Escape Pod 797: Flashback-Flash from the Vault

Show Notes

These show notes ran along with Oasis on June 6, 2005:

This piece marks the debut of Escape Pod’s flash fiction — very short stories that will be released between our weekly issues on an irregular basis. We chose “Oasis” as our first because, well, it’s about an escape pod. One can even imagine our logo image as the illustration for this story.

 


Wetting the Bed (Excerpt)

By Heather Shaw

When the floods came, all us kids climbed into bed and pulled the covers up over our heads while our parents rushed about trying to do something to stop it. As the water level rose we could feel the beds lift off the floor, floating through our houses, bumping down our hallways and out our front doors.

We sat up in bed waved to one another as our beds merged onto the canal that now flowed between our houses. We shrieked and giggled as our beds spun and bumped along with the swirling water. Waves lapped at our boxsprings, but our covers were still warm and dry.


 

Host Commentary

By S.B. Divya

And that’s our story.

I love stories about resilience in the face of adversity, and this one certainly checks that box, but it does so with a unique style. At first, the apocalyptic flood is almost like a slumber party. It’s only near the end that the children discover that survival means more than cutting off the heavy adults – it means starting to act like them. It’s rare that a situation so serious gets treated with such a light touch, but I’m always appreciative of that, especially when it comes to situations about children.


Chump Change (Excerpt)

By Pete Butler

It’s going to be the Three of Clubs.

I know this, as certainly as I know my own name. I’m less sure about some things than my fans would think. But sometimes, the swirling laws governing what _may_ happen coalesce into what _will_ happen with astonishing clarity. The sun will rise tomorrow, the Pirates will beat the Mets tonight, and as soon as I announce my “guess,” the Three of Clubs will appear on the monitor in front of me.

“Jack of Spades,” I proclaim, full of conviction.

The monitor flickers, and is suddenly filled by a pixilated version of the Three of Clubs.


Host Commentary

By Mur Lafferty

I always enjoy finding a classic trope that’s approached from a fresh point of view. Modern writers have to work hard to make a time travel story feel fresh, and it’s the same with an omniscient (or rather, a clairvoyant) character. I love seeing someone take a superpower to the fullest extent. For example, if I could teleport, I’d never walk again. Why do we see teleporters walking, ever? (This was a nice detail in the show “The Good Place” when Janet was never seen walking until she’s forced to, and it only takes a few steps before she yells, “walking is dumb!”

We will often see clairvoyants either making a lot of money in casinos and then getting kicked out, or warning people of a disaster, and we know how that worked out for Cassandra. Our protagonist enjoyed the fame that came with his psychic tv show, but he turned out to be using his power on some much more lucrative future-telling. Even Agnes Nutter from Good Omens told her decendents “do nott byee Betamax” and to invest instead in Apple.

Bona Fide

By Ben Hallert

The block’s turning into a rough neighborhood, the kind of place murder victims go to hang out.  It’s nasty and dirty but it’s home.  What’s got me pissed isn’t a little trash, it’s these stupid glasses everyone’s wearing.  Government wastes money on them instead of doing their goddamn jobs, drives me nuts.  The worst part: that dumb smile.  You know the one.  Bunch of fakers, walking around smiling at all the filth like it’s high art.

“Hey man, forget your specs?”  Crap, a cornerboy snuck up on me because I wasn’t paying attention.  He holds out a set.  “Free pair.”

“I pay my taxes, boy, it’s not free.  Bug off.”  I keep walking, the pest follows.

“Ok, then you’ve already paid.”  He waves ’em again.

“I don’t want ’em.  My taxes should go to REAL cleanup and maintenance, not…  those.”  I stop, point.  “They’re insulting, I’m not interested in fantasy.”  I walk again, faster.  The boy keeps pace, switching to that infuriating ‘reasonable tone’ parents use when they’re trying to con kids out of being monsters.  I don’t NEED to be handled, I just want him gone.

“Look guy…. if you don’t take these, someone’ll try again later, then again after that.  Might as well get it over with.”  He brightens.  “Hey, you can just turn off the overlay if you want, you know.”

