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EP170: Pervert

By Charles Coleman Finlay.
Read by Stephen Eley.

First appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 2004.

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When the bus reaches the corner, they climb onboard, taking seats on
their side and evening out the ride so it doesn’t feel so much like
we’ll tip over. We rattle along past road construction, the men
working behind screens that are consecrated by the priests each
morning as part of the men’s quarter, and resanctified to the women at
quitting time. The sun already pelts down mercilessly and they will
have to leave off working soon.

We enter the government quarter and arrive at the Children’s Center, a
long concrete brick of a building with windows shielded from the sun
by an open grid of deep squares made of the same material. The
morning light turns it into a chessboard of glaring white and dark
shadow. I don’t work with the children, who are on the lower floors
and the sheltered playground of the courtyard, but toil away with
records on the upper floors. Unlike Jamin or Zel, I am permitted by
the job to work alongside women, but only because I completed my
theological studies and am a candidate for the priesthood. My
superiors do not know of the taint on my soul. Do not know yet, I
should say, and when they discover it I will never be ordained or
promoted.

Rated R. Contains explicit sexual activity.

Comments (44)

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  1. Rachel says:

    I’ll be the first to ask that question I shouldn’t ask… Is this really SF?

    I kept waiting for the hard tech or something that told me it was Science Fiction and not just societal fantasy, and the more I waited the more I found out that the story might be, but then it pulled away at the last minute.

    Not that I particularly care, but it’s bound to come up, so I thought I’d nip on this one.

    The story itself kind of reminded me of a Star Trek Next Generation episode where they turned heterosexuality into a crime with Riker as the front man in love with the “sinning” alien and there was an anti-climax to it. But what’s a story without it reminding you of another story that’s similar to it, but not enough like for you to say it’s the same? Like the face of the person you know, but can’t place their name or where you saw them.

    The plot, despite my seeing what it was transparently about wasn’t too bad. Perhaps it’s the misfortune of the story itself to have to run against the previous week’s story so freshly re-ingrained in my head that I didn’t like it as much. Solid though, if a bit preachy at times. It’s not likely to make the antis suddenly believe.

    Keep up the good work, even if it’s late. Life has no restart button or a save button, so we will make due. It’s better than no story at all this week. I believe we should forgive you for having a rough few days. And to those who don’t, I want to see them produce such a podcast like this with ease and a full-time job.

  2. Thirteen says:

    This is my first comment, so bear with me here.

    While this isn’t my favourite Escape Pod story ever, it did speak to me. It reflected a lot of the emotions I went through when I was working out my own sexuality – the uncertainty, the sense of something not fitting in with the desires and assumptions of my friends. (For the record, not that it’s of great relevance, I’m a formerly bi poly woman who realised a couple of years ago that she could no longer bring herself to sleep with men.)

    Some of the social aspects really worked for me too – I liked the idea of both genders going veiled in each other’s presence.

    The story didn’t entirely convince me though. I was left uncertain of how the hydrosexuals’ desire was even formed. If the primary model of sexuality in society (homo) still involved direct personal sexual contact, what social (let alone instinctual) triggers would even make it possible for men to get so worked up about a pool of ova-filled water that they became aroused at the thought?

    The biological science, too, left me with questions – expressing eggs into a pool? How?

    Nonetheless, this is yet another story that reminds me of how open modern SF in general (and Escape Pod in particular) is to alternative modes and expressions of sexual behaviour.

    This is perhaps unsurprising in a genre that can speculate about the existence of life forms made of gas, energy, or plant matter – alternate sexuality is a given there. But it’s always good to be reminded.

    Speculative fiction in general is free to represent a much wider range of actions, situations, and possibilities than most mainstream literature, and that’s a large part of what draws me to it.

    Anyway, sorry about the tangents and keep up the good work. Even if it sometimes runs a little late.

  3. Thirteen says:

    Incidentally, hearing this story comes hot on the heels of my reading another by Charles Coleman Finlay, “The Political Prisoner”, in the August 2008 issue of F&SF. A far darker tale, I highly recommend it – any chance of picking up his Maxim Nikomedes series for Escape Pod?

