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EP165: Those Eyes

By David Brin.
Read by Stephen and Anna Eley.

“…So you want to talk about flying saucers? I was afraid of that.

“This happens every damn time I’m blackmailed into babysitting you insomniacs, while Talkback Larry escapes to Bimini for a badly needed rest. I’m supposed to field call-in questions about astronomy and outer space for two weeks. You know, black holes and comets? But it seems we always have to spend the first night wrangling over puta UFOs.

“…Now, don’t get excited, sir…. Yeah, I’m just a typical ivory tower scientist, out to repress any trace of unconventional thought. Whatever you say, buddy.”

Rated PG. Contains some sexual situations and scattered profanity in both English and Spanish.

Comments (45)

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  1. Pete_H says:

    Ive been a listener of the Podcast since City Talkers was also placed in the Feed for Mur Laffertys Playing for keeps. This is the first time ive left a comment but i have to say i love the story. When it started I expected it to be one of your Alien type stories but then once it got further on it really struck home. Having them as beings that were also the legends of old trying to survive. Wow.
    It also made me think. With all the science and technology we have, have we lost something. Not in just the philosophical sense, but as a part of our selfs. In less then half a century we have colonized the new world, gone to the moon, and split the adam. Our relgions tell us that things like faries, elves and the such are just tripe to belive in. But they were a part of our cultures. In a way our Meme identity. Instead now we belive that if we even have the slightest idea that the old stories might have been true in anyway we are nutter and crazy. But let me ask why?

    Just a thought and i hope to post here in the Future.

  2. Changwa Steve says:

    As an asshole hardcore skeptic I found this story a welcome reversal of the current trend toward anti-rationalism in SF. I’m going to send a link to the Skepticality podcast and SGU to see if they’ll mention it on the show, and I’m sure other listeners will as well.

  3. wolfkahn says:

    This was an outstanding story. I usually hate UFO stories, but Brin’s take was clever and interesting. What a wonderful allegory of mankind growing beyond the need for superstitions, which without unquestioning belief fade into nothingness. Yes, I identify strongly with the astronomer here, but I do respect those who have differing views here.

    The tag-team reading worked very well here!

  4. Rachel says:

    I thought that the story was well-done. I liked the dichotomy of the two narrators–it added depth to the story being able to cater to both crowds.

    Just a minor thing… there is a snap and a repeat of a line. I think this was supposed to be edited, but it wasn’t. It was on Steve 27:11. The line “It’s late, Let’s go with this caller’s notion and see where it leads.” Upside, at least I thought it was the alien interference. That was until the alien said nothing about it.

    The other minor thing is that aliens in different cultures look different according to the culture. It’s kind of ironic that the author brings up Cultural Anthropology and doesn’t hit on this issue. Aliens in Japan, for example, are tall. Our aliens tend to be small and green with big eyes. Hmm… makes one wonder on that. Our aliens resemble anime (Ah-nee-meh, BTW) characters. And their aliens seem to resemble something on the order of the first person to invade Japan and open the ports–Commodore Perry. There is some thought that aliens are just a manifestation of our own fears. Perhaps they are cultural fears.

    In fact a Psychology magazine pointed out that the people who have direct alien sitings and sincerely mean it often have a sleeping disorder in which they are paralyzed and can’t move, but they are conscious, kind of like being under one of the modes of anesthesia, but not knowing why. Since the body can’t do anything, the mind becomes more and more aware. So lights become brighter, sounds become louder, etc. This creates fear in the person who starts trying to make sense of it.

    This is not to argue a skeptics POV at all, but to show that perhaps the manifestation of what we see in images is actually a gathering of our own fear as a singular culture. What if we were noseless, short creatures with big eyes? Well, seems like Japan fears the opposite… (A lot of their mythical beings have big noses and small eyes… look up the Tengu). When we see blurred images, good or bad, what do we see in the blur? Now that’s a Science Fiction story I’d like to hear.

  5. Oh boy, I get to be the first naysayer. This is the first time I have been unable to finish an Escapepod/Podcastle/Psuedopod story. I really tried–restarted it twice after shutting it off in frustration.

    It was the reading style that did it. Steve used basically the same style he does for hosting, jarringly out of place for what was supposed to be a scientist talking. Anna was apparently using some kind of voice mask gimmick, which was not only out of place for aliens that supposedly hated technology but also made the words hard to understand.

  6. Janice in GA says:

    I didn’t care for the “alien” processed audio either. Even listening on headphones, I had to really work to understand what was being said.