I slow.  “I can turn ’em off?  And you’ll all leave me alone?”

“Sure, you can turn off any enhancement.  Click your tongue twi-”

“Yeah, I’m not a caveman.”  I grab the set.  “Ok, you win.  Go bug someone else.”  I scowl at the glasses as he leaves to find his next mark, then put ’em on.  Everything around me changes.

I ignore the pretty lies and start configuring.  I know if I don’t, the slums’ll look like new construction, the garbage in the street’ll be gone, and everyone’ll have the bodies of freakin’ supermodels.  After a minute, I’ve got honest, dingy reality back.  I’ll take true filth over fake clean anyday, but… everyone still has that dumb smile. I want to scream “It’s not real!  It’s a lie, they’re faking you out and you’re buying it!”  I want to, but they say I sound like a crazy person when I drop hard truths so sometimes I don’t.

They don’t care.  They get their shiny buildings and pretty people and nobody has to DO anything for it.

Well, at least the cornerboys’ll stop hassling me.  I squint, it’s bright out.  Re-open the editor, make ’em sunglasses.  Not bad.  For funsies, I flip one of those idiot mouths upside down.  Oh, this is rich, the simp looks so messed up.  I flip a setting so everyone’s like that.  That’s better, now I don’t have to look at the grins anymore.

Fine.  They can have their illusions, I’ll stay in the real world.  I know the score, I’ve got my integrity.

I keep walking, the last honest man in a world of lies, and I smile.


Host Commentary

By Benjamin C. Kinney

Oh, I love this story. On the surface, it’s a fun little story about hypocrisy. But on a second look, it’s a deep and revealing story about hypocrisy. When the narrator calls himself the last honest man in a world of lies, he’s only wrong on half of it. All of us – every human being, every one – gets by on lies. I mean, I wouldn’t call them lies, but there’s the rub, isn’t it? It’s not even self-deception. It’s self-creation.

We see what we expect to see. For those of you who don’t know, in my day job I’m a neuroscientist. One of the most fascinating things about the human brain is how little of the world it really senses. You have a rich experience of sight and sound and color – but only a tiny fraction of that is coming in through your eyes and ears. You get a few pinpricks and hints, and your brain fills in the rest based on what it knows and what it expects. This is true for everything from a tree in the corner of your eye – you have very little color vision in your peripheral vision, but your brain knows leaves are green and you have a tree there; to a conversation, where two people might remember the same gist but would recount entirely different words.

In this way, our personality shapes how we see the world. All those expectations depend, in part, on who we are. We’ve all got our glasses, turning filth into high art, or turning smiles upside down.

I just wish we had easier access to the settings.


Oasis (Excerpt)

By Greg van Eekhout

You turn a lever that pops open the cover of the control pad. There’s a big red button labeled OPEN AIRLOCK. You jab it. Then you jab the CONFIRM button. Then you push the handle thing, and it’s all over.


 

Host Commentary

By Alasdair Stuart

Welcome friends to the show of shows. Escape Pod is a Hugo nominated podcast which has for the last 15 years or so brought you the best short science fiction on the planet. This year its editors, Mur and Divya, are ALSO Hugo nominated and I’m incredibly happy, both as a fan and as an employee and, well, as the co-owner to see them get the recognition they deserve.

It got me thinking, too, about the earliest stories we’ve run and in particular, this one. Oasis, by Greg Van Eekhout, is the first flash piece EP ever ran and now we do rafts of them across all four shows. Oasis isn’t quite where it began, but it’s where it began to coalesce, and revisiting it in 2021 was a fascinating and disquieting experience as you’ll hear. Host, narrator and audio producer are all Serah Eley on the original, and while Serah’s narration remains, I’m tagging in on host duties and Adam Pracht has the audio conn. So without further ado, it’s story time.


This story really does have a different resonance in 2021. Which by the way is how you say ‘hits different’ if you’re 44. The crushing tedium, the sense of constantly being underfoot, the constant aggregate terror that after a while just collapses into a flat grey line of eternal angst? This isn’t a story about lockdown but it’s absolutely a demonstration of how art is different every time we encounter it.

