S4 E2. DINNER GUESTS – Neil McRobert & Nicasio Andres Reed

 
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What’s so scary about cannibalism? We talk to horror experts Neil McRobert, host of Talking Scared Podcast, and Nicasio Andres Reed, editor at the Deadlands, to find out.

Did you know Casting Lots now has merch? Find us on Redbubble: https://www.redbubble.com/people/CastingLotsPod/shop

CREDITS

Written, hosted and produced by Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis. With guest appearances from Neil McRobert and Nicasio Andres Reed.

You can find Neil McRobert on Twitter as @NakMac. Hear more from Neil on the Talking Scared Podcast: https://talkingscaredpod.com/. You can read his short story, ‘A Well-Fed Man’, in The Fiends in the Furrows II, published by Nosetouch Press (2020): https://www.nosetouchpress.com/project/the-fiends-in-the-furrows-ii-more-tales-of-folk-horror/. Or check out Neil’s recommendations of ‘The 50 Best Horror Books of All Time Will Scare You Sh*tless’ in Esquire, 9 May 2022: https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/books/g37676766/scary-horror-books/.

You can find Nicasio Andres Reed on Twitter as @nicasioreed, and the Deadlands online: https://thedeadlands.com/. Looking for something to read? Try Katie Gill’s ‘The Custom of the Sea’ in Deadlands 13 (May 2022): https://thedeadlands.com/issue-13/the-custom-of-the-sea/.

Theme music by Daniel Wackett. Find him on Twitter @ds_wack and Soundcloud as Daniel Wackett.

Logo by Ashley. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @tallestfriend.

Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network. Network sting by Mikaela Moody. Find her on Bandcamp as mikaelamoody1.

TRANSCRIPT

Alix: Have you ever been really, really hungry?

Carmella: You’re listening to Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast.

A: I’m Alix.

C: I’m Carmella.

A: And now let’s tuck into the gruesome history of this ultimate taboo…

[Intro Music – Daniel Wackett]

C: Welcome to Episode Two, where we’ll be speaking to podcaster Neil McRobert and writer and editor Nicasio Reed.

[Intro music continues]

C: Welcome back to Casting Lots podcast. Today we’re joined by Neil McRobert. Neil, would you like to introduce yourself and tell our listeners a bit about you and your connection to survival cannibalism?

A: Every time you ask that, it sounds like you’re asking who our guest has eaten.

Neil: I was gonna say, I haven’t devoured anyone that I know of. Although I did shop at Iceland for a while in the 2010s…

[Carmella laughs]

N: So who knows? I have a kind of tangential link to cannibalism – thankfully – I’m the host of a podcast called Talking Scared, which I describe, hopefully pithily, as a podcast for horror readers who want to know where their favourite stories come from, and what frightens the people who wrote them. Basically, it means I talk to a different famous horror author every week. I say ‘horror’: it’s a very broad church. As long as their books have an element of the macabre in them, I’ll talk to them, and we get into their work, their lives, their inspirations, and quite often the things that terrify them. And a few of those authors, I think, will come up in this conversation.

C: I am sure that we’ve probably read some of them ourselves! To get us started, I would love to hear your thoughts on what is it that makes cannibalism horrific? Obviously we here at Casting Lots have a very positive attitude towards cannibalism.

A: Pro-cannibalism, if you will.

[Neil chuckles]

C: But some people find it scary! So what are your thoughts on that?

N: Weirdos, right? Weirdos. So I’ve been listening to your show now on my daily dog walks, and I am quite delighted by how humanistic you are in your approach to cannibalism. Because I listen to a lot of true crime, horrible, you know, relishing-the-details type podcasts, where it’s all about how awful this stuff is. And you talk about how it’s necessary and, in the case, for example, of the Uruguayan flight disaster, how it’s a very human, almost respectful thing to do. That’s fine. But I think– Right, this is a weird thing to say in public, right?

[Carmella laughs]

A: Can’t wait.

N: For me, there isn’t really a stigma attached to cannibalism – for me. And I’ve never quite understood why people are so horrified by it, why it is this universal taboo. Above and beyond, you know, prion disease and the fact that you will possibly get very ill. I always think if I was in a real disaster where I had to eat somebody – who was hopefully already dead – to stay alive, I wouldn’t wait ‘til I was starving. I’d start early on, whilst they were still fresh, whilst they were the most use to me. Keep myself fit and healthy so I can get out of the situation. Don’t wait ‘til you’re emaciated… But that’s just me.

A: You’d have done very well on the Elizabeth Rashleigh: they still had food.

N: [Laughs] Well, I look forward to getting to that one! But yeah, so there is nothing – for me – particularly frightening about the act of consuming meat. I mean, I’ve just gone vegetarian, so that’s added complexity.

[Carmella laughs]

N: For me, it’s more being in a situation that is bad enough that you have to resort to that. Because very few reasonable people are munching down on their friends if stuff hasn’t really gone wrong. That, to me, is the terrifying thing. But again, this is only with survival cannibalism; it’s not so much with the Jeffrey Dahmers of this world, which is a whole different topic and different podcast.

C: I always call things like Hannibal Lecter and Jeffrey Dahmer– It’s the gentrification of cannibalism, right?

[Neil laughs]

C: Like, the survival cannibalism is the true, authentic cannibalism. And then the hobbyist–

N: Hipster cannibals!

C: Exactly.

A: But I think one of the things, when you look into cannibalism as part of fiction– Well, it’s polarising anyway. Most people have very strong opinions.

N: [Agreeing] Hmm.

A: And most of them are ‘this is wrong’. But from a fictitious perspective, it does always either seem to be something that’s absolutely horrifying, or I’m thinking of how Alive

N: [In recognition] Mmhmm.