  7. Ken_K says:

    Me too Steve. I really couldn’t listen to that “alien voice” part for very long either. I’ll have to print this out if I want to finish it. The story sounded interesting as far as I got, but I had to stop bc it was too grating on my ears.

  8. L33tminion says:

    I agree, the audio effect was really jarring.

  9. Changwa Steve says:

    Yep the audio was bad, but I am more than willing to struggle through poor audio for a good story, and this was a good story.

  10. J. R. DeRego says:

    I am 180 degrees from the later comments here on this one. I found the alien effect voice added to the story. I totally dug it.

    I totally dug the story too. Dr. Brin is one of my favorites.

  11. Jennifer says:

    I couldn’t get into the alien voice either. It just got too hard for me to understand. I’m sure I missed half the story, but I never even figured what the heck was going on with that voice.

  12. kolibri says:

    I’m five minutes into the story, and Anna’s voice with the funky modulator is driving me bonkers. I literally cannot listen to this story which is a real shame, based on all the positive comments on the content.

    I find the use of strange computerized effects mildly annoying on a good day, but usually it’s in a minor role so I don’t mind too much. But this was just excruciating… please don’t try to do this again. It’s just not worth it.

  13. [...] Fiction: Escape Pod has posted “Those Eyes” by David Brin, author of Foundation’s [...]

  14. The_Zorg says:

    Nice story. One thing that bugs me, though, is the idea of the scientist arguing against UFOs. UFO means Unidentified Flying Object. There’s no question that we haven’t identified everything we’ve ever seen. The things whose existence is in question are flying saucers and visitors from outer space, not UFOs. Just because the “believers” like to confound the two terms doesn’t mean that we should.

  15. Ken Ryan says:

    Add me to the list of those who had to quit listening because I couldn’t make out anything past the effects on Anna’s voice (I made it into her second turn, but quit there).

    I have to listen very carefully in the best of conditions – my hearing is such that spoken word is very difficult when I can’t see the speaker’s lips – but normally EP’s audio quality is plenty good enough that I can handle it.

    In this case, though, Anna might well have been speaking Japanese.

    Any chance for a remix with the effects toned down? I love David Brin…

  16. Rick Rottman says:

    I had to stop listening. The gimmicky alien voice synthesizer caused me to not understand what was being said.

    Good stories don’t need gimmicks.

  17. I really enjoyed this story. I used to have an early morning paper route some years ago, and listened to the Art Bell crowd quite often. This story did a great job of capturing that zeitgeist (sp?). I’ll give thumbs up to the voice effect on Anna. Maybe it could have been toned down a bit, but she’s got an otherworldly voice anyway (and that’s a compliment!) and the effect enhanced that quality.

    One point that I really loved: the astronomer asking for tangible proof, and the private rebuttal of the “alien” that they have no need for physical artifacts.

    I also liked the angle that the “aliens” were actually ancient creatures of our own world, driven ever further to the fringes of awareness by our own understanding of the universe.

    In fact, I’d say that Mr. Brin took no sides in this debate: the astronomer made rational arguments but sometimes seemed handicapped by his own preconceptions; and the “aliens” who can only be percieved by those who do not question what they see.

    Steve’s closing comments did a good job of calling us all back to a middle ground on a topic that requires some healthy skepticism and a bit of imagination to boot.

    A winner!

  18. Alex says:

    I enjoyed this story too. I would however like to say that there is one thing that I think would have made it better. I felt like the ending was a little too unambiguous.

    I thought that planting and reinforcing the idea that the aliens are malevolent was a great twist to the story, but to go as far as to make them into baby killers trying to start a nuclear war…

    I think a little more subtlety here would have made for a more powerful story.

  19. David Bullock says:

    I’m another who couldn’t finish the recording due to the processing. I think the tag team read was a great idea, but the distraction became so great I had to hit stop.

  20. V says:

    Effective, the scientist’s voice and arguments, effective the aliens’ tone, and Brin’s use of two voices.

    Readings also good (Anna’s storybook tone is perfect for the storybook aliens).

    Except the scientist’s foray into anthro at the end doesn’t work as much for me.

    The elves here remind me of Pratchett, really….

    One of my favorite stories on this podcast.

    More like this! More like this!

  21. V says:

    argh, hit return and posted before I was done…

    I LOVED Steve’s afterword. More like this Steve!! Yes!

    Haven’t heard enough from you lately, although I know you’re busy.

