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EP187: Summer in Paris, Light from the Sky

By Ken Scholes.
Read by Alex Wilson (of Telltale Weekly).

Adolf Hitler came to Paris in June 1941 feeling the weight of his years in his legs and the taste of a dying dream in his mouth. He spent most of that first day walking up and down the Champs Elysées, working the stiffness out of his bones and muscles while he looked at the shops and the people. Some of the dull ache was from the wooden benches on the train from Hamburg; most of it was age. And beneath the discomfort of his body, his soul ached too.

He’d never been here before, he thought as the Parisians slipped past in the noon-time sun. He snorted at the revelation. A fine painter you are, he told himself.

Rated R. Contains sexual violence. Also may be offensive to some for historical reasons.

Comments (89)

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  1. While I anticipate the outrage this story will generate, I absolutely loved it. Whenever reading the histories of heroes, villains, nations, and civilisations, I’m always astounded by the many, many chances that arose for things to have gone the other way.

    If I were a great writer instead just a good one, this is the kind of story I’d strive to tell. Emotional, insightful, well-told, and thought-provoking as hell, it makes me wonder about the roads not taken, not just in my own life, but in everyone’s lives.

    The infamous traitor Winston Churchill . . . Liberace the boxing great . . . the monster that was Gandhi . . . Richard Nixon, the greatest President of the 20th Century . . . a gospel written by Saint Judas Iscariot . . . Any number of possibilities are out there, had things just gone left instead of right at a pivotal moment in time. I can’t imagine just how many stories could be there for every one of those possibilities.

    Kudos, Mister Scholes, thanks for making me think today.

  2. ItsMe says:

    I really agreed with what Scott said a few boxes up, but I felt the need to try and say it again in my own words.

    This story challenged me think. Somehow the writer was able to turn a profoundly evil historical figure into a pitifully sympathetic protagonist and eventually into a heroic fighter of injustice.

    It’s actually a bit painful to reflect on Hitler in this way, as though it is somehow taking away from the evil he was and did. But maybe it should be painful. Maybe it should serve as a reminder to us, that we aren’t as far away from evil as we hope to imagine. And, perhaps, that our capacity for good is just as great.

  3. DrCrisp says:

    non sequitor. Sorry, but just had to put a note in here. Jonathan Coulton’s song about the Presidents made it on the Wall Street Journal’s Wall Street Journal This Morning. I know I know not dealing with the story, but just had to post it somewhere.

  4. Tim says:

    This is an incredible story: fun, intelligent, romantic, and moving.

  5. Nerfherder says:

    Steve Potter:
    You’re right – I flamed. Sorry, I thought you took an unnecessary shot at Steve at the end of your first post. That, and the fact that I really did think the story was craptacular, pushed me over the edge… maybe I shouldna done it that way.

    But the story sucked, Steve’s still cool, and you took a cheap shot.

    I can elaborate on why I think the story was so bad: It relies completely on the gimmick of making Hitler a sympathetic character. If you took this story and changed only the name of the lead character, (say, “Hans Mitler”), who would have bothered to listen through to the end? It’s an ambitious gimmick, but not enough to make up for the weakness in plot and storytelling. The addition of Hemingway, de Gaulle, and Chaplin takes it into Forrest Gump territory. You wouldn’t buy it if Hans Mitler was hanging out with all of these guys.

    Those who praised this story seemed to like the idea of it, while those like me who hated it, hated the actuality of it.

  6. theblade2009 says:

    I am a Jew, whose family came from Poland a few generations ago, and whose grandfather died in a Nazi extermination camp. My background doesn’t give me any sort of authority on this subject; it would be unfair for me to claim otherwise. But my background does bring this subject much “closer to home” and makes more personal for me.

    I’ve listened to almost every Escape Pod episode, but this was the best one. I almost cried in the middle of the story.

    I listened to this story right after listening Dan Calin’s Hardcore History episode “Addicted to Bondage.” Carlin argued that every one of us has an attraction to evil. Deep inside we are all able to be slave owners, ready to sacrifice others’ freedom and dignity for the sake of our own convenience.

    This story made an opposite, optimistic argument: even the most evil among us have the capacity for powerful good deeds.

    I think both Carlin and Scholes are correct and together show how complicated human beings really are.

  7. Xenoix says:

    I liked the AltHistory story it was slow at first, but I got stirred up with the high flying idealism at the end.

