Among the strongest stories you’ve run.
    It was extremely gratifying to finally hear Steven (clearly a little embarassed at the end) bust out singing about Edward Bear, especially after the geek dad intro a while ago where he mentioned his son taking extreme exception to him singing…. Hee! Good all ’round.

  2. Don says:

    With the words ‘fuck’ and ‘bitch’ I wouldn’t have labeled this “G”.

  3. Jason Sims says:

    My sentiments exactly, Don. I have always appreciated the ratings on these stories as I do my listening at the office and I do my personal threshold for explicit content.

    While this story didn’t shatter my content threshold, it did breech my “hmmm, maybe it’s time to close my window or put in some earbuds” threshold.

    I’m sure it was an oversight and I do want to repeat how much I appreciate the usually very accurate ratings on the stories.

  4. SFEley says:

    Nuts. I completely forgot about the language; I was thinking only about the plot.

    Thanks, folks. Changing the rating now. I apologize for any harm it may have caused.

  5. […] Filed under: Commentary, Music, SciFy — ifireball @ 00:23 As I usually do, I enjoyed this week’s installment of EscapePod, the story, as they typically are, was good, but what really made my joy levels rise was the […]

  6. Void Munashii says:

    As a married man, my emotional side wanted to really dislike this story, but I could not. I am subject to the occasional emotional outburst myself, but mine do tend to take a bit of prodding to get to the yelling stage (at least I like to tell myself that, be it true or no), but then my wife is rarely afraid to tell me about what she is unhappy about.

    This was a good story, but not one that would stand up to too much thinking about. I did not see the twist coming until right before it did, but I do not know if that is so much from misdirection as just from the fact that it defies logic a bit to think that Robert would never, in one of his fits of anger, vocalize the truth about the original Jacqui.

    I also have a bit of trouble imagining a wife that would keep what makes her unhappy bottled up like that. It’s helpful that Jacqui was this way though, as the events that occurred before the start of the story are just as much her fault as they are his.

    It’s not just that Robert was oblivious to her feelings, but that she hid them from him. This led to her unhappiness as much as his behaviour. In many ways, Robert really is the character to feel for in this story. His original wife sheltered him from her feelings so much that he was completely blindsided by it when she became fed up. now that he has a wife that is not going to keep quiet, things are worse for him. He’s unsure if he’s even capable of being a person who Jacqui can be around, and he’s terrified that she will leave him too.

    I’m not saying that Robert is innocent in all of this, just that it seems like it would be easy to overlook the effects of all of this on him since the story is told from Jacqui’s point of view.

    I loved the Coulton song. As someone who doses up on caffeine every morning to make it through my day at work in an efficient and reasonably personable manner, it really spoke to me. I do not take a number of mood altering drugs, but I still felt I could relate to that song.

    Finally, the Snoopy quote. When I quit my old job I wanted to leave a goodbye quote for my co-workers, and that is one I considered. There are some flaws with it though.
    1. The people you like may not all like you.
    2. the people you like may not like each other.
    3. It’s not a matter of someone leaving, it’s that everyone leaves. No exceptions. Everyone leaves eventually. This is why you do not lament the loss, you enjoy the memories, and savor the moments.

    I feel fantastic!

  7. Daniel Cotton says:

    I liked this story, I thought it was a good exploration of the problems a clone (and those around them) might face.

    I’d probably say more but Void seems to have written a post as long as the story itself, which leaves me with little to add. [playfully] Hey void leave some ground for the rest of us to cover!

  8. Void Munashii says:

    Yeah, sorry about that. I didn’t realize how long it was until I posted it.

    The sad thing is I didn’t even cover everything I wanted to :/

  9. terrytip says:

    Marriage counseling 101…we all need a little help….. some time it takes a long time to “get it”

  10. John says:

    I have never been married, but have certainly been in a number of relationships of varying levels of function.

    This story made me bawl. I was crying uncontrollably at the happy ending. Not entirely sure why.

  11. Mari Mitchell says:

    Well I loved this one.

  12. Eric says:

    I am thankful that the story avoids the trope of the “unsuspecting spouse”, which would have been a little too ‘twilight-zone’.

  13. Norm says:

    It’s labeled G not R!

  14. Norm says:

    Duh, I meant R, not G!

  15. Norm says:

    Awesome. So, the clone is more human than the human she was sent to replace… I like how the science takes a back-seat to the characters, does that make me a bad sci-fi fan?

  16. foshizzle says:

    A clone is still human. I liked the story and thought it was interesting that clones would be used as less-than-human, I first thought she was some type of android.

  17. Audita Sum says:

    I have a problem with clones as they were represented in this story. The real animal clones that have been made so far were born as babies, and the preconception that all clones automatically spring forth fully grown bothers me. Also, clones often don’t look or act exactly like their ‘parent.’ And then there’s the fact that without a childhood, clones wouldn’t just be socially inept; they would be severely cognitively delayed. Feral children– people grown in social isolation during childhood– always end up with severe mental disabilities. They often have trouble learning to talk, read, or participate normally with other people. If the story had BSed some explanation for how spontaneous adult cloning without early childhood learning would be possible, I think I would’ve liked it more.

