EP183: Beans and Marbles

(Update: Reposted with editing mistakes corrected. My apologies for the errors.)

By Floris M. Kleijne.
Read by Stephen Eley.
First appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, August 2005.

When Flight Control assigned us utility privileges, I don’t think they
expected me to brew espresso in the centrifugal head. But the weight of the
espresso machine was well within the parameters they’d set, as was my use of
a couple of ounces of fresh water and a fraction of the ship’s power supply
each day, so there was nothing, really, they could say or do about it.
Privileges are privileges, and if the purpose was to give both of us
something to keep us happy, it worked for me. My morning espresso ritual
kept me sane. I looked forward to it every day.

Richard, however, wasn’t quite as tolerant as Flight Control.

Rated R. Contains violence, strong language, and disturbed individuals. Who use strong language and violence.

Comments (48)

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  1. Raving_Lunatic says:

    huzzah! A new episode. Looks good- I’ll be sure to post a full review later.

  2. Julio says:

    I’ll attest to the fact the brazilian coffee is really, really good. Maybe enough to drive a man crazy over it. This story has some parallels with breaking strain. Creepy listen, kept me engaged.

  3. phignewton says:

    hehe, spaaaaaaaaaaace mmmmadnesssss! i’m sorry but this story sucks, the losing of marbles bit is oppressively standard fare and the coffee bit never quite gells into something having to do with anything else. Is fun to hear Stephen ramping up the reading though, even if it isssa a bit distresssing in context with his coments on his mental state. Please hang in there Mr Eley, we’re all rooting for you!

  4. ExiledinSeattle says:

    Space madness. Shoulda called it Seattle madness. Lack of sunlight, lots of coffee, sounds familiar…

  5. ExiledinSeattle says:

    I’m still confused about what actually happened to the coffee beans. Any thoughts?

  6. Raving_Lunatic says:

    I think the coffee beans were the lump in his bed at the end which he tried to ignore- the proof he was the mad one.

    This story seems to have gotten a bit of bad press. I’ll agree that it didn’t add anything to the genre- it didn’t engage any emotions, like stories have in the past, and it didn’t present any new ideas to SF- the idea of space insanity and the claustrophobia of long journeys causing physchotic outbursts- it’s been done before. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like the story. It was light and quite fun, rather than some of the more heavy works I’m used to reading, which made a nice change. I could tell that our friend the protagonist was “the mad one” from pretty early on, but that just made the story more involving. All in all, a fun listen.

    As for the outro, that actually made me think about my own life. It’s possible that everyone bottles things up, particularly me. I know, deep down, that the reason I won’t tell people about my problems is that I slightly scared of the change. Not telling anyone is just more of the same, and whether I can handle it or not doesn’t really matter. But talking to someone about what I feel would change everything, and I realize now that it’s far braver to ask others for help, and face the uncertainty in your future, than bottle up your feelings and just know more of the same. So thanks for that.

    Also I was very happy to be mentioned in the outro. I’m a member of the family now evil laugh!

  7. LittleLotus says:

    You know, I just wanted to scream, “What are you doing Dave? Daisy, Daisy…over the bounding…” Although this was a good story (not great mind you) I couldn’t help want to listen. I love the dialog and the frantic behavior that coincided with a messy mind but this is the millionth time I’ve heard it. What surprised me the most was the way the story progressed. As I recall the crazy one gets put in an airlock for safe keeping, but I love how John doesn’t want to admit he was wrong so strongly that he couldn’t drink his “missing” coffee.

    I understand what it means to bottle everything up; I used to as a kid and broke a few windows in the process. Although I personally don’t believe that a psychologist is for everyone, a friend’s ear is usually the perfect outsource for me.

  8. Joe Ego says:

    Please please please take care of the several edit points left in this episode!

  9. Raving_Lunatic says:

    Yeah, there’s one hotspot right in the middle. But that’s about it.