  8. Hannah says:

    I’m glad escapepod is back, but I didn’t like this story much at all. Alternative history is a very interesting genre, I enjoyed Paul Auster’s last book “Man in the dark” a lot, for example, and a big part of that is about an alternate history-story.
    This story, however, only annoyed me. Reading here, though, I see that many people disagree with me. Maybe you have to be American to enjoy this one? The immense optimism in it (and belief in bombing for democratic change, I might add…possibly) do seem strange to me, as someone else above already remarked, and on top of that the optimism is mostly about America anyway, in this story. And I found that a bit irritating. But alright, maybe I’m wrong, maybe I didn’t get it or it’s just me or…

    Anyway, I’m glad escapepod is back, like I said, and I hope the next episode will be more to my liking (like most of them have been! Good work, overall!!! –> you see, I feel kind of guilty about giving bad feedback and can’t handle it very well :-D)

  9. Jerry says:

    Does this mean all of us in this timeline are just elements of good Hitler’s bad dream?

    Great story choice, hoping for more alternate history in the future.

  10. DrCrisp says:

    Jerry,

    I am currently doing my tax returns and right now I feel like I am in Hitler’s bad dream! Only he could have dreamed up the current IRS tax code.

    If I have offended any IRS agents, I grovel appropriately at which ever graven image form I should.

  11. steve pota says:

    hi nerfhearder,

    I appreciate your replies and understand where you are coiming from, and how you were sticking up for steve is cool.

    I guess my swipe was triggered from a few mistakes I have thought steve has made as an editior. The first on Sep 11, the way he handled that event was messy at best, and the second this pod cast..

    now about the story, why I liked it was the message that deep down inside us lies the oppertunity for both good and terrible terrible evil. what the nazis did was not some one in a million evil thing, but something that could happen at any moment. being a foreginer living in another country I feel this, and having been a biggot in my own country to foreginers there; I know that we can all make a difference for either good or terrible terrible acts .. so we gotta be deligent !!

    anyways cheers guys !!

  12. Sick says:

    Hi Steve,

    Alwas glad to see an EscapePod story pop-up in my iTunes.

    So, in the alternate universe the United States is a benevolent democracy? Whoever could have thought of such a thing.

    I don’t mind the alternate history genre, but in my opinion it requires a more thorough insight in history. Revolutions do not start with one guy doing something heroic. They require long-term preparation, commitment and dedication by a large number of people and, if successful will most likely end up changing one ruling class for another.

    Turning Hitler into a good guy saving the Jews seems like a gimmick.

    It was just to optimistic/naive for me.

  13. MrBassMan says:

    I’m somewhat over 30 minutes in the 50-minute story, which I think ought to qualify as giving it a fair shake.

    Eh. I wish we had something better to celebrate Escape Pod’s return.

    It doesn’t offend me. But neither has not reached out and pulled me in. I don’t CARE about the characters. And having them be based on famous people just feels like a distraction. It’s not up to Escape Pod standards.

    I don’t know at this point whether I’ll be going back to finish up the last 20 minutes or not.

    That said, welcome back Steve, I hope all is well with you, and that we’ll be hearing more from you very soon.

  14. Homero from Monterrey says:

    I really liked this story. I was spending a lot more time listenting to Pseudopod because I wasn’t finding good stuff at EP, but with this one I must say you made it back to the top of my chart. Congratulations and give us more good stories!

  15. Homero says:

    I really liked this story. I was spending a lot more time listenting to Pseudopod because I wasn’t finding good stuff at EP, but with this one I must say you made it back to the top of my chart. Congratulations and give us more good stories!

  16. Homero says:

    I really enjoyed this story. I was spending a lot more time listenting to Pseudopod because I wasn’t finding good stuff at EP, but with this one I must say you made it back to the top of my chart. Congratulations and give us more good stories!

  17. Homero says:

    I really enjoyed this story. I was spending a lot more time listenting to Pseudopod because I wasn’t finding good stuff at EP, but with this one I must say you made it back to the top of my chart. Congratulations and keep on challenging our brains.

  18. Homero says:

    Great story. Congratulations and keep on challenging our brains!

  19. Jeff says:

    I love alternate history, and this story was a good one in my opinion. The most important thing fiction (science fiction, in particular) can do is make one think, and this story delivers on that point.

