Escape Artists

Escape Pod => Episode Comments => Topic started by: Swamp on May 27, 2010, 08:00:21 PM

Title: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Swamp on May 27, 2010, 08:00:21 PM
EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake (http://escapepod.org/2010/05/27/ep242-the-love-quest-of-smidgen-the-snack-cake/)

By Robert T. Jeschonek  (http://www.robertjeschonek.com/wordpress/).
Read by John Cmar.

First appeared in Space and Time Magazine (http://spaceandtimemagazine.com/wp/issues/issue-108/), issue 108.

For her entire adolescent and adult life up until three weeks ago, Lynda had been the queen of junk food. Aside from the briefest blips of non-junk spending due to occasional failed diets, she had purchased only the most fattening, high-cholesterol, chemical-soaked foods available from grocery stores, restaurants, vending machines, and mail order websites.

In short, she was the perfect woman. Though she was on a diet that day, she had eaten non-nutritious foods in great quantities all her life. Though her last purchases had been salad greens and bottled water, her 250-pound body told the true story.

I knew she was just waiting for someone like me to come along.


Rated PG. for innuendo-heavy snack cake desire.

(http://escapepod.org/wp-images/podcast-mini4.gif)
Listen to this week’s Escape Pod! (http://c1.libsyn.com/media/18601/EP242_Love_Quest_of_Smidgen.mp3?nvb=20100527194941&nva=20100528195941&sid=c91fe5a0e1bd794cc022afc6b8b13420&t=0e30f4114f9312ed4f2c5)
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: yicheng on May 27, 2010, 08:35:41 PM
Pretty well written and well read.  It's a bit scary to tell the truth.

Good reason to eat organic, at least, since I'm pretty sure nano-computer-AI wouldn't be organic.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Schreiber on May 27, 2010, 11:35:08 PM
Can't help being reminded of the creature at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe who wanted so badly to be eaten. :)

It would be easy to read this story as a straightforward rail against commercialism and consumerism, and maybe that was Mr. Jeschonek's intention. But I think 'Love Quest cuts deeper than that. At its heart (or rather, its creamy center), I think Smidgen signifies an anxiety over the problem of persuasion.  Linda never really stood a chance against the snack cake's ingenuity. I don't mean to keep throwing out comparisons to canonical works of science fiction, but recall the final chapters of George Orwell's 1984. Linda, like Winston Smith, isn't really meant to be taken as a special case. She's just a normal human being. Which is to say she might as well be an oyster. Crackable by anybody who knows how.

The one thing humans seem to get better at over the centuries is manipulating other human beings. It's a horrifying and deeply problematic thought, but I think we're gradually coming to grips with the notion that under the right circumstances anybody can be convinced to do anything. In that light, Linda can almost be seen as a best case scenario. She successfully dies rather than give in to persuasion.

Personally, I thought the electro-shock diet implant she burnt out was meant to be a kind of foreshadowing and was disappointed when it turns out that eating the snack cake wasn't what killed her. But maybe Mr. Jeschonek wanted to end the story with a faint, but ringing, note of hope.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Boggled Coriander on May 28, 2010, 08:31:45 AM
On the one hand, I admit that the quasi-erotic descriptions made me smile.  It was a somewhat ashamed "I can't believe I found that funny" smile, but a smile nonetheless.

On the other hand, as someone who is skeptical about the effectiveness of dieting, I found it deeply depressing  that in the late 21st century we can grant sentience to snack cakes, but we industrial-society folk are still going on old-fashioned diets to lose weight.

But on the other hand, I've now gotten two out of three EA podcasts to say "Boggled Coriander" in the outro, so I guess on the whole I'm happy.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: ToooooMuchCoffeeMan on May 28, 2010, 08:36:29 AM
Meh.

Very nice extrapolation on the technology for point-of-sale marketing, but in service of a trivial, silly, entirely predictable plot. Trivial and silly, but with a gratuitously horrifying suicide thrown in.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Yargling on May 28, 2010, 09:45:46 AM
Listening to this now and loving it!  ;D

Edit: Finished - overall, I liked it, and it does highlight the growing danger in our society of smart data mining which, rather than allowing the 'free market' to service the market better, allows them to manipulate the market increasingly to how they want it to be. And I have to admit, I never really thought about how something as apparently benign and 'dumb' as Amazon's suggestions could be developed to its logical conclusion of having an advertising AI in every product.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: clperria on May 28, 2010, 12:29:10 PM
I was loving this story untill the suicide. I thought that was unnecessary and it ruined it for me.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Listener on May 28, 2010, 12:42:54 PM
On the surface, this is a great Drabblecast-like story about a snack cake with a purpose and a desire to be loved. And if the story is taken for what it is, it's great -- funny, silly, cautionary, and in the end we have a criminal snack cake (murder -- chocolate can kill dogs -- and manslaughter -- unintentionally causing Linda to kill herself) who gets his...

...wait for it...

JUST DESSERTS!

And the reading was great, too.

But if you look deeper...

* How much must a Smidgen snack cake cost to have all this stuff in it?
* Hovercarts? Who needs those when wheels work just as well, and what grocery store would pay for them?
* In the future, fat people are still seen as ugly and unattractive, apparently.
* What Boggled Coriander said about dieting.
* If you can have smart AIs, and palmscreens that download stuff, why couldn't her smart apartment or smart RFID chip pick up on words like "kill myself" and preemptively call the police? I kept expecting that to happen.

One thing I noticed -- a "smidgen" is a small thing... so the marketers were at work there too, making you think you're eating just a tiny thing.

I really liked some of the marketing trickery, which isn't as far off as one might think, especially with Facebook's pervasive data-mining-and-sharing and the way we completely put ourselves out there online. I mean, if I tweet about being hungry I get autofollowed by diet gurus. If I bitch about search marketing or Facebook's privacy fails, I get autofollowed by social marketing "experts". If I RT something funny that my sexblogger friends have said, I get autofollowed by a pornbot. It's all just a matter of time... which, I think, is in the end, the point the author was making: this is coming. We can't stop it. Might as well accept it.

For all that, I really liked the episode.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: stePH on May 28, 2010, 03:23:15 PM
This one's for no.  Lame doesn't begin to cover it. 

The utterly ludicrous concept of a sentient snack cake is made even worse by piling on every stupid cliche of a pickup/seduction story.  I'm up to where she's bought the cake and taken it home, and not even sure I want to continue.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Void Munashii on May 28, 2010, 06:59:45 PM
  I enjoyed this one, but felt it went on a little too long, and the whole process seemed like a lot of time and effort to sell one unit of snack cakes. I can see the methods in this story becoming a reality, but not to such an exaggerated level as this.

  There were some parts of the story that nagged at me; as Listener pointed out, why hovercarts? Surely the expense of powering them would outweigh any possible advantages to having them in the first place. I cannot even think of any advantages to hovercarts other than being futuristic-y. Also, if you live in a world where food talks to you and tries to convince you to eat it, wouldn't you develop a block to that sort of stuff in the same way I am not swayed by 99% of television commercials.

  I also though of "Restaurant and the End of the Universe" while listening to this story, and all in all I would have side with Arthur Dent. I have little interest in eating anything that is smart enough and has the ability to try to convince me to eat it.