  4. Iron Guidon says:

    Guess I wasn’t mature enough Steve. It was so ham-fisted, telegraphing the social commentary in such blatant a way, I couldn’t even finish this story. To make matters worse, it felt like I’d heard the story done better in the past by writers like LeGuin. Give me subtle social commentary and ham-fisted action and I’m happy. Reverse of that recipe does not ever work.

  5. Me says:

    I agree. Rarely have I heard a story that was trying so hard to be shocking while falling so flat. It was like watching a 45 year old calling their young coworkers dude. Read LeGuin or Bujold for much more fun treatments of the same ideas.

  6. Zathras says:

    Let me start this off by saying that I am not a prude and don’t care what anyone’s sexual preferences are. (Well, except my wife’s and mine.)

    After the warning, I was tempted not to listen. I have found that, in general, the more sexual content most stories have, the less story they have. This one had little of either. Last week’s story needed a warning more than this one.

    It seemed to be more of an outline, or possibly a chapter of a novel.

    Let’s see if I can do the same:

    Humans fucked things up. (Probably through polution or over population)

    Some scientists realized the only way to save us is to prohibit direct breeding.

    Must not let males and females be tempted.

    (Insert descriptions of hot homosexual or machine love here)

    Reveal method of societal procreation.

    End.

    While I personally think that porn and sci-fi shouldn’t mix, I don’t mind it when the story is strong.

    GIGO

  7. SethW says:

    I heard a whisper of Heinlein, though the story itself was just a whisper. I was expecting more tension or conflict, especially with the character being so obviously at odds with his culture.

  8. scatterbrain says:

    This illustrates my theory that without women, men would become more like them in order to fill the role(and vice-versa).

    In the end, I thought it was an alright sort of futuristic wank story.

  9. Storman Norm says:

    On Friday I was jonesing for my weekly escape pod fix. Nothing in itunes. I check the site and we get a late notice. I did enjoy listening to Steve’s uncut version of last weeks ep. It made me realize what a perfectionist he is. I’d like a round of applause for Steve. Seriously, he has a job, family, and still he gets the podcast out, most times on-time even. He must be a busy guy really.
    Sorry, to ramble about non-story stuff. As someone who is just trying a hand at podcasting I appreciate his labor (check my website for my 1st podcast) and on top of that he has a slush pile of stories to wade through. Hats off to Steve!
    The story itself confused me at first, but then I thought it was a kinda cool societial fiction. True, this may not be real SF, but my personal definition of SF does creep into Fantasy, so I’m okay with it. And EP is probably the best home for this story. Podcastle really isn’t as edgy and wouldn’t run this. Decent story and thanks again for bringing us a diverse offering of fiction.

  10. yicheng says:

    The story fell flat for me as well. I found it rather unimaginative and predictable after the first 5 minutes. I suppose the “homos dominate the world theme” might have been innovative and challenging when it was written, but in the current political climate (maybe it’s just me) it seems preachy and self-righteous like a bad after-school special. In the end, it just needed more than the one schtick to work.

    On a redeeming note, I really enjoy Steve’s Geek-Dad segments.

  11. Dildo Baggins says:

    As someone who enjoys whacking off in public pools, this story really spoke to me.

    Just kidding. Actually, except for the homosexuality, this story paints a picture of the EXACT future conservatives would like for us: all the fun taken out of sex, genders completely segregated, mindless focus on procreation….

  12. Jennifer says:

    I didn’t get it. Women are now “hydrosexual” and have sex with water and now people copulate with eggs in the water like fish? What?

    Maybe it makes more sense when you look at the text?

  13. The Devil's Advocate says:

    I must admit, I liked this story, or rather, the idea of this story, in that the social norm for our world is reversed in another. The story itself was a solid “Meh” not bad, but not terrific.

  14. Changwa Steve says:

    I liked the idea of the mating pool. Other than that, all I have to say is that reversing social norms stopped being “edgy” 30 years ago.

  15. Stiles says:

    A couple of things,

    First I want to reply to Dildo Baggins.
    Your assessment of what conservatives want out of sexuality is completely of base. Many believe sexuality is a private matter and should remain private. Unless you were raised strict Catholic, then I might understand your ignorant statement.

