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Author Topic: EP135: Stu  (Read 10135 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: December 07, 2007, 04:19:06 AM »

EP135: Stu

By Bruce McAllister.
Read by Stephen Eley.
First appeared in The Girl Who Loved Animals and Other Stories, from Golden Gryphon Press.

The first time I met Stu, I was just a kid and there weren’t any lights hovering over his house. The last time I saw him, when I was grown and we both knew what life could be if you let it, there were. That’s the best way to start, I guess.

That first time, our dad piled us into our old Chevy wagon–the kind you took to drive-in movies with sheets on the seats and your kids in pajamas–and drove us to the north county, saying only, “Stu is an inventor. He’ll never see any royalties from his inventions because the Navy owns them, but he’s an inventor, the kind that made America great.”

How had he first met Stu? How does anyone in the Navy get to know a wide-eyed, crazy-haired inventor who wasn’t at all “strack,” who shouldn’t have been anywhere near the military but somehow was? On a Secret Project, of course. My brother and I—who were 10 and 6 at the time–were sure of it. Our dad and Stu had to be working on a Secret Project together.


Rated G. Contains military bureaucracy, but nothing more disturbing.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Chodon
Lochage
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Posts: 519


Molon Labe


« Reply #1 on: December 07, 2007, 07:59:49 AM »

This story had some interesting themes.  The little guy versus big government, pressing on after multiple rejections, and sticking it to the man.  However, it didn't really strike a chord with me.  The characters were interesting and well developed and the point of the story was good, but it just was lacking.  When the story finally got interesting (Stu contacting the aliens), it ended.  I don't want to start a sci-fi or not debate.  This certainly was sci-fi by the broad definition Steve laid out a few episodes ago.  However, I like a little more science in my sci-fi.  I wanted to meet the little green men and figure out where they were from. 

Overall, a decent story that I didn't care for.
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Those who would sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither.
ajames
Lochage
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Posts: 358



« Reply #2 on: December 07, 2007, 10:32:27 AM »

It struck a chord with me.  Bravo, Mr. McAllister.
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eytanz
Moderator
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Posts: 4685



« Reply #3 on: December 07, 2007, 01:23:47 PM »

It didn't do much for me. I think not growing up in America is a big part of that - the story seems to play a lot of cultural notes that don't have much resonance to me.
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bolddeceiver
Matross
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Plunging like stones from a slingshot on mars...


« Reply #4 on: December 07, 2007, 10:04:53 PM »

This is an example of a conversation-driven story done well.  The gadgets helped, but they were basically icing.  What really moved the piece was really great, well written dialogue.  One of the better portrayals of the dilemmas facing research scientists, espescially in the defense industry, and going past the usual line of "what if your technology is misused" (though that was touched on briefly).  Stu's justification of his work was beautifully poetic, if not unproblematic, and really made me think.

BTW, for those out there interested in well-produced literary audio about the issues facing science and scientists through the ages, I have another podcast to briefly recommend.  L.A. Theatre Works' "The Play's The Thing" is a great NPR program that produces great plays for the radio, and they recently got a grant to start a monthly series of plays about mathematics and science, called The Relativity Series.  Part of the grant paid to podcast these monthly plays (the show usually charges for the episodes after streaming them for a week).  The podcast url is here.
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Czhorat
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Posts: 135


« Reply #5 on: December 08, 2007, 03:39:20 PM »

I kinda liked this one, didn't love it. The characters for the most part rang true. I found the idea of the government just telling Stu to shut up and not use his fancy new toys more realistic than having some kind of black-ops people disappear him. I suppose my problem with it - which Steve Eley might consider a plus - is that it was just too nice. Neither Stu nor his inventions got the attention they deserved, but he still felt good just having worked on them. The son fights the Vietnam draft, but this causes no emotional problems between him and his career-military father and friends. The central conflict between Stu and the Navy doesn't resonate emotionally for the reader becuase it doesn't seem to resonate with Stu himself. The author doesn't seem interested in exploring any cross-generational conflict or any conflict between Stu and the parents about how much to share with the children and at what age. The ideas, I agree, were nice, but the story felt just a bit flat to me.
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The Word of Nash is the word of Nash and it is Nash's word.
bolddeceiver
Matross
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Posts: 226


Plunging like stones from a slingshot on mars...