  The reading for this was perfect, although I kept thinking of the boss from "The Takeover" (for probably obvious reasons) the whole time.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: KenK on May 28, 2010, 08:45:24 PM
B.F. Skinner and his ilk would be so proud if this happened in real life.  :D
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: stePH on May 28, 2010, 08:49:57 PM
Well, I went ahead and finished it, if for no other reason that I've never abandoned an EA story yet, and I've suffered through worse than this.  But it only got worse; the narrative full of lines that could have been dropped seamlessly into a porn story.  Like snack cakes themselves, this story was made of suck.

On an unrelated note, I feel sorry for Gamercow, whose name has been mispronounced twice in the feedback sections now (DKT said "Game-crow" in a recent Podcastle, and now wossname says "Gamer-crow").
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Heradel on May 28, 2010, 10:50:48 PM
On an unrelated note, I feel sorry for Gamercow, whose name has been mispronounced twice in the feedback sections now (DKT said "Game-crow" in a recent Podcastle, and now wossname says "Gamer-crow").

That was me, sorry if I did. I'll make a note for the next time I use one of their comments.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Traeonna on May 28, 2010, 10:57:56 PM
Disturbing enough was the reinforcement of the fact that society is already going into a very scary direction as far as RFID, targeted marketing, etc., but then the author took us on a ride complete with pseudo-erotic snack cake talk and a bit of feederism for taste. Although completely silly, the story left me a bit distressed. I fear the day my snacks start ACTUALLY talking to me.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: eytanz on May 28, 2010, 11:35:32 PM
I'm about 12 minutes into the story right now, and am taking a break from it. I'm curious as to the setup - what happened to Linda? Why is she dead? But the rest of the premise just isn't engaging me. Plus the whole thing is ridiculous. I glanced above and saw the critique about the silliness of hovercars, but also - do these stores only allow one customer at once? the targetted coupons are one thing - we already have early versions of that, and it will get to the level described in the story soon - but rearranging the store to suit the shopping patterns of one customer? What if two customers with conflicting patterns are shopping at once? And, unless they have free energy in the future, it must be more expensive for the store to run this system than the benefit it gives.

I'll be back once I'm done listening to this story, and see if my impression changes.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: KenK on May 28, 2010, 11:59:18 PM
I wonder if it would be ethical or even legal to, oh..say, use known psy-ops methods to sell alcohol, tobacco, or food with diabetes inducing sugar levels to people?  ;) People are just such simple creatures and no match at all for the social science and marketing types in the pay of today's sociopathic capitalists. Lost cause to even try and fight them really. I think that's what the story was about and I think it was spot on, too.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Ocicat on May 29, 2010, 02:58:21 AM
There is nothing about this story that is plausible...   This story is taking marketing trends and exaggerating them past the point of plausibility and into the realm of the silly.  Which is great if you ask me.  If you've got sentient talking snack cakes that can see, I'm not going to quibble about a hovercart.  Get silly enough, and I'm going to stop thinking of the story as "Science Fiction" and just go with a good parable.  Going over the top allowed the story to make commentary on marketing in a memorable way, add in subtext about dishonesty in relationships, and be funny to boot.  Thumbs up from me.

Though even I was wondering why she didn't have other AI's to talk to around the house, and why fat is still so unattractive.  With all that pressure to consume, there must be plenty of fat people out there, dating each other. 
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: contra on May 29, 2010, 05:13:11 PM
I'm about 12 minutes into the story right now, and am taking a break from it. I'm curious as to the setup - what happened to Linda? Why is she dead? But the rest of the premise just isn't engaging me. Plus the whole thing is ridiculous. I glanced above and saw the critique about the silliness of hovercars, but also - do these stores only allow one customer at once? the targetted coupons are one thing - we already have early versions of that, and it will get to the level described in the story soon - but rearranging the store to suit the shopping patterns of one customer? What if two customers with conflicting patterns are shopping at once? And, unless they have free energy in the future, it must be more expensive for the store to run this system than the benefit it gives.

I'll be back once I'm done listening to this story, and see if my impression changes.

Well it would be all about how it worked behind the scenes.

It may be cheaper for the company to keep the underground sorting system on all the tim,e in the event of stock needed, or getting older stock out of there.  Also it depnends the time of day they were shopping and how important the cake company is to the shop. 
They may have a special deal to allow this level of interaction with their customers to the point of rearranging the whole story for them.

For when you are finished

In it though, it mentions that the store computer decided that cake was most likely to win; so maybe it does this for every customer, and everyones weakness appears to them at the exact moment they don't need it.  Also I didn't see it as taking the main product on the front of the shelf, and taking them all over there; more it took some of them and put them in a good place. 

I can see why people may want or go for something like this though.  Walk into a shop, and what you usually buy is waiting there for you.  People are just mad enough to want that.


I like the story.  Though the idea of it having eyes creeps me out more than anything else.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: CryptoMe on May 30, 2010, 01:09:32 AM
I wonder if it would be ethical or even legal to, oh..say, use known psy-ops methods to sell alcohol, tobacco, or food with diabetes inducing sugar levels to people?  ;) People are just such simple creatures and no match at all for the social science and marketing types in the pay of today's sociopathic capitalists. Lost cause to even try and fight them really. I think that's what the story was about and I think it was spot on, too.

Hey Kenk, I'm kinda getting lost on where you are being facetious and where you are being serious.
   I agree that there is an ethics that should be followed in marketing (though often isn't).
   But, I do not agree that it is a lost cause to fight unethical marketing practices.
   And I do not believe that people are "simple creatures" who can't think for themselves.
Is it difficult to resist marketing and social pressures? Yes. Is it impossible? I certainly don't think so. sure

I think the story makes a good effort to show this in an exaggerated way. Linda killed herself in her bid to resist the marketing temptation machine. To me, this shows great strength in a perverse way. If she can do it, others can too. And I think most would find a more balanced solution than Linda's.

BTW Kenk, sorry if I misinterpreted the meaning of your post. As I said, I kinda got lost in there somewhere.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Scattercat on May 30, 2010, 04:06:28 AM
Escape Pod continues the theme of Inappropriate Objects Express Sexual Desire.

I liked this story.  I think the various elements listed as implausible are only implausible if you look from the current perspective.  Once the protein-based quantum computer technology becomes cheap and easy, no one will think twice about putting it in snack cakes.  I hear these cries of "Implausible!" as faintly echoing the cry of a 1950's scifi viewer crying, "Yeah, like they'd have computers in everything.  C'mon!  Computers are as big as houses!  Even if they got smaller, they'd still weigh at least fifty pounds.  You'd never fit one in a car or a television or a watch."
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Sgarre1 on May 30, 2010, 05:17:39 AM
Yahoo! "Willing suspension of disbelief" salutes you, Sir!
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: kibitzer on May 30, 2010, 12:44:48 PM
So, I'm about 15 minutes in. Not sure I'll finish this one. The projected tech is interesting but I'm having a very very hard time "swallowing" the foodstuff's POV.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: KenK on May 30, 2010, 03:17:59 PM
@ CryptoMe
Quote
To me, this shows great strength in a perverse way.
I see it as the ultimate surrender.  :-\   I run the gamut between serious reactions to sarcasm and bile. Depends on when I post and what condition I'm in when I do it.

