EP188: 29 Union Leaders Can’t Be Wrong

By Genevieve Valentine.
Read by Chris Lester (of Metamor City).
First appeared in Strange Horizons, November 2007

Guest Host: Jeffrey R. DeRego

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“This is normal,” the doctor says, and, “Give yourself time, it’s
key,” and, “The hospital psychiatrist will be speaking to you about
some support groups.”

“What about Marlene?”

“She’s speaking with one of our counselors,” the doctor says. “Full
transplant is usually something of a shock to the loved one, at

“How long until I can see her?”

“That’s up to her,” the doctor says. “Can you squeeze the orange for me?”

As long as he doesn’t look, it’s fine.

Rated R. Contains adult situations and violence.

Comments (38)

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  1. Wooo! Thanks Steve! I’ll listen to this at work, you made my day ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. Anony says:

    You f***ing rock steve.

  3. Matt S says:

    The download link doesn’t work…

  4. Beq. says:

    Download link is not working. ๐Ÿ™

  5. Beq. says:

    Cannot download file. ๐Ÿ™ Please fix the broken link.

  6. Beq. says:

    Apologies for weirdness in double posting.

  7. SFEley says:

    Sorry about that; must’ve been some transient weirdness at Libsyn, our media hosting partner. It seems to be working now, so please try again.

  8. Dave says:

    Unable to DL Fire Fox says unknown error however this will not effect my continued (monthly) support of EP. I work in IT and our motto is “WHAT?, It worked before the update”

  9. Dave says:

    Steve fixed it everyone! Now lets eat!

  10. Niel says:

    And am I hungry!!!! Thanks Steve.

  11. scatterbrain says:

    Bleh. I could have written better, and I’m awful. I didn’t even know they were cops until near the end!

  12. Matt R says:

    I was able to DL in firefox, I’ve saved it and will listen to it at the gym on my ipod.

  13. L33tminion says:

    I liked the story, but it falls into one of those groups of stories I’m pretty much guaranteed to like.

    Answering the question raised by our host, I like the model of narrative continuity as the basis for a continuous self. Avoids some of the seeming contradictions of the purely materialist model and the gaps in models presuming some sort of supernatural entity. But that model doesn’t solve all problems, and this story hits one of them. What do you do when someone’s personal story defies belief?

  14. L33tminion I get it. when I was 19 I was involved in an accident where I was the target if a head on collision with a Full size Ford bronco towing a Yacht. I was on a mountain bike that it took me 2 years to afford. I used to tell people the whole story as to why i have a big scar on my forehead, with all the grizzly details. When asked now I say I was hit by a truck and 100% of the time people do not believe me and laugh. So the answer is really apathy vs. empathy and the catalyst is the arrangement of the details. this story has personal meaning to me as after the accident, my body and face were changed but, my “ME” was still the same. people treat you differently when they see you have changed in this way and i think the author captured it perfectly.

    my scar has healed well 14 years later, on cold days people still ask where did you get that scar

  15. Traveler says:

    I don’t remember this story mentioning the mechanism of transferring selves from one body to the next.

    That’s too bad, because the philosophical questions raised by shuttling “souls” between bodies seem to me entirely different from those concerning direct brain transplants (or rearranging chemicals and molecules in the donor body’s brain-matter, which is essentially the same thing).

  16. Rachel says:

    I liked the themes in the story, but somehow I wish it was longer because there seems to be so much more one could delve into.

    It also oddly reminded me of Robocop…

  17. phignewton says:

    This story seems to be annoying some listeners with good reason… his partner is the only halfway appealing character in the piece and she [spoilers!] shoots herself for apparently NO good reason, why? how does that make sense? unless perhaps in his previous body the protaganist WASNT a rather self involved, morose, depressed person… is that what the deal was? like people got entirely new personalities [and genders] and his previous personality had been fun to be around? because then yes.. perfect sense, i’d shoot myself to.

  18. Will says:

    Powerful story — thanks!

    Would have been even more effective point if the Guest Host had introduced himself as Steve Eley and stuck with it, rather than giving his true name on the blog post and at the start of the intro.