« Reply #6 on: December 08, 2007, 07:30:33 PM »

I don't know, I'd question the nice angle.  It's like that old question: If you could do great work, but then see it burnt in front of you each day, would that not be the most intense torment ever?  Even though he took it pretty much in stride, I saw Stu as a definite tragic figure.  I don't think "conflict" doesn't have to be so straightforward as tension between characters to make a viable story.
« Last Edit: December 08, 2007, 07:35:12 PM by bolddeceiver » Logged
Darwinist
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« Reply #7 on: December 08, 2007, 10:59:24 PM »

Neither Stu nor his inventions got the attention they deserved, but he still felt good just having worked on them. The son fights the Vietnam draft, but this causes no emotional problems between him and his career-military father and friends. The central conflict between Stu and the Navy doesn't resonate emotionally for the reader becuase it doesn't seem to resonate with Stu himself. The author doesn't seem interested in exploring any cross-generational conflict or any conflict between Stu and the parents about how much to share with the children and at what age. The ideas, I agree, were nice, but the story felt just a bit flat to me.

I agree that it would've been neat to explore some of these topics more but then maybe we would have more than a short story.   I liked the story a lot.  It kept my mind in another place, away from my sub-zero ride to work.  Can't beat that. 
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For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.    -  Carl Sagan
qwints
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A fine idea, but who bells cat?


« Reply #8 on: December 09, 2007, 01:26:43 AM »

I found the story pretty moving. The parallel between Stu being eaten up alive by cancer and having his career eaten up by the government while managing to keep smiling struck me as pretty powerful. Maybe I'm wrong, but I thought that the cheerful aspect of the story was only a pretense which made powerful Stu all the more a tragic figure by showing how he was forced to justify his impotence as an inventor.
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The lamp flared and crackled . . .
And Nevyrazimov felt better.
Biscuit
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« Reply #9 on: December 09, 2007, 06:21:59 PM »

A very sweet story. I enjoyed the concept of retro-engineered sci fi.

I don't think "conflict" doesn't have to be so straightforward as tension between characters to make a viable story.

Agreed. Some stories frustrate me with their adherence to drama stereo-types. Not every parent doesn't understand their kid's motivation. Not every kid disagrees with a parent. Relationships are far more complicated than that - the part where the narrator justified his dodging the draft alongisde  respecting his dad's career in the navy, so too the dad respecting the son's decision, was really nicely done.
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goatkeeper
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« Reply #10 on: December 09, 2007, 07:22:16 PM »

This story reminded me of Edwin Armstrong, the RCA employee that invented FM radio in the 30's- because the technology threatened their AM radio empire, RCA battled Armstrong for nearly 10 years, leveraging the court system, declaring his patents invalid, etc.  The battle finally ended with a settlement so low it didn't even cover Armstrong's legal fees.  He stepped out of a 13th floor window shortly after.
From napster and p2p sharing to sonor-wires and alien-communication disks, it's interesting to think about the different ways governments and corporations respond to new technology.
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Biscuit
Peltast
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Posts: 113


« Reply #11 on: December 09, 2007, 08:08:12 PM »

From napster and p2p sharing to sonor-wires and alien-communication disks, it's interesting to think about the different ways governments and corporations respond to new technology.

Sustainable clean energy vs fossil fuels.

Whoops, thread de-railer!
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Russell Nash
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« Reply #12 on: December 10, 2007, 03:47:30 AM »

From napster and p2p sharing to sonor-wires and alien-communication disks, it's interesting to think about the different ways governments and corporations respond to new technology.

Sustainable clean energy vs fossil fuels.

Whoops, thread de-railer!

If it takes off as a topic we'll split it off.  (I write this from a region where over 25% of electricity is wind generated)
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Czhorat
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Posts: 135


« Reply #13 on: December 10, 2007, 06:19:26 AM »

A very sweet story. I enjoyed the concept of retro-engineered sci fi.