    Second,
    I’ve been listening to Escape Pod Since the beginning and this story is another in a string of horrible, barely Sci-fi stories. Also stories seem to be getting more liberal which is not fun.

  16. Ogion The Silent says:

    The whole “world where heterosexuality is banned” thing is so hackneyed even Star Trek has done it. What are we getting next week? A future where black people are dominant and whites have to do all the shitty jobs? Boy, that would be radical.

  17. Bingorage says:

    I think that this might work better as a first chapter, than a short story. The hero should want to see the face of his forbidden love, or die trying; not settle for the odd trip to the circle jerk/wank pool.

  18. Dildo Baggins says:

    Stiles: In Alabama, conservatives have banned the sale of vibrators and other sex toys. A new draft of a US Regulation (proposed by the conservative Bush administration) defines many forms of contraception as abortion. Conservatives are leading the charge against equal rights for and the ability to marry for gays. Conservatives are proponents of allowing pharmacists to deny contraceptives to people. Conservative preachers and pundits decry marriages that don’t produce children. It’s a fact that they’re repressed and repressive.

  19. Ken_K says:

    Political commentary is a natural part of sci-fi. But with that said it was kinda “hamfisted” as some have put it. But then nuance is hard to do in story that short. The real “lesson” here is that human sexuality is very malleable and that a person’s heart wants what it wants regardless of society’s norms.

  20. phignewton says:

    My first thought is that THEY ARENT HUMAN! they’re like frogs right? i mean even the most atheletic of human females isnt equipped to express their eggs, I can imagine a shorter, more effective story taking place in a ‘hydrosexual’ society in which the speaker finds himself wracked by unspeakable urges to engage in monogomous direct coupling instead of the breeding pool like everyone else [you want to put that where??!]… but no, clearly these are humans, and as one digs deeper one realizes a problem, even though the speaker is in love with a woman…THE STORY IS ENTIRELY WRITTEN FROM AN OBVIOUSLY GAY VIEWPOINT! the nice colored robes, the hot sweaty [extremely good looking] fellows dancing an having fun socially excepted relationships, the main charcter being pushed by his friend into sex with an older man [who cooks moist delicious cake!] i’m sorry but that all smacks of having no other purpose then wish fufilment, and heres the kicker, the ending… is the speaker… in obvious horror and un-able to preform when faced with the female ovum! i’m sorry dude, but when its all added up, theres nothing in this story but gayness! i know its terrible when sexuality is repressed and society can make one feel bad at times but pleeeease, go write about gay unicorns living on a planet of gay tentacle penises, at least the result will have more truthiness about it!

  21. Me says:

    Like a lot of people, this story didn’t feel shocking or interesting or insightful or (I agree about the slightly suspect ‘spawning’ females leaving a layer of eggs in the water) plausible.

    It felt like it was written so that the writer could have the last line(s) in a story.

    Maybe more sympathetic characters would have helped. I found that I wasn’t much interested in the main character’s angst over his feelings, nor did I sympathise with the view of the people urging conformity.

    Meh.

    On a non-story note, but I just noticed it now.
    Steve, the Audible site will not let people cancel their accounts via e-mail (anymore).
    So people overseas (Hello!) have the option of writing or making international calls to try and do this.

    I know this is not your decision/influence but, having been very keen to sign up after all the Escape Pod plugs, there’s no way I could sign up to a servie when cancelling would be less than easy.

  22. phignewton says:

    …thats not to say i didnt enjoy listening to this story and its excellent reading by mister Eley, keep up the good work all involved!

  23. Calculating... says:

    this terrified me. i don’t know if i want to live in a world where men and women are not allowed to look upon each other’s features. other than being scared out of my socks, i enjoyed the story, but i’m not sure it belonged on escape pod.

  24. Evo Shandor says:

    As someone who has been rejected from MoF&SF with the comment “Didn’t grab me fast enough”, this story really got off to a slow start. Considering the author’s pedigree, I gave it time.

    Overall, I enjoyed this story. It would have been a lot weaker if it had been “homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuals are deviant.” Instead, there is not even a word for being heterosexual in this culture. The hydrosexuals—something we do not even have in our world and would be considered a fringe fetish—are the predominant sexual deviant.