A: Which did quite a good job of doing the Uruguayan story – but you have horror, or you have tragedy. There doesn’t seem to be any other route that cannibalism takes in fiction that I’m aware of. I would love to be proven incorrect… Well, there’s Cannibal! The Musical, of course. That’s a little bit different, but…

N: Yeah, it’s interesting. So horror and tragedy – I deal much more in the horror world than the tragedy world. But even within horror, when I was kind of coming up with a list of books to talk to you guys about, it struck me that there are three strands to the horror. You get the survival cannibalism, in books like Alma Katsu’s The Hunger or Dan Simmons’ The Terror. And to an extent something like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – that is more violent, that is more abhorrent in how it’s depicted. I mean, they’re eating babies, you can’t really make it nice.

[Carmella laughs]

N: So you get the survival cannibalism, which weirdly tends to be kind of historical retellings. Then you get hillbilly cannibal stuff. So to name some books, things like Off Season by Jack Ketchum, who was one of the absolute kings of a genre called Splatterpunk, which is kind of like just the most horrible stuff you can imagine.

C: I love that as a genre name. That’s so evocative!

N: Yeah.

A: It’s sort of seared itself into my brain as a term.

N: Jack Ketchum does it well, with absolute reckless abandon, and Off Season is very much that. And then there’s a book called Kin by a guy called Kealan Patrick Burke. A book called Brother by Ania Ahlborn, which I haven’t read. Everyone says I’ve gotta read it; I need to catch up with it. But they are very much in the tradition of sort of Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes, which were in turn inspired by Sawney Bean, the 17th century Scottish cannibal who lived in a cave and used to, you know, he had like 40 incestuous children and he was eating passersby. So both universal taboos: incest and cannibalism. But there’s that strand, there’s the hillbilly horror, and then the other strand, which I think is the one that is most distressing, is this industrialised cannibalism, I suppose. And this is a thing I’ve only seen in fiction and not so much in film. There’s a book that came out recently – and Argentinian book – by an author called Agustina Bazterrica, called Tender is the Flesh.

C: I am familiar with that one.

N: One of the most distressing things I’ve ever read in my life about just that– It’s like, we can no longer get these animals for some reason, so we’re now farming people on the same kind of scale that we farm animals currently. It’s horrendous. The one that most people won’t know about is a short story by Neil Gaiman, of all people, called ‘Baby Cakes’, which is exactly the same premise. It’s a one page short story and it basically says all the animals ran out, then there’s this line that just says, ‘Didn’t matter. We had babies.’ And it goes on from there, as you can imagine. And that industrialised thing for me is the one that is the true horror, perhaps because it reveals the hypocrisy of our carnivorous ways.

C: In real life, as well, the ones that we look at in Casting Lots, the most distressing ones are the cases where it’s a sort of socially engineered mass cannibalism due to created famine, and it’s a similar concept there, isn’t it? That it’s almost created as a necessity by humans, rather than just by random disaster.

N: You know something? Something’s just dawned on me. I’ve spent all day listing stories and books about survival cannibalism… and just– I’d forgotten that I wrote one [Laughs].

C: [Delighted] Ah!

A: Please do tell us more.

N: I– [Laughs] I wrote a short story called ‘A Well-fed Man’, and it’s in a collection called Fiends in the Furrows II. It’s a collection of folk horror stories by Nosetouch Press. And my story is about a little boy. I don’t really clarify where it’s set, but it’s clearly obviously Ukraine, if you know your history, and it’s set in the Holodomor, and it’s about a young boy who is warned by his mother never to talk to well-fed men. Because they’re all starving. And then he starts being pursued by a well-fed man through the village. Yeah. I forgot that I wrote the very thing we’re talking about.

C: That sounds amazing! Is that book still available?

N: Yeah I believe so, you can get it on Amazon I think, if you want to go to the enemy, or just go to Nosetouch Press’ homepage. It’s Fiends in the Furrows II is the name of the book. Mine is the only one with cannibalism in it as far as I know, so don’t go buying it expecting an omnibus of cannibal stories.

C: We’ll pop a link in the show notes and our listeners can go and make an informed decision about whether the book is for them.

[Neil laughs]

A: Where you were talking about industrial cannibalism–

N: [Following] Mmhmm.

A: I think one of the most iconic phrases in cannibalism media, if we ignore Hannibal Lecter–

N: “Fava beans and a nice Chianti”?

A: That’s the one. I would say underneath that, surely it’s “Soylent Green is people”.

N: Yeah.

A: I think it definitely comes under that industrial process, and sort of the human body is being broken down to composite parts and being made into–

N: [Agreeing] Mmhmm.

A: Soylent Green. There was actually one of those protein drinks that was called Soylent, and I was like ‘that’s a bad choice’. I don’t think someone did their marketing research there.

N: [Laughs] Yeah, someone do a Google search, please!

C: You’ve mentioned several books already that deal with survival cannibalism, but I wondered if you had any particular favourites, or particular recommendations that you’d like to dig into a bit more?

A: Other than your own, of course.

N: Well, The Hunger is a neo-classic, really. For people who don’t know, The Hunger is a supernaturally-informed retelling of the Donner Party, which delves into Native American lore. It’s fantastic. The two books that– Well, one’s a book and one’s a short story. A short story that I think is one of the most famous ever cases of survival cannibalism amongst people in the know is a short story by Stephen King called ‘Survivor Type’. Are you familiar with this?

C: I haven’t read that. I wasn’t aware King had written a cannibalism story…

N: So it’s in his collection Skeleton Crew from the 80s, and it– Basically, it’s about a man whose boat sinks or he crashes on a desert island. Very much Tom Hanks in Castaway, okay?

C: Classic set-up.

N: He’s a surgeon, happily, and all he has with him is his tools. And the food runs out. So he sets about eating himself.

A: Oh, a nice bit of auto-cannibalism.