About the other points you raise.

I think that human behavior is way less complex than we imagine. And everyday science gives more and more tools (http://futurismic.com/2008/09/17/brain-scans-an-end-to-lying/)  to the marketers and politicians who use them to bend society toward their goals; money for the marketeers and control for the political elites.

Some posts have criticized this story for being impossible, implausible and unlikely and etc. but I think we need to consider stories like this in the same way you'd view stories like  Gulliver's Travels  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulliver%27s_Travels#Major_themes) or the movie  Brazil. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_%281985_film%29) Exaggeration to emphasis or illustrate the author's POV.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: blueeyeddevil on May 30, 2010, 03:37:36 PM
'Dear shopper's weekly forum,
      I never thought it would happen to me but-'

At first blush, this story seems much like its main character; a tasty, delectable bit of trifle. Maybe it isn't good for you, but forgivable as an indulgence.(yes I know someone didn't forgive herself the indulgence, not my point)
There is much more here though, much of which has been ably put by others. I would personally name as the most important issue of the story not the targeted marketing, but the similarity of hunger to desire. Appetites are appetites, the social and cultural forces tell us some are better than others. Lynda loved eating, and had there been no other external pressure on her to be something other than she was, would have probably been perfectly happy eating away.
It's sadly perverse that after millions of years of evolution and scrabbling in the dust for enough to make a half-mouthful of dinner, we 'make it' as a species and have easily accessed surpluses of food, and decide that people don't look good when they're over-fed. I know its not healthy, but we let people kill themselves in faster and nastier ways with drink and smoke, and often with less disapproval.


On a side note, my family owned and operated a bakery when I was young. My mother used to describe the various trays of baked goods starting to talk to her at about ten minutes after closing. The narrator's voice in this story sounds a lot like how she said the eclairs used to sound.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: tamahome on May 31, 2010, 02:16:07 PM

Escape Pod is supposed to be fun, and I really enjoyed this one.

For anyone struggling with weight, graphing my weight daily on the Hacker's Diet free website,  with its calculated trendline, really helped me. 

(http://www.fourmilab.ch/hackdiet/online/dfig/monthlog.png)

http://www.fourmilab.ch/hackdiet/online/hdo.html
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: MacArthurBug on May 31, 2010, 04:25:38 PM
I caught a case of the giggles listening to the near lewd descriptions. As someone who has been extremely overweight I was saddened by a future a blush too close to what seems to be coming. Where tech will push marketing a friggin' snack cake to entice dieters into giving in. OR "Seaweed crunches" (that sounds disgusting BTW) that give guilt but must not be very convincing 'cause she still would rather "kill" them then eat them. But dieters are still sold "Fads" that don't work. How sad. 
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: CryptoMe on May 31, 2010, 05:55:29 PM
I think that human behavior is way less complex than we imagine. And everyday science gives more and more tools (http://futurismic.com/2008/09/17/brain-scans-an-end-to-lying/)  to the marketers and politicians who use them to bend society toward their goals; money for the marketeers and control for the political elites.

Some posts have criticized this story for being impossible, implausible and unlikely and etc. but I think we need to consider stories like this in the same way you'd view stories like  Gulliver's Travels  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulliver%27s_Travels#Major_themes) or the movie  Brazil. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_%281985_film%29) Exaggeration to emphasis or illustrate the author's POV.

I absolutely agree that this story is a hyperbole meant to bring our attention to the fact that manipulation by marketers is happening, right now. But, I don't think this means that the situation is hopeless.

I believe that we as consumers need to be way more careful, aware, and thoughtful about our purchases. I myself don't buy anything, even a small snack cake (though the story did make me really, really want one ;)), without serious thought - e.g. Am I really hungry? Can I wait to get home and eat something healthier? Of course I'm worth it, but is this *really* the best way to reward myself? etc. I don't think that we as a society do that enough, and that is what we should be doing.

Are marketers evil? Some of them, sure! But ultimately the decision is ours. To simply rail against the marketers and blame everything on them is, in my opinion, abdicating responsibility for our own actions. And once you do that, everyone *but you* has the power.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: MarcKS on May 31, 2010, 08:40:25 PM
I've got to say that regardless of scientific implausibility I found that this story made me want to think... The author also made me feel sorry for the woman, which only made her suicide more horrific.  The author wanted to display a dystopia where marketing has taken over the consumers life and without the suicide I don't think the message would have come across as clearly.


On the subject of scientific implausibility.  While there may be some logical inconsistencies such as the lack of an AI to prevent her suicide... cost shouldn't really be considered as a reason for implausibility.  A sci-fi story written in the 50's where everyone carried around a wireless cellphone would have seemed just as implausible... especially on the basis of cost.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Ectobahn on May 31, 2010, 08:48:16 PM
I enjoyed the exaggerations for satirical purposes. The suicide itself did strike me as a bit strong, but entirely in keeping with the whole story.

The ending with the dog seemed superfluous, until I thought about it. I assume it was meant to emphasise the artificiality of the desires at play by showing them trivially and meaninglessly satisfied. Where did the dog come from though? Did I miss an earlier mention, or are we just to assume it belongs to Linda's discoverer?
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Scattercat on May 31, 2010, 08:50:22 PM
The dog/cat/squirrel IS Linda's discoverer.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Talia on May 31, 2010, 09:37:18 PM
Oh man, this story was awesome. I feel kind of bad for those who couldn't enjoy it for whatever reason. And yes, its got a very "Drabblecast"-y feel - its just that delightfully weird. :) The eroticism was hilarious and disturbing, which is always a fun combo. :)

I do think we are moving towards a society where advertising is becoming not only more prevalent but also more innovatively utilized. This is kinda an extreme reflection of that. It brings to mind, actually, an EP episode (an EP ep? heheh) from a  while back where advertisers were doing things like shooting people with darts to spread their message. Both examples are extreme, but at least are suggestive of where marketing is (or could be) leaning towards.

Regardless of the marketing commentary, I just really loved the concept of a sentient snack cake. How great is that?? I'm having a hard time anyone could not love such a tale. Even just based on the awesome concept alone :p

Five thumbs up.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: eytanz on May 31, 2010, 09:48:43 PM
I finished the story earlier today. I felt it improved a *lot* once Linda finally bought the snack cake and took it home. Before that, it was just impossible for me to muster enough suspension of disbelief to actually get involved. But once the cake and the woman started interacting, the absurdity of the situation won me over.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Yargling on June 01, 2010, 07:25:19 AM
For people who complain about the 'unbelieveable' use of rearrangement, bioengineering, or hovercarts, you seem to have forgotten; THIS IS SCI-FI! Why is any of this less believeable than FTL or off world colonization? As far as our current technology goes, Off world colonization is unuseably expensive and FTL might be physically impossible. BUT IT'S SCI-FI. It doesn't have to be reasonable.

I enjoyed the exaggerations for satirical purposes. The suicide itself did strike me as a bit strong, but entirely in keeping with the whole story.

The ending with the dog seemed superfluous, until I thought about it. I assume it was meant to emphasise the artificiality of the desires at play by showing them trivially and meaninglessly satisfied. Where did the dog come from though? Did I miss an earlier mention, or are we just to assume it belongs to Linda's discoverer?

