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Author Topic: EP125: End Game  (Read 30232 times)

Russell Nash

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on: September 27, 2007, 08:14:44 AM
EP125: End Game

By Nancy Kress.
Read by Stephen Eley.
First appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, April 2007.

“What exactly happened in the seventh grade?” I found myself intensely curious, which I covered by staring at the board and making a move.

He told me, still unembarrassed, in exhaustive detail. Then he added, “It should be possible to adjust brain chemicals to eliminate the static. To unclutter the mind. It should!”

“Well,” I said, dropping from insight to my more usual sarcasm, “maybe you’ll do it at Harvard, if you don’t get sidetracked by some weird shit like ballet or model railroads.”

“Checkmate,” Allen said.


Rated R. Contains profanity, sexual innuendo, and chess-related violence.


Referenced Sites:
2007 Podcast & New Media Expo
California Brunch Meetup 9/30/07
Better Late Than Never (Stardust review)



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Bolomite

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Reply #1 on: September 27, 2007, 02:40:42 PM
I thought this was a great story.  I was actually sad when the narrator started having marital problems. 

One thing I didn't get...how did everyone else get the "syndrome"?



Russell Nash

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Reply #2 on: September 27, 2007, 04:07:59 PM

One thing I didn't get...how did everyone else get the "syndrome"?

Basic fluid transfer.  It was in the saliva.



Bolomite

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Reply #3 on: September 27, 2007, 04:31:47 PM
Oh....I'm so stupid.  ???



goatkeeper

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Reply #4 on: September 27, 2007, 04:37:48 PM
I really like these Nancy Kress stories.

IND doesn't stand for initial new drug though, it stands for investigational new drug.  



Pink Shift

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Reply #5 on: September 27, 2007, 06:05:36 PM
This is another story
 that I liked.
I think that is
 two in a row.
The concept of total focus;
 its benefits and dangers
 is thought provoking.
For a short story
 it covered all the basis it could.
I could see it being
 expanded into a novel
 where the weaknesses of the
 short attention span culture
 in the USA could be
 explored more and exposed.

I like the idea of allowing
 your mind to wonder.
Allowing the world to
 show itself to you.
That is why I do not
 own a television.
It steals your
 time and imagination.

Two other thoughts.
I wish that Allen was
 a more rounded individual and
 not the "total nerd" stereotype.
(DIE NERD - stereotype - DIE)
It would have made
 the friendship deeper and
 his loss to his discovery feel greater.

I liked Steve Eley's reading
 of this story.
The characters' voices and
 the transitions were
 more natural and relaxed
 than in some other stories.

Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.

I imagine that yes is the only living thing.

e. e. cummings


Russell Nash

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Reply #6 on: September 27, 2007, 06:07:59 PM
I really like these Nancy Kress stories.

IND doesn't stand for initial new drug though, it stands for investigational new drug.  

It was what the charactor figured out.  We don't know if the charactor was wrong or if Ms.Kress was wrong.



Russell Nash

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Reply #7 on: September 27, 2007, 06:12:24 PM
I wish that Allen was a more rounded individual and not the "total nerd" stereotype. (DIE NERD - stereotype - DIE) It would have made the friendship deeper and his loss to his discovery feel greater.

He didn't really care about Allen and I think it would have made the story too sappy if he did.  His lost came from his losing his wife and knowing he was going that way himself.

Ironically I think he became single minded about not being single minded.



DKT

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Reply #8 on: September 27, 2007, 11:25:02 PM
Fantastic story.  It had me the whole time -- I never lost my attention once.  Solid reading, too!


Leon Kensington

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Reply #9 on: September 27, 2007, 11:33:17 PM
This is another one to go on my favorites list, as almost all of Ms. Kress' are.  I would love to see where this will go for that world in five or ten years, when almost everyone has this disease/cure.  But what I most liked about what this story implicated was its ethics.  Was it right for Allen to give the girl the drug before testing was complete?  Was it even right for him to give it to himself when he didn't know if it might somehow spread (as it ended up doing)?

Story:  9 out of 10                                              Reading:  10 out of 10



goatkeeper

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Reply #10 on: September 28, 2007, 02:40:58 AM
I really like these Nancy Kress stories.

IND doesn't stand for initial new drug though, it stands for investigational new drug.  

