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 (88)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. randomtime says:

    Glad your back!

  2. Lexicat says:

    Wow. That was a powerful piece. I am really struck by Scholes’ complex optimism. The scene with Hitler touching momentarily, and then reacting to the (I assume) historical Hitler was amazing.

    A better world is possible. Let’s make it.


  3. Leadhyena says:

    woo hoo! can’t wait to listen to it. Welcome back!

  4. Lamna says:

    I’m glad we got a alternate history piece, the genre does not get enough attention and I hope we will see more in the future.

    As for the story itself, I thought it was okay but like a lot of alternate history it was very American, full of boundless surging optimism, which as an Englishman I find strange.

    The warning at the start baffled me a bit. I found the idea of an American conquest of Canada more distasteful than a man not being born evil. Not that it had me foaming at the mouth or anything.

  5. AaronLee says:

    Great production, it really amde me question what destiny and altruism, among other things, mean. Good show.

  6. […] 8, 2009 Hitler, Hemingway, and Chaplin walk into a bar… Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged alternative history, charlie chaplin, ernest hemingway, escape […]

  7. Ben Phillips says:

    I’m glad Steve reiterated the actual wording of Godwin’s Law. I had heard it misreported as something like, “As soon as Hitler is invoked the usefulness of the discussion has ended,” which would have precluded any discussion of this story whatsoever. Guess we dodged a bullet there.

  8. Yay, EP is back!

    I’ll listen ASAP

  9. Julio says:

    Brave choice for a come back, but it is speculative at its best. Maybe deep down we all have capacity for good and evil.

  10. Blows anything Turtledove ever wrote right out of the water, that’s for sure.

    Interesting take on the nature/nurture discussion. If the only things our natures dictate are our potentials, our capacities for intelligence, passion, and drive, then the greatest monster of one reality, raised under different circumstances, would pretty much have to be the greatest hero of another.

  11. […] run today, I listened to I Should Be Writing #110 (interview with YA author Courtney Summers) and Escape Pod #187 (”Summer in Paris, Light from the Sky,” by Ken Scholes).  I was very happy and surprised to see the new Escape Pod show up in the feed, and I’m glad […]

  12. Sushma says:

    I enjoyed the story, I wonder if it would work as well if you didn’t have the cultural knowledge of who Hitler was.

  13. Jake says:

    Welcome back Steve! Glad to see you’re making the right choices for EP and yourself.


  14. I haven’t finished listening to the story yet (because I arrived home, not because I don’t intend to! I shall resume when I drive to work tomorrow), but I had a comment on the production of the intro!

    Were you using a backup/travel rig when you recorded the intro? I’ve always been impressed with how good the recordings of your voice are on EP and elsewhere — like you are in the same room. This intro sounded kind of tinny and the sibilants were really forward.

    Anyhow, I love EscapePod and I am very glad to see episodes back on my iPod. 🙂

    Thanks for all the hard work, Steve (and everyone else), and please keep doing what you’ve been doing. 🙂

  15. jabberwocky says:

    Interesting story, the idea that if Hitler had known people that befriended him would have changed his outlook on people interesting. Though was there a WWI in this alternative world history?
    Though I have to say that the idea that Canada would have gotten subjugated into the US gave me a chuckle. Especially by a president that was also dealing with a civil war on his hands.

    didn’t notice that escapepod was missing for a while. mainly because I have been so far behind in my listening that I’m still trying to catch up on almost 1/2 a years worth of podcasts that I listen to when I have the chance. Glad to hear that things are still going a long.

  16. Unfocused Me says:

    Jabberwocky – In the story, Lincoln was able to free the slaves and avert the Civil War, which is why he had time to help Canada assert its own independence. The US didn’t conquer Canada, Canada joined the Union voluntarily.

    It didn’t sound to me like there was a World War I in the alternate history, either. There was no mention of Hitler’s military service, and he was completely unfamiliar with the gun he uses near the end.

    One of the things I thought was interesting about the alternate history the author created is that, unlike a lot of alternate history stories, the break point with our own past wasn’t at all clear. Was it Lincoln averting the Civil War? Or something even further back? How did the Bonapartes keep the French throne? It’s a lot more complex than just Hitler’s father had an accident, faced death, and became nicer to his kids.

    Great story, and good to have Steve back.

  17. maxiewawa says:

    Hahahaha I thought that was ridiculous. I heeded the warning and stopped the playback after 10 minutes.

    Making a story and populating it with famous people like that was just ridiculous to me. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief long enough before my finger pressed the “stop” button.

    When Marie Curie (the Polish girl, I assume that’s who she was!) showed up I just couldn’t take it.

    I could swallow an alternate story about Hitler, but one about Chaplin, Hemmingway… no thanks.

  18. Console Jockey says:

    Fantastic story! Many of my own comments have already been written by others, so I won’t spend time reiterating what has already been said.

    I found the story both compelling and touching. A common theme in nearly all alternative history stories is the notion that great men (and women) will do great things regardless of the setting. And though I would not wish to be misunderstood to suggest that Hitler was a great man, I would suggest he was a very powerful and pivotal figure in our “real” history. To suggest that were things different that he might still have played a powerful and pivotal role is not unrealistic (to me) and very thought provoking.

    Keep up the great work EP! I look forward to many more thought provoking alternate history stories in the future!

  19. Hamilton says:

    The story was good, but I’m having a hard time thinking through the alternate politics of it. Hitler was never really a strong ideas person and it sounds like his mirror universe support team went down in a blaze of glory. I was honestly expecting Hemingway instead of Goebbels and Chaplin in lieu of Leni Riefenstahl, but I guess anonymous death works too. It’s actually important to remember that Hitler wasn’t some kind of silver-tongued rhetoric super-polymath. He had people working for him, and his main contribution (Hey, let’s incorporate a frothing hatred of Jewish people as a main party platform) wasn’t that hard of a sell in Europe at the time. I guess I am reticent to give Hitler that much credit, even if it is fictional alternate-history good Hitler. Like Steve said, Hitler is kind of like the Devil. But if you start giving him Devil-like superabilities you take away a large part of the terrifying banality of evil that actually occurred with Nazism.

    Come to think of it, alternate Hemingway was also depressing. Dude, did you really need a character to feed the audience exposition about what happened in the holocaust?

  20. Utu Shamash says:

    Excellent story.

    While I will not debate how evil the actions of the real Hitler were, it does make me pause for thought. Would he have done such evil were it not for the previous events of his life and those around him.

    It is very easy to paint someone like Hitler as an inhuman monster. This kind of story allows us to view him as a human. He MUST have had some good in him… at some point in his life. We should not forget the evil done, but we should also not forget the conditions that ALLOWED that evil to come to be.

  21. Me says:

    I think the main reason a story like this is worth telling is, personally, was the gut-felt unease I felt listening to a story where Adolf was something approximating not just a person (and not just a cypher for evil) but actually a moral person.

    Circumstances and our history does play a big part in who we are and who we become and an evil like Nazism didn’t just happen because a specific person was in a specific place.

    I didn’t think this was the best written(/told/typed?) escape pod episode but it was….stirring and very good for the brain.

    Me lika.

  22. jabberwocky says:

    Unfocused Me – Thanks for pointing out that there was no civil war in the US, I missed that one out. As for my remark of the “subjugated of Canada” well I’m a Canadian and I said that in Jest.
    With there being no WWI so the effects of that war will not have been effected by war. I too, have to wonder what the stabilizing factors took place to prevent it.

  23. scatterbrain says:

    Next to Friction, the best Escape Pod yet!

    An undeniably powerful piece, with so many lines of drama and history criss-crossing each other it would make your head ache.

    I have an idea for an althist story about Hitler myself, and I’m glad that the plotline is still popular.

  24. DrGrizzley says:

    I’ve been listening to these podcasts for quite a while and I have to admit that this is one that I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m getting older now and I will freely admit that as I approach the day of my big 4-0 I’m drawn more and more to stories of hope. Stories that recognize that one moment in time where what you did changed the world for the better.

    In the comments above I noticed that no one really highlighted the beginning of the story. Hitler’s father inculcated in him respect and love for his fellow man. It seems like this just cements my point. Whether it’s how we treat our children, if it’s how we treat the people we meet on the street, hell… anyone.

    I gladly welcome EP back with stories like this. It stands proudly with episodes like Elites and On the Shoulders of Giants.

  25. Rob Russell says:

    Welcome back, we missed you.

    I liked the story, but then I’m a sucker for alternate histories. I particularly liked the lack of the typical explanatory passages in alternate histories that leave no room for any imagination. In this story the alternate past was like a puzzle that forced the listener to think, which is always good.