Indeedie about the story - it exaggerates current technology trends to their logical extreme; a sort of cautiary tale about the dangers of letting marketers have unrestricted powers. As for the suicide... frankly, I found it a believeable conclusion.

And the dog was designed to show how manipulative and paper thin the desires of the cake were - how its desires were wholly created by the manufacturers. Not sure where it came from, could have been Linda's, could have been her finder.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: eytanz on June 01, 2010, 08:09:12 AM
For people who complain about the 'unbelieveable' use of rearrangement, bioengineering, or hovercarts, you seem to have forgotten; THIS IS SCI-FI! Why is any of this less believeable than FTL or off world colonization? As far as our current technology goes, Off world colonization is unuseably expensive and FTL might be physically impossible. BUT IT'S SCI-FI. It doesn't have to be reasonable.

There is a big difference between "impossible but practical" and "implausibly impractical". You can't give nonsensical plots a free pass because it's science fiction. FTL travel may be impossible as far as we know, but we can all imagine the consequences of what would happen if it were real. The technology and science in this story is certainly equally, if not more, possible. The questions is - if we had the technology, would it be used like this? Some of what is described in this story would certainly come to pass, but most of it would never exist, even if the technology was readily available.

Sure, there are plenty of uses for the absurd in literature - science fiction or not. But absurdism and science fiction are not the same thing.

And most importantly, regardless of everything else - there is a big difference between the general possibilities in a genre and individual reactions to a story. Sure, it's possible to write good science fiction with entirely implausible premises. If it's done well, then it wouldn't bother the readers. If the readers are bothered, it means that, for them at least, the story didn't do so well. It's not the fault of the readers, it's the fault of the story.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Talia on June 01, 2010, 12:24:45 PM
It was my perception it was meant to be more of an asburdist piece, alabeit with a sci-fi bent. Which is probably why I loved it so very much - absurdist stuff is exactly my cup of self-promoting, intelligent tea :p

Quote
"but most of it would never exist, even if the technology was readily available. "

What makes you think that? My personal opinion of marketers is sufficiently low enough to assume they'd go to any lengths to sell their product. :P

Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: eytanz on June 01, 2010, 01:25:18 PM

Quote
"but most of it would never exist, even if the technology was readily available. "

What makes you think that? My personal opinion of marketers is sufficiently low enough to assume they'd go to any lengths to sell their product. :P



Because I believe that most of the behavior of the products presented here would be counter-productive. First, marketing can change human behavior, but it can't change human nature. Rather, it is designed to exploit human nature to maximize returns. People have been shown, throughout history, to react better to marketing when it's non-obtrusive. Snack cakes places at specific points in the store where they are judged to be most attractive? I can see that. Snack cakes talking to customers, even after they are purchased, and products jumping into customer trollies? That's just drawing attention to the marketing.

Second, as I mentioned in my earlier post, it seems that for a lot of the details in this story - the quick reshelfing, the hover-trollies, etc. - the economy just won't work; if you spend more on marketing the snack cake than it costs, you are wasting money. If this was an expensive luxury item, I may feel differently, but if you've managed to create the impression that buying a snack cake is a big decision, then you've already lost the marketing battle.

Third, marketing is about generating habits, not selling individual items. Everything in this story is putting a lot of effort into selling one snack cake, and once the snack cake is sold, it starts putting a lot of effort into getting eaten. If this was anywhere realistic, once it was sold it would start making the customer want to buy more snack cakes. The customer already paid for it, the effort should be in getting the customer to pay more money.

Fourth, the way manufacturer consolidation works today, each manufacturer generates a large range of products. If a customer is on a diet, the snack cake would be a far better money generating object if it was telling Linda to buy its cousin, the equally delicious low calory snack cake next door, and indeed switching to its related line of diet products; diets are a source of greater income for food companies, not less.

And so forth and so on.

This story not only takes some aspects of our current consumerism society to extremes, it also ignores equally important aspects of consumerism. The system that it describes would never take place, because it depends on a large expenditure of effort for moderate returns, while the economy is moving towards lower expenditure of effort and greater returns.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Talia on June 01, 2010, 01:36:50 PM

Quote
"but most of it would never exist, even if the technology was readily available. "

What makes you think that? My personal opinion of marketers is sufficiently low enough to assume they'd go to any lengths to sell their product. :P



the economy just won't work; if you spend more on marketing the snack cake than it costs, you are wasting money. If this was an expensive luxury item, I may feel differently, but if you've managed to create the impression that buying a snack cake is a big decision, then you've already lost the marketing battle.

Now I don't have much in the way of responses to your post (I feel if I spend too much time analyzing the story it will rip all the joy out of it for me, so I'll take a pass), but I will say in regards to this point, you just don't know how much money they invested in it. Perhaps at this point in time these AI's are a piece of cake (heheheh) to make. But you don't know how far in the future this is, or where technology is at that point, so assuming its super expensive would be based on today's economic situation and thus a somewhat flawed argument.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: eytanz on June 01, 2010, 01:47:14 PM

Quote
"but most of it would never exist, even if the technology was readily available. "

What makes you think that? My personal opinion of marketers is sufficiently low enough to assume they'd go to any lengths to sell their product. :P



the economy just won't work; if you spend more on marketing the snack cake than it costs, you are wasting money. If this was an expensive luxury item, I may feel differently, but if you've managed to create the impression that buying a snack cake is a big decision, then you've already lost the marketing battle.

Now I don't have much in the way of responses to your post (I feel if I spend too much time analyzing the story it will rip all the joy out of it for me, so I'll take a pass), but I will say in regards to this point, you just don't know how much money they invested in it. Perhaps at this point in time these AI's are a piece of cake (heheheh) to make. But you don't know how far in the future this is, or where technology is at that point, so assuming its super expensive would be based on today's economic situation and thus a somewhat flawed argument.

True (though presumably by the point we can create cheap edible AIs and hovercars, we could create cheap weight-loss therapies; but that's just speculation on my behalf) but that's not the point I was trying to convey. The point was that everything in this story is making the decision to buy a snack cake more obtrusive and important. Note that the woman went into a store and bought just one. It doesn't matter how expensive AI is; it would still be more effective if it is designed to make someone walk into a shop and buy dozens of snack cakes, and that is best done by making the decision to buy them as innocuous as possible, the opposite of what this story does.