It was what the charactor figured out.  We don't know if the charactor was wrong or if Ms.Kress was wrong.

It doesn't really matter, but there are no indications that he "found out" wrong. IND can stand for whatever you want though I guess- so can USA for that matter.  Doesn't make the story any less amazing- The error just surprised me, she clearly does a great deal of research.



oddpod

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Reply #11 on: September 28, 2007, 08:01:13 AM
Dont take my statick away!
thare will be nothing left!!

card carying dislexic and  gramatical revolushonery


Czhorat

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Reply #12 on: September 28, 2007, 10:12:40 AM
I liked this as well. As is the case with much of Ms. Kress's work, I read it as a parable. I see it being about the risks of trying to perfect the human mind without fully understanding it in the first place, the importance of seemingly unimportant ideas in defining who we are and about the dangers of too narrow a focus.

One thing that bothered me a bit is that one could read into the story a bit of what I hope is an unintended message against treating attention deficit disorder. Having different background thoughts is all well and good until they interfere with ones ability to focus on the important thoughts in ones head. I know that it isn't in the story, but people who already mistakenly believe that you're turning a kid into a zombie by giving him medication to help cope with a real mental illness.

My only other nitpick was the character not trying to share his wife's interest in roses as a way of trying to connect with her. I'd see this as more a flaw in his personality than in the writing, however. It would have been nice to see just so we can get an idea of whether or not there's anybody left in there or if her self is truly gone (as an aside, the folks at radiolab did a great show on the definition of self. It is available for free download on their website). Otherwise, I liked the characterization. The way people fall into old roles when meeting old acquaintances rang especially true for me. I'm also glad that Nancy didn't spell out why the scientist was jealous of his old friend.

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Russell Nash

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Reply #13 on: September 28, 2007, 10:37:42 AM
(as an aside, the folks at radiolab did a great show on the definition of self. It is available for free download on their website).

Really great show.  Here's the link.  They also podcast the show.  Well worth checking out.



sirana

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Reply #14 on: September 28, 2007, 03:27:21 PM
Pawn to King 4?? You don't play chess, do you, Steve?



eytanz

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Reply #15 on: September 28, 2007, 06:44:34 PM
One thing that bothered me a bit is that one could read into the story a bit of what I hope is an unintended message against treating attention deficit disorder. Having different background thoughts is all well and good until they interfere with ones ability to focus on the important thoughts in ones head. I know that it isn't in the story, but people who already mistakenly believe that you're turning a kid into a zombie by giving him medication to help cope with a real mental illness.

This will be slightly off-topic, but I feel I should chime in here, since this happens to be a subject that's sort of important to me. I suffer from (adult) attention deficit disorder. I also have a friend who worked at a lab researching ADHD. I know a lot about it, both from a scientific point of view and from a personal point of view.

For at least a large amount of people suffering from ADHD, the problem is *not* too much background thoughts. The problem is too little. There have been studies that show that brain activity associated with attention is like a wave - for all humans, it goes up and down on its own. And there is a thershold below which, if the attention drops, you can no longer maintain it. However -and forgive me for oversimplifying the neuroscience since I'm working from memory here - for most people, there's also a constant backdrop of "static", to use the story's term, that keeps it active. So, say your attention level drifts from 0 to 1, and that it has to be over 0.5 for you to keep attention. For people without ADHD, there's static running at level 0.4. So, their brain is really covering the range of 0.4-1.4, and they very rarely lose attention.

One hypothesis, which seems to match my own experience, for the cause of ADHD is that ADHD sufferers have *less* background static going on. So, the wave drops below "attention" a lot more. And the mechanism for dealing with this is hyperactivity - in essence, it's the brain's attempt to generate more static in order to be able to keep up with attention.

I can tell you that my experience fits with this. I cannot listen to someone, for instance, unless I'm also moving. If I'm sitting still I can't concentrate. I got through lectures - both undergrad and grad school - by brining in computer games to class. If I'm playing a game - ideally a platform game or something like zuma, which requires mostly motor responses but doesn't require puzzle-solving - my ability to understand what other people are saying goes *way* up. If I want to read something, I walk. If I need to write papers, I turn on the TV in the background. I need to introduce static, because it augments my attention, not takes away from it.