N: Exactly that, yeah. And I’m gonna spoil this now for people, but it’s got I think one of the best last lines ever in a story. Because he’s basically eaten everything but the one limb he needs to do the cutting, and he knows there’s no hope left. And the final line is: “People say you are what you eat, and if that’s true, I guess I haven’t changed.”

C: That’s brilliant! [Laughs]

N: A lot of people talk about it being really horrifying; I think it’s a black comedy. I think it’s laugh-out-loud funny, you know. But then again, we are people who have quite a bit of time for pro-cannibalism. The other one, just to mention briefly, because it’s a kind of askance take on survival cannibalism, is a book called Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin. Gretchen Felker-Martin is a trans writer, and they are provocative in their fiction, shall we say? And it’s a story– it’s one of these gender dystopia things that are kind of all the rage at the minute, but pushed to the absolute max. It’s in a world in which this disease affects anybody over a certain threshold of testosterone. And if you become infected, you become basically a murderous, insane rape zombie, to put it nicely. And you get these different camps where men are monstrous things, and a lot of women have become kind of militant in their defence against men. And in the middle you have these sort of trans protagonists who have to keep their testosterone levels low enough to not be infected, while fighting off this army of militant– what the book calls “militant terfs”. And the only way they can keep their T levels low enough is by killing the men and devouring their testicles.

C: [Delighted] This sounds like it comes from a brilliant mind [Laughs].

N: It comes from a very brilliant mind and it comes from a very, as I say, provocative mind. And the book is intentionally abrasive, it sets out to upset you. I interviewed Gretchen for the podcast; it was a great interview. But yeah, it’s not for the faint-hearted by any means. But, apart from being a great story about survival and cannibalism, it also really works the fantastic metaphor for, you know, gender issues in the current climate. But yes, that’s my askance sort of shoe-horned-in recommendation to read Manhunt.

A: I’ve just remembered that I learnt the phrase ‘Splatterpunk’ was about Gretchen’s book.

N: Well there you go. It’s a phenomenal book. Someone needs to have – no pun intended – the balls to make an adaptation of it, ‘cause it would kill.

[Alix and Carmella chuckle]

A: That was two in one there. Now one of the things that comes up in adaptations of historical instances of cannibalism – thinking The Hunger and The Terror – is there does seem to be this need to mythologise the cannibalism. It can’t simply be a stand-alone horrifying action; there’s always an extra element that’s added in. Do you think that cannibalism by itself sometimes is almost too tame for the horror genre, and whether people want to add something else to it to add that extra dimension?

N: That’s a very good question, because you’re right: The Hunger features Native American demons, and The Terror has got this – what I thought was real – Inuit lore, but actually it isn’t, it’s created. I think there’s something about cannibalism when it isn’t done for purely murderous reasons that perhaps we are actually all deep down, despite this taboo, perhaps we are all sympathetic enough to understand that we probably would resort to that, and therefore yeah, perhaps it’s not enough in a historical survival context to constitute villainy.

A: That’s what I like to hear, because obviously we think it makes a lot of sense.

N: Because we know we’d need to do it. Of course, in The Terror you have Hickey, who is a villanous character, and he’s a driving force behind it. But even then, he’s a very human character, and you can kind of see why he’s become the person he is. He’s gotta survive. So yeah, I think it’s not enough to just benchmark a villain, and then we need this metaphysical threat to really drive home the horror.

C: Certainly in real-life cases of survival cannibalism, we’ve often found that in mostly newspaper reports – and we have been pretty damning of journalists of the past on this podcast before – but they’ve often historically liked to pinpoint one person as the instigator of cannibalism, and to treat them as this sort of– a supervillain, yep. There’s always this one character who’s found with a man’s beating heart in his mouth–

[Neil laughs]

C: Laughing maniacally when the rescuers arrive, and that sort of speaks to what we’ve been saying in fiction – it’s also true in journalistic non-fiction. To make a good story, you have to have that element of villainy on top of the cannibalism which, as we’ve said, is perhaps understandable.

N: I’m thinking about the film Ravenous, the Antonia Bird film with Robert Carlyle and Guy Pearce. It’s one of those films that is a true cult classic, I think. And that is, for those who don’t know the premise, is there’s a frontier fort manned by Guy Pearce and a motley crew of soldiers, and then one winter, Colqhoun – played by Robert Carlyle – maniacally turns up, saying that he’s survived a very kind of Donner Party-esque scenario, and it’s interesting that to make that film work, they had to make a singular person. They couldn’t have, like, this crew of people turn up who show the human face of desperation. It had to be one person who didn’t just eat his party, but actually – well, you get the implication – killed a lot of them to eat them.

A: Revelled in it.

N: Yeah. Yeah, that’s it. It’s the revelling; it’s the joy; it’s the glee and the transgression, I suppose.

C: And the interesting extension of that is, of course, that in these newspaper reports or fictional stories, the reader – we – are revelling in that character. So it’s almost a reflection of what the reading audience is feeling towards cannibalism, in a way.

N: Well yeah, we are all fascinated. And, I mean, this is no criticism, but you guys provide that same opportunity, you know, for us to kind of dip a toe into what it would be like. And obviously you do it in a very, as I say, human and very kind of responsible way. There isn’t much revelling on your part on the actual, you know, on the viscera, shall we say. Or it doesn’t come across that way, anyway – what you get up to in your personal lives, I don’t need to know…

[Alix and Carmella both laugh]

N: But I listen to your show because I’m fascinated by people who eat people. I mean, that says a lot about me… But I think we’re all fascinated by serial killers, you know, and the more transgressive the better, I suppose. As awful as that sounds. And I think what’s often forgotten in real life cases is that, with so much focus being put on the cannibal, we forget about the people who they’re eating a lot of the time.

C: Sort of lose the human tragedy in the gleeful horror.

N: Exactly that.

A: And it’s a human tragedy for the ‘cannibal’ as well. For the person who has had to resort to the final resource to stay alive.

