EP167: Love and Death in the Time of Monsters

By Frank Wu.
Read by Stephen Eley.
First appeared in Abyss & Apex, 4th Quarter 2007.
Special closing music: “Showdown in Shinjuku” and “Incognito” by Daikaiju.

They try everything. Cellular toxins. DNA replication inhibitors. Anti-sense nucleic acids. Artillery. Great bolts of lightning. Nothing stops him, it only makes the monster angrier. They try mutagens, teratogens, carcinogens, neurotoxins, hemotoxins, genotoxins — they think that toxins in the environment created the monster, and maybe toxins can kill it. Maybe two wrongs can make a right.

They don’t, apparently. I worry about the residues left in the ground after the monster’s moved on. He’s going up and down the eastern seaboard. Janie talks about flying out there to help, but she doesn’t want to get stomped on. Who would? A team of guys from work drive across the country to do whatever they can. They figure that patent annuities can still get paid in their absence. I want to go, but I have to stay to help my mom. That’s my fight.

Rated PG. Contains violence on a grand scale and illness on a human scale.

Referenced Sites:
GUIDOLON The Giant Space Chicken
Well-Told Tales

Comments (25)

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  1. Jennifer says:

    Well, I liked it well enough. But I speak as someone who spent years with a terminally ill parent, so I know how this guy feels.

    I can see the monster to some degree representing what the guy is giving up, to nurse someone who doesn’t appreciate it. He wishes he could be fighting this other battle against the monster, one where you can be heroic. One where there’s actually hope of success. He feels like he’s missing out on the biggest story of all time, being out in California and well away from it, and unable to join in with it.

    Comparatively speaking, you do not feel heroic being a caregiver and sitting there watching someone die slowly for years. But you don’t have an option to fight that battle. It’s thrust upon you even more than a monster setting your city on fire would be.

    I suspect this story won’t be popular with anyone who hasn’t been there and done this. But I get where it’s coming from.

  2. Norm says:

    I may not have never been in this guys shoes, but I get it (as much as I can) and enjoyed the story. Smart, analogous, and original. Frank Woo is AWESOME! Dude can draw and write like… (can I say Awesome again?” Awesome!
    Steve seemed to think he’d take some fire on this one. I think this is the best we’ve had in a month or so, my opinion. I hope most people liked it.
    I live in CT, I can only hope
    if Monsters ever come that they start in CA and go up into Canada 😉

  3. BadMonkey says:

    I live in Honolulu and we live under constant treat of Giant Monster attack… The “Giant Monster” rider on my insurance policy cost nearly as much as it would in Tokyo (the highest in the world) even higher than New York, and Washington DC.

  4. […] Escape Pod: Love and Death in the Time of Monsters […]

  5. otakucode says:

    Very interesting story… it was a bit annoying with the author propagating a lot of the ultraparanoid modern mindset, ultimately ending it with the most vibrant illustration of how completely swept away by the modern fear memes that turn molehills not just into mountains but spiral galaxies, the narrator getting sick from, one must assume, the second hand smoke of his mother.

    With this story and the last, I am struck by the way people handle the idea of a child (of any age) losing their parents. There was a warning for the last story that it might disturb people who have lost a child, even though the story starts off with a child losing one of their parents, surely something that would likely be much more devastating to a child than the reverse situation would be to a parent (given their dependent nature, the need to be protected, etc). Bambi’s mother gets blown away and there’s no warning, while a child being in some mild danger gets a great amount of attention. Just a bit of a strange idiosyncracy in my opinion.

  6. Josh says:

    Yeah, that really didn’t do it for me. I realize that monster stories, as mentioned, are generally metaphors for real world concerns, but geez, could that have hit us over the head with the monster-cancer parallel any more brutally and constantly? I mean, geez. If the metaphor works, the author shouldn’t have to remind us of it every other sentece. I like my metaphors with a dose of subtlety, thanks. While I suppose stories less subtle than this one exist, I sure haven’t read ’em.

  7. Alistair says:

    The metaphor was rather overworked. However, I felt the main problem was the completely unsympathetic characters. There was not one loving or kind action or reflection that made you cheer for them. The narrator was a triumph of egotistic self-absorbtion, and ultimately, self-pity. No tears here.

    Also, in the interests of originality as well as science, couldn’t we have giant pollution-lured monsters start with Shanghai?

  8. Justin says:

    It may be a simplistic view of the story, but I feel that the monster and the mom are commentary on the state of the United States. The and the cancer are terrorism and the weapons and chemo are steps taken in the patriot act to fight terrorism at the expense of our personal liberties. I fall into the category Steve spoke of that didn’t like this story, but it’s not because it’s a monster story, I love huge monster stories. Maybe I’m just tuned in to seeing this stuff everywhere but I’m sick of politics saturating everything. I guess that’s one of the downfalls of democracy… freedom to say what you want at the expense of having to hear someone’s opposing view. The kicker for me was the main character’s comment about never getting to hear a thank you. Following the theme that I saw in the story this feels like a self righteous play for simpathy for a movement that feels they are the only ones truly looking out for the country and the planet while everyone else pretends to fight the monster and even when the monster is defeated, more rise in it’s place.