  22. Guto Carioca says:

    Great story as usual, even though the alien part may have been a trifle too hard on non-natives ears. ;-)
    I’ve been a fan of your podcast for over two years now – I still have fond memories of that overdose I had to inflict myself to catch up with the past episodes. Anyway, this is the first time I ever post here and, oddly enough, I would like to comment on your “outro” specifically.
    I guess you could not call me a die-hard atheist, but I’m definitely an agnostic. It would all be fine – as it has always been – if it weren’t for the fact that I have fallen in love with a girl who happens to be a passionate devotee of a somehow common African religion here in Brazil.
    Well, as we were getting home from work last night, our conversation – which we usually try to steer away from “dangerous waters” – was dabbing at alternative medicine. Unfortunately, may be due to a stressing day, it took a wide turn and moved into “MINDLESS, highly unlikely, unproven beliefs” versus “people’s right to believe whatever they DAMN choose to”.
    Things got really – REALLY – heated, with both of us expressing concern towards raising kids under the education the other one was most likely to provide.
    Well, she went out for a run and I followed for a workout at a nearby park, taking my MP3 and hitting play on “Those eyes”. I was still munching over what had been said – especially HOW it had been said – when the story finished and your outro began.
    Eley, I can’t stress it enough: your flawlessly put words touched me so deeply and I was so overwhelmingly moved by the – only now obvious – ideas that when my girlfriend finally ran pass me again she found me standing still, red eyed, staring at the bars. Needless to say I am in the process of reviewing much of my previous attitude towards things I don’t agree with. For that alone, thanks are definitely in order.
    Anyway, that was yesterday and I am still working under the impact of this event, astounded by its perfect timing and by how your words were EXACTLY what I need to hear at EXACTLY the right MINUTE. I even had the feeling you would finish your afterword by saying “Until then, have fun, Guto”. ;-)
    By the way, I’ve just made a long overdue donation. Thanks again for everything,

    Ps: I think what really did it was the bit where you said “truly open to treating the other as a thinking human being” and the word “asshole”. ;-)

  23. Guto Carioca says:

    Ops, the paragraphs came up all together, sorry.

  24. Loved it. I’m an asshole skeptic and shared it with my fellow asshole skeptics up here in Canada, land of the Aurora Borealis, no doubt caused by aliens.

  25. erica says:

    I love how the alien sounds like a Mooninite with a North Carolina drawl.

  26. Julian says:

    I couldn’t finish the story because of the audio processing, it grated on my ears and I couldn’t understand most of what the alien character said.

    I got maybe ten minutes into the story but I couldn’t finish, it was preachy in a, “you shouldn’t think in the box” kind of way, where, after a certain point you realize that there were aliens and the astronomer was making a fool of himself…it kept hammering, and hammering, and hammering that point in, for far too long.

  27. adam256 says:

    Sorry.Hard to hear the alien dialogue. Too much concentration required.
    Leave the special effects to the brainless popcorn summer movie “geniuses”.

  28. Mzprairie says:

    I’m coming in on the boo side. I didn’t like the computer effects either. Hate to say it Steve and Anna, but I don’t really like Anna’s story telling voice. A good story teller in my mind has clarity of tone, good diction, and not too many mouth noises. I wasn’t crazy about Alien Promises either.

    Perhaps I’ll get over it. I used to have problems with Sarah Vowell on This American Life too but gradually got used to her style too.

  29. Chris says:

    Good stuff!! I really enjoyed this one, I thought the alien sounded a bit peeved at the scientist, which made me laugh !!

  30. Chris says:

    Actually, thinking about UFO’s for a moment – any of the pilots / air traffic controllers / random public who have ‘seen’ UFOs – the moment they identify something as a UFO, doesn’t it cease being an “unidentified” flying object??? Haven’t they just identified it??
    Isn’t it then just a flying object?? :)

  31. vbg says:

    Like many others here, I found the processed audio too distracting and hard to understand.

    Steve, it seems like every time you use an audio gimmick on Escape Pod, it falls flat. IMHO, you should decide whether Escape Pod is someone reading stories aloud, or is audio drama.

    I vote for the former.