    Having read Stephen Fry’s “Making History” some months ago, I also found the American-versus-British author view of a similar alternate time period interesting. Fry suggested that a lack of European influence on the US would have made it far less enlightened and land-of-the-free, whereas Scholes would imagine it would be more so. In Fry’s story this was also not really explained, but in my mind I imagined he was thinking of the trans-Atlantic influences that probably fed into the Civil-Rights movement in the US; without them the US in the alternate 2002 was still somewhat racist.

    Anyway, again, welcome back.

  26. Sylvan says:

    Evil, it would seem, rises from circumstance: that is the lesson of this excellent story. It’s something we’ve heard before. What makes this so memorable, I think, is the very nature of the characters through which the idea is conveyed. As Steve said, Hitler is very much the Devil and deservedly so.

    But to see a “what if” and ponder other evils -a French Empire led by the 4th Bonaparte and circumstances in Russia- nicely demonstrate that much of what contributes to evil -and to good- arises from our surroundings. We are mirrors to our experiences, times, friends, families, cultures, and surroundings: our evils and goods may very well not be rooted within our souls but lie somewhere beyond us where we cannot so easily see or grasp.

    A beautifully ponderous contemplation, indeed.

  27. A. says:

    I had a really long comment typed out to this, then I realized there’s no point in posting it. Well written story, in the technical sense, good imagery etc. But a cheap cheap way to get people involved. I am glad I listened to it and won’t listen to any more stories with that particular warning at the beginning.

  28. Susanna says:

    Very glad to see you back, Mr Eley!

  29. JennyM says:

    Sorry, I just couldn’t see the point to this story. Firstly, surely any story, alternative history or otherwise, has to work on its own merits. But here, we have a main character who appears to have just gone with the flow for fifty or so years. He paints, badly, and doesn’t appear to have any kind of inner drive. With that as a foundation, it’s unbelievable he’d go on to lead a revolution.

    Second, the alternative take on Hitler is banal in the extreme. With the right nurture, he’d have become the opposite of what the real Hitler turned into. Duh. Even if this is true – and it’s a pretty simplistic notion – what basis does that provide for an interesting story?

    Third, I may have missed an explanation but what was the point in having Hemmingway, Chaplin, de Gaulle, etc, just happen to bump into Hitler? If they’re meant to be the ‘real’ ones but different versions, the coincidence is ridiculous. If they’re not, and these are just ordinary people with the same names, it’s an unnecessary distraction.

    I gave up with this story after about twenty minutes. The main character was far too passive. I also didn’t buy that a girl young enough almost to be his granddaughter and apparently attractive (very cliched physical description, by the way – small but high breasts indeed: wasn’t she wearing a bra?) falls for him because he’s ‘beautiful’. We’ve been shown no reasons to think he has any beauty about him.

    I think alternative history should rock our perceptions of what the world is by showing us what it plausibly could have been if . . . But the plausibility is absent here, and the what could have been is just not very interesting.

  30. Benjamin says:

    Steve, let me be the 99th person to say how happy I am to have you back, although you didn’t really sound like yourself in the intro. Either your regular recording gear broke down and you’re using some cheap stuff, or your long hiatus is due to an alien abduction and your memory has been wiped clean of it. I hope for your sake its the latter.
    Also, as a fellow ADDer, I can imagine what it must have been like to give the Escape Artists helm over to someone else, no matter how good they’re going to be for the project.
    We ADDers are a creative bunch, with inspirational ideas bursting out of us all the time. We just aren’t that good at keeping these wonderful ideas alive in the humdrum, pressure-filled real world.
    After getting my diagnosis at age 26 (I’m 30 now) it has been a long process of coming to terms with the fact that the very brainchildren I give birth to will have a much better life with another parent, while I make do with generous visitation rights.
    It’s humbling, but at the same time liberating to learn to say “I’m no good at organization and long-term planning. Can you help me with that?”
    All the best,

  31. Meike says:

    A polish jewish girl kissing Hitler and telling him he is beautiful – that’s were I got out (and I am neither Pole nor Jew).

    As you said in your outro, Hitler was evil, and I doubt that a loving father would have changed that (if I understood that part correctly). That would have made his deeds a kind of his father’s fault, wouldn’t it?