N: [Agreeing] Mmm.

A: I know that we all– we all, definitely, everyone has had the conversation about ‘would you or wouldn’t you eat a person?’ But I know that, from having thought about it, I would; it would mess me up in the head. And I think when you have this very black and white– You have three characters, don’t you? You have the supervillain cannibal, you have the innocent victim, and you have the conflicted hero. All three are human.

N: Yeah. And I’m now feeling a bit uncomfortable about the fact that I quite quickly told you I’d eat people if I was just a little bit peckish.

[Carmella laughs]

N: To bring it back to horror for a second, because I know far more about that than I do real-world cannibalism: something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We think of that film as just good versus evil, these teenagers against this horrendous crew of inbred cannibals. That film is actually meant as a kind of metaphor for people who are forgotten. They work for generations in a slaughterhouse and then when the slaughterhouse shut down – literally because the highway took all industry away from the town where they live – and they’re just kind of left to rot. That in itself is a form of survival cannibalism, and a very bleak one. It turns survival cannibalism into a metaphor for desperation, that I think is more and more relevant today, with inequality. And you look at America today, I mean Britain’s bad enough, but you look at America and you’ve got whole swathes of that country that is just cut off, it’s just left behind. And then that’s when you get the hillbilly, which in its way is a form of cultural prejudice. And there’s a reason these cannibalistic metaphors are always imposed on these people who have been left behind by society, and by progressiveness. And I think, yes, I was talking about the humanity of it all: when you look at something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes or stuff of that ilk, it’s important to look at them as a metaphor for people in economic straits, as well as just ‘oh aren’t they awful because they’re eating grandpa’.

A: Because I know we joked about it a little earlier on, about the gentrification of cannibalism, but when you put it like that, I can’t think of any urban cannibalism stories; they do all tend to be for that sort of hillbilly genre out in the ‘sticks’. And I have to be honest, my main experience is that episode of Torchwood where it happens, so that may show where my cultural line is…

[Neil chuckles]

A: I can very easily imagine a sort of urban dystopia with these same narratives coming up, but I can only think of the real life examples of sieges; I can’t really think of cities being used as that landscape. At least not yet…

N: I’m sure the minute we hang up I’ll think of like four films or books that have done exactly that, but I can’t think of– The only times they happen is in things like American Psycho, in which he eats somebody, or, again in real life, you know, Dahmer. Or recently that film Fresh– have you watched that on the Disney Channel?

[Alix laughs]

C: I have been recommended it by so many people and I’m always like [in a bratty voice], ‘Ugh, it’s survival cannibalism, not all cannibalism’. But you know.

A: I’m still slightly thrown that there’s cannibalism in American Psycho, to be honest.

N: No, as I always warn people, the book is a very different beast to everything that came from that. But again, as you say, it’s not survival cannibalism. So no I can’t think of a case of urban survival cannibalism in fiction. I think perhaps the zombie performs that metaphor more ably.

C: That’s true, I don’t normally think of zombie media as cannibalism media, but of course that’s what it is really.

A: I have to be honest, there is one thing that has been in my head since we started talking about cannibalism as a form of othering and about how sometimes survival cannibalism isn’t enough. Carmella knows exactly what I’m gonna say here. My rather obsessive mind when it comes to the Whaleship Essex. There’s a fictionalisation of one of the stories of the ilk of The Hunger and The Terror, however the thing that is worse than the cannibalism is a completely ahistorical accusation of incest against one of the cannibals. And it’s almost as though that is the thing that has to take place so that the cannibalism itself isn’t as ‘justified’. That book has stayed with me for far longer than it should have done.

N: [Laughs] Is that In the Heart of the Sea?

A: No. In the Heart of the Sea is– The book is non-fiction. The film is beautiful but it’s not accurate. It’s a book called The Jonah Man. It’s only horror in as much as cannibalism is considered to be a horrific act; it’s quite a neutral bildungsroman of the main character. One of the characters. Sorry, I’ve just had that in my head for so long about The Jonah Man, I just had to say it out loud. Okay.

N: I’ve had something in my head that’s got no segue either, so let me just dump this on you, because I’m trying to work out whether this qualifies as survival cannibalism. And as a dog lover – an obsessive dog lover – in my mind it does. Have you ever heard of the story A Boy and His Dog?

A: No… But I’ve got an idea of where it might be going.

[Carmella laughs]

N: Well, it’s by Harlan Ellison, the famous very misanthropic science fiction writer. It’s the typical post-apocalyptic thing, it’s Mad Max. It’s about this boy and his dog, who are just navigating this fallen world of marauding clans and et cetera. And it’s a weird book because it reads like kind of YA, Lord of the Flies-type stuff, but goes into some really quite odd sexual directions. But what basically happens is this boy and his dog are the best of friends and they work together to overcome adversity. And then half of the book, the boy, Vic, meets this girl and he falls in love. And it’s this kind of Garden of Eden, you know, forbidden knowledge type parable almost. And then adventures ensue and Blood, the dog, who you’re rooting for all the way through, ‘cause it’s a dog, gets very ill and is at death’s door. And you are led to believe– You assume, because they’re all starving, that they’re gonna eat the dog. And then in the very final passages, you find out he kills the girl and feeds her to the dog so that the dog can survive.

C: That’s… brilliant. And so relatable.

[Alix laughs]

N: I’ve always felt really conflicted about it, because it’s an incredibly misogynistic story – like, problematically so… but I love dogs so much that I was just delighted that he did it. It was like this is really bad, but I’m so– I don’t think I’m supposed to be on board with this decision, but I was completely on board with it.