I should also say, I'm picking on this point because you asked me, and because the structure of the story made me think of it. I realize that the story isn't trying to be plausible. It is more interested in getting the snack cake to behave like a bad lover. As such, it's a fun story - as I pointed above, once the characters actually strated interacting, I started enjoying it quite a lot. However, I just don't think that that is a particularly good paradigm to use to sell snack cakes. It might be a good way to sell sex robots, but snack cakes, by their nature, are designed to be mass-consumed, and lovers are not, and that contrast is problematic for this story.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Talia on June 01, 2010, 01:49:29 PM
and lovers are not


Sez you! :p
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: KenK on June 01, 2010, 02:27:20 PM
She "suicided" precisely to exert the only aspect of will and self-determination left to her. The parasitic marketeers in the future the story is set in have so many tools in their box  from the behavioral sciences blended with other technologies that the human beings really don't have "free will" anymore. (If they ever did. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_determinism)). That short, sharp shock was the author's exclamation point to bring the reader/listener back to reality if they  get too caught up in the marketing and behavioral science technologies described.(I know I did.) At least that's how I see anyhow.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Listener on June 01, 2010, 03:38:26 PM
Quote
"but most of it would never exist, even if the technology was readily available. "

What makes you think that? My personal opinion of marketers is sufficiently low enough to assume they'd go to any lengths to sell their product. :P



Clients also want things they don't need. My job offers an amazing product that will help you get people to click on the ads you run on our site... but the salespeople love it so much they pretty much strongarm everyone into buying it. Then it's up to the people who sit on the other side of the wall from me to figure out how to make the product improve the ad. Usually they can't because -- let's be honest -- how does knowing the weather outside affect your consumption of (for example) snack cakes? "Hey, it's raining outside, eat a Smidgen!"
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: CryptoMe on June 01, 2010, 06:48:42 PM
She "suicided" precisely to exert the only aspect of will and self-determination left to her. The parasitic marketeers in the future the story is set in have so many tools in their box  from the behavioral sciences blended with other technologies that the human beings really don't have "free will" anymore. (If they ever did. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_determinism)). That short, sharp shock was the author's exclamation point to bring the reader/listener back to reality if they  get too caught up in the marketing and behavioral science technologies described.(I know I did.) At least that's how I see anyhow.

I'm pretty sure there are tonnes of hotlines out there that will tell you suicide is never the only option left....
There are plenty of other options (don't eat the cake, flush it down the sink, go out for a walk, etc.). The problem is that these options are harder - because you need to make them every single minute of the day (talk to anyone in AA). But then, that is life, isn't it....

Blaming the evil marketers, scientists, genetics, whatever, for taking away your free will is a cop-out. The choice is *always* yours. Even choosing to cop-out is a choice that only you can make. Marketers, scientists, genetics, etc. can make some choices harder for you, but a hard choice doesn't equal no choice.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: jhs on June 02, 2010, 11:43:43 AM


This story is another look at Don Giovanni.  Smidgen shares the Don's difficulty seeing beyond his lust for seduction, and in the end is dragged off to hell by what I am sure was a rat. 

Clever science/engineering stuff, but I think the point is the seduction, and the destruction of the innocent.

jhs
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: tpi on June 02, 2010, 01:51:50 PM
I don't understand why the store AI let the snack food package to get her.
Both the manufacturer profit and  the store markup are probably much higher for dieting products.  ;D
It would have been clearly more profitable to push her to those products.  :)

Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Listener on June 02, 2010, 02:34:21 PM
I don't understand why the store AI let the snack food package to get her.
Both the manufacturer profit and  the store markup are probably much higher for dieting products.  ;D
It would have been clearly more profitable to push her to those products.  :)

And it still annoys the ever-living crap out of me that eating healthy costs so much more.

Because Smidgen had a limited AI, he was able to make himself look more attractive and direct Linda to the right aisle, despite the healthy food choices she knew she really wanted. Meanwhile the healthy food didn't have AI or other stuff that Smidgen did because it already cost a lot without it.

That's my guess.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: davedoty on June 02, 2010, 02:56:11 PM
We know the Sea Sprite snacks have AI, because later in the story some of them try to talk Linda into eating them instead.

My practical guess is "conceit of the story."  If we want to look for in-story explanations anyway, I'd suggest either "they were hoping for a food binge after," or "the snack food company pays the store to have their AI privilege their products."
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: JackSpellman on June 02, 2010, 03:15:45 PM
Terrific story about, I think, the hilarity of evil. I mean, the first-person narrator was a sociopathic snack cake. And what does it say that the snack cake had more free will than Linda?

And as funny as it was, it carried not insubstantial messages about marketing, consumer alienation, the pornification of food.

Also: excellent reading. I laughed out loud when the plankton chips attempted to talk Linda out of eating the Smidgen, and were sent down the disposal for their trouble. Made me think of Mr. Bill on Saturday Night Live.
Title: seduction, betrayal, etc.
Post by: panvega on June 02, 2010, 08:05:21 PM
Wow... Just the typical story of some dude/snack-cake trying to manipulate a vulnerable woman, women constantly struggling against their appetites, women say "no" when they mean "yes," coercion and seduction, etc... Hasn't that story line gotten old already?  :-\
Title: Re: StePH
Post by: panvega on June 02, 2010, 08:08:49 PM
This one's for no.  Lame doesn't begin to cover it. 

The utterly ludicrous concept of a sentient snack cake is made even worse by piling on every stupid cliche of a pickup/seduction story.  I'm up to where she's bought the cake and taken it home, and not even sure I want to continue.


Totally agree. How come no one else is ranting about that? Thanks for putting it out there.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: FireTurtle on June 02, 2010, 09:06:12 PM
I've just got to say, although this was not " Best. EP. Ever" it still made me laugh. And, I think the snack cake's lame attempts at seduction were appropriate for a snack cake. If this was Filet Mignon or expensive cheese I would expect a more "cultured" POV of the food. But honestly, I'd never expect a cheap morsel of sugary cake to have anything but the Worst Pickup Lines.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Talia on June 02, 2010, 09:21:16 PM
Its interesting to me that opinions were so sharply divided on this one. I guess its the style, works for some and really, really doesn't work for others.

I really loved this and feel all protective of it :p
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: eytanz on June 02, 2010, 10:34:19 PM
Its interesting to me that opinions were so sharply divided on this one. I guess its the style, works for some and really, really doesn't work for others.

I don't think it's the style - I think it's the content. The people who liked it seem to be either those who think of the events it describes as plausible, or who think plausibility doesn't matter for what the story is trying to do. Those who don't are the ones who find the events too hard to believe.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: RicV on June 02, 2010, 10:53:08 PM
I actually think this was very well done for what it was.  Trying to tackle gluttony, but more aptly lust and how it destroys a person is no easy task.  Even Mur commented that there was a thread of love in the story and that is the problem with tackling something as consuming (pardon the pun) as lust.  I thought it was a neat correlation to how interwoven lust and gluttony are and how it destroyed Linda's heart and eventually her soul.  I do like the sub text as well how commercialism taken too far can result in a Rape of the target the same as lust.  There is no doubt in my mind that this piece could have been written in any genre replacing the trappings with say a vacuum cleaner salesman in Salem mass in the 1600s or a Brush salesman in the 1920s and still have gotten the point across.

Now I will say I was displeased with it as an escape pod story.  We tend to not hear too much surface pulpy stuff on EP and this didn't fit for me, but could easily be a piece that could make it in a literary circle if it weren't tied to a sci-fi genre.  Don’t get me wrong I think a lot of sci-fi is overlooked by the ivory towers of education, but that is just the way it goes for genre fiction specifically speculative fiction.  Go to a library or bookstore and wander the literary stacks and there is little speculative fiction even some accepted examples still are not placed there.  Asimov is still firmly set in sci-fi, but Vonnegut is not.  It is a crazy snobbish literary world which makes what is acceptable and what isn't.

Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Equalizer on June 03, 2010, 05:12:27 AM
Mur, you are doing great and I would like to say I've always liked your stuff I heard here. Keep up the good reputation. Don't change anything, okay. Although, I'm new to the forums, I'm no noob to the escape pod scene at all. I'm too used to Steve's feeling being hidden somewhere in the intro's and outro's no matter who the narrator is that week. So, to sum up: Ever'thing's still nice and shiny cap'n! or if you cringe at the thought of pirates(like me), thank you to all of you for your hard work. Keep it up.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Gamercow on June 03, 2010, 03:03:35 PM
Well, I went ahead and finished it, if for no other reason that I've never abandoned an EA story yet, and I've suffered through worse than this.  But it only got worse; the narrative full of lines that could have been dropped seamlessly into a porn story.  Like snack cakes themselves, this story was made of suck.

On an unrelated note, I feel sorry for Gamercow, whose name has been mispronounced twice in the feedback sections now (DKT said "Game-crow" in a recent Podcastle, and now wossname says "Gamer-crow").

LOL, yeah, its actually 3, DKT did it twice, and Bill did it once.  I don't mind much, I'm grateful to be mentioned at all, I was just surprised that two people saw it as "Crow", and had a "THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS" Picard moment. 

As for the story itself, I loved it, once I told my engineer/IT brain to shut up about the technology, the ROI on talking/smart snackcakes, moving shelves, movable stacks, etc.  I totally believe the direct marketing based on past purchases, as that happens already, but the energy and machinery requirements for shelf movement, product movement, etc, would be excessive.  Additionally, if everything was moving around, it would be harder to find items.  Most grocery stores today are laid out very specifically, and any change to that would be scrutinized intensely for effectiveness.  Lastly, the speaking products would a)freak people out, and/or b)get so annoying, people would rebel against them.  You'd have the food equivalent of the Wall Street trading pit. 

All that said, once I ignored the tech, I really liked the story.  Yes, the descriptives could have been ripped out of a porno, but that's the whole idea!  That's what was so funny for me.  I admit, it may have gone on a little long, but overall, thoroughly  enjoyable.  It was definitely a downer when Linda killed herself at the end, and it drove home the point about advertising, but it also did a great job giving a bitter darkness to the sweet chocolatey humor earlier in the story. 

Oh, and I'm totally enjoying Mur as host/editor.  Her voice is smooth Carolina goodness, and her intro/outros are in step with the excellent ones that Steve did so many times.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Wilson Fowlie on June 03, 2010, 09:46:01 PM
Having finally gotten almost caught up on my podcast listening, I quite enjoyed this story.  Unlike stePH, I found the "lines that could have been dropped seamlessly into a porn story" hilarious.

In the reading, there were a couple of word mispronunciations that pulled me out of the story momentarily (to the point where I had to rewind to listen to the bits my mental voice had 'talked' over), particularly saying "exalted" instead of "exulted".  (I'm be curious to know if that was an author or a narrator issue.)  But on the whole, even though it was a bit AM-radio-DJ-ish, I liked Cmar's reading.

One point about the tech in this story:  I didn't really have a problem believing that we might have the capability to do much of the stuff described here in 70 or 80 years (though I take Gamercow's point about the RIO of actually deploying it as described).

However, did it not occur to anyone else, after a snack cake had adjusted the hue and glow of its frosting, changed the colour of its packaging, and a store had moved shelves and products around, how utterly incongruous it was that Lynda was washing her dishes by hand??  That was the implausible part that made me shout, "Oh, come on!" at my MP3 player.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Talia on June 03, 2010, 10:04:11 PM
Nah not really; perhaps because I still wash most of my dishes by hand, and dishwashers have been around how long? :P
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Wilson Fowlie on June 03, 2010, 10:12:18 PM
Nah not really; perhaps because I still wash most of my dishes by hand, and dishwashers have been around how long? :P

You might not, when your dishes can package up leftovers, absorb the remains, dispose of waste materials and finally store themselves by seamlessly forming part of the dining table (which, in turn, shape-shifts itself into an attractive mural or grandfather clock...).

The next day, your dishes are back with new designs and colours and even contours.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Unblinking on June 04, 2010, 12:06:26 AM
I'm still in the middle of listening to this, but I can say without a doubt that that is the sexiest snack voice I have ever heard.    I can only assume that Mr. Cmar has experience with seductive pastry voicework.

Seriously though, he's got a good voice.  I hope he's going to narrate more stories.  :)
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Father Beast on June 04, 2010, 01:11:34 AM
Ok, a snack cake that thinks...

Which has a protein based thinking device built into it....

Who else is thinking.. EDIBLE BRAINS!
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Talia on June 04, 2010, 02:41:08 AM
Ok, a snack cake that thinks...

Which has a protein based thinking device built into it....

Who else is thinking.. EDIBLE BRAINS!

All brains are edible, or so the slavering zombie hoardes would have me believe
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Talia on June 04, 2010, 02:41:52 AM
Nah not really; perhaps because I still wash most of my dishes by hand, and dishwashers have been around how long? :P

You might not, when your dishes can package up leftovers, absorb the remains, dispose of waste materials and finally store themselves by seamlessly forming part of the dining table (which, in turn, shape-shifts itself into an attractive mural or grandfather clock...).

The next day, your dishes are back with new designs and colours and even contours.

good point. I want those.

Someone get on inventing them, stat.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: clichekiller on June 04, 2010, 05:46:10 PM
This story just struck me as something that would come out of a high-school creative writing class.  Very juvenile, not even the little bit entertaining. 
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Wilson Fowlie on June 04, 2010, 07:06:13 PM
... I still wash most of my dishes by hand, and dishwashers have been around how long? :P

You might not, when your dishes can package up leftovers, absorb the remains, dispose of waste materials and finally store themselves by seamlessly forming part of the dining table (which, in turn, shape-shifts itself into an attractive mural or grandfather clock...).

The next day, your dishes are back with new designs and colours and even contours.

good point. I want those.

Someone get on inventing them, stat.

I just did.  Now someone has to build them.  ;)
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Sandikal on June 04, 2010, 11:59:57 PM
Oh my gosh!  I was embarrassingly turned on by the lascivious snack cake.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: kristin on June 05, 2010, 09:57:21 PM
I love this story! It's not too often a story can make you hungry and horny at the same time. I liked that it was silly. I thought it was fun. And hover carts are cool. Plus many times have I had a cart that had a wheel that was stuck in the wrong position, making it hard to turn or even go straight.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Father Beast on June 07, 2010, 11:56:10 AM
Ok, a snack cake that thinks...

Which has a protein based thinking device built into it....

Who else is thinking.. EDIBLE BRAINS!

All brains are edible, or so the slavering zombie hoardes would have me believe

Of course, that's the point! If I stock up on these snack cakes, I can throw them at zombies, which will eat them instead of me.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Jinmoonlight on June 07, 2010, 11:51:25 PM
I adored this story, I adored the reading.  No, I don't think that this future is a likely one, but it doesn't have to be our possible future for it to work.  I can suspend a whole lot of disbelief for a good story, and I quite appreciate rediculocity.  Good show.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Hussar on June 09, 2010, 04:59:33 AM
I loved this story.  Ooey gooey loved it.

The cheesy voice, the plot, everything.  This is what a Letter to Penthouse would be, if it were written by food.  Fantastic.  The juxtapositions within the story were what made it for me.  It's funny AND horrifying all at the same time.  Instead of some young stud in a grocery story, it's a snack cake, and the object of the story isn't some hot blond, but some rather unattractive woman you'd never see in this type of story.

By the end of it I was totally blown away.  I kept slipping from one viewpoint to another, from the softcore porn story, to what was actually happening. 

In my head, I kept seeing a very low budget SF show, maybe something like a Twilight Zone episode, where you have these totally normal looking food items being framed by the camera with voice overs and the only thing actually moving would be Linda herself. 

This was a great story.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Kaa on June 10, 2010, 03:49:04 PM
I enjoyed this one mostly on a purely superficial level. The reading was grade A perfect and for that reason alone it was enjoyable. The humor was top notch, and I enjoyed the double entendres and puns and general language play.

And on that level, I enjoyed it.

I did, however, find some of the other aspects of the story, on a deeper level, quite disturbing. The idea that a company would grant even limited sentience to their foodstuffs, that the store would cater on that level to a specific customer, that they would manipulate the shopper to the level shown in this story, even down to ignoring the fact that she clearly is trying to change her eating habits, but manipulating her emotions using her past habits anyway....

Beyond disturbing to me. It made me squirm a little. And I agree that the suicide at the end was gratuitous, but...I can see why the author chose the ending.

If nothing else, I'll certainly never look at another snack cake again. *shudder*
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Jago Constantine on June 12, 2010, 10:14:02 PM
We just listened to this episode at Science Fiction Saturday in Second Life ... one thought - are stories where a woman commits suicide by handgun really considered PG-rated by the Escape Pod crew? You mentioned the innuendo in the rating note and for 95% of the story that's the only thing that might require parental guidance, so the suicide at the end really comes out of nowhere. I know it would be hard to rate the story without the risk of spoilers but how about giving people an informed choice?
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: davedoty on June 13, 2010, 06:13:01 PM
People die all the time, both in fiction in general and on Escape Pod.  Unless it's extremely graphic (I'd have to relisten to be sure, but I don't remember it being very graphic), I don't think death needs a warning or higher rating.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Jason Creighton on June 15, 2010, 02:24:07 AM
The ending really fell flat for me.

The main thing that bothered me is that she kills herself for cheating on her diet, even though she didn't actually cheat on her diet! She never actually ate the snack cake. If you can walk to the other room and get a gun, you can just as easily shove the evil talking snack cake down the garbage disposal just like she did with the crackers. (or whatever they were)

And this is nitpicking, but how did she even get a gun? In the world of the story, you would expect that buying a handgun would send up all sorts of red flags in some sentient computer system somewhere. Woman in her 40s, overweight, no living family, no friends (as indicated by, oh, I don't know, low friend count in the late 21st century version of Facebook) goes out and buys a friggin' gun? That would be noticed by some computer system, even if it was just someone who wanted to sell her a cemetery plot.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Talia on June 15, 2010, 02:53:48 AM
The ending really fell flat for me.

The main thing that bothered me is that she kills herself for cheating on her diet, even though she didn't actually cheat on her diet! She never actually ate the snack cake. If you can walk to the other room and get a gun, you can just as easily shove the evil talking snack cake down the garbage disposal just like she did with the crackers. (or whatever they were)

And this is nitpicking, but how did she even get a gun? In the world of the story, you would expect that buying a handgun would send up all sorts of red flags in some sentient computer system somewhere. Woman in her 40s, overweight, no living family, no friends (as indicated by, oh, I don't know, low friend count in the late 21st century version of Facebook) goes out and buys a friggin' gun? That would be noticed by some computer system, even if it was just someone who wanted to sell her a cemetery plot.

But she knew she was GOING to cheat on her diet. There was no escaping it, rather the only way to escape it was to die. Consider this is a person who is almost certainly mentally ill to a certain degree. Cool logic does not prevail.

secondly, this is a world that's catered to marketing and selling, not necesarily to doing what's best for the consumer. And so what if such a woman wanted to go buy a gun? All those things aren't necesarily indicative of mental illness. The story explores how such computing is used to manipulate people into buying things. The story does not indicate if the computers are used in an orwellian fashion as you suggest, prying into and analyzing her life for purposes other than selling. I mean maybe it is. Who can say? The story merely demonstrates the marketing.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Gamercow on June 16, 2010, 01:55:41 PM
And this is nitpicking, but how did she even get a gun?

The second amendment.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Listener on June 17, 2010, 01:10:01 PM
So... not as farfetched as we were led to believe...

http://gizmodo.com/5565238/oh-good-commercials-are-coming-to-supermarket-aisles
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Unblinking on June 18, 2010, 04:28:02 PM
Well, I went ahead and finished it, if for no other reason that I've never abandoned an EA story yet, and I've suffered through worse than this.  But it only got worse; the narrative full of lines that could have been dropped seamlessly into a porn story.  Like snack cakes themselves, this story was made of suck.

On an unrelated note, I feel sorry for Gamercow, whose name has been mispronounced twice in the feedback sections now (DKT said "Game-crow" in a recent Podcastle, and now wossname says "Gamer-crow").

LOL, yeah, its actually 3, DKT did it twice, and Bill did it once.  I don't mind much, I'm grateful to be mentioned at all, I was just surprised that two people saw it as "Crow", and had a "THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS" Picard moment. 


I was kind of surprised and amused as well.  Especially since your avatar has a cow in it.  :)
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Unblinking on June 18, 2010, 04:42:50 PM
Overall I liked this one.  Spot-on amazing narration to start with.  Some of the innuendoes were rather over the top, which was funny at first but got a little old as the episode went on.  I don't think the suicide was too much for the story--it was intended to be black comedy from the start, and we saw her dead body at the beginning so it was no sort of surprise.

Everyone seemed to think Smidgen's savior at the end was a dog, but I thought it was pretty clearly a rat.  She never mentioned owning a dog, and I wouldn't think one would be able to get into her house unannounced, while mice/rats have a tendency to slip through cracks and show up uninvited, especially when there's food sitting on the floor.  True, one would think that with all those other advanced technology that they would have intelligent pest control systems, but remember that this society is heavily marketing driven.  Maybe they CAN make a better mouse trap, but don't want to make it TOO good--if you make a perfect mouse trap then no one will have a need to buy any more of your products.  Instead the company makes them incrementally better so they can say "new and improved" and repeat hundreds of times, always adding a little more appeal to draw customers.

I tend to agree with eytanz that the marketing here is implausible, making the purchase a big decision, unless these are very expensive snack cakes, which I don't think they were intended to be.  The health food manufacturers would do better to make their AIs a little more charming like smidgen.  I kind of wanted to throw them down the disposal too, they were like a bunch of bubbly vegetary cheerleaders.