    Regardless, nice job, Jeffrey, I mean Steve!

  19. Will says:

    Incidentally, the ending was very disturbing. I can’t quite figure out why she did it.

  20. jennyM says:

    This is a masterfully written story. It covers some major themes, particularly to do with identity, but does so always from within the context of the characters and their story. This for me is the best use of SF: introducing a scientific development not yet available which brings into sharp focus a human issue that affects us all today.

    The prose is tight and economical, setting up tension from the start and increasing it gradually, naturally, through progressive scenes. Because the theme is always alluded to through the characters, rather than smashed over our heads like an expositional mallet, we are much more involved in the implications: what would I do if given a different body; how would I react to a loved one in a different body?

    I’ve been an author and creative writing tutor for over 20 years and, believe me, this is great writing. It reads easily and some readers may assume therefore that it’s easy to write. It isn’t. This is the work of someone who’s in control of her materials, and knows how to cut anything that doesn’t serve the story.

    I have a few minor quibbles, which are probably as much personal taste as anything else.

    Here and there are a few clichรฉs, e.g. the white knuckles gripping the handbag.

    Also, considering this must be set in the future, I wondered if cops would still have boys’ clubs which the odd female cop is excluded from. This seemed a slightly lazy way of showing Callaghan’s difference to the other cops.

    I felt Marlene was a little sketchily characterised. She shows very little towards Stephen other than rejection; personally, I’d have preferred a few greyer areas of affection here; otherwise, it makes it too easy to see why he should really be with Callaghan.

    I may have missed it, but there was no explanation of how the technology worked; how they got a soul into another body. This didn’t really spoil the thrust of the story, but a bit more plausibility would have enforced it for me.

    Finally, something that is possibly more of a writer’s point. I found the ending to be very powerful, emotionally. It wasn’t what the romantic in me wanted, but was perfectly plausible and tragic. But when I thought about it later, I wondered if in fact there might have been more challenge for the writer in actually getting Stephen and Callaghan. Not to end with standard romantic satisfaction, but more that this option would actually have tested Stephen more. He wouldn’t have been able to follow the prescribed, if tragic, course that most FTs take; instead, he’d have to struggle with identity issues in trying to forge a relationship for which there’s little precedent in society. Just a thought.

  21. Ron says:

    Don’t mind the guest host, but the downshift in audio quality on the intro and closing was annoying. Not a bad story, but I just didn’t get the ending.

  22. I enjoyed this story. I always enjoy a “Mind I” philosophical discussion. Was it well done? I don’t think the short format gave the author enough room to go in depth here. He just brought it up and tried to show what he thought was the result. Personally I think mind and body are one in the same and any change in one will change the other. (FYI if anyone wants to read a great book about this issue, there is an AI resercher named Douglas Hofstadter that wrote a book “I Am A Strange Loop” that is stunningly beautiful!)
    As for the wonky ending… the way I read it, she was in love with her partner before this accident and when she saw how much he changed (and she thought it was her fault) she couldn’t take it and killer herself. Pretty bleak writing, but believable.

  23. Howie Feltersnatch says:

    With apologies to John Hodeman:


    Apparently, not every Union Dues story is a good one.

  24. Daniel Cotton says:

    I, like some others, had trouble following the ending. In fact, before I read the comments here I thought the shooting referred to her shooting the suspect on the video. I never even realised she shot herself but it is midnight…

  25. J. R. DeRego says:

    Howie, this isn’t a Union Dues story. All I did was record and intro and outro for another story that has “Union” in the title.

  26. […] “29 Union Leaders Can’t Be Wrong” is up on Escape Pod! […]

  27. Calculating... says:

    i am one of the few, but i really liked it.

    but then again, i am a sucker for any story that messes with your head

  28. Jon-o says:

    This was great! Depressing, but great. It made me think of Heinlein’s ‘I Will Fear no Evil’, but takes the premise in a completely different direction. Somewhat like how Watchmen is like all the other superhero comics, but somehow telling a completely different story about the same people in the same situation.