I don't know if this is true of all people with ADHD, but it's certainly true for me.



ajames

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Reply #16 on: September 28, 2007, 07:49:30 PM
This story had me from the very beginning to the very end.  Brilliant!

I really like Nancy Kress' ability to hold a bare idea up to the light and examine it in an interesting way.  She did this with happiness in Ej Es, and now with single-mindedness in this story.  Each story got me thinking a bit about what it means to be human, and what the important things in life are.
« Last Edit: September 28, 2007, 11:48:34 PM by ajames »



swdragoon

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Reply #17 on: September 29, 2007, 05:18:26 AM
well done.

Improvise, Adapt ,Overcome.


eytanz

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Reply #18 on: September 29, 2007, 05:33:44 AM
Ok, after my treatise on ADHD above, let me get to story feedback ;) -

Anyway, I'll echo the general sentiment of thinking this was a very good story. I didn't exactly enjoy it - but that's more because it touched on some raw nerves in my life at the moment, and is not a reflection on the story quality.

I found the similarities to last week's story interesting, in that they both shared a "villian" who thinks he's fixing the world but really is just imposing his own obsessions on others, and a protagonist who's an unwitting accomplice to some degree. There's plenty of differences as well, and it certainly didn't feel like the same story, but I definitely felt that there's a common thread.



Czhorat

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Reply #19 on: September 29, 2007, 11:21:24 AM
Thanks for lesson, eytanz. One way I've heard ADHD described (and would describe it myself) is having a television that won't stay tuned to one channel but keeps drifting back and forth. There's also a radio in the room which won't stay tuned to one channel either. The result is that it's hard to hold on to one stream of thought. It could feel like trying to hold on to a slippery fish in a rapidly flowing river while all the other fish are bumping up against you. And yes, I know that's probably even worse than just calling it "static" and being done with it. Please understand that I wasn't trying to trivialize or misrepresent ADD; I simply thought that the story could be read in a manner that would do so.

As far as the story goes, I'm not quite sure I saw the scientist as a villain. Misguided, perhaps, but what he was trying to do wasn't really about him. I saw his unleashing a plague that could destroy much of what is special about the human race as more an unintended consequence to a kind of poorly informed altruism than anything I'd think of as villainy. To me this is more interersting than having a bad man who is bad for no reason save the furthering of the plot. In my opinion, for exanple, the biggest flaw in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is that Sauron is never developed as a character and doesn't have anything that seems to approach rational motivation.

The Word of Nash is the word of Nash and it is Nash's word.


ajames

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Reply #20 on: September 29, 2007, 10:14:26 PM
To me this is more interesting than having a bad man who is bad for no reason save the furthering of the plot. In my opinion, for example, the biggest flaw in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is that Sauron is never developed as a character and doesn't have anything that seems to approach rational motivation.

Sauron's character is developed, somewhat at least, in some of Tolkien's other works [The Silmarillion, for example].  By the time of the LOTR, Sauron no longer represents a rational being, but one entirely consumed with evil and beyond redemption.  Reason has no part in his motivations; he is motivated entirely by hate, envy, wrath, and the like.  Makes him less of an interesting character in the LOTR, but there are many other villians in the story who are interesting. 

From what I have read, Tolkien does a much better job developing Melkor's character [Sauron's master and corrupter, also known as Morgoth].



Planish

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Reply #21 on: September 30, 2007, 02:28:39 AM
The story was better than "okay" but not one of my favourites.
I think I was more taken by Steve's opening comments, especially the bit about "podcasting is so new that it's easy to be an expert".
I know whatcha mean. Whenever some new kind of equipment shows up at my workplace, whoever happens to open the carton and installs it is automatically deemed to be the resident expert on it and is expected to tutor the other employees in its care and feeding.

I imagine though, a comparison more like what you probably had in mind would be the first TV producers coming from a film background, or the first radio producers having only theatrical and music hall shows as a jumping off point. Whoever got anything done at all at the beginning became the experts, at least until the medium started to catch on and it required a bit more effort and involvement to keep the expert status. I guess the difficulty in being an expert begins when a lot of money starts changing hands.

I was going to say something about being able to recognize and exploit "emergent game play" in a new medium, but I hadn't quite worked out how it was going to be relevant without dragging things way off-topic.

Back to the story. It was interesting to consider "clear thinking" as a kind of addiction. I will give Nancy Kress points for that.

