Posts Tagged ‘classic sci-fi’

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Escape Pod 744: The Evening, the Morning and the Night (Summer Flashback)


The Evening, the Morning and the Night

by Octavia Butler

[EDITOR: We don’t have the rights to post the text of this story.]

Host Commentary

by Alasdair Stuart

Welcome to Escape Pod Summer School’s final month!

The plan with these episodes has been to stack all our flashbacks in one place, and to use them to explore big concepts in some detail.

I’m Alasdair, your host for these episodes. Over the last few weeks, we’ve looked at the different ways science fiction explores space, we’ve looked at the concept of invasion, and this month, we’re taking a look at identity, and we’re starting with the amazing Octavia Butler.

One of the all-time greats, Butler’s work is redolent with this theme. This story in particular, a novelette, explores identity in a half-dozen different ways, and does so with Butler’s customary grace, compassion, and laser-focused vision.

Some logistics for you before we dive in: this episode was originally published Feb 2nd 2015, your narrator is Amanda Ching, your host for the original episode was Norm Sherman, your audio producer for the original episode was Mat Weller.

And without further ado, it’s story time!


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Escape Pod 690: The Things (Flashback Friday)

Show Notes

2011 Hugo Award Nominee
2010 BSFA Award Finalist
2010 Shirley Jackson Award Winner
2011 Finalist: the Locus Award for Best Short Story
2011 Theodore Sturgeon Award Nominee

Kate Baker Homepage: https://www.anaedream.com

Kate Baker Twitter: @Kate_Baker

Cast of Wonders: Old Tea Cups and Kitchen Witches by Kate Baker

Peter Watts Homepage: https://www.rifters.com

Wikipedia: John W. Campbell

Wikipedia: Who Goes There?

American SF and the Other by Ursula K. LeGuin

Village Voice: The Men Who Were The Thing


The Things

by Peter Watts

I am being Blair. I escape out the back as the world comes in through the front.

I am being Copper. I am rising from the dead.

I am being Childs. I am guarding the main entrance.

The names don’t matter. They are placeholders, nothing more; all biomass is interchangeable. What matters is that these are all that is left of me. The world has burned everything else.

I see myself through the window, loping through the storm, wearing Blair. MacReady has told me to burn Blair if he comes back alone, but MacReady still thinks I am one of him. I am not: I am being Blair, and I am at the door. I am being Childs, and I let myself in. I take brief communion, tendrils writhing forth from my faces, intertwining: I am BlairChilds, exchanging news of the world.

The world has found me out. It has discovered my burrow beneath the tool shed, the half-finished lifeboat cannibalized from the viscera of dead helicopters. The world is busy destroying my means of escape. Then it will come back for me.

There is only one option left. I disintegrate. Being Blair, I go to share the plan with Copper and to feed on the rotting biomass once called Clarke; so many changes in so short a time have dangerously depleted my reserves. Being Childs, I have already consumed what was left of Fuchs and am replenished for the next phase. I sling the flamethrower onto my back and head outside, into the long Antarctic night.

I will go into the storm, and never come back.

(Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 500: The Man Who Lost the Sea


The Man Who Lost the Sea

By Theodore Sturgeon

[EDITOR: This was originally released as audio-only, and we don’t have the rights to post the text of this story. It’s widely available online by searching.]

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Escape Pod 487: New Folks’ Home


New Folks’ Home

by Clifford D. Simak

[EDITOR: We don’t have the rights to post the text of this story, but it’s widely available online by searching.]

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Escape Pod 479: The Evening, The Morning and the Night


The Evening, The Morning and the Night

by Octavia Butler

[EDITOR: We don’t have the rights to post the text of this story.]

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Escape Pod 455: Keep Your Shape


Keep Your Shape

by Robert Sheckley

Pid the Pilot slowed the ship almost to a standstill, and peered anxiously at the green planet below.

Even without instruments, there was no mistaking it. Third from its sun, it was the only planet in this system capable of sustaining life. Peacefully it swam beneath its gauze of clouds.

It looked very innocent. And yet, twenty previous Grom expeditions had set out to prepare this planet for invasion—and vanished utterly, without a word.

Pid hesitated only a moment, before starting irrevocably down. There was no point in hovering and worrying. He and his two crewmen were as ready now as they would ever be. Their compact Displacers were stored in body pouches, inactive but ready.

