EP171: Fenneman’s Mouth

By Andy Duncan.
Read by Jared Axelrod (of The Voice of Free Planet X).


The studio audience laughed loudly, as it always did when Groucho
turned, in mock desperation or annoyance, to his long-suffering,
hopelessly square announcer. Groucho’s voice slightly increased in
pitch whenever he said Fenneman’s name, as if he were just at the edge
of losing his celebrated cool. This half-squawk had been funny in the
stateroom scene of A Night at the Opera (“Steward! Steward!”), and
it was still funny on You Bet Your Life twenty-five years later. He
was a pro, Groucho was, and I did right by him; I modulated that pitch

Rated R. Contains profanity, and real and simulated persons behaving badly.

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Comments (27)

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  1. The Devil's Advocate says:

    this is a great idea, and probably was a great read, but the listening bored the hell out of me, and didnt help with the reader’s “bedtime story” voice. a solid “Meh”

  2. Meercat says:

    As the outro mentioned, the story was very plausible; for me, too plausible to really be thought provoking or interesting. The staged and faked reality show is common these days – enough so it has garnered its own niche and following – and the whole complicated exgirlfriend / new girlfriend / unresolved feelings schtick is about as far from unique and engaging as you can get.

    I tried listening to this with my husband, but he got up and walked away at about the 22 minute mark. “Nothing’s happenning,” he said.

    And I have to agree. There isn’t ‘action’. And the action that is there is quickly overwhelmed by the narrator’s mundane introspection.

    In my opinion, the story doesn’t really offer much in the way of wonder or what if or even commentary.

  3. arcsine says:

    I wish I had the text version of this story.

    I just didn’t follow the story. I didn’t understand who was who… when one character was speaking… when the narrator was speaking …

    The voices and characters just seemed all mashed up except for the ‘classic clips’. I’ll listen to the story again in hopes that it’ll be clearer a second time around.

  4. arcsine says:

    I take it back, the voices and characters were fine. Nothing was mashed up. I was confused because I thought I had missed some actions or some details that would have made the story richer.

    The story itself lacked details and richness. Except for the ‘classic clips.’

    I feel the story was just a wrapper for these ‘clips.’

  5. Calculating... says:

    most boring escape pod EVER. nothing happened. i don’t think it can even be considered science fiction since this is all feasible in today’s day and age.

    come on, escape pod can do MUCH better than this.

  6. Storman Norm says:

    This one missed the target for me. The idea of the fabricated clips is cool, but everything else was horrible. What magazine was this originally published in? Sci-Fi for seniors? As a 30 something I have little knowledge let alone interest in Grouchy Marks or Bozo? Using the clips as the catch point for an otherwise boring office romance just makes a horrible story barely passable. Sorry, hated it.

  7. Slye says:

    I liked the concept, as well as the end where you get the idea that they are so used to making up plausible pasts, they get caught up in it between themselves. Next though, they should show the hanging in Wizard Of Oz, and the ghost of the boy with the gun in 3 men and a Baby.

  8. Jennifer says:

    My reaction was along the lines of meercat’s husband. Original concept isn’t bad, but I zoned out and could not keep interested. Sigh.

  9. k23 says:

    While not too big on the action, it did get me thinking about the plausibility of the story. While I understand the concept of manufactured memories, I think that if we were aware of the technology that could alter videos to that advanced degree, it will spawn a contingent that will publicly question, research, and often discredit every video that is produced. It’s happening right now with still photographically, like when the blogosphere was quick to research and discredit Iran’s missile launch photos.

  10. scatterbrain says:

    Nice, subtle, Ballardian – I mean adding false images to sound recordings, creating new shows from age-old scripts after the all the actors have long been six feet under; both the idea and the story is genius, and that’s some true, original, ass-kicking SF to be both at the same time.

  11. DaveNJ says:

    Wow, I guess I’m in the minority here. I love this story from a sci-fi and personal perspective. The whole “nothing happened” thing doesn’t make sense to me. You’ve got a story where a group of people create a new piece of technology and use it originally for entertainment purposes, but during the course of the story the technology changes the face of politics as we know it by rewriting a Senator’s comment.