  32. rcrisp says:

    The dichotomy of the voice effects effectively mirrored the story and was useful in differentiating who was reading which part. Clarity on the synth part could have been improved but it was audibly-legible (there has to a be a word for that but I can’t think of one so I’ll fall back to a German habit)
    The use of Steve’s “normal” announcer voice again fit the story as a podcaster and a radio announcer would use the same voicing.
    The back and forth device, both written and audio emphasized the two points of view well. It made the humor in the story very funny as well, always nice to have an undercurrent of that

  33. Jay says:

    Helle Stephen, and thank for Escape Pod. I’m a long-time listener and very much enjoy the stories most of the time. I really do enjoy your voice as well. It’s neutral, clear, fairly fast, and has just enough tone in it to add to the text without getting in the way.
    I’m sorry to say however that I just didn’t get along well with Anna’s voice, even when it’s not enhanced with audio tricks. This episode was just a no-go for me. When you announced that you’d be reading it with Anna, I got a little apprehensive, as I also couldn’t a previous story read by her. But when I realized that the weird alien voice I couldn’t catch a syllable of was Anna’s voice, I promptly gave up. I knew it wouldn’t work.
    I’m really sorry Anna, I’m sure it would be very different if we met in person and had a conversation, but via MP3 and reading a story, it just doesn’t work for me…
    Stephen, this is one piece of negative feedback for scores of positive feedback I didn’t leave to you. Do keep up the great work. I’m sure there’s a silent throng of appreciative listeners like me out there.

  34. Norm says:

    Yeah, that audio filter made it hard to decipher. It’s fun to play with filters like that, but not good for long-term listening. At the onset I had high hopes for this story. Anna and Steve worked awesomely togeher in “I look forward to remembering you” the Mur story that has to be one of the 5 best EP episodes ever.
    I found the story too much like a debate. Not entertaining at all. I’m surprised most loved it, but to each their own.

  35. rcrisp says:

    Comment on Norm:

    You said it sounded a lot like a debate. I’m feeling that that’s what the author intended in a way. A slightly humourous debate between science and the whole pseudo-science thing (no ill remarks aimed at pseudopod, or is it sudopod for all you linux fans?).

  36. WillMoo says:

    I agree that the alien voice could have been done away with but the one thing that bugged me the most was when the scientist used language that couldn’t be used on the radio. It wasn’t necessary. Also, the issue of what the aliens purpose and what did they gain from messing with us was never fully addressed.

  37. scatterbrain says:

    I like stories that take perspective on contempory Fortean subjects but this just seems kitsch somewhat.

    About my take on Earth mysteries, creation by Aliens seems much more likely than creation by God, and they seem to be affecting life on this planet much more than him. Now I’ve said it, I can now think clearly at night again.

  38. Ryan Ballantyne says:

    I wonder if Lucas read this story before penning the script to “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”.

    I enjoyed this story overall, if only because the radio scientist was entertaining. I do have a few gripes, though.

    First is the filtering applied to Mrs. Eley’s voice. I mean, I know aliens are “supposed” to sound like vacuum cleaners, but it was hard to understand and annoying to listen to. Some words were rendered incomprehensible even after repeated plays.

    Speaking of the aliens, I didn’t quite get them. They seem like the gods in Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld”, who exist by and derive power from the belief of their followers. This didn’t really make sense to me in a sci/fi setting. Is it supposed to have something to do with quantum mechanics? Is the author implying that, by doubting the nature of something we observe, we can influence which way the quantum waveforms collapse? IANAS, nor do I know much about quantum mechanics, but that just seems like bollocks.

    Furthermore, why did the aliens create humanity? What did they stand to gain? Power, like Pratchettian gods? Or did they just do it for fun?

    Maybe I’m just being an insufferable, overanalyzing nerd and should turn my brain off and enjoy it. It was well-written…if you ignore the aliens.

  39. Pete Aldin says:

    Elves. Aliens.

    Yeah. It works.

  40. araña says:

    Steve, Anna, and David Brin…

    you get EPIC W00t.

  41. Ogion The Silent says:

    Ryan: funny, I thought the aliens seemed more like Pratchett’s elves.

    I thought this was a great story because it can be understood in different ways. The scientist-narrator manages to be simultaneously dead-right and dead-wrong. The aliens (who are not really alien of course) are also simultaneously wonderful, terrible, awful, glamorous, and all those other words that have mysteriously lost their original powerful meanings in English :-)

    Just like Pratchett’s elves, the aliens are something we have banished from our world with cold iron and we would be mad and foolish to let them back in. Yet at the same time we have lost something central to our nature by shutting them out.

  42. [...] Escape Pod starts off well with David Brin’s “Those Eyes,” in which a scientist, standing in for a late-night talk-radio host, speculates on the [...]

  43. Nerraux says:

    I liked it, and for some reason the flow made me think of a Get Your War On (http://www.mnftiu.cc/category/gywo/war81/) strip. Kudos, as always.