  10. PodcastJunky says:

    There are several spots that need to be edited. It’s a “click click, line redo” kind of thing starting at minute 23. Otherwise good so far, I’m only 28 minutes in.

  11. Dan says:

    I liked this story, reminded me a lot of 2001: space odyssey. I think I liked it most because it told the story of madness from the point of view of the crazy one.

    Having enjoyed the story I still do want to point out some oddities.
    A) Since when do you leave the survival of hundreds of people up to two people? Don’t you need three to mitigate risk etc?
    B) The protocol to relieve a crazy person REQUIRES you to tell them before that person is revived?!

    That is al

  12. Me says:

    Like the edit points, this comment is being repeated and left in also:

    Please take the errors out of the final ‘cast.

    Seriously, at one point it repea
    …final ‘cast. Seriously, at one point i..
    ..point it repeats soo many time
    ..losing the thread of the senten


  13. Lucky Ace says:

    Creepy. Loved Stephen’s delivery, as though Richard were the mad one. I also loved how the story quickly but smoothly escalated from minor contention to a heinous murder. Creepy indeed…

  14. SFEley says:

    Sorry for the editing problems. Illness and haste. I’ve posted a corrected file.

  15. maxiewawa says:

    I thought those edit points were part of the plot… that the protagonist had gotten stuck in a time warp, a la groundhog day.

    I thought those edit points were part of the plot, as if the main character…

    Hang on….

  16. Me says:

    But, editing aside, I really really enjoyed this story.
    The overall plot wasn’t a surprise and, as others have said, it didn’t introduce brand new ideas to the genre but I thought it was a well told tale of paranoia and delusion and how people would tend to crack under responsibility.

  17. valjean24601 says:

    Good story. Not exactly memorable but good.

    The outtro is what affected me the most. Right now I’m dealing with a lot of problems and I really need to talk to somone. The only problem is that there’s no one I trust enough to unload my problems on. It’s a tough situation to be in and I don’t know how to deal with it.

  18. Arlechino says:

    The story was good. I know that it wasn’t meant to be a surprise who the crazy one was, but I think I would have enjoyed it better if we’d been kept guessing longer. The moment I realized that the main character was completely unreliable, i stopped caring as much about him, which made me lose a bit of the thrill/horror of the story. The reading was really excellent, though, and made an ok story great.

    On the topic of the outro Steve: I’m glad you’re aware you’re in trouble. I know Escape Pod is one of the more important things in your life, and I know you don’t want to let us listeners down. But you are more than just a podcast, and I hope you’re not letting escape pod hurt the rest of your life. It’s not good for you, and, ulimtately, not good for the show. Spekaing as just one listener, I would be perfectly ok if you missed an episode, in order to get caught up and release the next one on time- it might give you a sense of contorl in your life.

    Your work amazes me, and significantly improves my quality of life, so I feel I owe you AT LEAST a week off to improve yours!

  19. Gary H says:

    Yes, the story is not original. Space madness has been done (very well, in fact) in the past. It was predictable, and nothing surprised me in the least. All the being said, I still enjoyed listening to it. I was entertained. And being on the edge of madness, having my coffee taken away would surely push me over the edge.

    And about the editing, unless you donate to escape pod on a regular basis, I don’t think there is any room to complain. This is the best podcast out there, mistakes or no. Thanks Steve.

  20. I enjoyed it. Anyone who has lived in shared accommodation should empathise with the paranoia and irritation about the tiniest little things and I for one am a bitch before my morning coffee! Its the one luxury to get me out of bed before I go to work at my tedious job.
    On a personal hang in there Steve. I’m a bit under the weather myself and know how much of an effort it is to get things done ,even things which are a passion to do.

  21. scatterbrain says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this story; Kleijne has managed to take an old, stagnant, near-kitsch sub-sub-genre, space craziness, and give it new life.

    But what I did notice during the episode is that Escape pod has an awful lot of coffee-based and coffee-related stories, such as Bean There and…well, that’s already too many for me , giving me no choice but to do this: Steve Eley, I declare you a latte-freak. Welcome to the ranks, comrade!