I don't think "conflict" doesn't have to be so straightforward as tension between characters to make a viable story.

Agreed. Some stories frustrate me with their adherence to drama stereo-types. Not every parent doesn't understand their kid's motivation. Not every kid disagrees with a parent. Relationships are far more complicated than that - the part where the narrator justified his dodging the draft alongisde  respecting his dad's career in the navy, so too the dad respecting the son's decision, was really nicely done.

That's a fair point. My point is that if everyone deals with their conflicts in a mature and reasoned manner you often end up with a dull story. Tolstoy said that all happy families are the same, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its one unique way. I'm not sure that I agree with this, but I would have found the story more interesting if we met any two characters who's motives digressed enough so that they didn't get along.
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The Word of Nash is the word of Nash and it is Nash's word.
TechNoir
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WWW
« Reply #14 on: December 10, 2007, 08:12:43 AM »

My comment is simple. This story reminded me of my time growing up in Oak Ridge and my grandfather and his friends. Grandpa was nothing like stu there and was perhaps the meanest man ever, but this story made me think of all the work he and others did for the government that they cant talk about even to their science enamored grandchildren.

Beyond that it was pleasant piece. I feel like maybe it was missing something but I cant say what. It worked for the most part and I enjoyed it.   
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Never be so enamored with your own cleverness so as to stop and watch it.
Bunter
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« Reply #15 on: December 10, 2007, 05:12:22 PM »

I think that the story was a perfect execution of the author's ideas for the story: I really liked the characterizations and the fact that there was not a lot of conflict...the absence of conflict made the story particularly believable since in the real world (tm), most people get along by avoiding conflict, even when they are not 100% happy with the compromises they have to accept.  (And I liked that both sides did have to accept compromises:  I think the navy was no happier with giving up their America-is-an-antenna plan than Stu was about having his inventions ignored.

Having said that, though, I didn't find the author's ideas for the story particularly engaging, notwithstanding his flawless presentation of his ideas.
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Czhorat
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Posts: 135


« Reply #16 on: December 10, 2007, 07:07:07 PM »

I think that the story was a perfect execution of the author's ideas for the story: I really liked the characterizations and the fact that there was not a lot of conflict...the absence of conflict made the story particularly believable since in the real world (tm), most people get along by avoiding conflict, even when they are not 100% happy with the compromises they have to accept.

For me the relationship between the father and son didn't quite ring true. The father's answer (or was it Stu's? Either way my point stands) to the son's draft dodging is that he didn't know what he'd do in World War II if "all of his friends were trying to get out of it". This struck me as very dismissive of the son't anti-war viewpoint and of his free will and decision-making. It felt like it was setting up some kind of rift in understanding which the author just lost interest in exploring.
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The Word of Nash is the word of Nash and it is Nash's word.
Biscuit
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Posts: 113


« Reply #17 on: December 10, 2007, 07:47:06 PM »

For me the relationship between the father and son didn't quite ring true. The father's answer (or was it Stu's? Either way my point stands) to the son's draft dodging is that he didn't know what he'd do in World War II if "all of his friends were trying to get out of it". This struck me as very dismissive of the son't anti-war viewpoint and of his free will and decision-making. It felt like it was setting up some kind of rift in understanding which the author just lost interest in exploring.

To me, it came across as empathy for his son's ideals. Remember the generation gap - before consientious dissension in the 60s, getting drafted was the "right" thing to do, whether you liked it or not. The father struck me as even a little envious of the freedoms his son had. The father staying in the navy all his career was a good parallel to the whole story - better the devil you know.
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600south
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« Reply #18 on: December 10, 2007, 09:13:58 PM »

i have to say i found this story kind of schmaltzy, and wondered if "Tuesdays with Stu" would have been a more appropriate title.

having said that, the themes of the story were genuine. and it did prick up my ears at the end when Stu started talking about the aliens.
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goatkeeper
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« Reply #19 on: December 11, 2007, 02:30:55 AM »

"Tuesdays with Stu"

Thanks, I haven't chuckled out loud in awhile
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