    I enjoy stories of alternate history, but I also think that there are some parts of history that should not be altered, as the weighing of personalities as evil as Hitler. Showing Hitler being good, to me does not emphasize the hughness of his “real-life-crimes” but softens the light around him, even if not intended. If an author does want to elaborate on the nature/ nurture discussion, please do so, that’s very interesting, but one need not use Hitler for it!

    This story made me feel very disturbed, and not in a good, literary, helpful way.

    I distance myself from this story. Of course, I respect your decision to run it, but neither do I want to hear something like that nor do I recommend a platform where stories like that are presented. I feel it inappropriate to keep up the link to Escape Pod in my blog and cancelled my subscription.

    I thank you for 186 episodes of great entertainemnt and wish you the best.

  32. Benjamin says:

    I’m a big fan of alternative history and I really like this story.

    It really made me think about the extent to which Hitler was formed by his the historical events of his time and how much all of us are.

    I had a hard time with the idea that in an alternative universe so many famous people (Hemingway, Chaplin, de Gaulle, and Hitler) would wind up gathering at a bar in Paris.

    The story really didn’t need those characters. It would have worked fine if it would have been any drunk American, any sardonic Englishman at any French bar. The point of the story was Adolf Hitler’s alternative life.

    One interesting challenge in historical fiction is to locate the turning point, when our world and that world split off.

    It seems to me that it was during the Napoleonic wars at the start of the 19th century. After a bit of research on Wikipedia (Yeah, Wikipedia!), I’m certain that the turning point is when Napoleon decides to break the Russo-French alliance and invade Russia. The story mentions the waves of Jewish refugees fleeing the Russian civil war.

    Here is a quote from Wikipedia on Russian history:

    “In June 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia with 600,000 troops — a force twice as large as the Russian regular army. Napoleon hoped to inflict a major defeat on the Russians and force Alexander to sue for peace. As Napoleon pushed the Russian forces back, however, he became seriously overextended. Obstinate Russian resistance, members of which declared the Patriotic War, brought Napoleon a disastrous defeat: Less than 30,000 of his troops returned to their homeland.

    As the French retreated, the Russians pursued them into Central and Western Europe and to the gates of Paris. After the allies defeated Napoleon, Alexander became known as the savior of Europe, and he played a prominent role in the redrawing of the map of Europe at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.”

    That’s the turning point in this alternative history. By not invading Russia, France remains THE superpower of the world, with the Napoleonic line on the throne. The Russian empire continues to weaken leading to the aforementioned civil wars.

    Regarding the references to American history – Lincoln averting the Civil War, Canada gaining independence from England and joining the Union – that could be because England was weakened, having never defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. I think, for example, that the War of 1812 would have been fought very differently, if England would have had to deal with the full force of the French empire.

    I’m not sure about the American-Spanish war referred to in the story. Wouldn’t Spain be a part of the French empire if Napoleon would have never lost to Russia? Maybe as the empire weakens, Spain gains independence and asserts itself with the US. Maybe, the US then overpowers the smaller kingdom and takes its colonies in the west of the American continent.

    Any other theories out there?

    If there are other fans of alternative history – especially with a Holocaust twist – I can strongly recommend The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon.


    Anyway, thanks for a great story and thanks to Steve for keeping Escape Pod going, no matter what!

  33. Fidel says:

    I have never posted about an EP story before but feel the need to do so because I disagree strongly with most of the other comments. I should, however, say that I have no problems with the theme of the story. JennyM has already described the major flaws in this story. There are a couple of additional points that I want to make.

    Firstly, there is a germ of a good story here. The idea that Hitler was, at least in some part, the product of his upbringing and early life is one that should be suited to the AltHist genre. The problem with this story is that its Hitler is not at all recognisable as being the same person as the historical Hitler. Alot of commenters have praised the story for (to paraphrase Sylvan) illustrating that evil arises from circumstances. But I don’t think it does do that. It just says that if Hitler’s dad was nicer to him then he would not have become the monster that we see in the historical Hitler. That parents can influence the character of their children is hardly an original insight. For the story to work, the author should have shown something in the character of his Hitler that reflected the evil of the historical Hitler – not something obvious like a hatred of Jews but something subtle that would have caused the reader to experience a small shock of recognition. This would be very difficult to do while maintaining the plot of the story.