C: [Laughs] In our episode on Douglas Mawson, there’s a point where they’ve been eating the dogs gradually, and there’s two men left alive after their party have died horrific deaths. And they get down to the final dog. And then past the final dog. And one of the men is very ill, at death’s door, in the tent, and allegedly in his delirium asks Douglas Mawson: ‘Am I man or a dog?’ And it’s that, yeah, blurring of human life with animal meat, and which you give the priority. Yeah…

A: And I suppose you also have, in that story, you’ve got the concept of sort of personhood, where you have that priority being not necessarily a member of your own species, but a member of your own in-group.

N: [Agreeing] Mmhmm.

A: My dog’s my family, I will say that. We do like to blur the lines of what counts as cannibalism, and I think that is a really interesting one.

N: I couldn’t eat my dog.

A: My dog could eat me, though. I know that. She definitely would.

C: [Laughing] Well, I think that’s a beautiful place to end this.

[Neil laughs]

C: Thank you so much for joining us, Neil. Before we let you go, do you have any recent or upcoming projects, aside from the amazing Talking Scared podcast, that you’d like to promote to our listeners whilst you’re here?

N: You know what, it’s all podcast all the time really. I have a few articles coming out in Esquire, I’ve started writing for them. If you wanna get a sense of my sort of tastes and sensibilities, I wrote a thing called ‘The 50 Greatest Horror Novels Will Scare You Shitless’ [sic.] for Esquire – it’s a run down of exactly that, and The Hunger and The Terror feature on it. I think there are probably some other cannibal adjacent books on there too, so that’s a good read to give you a sense of who I am. But yeah, just please, if you want a bit of a insight into the minds of some macabre people, come over and listen to the podcast.

A: If you want a fright…

[Casting Lots theme music plays]

C: Welcome back to Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast. We’re joined by Nico, who is a writer and who I first met on a Worldbuilders panel about cannibalism. Nico, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself and your connection or interest in cannibalism, please?

Nicasio: Yeah, hi. I’m Nicasio Andres Reed. I’m a Filipino-American writer and editor, and in my day job I edit novels and translation, and in my night and weekend job I am the poetry editor at the Deadlands, which is an online Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine about death [Laughs].

C: Perfectly fitted to this podcast!

N: Yeah, yeah! So that’s what I do. I think like a lot of people of my generation – I’m in my late 30s – I kind of just encountered the movie Alive on TV at a very impressionable time [Laughs].

A: It was a very formative experience.

N: It was! I don’t know, like, if we’re roughly the same age, but I was left to like just watch television, I think as a babysitter, in the early 90s, and it was just on. And little diddy Nico was just riveted [Laughs]. And I don’t even think I have seen it since, at least certainly not, you know, the whole thing, but it left such an impression that it’s one of my references that for some reason I come back to quite a lot. So I think that was what struck the spark of cannibalism in my life. And you know, I have a terrible memory, and I had forgotten that we initially connected over that cannibalism panel– [Laughs] Because I was a listener of this podcast before that, and Worldbuilders, you know, just kind of gave me a blank cheque to be like ‘hey what would you want to do a panel about?’ And I immediately for, you know, obviously, was like ‘oh cannibalism, for sure.’

C: [Laughs] Obviously, it’s the only answer.

A: What else would you even talk about?

N: Yeah, what else would you even do if you wanted to do a fundraiser and attract a big audience?

[Alix and Carmella laugh]

A: ‘If you don’t donate, this is what will happen.’

N: [Laughs] Exactly! Whoa dark…

A: Now, I actually have a confession to make: I’ve never watched the film Alive.

N: [Pause] What?!

A: I’ve read the book, I’ve watched all the documentaries.

N: Y’all did a whole episode!

A: I know, but I’ve never watched the film!

N: This is freaking– You gotta do like an extra special episode that’s just like a live watch.

[Carmella laughs]

A: Oh, but can you imagine how obnoxious I’d be about it?

N: Oh no, you’d be horrible.

[Alix laughs]

N: That’s the fun of it, yeah [Laughs]. Like, ‘Oh, that’s the wrong seat number.’

A: Maybe if our audience demand…

[Carmella laughs]

N: ‘If you don’t donate to Casting Lots, we’ll force you to watch me watch this movie.’

[All laugh]

N: And correct them like a pedant. ‘First it was that one and then that one. She was sitting in a different seat number. It was A24!’

[Carmella laughs]

A: I mean, yeah, the problem is that’s exactly how it would go down.

N: [In agreement] Mmm.

C: There’s been this show recently that I don’t know whether you’ve encountered, Nico, called Yellowjackets. Fiction, but a girl’s soccer team, they crash in Canada on an aeroplane, and that is exactly how I was watching the show. I was like, ‘Well, when the Miracle in the Andes happened, they actually did this, so these girls aren’t making realistic choices’ [Laughs].

N: You know, that is a television show that I’ve encountered purely through gifs on Tumblr, and through that medium I had no idea that was the premise of the show! [Laughs]

C: It is really good fun, but–

N: [Struggling to speak through giggles] I thought they were at camp!

[All laugh]

N: It’s just all these– these gifs of these girls sitting around bonfires, and then later they’re older. I’m like ‘oh they’re reminiscing about their days in camp.’

[Nico and Carmella laugh]

N: Now I gotta watch it, though, that sounds great.

C: It’s really good, but there are times when they are not making the most sensible survival choices in my professional opinion.

A: I haven’t seen it yet, but all the things I’ve encountered from it, I’m like, ‘And where’s the cannibalism? I was told that this is a “normal survival cannibalism”. Are they gonna go and make it weird? Are they gonna do some weird ritual shit, or are they just gonna cut an arm off a dead body and roast it?’

C: It is one of those… Spoilers for anyone who hasn’t watched the full season, but they haven’t yet resolved this issue, but it’s this question of is there some kind of vengeful power in the forest that’s causing them to behave like this, or are they behaving like this because they’re teenage girls?