    I also enjoyed what seems to me to be the most clean, orderly, antiseptic, glass and chrome post-apocalyptic future I have come across in fiction. A world where we deny our most basic biology: sounds like Doomsday to me.

    However, I did not hear “hydrosexual” when listening to the story. I heard “hydrasexual” — a hydra like Hercules fought. That conjured all kinds of images of what that could be.

    Lastly, I like that we do not know what led to this world. Was there something that caused natural mating to produce genetic defects, and the theology was created out of necessity? Or, did theology become so dominant and restrictive that even sex for procreation was seen as sinful and the technology was brought in to create new life, with homosexuality as the side effect?

  25. PK says:

    Well, that was didactic…

  26. If this story is indeed a glimpse into humanity’s future, then I’m glad my woman-loving self will be long dead before it happens.

  27. DrCrisp says:

    D.Baggins:

    If conservatives are so against sex, where do all those darn cute Osmonds keep coming from?

    Sex aside (never tell my wife I used that phrase) what I found totally fascinating was the interpreation of Scripture. The quotes from the Bible used in the story are correct and accurate, the interpretation of them is “flawed”, or at least flawed from our societies interpretation of them. How your society defines the terms marriage or man/woman colors the “logical” interpretation of scripture. Both the Koran, Torah and Bible have been misinterpreted for years, and it was interesting that this story showed a fictional interpretation. So as to Rachel’s “is this science fiction”, sure it is. You postulate a world where a slight culture shift changes how scripture/law is interpreted and postulate the results.

    I’ll never look at poached eggs the same way…

  28. Meercat says:

    Like it did for others, the story fell a little flat for me. I knew (guessed) what the sexual “norm” was early on which took away much of the story’s impact and the concept of the womb shaped, ova filled pool just didn’t seem plausible at all. Though, to be honest, I don’t know if my ho-hum attitude about the society’s “normal” sexuality is the story’s problem, per se, or simply an overabundance of stories with this theme.

    In any case, on a bit of a tangent, what is interesting is the story’s “sciencing” of sex and reproduction. Living in the IVF and reproductive assistance capital of the US, I know many, many people who have turned to science to help them have kids. In fact, this number far surpasses the number of “traditional” parents – and by traditional I only mean parents that have conceived children without assistance. In my opinion, it seems that people turn to science quite quickly these days, whether from an increased necessity or just impatience. I can easily see how a trend toward sterile, mandated fertilization can become the norm rather than the exception.

  29. Despite all the criticism of “conservatives” and I suppose “liberals” in the comments, this is Taliban gone extreme, not something you would see in America, even on allegedly dominated by those child producing conservatives (by teh D. Baggins, statistically you would find that “liberals” have fewer children than conservatives do).

    I really liked the confluence religion and its almost Talibanic separation of the sexes (although the Taliban would never brook conversations between unmarried mend and women, let along allowing woment to work) with the sexless, scientific-psuedo religious quality of reproduction.

    I was left however, not feeling very moved by these characters, any of them. I was left curious about Alli, the objection of affection, but felt nothing for any of the others.

  30. J says:

    Well written, but too Anvilicious to enjoy.

  31. D. C. says:

    Like a lot of people, I felt this story fell flat for me.

    Is it SF? Well, it’s “soft” science fiction, so it’s more about relationships and societal change, rather than shiny new technology. And that’s where it doesn’t live up to expectations. Reversing sexual norms has been a staple in SF since at least Haldeman’s The Forever War came out in the early 70s. It’s not really edgy or bold. It’s like reading Farnam’s Freehold today. Sure, the racial politics might have blown people’s mind in the 60s, but not today.

    What I really found disappointing, though, was the ending. The main character never “pulled the trigger” as it were. He never tells the girl how he feels. He never bucks society’s norms. He just stays in the closet, as it were. So, in the end, I’m left feeling, so what? Why should be care about this unhappy guy who’s too much of a coward to go for what he really wants?

    On a technical note, the idea of guys leaving there sperm to mingle in a pool full of eggs seems just as random a method of reproduction as what our society does. I was expecting that this society would do more engineering to produce more designer babies, rather than just hope that the right sperm finds the right egg in the big salmon pool.