    My second point is kind of related. It has already been pointed out that this is not a conventional AltHist where there is a single point of departure from our timeline. This means that the story does not work well as a counterfactual exercise because there are multiple points of departure. In scientific terms, it is not a controlled experiment but an observational study which can only be analysed by complex multivariate statistical methods. So there are a multiplicity of factors that could be responsible for the Hitler of the story not becoming a mass-murderer. As somebody has already pointed out, under certain interpretations of physics, “every Universe that could possibly exist does exist”. So all this story is saying is that in one out of an infinite number of possible worlds, Hitler turned out to be a nice guy.

  34. Benjamin says:

    Meike, talk about an over-reaction! After 186 episodes, you cancel your subscription over this story?

    I am Jewish and my family was certainly deeply effected by the evil that was Adolf Hitler, but I also recognize that we are also products of our environment.

    For example, had Gandhi not made it to South Africa, maybe he’d never become the amazing man and leader he turned out to be.

    But I don’t believe that we ARE our history, nor that history is RESPONSIBLE for evil acts that people commit. Events of history can set up dominoes that will topple a certain way when pushed, but I strongly believe that we always have the choice whether to push that first domino.

    Hitler, placed in the historical situation he was, chose to become who he became – a man with at least 50 million lives on his conscience (if he had one).

    In a way, this story is also an example of what would have happened if more Germans would have chosen to resist the Nazis as they were gaining their stranglehold on power.

    This Hitler chooses to kill the soldiers raping the girl. It would have been an easier thing for him to just let the dominoes keep falling, and turn his back on her.

    That’s what all too many Germans did in the 1930s.

    To deny that Hitler could have, in different circumstances, by making different choices, been something other than pure evil, is to deny that any of us have a choice about who we are. Making that argument actually absolves Hitler of his responsibility – if he had to be who he was, how can we blame him. That IS a dangerous argument.

    Hope you reconsider terminating your subscription – our world needs more stories like this one!


  35. MikeV says:

    It has been said that really good art shocks and shakes you to your foundations, forcing you to re-think core assumptions on which you base your life. I’m thinking of Picasso’s “Guernica”, Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” and George Carlin’s “7 words that you can’t say on television”. Not saying that this story is in the same league, but, it did shock and shake me (and apparently, quite a few others).

    I’m still rather nauseated by the very idea of a heroic Hitler and that given different circumstances; the cast of characters would be different, even though the end result would be similar … hmm! It is for that reason that makes this a superior story. A courageous choice, indeed.

    Welcome back, Steve.

  36. Scott says:

    I for one really enjoyed this story. I see the problems that people pointed out (multiple departures, multiple famous names, etc) as actually adding to the story. The multiple departures made it more interesting, I mean after all if one thing changes then there would be multiple implications. The famous names also help with the “shorthand” that short fiction needs to take from time to time. It couldn’t be just any drunk American or just any Brit in my opinion unless he had more room words wise to build them as characters.

    I particularly liked the glimpses from the future that he used to show the man that Hitler would become. I think beyond the whole nature vs. nurture argument it’s interesting to me to think about what makes men saintly or evil. Part of it is the choices we make. Those choices get amplified by time and resonate outward causing men to be thought of as more than they are. Hitler was evil, but he was a man. He was not a demon or a monster. Thinking of him as a man makes me uncomfortable because I think that that means any of us could head down the wrong path either by choice or by nurture and become that which we might otherwise hate. I think that discomfort is good. Otherwise we might look at a man as evil as Hitler or as good as say Ghandi and think that we could never become that.

  37. Connor Moran says:

    I quite enjoyed this story, although I knew I almost certainly I would as soon as I heard it was published in Clarkesworld–for my money, the publication with the highest success rate for great stories, print or online. From the warning and the intro, I assumed it was going to be the very different and more disturbing (for my money) 304 Adolf Hitler Strasse from the first issue (http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/tidhar_10_06/)

    In response to some of the comments, I was interested to read Hammilton’s comments on how by portraying Hitler as a successful revolutionary for good we threaten granting him some sort of supernatural powers and undermine the idea of just how simple his contribution was and how utterly banal and terrifying the evil of Nazism was. I saw the story the opposite way–although it is clear from the quotations that later generations viewed Hitler as a larger-than-life force for good, the Hitler portrayed in the story is frankly nothing special. He threatens to do the same banal look-the-other-way that so many Germans and people around the world did and do when confronted with evil. It takes very radical circumstances to turn a failed artist into a revolutionary, and the story makes it pretty clear that Hitler was a spark, not the entire fire. I see this as a story about (among other things) the banality of good.