  9. Hannes says:

    It was the elephants that got me.

    PS: Please, please don’t change the end-of-story riff. I absolutely cannot imagine an Escape Pod story ending without that riff fading in.

  10. tim callender (babylonpodcast) says:

    I liked the story, but I must admit it hit home on a personal level.

    I have a very very good friend whose relationship with her mom is extremely contentious. My friend’s mom was recently diagnosed with cancer. All the issues the story’s protagonist went through I recognized in my friend: the hurtful words from the mother, the longing for approval and thanks that never comes, the sensation of having taken too much and yet still wanting to turn around and continue to care for someone who cannot return that love.

    And, I thought it was an interesting twist to have further monster eruptions. I was fully expecting the threat to end when the mother died.

    Good stuff, Steve!

  11. arcsine says:

    The story was ok. The author deserves credit for his expanding talents… from art to writing.

    The story had quite a few points where it felt a little off, like a can of oil on the beach.
    The end really stubbed my toe. “You’re Welcome.” Huh? Doesn’t make sense to me. He should say ‘thank you’ to his wife. Am I missing something?

  12. scatterbrain says:

    It takes ages to find good slipstream, but I finally found some. Good, simplistic and yet complex story; like Kelly Link, but with super-mega-kaiju monsters.

  13. DrCrisp says:

    To quote Monty Python, “It was a bit French”

  14. Howie Feltersnatch says:

    Ugh. What a terrible, pointless story. Whine, whine, mommy didn’t love me enough, blah blah, giant monster, blah.

    The only good part was the part that mentioned Georgia and Florida getting obliterated by the creature. If only Texas had been schwacked too, this would have been a really happy ending.

  15. Chairmandances says:

    It wasn’t really speculative fiction, but more importantly it just wasn’t very good.

    The “cancer as monster” metaphor was heavy handed and although it worked on the origin of each menace it doesn’t really hold up on how to deal with the menace.

    You could argue that for advanced cases of terminal illness the potential cure may be worse than the disease.

    Maybe just making the sufferer as comfortable as possible for whatever time they have left is a better course than putting them through the ordeal of chemo and radiation treatment. What’s the right trade-off between quality of life and quantity of life?

    The calculus of dealing with real life monsters like cancer, is a lot more complicated than dealing with imaginary ones.

  16. Evo Shandor says:

    Cannot add too much to what has already been said about some heavy-handed symbolism and an unlikeable main character.

    One thing I will add is my mother is indeed dying. She has been told she has about 6 months left to live numerous times over the last 8 years. She is steadily getting worse, but the “crash” the doctors predict never comes. Perhaps I might see this story differently when the end is indeed near, but I felt no emotional attachment to the mom nor narrator in this story.

    I will give it credit, though, for telling the story of a monster attack from far away. Like the Battlestar Galactica pilot, sometimes the story of those far away and helpless to act is more compelling than those who are helpless in the thick of it (like Cloverfield).

  17. Ogion The Silent says:

    I was going to say “heavy-handed” but everybody else has already done so, so there wouldn’t be much point. I think the story fails because there isn’t anything else going on but heavy-handed analogy building – no good characters, no interesting plot development, just a depressing and simplistic “we’re destroying the environment and the cure is as bad as the disease” message.

    This may be my least favourite EP of recent times.

  18. Alasdair says:

    I thought this was great. Somewhere between Raymond Carver and Tojo monster movies, managing to combine the best elements of both. It’s a tough sell, and I can see why some people didn’t like it but for me, this was a winner.

  19. J says:

    i sympathize with eley having to point out that giant monsters have a long history of being used allegorically. i have to perpetually do the same when it comes to zombie movies.

  20. […] and Death in the Time of Monsters,” by Frank Wu. It has a great title. The presentation on  Escape Pod is fun. But I have to say I preferred the realistic elements to the scifi […]

  21. […] “Love and Death in the Time of Monsters” by Frank Wu (read by Stephen Eley) features giant monsters as a backdrop to personal loss, family relationships, and terminal cancer. A strange juxtaposition, as if two distinct stories have been spliced together. I’m not sure if doing this makes either of them complete, because the two elements don’t seem to be related. It could simply be a literary device—but to what end? […]

  22. popepat says:

    I stopped surfing the web during the monster parts, and I teared up at the very end when he let his wife drive the car back to the hospital. I think that qualifies it as a great story for me. Thanks Stephen & Frank. (oh, Guidolon was hilarious, too)

  23. Fred McDonald says:

    I did have to laugh a bit when Fox News reported that the monster was dead. “Aww crap,” I thought. “The monster problem is going to get much worse now, isn’t it?”

    It’s nice to know that even in a fictional world with giant radioactive monsters, some things remain the same!

  24. damien says:

    I like your layout. Have your web guy hit me up.

  25. TBeckham says:

    This was a bittersweet story, beautifully told. I just wish the mental image wasn’t of Godzilla (and, yes, I DO have the original Japanese version).