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EP176: How The World Became Quiet: A Post-Human Creation Myth

By Rachel Swirsky.
Read by Frank Key (of Hooting Yard).

Humans laid the foundation for the sixth apocalypse in much the same way they’d triggered the previous ones. Having recovered their ambition after the Apocalypse of Serotonin and rebuilt their populations after the Apocalypse of Grease, they once again embarked on their species’ long term goal to wreak as much havoc as possible on the environment through carelessness and boredom. This time, the trees protested. They devoured buildings, whipped wind into hurricanes between their branches, tangled men into their roots and devoured them as mulch. In retaliation, men chopped down trees, fire-bombed jungles, and released genetically engineered insects to devour tender shoots.

The pitched battle decimated civilians on both sides, but eventually — though infested and rootless — the trees overwhelmed their opposition. Mankind was forced to send its battered representatives to a sacred grove in the middle of the world’s oldest forest and beg for a treaty.

Rated PG. Contains war, invasion, exodus, mass extinction, religious revival, and a lot of mud.

Referenced Sites:

Resonance FM

Reality Break Podcast

Comments (48)

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  1. Me says:

    Now that was bleak.

    Wonderful and lively along the way….but so very bleak too.
    The choice of reader was spot-on, imo.

  2. Matthew says:

    WOW! Ms Swirsky! I never knew! That was really something.

    This story is a gorgeous example of why I compulsively consume speculative fiction: you wrenched my brain to a place it would have never got to by itself.

    Mr Key’s reading was superb, as usual.

    This story is now in my Top Five.

    Thank you Mr Ely, Ms Swirsky, and Mr Key.

  3. And do please take a moment to listen to Frank’s “Hooting Yard on the Air” podcasts. They are truly wonderful recordings.

  4. The Devil's Advocate says:

    Wow, the beginning is just like “The Happening”, if the movie, you know, hadnt sucked.

    This is an all too true depiction of the fallacy of man and our legacy of self-destruction, and I think that is why this story is truly unsettling.

    The criticism: The reader, his voice just dosent do it for me, I have to really concentrate to make out what he says. I almost turned it off in the first ten minutes, and after that, the necessity to concentrate on what he was saying left me slightly removed from the story.

  5. Changwa Steve says:

    Oh for Pete’s sake…mankind is so evil that we will inevitably destroy the planet, so let’s all just kill ourselves and let the trees enjoy their sunshine?

    I am rolling my eyes so hard right now it’s giving me a headache : )

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hey Steve,

    Why don’t you start a rating system for these podcasts and have them sorted by listener favorites and such?

  7. phignewton says:

    screw the trees, i’m sorry but if the universe was like the earth, covered in life, it might be possible to view them assa possibly superior life form but it ISNT, the universe as far as we can tell is completely devoid of life, is possibly even against whole concept on principle, this could be IT, a lone putpost at the mercy of whatever cataclysmic event comes along.. so no way, untill the sequoias develope intersteller travel capabilities they dont deserve to be the dominant life form, lay about in the sun and feel the birdies chirping isnt gonna get the job done, its gotta be something capable of biting and chomping and scrabbling outa the mud!

  8. Ed from Texas says:

    I’ll have to agree with the dissenters on this one. While engaging and well written, the trope of evil humanity destined to wipe itself out due to greed/stupidity/arrogance/corruption is tiresome.

  9. Jumper says:

    I loved this story – it was excellent fun. However, in relation to some of the comments above I was thinking we should have a story where “greed is good” and turn the whole “Mankind is evil” cliche on it’s head. Maybe I will try to write one. Maybe I will just go ahead and conquer the world!

  10. Norm says:

    Am I the only one that felt this was dry and text-booky?

  11. Travis says:

    Great Story! Maybe it was a little dry, made moreso by the reading, but I kind of liked that, in this instance, as it lent a bit of documentary feel which fit the subject matter.
    This kind of story both inspires and frustrates me. It touches on some great concepts and yet also brings up questions that don’t get answered. (I’ll spare you all the specifics, here.)
    As far as whether or not it is really Sci-Fi, I would say yes… and no. The genetic engineering of hybrid manimals definitely seems like Science Fiction to me. On the other hand, trees don’t have brains so depicting them as sentient beings screams “Fantasy!”
    Anyway, this was an awesome EP episode. Thanks!