[Alix snorts]

C: And it’s currently leaving that as a mystery, which I like. I don’t know if it will resolve on either side of whether there’s supernatural intervention, or if it’s just ‘you know how it is when girls get together.’ [Laughs] They hunt each other for sport and eat each other!

[All laugh]

N: You know what, I found that was true when I was young.

[Carmella laughs]

A: Why can’t we just have a nice normal survival cannibalism story? Why does it always have to be some external force? Why can’t hunger be enough?

N: You know, I think that’s a good question, and that kind of segues into our supposed topic.

C: Yes!

N: On account of, that does seem to be something that fiction wants to do – is have some external, supernatural reason for people to do what’s deemed ‘unnatural’, right? So that you kind of– It’s almost a forgiveness technique, I suppose. That does seem to be something that happens. I had such an important question about Yellowjackets, because I haven’t seen it. So have they eaten anyone yet?

C: It has a really strong opening to Episode One, where they are eating a body.

N: Oh, excellent!

C: And that’s a flash forward, then it flashes back and we don’t know who’s being eaten or under what circumstances, but definitely a human body gets eaten.

N: Excellent, okay. See, I want to know that up front, you know? I don’t want my heart broken by the promised cannibalism, and then–

C: Yeah. It won’t mess around with you.

N: I remember when Lost first came out, and I was ready. I was primed. I even– Every season they would show that dog. They had a dog. They had a whole, like, fat labrador.

[Carmella laughs]

N: Never. Never even discussed it. Like, what are you doing? You know, there’s a bunch of, like, city folk on this island. They don’t know– They don’t know how to feed themselves, and they’ve got a chubby, adult labrador. I mean, I have four dogs, but come on!

A: Yeah, but Lost also had a polar bear.

N: They did have a polar bear. But you couldn’t eat the polar bear. I mean, the polar bear was gonna eat them. A lot of stuff happened on that show. Or possibly didn’t happen. I didn’t… follow– [Laughs]

[Carmella laughs]

N: Really where that went. I mean, it’s not like I want to eat dogs. You know, it’s not something I seek out.

C: But if it came to it you would eat the fat labrador? I mean, that’s fair.

N: Certainly someone else’s. [Laughs]

C: On the topic of pop culture and media, am I correct in thinking that there has been a Mindy Project survival cannibalism fanfiction in your history? And I– [Spoken with intense sincerity] I would love to hear more about the thinking behind that, the set up… Do tell me more, please!

N: [Sighs] Oh, jeez. You know, I didn’t know that this is what I would become known for, but–

[Alix and Carmella laugh]

N: But in hindsight, it does make some sort of sense [Laughs]. So– Alright. So I’ve written fanfiction for years and years, since probably high school, you know, for various things. I was never really tied to one particular thing I was writing it for, it was just whatever I was into at the time. Sometimes such a thing would happen. And I, for whatever reason, I got really into watching The Mindy Project. Like, when it first came out. I really liked Mindy Kaling. Chris Messina is just a smoke show. He’s just, like, gorgeous. And it was just a really funny show. But my wheelhouse as a writer is far darker!

[Carmella laughs]

N: And usually is speculative fiction and, you know, like, horror, and body horror specifically, and somehow in my brain they just mashed up.

A: The true embodiment of ‘inside of you, there are two wolves.’

N: [Laughs] Exactly! One is Chris Messina and Mindy Kaling, and one wants to… eat… Mindy Kaling.

[Alix and Carmella laugh]

N: So anyway, yeah, so the story is called… ‘Bootylicious’.

[All laugh]

N: It’s not very long. It has an author’s note at the beginning that says, like, ‘I did no research on this story.’ Like, the research is literally like I saw Alive once.

[More laughter]

N: That’s it. And it’s entirely that set up. It’s just like they’re crashed on a snowy mountain. Nobody’s coming. And it was them – Mindy and her fellow doctor Danny Castellano – and sometime before the action of this, their third… For some reason there are only three people on this plane. Or maybe– Let’s say the pilot and them got thrown, okay, they’re on some other peak, you know. Yeah, exactly, they got thrown off. Or he was eaten by wolves. I don’t know. But yeah, they had this other guy, Jeremy, their friend, who was pre-dead when the story began. [Breaks off into laughter]

A: Ah, so in media res?

N: Yes! Yes, that makes it much– [Laughs] Much more formal. And so, I mean, for me the thing of it is that I love rom-coms–

[Carmella and Alix laugh in surprise]

N: I really, I honestly do! And I love survival stories. And I love, like, survival cannibalism stories. And I think– This is gonna sound wacky, but I do think they have some of the same bones. Because you– Just stick with me on this! You have– [Bursts into laughter]

C: [Through laughter] I am so ready to hear this!

A: It’s about the human condition!

N: Exactly! The human condition! So the idea that you have these characters that kind of start out usually with a fundamental miscommunication, in a rom-com, right? And people who don’t quite know each other. And the action of the rom-com usually throws them in a situation in which neither of them is expert, right? So their kind of, like, natural powers are taken away, and they’re stripped down to their most frustrated selves.

C: [Waiting for the punchline] Okay?!

N: And then through that – having to endure that together – they come to understand each other in a more fundamental way.

A: And what could be more fundamental?

N: [In excited agreement] And what could be more fundamental than sitting down together and eating your mutual friend?

[All laugh]

N: So for me, anyway, that’s one way I like to look at rom-coms. I kind of look at rom-coms in the same way I look at speculative fiction: they exist in not quite this universe, right? The rules are a little different in a rom-com.

C: [In agreement] Mmm.

N: You know? Things are a little skewed in a rom-com, so you have a bit of narrative wiggle-room to make things extreme. So I wrote this little story, and the very small, you know, 20-person Mindy Project fandom… Uh…

[All laugh]

N: Were very, very sweet about it. I got a lot of comments that were like, ‘I am not sure what just happened, like, I’m– I feel bad for having read this.’ But in, like, a positive way.