But it’s also a demonstration of something else, something more fundamental and vital and, I’d argue, necessary than anything else in this story: perseverance, and the perseverance that comes through community. Let’s be real, this is a story that places suicidal ideation front and centre and at no point looks away from that. But it also stares it down every single time. The fear never stops slathering, the terror never stops screeching. We just look at it until it loses its grip.

It always, always loses its grip. Sometimes it takes ten seconds, sometimes it takes sixty days. Sometimes it takes sixteen months. But we hang on and we pay the price we have to because we know what we’re going through will end.

Sound familiar?

I’m going to the cinema for the first time in sixteen months as you listen to this. My partner’s getting a haircut. We’re getting cleaners in next week. We’re double vaccinated, effective from tomorrow, and we’re still wearing masks everywhere we go because we aren’t idiots and we don’t want to put other people at risk. Things are different, things are mostly better. We persevere. We recognize those differences and victories and on we go. Or to put it another way, a way Greg puts it: None of us suck. Not today, and not tomorrow either.

What a story. What a way to start our relationship with flash fiction. Thanks Greg and thanks Serah.

About the Authors

Pete M. Butler

Pete M. Butler is a writer from Pittsburgh. He penned the popular Squonk stories that began on Escape Pod and found their way to PodCastle.

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Heather Shaw

Heather Shaw is a writer, editor, bookkeeper, and lindy hopper living in Berkeley, CA with her husband and 8-year-old son, River. She’s the fiction editor at the new pro-SF zine, Persistent Visions(persistentvisionsmag.com). She’s had short fiction published in Strange Horizons, The Year’s Best Fantasy, Escape PodPodCastle, and other nice places. She’s been a featured author at the SF in SF Reading series in San Francisco and read her poetry in front of disgruntled grunge concert-goers at Lollapalooza back when it was a thing.

Heather is also the fiction editor of a new SF magazine, paying pro rates, called Persistent Visions. It will be free to read online, and she’ll be looking for fresh fiction that skirts the edges of reality, pushes the boundaries of where we’ve been, and has an updated, innovative perspective on the people we will become; she wants stories that include a diverse cast of characters, that push conventional assumptions regarding race, gender, neurodiversity, disability, and sexuality in thought-provoking, exciting new ways.

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Ben Hallert

Ben Hallert lives in Oregon with his wife, two children, a plane, and a reach that regularly exceeds his grasp.

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Greg van Eekhout

Greg van Eekhout is a novelist of science fiction and fantasy for audiences ranging from adult to middle grade. His work has been selected as finalists for the Sunshine State Award, the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the Nebula Award. His novels include Cog, Voyage of the Dogs, and the California Bones trilogy. He’s also published about two-dozen short stories, several of which have appeared in year’s best anthologies. He lives with his wife and dogs in San Diego, California, where he enjoys beach walks and tacos.

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About the Narrators

Jake Squid

Jake Squid is a person who exists.

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Anna Eley

Anna Eley was the wife of Escape Pod founder, Serah Eley, and a popular recurring narrator.

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Serah Eley

Serah Eley

Serah Eley is the original producer, editor and host of Escape Pod. She mispronounced her name as Steve Eley at the time, but has since realized that life is much more fun as a woman, and came out as transgender in 2015. Serah lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her two spouses (she prefers “spice”), Sadi and Cat.

So if there were ever any betting pools on what happened to Steve: the dark-horse winner is “changed sex and joined a committed lesbian love triangle.” She is, obviously, still Having Fun.

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Serah Eley
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Trendane Sparks

narrator Trendane Sparks

Originally born in Texas, Tren Sparks eventually escaped and wound his way through a mystical series of jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area where he has worked as a software QA Tester for both graphics drivers and video games, a freelance mascot performer, and several jobs on a PBS kids’ show. For most of his life, people have told him that his voice is a pleasure to listen to. But since being a werewolf phone sex operator can get boring, he decided to use his powers to entertain a broader audience.

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narrator Trendane Sparks
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