    Gotta say though, as a Canadian the idea of the US “helping” Canada gain it’s independence made me cringe a bit. Most of us are proud to be a part of the Commonwealth and wouldn’t want to be a part of the United States, thank you very much. But hey, I’m not here to start an international incident. Good story :)

  20. Jeff says:

    Gotta say though, as a Canadian the idea of the US “helping” Canada gain it’s independence made me cringe a bit. Most of us are proud to be a part of the Commonwealth and wouldn’t want to be a part of the United States, thank you very much. But hey, I’m not here to start an international incident :)

    I love alternate history, and this story was a good one in my opinion. The most important thing fiction (science fiction, in particular) can do is make one think, and this story delivers on that point.

  21. [...] כאלה – אבל מה לעשות – שבדיוק בזה דן הסיפור הקצר ’קיץ בפאריז, אור מהרקיע’?. סיפור שהורדתי (חינם וחוקית) כפודקאסט מהאינטרנט [...]

  22. jramboz says:

    Well I for one was deeply offended. If there’s one person who should never, EVER be a sympathetic main character, it’s Ernest Hemingway.

    Tongue firmly in cheek,

    – Jason

  23. blackcorridor says:

    I’m Russian-Jewish and I enjoyed this story deeply. I think the pivotal moment when Hitler started caring about the fate of the Jews beyond “damn that’s a shame” was when he saw someone he loved be directly affected by it. That’s not gimmicky at all, that’s just how life happens. When someone you love develops cancer, suddenly cancer is an issue for you. Also people underestimate the fact that for a very long period in ‘this’ Hitler’s life he was able to pursue his art with the blessing of his father and good companionship. As an art student I know this changes many things for a person. I’d like to point out that ‘this’ Hitler was completely unconcerned about Jews until he started developing a relationship with the girl.

  24. Igorken says:

    yawn …
    still stuck on one good EP story in 3 months…

  25. Igorken says:

    For people who like alternate history about WW2: check out The Separation by Christopher Priest

  26. M. Night Shot-his-wad says:

    The whole time I was enjoying this tale I was thinking, “Thank goodness Steve had the courage to present such a cool story and let the listeners decide for themselves if it was for them.” I loved it. Thanks, and glad you’re back!

  27. Calculating... says:

    I am disgusted with the idea of anyone lessening the evil acts done by Hitler and Germany by writing a story suggesting that Hitler maybe wasn’t that bad of a guy. As for Germany in the 1930’s, no one spoke up against what Hitler was doing because they LIKED what he was doing. You obviously need to re-educate yourself on what exactly was going on in that time period. Of course not every German felt that Hitler was a Godsend, but the vast majority did. Nobody liked the Jews during that time, why do you think it took the US so long to intervene? The government knew exactly what Hitler was doing, and they decided only to act when the people found out and said it was wrong. And please don’t try and tell me that my facts are wrong; I have been studying the Holocaust and WWII for many years. Hitler was a dangerously powerful man, he started attacking the communists first, not out of hate, but out of a need for a scapegoat, and when that plan fizzled out, he turned to the Jews.
    That being said, as much as I love escape pod, I am quite disturbed that THIS is the story you chose to run Steve. I thought it was an interesting take on alternative history, but I really feel that it lessens the enormity of the Holocaust. I am sure there are many who will disagree with me, but being a devout Jew, I am really offended. Hitler might have been a victim of circumstance, but this story makes him seem like he was just a regular Joe who was always doing the right thing, which is not a historically accurate portrayal of Hitler in the least. He was a man who sought a means to an end, who lusted after power and control, and was always determined to accomplish what he desired. It is highly unlikely that a loving daddy would have squished that desire and lust for power out of him.
    Steve, I’m very glad you are back, but please, make a wiser decision on stories next time.

  28. Too many comments on this story already, but…. Blah blah blah offensive, cool, not well thought out… so what? Some people seem to forget that some fistion (especially speculative fiction) is just supposed to be a bit of fun and…well… speculative. Maybe nurture is more powerful than nature, maybe not. What the hell is wrong with thinking about it? I read about or listen to people doing and thinking things I don’t like all day every day. It’s all good. It makes me think.
    Thinking good.
    PTP

  29. Homero Menchaca says:

    Loved the story.

  30. Omar Mendez says:

    Loved the story.

  31. Lea Anne Locke says:

    I’ve read most of the comments but no one has mentioned what I thought was the glaring point of the story: If the guy named Adolf Hitler had had a different upbringing, was encouraged in his art and loved by his parents, didn’t turn out to be the Jew-killing monster, someone ELSE would have done it anyway.