  32. Araña says:

    meh.

    I admit, I was really excited to have a change of perspective when it comes to the relationship of characters within an sf story. However I must give points off because in this one, like in countless other works of sf that feature homosexuals, the idea of homosexuality is sort of glossed over, skimmed so to speak, and the focus is placed chiefly on the heterosexual relationship.
    I do know that this is crucial to the plot, and I love how the main character had fallen in love with hairline-to-nostril eye candy.

    But, the thought remains. I wish it would have been a bit more…resolute. The conclusion did not feel like a conclusion at all.

  33. Zippy says:

    In the grim darkness of the far future there is no sex.

  34. Am I the only one who noticed that the Japanese fembot announcer at the beginning said “June” instead of “August”?

  35. Tom Wilson says:

    I’m not “meh” about this one. I’m “bleh”.

    One of the things I hated about ST:Voyager was that every other episode was a PC sermon.

    I HATE preaching in SF. That’s not to say I don’t like stories that make me think. But there’s a difference.

    I don’t know if Finlay is struggling with his sexuality or if a loved one is or if he’s just trying to make us think. But this wasn’t “make you think” SF. This was “smash you over the head with my ideals” SF.

    That’s not to say I hated the story. It just left me… disappointed. After all the setup – knowing the guy was different and sympathizing with his plight (who hasn’t had an adolescent crush?), it fell flat for me when he ended up in a spawning pool.

    This story would probably play well on a LGBT story forum, but as mainstream SF? I just wasn’t feeling it.

  36. Tom Wilson says:

    And Baggins… stuff it. This is one conservative who thinks sex is a good thing – even sex that doesn’t lead to procreation. Sure, there are left wing wingnuts out there, but there are also right-wingers who think marriage is slavery. Perhaps I should assume that those ultra-feminists represent the entire left side of the spectrum?

  37. Tom Wilson says:

    hmm. I think I meant “right wing wing nuts” and “left wingers who think marriage=slavery”. :D

  38. Jason K says:

    I agree that it really did seem like Chapter 1 in a larger story, but that despite that, it’s an all too familiar story, one that we’ve heard dozens of times with the differences simply being the means of social control and the social anathema. It’s similar to THX 1138, 1984, Logan’s Run, and even The Giver, and I don’t think it could begin to compete with them. I liked the role reversal, switching the social acceptance of homo and heterosexuality, but beyond that, it left too many open doors and unanswered questions for me to really enjoy how it ended.

  39. DrCrisp says:

    Matt Johnston: I got that Taliban feel to the story too. Or maybe more an Arab feel. The men do things as a group it seems to me an outsider. Although that’s probably not a religous thing more than it is a cultural one; more Arab than Moslem.

  40. Richard says:

    Did Not Get It. I was interested, listening and involved and wanting to hear what was going to happen. Then it just stopped. Didn’t get it.

  41. Well, it’s a great START to a story. Can I get some resolution? Last time I checked, stories need those, or else they aren’t stories, no matter how interesting they may be. But maybe that’s just me.

    J! Thanks for linking to TVTropes and saving me the trouble. Was that EP’s virgin TVT link, or did I miss the first one?

  42. Kapitano says:

    So let me get this “straight”.

    Gay men are affectionate, witty, wise, supportive,love dancing, cook well and get “hot” in saunas. And straight men are…boring. So wouldn’t the world be a strange place if almost everyone were gay.

    This story might have worked if it had been a joke. An amusing what-if story of “the gay lifestyle” and “the straight lifestyle” (both ludicrous stereotypes) were transposed. But instead we get a serious tone, intersperced with bad poetic descriptions of frustrated lust, which just isn’t supported by the content.

    I found one idea interesting: A world where men wear veils.

  43. The Devil's Advocate says:

    “Boy loves girl he can never have, how can we make that science fiction?”
    “I know, add in pool masturbation, that works every time!”

    Not terrible though, a nice attempt at showing you how a gay man would have felt a few years ago. I could almost say I liked it, except that it made me feel slightly awkward and uncomfortable.

    Also, I dont even want to IMAGINE how the women…uhh…expelled the eggs