EP207: Wonder Maul Doll

By Kameron Hurley
Read by Kim the Comic Book Goddess

Appeared originally in From the Trenches

We set down in Pekoi as part of the organics inquisition team, still stinking of the last city. We’re all muscle. Not brains. The brains are out eating at the foreigners’ push downtown, and they don’t care if we whore around the tourist dregs half the night so long as somebody’s sober enough to haul them out come morning. When the brains aren’t eating, they’re pretending to give us directions in the field, telling us where to sniff out organics. They’re writing reports about
how dangerous Pekoi is to the civilized world.

We’re swapping off some boy in a backwater push the locals cleared out for us. We’re sitting around a low table. I pass off another card to Kep. Luce swaps out a suit. She has to sit on one leg to lean over the table. It’s hot in the low room, so humid that moths clutter aroundour feet, too heavy to fly.

The boy’s making little mewling sounds again. Somebody should shut him up, but not me. This is my hand. I’m ahead.

Rated R for violence and sexual situations.

Comments (19)

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  1. Ken_K says:

    A soldier’s conduct will reflect what kind of society they come from and what their change of command insists on. I was a soldier for four years and i never acted that way and I never saw or heard of any that did.

  2. Ken_K says:

    Oops. Meat to say “chain of command” in the above post. My bad.

  3. MasterThief says:

    Good story, and a unique twist with it being an all-female combat unit (though it’s the second one I remember on EP – Kristine Rusch’s “Elites” being the first).

    One question – I didn’t quite follow what it was this group of soldiers were looking for in these “treaty violations.” They were looking for “organics,” but it seems like these “organics” had been somehow genetically modified. And the soldiers and the people back home seemed to have some kind of implants that were messing with their reproductive system. Aside from that, I have no idea…

  4. me says:

    What brings me to Scifi is the sense of ideas and wonder the stories have. Unique worlds and points of view. That sort of thing. This story lacked all of that for me. War is terrible, dehumanizing and apparently girls can be as cruel as boys. This is not news. I would suggest try to put more depth to your world before you slather on the face eating goo next time.

  5. Brave Space Monkey says:

    The twist wasn’t so unique, we heard it here before — remember the half-way house for women-vets, run by a women-vet.

    This story was more troubling than the other for the graphic violence, and no sense of a “hero”. I disliked everyone in the story, I didn’t hear one character I thought was redeemable.

    I wondered if having a male voice read the story would make is more (or less) disturbing… Not sure. Would I have enjoyed this story if it was on pseudopod? Maybe.

    Was the story inspiring – no, but it did provoke a response – this one.

  6. Brave Space Monkey says:


    I thought of this as I wrote my early response/post.

    I come to EscapePod to here EscapePod stories, I go to Pseudopod, for Pseudopod type stories (and the white street society stories).

    Each Podcast suites a different mood/mode for me. The format of the podcasts allows me to access each type of podcast at my will, when I want.

    What got me on this story was it felt more like a pseudopod story invading my escapepod space. Which is far more upsetting that the other way around. Something evil found its way into my happy place…

    Do I want you to never post a story like this again. No. But I want you to know that this story didn’t sit right with me. Not that I didn’t like it (I didn’t). I don’t like every story I hear (nor do I except to). This story didn’t feel right.

  7. scatterbrain says:

    Ah, an incomprehensible story of a group of imbecilic female soldiers who troll around a devastated future wasteland pointlessly and brutally massacring various Stone Age mutants. Lovely!

  8. Jason Ramboz says:

    I rarely comment on stories here, even though I usually enjoy them a great deal. I comment even less on the ones I don’t enjoy. Still, this one I felt compelled a response. And that response is this:

    What the hell was the point of that?

    I generally don’t much go for graphic violence, though I’m not against it per se. It can often be a very powerful tool in fiction for making important points. Maybe I missed it, but what was the point in this orgy of gore?

    I guess maybe we’re supposed to take away a now-trite lesson about the “horrors of war,” and how it’s a terrible thing, etc. etc. Yet in some way it feels that the author is expressing exactly the OPPOSITE message, rather reveling in the over-the-top violence and carnage. The story reads not so much as a condemnation of violence, but a celebration of it.

    So I ask again, what the hell was the point of this?

  9. Hey, Jason. I felt that she was trying to get across the detachment of the group of soldiers, their ennui with the violence that was a daily occurrence for them.

    This is an odd sort of piece, no real protagonists, you are meant to feel as if the characters are real monsters – even the ones who are off stage – and it comments on the monstrous actions taken by people who would swear they’re in the right.

    I disagree with Brave Space Monkey – although Sci Fi here can have a positive spin, I’ve always felt that Science Fiction is about social commentary provoked by reasonable technological advances bringing our own society into relief. Though we might disagree with the message here, I think the author does that.

    Imagine the detachment of a soldier when even a completely innocent child could be a bomb of chemical sludge that would wipe out her whole battle group – even if the child himself doesn’t know it. Over time those deaths – however justified – would easily lead to the sort of detachment and activity these soldiers show.

    Errrg. I think I need a shower, now.

  10. Brave Space Monkey says:

    Take a moment and flip the genders in the story and see how you fell about it. Or, rather than genders, try using race. Then ask yourself does the story hold up?

