EP186: Chrysalis

By Mary Robinette Kowal.
Read by Cunning Minx (of Polyamory Weekly).

Sponsored by CONTAGIOUS, by Scott Sigler.

People ask me if I ever get involved with the subjects of my
documentaries. I have a difficult time imagining that they would ask
my male colleagues the same question, but they seem to expect women to
be more emotional. In response, I tend to grit my teeth and answer
very patiently with another question. How could I do my job if I were
part of the story? Only by maintaining a sacred distance could I have
any hope of understanding someone’s life. A documentarian records, but
does not participate.

Rated G. Contains alien emotional drama.

Comments (41)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Calculating... says:

    it took me a little while to get into the story, but once i was caught i couldn’t stop listening!
    i really enjoyed this story, vanessa seemed so human to me, or rather, very american in that her job meant so much to her, to the point where she would cause pain to another being. and yet she still had enough compassion left to end pain.
    i personally approve of her choice.
    but thats just me

  2. DrCrisp says:

    Very descriptive. Immersive in that the writer assumed you knew the world she was in and dropped little hints until about half-way thru to let you figure it out. Bit of a predictable ending.

    I liked the YouTube comment Steve made. There was a Robin Williams movie, I forget the title, about a guy that edits people’s video lives from an implant in their head, this story was a nice twist on that.

  3. Dr Daniel Cotton says:

    Arrh! I wanted to scream, what happened at the very end? What did they do when the final fight scene was played?

    Really good story. I agree with Steve about the good question asked well aspect. But like many good stories there was a second aspect to it that was also good. Anyone who has been a PhD student will be familiar with the “When are you going to finish?” from friends and loved ones. They seem to think you can only start living your life when you have finished your study but the work is a big part of our lives, it’s important that it’s done right, and some of us even enjoy it.

  4. […] screw on the side with just the consent and agreement of their partner, they are honest and open EP186: Chrysalis – escapepod.org 01/09/2009 By Mary Robinette Kowal. Read by Cunning Minx (of Polyamory Weekly). […]

  5. […] Chrysalis by Mary Robinette Kowal – Podcast of a science fiction story in which aliens who go through transformative life stages hire documentary filmmakers to capture aspects of their lives that may be forgotten between stages. The narrator grapples with the tension between being a neutral observer and an active participant. […]

  6. scatterbrain says:

    So let me get this straight: in this story’s future history, we have mastered intersteller travel and extraterrestrial communications, but not over-population and our cameras are still hand-held? I enjoyed the story, but these things are going to bug me for a while…

  7. phignewton says:

    …does documentarin-ing stuff actually do anything usefull, on a personal level i mean since the purpose seemed to be for the creature not some larger media market. If viewing ones past can jog memories free perhaps but if its just like stuff that happened… maybe is best to count it as extraneous and discard.

  8. Shamash says:

    So nice to hear Minx’s voice back on EscapePod.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this week’s story.

    Overall 8 out of 10.

    And have the Minx back soon, her voice instantly draws me into your stories.

  9. Gleeb says:

    Oh wow… I’ve been listening to EscapePod for years and this is the first time I just absolutely had to comment. I love the concept of this species so much. Excellent story and very representative of why I am so into scifi.

  10. Jennifer says:

    I liked this one, once I got into it and figured out what was going on. Very interesting journeys for the characters here.

  11. Bingorage says:

    Like the alien reversal of human “age priorities”.

  12. Sushma says:

    As a filmmaker, I had to love this one. But I do have to point out that the ideas about a documentary filmmaker’s obligation to be “objective” sounded oddly dated for a story set in the future. I mean postmodernism did happen right? But maybe filmmakers will start talking like that again in the future, what do I know, I am just a filmmaker!

  13. Tiktok says:

    I can’t decide if this story is a tragedy about someone giving up their ideals or an example of a kind of love I didn’t know about before.

    The finale, with the two documentaries, definitely made me think about how fragile the alien society is, if reality can be reshaped that easily.

  14. valjean24601 says:

    I have a theory about sci fi stories with single word titles. That is, when a science fiction story comes along with a single word title It’s probably going to be a good story. Examples:

    Friction by Will McIntosh: my favorite story of escape pod ever

    Pressure by Jeff Carlson: another one of my favorites. Something about
    human cyborg stories told in first person makes me enjoy them immensely

    Elites by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: great story. kind of spooky

    Tideline by Elizabeth Bear: won the Hugo Award for best short story

    Pervert by Charles Coleman Finlay: strange story and a very good one

    Usurpers by Derek Zunsteg: excellent story. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to it.

    Reparations by Mary Haskell: good story, though time traveling stories usually give me a headache when I try to figure out the timeline.

    Resistance by Tobias S. Buckell: nice story. the mercenary Pepper was a great character. the entire government situation was like something out of an Isaac Asimov book

    Unlikely by Will McIntosh: great main characters. I’ve listened to this one many times

    Chrysalis by Mary Robinette Kowal: very interesting story. the entire idea of humans integrating into alien society is an interesting one.
    good story.

  15. Blaine Boy says:

    I don’t know what to say about it. It seemed kind of blandish to me. I mean, it was a nice story, but nothing really noteworthy jumped out for me. I must be getting jaded with all these awesome stories.

    The Blaine Boy

  16. The Catacombs says:

    Your robot still thinks it’s 2008. Just so you know. Thanks for the great work, folks!

    (BTW, that’s not the same robot that does the self-destruct countdown on the Nostromo, is it? Cuz she’s hot.)

