So I thought I start off this post with a question: what is love? Depending on who you ask you can get a wide range of answers. Is it just one thing or is it many things all at once? I’ve always liked the Ancient Greek concept of the four loves: Philia, Eros, Storge and Agape. Philia is the love of friendship and true companions. Eros is the love of romance and being in love. Storge is the love of family, and that family need not be one of blood relations. Agape is the unconditional universal love for all things and is often associated with self-sacrifice.
It’s important to note that none of these loves are mutually exclusive. Indeed, the line between Philia and Storge tends to be incredibly blurry. To give another example, Philia can often lead to Eros, but if that Philia was born of a common interest it can remain even after you have formed Eros.
As you might have guested, today’s edition of The Audio File will be focused around The Four Loves. The stories are being brought to us by the lovely people at Escape Pod, PodCastle, The Drabblecast and Lightspeed Magazine.
Now then, I know how much you guys would love it if we got onto the stories, so let’s get to it…
“My Heart is a Quadratic Equation” by Shane Halbach
Narrated by Christina Lebonville
An Escape Pod Original
This story follows a mad scientist named Chrysanthemum. She dream of laying waste to her city with a flying robot fortress, but she also dreams of finding love. We get to see the hilariously awkward results of several of her failed dates.
I figured I’d start off with something on the lighter side before we get into some of the heavier stories. What can I say? It’s a fun little story that appeals to the awkward side of us all. It reminded me of some of the dates I’ve been on…or it probably would if I went on more dates. As such it is a good example of Eros.
Christina did a really good job portraying Chrysanthemum’s awkward/nervous personality. Do I really have to tell you that I recommend this one?
“The Way of the Needle” by Derek Künsken
Narrated by Shaelyn Grey
Originally Published in Asimov’s
This story is set on a planet orbiting a pulsar. Naturally, the inhabitants of this planet are all metallic lobster aliens. The story follows an alien named Mok. He’s a martial arts expert, but he’s recently lost both his claws and his dignity to a rival martial arts clan. To get them back he’s going to have to work with another lobster alien named Rags. They’re going to train hard and discover the true meaning of friendship.
Okay, yeah, this one is kind of weird but it’s pretty good all things considered. I liked how the aliens actually behave somewhat like aliens, but were still relatable. I also thought that the alien’s biology was well explained, such as how they use quills on their backs to draw energy from the pulsar. Mok and Rags’ relationship was well written. There was a few times when Mok acts like jerk, but Rags is his first real friends so I let it slide as him learning the ropes. Since the story centers around their friendship it is a good example of Philia.
In terms of narration I thought that Shaelyn did a great job. Hey, it’s a story about kung-fu metal lobsters from a pulsar planet. Why wouldn’t you want to give it a shot?
“The Mercy of Theseus” by Rachael K. Jones
Narrated by Dave Thompson
An Escape Pod Original
This story follows two close friends named Greta and Jamal. They have known each other since they were kids, and they’re closer to each other than anyone else, but they’ve never been romantically involved. After they graduated high school Jamal joined the military, and got injured so badly that he had to be rebuilt as a cyborg. He’s still very much coming to terms with this. The story follows the two of them as they go on a road trip they planned back in their high school days.
This story is a great example of how blurry the line between Philia and Storge is. Greta and Jamal are so close it almost seems like they’re family to each other in all but blood. On a related note, it was nice to see a story centered around a platonic relationship. You really don’t see too many of those sort of stories.
The title of the story is taken from classic philosophical conundrum “The Ship of Theseus”. For those of you not up on your Greek Mythology, Theseus was the one who traversed the labyrinth and slew the Minotaur. The question is, if you have to repair a boat by replacing its wood bit by bit, is it still the same boat that you started with? I would argue that it is because of the meaning that we project onto the boat. This question is a driving force behind this story as Jamal grapples with his identity. It also feature into a few other points, but I wouldn’t want to spoil that for you.
As for the narration I thought that Dave did a perfect job, just as he always does. A story about identity and the bonds of comradery. I couldn’t recommend it more.
“The Homecoming” by Mike Resnick
Narrated by Patrick Bazile
Originally Published in Asimov’s
2012 Hugo Award Nominee
This story is about a man named Jordan trying to come to terms with the choices of his son Phillip. Phillip is part of team who explore alien worlds and study their cultures. The aliens that his team studies are incredibly xenophobic and only converse with people who look like them. As a result Phillip has undergone multiple surgeries and procedures so that he now looks like a giant metal mosquito. Jordan had always wanted Phillip to inherit his house, but that seems unlikely now. Will father and son be able to reconcile with each other?