    From a plausibility and interest perspective the manipulation of real versus perceived events is huge. As sound and video editing get better and better the ability to manipulate speech becomes so strong that we see things in a completely different way than those who preceded us. This concept of the power and authority of the media in regard to tapping the collective unconscious is fascinating, and definitely is worth exploring in sci-fi.

  12. Meercat says:

    Please do not take this the wrong way, but the technology in the story really is NOT anything new, nor is its use.

    Granted, we are led to believe the characters have improved the technology to the point that it appears real, but current real-life animation, sophisticated voice over, etc. does the same thing. These things have been used for several years to sell products, complete films and I would guess even fabricate more than a few factual accounts. A couple of years ago, a product, Coca-cola I think, had a series of advertisements featuring Bing Crosby and other dead celebrities. It was pretty rough, but the concept and execution is there. Further, think of characters/creatures in some of today’s most popular movies. Dobbie, for example, in the Harry Potter movies is actually a ball on a stick. He looks, moves, sounds, and acts real because we have the technology to make him real.

    No offense, but that is all the characters in the story are doing. They are just manufacturing and manipulating film to create an alternate version of events. Now, if the characters created and used something like a convincing 3-D “android” to stage new realities, then this story would really have looked at the future and started to explore how we perceive the news …

  13. Noozle says:

    Well this is odd, I not only loved this story, but I think it might be one of my favorite Escape Pods ever. This is the first story that I’ve really liked enough (and had listened to near enough to it’s release) to bring me to write on the boards. I do have to agree that it did feel stagnant at times and took awhile to get going. But, I thought it was really interesting how Zel (I think that’s his name) observed all the little details of everything around him, how he used his techniques with language and memory to manipulate others, and the depth of the subtext that I found to be deeper than anything I’ve heard on Escape Pod so far. I didn’t see it as a “cliché” office romance that everyone else is complaining about, I felt that Zel was trying to build it up to be that way so that Leah would fall into that state of mind, and then having Pam pull the same tricks on him. Now, maybe I read into it completely wrong, or maybe I’m just blowing what I think is complex way out of proportion, but I still found it to be a darn cool story. I’m sorry that there isn’t too many others who feel the same way.

    Also, in response to Storman Norm: I’m 19, and I happen to think that the Marx Brothers are some of the best comedians ever. Seriously, go find and watch Duck Soup. You’ll wonder how you found anything funny before seeing it. Well, at least I did…

  14. Thinkingcaveman says:

    You have to work in video or tv to get this story – if you don’t the nuances of humor contained in the control room will be and were lost on you.

    It is a shame that a lot of people that will here this have no idea what “You Bet Your Life” was and what it meant to evening TV in the 1950’s. Some will have a vague memory of Bill Cosby or Buddy Hackett being the host in 92 and somewhere in the 80’s.

    Fenneman ever the foil was born in Peking China.

  15. Me says:

    Really didn’t grab me at all.

    I like a lot of Jared’s work but he pushes the edges of ‘smug’ sometimes. And sometimes falls in, like here.

    There wasn’t enough character development to make the people interesting, the description of what was happening was deliberately unexplained so you had to work out what was happening, but when you did it was nothing dramatic.
    There was no suspense, or much happening in the story.

    I know others loved it, just shows we all have different tastes.

  16. Gary H says:

    No sci-fiction, no real story to speak of, boring, and worst of all, we didn’t have any fun. At least we have next week’s episode to look forward to (which I hope at least has a story)

  17. V says:

    Plot movement was slow, more novel pace than story pace. But interesting concept! Definitely a creepy resemblance to our reality…

  18. MikeKozar says:

    The author sets up a great ‘things are not what they seem’ story here – he’s got familiar faces like Groucho and Bozo, and he’s got a very believable bunch of characters living lives we can imagine as our own. The sense of the familiar thus established, one waits for the moment where the big reveal turns this world on its head, when the other shoe drops, when the tiny invaders turn out to be human astronauts, when we find out what’s really in soylent green, when Charlton finds the Statue of Liberty…and it never actually comes. …at least, that’s the way I remember it.

