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EP195: 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss

By Kij Johnson.
Read by Diane Severson (of The Diva’s Divine Days).
Discuss on our forums.
First appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, July 2008.
All stories by Kij Johnson.
All stories read by Diane Severson.

Narration first appeared at and produced by Starship Sofa. Special thanks to Tony Smith and Diane Severson for their kind permission to resyndicate this award nominee.

She sets a stepladder next to it. She claps her hands and the 26 monkeys onstage run up the ladder one after the other and jump into the bathtub. The bathtub shakes as each monkey thuds in among the others. The audience can see heads, legs, tails; but eventually every monkey settles and the bathtub is still again. Zeb is always the last monkey up the ladder. As he climbs into the bathtub, he makes a humming boom deep in his chest. It fills the stage.

And then there’s a flash of light, two of the chains fall off, and the bathtub swings down to expose its interior.

Empty.

Rated PG. Contains 26 monkeys. Also, the abyss.

Comments (23)

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  1. Ken_K says:

    Odd. Very odd. And a Hugo nominee too. Go figure?

  2. Sushma says:

    I really liked it. Its odd, off-kilter tone, its air of melancholy, the mystery. Really special

  3. Janice in GA says:

    I heard this on Starship Sofa, and actually I’d also read it on Ms. Johnson’s website. I really love her writing.

  4. Holiday says:

    I also liked this one. Sometimes accepting and appreciating what is can be more important than understanding the why or how. As was mentioned in the story, things happen for a reason, but the reason may be beyond our understanding in that very moment. Somehow what needs to happen does without our being aware of what those needs are.

  5. scatterbrain says:

    The least I expect from a story is for it to go somewhere; “sigh”.

    A not-so bold prediction: Chiang’s Exhalation is going to win hands-down.

  6. Howie Feltersnatch says:

    With the exception of the astoundingly awful Corey Doctorow pieces that have appeared on EP–which are so bad they’re in a class by themselves–this is the worst thing I’ve heard on EP.

    I hate monkeys, and I hate, hate, hate, hate this stupid story.

    I can’t for the life of me understand how this could be a Hugo nominee. I can only conclude that the author has incriminating evidence on the Hugo staff and is blackmailing them.

  7. Onan the Barbarian says:

    Here’s the trick to the story. There is no trick. The words pour from the authors to your ears and then into your brain and then they vanish because the story is dumb and pointless and doesn’t go anywhere. The world is full of boring, pointless things (like authors who write stories where nothing happens), things that make no sense (like vanishing monkeys or the popularity of “American Idol” or why Kyra Sedgwick has a career), and maybe this story is one of them. Maybe the author chose not to be obtuse in a blatant effort to win some sort of prize, that’s cool, who can blame her.

    Maybe this is the author’s mystery, how she found a way to get this cruddy story nominated, and figured out a way to get it made into a podcast so it could bore us all to death. Maybe bad stories like this are really just houseguests in the your mental world: they are there for a while to torment you and then they leave, once you hear a story that’s actually interesting and has a plot and characters you care about.

  8. Brave Space Monkey says:

    As a rule I like anything with monkeys in it. As for this story – I loved it. It wasn’t until the end that I really smiled. Fun, different, and good.

  9. Jennifer says:

    I liked it, and I’m not the sort who normally would. Go figure. Odd but interesting, even if you never find out why things are the way they are.

  10. carrie says:

    I really enjoyed this–mostly because I could picture all the monkeys doing their various tricks. I also almost always enjoy magic that’s not magic.

    Still, a Hugo? I guess I’m a genre-ist!

  11. Chainring says:

    Is anybody else having a really hard time lately with the audio quality on EP? I have been skipping about half of the episodes recently because they have been so badly recorded or weirdly filtered in post that they have been (to me) un-listenable. In this one the letter S was so harsh that it hurt my ears and I had to turn it off. I even tried playing it back on different devices to make sure it wasn’t my hardware. I understand there’s not much money in podcasting, but decent microphones really don’t cost that much.

  12. Chainring,

    We were graciously loaned the use of the last couple of narrations by Starship Sofa while we organize and get on top of things here at Escape Pod. We’ll endeavor to increase the quality in our EP-produced episodes.

  13. […] Escape Pod #195:  Hugo nominee “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss,” by Kij Johnson. […]

  14. L33tminion says:

    @Howie Feltersnatch: Got some sort of a bone to pick? There’s hardly a week that goes by when you don’t leave a comment saying, “I hate Cory Doctorow (and, incidentally, this week’s story).”

  15. MasterThief says:

    Definitely not Escape Pod’s normal fare, but I went in with Steve’s words in mind that this is technically an urban fantasy.

    But why only 24 chapters if there were 26 monkeys?

  16. Howie Feltersnatch says:

    @L33tminion: No, it’s just that I use Cory Doctorow as a yardstick for measuring sucky science fiction (in much the same way I use Bjork as a yardstick for bad music, John Woo for bad direction, and Kyra Sedgwick as the yardstick for bad acting). If you’ll note my comment for the monkey story following this one, I don’t mention Cory Doctorow at all.

    PS: Cory Doctorow is a very bad writer.

  17. I loved this story to pieces. I take public transport to school every morning, and this was the perfect length to listen to whilst on the train and bus. Exquisitely written (and nicely performed by Ms. Severson), with a perfect payoff at the end. I haven’t been able to stop smiling about it for hours.

    @Howie: your comment shows a lack of understanding of how the Hugo Awards work. The stories are nominated by, and then voted on by, the attendees of this year’s and last year’s World Science Fiction Convention. This is not a juried award like the World Fantasy Award or the Booker Prize that are decided by committee. This is a popular award, voted on by the sf-reading public. These are readers. These are fans.

  18. Howie Feltersnatch says:

    @Jason: I guess I don’t know how the Hugos work. Clearly, then, the fans don’t know good literature. Either that, or someone’s been stuffing the ballot box, as 4chan have been doing for the Time 100 online survey.

    While “Exhale” was a brilliant story, these two monkey stories have been just downright awful.

  19. LaShawn says:

    Existentialist monkeys! I loved it. This was a fun story, though it does seem to be more of a Podcastle story. Nevertheless, fun!

  20. Lungdoc says:

    I love this story! don’t know why but I did.

  21. M J Sharpe says:

    I’m a sucker for “broken life gets fixed in an unexpected way” stories. Loved it.

  22. Gwen says:

    I love this story! I imagine some of the beating it’s taking is because it wasn’t classic “science fiction,” but the lack of explanation is part of what I loved about it.

  23. […] EP195: 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss […]