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Author Topic: EP111: Mayfly  (Read 25351 times)
ClintMemo
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« Reply #60 on: June 29, 2007, 06:41:03 AM »

I equated her finishing the book with someone taking a vacation to visit historic places.  They could have spent that week doing something more fun (like an amusement park or the beach) or more productive (like cleaning out the garage) but you can't work all the time and sometimes you need diversions that more about enrichment and less about entertainment.
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Simon
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« Reply #61 on: July 03, 2007, 03:20:15 AM »

This one reminded me quite a lot of Lust For Learning, and not in a good way.  I'm rather surprised that so many of you are saying what amounts to "Hey, we'll let this one not have a plot, we'll call it a thought experiment".  I'll say this one:

Science Fiction is the genre of the thought experiment.

What I mean by this, is that being a thought experiment just isn't good enough.  Whatever happened to PLOT?  If Robert Heinlein can manage to make an action packed SF story out of the idea of a Tesseract ("And He Built A Crooked House") then you can write a story about a mayfly that has some sort of arc to it.  Exactly the same was true of Lust For Learning, which was completely lacking in direction.  This story was extremely dry in writing style, heavy on social elements (all that baloney about ice-cream, single women living alone and porn star t-shirts) and completely lacking in thinking it substance.

To be honest, as far as I am concerned the story failed on all fronts except characterisation.

1) Plot - None.
2) Setting - a flat.
3) Style - First person present tense, yuk.
4) Thought experiment - flawed.

I'm noting a lot of bouncing around in this comments threads about genetics and plausibility in it...  To me, the reason for this is the whole story hinges on the "what would it be like if you only lived for a week" element, but that actually the author was only interested in "what would it be like if Bridget Jones only lived for a week".  Aside, after aside, after aside about her housing without anything to beef up the concept and make it a full thought experiment... She alludes to this in the beginning with the "mother dust" scene which is almost Borgesish, but after that the "who are they, what is their culture" side gets abandoned in favour of single-woman-in-the-city.  All these elements that Mr Tweedy brings up are the "elements the reader would prefer to read" and they've all been missed out.

The only thing this story has to hang on is the wwitbliBJolfaw element...
« Last Edit: July 03, 2007, 09:08:38 AM by Simon » Logged
Rachel Swirsky
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« Reply #62 on: July 03, 2007, 07:47:52 AM »

There's a problem when you start talking about "the reader." There is no monolithic "reader." This story was quite successful when it was on Strange Horizons; the links got passed around to a lot of people, and it's the way some of the writers of my acquaintance know Heather Lindsley's name. It's a successful story. It appeals to readers.

It may not appeal to you, or to this demographic, but that's not the same as saying it doesn't have what "the reader" wants.
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BlairHippo
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« Reply #63 on: July 04, 2007, 02:53:45 PM »

I loved it.  I thought it was a very clever way of taking familiar elements and making them strange and alien.  May's emotional detachment actually worked very well for me; with all those countless generations of experience shaping her, she really would be taking her impending death in stride.  (Though note that when things started to go wrong, there were indeed indications she was worried -- like finishing Anna Karenina.)

I find Simon's comparison of this story to Lust for Learning to be ironic, because I thought Mayfly succeeded where my story failed -- there is indeed a plot in there, an effective one.  May wants to perpetuate her species.  What we see in the early going is the standard way she goes about doing it.  But then, we get a complication (damn vasectomies).  It's one she can handle, she still has time, and -- shit!  Serious personal injury!  Okay, now she's in real trouble.  If she doesn't fight to overcome THIS setback, the line ends with her in just a few days.

She had a goal, she had to overcome various obstacles in order to achieve it, and there was very real tension (for me, at least) derived from the fact that she might well fail.  To me, that's a plot, and one ideally suited to exploring the story's central concepts.

It wasn't perfect (sorry, but that talk of evolution really only makes sense if May's kind regularly have a whole bunch of offspring only a handful of which survive), but I thought it was a very worthy addition to the Escape Pod archives.  Kudos to Ms. Lindsley on an excellent story.
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slic
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« Reply #64 on: July 04, 2007, 04:38:28 PM »

Quote from: BlairHippo
(sorry, but that talk of evolution really only makes sense if May's kind regularly have a whole bunch of offspring only a handful of which survive)
Just a point of clarification - there are many, many species that have a median of one offspring per birth (elephants, whales, humans), and even though they have longer lifespans, evolution works pretty good for them.

We can take this to another thread, but effectively the May's have 52 kids a year, far more than the creatures mentioned above.  The other point you inadvertently raised is the problem with having just one child.  As you pointed out, a couple of bad days and -Boom- there goes another line without the "fallback" of having many other branches (children).  Really, it wouldn't take long (genealogically speaking) for the May to die out.
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eytanz
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« Reply #65 on: July 04, 2007, 07:53:52 PM »

Just a point of clarification - there are many, many species that have a median of one offspring per birth (elephants, whales, humans), and even though they have longer lifespans, evolution works pretty good for them.


This is a terminological problem, I think - it's not evolution which won't work, it's natural selection - because, at least in non-twin generations, there's nothing to select from.

Evolution is actually going to be pretty rampant for the Mays (assuming that their genetics are not supernatural) because any mutation is going to be passed on down the line. And it's not just bad days that the Mays have to fear - any mutation that puts them at a disadvantage reproductively is going to be a major problem. Imagine a May that is born with malformed legs such that she can't walk on her own.
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slic
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« Reply #66 on: July 04, 2007, 08:29:59 PM »

Quote from: eytanz
...it's not evolution which won't work, it's natural selection...
Hate to be a Picky Paulie or more likely a Stickler Steve, but natural selection works just fine too. 
In fact, it is painfully effective because a single undesirable trait would wipe out the genetic line.  Or maybe that's what you meant - that desirable traits would not have a chance to be passed along in other siblings.  That desirable traits have no way of expressing into an increased population, and that undesirable ones would destory the pool.

So, I think I've just argued myself out of a post Huh
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BlairHippo
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« Reply #67 on: July 05, 2007, 12:41:10 AM »

I think we're circling in on what I was trying to say.  Smiley  It isn't that evolution/natural selection isn't working for May's species -- as slic rightly points out, with 52 new generations a year, it's probably working like gangbusters.  The problem I had was that the story seemed to imply that evolution was helping-out May's individual lineage.  But with only one new offspring at a time (typically), it's an all-or-nothing deal for her.  If the next kid gets some kind of mutation, either it's beneficial and life is good, or it's not beneficial and boom, game over.  Evolution would be relevant to her in particular if there were multiple offspring each cycle and natural selection could claim its due without snuffing the lineage, but that's simply not the case.
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Russell Nash
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« Reply #68 on: July 05, 2007, 01:45:42 AM »

Wow, Should we take the discussion of natural selection and evolution, and apply it to humans in a different thread?  Because of modern medicine and societal structure as a whole, we could make the arguemet that NS&E only works in extreme cases now. 

I'm badly near-sighted, had pneumonia more than 8 times as a kid, and have a crummy back and bad knees.  How far back in time do we have to go to get to the point where I would have been culled by NS?  Today I can pass these traits to my kids.  Reverse Darwinism at work.
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robertmarkbram
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« Reply #69 on: July 07, 2007, 08:31:57 AM »



1.  Can the Word Whore read every story?  Or at least many of them?  I love her voice, her style, everything.  Her reading of "Just Do It" a little while back is what got me hooked on Escape Pod, actually.

Hell yeah!! Smiley Word Whore and Leann Mabry could read out the Yellow Pages and I would sit with rapt attention.

Also, the generational memories got me to thinking that this is less like a Mother/Daughter relationship and more like an accelerated Dr. Who kind of deal.  It's really the same person changing bodies every week - though instead of moulting, it more of an internal transferance.  I get that the story needed to explain how an 11 year knew how to pay bills and cook, etc., but this fundamentally changed the relationship - you're not teaching me, I'm remembering being you.  In effect, the Mayfly is an immortal of sorts.

This really hit the nail on the head for me. They are the same person, essentially being "re-invented": new body, new notion of "self".

This story fascinated me, from the super fast progeneration to inherited memories.

I understood that each May looked enough alike that people might not question the week to week changes. I wonder if, long term, do they find it a lonely life? If they age from baby to wrinkly in the space of a week, I imagine they would need to be careful revealing themselves too much or people might notice: same woman, different ages.. I think I am justified in saying "long term", because they keep their memories. Perhaps the frenetic pace of their life means that loneliness isn't an issue, despite the ability for long term memory.

I wonder how many others are out there. As Slic and BlairHippo discussed, changing bodies each week introduces one chance each week for a single blood line to die out. But they can have multiple babies, so how many others are out there? Smiley In the story she was writing lots of letters - keeping up with other copies of herself? This story would have been a cool X-Files episode!

I wonder what other side effects would come about because of the radical rate of change in their bodies? Would they be extra .. umm.. hot, because of increased metabolism or some-such? How quickly would a layer of nail polish last?



But for all the potential, the execution was pretty dry, I thought.  The protagonist accepts her lot with a stoicism that makes it seem simply normal, like this living a week and dying is no big deal to her, just how life is.  She never seems really happy or sad or pensive about anything, and so I never got any emotional connection with her.  She came off as just a freak, without any personality behind the weirdness.

I know it's not cool to harp on plausibility, but I think this is actually important to the story: The protagonist is obviously not human.  All the differences (metabolism, life cycle, bearing only female children) are too extreme.  She is a different species.  So why does she need human sperm?  Obviously, the male isn't contributing anything to the offspring, otherwise each generation of "mayflies" would be more human, longer lived, etc.  This makes her quest to mate nonsensical.

I found this aspect of the story most fascinating of all.

The protagonist accepts her lot with a stoicism that makes it seem simply normal, like this living a week and dying is no big deal to her. I think this fit quite well, because to May it is perfectly natural - it is how she has lived for 1000s of generations! The story manages to present something quite fantastical as something normal and 'every day' for the protagonist. It is one of many measures of a brilliant science fiction or fantasy or horror story: how much fantastical they can present as normal!

Rob
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Rollerbabe
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« Reply #70 on: July 17, 2007, 10:47:27 AM »

I enjoyed this story as it was very thought provoking.
I found it a little depressing to compare May's life with that of humans. We all want our lives to be meaningful, but it ends up slipping away from us before we've accomplished this. And look how long our lives are in comparison! So her life would mean nothing if she didn't have offspring, because all the shared memories would be lost and her particular line would be finished? Well what of my female friends who choose not to have children. Their particular line is finished, so is their life less meaningful? And all our memories are gone when we die. And when she has twins, the shared memories would be duplicated. What we consider important - raising our children to be decent members of society, helping others ourselves, giving something back to society - these were all missing from May's life. Hers was a very selfish aim. If we were to add up over our lifespan the number of hours we spend queueing, shopping, doing crossword puzzles, bathing etc etc. we would probably wish to spend our lives more productively. But nobody wakes up and spends 12 hours totally happy and fullfilled - usually you find if you did what you wanted all day and every day, that thing that excited you suddenly became boring. We need variety in our lives. And sometimes you need the boring repetitive tasks to fully appreciate the better and fun things when they happen.
Woops, sorry to ramble. I'll go lie down now.
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Etherius
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« Reply #71 on: July 17, 2007, 03:30:58 PM »

For me, this story falls squarely under the protection of the Rule of CoolGrin I don't really care about the fact that May's life-cycle is impossible; it's just a fun idea to explore, and I think the author did a good job of it. (And, of course, tWW's reading was marvelous as always.) I'll second BlairHippo's comments on the fact that it did have a plot and conflict, though it was certainly unconventional. Thumbs up!
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Planish
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« Reply #72 on: July 20, 2007, 12:49:34 AM »

For me, this story falls squarely under the protection of the Rule of CoolGrin I don't really care about the fact that May's life-cycle is impossible; it's just a fun idea to explore, and I think the author did a good job of it.
Yeah, I'd go with that too.

The thing that most intrigued me was the research (?) being done by the Vienna group. I don't recall that we're told exactly what the project was about, but I got the impression that they were working on longevity.

The business with the twins: I think the author just tossed that in there so readers could not immediately object that the race would eventually die out due to accidental deaths if there weren't occasional twin births.

Or maybe the Vienna group was working on twin births. Whatever. I don't need to understand everything that's going on to enjoy the story. It did seem a little bit like a loose end to be picked up by a sequel or novel. Nothing wrong with that.
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eytanz
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« Reply #73 on: July 20, 2007, 05:25:03 AM »

For me, this story falls squarely under the protection of the Rule of CoolGrin I don't really care about the fact that May's life-cycle is impossible; it's just a fun idea to explore, and I think the author did a good job of it.
Yeah, I'd go with that too.

The thing that most intrigued me was the research (?) being done by the Vienna group. I don't recall that we're told exactly what the project was about, but I got the impression that they were working on longevity.

The business with the twins: I think the author just tossed that in there so readers could not immediately object that the race would eventually die out due to accidental deaths if there weren't occasional twin births.

It's more than that - it was mentioned that twin births were very rare, and were suddenly becoming common. And the message from the Vienna group included a powers table of two, which would be relevant if they're explaining exponential growth.

I didn't feel it was a loose end to be picked up so much as an open ending, leaving it up to the reader's imagination.
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chornbe
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« Reply #74 on: July 23, 2007, 09:43:11 PM »

I *loved* this story. I've always been intrigued by the "extra-ordinary person dropped into an ordinary world" kind of thing. This was like Species meets Howard the Duck meets Kess all in one. *thumbs up*
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DDog
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« Reply #75 on: September 18, 2007, 03:12:38 PM »

I love this story. It was the first (and so far only) one I delved into the archives to listen to (previous to the story I joined the podcast with) when I was craving Escape Pod and had already listened to that week's episode.

I would have liked to hear more about the Vienna group's research that May receives, but I both also like the teaser, and how not delving into it mimics May's life cycle. She doesn't have to read it this week; her daughter or granddaughter probably will.

It's also an interesting take on reincarnation. Is each successive generation 'the same person with changing bodies' since each generation retains the memories of the whole line, or not since they clearly recognize generational distinctions and not just "waking up in a new body."

How does having twins affect the clan memories? Will the twin not named May go off to found her own line in another city, or will they pal around for a few generations before splitting up?

Also a good nature vs nurture exploration. "nurture" in this case would have to consist of memories from previous generations, since the current May unless a twin will have few outside influences, but how does the influx of human DNA affect subsequent generations' personalities and instincts?

Are all Mays heterosexual? What if a generation happens to be a lesbian? Are there any trans Mays?

The story doesn't have to answer all of these questions--and if it tried, it would probably not be as good. But I'm fascinated by stories that are not only satisfying by themselves, but also leave me with questions and curiosities and avenues of exploration.
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Alasdair5000
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« Reply #76 on: September 19, 2007, 03:13:21 AM »

   This fascinated me.  I've gone round and round on what was the best word to describe it, but fascinating seems to be the best one.  The pragmatic, grounded approach to this unique idea of immortality was really well handled and a couple of the minor details carried some serious emotional punch, especially the debate on whether it was worth finishing Anna Karenina.
   On top of all that, it reminded me a lot of the best elements of White Wolf's World of Darkness roleplaying systems (Not the supremely wombley bits where you can play vampires older than the sun).  The idea of someone exceptional living next to you, the idea that the world is very different to what we think, we just can't see it is, there's that word again, fascinating.

Great stuff.  One of my favourites so far.
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Chodon
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« Reply #77 on: September 19, 2007, 11:19:06 AM »

My only problem with this story is the law of conservation of mass.  She would have to eat more than just a jar of peanut butter to have a kid.  She would need a couple of nine course meals.  The amount of food these creatures would have to consume during puberty would be HUGE!
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« Reply #78 on: October 07, 2010, 09:02:06 AM »

I enjoyed this story.  A unique ideas will take a story a long way in my eyes and this idea was great.  It really makes me think about how I use my idle time during the day!  Every moment counts!

Actually, it did make me think of one other story, but not in a bad way.  In Writers of the Future XXV, there's a story by Jordan Lapp titled "After the Final Sunset, Again" with a protagonist that is a Phoenix.  Not the mythical bird creature, but a mostly-human entity with a daily cycle of rebirths.  At every sunset she burns into ash, and every sunrise is born again.  This story and that one take similar ideas and go in opposite directions.  In this story, pregnancy is the solution, in that story pregnancy is the problem.  I highly recommend that story.
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