At one point or another we’ve all butted heads with our parents about something. I found this story to be an exaggerated version of that sort of thing. Yet even underneath his grouchy exterior you get a strong sense that Jordan still cares deeply about Phillip. Hey, I wouldn’t have included it on the list if I didn’t think it had a strong current of Storge. Plus, considering some of the things going on in his life, you can’t entirely blame Jordan for being grumpy. Of course it really all comes together at the end where…ah, but I wouldn’t want to spoil that for you.
To an extent you can see parallels within this story to a child coming out as gay or trans, but personally I don’t. Phillip may look like an alien, but he still clearly identifies as human. So I see it less as metaphor and more as applicability. I usually don’t play favorites, but this has always been one of my favorite stories from Escape Pod. StarShipSofa also has an excellent version of their own, but I found this on Escape Pod, so that’s how I categorized it.
Patrick’s narration really captured the heart and soul of this story. There’s also a nice effect where there’s a gentle sound of wind chimes that accompany Phillips lines. It’s one of my favorite Escape Pod stories, and I’m sure it will be one of your favorites too.
“The Tale of The Golden Eagle” by David D. Levine
Narrated by David D. Levine
Originally Published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
2003 Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Theodore Sturgeon Award Nominee
This story takes place far into a fairy tale inspired future. To traverse the vast distances of space ships are equipped with special navigation system that are powered by the brains of birds of prey. These ships are known as Bird Ships, but by the time of our story they are being phased out of use. The story follows a former Bird Ship named Nerissa. For many years she has lain dormant in the storeroom of a king, but she has now been put in a beautiful robot body. Nerissa soon finds herself gambled away to an impoverished merchant named Denali. As time goes on the two begin to grow closer together. I’d tell you more, but I wouldn’t want to spoil anything.
I loved how this story took various fairy tale tropes and reinterpreted them in a science fiction setting. The writing itself has a very lyrical quality to it. The line between science fiction and fantasy has always been a bit blurry, and this story is a great example of that. This story is actually a pretty good example of all four of the loves, with a special emphasis on Agape towards the end. However, since that bit is towards the end, I can’t say much without spoiling it for you. I can say that it is a very touching and heartwarming story.
Authors narrating their own stories is always a bit hit-and-miss. Fortunately, David is just as excellent a narrator as he is a writer. It’s a science fiction fairy tale with a lot of heart, and one you won’t want to miss out on.
“Mono No Aware” by Ken Liu
Narrated by John Chu
Originally Published in The Future is Japanese
2013 Hugo Award Winner and Collected in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories
This story follows a Japanese man named Hiroto who has been living on a generation ship since he was eight. A massive asteroid complete destroyed the Earth, and did quite a number on the other planets. As a result the 1,021 passengers of the generation ship are the last remnant of humanity. Additionally, Hiroto is the only Japanese person aboard the ship, something that affects him deeply. The story is split between the present day and flashbacks to Hiroto’s life in Japan before the Earth was destroyed.
Some of the more scientifically minded readers will probably object to idea of an asteroid destroying Earth. While I concede that this is unlikely, it’s mostly used to get the plot moving and isn’t that important. The story isn’t about how the world ended, it’s about what happened afterwards. So, what does Mono no aware actually mean? It’s a Japanese concept that doesn’t exactly have a Western equivalent. I can best explain it as an empathy for the passing of all things. Think of it as a feeling of sadness for their passing, but also an acceptance because all is transient. The closest Western equivalent I can think of would be Agape love.
Even with my limited understanding of Mono no aware I still got a strong sense of it throughout this story. Hiroto’s memories are definitely tinged with sadness and melancholy; yet at the same time you get the sense that he’s come to terms with in all in his own way. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have any sadness in his life. Indeed, one of Hiroto’s big struggles is coming to terms with his status as the last Japanese person in the universe. One of the big themes in this story is that we are defined by the place we hold in the web of other people’s lives. Hiroto spends a good bit of the story meditating on where he fits into that web.
Now a story with this much of an emotional punch needs just the right sort of narrator. Thankfully, John Chu more than delivers. You can also find a text only reprint at Lightspeed Magazine. It’s a story that more than earned its Hugo, and should more than earn your time as well.
“Bioluminescent Memory” by Victorya Chase
Narrated by Serah Eley
Featured in Escape Pod’s Artemis Rising 2
This story follows a woman who can’t seem to get to sleep. She worries that her daughter may have genetically inherited her childhood trauma, something she’s still trying to deal with after all of these years. At least she has her genetically engineered bioluminescent cat Riley to keep her company. Riley reminds her of her old tuxedo cat Penny. Could the similarity be more than coincidence?
Okay, it doesn’t sound like much but I promise it’s a good story. It’s often said that love can come with more legs than two, and that certainly true in this story. Most people consider their pets to be members of their family, and this story does have a good amount of Storge to it. Also, don’t panic, but certain studies suggest that it might be possible to genetically transmit trauma. Yet as the story itself shows, you can work to overcome trauma with the help of your friends and loved ones. It’s an especially touching story if you have pets that you’re close with.