  12. Bingorage says:

    Needs more explosions and spaceships.

  13. George says:

    Excellent! And Steve – the choice of narrator was spot on. Mr Key’s reading fit perfectly with this Lovecraftian cautionary tale.

    The pacing of the story is exemplary, and the economy of words enviable.

    Best Escape Pod story this year!

  14. Brave Space Monkey says:

    Brave Space Monkey agrees: more explosions and spaceships… oh and a Space Ninja!

    You can’t have a SF story without a Space Ninja…

    [Monkey grins wildly, pleased with his joke.]

  15. tiffarific says:

    I second the “dry and text-booky” comment

  16. Gary H says:

    Great reading, almost as good as Steve playing the police dog. As for the story, well, the idea that we are doomed to destroy ourselves is far more fantastic than the talking trees. Yes, greed and arrogance dominate a lot of the news, but that’s only because human compassion isn’t as glamorous. It’s only in retrospect that we appreciate people who show a true love of humanity, but we wallow daily in the grotesque and selfish acts our species is capable of. Maybe I give our species too much credit by believing that most of us are decent folks and in the end good triumphs over evil. We are a good species not destined to destroy our planet. (I hope)

    And no listener ratings, I prefer to form my own opinions, then post comments about why my opinion is the right opinion.

  17. Chainring says:

    I don’t know if text-booky is the adjective I’d use, but it didn’t hold my interest and I turned it off about halfway through when I couldn’t find a story arc or figure out why I should care about endless descriptions of reimagined humans. This could be an interesting world for a story, but this episode left me searching for a story to care about.

  18. Howie Feltersnatch says:

    Only Frank Key’s terrific reading saved this story. I could be entertained listening to Frank read the phone book. Actually, I would have preferred listening to him read that over this overwrought, silly piece of crap.

    For those that can’t bring themselves to listen, here’s the plot: Trees get mad at people, so people agree to turn into insects and animals. Later, the insects kill the animals, the Earth gets mad and kills the insects, and then some butterfly people come out of the ground. May I please have three ounces of whatever the author is smoking?

  19. Raving_Lunatic says:

    I’ve got to say, I was unsure here. I would agree that the “evil human race” is tiresome, and the revenge of gaia will soon become a religion due to global warming ect. However, I have to say that this is still one of my favourite escape pod stories so far, along with Friction, So Lonesome A Life Without Nerve Gas. I noticed that Frank Key just seems to narrate the stories I like, which is odd.

  20. scatterbrain says:

    Ah Frank Key, you have returned. If I ever write something bleak and cynical and needs an audio release, I’ll know where to look.

    The story was excellent; I myself was reminded of the Orion’s Arm worldbuilding project. I didn’t know Rachel Swirsky wrote SF; I must look out for her more…

  21. Hey George, do you even know what Lovecraftian means?

  22. Ned555 says:

    The story for me was mostly dry and boring. There was no touchstone or personality or character development. I felt like I was reading a history textbook, and a dull one at that. Each plot point could have been an engrossing story by itself, but instead it was glossed over. Trees become sentient? How?! Humanity turns themselves into animals? Tell me more! Nope, instead we got the old “humans are the root of all evil and destroying the earth” rant. How trite and dull. How about something with a little optimism for a change?

  23. The Devil's Advocate says:

    The story may have been dull, like a history lesson, but thats what it was meant to be, the trees were telling a story of the falling of the human race.

    And yes it was negative, but look at where we are headed with all our fighting, we are just one nuclear bomb away from the butterfly men. Escape pod has run happy stories, we occasionally need a depressor to remind us of what we need to fix.

  24. DrCrisp says:

    H.G. Wells…lite. Think “The Crystal Egg” or the description of life at the end of the “Time Machine”. Either that or the author stayed up all weekend watching Flash Gordon re-runs, dropped acid, and had visions of Moth-Men from Mars.

    Mind, if that is what’s required to get such creative work published I suppose I should buy the whole Flash Gordon set.

  25. F5iver says:

    Loved it loved it loved it. This story had such character, creativity and majestic span I was rapt. Throw fantastic caution to the wind and get me more of those!