  11. Kim (Comic Book Goddess) says:

    I’m glad she swapped genders, so that it wouldn’t be sexist toward men or women like so many stories were in the earlier days of the genre.
    Although the parallels to Am History are the closest – and the most intentional, I’m sure – this story does speak as well against dehumanizing tactics employed by most warlike societies – can you see similar tactics and outcomes in the military rhetoric of the Iranian or Chinese regimes? Or any of the terrorist groups? They need to dehumanize the enemy, and sometimes they – and we – go too far.

  12. phignewton says:

    there is no point, there is no moral lesson. By its nature conflict nestles around morality and purpose in an attempt to justify itself, it clinnnngsss to it… ‘please dont leave Iraq because then all the deaths and destruction will have had nuuu purpose, pleeeease!’ …as such this issa good story ‘just shut up and dont go blaming it on mens either’ ..huzzah!

  13. Jason Ramboz says:


    Let me start with what I should have in my previous comment: your reading was fantastic! Even though I didn’t much enjoy the story, your interpretation was subtle, thoughtful, and masterfully executed. I was, as always, very impressed!

    I certainly understand – and agree with! – the author’s points about dehumanization and truly reprehensible actions taken in war, I guess I feel the way they were conveyed was counter-productive. It felt as if the author was saying, “War is horrible and no one should ever have to experience it, so let me describe it to you in gruesome, blow-by-blow detail!” It felt, in some sense, like it was trying to vilify violence by celebrating it. (But then again, I feel the same way about many “anti-war” films, so it very well could just be me.)

  14. burr says:

    I agree with Jason, I don’t think it would be entirely untrue to say the author wanted to make sure there were ‘shocking’ scenes in the story more than to make sure that these scenes had any sort of grounding or explanation.

    It comes across as a cheap sketchy story leading to a twist at the end.

    I don’t think it was well written. Not that I’ve written any stories myself, but this one didn’t make sense to me as I listened.

  15. tim says:

    I feel compelled to leave a comment about this story, and in response to some of the comments.

    When I listened to this story, my initial response also was, “Yes yes, the horror of war and the dehuminization of our fellow creatures, how trite.” Followed closely by, “Where are the spaceships??”

    But I found this story really worked its way into my thoughts. When I dwelled on it, I’d keep coming back to my initial response, until I began to wonder if it was simply a defense mechanism on my part – a cynical response to hold off the horror that Hurley’s story forced me to witness.

    And so, I begin to think that maybe the point of “Wonder Maul Doll” is to break through that barrier of cynical detachment that we in our culture wrap ourselves in, in order not to face some of the horrors occurring elsewhere in the world. It’s easy for those of us living in the United States to brush past such things. After all, we usually aren’t worried about a car bomb exploding during our shopping trip to Target, or being detained by soldiers when we pop out to Starbucks for a latte.

    And while there were no sympathetic characters per se, I think I understand that the soldiers behaved in a manner that would keep them alive in such an insane situation.

    I appreciate Ken_K’s comment (and thank you for your service, sir) but when situations like Abu Ghraib occur, it is a reminder that soldiers can respond in an inhuman manner. It’s a credit to our culture that such incidents are isolated. Hurley never says that the situation in the story is representative of the entire world. She just puts us so fully in the tale that it engulfs our entire experience of what that world offers- just like the soldiers in the story.

    The flesh-melting chemical weapon, I think, was Hurley’s way of reminding us of the physical horror of combat. We are so inundated with bullets in our entertainment, guns have become unreal. Conversely, most SF movies (and some books) use some sort of energy weapon that basically sanitizes the killing.

    So, I have come to understand that the issues I have here aren’t really with the story, it’s with what the story has made me see. Now the challenge is – what do I do with this knowledge?

  16. yicheng says:

    I tried really hard to like this story. At first, it seem more realistic than the aforementioned “Elites” by Kristine Rusch, but I kept on waiting and waiting and waiting for some kind of character development. Instead, it was just like the movie Platoon, where everyone acts like Tom Berrenger’s sadistic St. Barnes, and everyone’s suddenly female but thinks, talks, and acts exactly the same. No character is relatable or redeemable in anyway and in the end, like the soldiers in the story, I was just glad the story was over.

  17. Howie Feltersnatch says:

    One great big giant “meh” from me. Yeah, yeah, I get all the stuff the author is pushing about the brutality of war, and the differences–or lack of–between male and female approaches. But the story was kind of silly.

    We’re all terribly impressed that you, the author, can come up with a whole world and backstory in your head, and then dribble out just a little bit of it in obtuse lingo. Wow. Awesome. Never seen anybody do that before.

    Protip: If you’re gonna make me work that hard to try to figure out what’s going on, there better be a damn good payoff. And this story lacked that. Meh.

  18. Dan the Man says:

    I thought it was important that the soldiers’ “cynical detachment” that everybody thinks is too cliche’ was based entirely on soldiers conception of who the children said they were vs. who they really were. The protagonists dragged them around like dangerous self-deceived imposters carrying bio-weapons. When they’re cut open and revealed to just be children, the cynical detachment is breached almost imperceptibly, but reinstated quickly enough to cover up their guilt by burning the bodies.
    The parallels aren’t out-dated because war is becoming more and more about our inability to identify who our enemies are and where they’re coming from.

  19. Adam says:

    To leave a more positive comment, I’d just like to state that I really liked this story. It was intense and disturbing in a thought provoking way.

    The lesson of how horrible war is can’t be repeated too many times. Especially when we keep sending people to kill and get killed.

    It’s important to never forget the dehumanizing effects of war, both on the people fighting and on the rest of the population.