  29. I have a close friend who underwent gender-reassignment. This story brought back a lot of the conversations I’ve had with her about becoming, essentially, a new person. In her case, like in Thomas’ in the story, she’s becoming the person she wants to be- making her outsides match her insides, so to speak. Even the terminology “FT”, mirrors “TG”, the common shorthand for “transgendered”. There are people right now going through the kinds of issues and traumas that this story explores.

    All that aside, I liked this story. I don’t quite get why Callahan committed suicide… I’m guessing she blamed herself for her partner’s death, even if it wasn’t permanent… I might want to read the text version of this to really wrap my head around it.

    Jeffrey! It was good to hear you, glad you’re doing well.

    Steve! Hope you’re back in top ‘casting form soon, we miss ya!

  30. Blaine Boy says:

    To phignewton and will and dave and anyone else who didn’t get the ending:
    His partner kills herself because she was responsible for his old body being killed when she didn’t shoot an armed suspect even though she had a clear shot (The suspect shoots at her and Stephen takes the bullet which kills him and saves her). When she sees that he finds out, she can’t take the guilt so she blows her brains out so that she can’t be saved by being transferred to another body.

    Nature vs. Nurture. Body vs. Mind. Self-Identification vs. Social ID. Most arguments I hear are that its one or the other. That there is no gray area. And to those people who believe that fighting for either side I must say: HELLOOOO!!!! It’s both! You are not yourself without your genetics or your environment. You are not yourself if your body is physically changed or if you are psychologically changed. The problem with this is the swing each individual has towards a certain side. Some people have a set personality that probably wouldn’t change despite their environment. For others, it almost completely depends on their environment. That is why, I believe, we have these arguments. You cannot predict the individual. Sometimes the individual cannot predict itself. :O

    We make our own fates; that’s why they are so hard to foresee. God made the roads for us to walk down. You choose which one to follow, how to follow it, which turns to take… Choose. It will not be chosen for you and none but yourself can walk the path. High road, low road, rocky, smooth… your choices start…now.

    The Blaine Boy

  31. aaron says:

    Nice story but the intro by DeRego and the ‘Union’ in the title threw me for a while. It would have been nice if at the beginning it had been explained that this wasn’t a Union Dues story.

  32. Schreiber says:

    Jeffrey has been psy-jacked! Now to track down Steve Alpha…

  33. Igorken says:

    Really good story.

    The fact that Mr DeRego was the host for a story with “union” in the title was sligthly confusing though, even though the story itself is something else completely.

    Actually think it could’ve done with a better title in general, but that’s my only gripe.

  34. Dotan Dimet says:

    I really really liked this story. It had my interest engaged throughout, it had tension, the exploration of the ramifications of the “full transplant” technology was full of subtle insights into human behavior, the characters were interesting and convincing, and the writing was excellent.
    The only part of the story I didn’t care for was the title, which is weak and tangential (and considering the host and venue, confusing – like Marvel bringing out an X-title comic unrelated to mutants).

    I’ve been listening to Escape Pod since early 2006, and I rarely comment unless the story is exceptional (last time I was driven to visit the site to post a comment, the story was exceptionally awful). I hear lots of “meh” stories both on EP and Drabblecast (a common problem for short fiction markets, I think – short stories are hard), lots of stories that are soppy and sentimental (or, oddly, so grim that they’re boring). This story was a breath of fresh air. Well done!

  35. Arnoux says:

    Wow, loved the stoty and plenty to think about. I like the way that the gory details of the “FT” were left to the imagination as they would have interfered with with the real plot.
    Let me throw another some thing in for discussion, his FT body had a head wound, did Calahan shoot the criminal to provide an available host?
    Is this what Stephen found so sickening about the Video?
    Calahan says “I didn’t know what to do” why else would this comment be relevant.
    Why else would Stephen have a problem with Calahan, he chose to take the bullet!
    Why are people dicussing the intro?

    Is this what

  36. besucher says:

    I didn’t really like this stoy, because I didn’t find original enough. I mean, it’s beautifilly written, the characters are freat you can imagine everything but I read the story at other short stories, so didn’t bring any new meaning to me.

  37. Steve says:

    Uninteresting and quite boring.

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