Pid wanted to say something to his crew, but wasn’t sure how to put it.

The crew waited. Ilg the Radioman had sent the final message to the Grom planet. Ger the Detector read sixteen dials at once, and reported, “No sign of alien activity.” His body surfaces flowed carelessly.

Noticing the flow, Pid knew what to say to his crew. Ever since they had left Grom, shape-discipline had been disgustingly lax. The Invasion Chief had warned him; but still, he had to do something about it. It was his duty, since lower castes such as Radiomen and Detectors were notoriously prone to Shapelessness.

“A lot of hopes are resting on this expedition,” he began slowly. “We’re a long way from home now.”

Ger the Detector nodded. Ilg the Radioman flowed out of his prescribed shape and molded himself comfortably to a wall.

“However,” Pid said sternly, “distance is no excuse for promiscuous Shapelessness.”
Ilg flowed hastily back into proper Radioman’s shape.

“Exotic forms will undoubtedly be called for,” Pid went on. “And for that we have a special dispensation. But remember—anyshape not assumed strictly in the line of duty is a foul, lawless device of The Shapeless One!”

Ger’s body surfaces abruptly stopped flowing.

“That’s all,” Pid said, and flowed into his controls. The ship started down, so smoothly co-ordinated that Pid felt a glow of pride.

They were good workers, he decided. He just couldn’t expect them to be as shape-conscious as a high-caste Pilot. Even the Invasion Chief had told him that.

“Pid,” the Invasion Chief had said at their last interview, “we need this planet desperately.”

“Yes, sir,” Pid had said, standing at full attention, never quivering from Optimum Pilot’s Shape.

“One of you,” the Chief said heavily, “must get through and set up a Displacer near an atomic power source. The army will be standing by at this end, ready to step through.”
“We’ll do it, sir,” Pid said.

“This expedition has to succeed,” the Chief said, and his features blurred momentarily from sheer fatigue. “In strictest confidence, there’s considerable unrest on Grom. The Miner caste is on strike, for instance. They want a new digging shape. Say the old one is inefficient.”

Pid looked properly indignant. The Mining Shape had been set down by the Ancients fifty thousand years ago, together with the rest of the basic shapes. And now these upstarts wanted to change it!

“That’s not all,” the Chief told him. “We’ve uncovered a new Cult of Shapelessness. Picked up almost eight thousand Grom, and I don’t know how many more we missed.”

Pid knew that Shapelessness was a lure of The Shapeless One, the greatest evil that the Grom mind could conceive of. But why, he wondered, did so many Grom fall for His lures?

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 437: A Rose for Ecclesiastes

Show Notes

This text taken from Science Fiction: The Science Fiction Research Association Anthology, Eds. Patricia S. Warrick, Charles G. Waugh, and Martin H. Greenberg, New York: HarperCollins, 1988. (Pgs. 308-337).


A Rose for Ecclesiastes

by Roger Zelazny

I was busy translating one of my Madrigals Macabre into Martian on the morning I was found acceptable. The intercom had buzzed briefly, and I dropped my pencil and flipped on the toggle in a single motion.

“Mister G,” piped Morton’s youthful contralto, “the old man says I should ‘get hold of that damned conceited rhymer’ right away, and send him to his cabin.–Since there’s only one damned conceited rhymer . . .”

“Let not ambition mock thy useful toil,” I cut him off.

So, the Martians had finally made up their minds! I knocked an inch and a half of ash from a smouldering butt, and took my first drag since I had lit it. The entire month’s anticipation tried hard to crowd itself into the moment, but could not quite make it. I was frightened to walk those forty feet and hear Emory say the words I already knew he would say; and that feeling elbowed the other one into the background.

So I finished the stanza I was translating before I got up.

It took only a moment to reach Emory’s door. I knocked thrice and opened it, just as he growled, “Come in.”

“You wanted to see me?” I sat down quickly to save him the trouble of offering me a seat.

“That was fast. What did you do, run?”

I regarded his paternal discontent:

Little fatty flecks beneath pale eyes, thinning hair, and an Irish nose; a voice a decibel louder than anyone else’s . . .

Hamlet to Claudius: “I was working.”

“Hah!” he snorted. “Come off it. No one’s ever seen you do any of that stuff.”
I shrugged my shoulders and started to rise.

“If that’s what you called me down here–”

“Sit down!”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 400: Rescue Party

Show Notes

All sound effects used in this episode were found at FreeSound.org on the pages of the following users: hdesboisswiftoidjobroSyphon64doubletriggercognito perceptuFreqManReadeOnlycsengeri

Performed by Graeme Dunlop as Alveron; Steve Eley as Rugon; Nathaniel Lee as Orostron; Mur Lafferty as Hansur; Paul Haring as Klarten; Alasdair Stewart as Alarkane; Dave Thompson as The Paladorian; Ben Philips as T’sinadree; Jeremiah Tolbert as Tork-a-lee


Rescue Party

by Arthur C. Clarke

Who was to blame? For three days Alveron’s thoughts had come back to that question, and still he had found no answer. A creature of a less civilized or a less sensitive race would never have let it torture his mind, and would have satisfied himself with the assurance that no one could be responsible for the working of fate. But Alveron and his kind had been lords of the Universe since the dawn of history, since that far distant age when the Time Barrier  had been folded round the cosmos by the unknown powers that lay beyond the Beginning. To them had been given all knowledge–and with infinite knowledge went infinite responsibility. If there were mistakes and errors in the administration of the galaxy, the fault lay on the heads of Alveron and his people. And this was no mere mistake: it was one of the greatest tragedies in history.

The crew still knew nothing. Even Rugon, his closest friend and the ship’s deputy captain, had been told only part of the truth. But now the doomed worlds lay less than a billion miles ahead. In a few hours, they would be landing on the third planet.

Once again Alveron read the message from Base; then, with a flick of a tentacle that no human eye could have followed, he pressed the “General Attention” button. Throughout the mile-long cylinder that was the Galactic Survey Ship S9000, creatures of many races laid down their work to listen to the words of their captain.

“I know you have all been wondering,” began Alveron, “why we were ordered to abandon our survey and to proceed at such an acceleration to this region of space. Some of you may realize what this acceleration means. Our ship is on its last voyage: the generators have already been running for sixty hours at Ultimate Overload. We will be very lucky if we return to Base under our own power.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 397: A Gun for Dinosaur


A Gun for Dinosaur

by L. Sprague de Camp

NOTE: Also available is the X-1 production of the story available on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7edFWC-120

No, I’m sorry, Mr. Seligman, but I can’t take you hunting Late Mesozoic dinosaur.

Yes, I know what the advertisement says.

Why not? How much d’you weigh? A hundred and thirty? Let’s see; that’s under ten stone, which is my lower limit.

I could take you to other periods, you know. I’ll take you to any period in the Cenozoic. I’ll get you a shot at an entelodont or a uintathere. They’ve got fine heads.

I’ll even stretch a point and take you to the Pleistocene, where you can try for one of the mammoths or the mastodon.

I’ll take you back to the Triassic where you can shoot one of the smaller ancestral dinosaurs. But I will jolly well not take you to the Jurassic or Cretaceous. You’re just too small.

What’s your size got to do with it? Look here, old boy, what did you think you were going to shoot your dinosaur with?

Oh, you hadn’t thought, eh?

Well, sit there a minute . . . Here you are: my own private gun for that work, a Continental .600. Does look like a shotgun, doesn’t it? But it’s rifled, as you can see by looking through the barrels. Shoots a pair of .600 Nitro Express cartridges the size of bananas; weighs fourteen and a half pounds and has a muzzle energy of over seven thousand foot-pounds. Costs fourteen hundred and fifty dollars. Lot of money for a gun, what?

I have some spares I rent to the sahibs. Designed for knocking down elephant. Not just wounding them, knocking them base-over-apex. That’s why they don’t make guns like this in America, though I suppose they will if hunting parties keep going back in time.

Now, I’ve been guiding hunting parties for twenty years. Guided ’em in Africa until the game gave out there except on the preserves. And all that time I’ve never known a man your size who could handle the six-nought-nought. It knocks ’em over, and even when they stay on their feet they get so scared of the bloody cannon after a few shots that they flinch. And they find the gun too heavy to drag around rough Mesozoic country. Wears ’em out.

It’s true that lots of people have killed elephant with lighter guns: the .500, .475, and .465 doubles, for instance, or even the .375 magnum repeaters. The difference is, with a .375 you have to hit something vital, preferably the heart, and can’t depend on simple shock power.

An elephant weighs–let’s see–four to six tons. You’re proposing to shoot reptiles weighing two or three times as much as an elephant and with much greater tenacity of life. That’s why the syndicate decided to take no more people dinosaur hunting unless they could handle the .600. We learned the hard way, as you Americans say. There were some unfortunate incidents . . .

I’ll tell you, Mr. Seligman. It’s after seventeen-hundred. Time I closed the office. Why don’t we stop at the bar on our way out while I tell you the story?

(Continue Reading…)

Review: A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs


One of the things I’m going to miss terribly when e-books are the norm and brick-and-mortar stores are few and far between will be the opportunity to walk into a bookstore, pick up the one thing I really want to read, and then hit the discount rack on the way to the checkout. That’s exactly what I did when I was in Florida recently, picking up I Shall Wear Midnight, which I later reviewed on this site.

Among the books I picked up on my way out of the store was a three-pack of John Carter of Mars novels, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’d heard there might be a movie coming soon, and I wanted to familiarize myself with a sci-fi classic that I probably should’ve read long ago anyway.

Now that I’ve finished A Princess of Mars, I can sort of see why they’re classics. Sort of.

Like many novels written in the late 19th/early 20th century, A Princess of Mars starts out with the discovery of a manuscript by the author himself, and his memories of “Uncle Jack”. Burroughs uses the device effectively to set up the mythology of John Carter, and then jumps into the story. The first act is fairly straightforward: Carter goes to Mars, discovers he’s stronger than most everyone there, and manages to impress the natives. Burroughs spends a lot of time describing this new world, and though most readers of current fiction would say tl;dr or bemoan the author’s use of infodumps, that was the style back then, so I give it a pass. At the end of that act, he meets Dejah Thoris, the eponymous Princess of Mars, and decides he’s fallen in love with her.

By this point in the novel, I’d hit on its major sticking point — at least, in my mind — and it’s something I’ve seen in other fiction of the era: John Carter… well, he’s awesome.

No, he’s not awesome. He’s AWESOME. There’s literally nothing John Carter cannot do on Mars: he has superior strength, agility, martial prowess, physical attractiveness (as compared to humans of Earth, not the Green Men of Barsoom), problem-solving skills, intelligence, and luck. It’s like God rolled a series of natural 20s when He was creating Carter, and Carter knows exactly how to take advantage of that. He instantly figures out how to move in Mars’s lower gravity. He applies his knowledge of battle from the Civil War to fighting alongside several different alien races. He isn’t completely floored by the weird appearance of the Tharks (the green men of Mars). He learns to speak the Martian language and use Martian telepathy despite not — to our knowledge, anyway — knowing any languages other than English nor how to be telepathic at all beforehand.

And, what’s more, he instantly wins the trust of pretty much everyone around him. The few who don’t like him are so clearly Stereotypical Evil Characters that the reader knows almost immediately they’ll be getting some kind of comeuppance, most likely at Carter’s hands (or sword).

The rest of the story is spent on getting Carter back together with Thoris — they are separated in the second act — and it’s kind of blah through there (there’s even a pod racing scene, sort of) before the grand finale, when Carter leads the good Martians against some really, really, unmistake-ably evil Martians. Kind of like how, in Star Trek 6, there were honorable Klingons and evil Klingons.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. There was lots of adventure, interesting scenery and worldbuilding, and if the aliens were a little too human, that’s not really a failing — it’s just the way stories were written back then. Besides, the characters are consistent within themselves — none of them do anything that immediately drags you out of the story. The ending wraps up a little too fast, as stories from that era were wont to do, but that’s okay, because we know there’ll be more John Carter of Mars stories coming up. I feel bad for readers of that era, who didn’t know there’d be more.

A Princess of Mars is short enough that you can read it in a weekend, if you read at a good clip. The version I have has some very nice illustrations by Thomas Yeates, and an introduction by Mike Ashley that lays out the history of the Barsoom series. The book itself is suitable for reading by mature tweens who are already into sci-fi or adventure stories, though the illustrations do contain PG-13 nudity (Carter himself shows up naked on Mars, and to assimilate with the Tharks, he forgoes clothing as they do). I’m glad I picked it up, and I’m currently enjoying the second book, Gods of Mars, which is part of the omnibus.