Some of you might be wondering if Serah Eley has any relation to Escape Pod founder Steve Eley. Actually, Serah Eley is Steve Eley. For a few year Steve went radio silent only to pop up again as a transsexual who is in a polyamorous relationship with two lesbians. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
Anyway, Serah does as excellent a job now as she has ever done. A story about pain, love and healing. I happily recommend it.
“Day Million” by Frederik Pohl
Narrated by Mike Boris
Originally Published in Rogue Magazine
This story takes place about a thousand years in the future. It’s a love story between a mermaid named Dora and a cyborg named Don. It is a rather unconventional romance by the standards of our modern world, but there are many strange thing on Day Million. Have no fear, we are guided through this far-off world of tomorrow by a very lemony narrator.
That description doesn’t do this story nearly enough justice, but trust me, it is an excellent story. What really makes this story is the narrators humorous and snarky commentary. For example, he will constantly chastise the reader for finding the future strange or off-putting. To be fair, as the narrator himself points out, Australopithecus would probably find our society as odd as we find this future world. There is Eros in this story, and the romance between the two characters seems rather sweet, if more than a bit unconventional by our standards.
This story is all about the narration. Without just the right narrator the whole story falls apart. Thankfully, Mike is more than fit for the task. It’s a humorous love story from a distant future, and one I recommend to you.
“Valentine’s Day With The Gods” by Jesse Livingston
Narrated by Norm Sherman
A Drabblecast Original
This story follows two lovers on Valentine’s Day. After having a lovely walk through the city they decide to grab a bite to eat at a tavern. Ah, but it’s not just any tavern. Yahweh and Yog-Sothoth are having an argument and there’s a Norse deity sitting at the bar by himself. The gods give the couple plenty of food for thought. Will their love truly be able to long endure?
I’m a sucker for anything that has gods in it. Would have been nice if there were a few more mythological deities represented, but I’m willing to let that slide. Took me a minute to recognize Yog-Sothoth, but then Yahweh mentioned they sat next to each other due to alphabetical seating at a god convention. As a Valentine’s Day story there’s plenty of Eros to go around. What can I say? It’s sweet and touching in that’s weird sort of way The Drabblecast specializes in.
As per usual, Norm did a great job with the narration. A Valentine’s Day story told only as The Drabblecast can. I recommend it.
“Bloodchild” by Octavia E. Butler
A Full Cast Production
Originally Published in Asimov’s and collected in Bloodchild and Other Stories
1984 Nebula Award Winner and 1985 Hugo Award Winner
This story takes place on a planet that is home to giant sentient centipede aliens known as the Tlic. The Tlic have allowed humans to settle on their planet and treat them well. In return the Tlic only ask that humans help them give birth to their children. The Tlic lay their eggs inside human males where they grow and eventually hatch. It’s usually harmless to the humans involved, but when there are complications…well, it’s not pretty. The story follows a boy named Gan who has been asked by a Tlic named T’Gatoi to carry her children. T’Gatoi is a close friend and has done much for his family, but Gan is still conflicted about what to do.
Under other writers this story could easily have worked as a horror story. Male pregnancy stories are also an easily abused trope. Therefore, it’s a credit to Butler’s writing skills that she was able to make a story like this work so well. I liked that the Tlic felt like they had a fully realized culture, but they were still relatable. For example, they drive in cars, but the cars are designed to accommodate a centipede-esque body plan. I kept expecting that there was going to be some kind of twist, like that the Tlic were secretly evil or something. Nope, they’re every bit as innocent and genuine as they seem. It’s nice to see aliens that aren’t jerks for a change.
In terms of the Four Loves this one falls into the Agape category. I also thought the Afterword where we get some insight into the story’s creation was a nice addition. Octavia Butler really was one of the great under-appreciated writers of science fiction. She was one of the first, if not the first, black lesbian science fiction writers. If you’re looking for diversity Octavia Butler can’t be beat.
Full cast narrations always have a leg up on single narrators, and so it was here. Another story that more than earned its awards, and should more than earn your time.
“Werewolf Loves Mermaid” by Heather Lindsley
Narrated by Harlan Ellison
This story is about a werewolf and a mermaid. They met at the wedding of a vampire and a teenage girl, and they fall madly in love. The story follows all the ups and downs of their relationship.
Okay, the description isn’t much, but it is a good story. It has a very authentic feel to it underneath the fantastical elements. I felt like I was reading about a real relationship. It’s a fun little piece to serve as a pallet cleanser after some of the heavier stories on the list.
I was a bit surprised when I saw that Harlan Ellison was the narrator. I know he’s a great writer, but I never pegged him as the narrating type. He actually does surprisingly well, easily one of the best narrations I’ve heard from Lightspeed. Then again, he did play himself on Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorperated, so maybe I should have been so surprised.
A lighthearted little romance tale that I’m sure you’ll enjoy.
“Power Armor: A Love Story” by David Barr Kirtley
Narrated by Norm Sherman
Originally Published in Armored
This story follows a rich inventor and philanthropist named Anthony Blair. He never goes anywhere without wearing a suit of power armor. This is because he comes from a totalitarian dystopian future, and he’s sure they’ll send an assassin after him sooner or later. He may take precautions, but he still makes time to attend galas and other social events. At one such event he meets a beautiful scientist named Mira Valentic. He falls for her almost instantly. Mira’s just so perfect, maybe a little too perfect.
You can also find this story over on The Drabblecast, but I first encountered it on Lightspeed so that’s how I categorized it. It’s another lighthearted little pallet cleanser. Well, as lighthearted as a story about a man fleeing assassins from a dystopian future can be. Yeah, you can probably guess the twist with this one from a mile away, but it doesn’t make it any less fun. Don’t think there’s much more I can add with this one. Though I will say that Norm did a great job with the narration.
Do I really need to say that I recommend this one?
“The Birth Will Take Place On a Mutually Acceptable Research Vessel” by Mathew Bailey
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki
This is a story about you. Well, not you specifically, but it is told in the second person. A woman from Earth has fallen in love with a man from the planet Thark, and everyone is eagerly anticipating the birth of the child. The birth is to take place on a research vessel in neutral space. As this will be the first Human-Tharkan hybrid born there’s a lot of scientists and diplomats who have come to observe the birth. For her part, the expectant mother wishes the whole thing were a bit more private and intimate.
You don’t often see stories that are told in the second person, so this was a nice change of pace. I can’t speak from any personal experience, but the story had a very authentic feel to it. It seemed like and exaggerated version the experiences of pregnant mothers. I know my own mother has always been somewhat distrustful towards hospital staff. Yet in spite of everything it all work spit happily in the end. You get several touching moments between the protagonist and her child, and between her and her husband. As such, there’s plenty of Storge and Eros to go around.
I found the Tharkans and their biology to be rather interesting. They’re stated to look rather like humans, save for their pronounced brow ridge, and they’re even hominids. They communicate by projecting mental images, but they can speak vocally when they need to. Their society is meritocratic to the extreme, and you only get a name once you’ve proven yourself. The fact that they’re hominids brings up all kinds of possibilities. Is the way life evolved on Earth the standard model of evolution on other planets? Are the Tharkans descendants to hominids who were abducted by aliens and then resettled on Thark? The story never tells us, but I did find the Tharkans on the whole to be well fleshed out.
Giving birth is a decidedly female experience, so I wasn’t quite sure when I saw that Stefan was the narrator. However, I can happily say that he more than delivers with his performance of this story. I give this one a recommendation.
“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu
Narrated by Rajan Khana
Originally Published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Winner of Pretty Much Every Award and Collected in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories
This story is about the son of an American man and a Chinese mail-order bride. When he was young his mother would make origami animals for him to play with. Oh, but these weren’t just any origami animals. You see, his mom knew a special spell that brought the origami animals to life. Over the years, however, the son would grow embarrassed by his mother and his Chinese heritage. After graduating from college the son rediscovers his old origami animals and decides to learn a bit more about just who his mother really is.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve saved the best for last. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that this story has won pretty much every conceivable award. Quite frankly, it would probably be easier to list the wards this story didn’t win, if there are any of them. What can I possibly say that hasn’t been said before? Well, let’s see what I can come up with.
Ken Liu wrote this story after he became a father, and you certainly get feel of the anxiety of parents worrying about who their children will view them. There’s also the special concern of immigrant parents worrying about if their culture will live on thru their children. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can see the fear of losing you parents before you really get to know them. It is a very layered story.
So where does this fit within the Four Loves? It’s definitely an example of Storge. Ken has stated that he feels theses an overabundance of stories about romantic love, but not nearly enough about familial love. In the end the protagonist is sadder, but he’s also wiser and can understand the true extent of his mother’s love for him.
For a story this special you’re going to need just the right sort of narrator. That narrator, thankfully, is Rajan Khanna. You can also find a reprint of this story over on Escape Pod as part of their past Hugo Month special season. There’s really not more for me to say.
Do I really need to tell you that I recommend this one?
Well here we are at the end of the list once again. Wasn’t that a lovely experience? Why, I think we really ought to do it again some time. As always, if you guys have any particular theme or type of stories that you’d like to see on The Audio File, lets me known in the comments and I will see what I can whip up for you. Hopefully I should be able to get these out a bit more frequently in the near future, but don’t hold me to that.
I might also make a post that collects various stories I missed or left out of my past editions of The Audio File. Maybe I’ll even get some of my own stories onto The Audio File in the future. We will have to see. Anyway, that’s enough from me for now. I will say you guys next time.