Author here with some final observations.
Shortly after the episode was released, Rish asked me on Facebook what I thought of the production. At the time, I had just listened to it, and I was so blown away that I was forced to admit I didn't have the words to describe how I felt. And now that some time has passed and I've had a chance to reflect, I still don't. Let me put it this way: although I haven't served as long in the podcasting trenches as some, I've now had six stories podcast a total of seven times; and one thing I've noticed, which is probably true of most writers, is that the audio version of the story sounds nothing like it did in my head. This isn't a bad thing; it's inevitable. But now, with this episode, I have the privilege of hearing a story performed almost exactly as I imagined it while writing (I hope every writer gets a chance to feel that way; it would bring a tear to a glass eye.). Dave pulled off Mike Colavito perfectly: not ignorant, not a blowhard, not overly-clever--just a genuinely-witty working-class guy (a type that's depicted all too rarely, especially these days when people think "wit" means being able to hold an entire conversation in Monty Python quotes.)
The elephant in the room.
Some people said they thought the story seemed familiar, and as Chairman Goodchild has confirmed, it was indeed an episode of Escape Pod
in 2011. Obviously I prefer this new version, but I want to avoid beating up on the old version too much, because 1) I was extremely grateful even to be on Escape Pod
(and have yet to duplicate the achievement, or make the cut elsewhere at Escape Artists), and 2) it's pointless to criticize Escape Pod
for not being something it was never meant to be. This is a story that cries out for extra production work and multiple voices, and Escape Pod
isn't known for these things (though I did appreciate the little phone voice effect to differentiate the callers from the host).
The story was read by a fellow named Joshua McNichols, and while he was the polar opposite of what I had in mind regarding voice and demeanor, he develops a distinct smarminess as the story progresses that I think is effective as an alternate interpretation of the character. Furthermore, I'm pretty sure that there were some hectic goings-on behind the scenes at Escape Pod
at the time (they were issuing a lot of apologies to waiting submitters in those days), and I imagine Joshua was hastily handed a text and asked to do his best, and I've always been thankful to him for his performance.
audience seems to be a much more magnanimous sort than the Escape Pod
cohort; at least it took you guys a little longer to start finding my mistakes. Algernon Sydney's nits are substantive, and likely correct (I'm the last person you should ask about stuff like that). I'm inclined to lean on the aliens' "sufficiently advanced technology" simply trumping the limitations of AM radio that Algernon cites. Alternately, I had also conceived that the aliens' signal (or part of it) was an actual sound wave--or some other signal that mimics sound waves--aimed directly at Mike's microphone and going out over the air in the usual way. I don't know if that helps or not, but it's about as far as I can intelligently take the issue.
(The Escape Pod
thread is here
, if anyone's interested. Most of the nits, if I recall, were about recorded versions of the alien signal--as on an mp3 of the program archived as a podcast, for instance. [As author, I declare that recorded versions of the signal function normally.] Some people wondered about people who stop listening partway through the recording and don't hear the signal. I say it's just not possible that someone listening to that last alien's story wouldn't eventually listen through to the end. It just isn't.)
Based on a true story.
This actually happened, kind of. Mike Colavito is based on a real radio host in Cleveland, who has a talk show every afternoon from three to seven unless interrupted by Indians or Cavaliers coverage. He covers all topics, which is why this wasn't specifically a sports show or a politics show, for instance. One afternoon, he broke in on the Rush Limbaugh Show
at about a quarter to three and told everyone to go out and look at the northern sky over Lake Erie and come back in at three for the show. Sure enough: uncountable jet trails. It was the most I'd ever seen. Much of the show was then dedicated to a discussion of them, with someone eventually calling in and explaining that while it was
a more-crowded-than-usual intersection of commercial flights, there are always
more planes in the sky than can ordinarily be seen--except under certain weather and atmospheric conditions, which we were now experiencing. Nobody really possessed sufficient knowledge to question the notion, so the explanation was reluctantly accepted and the subject dropped (except in my imagination).
Ahmed really is Patrick's minder, but I never decided whether Patrick was a political prisoner or an ordinary criminal, so I don't know which of them is telling the truth. It may be that they both are, as they understand it, but in the long run it won't matter anyway.
The "waterboarding" reference dates the story a little, but when I wrote it in 2008, alleged acts of torture were still being discussed in the media. These days, anyone under sixteen probably thinks that was a surfing reference. I recall reading about a writer (I forget whom, or whether he was famous, or when he lived) who thought that all of his work ought to have copious footnotes from the first printing onward, knowing that if his books stayed in print long enough, everyday references would become unintelligible. This is one instance where I concur, because in fifty years (not that I'll be around), I imagine things will be so bad, or so weirdly different, that nobody will believe (without evidence, anyway) that splashing water in someone's face was once the great moral conundrum of the age.
This story was originally almost twice the length in its original draft. I enjoy writing dialogue, and sometimes I get carried away. There was, for instance, one scene where Mike sends an intern outside with a cell phone to describe the jet trails, and all sorts of wackiness ensues between the clueless intern and the frustrated host. It slowed the story way down and didn't advance the plot, so the listeners email Mike pictures instead. There were many more callers, too.
And, finally: this year I happened to read Harlan Ellison's 1982 collection Stalking the Nightmare
, which contains a story called "The Hour That Stretches," about a radio show that ends with a most unusual caller. Harlan can be litigious, so I should probably go on record that I'd never heard of his story at the time I wrote this one; it only appeared in a 1982 issue of F&SF
, which I've never seen, or the above-mentioned collection, which I only just read. Pure coincidence. But just in case, let's maybe not tell him, okay?