  26. Hyperion says:

    This is my first time listening to an EscapePod story. I did so because it was Rachel Swirsky’s, chief editor of PodCastle, and I have fallen in love with that site (and by extension, her).

    I wanted to see how Miss Swirsky wrote, and I come away impressed.

    While listening, I kept trying to pull out the allusive parallels to modern times, but gave up and just enjoyed the strangeness for strangeness’s sake.

    Excellent job.

  27. Benjamin says:

    Every book on writing says, “Show; don’t tell.” Now I know what a story is like when it violates that simple bit of advice and it is not pretty. So for the next story please “show” and do not tell.

    I want dialogue, feelings, and character development.

  28. ThermonuclearPenguin says:

    Great myth Rachel and Frank as usual makes it his own.

    As I have read the comments I think that many of the listeners missed the whole point of the “myth”, and that is that it is a myth. The definition of a myth is the usage of a fictional story to explain social ideals, assumptions and unexplained phenomena. That is why we they are called myths rather than laws or axioms.

    You need to put yourself in the place and time of the myth telling, not the myth happening. The narrator is attempting to explain their current situation with what “knowledge” they have. To attack the myth as a factual futuristic condemnation of homo sapiens is a projection of your own fears and sensitivities (and maybe you should start a career in US politics). I think that the real goal of this myth is to not say that man is evil. Rather this myth was put forth so that you would think about how your actions today my be construed in 100 million years.

    I believe that there is good in all, as well as malevolence. However it always seems to be the bad parts that are remembered. So think about what you do today and don’t suck!! Be kind, be helpful, be creative, be loving, be cool, and maybe some day in 100 million years a sentient myth master tree will tell their saplings; you know those humans really tried to do their best, it was those sneaky evil Koalas that brought doom upon us all.

    Thanks again Rachel, Frank and Steve, it was another fine delivery by EP.

  29. IanisIan says:

    I really enjoyed this story, i listened to it twice and still liked it. sentient trees, engineered animal men and all. the recording passed the i can hear it on a second rate MP3 player while operating heavy machinery test.

  30. Calculating... says:

    i must agree with the majority on this one, the reading was wonderful, but the story was overdone.
    i am tired of hearing the hippies complain about how we are hurting the trees and how we would all be better if we lived at one with nature.
    i wasn’t so much depressed about the end of the world, that is going to happen whether i used my cell phone or not. it was more the monotony of the story.

    i get it, i’m killing the earth. but i’m sorry, i would rather listen to EP on my computer with the A/C running and drinking my cappuccino than deny myself some fun in hopes to prevent the inevitable

  31. Mike G from LV says:

    I third the “dry and textbooky” comment, it’s a trap the fantasy writers expecially seem to fall prey to. I saw what the writer wanted to do, and it was a noble goal, but it just didn’t get there.

  32. [...] Fiction: Listen to “How The World Became Quiet: A Post-Human Creation Myth” by Rachel Swirsky at Escape [...]

  33. Icepick says:

    While well-written and poetic at the sentence level, I found this one kind of rambling and shallow.

    I just wanted something or someone to care about. Didn’t find it.

    The Butterfly-men with a lifespan of a week were the intellectual-nympho-emo leaders? Really?

  34. WrensEye says:

    I throughly enjoyed this one. It’s definately in my top ten. As for the “dry and textbooky” comments, I saw that as part of the story, as if it were being told in a historic reference. And it’s fiction FGS…
    I agree with TermonuclearPenquin whole heartedly.

  35. Blaine Boy says:

    If I may…read Thermonuclear Penguin’s analysis of the story and you pretty much get it. Sometimes you need to stop over-analyzing and just read the story. I’m not saying that you don’t just read the story and cast it aside, but come on people…I mean honestly, you must be getting jaded from all the philosophical sci-fi stories. (My recommendation to EP is to bring in the more fun, less thought-provoking stories to de-jade the crowd and then we go back to the more philosophical stories. You gotta balance these things out. Yin and Yang dudes)

    On Mr. Frank Key’s reading: I really enjoyed it. I don’t mean to be taking shots at his age or anything, but his reading reminded me of my grandfather telling me a story and so I REALLY liked it.

