April 30, 2011 in General Topics
I think it will be fun, as well as rewarding and enjoyable to the writers involved if I occasionally review a tale that winds up out there in the podcast world. To kick off this semi-regular feature of the site, let’s look into the atmospheric, dreadful world of several prisoners in Lizanne Herd’s story “The Horror of Their Deeds to View“, Pseudopod’s 224th Episode. Spoiler Alert, folks.
Captivity is a subject we can’t seem to get away from in speculative fiction, and we’ve seen the restraint of freedom and the subjugation of the abused in tales ranging from ST:TNG’s excellent two-parter “Chain of Command” to overt horror, such as “Fire In The Sky”, and of course our good pal Lovecraft enjoyed the subject, though his fiction almost always concerned the mental prison of obsessions. In Pseudopod’s 224th Episode, writer Lizanne Herd spins us a tale of a trio of inmates consigned to some terrible experiment (or worse) at the hands of malevolent, unfeeling aliens. This kind of plot and setup is similar to quite a few works in spec fiction, so I was skeptical going into it, but what it lacks in overt originality it makes up for in Lizanne’s writing style: which is smart, uncluttered, and well-paced.
In the case of our prisoners, I should point out we don’t start with three — a larger number was originally present. Rather than showing exactly what is done to them, Lizanne uses a less-is-more approach (always love that in horror), and tends to show us the sum result of the alien’s revolting treatment of their captives. Mumification, ginsu-style punishment, and impregnation are the orders of the day. Against this background of dwindling numbers (and hope), our hero who — if I recall — is never named, decides to take a stand.
What this leads to is a kind of hero’s charge against the aliens in all their chitinous evil. We’ve seen this kind of last-act-of-defiance in Pseudopod’s selections before, so I bet it is a favorite of the staff, and I can’t fault them for that. Heros and heroines that go down fighting have always been more enjoyable to me than the whining, slow death of characters that seem to give up a few stages in. If done right, the descent into evil or madness can certainly be effective, but I’m just a sucker for the sympathetic victim.
What really worked for me, though, were the aliens themselves. Lizanne stayed away from the familiar humanoids and gave us skittering, clicking horrors with insectoid eyes and an utter disregard for their prey. The experience of the prisoners does come off as the kind of treatment a neglectful owner might give to an animal it cares nothing for and doesn’t want to understand. Regular chow is whatever the humans can find in the garbage thrown into the featureless holding cell. The aliens either make no attempt at communication or can’t fathom how to even start expressing themselves to their captives, hence the frequency with their weapons of torture. The universal language of evil is pain, which thankfully Lizanne doesn’t go overboard with. We’re given just enough facetime with the aliens to move the plot along, and for the most part the gore is restrained.
Among weaknesses in the tale, I only found a few potential problems: if that is a gestating larva in the housewife’s body, why would they have returned the woman’s corpse to the same room as the captives? Why didn’t the aliens fit their dangerous cargo with some sort of restraining device? I am, though, applying human logic to the inmate control methods of aliens, so this might all be moot.
Matt Weller does a fine job with the reading, too, giving us a solid example of effective vocal variety; the kid is convincingly voiced differently enough from our hero. What he, Lizanne, and the staff at Pseudopod have given us is a fun, satisfying horror piece, and yet another reason to slap a tinfoil hat on and hunker around your radio in the bombshelter. On the upside, the aliens are hideous and crablike, so if seafood has taught me anything, in the event of a war with these things, at least we’d eat well.