    And why is that? Why does the author assume that if Hitler wouldn’t have killed the Jews, someone else would have?

  32. Blaine Boy says:

    All the world is a stage. And each man in his time plays many parts.

    If all the world is a stage, the greatest heroes and villains are great a improv. Or at least some of them are, the rest just stick to their parts. I loved this story. I thought it was a stretch that the U.S. owned the entire Western Hemisphere via conquering and willing assimilation, but hey anything is possible. It was hard to imagine this new Adolf Hitler as an exasperated, but not furious or deranged painter and a loving father-figure because of what Mr. Eley said. Hitler is the epitome of human hatred. Every time that I heard his name, I basically had to pause the story so I wouldn’t lose out on it because I couldn’t connect the two different Adolf’s together. It was a powerful story about a controversial story and Mr. Scholes pulls it off very well. Superbly done sir.

    Sincerely,
    The Blaine Boy

    P.S. It’s great to have you back Steve. It’s been rough for a while, but every trial has its purpose and rewards.

  33. Blaine Boy says:

    To Calculating:

    You are absolutely right. Hitler was an abomination and he has burned in hell ever since he committed suicide. But I must say that most of the public loved him, because he was better than nothing. Germany at the time was the biggest loser the world over. No German could afford anything basically because after WWI, Germany had to be pounding out so much money to pay off reparations that at one point 1 loaf of bread cost about (if I remember correctly) 40 million franks (a hell of a lot of money even if you calculated it to uninflated dollars). Germany was on the verge of anarchy and unfortunately for all the world and Germany especially, Hitler took power because he could and did reverse their depression (mostly through militarization). He also united Germany through their hatred of the scapegoat Jews. Now Germany became the lowest of the low because of him. Hitler has blackened the history of Germany for the ages and I hope for all of humanity that he is burning in lowest pit of hell for all of eternity for what he did to the world, to his people, and most especially to the Jews.

  34. Blaine Boy says:

    Sorry, it was actually 480 million franks which would then equal $190 uninflated dollars.

    Blaine Boy

  35. Blaine Boy says:

    Dammit. $190 MILLION. Sorry.

  36. chris says:

    Sorry, but ‘chuck’ ?? As far as I’m concerned, that’s when the story jumped the shark …

    Yes I’m behind on the episodes….

  37. scyllacat says:

    @Calculating: Wow, did you try really hard to right exactly the expected “I’m offended” comment? I SWARES, saying that the story lessened the “enormity” of the Holocaust, are you sure you’re human? Cuz you failed my Turing test. I think you’re a kneejerk liberal. Of course, I haven’t flown this story past any of the Jews I know personally. Maybe it’s all that and a side of Freedom Toast.

    I’m not terribly impressed with the writing on this one. I’m terribly disappointed that so many people think that meeting two or three famous ex-pats in Paris would be so unusual. I’m sure I would love to have a much more action in the story… or much more real history. I felt pretty disjointed and lost here, there were so DAMNED many changes, not what I’m accustomed to from althist.

    Steve, I’m sorry things have been rough for you. I sent you a gratuity. I can’t pay you what this is worth.

    And for all the nattering nabobs, really, let them what has edited publications throw stones. I ingest free media like this to find out what sorts of things people are messing around with, not just what’s already been tightened up and guaranteed to have the right punch. I reckon when Steve/EP branches into a new kind of story, they’re TRYING something. The people who are ready to drop out because they’ve heard one (or even TWO) things they thought fell flat… well, good riddance. I stopped bothering trying to keep friends who would dump me for one mistake, but I’m disappointed to find such shallow behavior among intelligent folk.

    Steve, in sum: Not the BEST evar, but I’ll take more alternative history in my speculative fiction, sure. But can we have something funny soon?

  38. [...] two stories this month (as with PodCastle, though one of those was a “Giant”). “Summer in Paris, Light from the Sky” by Ken Scholes is alternate history, a subgenre for which I seem to have a blind spot. Here [...]

  39. [...] I have long (at least long as defined by the internet) been a fan of Escape Pod. I think they publish really good short fiction on a regular basis. Best of all, it is free (unless you decide to donate). Today I listened to an alterntative history story by Ken Scholes called Summer in Paris, Light from the Sky. [...]