Recorded live at LonCon3.
GoodReads page for the story (Note Hurley’s referenced comment about pronoun changes)
Women of Our Occupation
by Kameron Hurley
[EDITOR: We don’t have the rights to post the text of this story.]
by Alasdair Stuart
Welcome back to Summer School, where for the next month we’re going to be using Flashback Fridays to explore some of the ways science fiction plays with its biggest toys. And what bigger toy is there than alien invasion?
Well, we say aliens.
This week’s story has a certain metatextual resonance even before we get to why it is like it is. This was originally recorded live at the first ever WorldCon I attended, back in London in 2014. Audio production back then was by Mat Weller, narration was by Mur Lafferty and hosting was by me. The story was, and still is, by Kameron Hurley who is, like Escape Pod and myself, a Hugo finalist this year. If you’re a voter, please consider voting for, well, all of us. The EP and my personal voter packet information links will be in the show notes.
Now, get ready because it’s story time.
This is absolutely an alien invasion story three different ways. The first is the familiar alien every child’s world is filled with. Vast tree-trunk legged adults making their way through life with seemingly no more concern for us than the dinosaurs had for those cute little mammals that would one day inherit the Earth. Everything is too big, too wide, too loud. The world turned upside down and you with it.
The second way this is absolutely an alien invasion is shown in how Hurley seeds the world with familiar situations seen through unfamiliar eyes. We don’t quite get full Nazi here but this idea is a useful, and terrifying, analogue for invasion stories. In TV terms look at classic show and remake V, which directly addressed the alien/Nazi comparator and made it both a feature and a bug eating lizard or recent series Colony which cleverly kept the exact nature of the occupation ambiguous in a way that played up that relationship even more. Look at Bill Pullman’s cover version of Henry V at the end of Independence Day on the big screen or the shrieking, venal little thugs that run England in V for Vendetta, doubly so in the original graphic novel. In print, look at War of the Worlds, whose gangly death machines echo the child’s view of the towering women. Alternately there’s Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, where the invasion happens on the cellular, ecological, personal and geographical levels all at once. All of these wildly different takes have at their core the brutal simplicity of this:
An external force arrives, and changes your life forever.
That brings us to the third way this is an alien invasion novel, which is arguably the most subtle and insidious. The women in this story occupy the physical and psychological space of a male-coded occupying enemy. The main character’s tryst with a soldier and her mocking him with her friends afterwards. The targeting and disappearance of their father. The compassionate and yet pragmatically brutal words of comfort offered. In every case these are spaces we’ve been conditioned to believe should be occupied by men. They shouldn’t, of course but conditioning is conditioning and with that in mind, this feels…alien in a very personal way. It feels in some ways like a spiritual sequel to Ursula K. Le Guin’s astounding The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. In that story, citizens of a city whose prosperity is built on the misery of a single child, leave in disgust. In this one, I feel, some of those citizens arrive somewhere even darker.
It’s also worth noting, this story feels enough like part of her Bel Dame Apocrypha series to gain some reassurance from the origin that grants the women. There are lots of indicators, the climate, the biological technology, but there’s also no certainty. Much like there isn’t for the main characters.
The invasion is here. The invasion may be overdue. But now it’s here, nothing is the same and arguably the biggest change wrought is in what we view as science fiction. This is a story that’s one organic gun and a couple of subtle hints away from being a documentary. This is the sort of offhand governmental violence that arrives daily on this planet, viewed through a lens which is designed to both remind us of its unusual nature and make us ask why it feels alien. And it’s there that Hurley, and the invasion, truly succeeds. Because once we ask ourselves that question, we can never see the world a different way. And the women have been waiting for that too.
We’ll be back next week with “Repo” by Aaron Gallagher and read by the wonderful MK Hobson. Then as now we’ll be a production of Escape Artists incorporated and released under a creative commons attribution non-commercial no derivatives license. And we leave you with this quote from The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas:
“This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.”
Original Episode: Escape Pod 462: Women of Our Occupation (September 2014)
The Bel Dame Apocrypha: https://www.kameronhurley.com/series/bel-dame-apocrypha-gods-war-trilogy/
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas
Independence Day closing speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9t1IK_9apWs
Henry V speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-yZNMWFqvM
Colony trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxglHSaRuKo
V trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhtkV5622Yo
Annihilation trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89OP78l9oF0
Southern Reach trilogy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Reach_Trilogy
War of the Worlds: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_of_the_Worlds
About the Author
Kameron Hurley is the author of The Stars are Legion and The Geek Feminist Revolution, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy and The Worldbreaker Saga. Hurley has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. She was also a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nebula Award, and the Gemmell Morningstar Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Popular Science Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, and many anthologies. Hurley has also written for The Atlantic, Entertainment Weekly, The Village Voice, Bitch Magazine, and Locus Magazine. She posts regularly at KameronHurley.com.
About the Narrator
Mur Lafferty is the co-editor and sometime-host of Escape Pod.
She is an American podcaster and writer based in Durham, North Carolina. She is the host and creator of the podcasts I Should Be Writing and Ditch Diggers. Her books have been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, and Scribe Awards. In the past decade she has been: co-founder/co-editor of Pseudopod, founder of Mothership Zeta, editor or co-editor of Escape Pod (where she is currently).
She is fond of Escape Artists, in other words.
Mur is the 2013 winner of the Astounding Award for Best New Writer (formerly the John W. Campbell Award).