C: Hey!

N: For me, the fun of it is the genre mashing. The fun of it was doing that extreme situation. So yeah, my, like, rom-com survival cannibalism story grand theory of the universe is that I guess these – in fiction I would say, obviously, rather than reality – in fiction, these survival cannibalism stories often premise themselves on revealing character through whittling away power and whittling away agency and, in fact, whittling away civilisation, until you come to a place that’s kind of beyond those things. In The Terror Season One, James Fitzjames says “We’re beyond vanity now”, so I think that’s where these things exist, in a place beyond vanity.

C: I have a very bad pun to make… meat cute.

[Moment of stunned silence]

N: Oh my God!

A: That’s the title!

[Carmella laughs]

N: Oh my God. Oh my God.

A: I am picturing– You know the type of illustration you get on a rom-com? I just want Meat Cute the book cover. They’re probably sitting around a fire, there are stars, it’s very romantic.

C: [Laughs] There’s a leg on a spit.

N: Yeah, I was like, ‘Well, what’s turning on the fire?’

[Carmella laughs]

A: There’ll be a perfectly-fed dog next to them.

[Carmella still laughing]

A: Like they’re just camping, just to bring it all full circle.

C: I mean, we do have a running joke on the podcast about Bills & Boon which is, you know, cannibalism erotica. And I think that, yeah, there’s room to branch out into the more romantic fiction side of things.

N: Absolutely. Thank you for justifying that. [Laughs] I am literally writing down ‘meat cute’.

C: You’re welcome to use it, please do.

N: When I need a sideline, that’s gonna– That’s gonna be my breakaway hit. Who doesn’t love that?

A: Now you see, what I’m really tempted to do right now is just go on AO3 and see what’s been tagged as ‘survival cannibalism’.

N: It’s a term that I didn’t really use before I started listening to your podcast, you know? Because, like, it was all just cannibalism to me. But the differentiation is important. You know, at the Deadlands, before my time there, we had a non-fiction piece by Katie Gill called ‘The Custom of the Sea’, which is sort of like a lightning-fast run down of a million different survival cannibalism scenarios. She organised it very cleverly as a ‘how to’.

A: Oh nice!

N: Yeah, ‘So you’ve accidentally had to partake in the custom of the sea? How do you go about this?’ It’s a really cute little article, and has so many instances that I hadn’t heard of, and that– I don’t think you’ve covered all of them yet. There’s a couple in there you might want to take a look at, you know.

C: There’s definitely a lot of custom of the sea ones where it’s just tragically lacking information. So we know that people were on this boat and they ate each other, but where’s the juicy details, you know?

A: Like, man cannot live on ‘they subsisted off the body for three weeks’. I’m like, ‘Come on!’

C: But what were they feeling?

N: Which part of the body?

C: These are the important questions that we ask.

A: What did it taste like?

N: [Agreeing] MmHmm. How did it haunt them?

C: What have we got on AO3?

A: So on AO3, I have just searched ‘survival cannibalism’. I’m just gonna give a quick run down of the fandoms where survival cannibalism has been tagged, just so that we can see the diversity…

N: Wait, I want to guess! I want to guess the number one.

C: I feel like Supernatural has gotta be up there?

N: Gotta be up there.

C: But is that too obvious?

N: It’s a little obvious. I feel like there’s gotta be some RPF in there. Like, there’s gotta be, like, some Harry Styles kind of–

C: Yes!

N: One Direction, you know.

C: One Direction. They’re on a plane flying to their next concert.

N: [Snorts] They’re often on a plane, aren’t they?

C: They obviously eat Niall first.

N: There’s a Niall?

A: Well there was…!

C: Not anymore!

N: [Sad trombone noise] Alright, what have we got?

A: Okay, so these are the most popular on AO3 fanfiction featuring survival cannibalism… Mad Max.

N: [Disappointed] Oh.

C: Ehh. Yeah.

N: Like, does that even count? That looks like a place where that just happens.

A: Oh, don’t worry, the next one will take us back to those wild heights. Among Us the video game.

N: I love it.

C: I see it.

N: I see it! Because, like, sometimes when you get killed in that you just become a little hambone.

A: Yep! My Hero Academia. There are also some very… alternative tags on that. That I will not be reading out loud. Naruto.

N: [Delighted] Naruto?! Wow! [Laughs]

A: Outlast the video game. Undertale the video game.

N: Whoa. Okay.

A: Teen Wolf.

C: [Very excited] Yes!

N: You were waiting for that one?

A: And shockingly low down on the list… Hannibal.

[Carmella cackles]

N: Well because it’s not for survival, right? Yeah.

C: That’s true.

N: Star Trek and Star Wars are battling it out for next place.

C: Cannibalism in space. It’s gotta happen.

A: Little Nightmares video game. A lot of video game cannibalisms.

N: Interesting.

A: The Dragon Prince cartoon.

N: What? Isn’t that, like, a kid’s cartoon?

C: I’m surprised there’s not a My Little Pony one, actually.

N: Horse cannibalism is very under-represented in the media, I think.

A: It might make you like horses more.

C: [Laughing] Yeah.

N: Are you a horse detractor?

C: I don’t trust them.

N: Oh, that’s fair.

A: Dead by Daylight, and then The Untamed.

N: Oh there’s, like, there’s canonical cannibalism going on there, so… Yeah.

A: IT.

C: Well, that’s too easy.

N: [Agreeing] Mmm.

A: Snowpiercer – also canonical sort-of-survival cannibalism. Captain America.

N: [Unsurprised] Hm.

A: The Avengers, and to wrap it up, The Hobbit.

[Nico gasps in delight. Carmella giggles]

N: Oh my lord! I need to know what species. [Laughs]

C: Yeah, is it cannibalism, like, if a hobbit eats a dwarf? Or if an elf eats a human?

N: I think elves could eat whoever, you know. From their point of view.