    Other than that, I guess it was an alright story. It didn’t really capture me, although I liked how the clone tried to work it out with Robert in the end, where her ‘parent’ had given up. It shows autonomy.

  18. Jennifer says:

    Not a bad story, but it seems to go too fast at the end. Seemed a little easy to finally have Jacqui2 and Robert get to where they did so fast.

  19. TurboFool says:

    Audita: I think the term you needed is suspended disbelief. You’re basing your comments about cloning exclusively on modern reality and not looking to future potential. We’re not close to what’s possible in this story yet, so who knows how things might be once we actually get there. And I’m not sure I agree with you about the preconception, as I think most of the public’s exposure to clones is not from classic sci-fi, but from Dolly-like real clones. It’s only sci-fi nuts like us who have read so many clone stories.

    The fact that clones aren’t exactly like their source material I think is partially what this plot is very much about, but I’ll get into that later.

    And again, her mental preparation, or lack thereof, goes to the technology of the story versus modern reality. Perhaps they have a level of cookie-cutter base knowledge they can build into every clone and merely train them on the details of their personality. The point is that clearly in this story, that’s not an issue.

    Now as for MY opinions, I’m torn. I found the overall story not to be incredibly engaging. In a month I’ll have surely forgotten it entirely.

    With that said, there’s still elements of the story that I liked. The basic premise was certainly unique. Cloning has classically appeared in stories for very different reasons than this. Feigned immortality, soldiers, and replacing a dead loved-one are very common themes. Replacing oneself for the sake of another’s happiness so you can create your own happiness, however, is at least new to me. And I liked that idea. I can’t help but wonder how many unhappy marriages carry on simply out of a feeling of obligation one’s partner. This was a unique solution to what’s likely a very real problem.

    The thing I liked most, though, was the general idea that her difficulty in fitting into her predecessor’s shoes and following her mold is EXACTLY what may save their marriage. It’s that very mold, and those very rules, that ruined it. And I liked her response to him asking her if she hated him, “not yet,” as it’s exactly what I hoped she would say. It was only fitting.

    All-in-all, a decent story with a good concept. I would have liked some more expansion on it, and more crisis of realization than the little bit we got from meeting the new husband. The whole thing went by too quickly.

  20. Happy Ending? What story were you listening to? Heh. Robert and Jacqui Prime’s relationship is just beginning. “Happy” remains to be seen- although not by us, probably.

    A cute little story that works on a wholly emotional level. Science be damned.

  21. Mike says:

    I was happy about the nature of the clone and also bought that this new-born personality might indeed only follow the rules. However I lost belief in the scenario when it was revealed that the jilted ‘ex’ put up with a half-wit fake-slave in full knowledge that she wasn’t the real mature ‘wife’. Edward Bear and friends convinced me more. A shame as the story was really carrying me along at the start.

  22. Stewart says:

    I didn’t like this story at all, it seemed full of misandry, and would be hard to imagine being written if the genders were reversed.
    I think I’m just a little tired of put upon wifey stories, this tale stank with the smell of burning martyr, I’m tired of always being the bad guy because of my gender.
    The central premise was interesting, and I’d certainly give time to some of the authors other stuff, but in this case the overall work left me feeling angry at what I considered the unfair way the husband was treated.

  23. Alan S says:

    This was one of the few Escape Pod stories that made me do that “is this really sci-fi?” thing that’s probably been done to death already. I just didn’t really see anything special about the clone qua clone – if she had been Jacqui’s twin sister, the story could have played out largely the same. In short, while the story wasn’t bad, it wasn’t (to my mind) particularly speculative either.

    I’m reminded of a Simpsons quote, when Krusty’s marketing folks are developing Poochy-D: “I think we should rastify him by 10% or so.” This story felt like a piece about dysfunctional relationships that got clonified (scified?) by 10%.

  24. m1fcj says:

    good story but I have to nitpick about the editing. It appears that almost every sentence was edited and the pauses between were padded, deleted. In addition to it, a lousy noise blanker effect added, it was hard work listening to this one with hisses, audible clicks in and out of every sentence.

    I might be turning into an audiophile, damn you Steve Eley and your pod-faded podcast, Podholes! It’s all your fault! 🙂

  25. ruthling says:

    I hated this story, a lot. It was boring and pointless and told in a breathless “oh my gosh” way and honestly made very little sense. I was really hoping that Robert was going to turn out to be the robot/clone; that might have led to an interesting story.

    Sorry Steve, I think I’m giving up on Escape Pod. As good as the production values are and as much as I’d love to support SF short stories, your tastes and mine are too different, I find your intros and outros non-value-added and I wind up feeling angry or annoyed after nearly all of the ones I listen to. Union Dues stories are about the only thing I like these days. Wish I didn’t feel this way, as I really appreciate what you’re trying to do.

  26. SF Fangirl says:

    Nice story. I was surprised by the twist. (I never considered that possibility to cloning.) I was heartened by the hopeful ending.