One thing that I really dug about the story is that it didn't fall under the trope of AI-gains-feelings.  Smidgen's feelings were programmed in as motivation to perform certain behaviors.  He desires to be eaten, so he does everything he can to reach this goal and even though this feeling is intentionally programmed in, it's no more artificial than my own emotions which derive from incomprehensible mixes of brain chemistry.  And Smidgen's designers really thought out the emotions too.  "Should we make it capable of grief?"  "Nah, what good would that do?  If its buyer died, it'd sit around and mope until it got moldy.  Let's have it transfer its affection to someone else."  So instead of a robot gaining the ability to feel, it has only selective feelings in-programmed and is both unaware of its lack of guilt and sadness and completely unconcerned by this lack.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: mbrennan on June 23, 2010, 08:44:28 PM
For me, this crossed the line from "amusing" to "profoundly creepy."

As a couple of people have mentioned, Smidgen's behavior very blatantly echoed that of a manipulative stalker -- I almost added "boyfriend" onto that list of descriptors, but he's more like the guy who randomly decides some woman he's never spoken to is his dream girl, and tries to force that relationship into existence, against her will.  (Oh, but she wants it . . . urgh, creepy.)  Also, I was less than pleased to see the story telling us the root cause of Lynda's obesity was purely a lack of impulse control, which led to her overeating.  I don't know a lot about the science of nutrition, but I can tell that's an uncritical reproduction of stereotypes, and it led to me feeling like the story didn't have a lot of sympathy for her -- or rather, it had the wrong kind of sympathy, if that makes sense.  She came across as pathetic in a way I really didn't like.

I had the same objections to plausibility as a bunch of others in this thread, but I'm pretty sure that happened because I'd stopped being amused and started being creeped out.  If I had found this actually funny, instead of a funny veneer over a disturbing story, I would have been much more willing to give it a pass.

Having said that: I don't necessarily think the story being creepy is a failure on its part.  I didn't end up liking it much, but at least it had some interesting things to say.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Balu on June 24, 2010, 12:53:31 AM
For me, this crossed the line from "amusing" to "profoundly creepy."

Me too, and that's why I thought it was so good.

It went from entertaining SF to a critique of consumerism to a haunting piece about the fragility of humanity.

All the hapless consumer really needed was to love and be loved, just like any healthy human being. What was so creepy was that Smidgen's designers understood that too, and they used it so ruthlessly and destructively against her.

That's why I thought that the dopey romantic love Smidgen had for her was such a great idea - at first you assume that he's been designed to appeal to her gluttony, but eventually you realise that he's actually been designed to mimic the solution to an emotional need.

This really is a real little gem of a story, both entertaining and thought provoking.

Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: gateaux on July 02, 2010, 04:29:55 AM
Can I just say that ... the reading done by John Cmar was positively brilliant. I was captivated. And a little creeped, but in a delicious way. Amazing story and reading, one of the most memorable this year.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: quantumgenie on July 02, 2010, 12:44:56 PM
Brilliant, just brilliant.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Jim F on August 09, 2010, 12:28:26 PM
I know I'm way behind in listening, so it's as likely as not that no one will ever read this post.

I thought the story was well written, that is the prose was well crafted, but at the same time, the ultimate themes were entirely banal.  What I came away with is that marketing is evil and preys on vulnerable people and its sad and lonely to be fat.  On the one hand, that's fine.  You can't get big ideas from every story and for a YA story these ideas might have been fine.

But on the other hand, what made them stand out in stark relief as weak tea, was that there were some really big ideas here that the author either didn't see or willfully chose to ignore.

There is some serious, serious deep stuff here about the meaning and purpose of life and the nature of free will.

If one were teaching this story on a YA level, one might ask the class about the nature of marketing, and whether or not it would be ethical to create a snack cake with the ability to subvert someone's will, and how does that relate to marketing and advertising today.

But one could teach this story on a college level philosophy class and start out by asking, what is different between Linda and the snack cake?  Why are we sad when Linda dies, and not when Smidgen does?  Smidgen is sentient (or at least believes he is -- is the ability to construct a narrative about oneself proof of sentience?)  Does Smidgen have free will?  Does Linda have free will, given what we are able to observe about her?  Is her free will limited?  Is her suicide an example of the Nietzschean will-to-power, that is, even more than self-preservation, the ultimate driver of human action is a desire to control?  How can Smidgen be so motivated to die, knowing that there can be no concrete pleasure in it for him, as his sentience will no longer exist?  He wants to die as well, but in his case, it doesn't seem to be an act of will.  He apparently longs for it with ecstatic, almost erotic passion.  Can he really be free willed and sentient if he seeks fulfillment in death, absent any belief in an afterlife?  Would it be ethical to create sentient beings who believed there only fulfillment and purpose was to die for us?  Are we gods at that point?  Is that our role with our creator?

Sadly, I don't think the author really considered what he had created here.  There aren't any clues in the story that the author really thought hard about these things.  While its not fair to complain that a story isn't what you wanted it to be, I wish this story had been a little bit more Phillip K. Dick and a little less cute.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Talia on August 09, 2010, 12:58:28 PM
I personally didn't want to come away from it with anything deeply meaningful to contemplate. I enjoyed it as the sublimely outrageous piece that it was.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Unblinking on August 10, 2010, 04:55:10 PM
I personally didn't want to come away from it with anything deeply meaningful to contemplate. I enjoyed it as the sublimely outrageous piece that it was.


And all of the food-for-thought must have been in place or it would not have woken so many cool, philosophical questions in the brain of Jim F.  :) 

By the way, Jim, even if it's an old thread, odds are that quite a few people will read/have read your comment.  I check the comment threads fairly regularly and it's fun to discuss and hear what other people thought.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: ceruleangrave on August 14, 2010, 11:12:27 PM
Overall, I really didn't like this story. While I did somewhat appreciate the eroticization of the snack cake and the technology of the grocery store, I couldn't help but be really disgusted by the story as a whole. The suicide was completely off-putting, as were the author's descriptions of Linda. It's a no from me.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: justenjoying on January 21, 2012, 04:13:08 AM
This is way too much fun and super scary all at the same time. The only confort I truly find after this story is that
I've never liked snack cakes, I've always been for a fan of sushi or in my week moments postickers. Only one is any  better
than the cocholate artificial intelligence chip.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Rontbe on August 22, 2019, 04:22:46 PM
I realize this post comes 7 and 9 years after everyone else, but noticed one major thing different between text and the reading.  I like to follow along as it's read and I seem to be the only who did, although I didn't read all comments. 

Why was so much edited out of the story? Granted it may not have changed things much but i didn't think there would be abridgment of the story.  Most missing things I've seen in a story I can follow via text here.  Many small paragraphs disappeared during this reading. Like the snack cakes professing love near beginning, and some dialogue paragraphs between the two just dropped.
Title: Re: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Post by: Fenrix on August 22, 2019, 10:59:23 PM
I realize this post comes 7 and 9 years after everyone else, but noticed one major thing different between text and the reading.  I like to follow along as it's read and I seem to be the only who did, although I didn't read all comments. 

Why was so much edited out of the story? Granted it may not have changed things much but i didn't think there would be abridgment of the story.  Most missing things I've seen in a story I can follow via text here.  Many small paragraphs disappeared during this reading. Like the snack cakes professing love near beginning, and some dialogue paragraphs between the two just dropped.

Where were you reading the text? I'm not seeing it on the Escape Pod page, and this was before Escape Artists paid for text rights. Some authors continue to adjust stories forever or between publications.