EP174: Private Detective Molly

By A.B. Goelman.
Read by Anna Eley.

That’s when I see my new boss. Four feet of trouble. Brunette variety. Tear tracks cutting through the dirt on her face, wearing jeans that were already old when Molly Dolls were nothing more than molded plastic and fantasy homes.

She’s no idiot, though. “I want the Debutante persona,” she says. “You’re still not Debutante Molly are you?”

I like a girl who doesn’t need me to explain everything. “That’s right, kid,” I pull my blonde hair back into a pony tail and cover it with my fedora.

“Why do you keep coming out as a Petey persona?” Poor kid sounds like she’s about to cry. Don’t blame her for wanting Debutante Molly. Debbie’s the kind of girl who reminds me why God bothered with Adam’s rib in the first place. As wholesome and satisfying as a virgin daiquiri on a hot day. Everything I’m not. “Petey’s not even a girl’s name,” the kid says.

Rated PG. A somewhat dark kid’s story; contains parental tragedy and complex social issues.

Comments (39)

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  1. A1 says:

    Sorry, I couldn’t listen because of the reader.

  2. Randomtime says:

    @A1 – seriously? I loved the reading – if you’ve only listened to those eyes i’d listen to see if you can get your head around it. Loved the story.

  3. I thought I was going to hate it. Was hating it. Then, got hooked on P D solving the case, and enjoyed it.

  4. phignewton says:

    i liked it, perhaps not a proper story for kids though, will be plenty of time to learn about the deficiencies in the health care system later when they are growned up… [oh and good reading, wtf was that about?]

  5. Jesso says:

    I can understand how someone wouldn’t like the reading. Something about how she pronounces words pokes at the back of my brain and I want to figure out where she’s from. It’s not bad, though, and I have no complaints myself. It doesn’t get in the way of the story, which is really the important part.

    I really liked the story. I’m not very good at writing about why I like or don’t like stories, but I wanted to put in my two cents.

  6. Audita Sum says:

    Great story! I liked the reading a lot, too.

    I think it was mostly good for me because it exceeded expectations. I’m not a big fan of girl detectives, but the sci finess of it all made the story awesome.

    One thing though– if Molly had no self-preservation instincts, then why did she fear mice so much?

  7. ryanbeed says:

    Solid piece. Anna’s reading seemed right, but I agree with comments saying there’s something about her pronunciation that pokes at the back of my head. Not in a bad way, but in a somewhat distracting way. I do love her delivery for children’s stories. Whatever it is about her pronunciation is somehow very child appropriate. Anyway, the story, interesting, very nice voice, and well paced so as to carry me through to the end. All in all, entertaining. It made me want to scream and scratch that what we call ‘privatization’ is, in fact, nothing of the sort and that proper privatization will improve things, but then I decided that it just wasn’t worth it and decided to consider the incubator/generator combo a form of nanotech that will start in toys and eventually let me download pirate copies of fancy furniture. YAY!

  8. George says:

    Steve you’re right: this is a wonderfully complex story, with a lot more layers than evident at first reading. In addition, the Writer is to be commended for imagineering the multi-persona Molly Doll, and the Reader for bringing the character(s) to life so well that I feel I know this toy from somewhere …

    I particularly like the fact that the intent of the PD personality survives the generation process to affect the actions (if only ‘subconsciously’) of the Deb persona.

    In a word – delicious!

  9. Norm says:

    I wanted to hate this story as well, but ended up liking it. It was deeper than I thought it would be. It was like a sci-fi mystery. Pretty cool. How could anyone not like Anna’s reading? I think it fit perfectly. The accent (be it intentional or not) was kinda’ like a tough Southern tom-boy, very fitting.

  10. Brave Space Monkey says:

    I know this is going to draw fire, but…

    I do not like Anna’s readings. Her reading knocks a letter grade off my rating of the story. I suggest if Anna (and even Steve) would work with a voice coach that we would all benefit. Acting lesson would also help (plus, they are great fun.) The local community college would offer something at a reasonable cost.

    You may begin your attack on my character, upbringing or other personal weakness you choose. I have said my peace. I will stand-by what I have said, for it is true.

  11. tim callender says:

    I also enjoyed this story. I laughed out loud at the pulp fiction cliches that PD Molly spouts at the beginning. It set the tone for the story quite well.

    One wrinkle I particularly like is the pre-programmed use of the Molly doll as a means of surveillance for parent/guardian. Neat concept, and one that had ramifications for events in the story.

    And that’s something I really look for in my SF – when the author introduces a technology and extrapolates possible uses and ramifications of that technology, and then uses it as a plot point.

    Add me to the list of listeners who enjoys Anna’s readings. Her voice isn’t appropriate for every EP story, but I think Steve does a great job of matching the material to the reader.