C: Yeah.

N: Because they’re– They’ve got the whole immortal thing going on.

A: I think it appears to be dwarf cannibalism.

N: Just dwarf on dwarf?

A: Yes. I’m not repeating that.

[Alix and Carmella laugh]

N: Alright coward!

A: So the survival cannibalism genre is thriving in fandom spaces, and I am very surprised that The Terror wasn’t on the first page.

N: I am as well. You know, I think a lot of The Terror fanfiction is sweeter than you would think.

C: Coffee shop AU, yeah.

N: Yeah, because– I mean, I know because I go looking for the horrible stuff, and it’s all just, you know, like, [in a mocking voice] ‘everyone’s alive’. That’s not why I watch the show.

C: [Laughs] I don’t want them to be alive!

N: No, it’s not the point. The point is they’re all dead. [Laughs] I think for me, you know, The Terror, I loved that season, and I think it really epitomised what I love about that genre of fiction. Not just, like, the trek across the ice genre of fiction, but the survival and the survival cannibalism… Can we call them tropes? I guess. Yeah, it’s really that it does strip away things. When I start to pitch the show to people, they think that it’s very dark and that it’s very sad – and it is those things, but more and more as it goes on, it’s about finding the most loving way to let someone’s life end, and to witness the end of their life. In that one, the cannibalism is– I mean, it’s complicated, obviously. But the moment it becomes an act of love is when, you know, the doctor poisons himself in order to die so the other guys eat him and they can’t hurt anyone else. Yeah, that’s what I love about cannibalism, is how sweet and loving it is. [Bursts into laughter] I say that jokingly, but I am serious!

A: You say that laughing but, like, there’s Alix about to get into it, because they didn’t do it in The Terror, because they were focusing a lot more on, not quite black and white, but your cannibals were the bad guys.

N: Yep.

A: In real situations, in normal life – you have this with the Andes; you have this with the Skyhawk; you have this in a lot of situations – that people will sit down and talk about it. They will say ‘eat my body if I die’. It’s that moment when Nando is about to walk off as one of the expeditionaries, and he takes one of the leaders aside, and his mother and his sister’s bodies have basically been…

C: Off limits?

A: Off limits. And he just says, ‘When we’re gone, if you need to, you have my permission.’ Cannibalism isn’t this evil thing done by evil people for evil reasons, it’s how much can people want to survive? And ultimately, in almost all of these situations, people want to survive for each other… And then you get the absolute, you know, mad cases, where only one person walks out and they’re waving human hands off the ship, and it’s just like what the hell is going on on that boat?

[Carmella laughs]

A: But for the most part, it’s emotional. Okay, I’ve had my ‘cannibalism is all about the human condition’ moment.

N: It is, though, it’s true! No, no, I’m with you. For me that is why I inserted it in a rom-com, and, like, why I think it is actually a really interesting pairing, is that, you know, you have a very serious thing that is about being human, and that is about loving each other in an extreme situation. That’s also the moment in the account of Alive that always gets me. That and just the fact that his sister and his mother were set aside voluntarily by everybody, that they wouldn’t do that for so long. It just speaks immediate volumes as soon as you know that.

A: Cannibalism is beautiful.

N: Isn’t it? Aww, nothing brings us together like cannibalism.

A: Literally.

[Carmella and Alix chuckle]

C: Well, on that note… Thank you so much for joining us today, Nico. That has been fascinating!

N: Hasn’t it?!

A: I think we’ve all learnt a lot.

N: About each other, about ourselves. Yeah.

A: About the AO3 algorithm…

C: Before we let you go, do you have any upcoming projects or current projects that you would like to plug to our audience, or encourage them to check out?

N: I just want to plug the Deadlands again, because it does seem like a good fit for the same audience. So if you’re ever looking for short fiction, poetry, non-fiction, and we have an on-going ‘ask a necromancer’ feature that is coming up. It’s a really, really cool magazine. I edit poetry; it’s my domain, I get to absolutely everything, so if you send me a poem, it is me, I will read it, not some intern schlub, you know? So you get this genius brain looking over– [Laughs] Looking over your words. And I would love more cannibalism content in my slush pile.

A: You heard it here first, folks. If you don’t get a whole load of cannibalism poems, I’m going to be very disappointed.

N: I will, in fact, be very disappointed. [Laughs]

C: Well, the challenge is out there. The gauntlet has been thrown down.

A: The hand is still inside the gauntlet.

C: Lots of food for thought from this episode. Pun intended.

A: I’m normally the bad one with puns.

N: You just, like, you threw out ‘meat cute’ and now you’re just drunk with power.

C: Thank you so much for joining us, it’s been wonderful.

A: Wonderful to talk to you, Nico.

N: It was wonderful, thank you so much for thinking of me and having me here. And I look forward to seeing how you make us sound like we were not just cracking up for the past half hour. [Laughs]

[Outro Music – Daniel Wackett]

A: Thank you for listening to today’s episode featuring Neil McRobert and Nicasio Reed. Next time, we’ll be speaking to a historian of corpse medicine, a curious father-son duo, and a pair of fellow Morbid Audio podcast network members.

[Outro music continues]

A: Casting Lots Podcast can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr as @CastingLotsPod, and on Facebook as Casting Lots Podcast.

C: If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, don’t forget to subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please rate, review and share to bring more people to the table.

A: Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast, is researched, written and recorded by Alix and Carmella, with post-production and editing also by Carmella and Alix. Art and logo design by Ashley – @Tallestfriend on Twitter and Instagram – with audio and music by Daniel Wackett – Daniel Wackett on SoundCloud and @ds_wack on Twitter. Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network – search #MorbidAudio on Twitter – and the network’s music is provided by Mikaela Moody – mikaelamoody1 on Bandcamp.

[Morbid Audio Sting – Mikaela Moody]

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