    On the sci-fi/not sci-fi issue: yes it is sci-fi because of the weird genetics, sci-fi does not necessarily exclude fantasy and so the two are allowed to exist in the same story. If you don’t like it that way I’m pretty sure you don’t like it if your peas and mashed potatoes touch each other. (If you get what I said just now, you probably are one of those people.) I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just analyzing…but not over-analyzing. :P

    Thank you Escape Pod and fellow ‘Scapers for being there for me. It’s like having a family there. We don’t always agree, but we still share some fun times together. (And we actually talk a lot more than my regular family. :P)

    Your faithfully,
    the Blaine Boy

  36. Raving_Lunatic says:

    Blaine Boy: I agree with a large amount of what you said. The only thing I disagree with is that we should bring on the philosophical stories, because while fun stories have their place, these are the ones that breed new authors and inspire new ideas.
    On the other hand, it’s grossly unfair to just play the stuff I like…
    And like everyone here, I don’t know what it is I want until I hear it and realise that it’s amazing.

  37. [...] in Sri Lanka (among other things) and that’s why I felt so vibrant whenever I came across this quixotic piece of science [...]

  38. SF Fangirl says:

    Didn’t do it for me. Too “dry and text booky” perhaps. I didn’t care for the lack of overarching plot and the message of “humans are evil”.

  39. [...] the form of a potted future history of the world, “How The World Became Quiet: A Post-Human Creation Myth” is fanciful but tedious. Rachel Swirsky’s writing is good, and Frank Key’s [...]

  40. cold ethel says:

    (insert raspberry here) … i liked the reading …. but the story became tedious with the melding of species and i gave up out of boredom… synapses started popping out of existence kinda thingie-wotsit. sorry.

  41. Azure says:

    I enjoyed this story. I did keep wondering when it was going to end, but not in the bad way. It was textbooky, but some of us actually enjoy reading textbooks, and I think that tone was intentional.

  42. Lucky Ace says:

    I didn’t entirely agree with the message, but the modern invocation of an ancient mythic feel was astounding. Also, unless the author says otherwise (and she very well might have) this sounds not like a history. The earth is said to have split the great continent after the pure race of man was extinguished–with lightning or some such hysteria. The trees said that the age of men had not yet passed, which makes the story a lot less bleak seeing as how man gets a second chance (the chance that we are apparently living now). The story implies that the great geneticists, or “butterfly men” would rekindle the pure human race as we know it today. I think there is a sort of triumph in man’s adaptability and persistence–even nobility (the suicidal grasshopper men). Perhaps man can even change his destructive nature (a call to change society today). Anyways–its a beautiful story though, no matter how you take it.

  43. Lucky Ace says:

    Correction–its does* sound like a history, not like a future projection.

  44. Stephen says:

    This story really blew me away. The narration was a big part of that, but it was the story itself that really stuck with me. The “textbooky” comments seem offbase to me. True, the style is not that of a story with characters and individuals and so forth. But it’s not a textbook either. It’s a creation myth. And beyond that, it’s a creation myth being told by the trees to their children as part of an oral tradition. The stylistic voice here is not that of a blocky human textbook but rather the voice that one would expect of the sentient trees defined in the story.

    The butterfly men hit me particularly hard, and the final lines of the story are as haunting/poetic as any I’ve heard.

  45. [...] in which Clay is caught, read Silverberg’s later work, Dancers in the Time Flux. A recent Escape Pod story comes to mind, as well as Olaf Stapleton’s Last and First Men and even H.G. Wells the [...]

  46. [...] in which Clay is caught, read Silverberg’s later work, Dancers in the Time Flux. A recent Escape Pod story comes to mind, as well as Olaf Stapleton’s Last and First Men and even H.G. Wells the [...]

  47. [...] of my story “How the World Became Quiet: A Post-Human Creation Myth” (later printed at Escape Pod and in Best American Fantasy 2) in Electric Velocipede #13 for [...]

  48. [...] of my story “How the World Became Quiet: A Post-Human Creation Myth” (later printed at Escape Pod and in Best American Fantasy 2) in Electric Velocipede #13 for [...]