  12. scatterbrain says:

    Like an advanced ‘Troy Tropper'(a flash from a year or so ago) except now set in a Ron Paul utopia.

  13. t-dot says:

    I love this story – emotional without being cloying. Imaginative and well written. Where can I read more of this author?

  14. Bingorage says:

    This story only confirms that the clown doll is watching…
    and waiting to strangle me.

  15. Elisa says:

    I didn’t think I’d like this story. I’m not a fan of detective fiction, nor am I particularly fond of the whole ‘sentient doll’-thing (as it generally scares the crap out of me.) It was such a nice surprise when I found myself really enjoying the story. I thought that the whole thing was really unique. I was rooting for Dot, so the ending was a little tough for me, but I guess that’s how the cookie crumbles…

  16. The Devil's Advocate says:

    I actually agree with Brave Space Monkey, Anna’s readings have never really done it for me, though perhaps its because she reads so rarely. Her voice really does seem fit for a child’s story though, so I suppose it evens out.

    I thought this story was pretty stereotypical, with the brave detective, innocent girl, and randomly evil villain. Everything was predictible, save for the very end, where Dot is transformed. I love this story for this fact alone, because it is rather heartless, but is realistic. I think it is the perfect ending for the story.

  17. Calculating... says:

    I absolutely loved it. I always wanted a toy that would respond to me when I was little. I loved that the doll actually cared for Dorothy, and fought to protect her against its own programing.
    it took me a little while to get into the story because of the reading, but other than that LOVED IT!

  18. ADerksen says:

    Nothing against Anna, who did a fine read… but for some reason her accent kept harkening back to Oklahoma Hayseed or the mid-West for me, and it just didn’t feel Chicago Gumshoe Molly enough for me.

    An amusing story. Not a great – but amusing.

  19. Evo Shandor says:

    I liked the opening premise: first person present tense from a self-aware doll. But this story turned sour for me with the evil social agent and all that that led to. There is social commentary, there is satire, and then their is ham-fistedness. This was on step past that and it distracted me from anything else, especially with such a stereo-typical, cartoonish villian.

    Although, when I finished the story I could not help but wonder what Elizabeth Bear could have done with this premise. I would probably still be sobbing.

  20. Me says:

    I agree with others about the reader’s voice.
    Not her accent, I think, but personally I found it grating and it took longer to get past that and into the story.

    I’m sure that she’s a wonderful person an’ all……

  21. KingNor says:

    The reader didn’t bother me.

    I liked that the robot was actually programmed to be afraid of things. I have no idea if it was intentional by the author, but I’d imagine little flaws like that would help endear a semi-sentient toy to it’s owner.

  22. AraƱa says:

    Didn’t hate it, but those twist endings always do it for me. I thought that the way that Molly saves the day was a little impossible, but….

    This is a story about a self-aware doll with multiple personalities.

    Not a lot of possibility there.

    As for Anna’s reading…I’ve loved them all (Those Eyes, Show and Tell, even Wetting the Bed), and her readings always evoke a kind of bittersweet ambiance that is difficult to describe but i amazing to witness, but (because there had to be one) this is not one of my favorites. It could have been better, but it was good enough.

  23. L33tminion says:

    I liked this one, but I’m a sucker for stories about AI. I also like Anna’s narration, despite the objections of posters above.

    I liked the way the doll dealt with her own sense of identity despite being aware of her programmed limitations. The ending also made me smile, especially in how neatly it paralleled the start of the story.

  24. DrCrisp says:

    Bingorage: You are, of course, anthropomorphizing the characters from the story into your bedroom settings. It is ridiculous to assume that your clown doll is watching and waiting to strangle you. So just lay down and turn your light off and go beddy-bye now.

    Hobbie the Horse

  25. I’m another big fan of Anna Eley’s voice. I really like her accent – it’s perfect for a certain subset of stories.

    But… er, am I the only one who sees “Read by Stephen Eley.” up in the blog post?

  26. Blaine Boy says:

    It’s a wonderful story about a child but not necessarily made for a child. I did kind of get caught up on the sexism of the personalities and how cheesy they seemed mostly through their programmed interactions and responses. It reminded me a lot of Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk: toy comes to life, toy is given some task, toy completes task and saves child(ren). Not something I cared about too terribly much but it had me laughing a little by the end of the story. Excellent reading by Mrs. Eley. (This is my own little theme here now)…Thank you all for accepting me. It’s nice to know that I can fit in somewhere.