    As for the appearance of Hemmingway and presumable death in the cause of revolution, I found it quite interesting particularly when compared against Hemmingway’s own life and work. I’ve always read Hemingway’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls” as a sort of wish-fulfillment suicide–in the story Robert Jordan thinks disdainfully at his fathers suicide before dying (arguably) pointlessly in a lost cause–but with the feeling that he can now join his old warrior of a grandfather figuratively if not literally. Hemingway himself took the way out of his and Robert Jordan’s father, something that interacts with the reading of that story in an interesting way. This alternate Hemingway adds another dimension, something I quite liked about the story.

  38. jabberwocky says:

    One thing that I have to wonder is, If there was no WWII then would we have Nuclear power today?

  39. Ken_K says:

    Ick. I hope you didn’t pay much for this lame ass story. Glad you’re back and well though. 🙂

  40. Howie Feltersnatch says:

    Actually, the intro didn’t need to warn us that the story would be offensive (because it wasn’t). What it should have warned us of is the fact that the story was lethally boring. Man, I thought it took Cory Doctorow to write something that boring and inane. But this author just took boring to a whole ‘nother level.

    Blah, blah, Hitler sat around painting, then he went to have a drink with Hemmingway and Chaplin at a bar, and then he stopped a rape and then years later he’s hailed as a great humanitarian. Only, we’re not shown the most interesting (least plausible) part of the story. Just a bunch of boring minutiae from Hitler’s boring life hanging around boring drunk people.

    Alternate history stories rely on a gimmick. “What if X had happened.” Unfortunately, the gimmick is invariably far more interesting than the story itself. Here, try this on for size:

    What if Hitler hadn’t been such a worthless shit, and tried to stick with painting. WWII wouldn’t have happened, and maybe he would have gone to Paris and been inspired by the US democratic style of government to start a movement that would have stopped the endemic anti-semitism in Europe and eventually led to a greater world peace, with him being hailed as a humanitarian.

    That’s pretty much all there is to say. It’s an interesting idea, but then padding it out with a lot of pointless scenes of everyday life in a bar is completely pointless.

    Bad story! Bad! Bad!

    Also, the intro and outro seem to have been recorded on a circa-1979 Radio Shack cassette tape player. What up?

    Now I’m off to write an alternate history story where I didn’t just waste 50 minutes of my life listening to a really a sucky story.

  41. amphetamine says:

    Alternative history is usually the most humorless, mind-numbingly boring subgenre of speculative fiction – there’s a reason it doesn’t get its own shelf at the bookstore.

    That said, I was willing to put my usual prejudices about it aside and give this one a shot – but this many famous people in a bar sounds forced, like a bad joke.

    After all that warning buildup about possibly being offended, I kept waiting for something – anything – to evoke any emotional reaction in me. This story didn’t get anything out of me but an eyeroll.

  42. steve pota says:

    the story was great, absolutely loved it.

    but Steve`s comment at the end seemed to me to defeat the message of this story. I am referring to Steve comment that the Nazis were evil and that the holocaust on some levels can not be touched, no poetry after Auschwitz, and the like.

    To me when we say that the Nazis were just evil and thats it, we fail to see how such a terrible act can be committed (and probably will again unless we escape such conceptions) by any nation state regime that scapegoat a minority in times of economic crisis to appeal to the masses and as a reaction to socialism.

    The idea to me that we could all be Hitler in another time universe said to me at least then when we give in to the eager to scapegoat or give into nationalism flair we have the potential to become just as bad as the nazis.

    But anyway I am not surprised Steve missed the mark again, I have come to expect that from his as an editor.

  43. potter says:

    the story was great, absolutely loved it.

    but Steve`s comment at the end seemed to me to defeat the message of this story. I am referring to Steve comment that the Nazis were evil and that the holocaust on some levels can not be touched, no poetry after Auschwitz, and the like.
    To me when we say that the Nazis were just evil and thats it, we fail to see how such a terrible act can be committed (and probably will again unless we escape such conceptions) by any nation state regime that scapegoat a minority in times of economic crisis to appeal to the masses and as a reaction to socialism.
    The idea to me that we could all be Hitler in another time universe said to me at least then when we give in to the eager to scapegoat or give into nationalism flair we have the potential to become just as bad as the nazis.
    But anyway I am not surprised Steve missed the mark again, I have come to expect that from his as an editor.