  22. Calculating... says:

    this was truly scary. i was constantly afraid for the other characters in the story. it has always scared me a bit when a person can be so calm about murder. just the fact that he was not nervous and could talk to him and calmly kill him with no remorse…that was scary.
    steve, i’ve been at the bottom and it sucks. no other way to put it. i tried to fix it myself. i’m still not back to who i was before, but talking to my friends and family helps. and i agree with Arlechino, if you miss a podcast, i would definitely not hold it against you. escape pod means a lot to me, but without you, escape pod is nothing.

  23. tim says:

    Okay, though I knew the clicks and stuff were meant as editing markers, I actually liked hearing them. It sort of underlined the disconnect and discombobulation of the main character. Unintentional, but effective IMHO.

    As for where the beans went? He simply used up his whole stash and couldn’t face the fact.

  24. zoem says:

    I liked this story. Even though it was a fairly well-covered theme, there was enough tension that there was always the chance that the insane one wasn’t who you thought it was. That, and the idea that even thinking that someone is messing with your stuff is enough to put you over the edge, under stress. Don’t. Touch. My. CHAIR!

    As for Steve’s comments, kudos – it’s both difficult and brave to admit to problems that in our society often can cause others to view one as weak. Needing help is a natural human condition – it’s sad that it’s viewed so poorly. We can’t all be cowboys (or astronauts!), and we shouldn’t have to try to be. This story definitely captures the perils of that, taken to an extreme.

  25. Audita Sum says:

    Great story. I, too, identified a bit too much with the main character. I was on his side until the very end, and even when he was insane, I sort of felt like he was justified. What especially struck me as good about the story was the attention to space-detail. I liked the helix of floating blood, and the axial tilt, and everything. Cool stuff.

    I hope you feel better soon, Steve.

  26. Sabre Runner says:

    Like everyone said, it’s not a brand new piece and quite expected from the words “System clock”. Other than that, I liked the take on the space madness idea. And besides some nitpicking stuff like the mission design, the only thing that really bothered me was the fact that what really happened to the coffee beans, the crunch of the whole story, went unexplained.
    As for performance, besides some editing annoyances (which I’m starting to think are a problem with my player) it was a great delivery and of superb quality.

  27. Jeff says:

    Cool story.

    I’ve had roommates that I’ve wanted to throw out of an airlock, too (especially if I haven’t had my morning coffee!).

  28. DrCrisp says:

    This story was like being in an auto wreck, you know what’s going to happen and every maddeningly slow second just adds to the macabre terror at the end.

    Ok, your opportunity to make me feel stupid. I don’t get the click and repeat the story part again. Somebody explain it to me in small words.

    It also reminds me of another not terrifying but chillingly cold and horrifying story involving an airlock; The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin in 1954. A little girl stows away on a ship with just enough fuel to get only the weight of the pilot and drugs to save a planet. With her added weight, the ship will not make it and thousands will die. You know what the end will be, you don’t want it to be that end, but that is how it ends because thats reality. It will leave you numb.

  29. GrnEgz says:

    What a spooky story! I really enjoyed the point of view the story was written from. It was a neat feeling when the realization hit me that the person telling the story was the one losing his mind. It was a trip to travel down that slippery slope of twisted logic.

  30. […] #161 (Gifts for the Holiday Runner, hint hint honey); Accident Hash #278 (Blame Chance); Escapepod #183 (Beans and Marbles).  I didn’t finish the Escapepod episode — the cold weather kills the battery on my […]

  31. Dylan Heath says:

    I thought this was a pretty good story. I really liked the detales the writer went to to describe life in space and the monotony the life has to have. That being said, I knew from the beginning that the narrator was the crazy one. But I’m not sure how that could have been avoided.

    I don’t think it is much of a stretch to compare this story to 2001: A Space Odyssey. What made the movie scary was the complete lack of humanity that Hal had for the humans on board. This story takes that theme and changes it into something else.