  27. Draux says:

    I’m going to have to agree with both sides of the reader’s voice debate here. The voice of PD worked wonderfully, it had that sort of built-in sarcasm that I associate with Bogart and Sam Diamond (yes, I’m aware one is real, and one is fictional). Unfortunately, that same thing transfers over to the other characters and slants them in a direction I don’t want them to go, particularly the little girl.
    As for the story itself, it was wierd, obviously the mystery wasn’t difficult, we’re not talking Doyle here, but although I figured out what was going on in the first couple of minutes, I actually found myself wondering whether the characters would figure it out, or at least how. I’m pretty jaded about the outcomes of most stories, and it’s unusual for me to actually be curious about how one’s going to end. Good job!
    PS, someone commented that both Mr. and Mrs. Eley could benefit from voice coaching, I disagree. Anna has a voice that works well in niches, and honestly, one of the things that originally caught me about Escape Pod is that Steve has some of the most precise diction I’ve ever heard. Just my 2 pennies.

  28. S. Wong says:

    This A.B. Goelman character is a keeper!

  29. Raving_Lunatic says:

    I almost didn’t listen because of the title, but enjoyed it. Reminds me of Philip K Dick’s War Games.

  30. DrCrisp says:

    Raving_Lunatic @ 29: Let me display my ignorance, which is shiny-smooth and well worn from constant display, or my lack of memory, a knack of a lack I have; What is War Games? I seem to dimly recall a story where Earth was boycotting some other planet that exported stuff and these guys had to see if toys were safe. The ‘aliens’ built this really elaborate castle that did stuff that freaked them out and they didn’t allow it but they let the board game in. The upshot was they didn’t look at the rules, they thought it was a Monopoly knock off. The rules were to sell at a loss and win by getting rid of your money. A way for the aliens to “corrupt” Earth’s youth. But…that doesn’t sound like Dick. I would admit a dislike of his work, but multi-dimensional doors would open up around me and legions of fans would beat me severely.

  31. Richard says:

    Great story. Fun to listen. I really enjoyed figuring out how the toy was going to save the day…

  32. Raving_Lunatic says:

    Dr Crisp- on second thoughts, I have no idea why I said that. Looking back on my PKD collection, War Games is exactly how you describe it, so I’m probably going insane, or got mixed up with some other story.

  33. DrCrisp says:

    Raving_Lunatic: Ahhhh, someone else who “wasted his youth” reading that “sci-fi trash”. I do not remember my son’s names on a occasions (only special occasions like…weekdays) but a good story sticks with me like steamy oatmeal on a cold morning.

  34. V says:

    Ok, so the characterization was pretty flat except for Molly, and I don’t see how she was able to break her programming. But I LOVED the concept because that sort of gov’t privatization at the cost of folks in need and the gain of greedy bastards is the sort of thing that makes me livid in real life and it is very satisfying when they come into a story to be defeated. But I didn’t just like this story because it pandered to my political views. Molly is an interesting character, as is her

    Somebody up above said “if Molly had no self-preservation instincts, then why did she fear mice so much?” I think its partially the empathy thing with a scared kid somebody else mentioned further down, but it may also be that she is allowed self-preservation insofar as preventing damage to her owner’s property-i.e herself. Creepy nonetheless.
    Although honestly…some elements of the story were a bit 19th century. Sounded like the little girl had consumption in a Beth from Little Women sort of way, although TB is making a comeback unfortunately, but seriously, mice? I expected cockroaches myself. Yeah, you might see mice, but where you have any sort of vermin you’re going to have those as well.

    Also I wonder what’s with leaving the little girl in her mother’s apt on her own . . .

    As to being a kids’ story…I wouldn’t give this to anybody younger than at least 9, I think, although it definitely depends on the child.

    As for the gender stereotyping…business as usual, really. Big toy companies cater to conservative parents.

    As to Anna’s reading…ok, sometimes her voice is a little annoying or her reading is less than ideal, but for certain stories and certain characters, it works.

    It worked for Molly. I could see her in my mind’s eye.

    And it REALLY worked in Those Eyes, even though the filter gave me issues. I liked both, but it required a little extra effort to understand.

  35. MW says:

    I found Escape Pod a couple years ago, and have listened to every episode and even contributed $$ to the cause. I love this podcast and hope you continue for many years. I have to agree, though, that I just don’t like Anna’s reading voice on this or any of the other stories she’s read.

  36. SF Fangirl says:

    I enjoyed this story, but I didn’t find it that complex. I figured out what was going on – the spying, the suicide, the need to hide the suicide well before it was revealed. I saw the solution too – of PD Molly being replaced by Deb Molly in the reverse of the way it was in the beginning.

    It’s an interesting use of future toy tech though.

  37. […] indistinguishable from humans. In the first Escape Pod of September, A. B. Goelman’s “Private Detective Molly” (read by Anna Eley), a sentient doll is used as a way of keeping tabs on a child, but there […]

  38. […] So is that free will, or does it only seem that way because that’s how she’s designed? You can read it and ponder, or you can hear it read on Escape Pod. […]

  39. Hey, I’m running a blog myself too and I was wondering can you tell me what’s the template you’re using? thanks.