  19. Hannes Engelbrecht says:

    Alas, I gave up around the 10-minute mark. While I hope I’m not being afflicted by the web-age attention-deficit disorder where something needs to happen within the first two paragraphs to keep my interest, I can point to the reader’s.. peaky voice being the source of my violent disinterest.
    I had to fiddle with the volume knob the first minute or so to find the right balance between “too quiet” and “way screechy”. Had I been listening while riding my motorbike, I would’ve crashed trying to claw the helmet off my head.

  20. Lungdoc says:

    couldn’t even finish the story…..a rare event with EP stories
    what was the point of this story? took too long, and didn’t hold my interest

  21. Demiurge says:

    There are no sci-fi elements to speak of in this story. I didn’t care for it.

  22. Araña says:

    I had to listen to it three, count ’em three, times to be able to both finish it and understand it. I definitely will not listen to EP with Calc homework AGAIN. Normally, I am in the Jared Axelrod is infallible camp, but I thought that the reading could use a leeeetle bit of work in order to make the dialogue more…coherent?

  23. Blaine Boy says:

    This is coming from your average angsty teen, so you may as well stop reading now (think of something very similar to The Catcher in the Rye except he knows his problem). Being that angsty teen, I completely despise the idea of being lied to no matter how it is done. Rebellion is part of my nature now and so this sort of technology scares me and I just feel like I have to fight against this. God (or whatever deity/non-deity you think could/would) help us when every bit of media gets so contorted not even the person who made the original comment knows what he/she already said. The really unfortunate thing is, I think we’re already moving in that direction. I’m just beginning to understand the illusions in history, in our own government, in my own life that to see more of it would just be God awful. I don’t want to be the next Rene Descartes where I have no idea if you even have conscious thought. I’m paranoid enough as it is, I don’t need to be double checking and writing notes on everything everyone said just to make sure I got it right. Watch V for Vendetta (I just did that recently). Faust is quoted there and a translation of his quote goes something like this: “By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe.” Emphasis on the truth. It’s nice to know I can rant somewhere and not feel the repercussions. Thank you Escape Pod. I know that many of you might not even read this but thank you for still hearing me out.

  24. Raving_Lunatic says:

    I agree with the above post- the scary fact is, it doesn’t take much to control people.
    I’ve always thought that the human mind likes an order, a structure, some pattern to fall back on, something that defines the world. And if someone offers you that, you may well take it.

  25. Fred McDonald says:

    I really liked this one — particularly where Zel is essentially being manipulated by his skill.

    The scary thing to me is that I knew most of the ‘classic’ clips being presented, both those in the foreground and as passing references. I know these didn’t happen, yet I have to really stop and think about some of them to remind myself that I couldn’t possibly have seen them!

    (And for the record, this one would fall under hard science fiction, so I can understand why some people would miss that it’s as much SF as any three alien planet stories you care to name!)

  26. Connor Moran says:

    What was most interesting in this story to me was that on the one hand it seems to be presenting this new technology as a way to construct false realities while at the same time emphasizing the fact that we have never really needed technology to do that. Memory is a very subtle thing. Whether it’s in personal relationships (“I didn’t say that! Don’t you dare put words in my mouth!” “I haven’t drank in years”), or collective memories of cultural events (“Play it again, Sam” “Beam me up, Scottie”, etc.), or even political statements (“You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any more” “I invented the internet”), we’ve been making false memories long before the advent of computer technology. How different is it to be able to show you film of the lies we already believe? Is it more a question of who is in control? Heck, could technology like this finally give us that jolt of skepticism that we’ve been missing all these years, remind us that our concept of the world and the past is a lot more fragile than we’d like to believe.

    I can see why people didn’t like it–for one thing, a lot of what happened in the story happened subtly and I would guess that if I’d been doing other things while listening as I sometimes do, I wouldn’t have much appreciated the story. But sometimes it’s good to have a story that doesn’t smack you in the face.