  17. Colon xR says:

    Wow great story. To the guy that complained about the cameras I think that in the future some things will still be kept they way they are now for nostalgia. Maybe it will be retro then?

  18. Colon xR says:

    To the guy that complained about the cameras I think that in the future some things will still be kept they way they are now for nostalgia. Maybe it will be retro then?

  19. Paranatural says:

    This story kind of left me flat. It was well written, and the idea was kind of interesting, but I think this would have done better if most of the extraneous exposition had been cut out and it were made into more of a flash piece.

  20. James says:

    Is this podcast on hiatus?

  21. James says:

    Is this podcast on hiatus? I know Ive said this before but I have not received an answer.

  22. James says:

    Is this podcast dead?

  23. Daniel says:

    @James: Try the forums for an in depth answer.

  24. James says:

    @ Daniel.

    Thanks for trying to help. For what it’s worth I would miss this podcast, if it were to die, more than any other, with the possible exception of Starship Sofa

  25. vvvlad says:

    Could you please give me a pointer to a specific forum thread?
    I have trouble finding it…


  26. Mike says:

    Steve, You have disappeared on iTune, my iPod and just about everywhere. I am going through extremely painful withdrawals. Not sure where to post this message but I hope you are well.

  27. Stephen says:

    Sooooo …… any ideas on when this story machine thing will be up and running again?

    I’ll just hang around my PC patiently waiting for the next update.

    Hope everyone is well,

  28. Phil says:

    Steve, We are freaking at your absence. You’ve built a large community that cares about you. You have our support, please let us know that you are ok!

  29. Bill says:

    “Somebody Loves You” – Eels

    Woke up with a bang
    And a bug on your face
    It crawled in your mouth
    And gave you a taste of
    The good life you left behind
    But i think you’re gonna be fine

    Somebody loves you
    And you’re gonna make it through

    This nagging malaise
    Is more than a phase
    It feels like a job
    But no boss ever pays you to lay there
    And think how you’ll die
    While the tears start to well in your eyes

    Somebody loves you
    And you’re gonna make it through

    One more saturday
    All alone through the night
    You’ve got to be sure
    When you turn out that light
    That it’s going to turn on again
    You’ve got to be your good friend

    Somebody loves you
    And you’re gonna make it through

  30. Jeff S says:

    Hope all is well. Come back soon.

  31. Jake says:

    Dear Steve,

    This crowd you’ve built up over the years of your hard work is not just a group of people, its a group of your caring friends.

    As friends, we care, and because we care, we worry. I for one enjoy listening to your intro and outtro as much as I do the stories. So, even if you don’t have time for the stories, please let us know how you’re doing. More importantly, let us know if there is anyway that we can help, whether money, time, suggestions, expertise, etc.. We owe you, Steve, for keeping us company through many lonely nights and our own personal struggles. It’s time we support you.

    My very best,

  32. Rachel says:

    I’m getting worried… I don’t much care if Escape Pod goes on another hiatus–man, you would deserve a one for 24 months and I think people would still cheer and wait for you–I would.

    I tried to be patient, but now I’m just worried… is everything OK? I want to know you, personally, Mr. Eley are OK. That you are doing OK. I can wait for Escape Pod indefinitely, but this silence leaves me in the dust worried that things are not so OK in the Eley household.

    I’m more concerned for you, Mr. Eley than any sense of withdrawal I may be facing, and I’m sure a lot of us feel the same. Whatever it is, technical glitches, personal or otherwise, I think I would like to know that you are doing OK….

  33. Roz says:

    Just adding my good wishes to all those of your other friends/fans on this site. We all miss the stories – but many of us are more concerned for you and miss the Eley-chat even more than our ration of Escape-ism. You have been very open on the podcast about the troubles you have experienced in the past few months and I had hoped things were getting better. Do take care and I hope that you are ready to make contact again soon.

  34. Jeremiah says:


    Never mentioned anything on the forums before. Would love to hear from you about you. Like others have mentioned, escape pod is important to us, but after 2 years of continual listening, YOU (also your product, but more importantly YOU) are a source for inspiration for many of us. Geek dad updates are the best, and we miss just the snippets of your life. Please post something, or if you are unable, perhaps have someone else post something just letting us know that you are alive and well, and if there is anything that we can do for you. While not rich, I can pray for whatever ails you. be safe.

  35. Rachel says:

    relief Steve Eley said on his twitter:
    “Happy Birthday to me. Bittersweet. Upside, people who love me. Downside, keep flashing back to last year’s birthday. Sticking to the upside.”

    “Escape Pod will be up later today. For real.”

    I was truly worried that something horrid had happened.

    Happy Birthday, Mr. Eley. I hope your B-day this year was better than last year’s. Best Wishes for this year.

    And I’m glad you are alright. I was truly worried….

  36. Rachel says:

    Just helping to update the situation… Eley said on his twitter:

    “kay, a little longer on the next EP. Sorry folks. I think I may have to boycott February 5. Is it possible to buy calendars without it?”

    So, I’m sure patience would be appreciated. ^_^ We can give him that, can’t we?

  37. dave says:

    Take your time. I will be listening when it returns.

  38. Siderite says:

    Was I the only one who couldn’t listen to this podcast because of the echo?

    And yeah, my withdrawal is not so intense, since I have other 10 podcasts to listen to, but this is still my second favourite!

  39. […] other Escape Pod story this month is Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Chrysalis” (read by Cunning Minx), in which a documentary maker records the breakdown of a relationship […]

  40. fabkebab says:

    Very clever premise/idea – well done