  44. Nerfherder says:


    I don’t remember Steve saying that the fact of Hitler’s evil explained anything; he just said he was evil. And by choosing this story, I think Steve proved that he didn’t feel that the Holocaust was untouchable. I’m sure that as host/editor, he feels the needs to acknowledge people’s concerns up front when dealing with a subject as charged as this one is.

    But, anyway, worse than your snotty little swipe at Steve or your sanctimonious little sermon was your opinion that “the story was great.” As others have pointed out, it was gimmicky and boring crap. Make the main character anyone other than Hitler, and would it have been published anywhere by anybody? And throwing in the historic side characters takes it to the level of high-school English class, where it may have gotten a C+ only on the merits of grammar and punctuation.

    Steve’s only mistake was in selecting this story in the first place, but that’s just my opinion this one week. I’m grateful for the show, and occasionally not liking a story is a small price to pay.

  45. offended says:

    Mr. Eley, I am OFFENDED that you think Escape Pod listeners are so easy to offend.

  46. DebbieNoir says:

    I’d like to see a alter-univ where Hitler meets Martha Stewart….wait, am I going to offend home decorators?

  47. DrCrisp says:

    What I found interesting was the glimpses of Hitler in America. The fact that, although his personality was changed to a degree because of his father’s love and encouragement; large parts of it were not. When confronted with a terrible problem (the rape) he dealt with it with violence. He was violent (kicking chairs). His meloncoly. The fact that in America where just glimpses and hints are given, he is shown as being a great orator, one that can sway crowds of people to his point of view. Hitler, for his multitude of evils, had two great powers. One was military genius, a power he still possesed even up to 1944 with the Battle of the Bulge. Winter and being outnumbered by American’s finally defeated his military gifts. But oration was his finest gift, one that he peverted. Imagine having that ability in English.

    I disagree strongly with Jesse Jackson on most all issues, except one. I heard him speak against Ebonic teaching one time, talking about his old English teacher, sermons, etc. In this day, its difficult to remember what the power of oration can do, but Jesse Jackson has it. I was well disposed to not like him at all but his message resonated in me against ebonics and for the proper teach of English. And you know, we don’t talk about ebonics any more. One man with a voice and a skill can make all the difference, in minor issues of good, or major issues of evil.

  48. red says:

    I love alternate history stories but I thought this one was awful… cheesy, contrived, and self-righteous. The problem was not with Hitler as the hero of the story, this could have been very compelling, especially given the depth of feeling most people have about the subject. The author had all this at his disposal… and squandered it. I found it offensive only because it tried so hard to be shocking, had all the right elements for a powerful story, and failed miserably. The worst part was the “dream” Hitler had about how things could have been. I listened until the end hoping it would redeem itself, but it didn’t.
    I love escape pod, but lately the story choices have been disappointing… I guess that’s just the way things go sometimes, I’m certainly not canceling my subscription over it! I’m glad escape pod is back, even if just to complain about:)

  49. […] week’s Escape Pod podcast featured a story called “Light from the Sky,” about an alternate world where America spans most of the two American continents, where […]

  50. steve potter says:


    I dont wana turn this forum into a flame war, and dont really understand why you would choose to hybird your post with both a crisiation on my opinion on both steve and the story; along with your own dis-approval of the story.

    found it a bit weird and it didnt really make a strong statment.. I think we are all intitled to our opinions and steve even welcomed our comments .. anyways peace man !!

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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.

  54. Tim says:

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

  55. 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.

  56. 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.

  57. 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.

  58. 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)

  59. 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.

  60. DrCrisp says:


    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.

  61. 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 !!

  62. 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.

  63. 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.

  64. 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!

  65. 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!

  66. 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!

  67. 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.

  68. Homero says:

    Great story. Congratulations and keep on challenging our brains!

  69. 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 🙂

  70. 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.

  71. 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

  72. 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.

  73. Igorken says:

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

  74. Igorken says:

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

  75. 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!

  76. 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.

  77. 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.

  78. Homero Menchaca says:

    Loved the story.

  79. Omar Mendez says:

    Loved the story.

  80. 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?

  81. 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.

    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.

  82. 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.

  83. Blaine Boy says:

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

    Blaine Boy

  84. Blaine Boy says:

    Dammit. $190 MILLION. Sorry.

  85. 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….

  86. 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?

  87. […] 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 […]

  88. […] 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. […]