    I think the narrator drank the coffee but lost the time like he did in the bathroom. He just wasn’t told about the lost time, so he didn’t know. And because he was telling us the story, we didn’t know.

  32. Rod Basler says:

    I am surprised that everyone compares this to 2001, while ignoring the more obvious parallel: Poe’s “The Telltale Heart”. And Podcastle just ran his “The Cask of Amontillado”, too; I see that the Escape Artists’ synchronicity engine is still running at full speed.

  33. PK says:

    Haven’t these people ever heard of power adapters?

  34. PK says:

    or extension cords?

  35. LaShawn says:

    And this is why coffee is bad for you. If you can’t have it first thing in the morning, it drives you MAAAAAAAD!!!!

    I bet if he was a tea drinker, he’d be much more calm. Zenlike psychopaths are so much more nicer than stark-raving-mad ones.

  36. Shotinthedark says:

    I liked the story but would like to echo the desire to be kept guessing longer. And although there was a need for a trigger, I thought the coffee disappearing was a little weird and the one bean under the sheet? Did his other self put it there to piss him off?
    I did really like the way the story was told from the point of view of a mind that was not sane but believed it was. Without the bean on the bed he could have defrosted a new copilot and repeated the story. But then it would have been a horror story rather than a sci-fi story.

  37. Will says:

    Great story! (even if an oft-told tale).

    PK: note that he needed power and gravity. Living quarters had gravity (well c force) but not the helm.

  38. michikobud says:

    I thought this story was really well thought out. I especially loved the descriptions of getting lost in a good cup of Joe, and I felt that I was sipping that cup right alongside the narrator… even though I am a tea drinker. 🙂

    I also loved the switch where you finally realize that the protagonist is not quite all there.

    The story was really well read, but I felt the “freaking out” portion of the story (when he is in the Cryogenic Chamber) was a bit rushed.

    Well done! Love the stories, so THANK YOU!
    (PS: this is my first commentary, yay!)

  39. dcg says:

    The positioning of a ‘old’ story in a new theatre. More emphasis on making the story much darker and less obvious would have provided greater differentiation – could have (and should have) turned it off after the clock was set back… However the monotony was enjoyable as is always – Steve’s reading…:-)

    And.. it did remind me of HAL…

  40. DrCrisp says:

    Dave: Open the espresso machine, Hal.

    Hal: I can’t do that Dave.

    Dave: Open the &)()(& espresso, Hal!

    Hal: Maybe you should take a sleeping pill and lie down, Dave. Dave, what are you doing with that frother. It looks like an electric toothbrush, Dave…

  41. Will says:

    Hey – did anyone else see the headline in Slashdot “Coffee Cups in Space”? Good timing.


  42. Will says:

    Forgot to note the most relevant part. The first paragraph states it best.

    NASA astronaut Don Pettit loves his coffee. So it comes as no surprise that he found a way to drink coffee from a cup, instead of the traditional straw, on his day off Sunday aboard the International Space Station.

    No word on whether he’s lost his beans yet.

  43. DrCrisp says:

    Will, timely article. http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/081124-sts126-zerog-coffee-B.html

    takes you more directly to the article.
    And this is a video of the actual drinking:


    And not to misquote Professor Harold Hill from “The Music Man” when asked about steam cars he says, “They went and invented one.”


  44. Dereks says:

    Lol, i seriously thought this clicking with repeats was part of the story, wasn’t it????

  45. trinityseven says:

    I really enjoyed this story, it doesn’t matter to me if it is of a similar theme to other stories or not, it was an enjoyable romp.

  46. Arvedui says:

    nominates #40 for Quote of the Week

  47. Arvedui says:

    I hereby nominate #40 for Quote of the Week.

  48. Nice story, but Steve’s reading was particularly good in this episode. It’s funny how the reader/narrator can make such a strong impact (for good or ill) on a particular story.

    In this case, I just gotta compliment Steve on a solid performance.