One thing I didn't get...how did everyone else get the "syndrome"?
Basic fluid transfer.  It was in the saliva.
Um... I didn't think that. I assumed that they either obtained some of the drug, or learned how to make the drug themselves, or came up with some kind of mental discipline technique. Otherwise, why didn't Jeff "catch it" from Karen? Still, the bit about Allen's "slobbering" on the glass and messy eating habits at the dinner party does seem like a bit of a "Chekov's gun".

I must confess that every time one of the characters used the word "static", I was taken out of the story for a minute or so, and I had to rewind it a bit. When people say that there is "static on the line" or that the "radio is full of static", what they really mean is "noisy". Static does not cause continuous noise unless you are constantly charging and discharging something (like with a Van de Graaff generator). It does not cause constant noise in another system, like an electronic medium. There. I got it out.

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eytanz

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Reply #22 on: September 30, 2007, 03:37:11 AM
Quote
Basic fluid transfer.  It was in the saliva.
Um... I didn't think that. I assumed that they either obtained some of the drug, or learned how to make the drug themselves, or came up with some kind of mental discipline technique. Otherwise, why didn't Jeff "catch it" from Karen? Still, the bit about Allen's "slobbering" on the glass and messy eating habits at the dinner party does seem like a bit of a "Chekov's gun".

Also the bit about chess-girl putting her fingers in her mouth then touching the pieces - which is probably how someone ended up able to beat her (he contracted it from her), and the woman who was able to master meditation got it (her husband was a chess-player, who must have got it from the girl and transmitted it to her). And Jess *did* catch it from Karen, that's the whole point of the ending. Possibly, different people are just affected at different rates.
« Last Edit: September 30, 2007, 03:58:13 AM by eytanz »



eytanz

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Reply #23 on: September 30, 2007, 03:57:52 AM
Thanks for lesson, eytanz. One way I've heard ADHD described (and would describe it myself) is having a television that won't stay tuned to one channel but keeps drifting back and forth. There's also a radio in the room which won't stay tuned to one channel either. The result is that it's hard to hold on to one stream of thought. It could feel like trying to hold on to a slippery fish in a rapidly flowing river while all the other fish are bumping up against you. And yes, I know that's probably even worse than just calling it "static" and being done with it. Please understand that I wasn't trying to trivialize or misrepresent ADD; I simply thought that the story could be read in a manner that would do so.

Oh, I didn't think you were trivializing it, I was just clarifying how it is for me. The television that won't stay tuned but keeps drifting is an apt analogy; the thing is - at least for me, I don't know if this is true of all people with ADHD - is that the reason my attention shifts is not that there are a lot of different thoughts in my head at once, but rather that thoughts come at a sequence, one after the other. Individual threads of thought are pretty elusive on their own. The reason that multitasking helps me concentrate is because having two threads at once sort of combines to make a "heavier" thought process, which is easier to hang on to.

It's sort of like Stochastic resonance in visual processing - there's a fascinating article about it at http://www.umsl.edu/~neurodyn/assets/pdf/VisualSR.pdf. The figure one page 1 illustrates the way it is, especially the three lower boxes - without any noise at all (leftmost box), it is very difficult to recognize the image. Add some noise (middle box), and suddenly the image becomes a lot clearer. Too much noise (right box) and the system is overloaded; the image becomes impossible to recognize.

For me, thinking is like that. If I just try to think about one thing, it's really difficult. Thinking about two or three things at once is a lot easier. More than that is a mess.

If this correct, then the story is simply wrong in its science - turn off the rest of the noise, and you basically give your chess player attention disorder. She won't become a better chess player - she'll become someone who can't keep her mind on anything at all.




Planish

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Reply #24 on: September 30, 2007, 04:22:00 AM
There are times for me when I might be trying to solve a problem (or just remember something) without success. If I just forget about it for a while (could be hours, days) as likely as not I'll come up with a solution in a sudden flash, possibly while I'm driving, or watching TV, or even in the middle of a conversation. If not a solution, then a totally fresh direction to attack it from.

I mostly see something like it happen when I'm working on a cryptic crossword puzzle, and I'll be beating my brains to solve one word. I can put it down, pick it up a week later and look at it, and as soon as I read the clue again I'll think "well, duh! it's [whatever]!" and write it in.

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