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Author Topic: EP136: Bright Red Star  (Read 19083 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: December 14, 2007, 05:02:47 AM »

EP136: Bright Red Star

By Bud Sparhawk.
Read by  (of Escape Pod Classic).
First appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 2005.

Survivors isn’t exactly the word. What they found were sixteen bodies without arms, legs, and most organs. What remained were essentially heads hooked up to life support and fueled by oxygenated glucose pumps. There were a couple hundred strands of glass fibre running from the ship’s walls into each skull, into each brain, into each soul. Four of the sixteen were still functioning–alive is not a word to describe their condition.

There was no hesitation on the part of Command. They ordered everyone, except combat types like us, from the most likely targets. Humanity couldn’t allow any more people to become components for the Shardie offense.

But civilians never listen. Farmers were the worse, hanging onto their little plots and crops until somebody dragged them away, kicking and screaming at the injustice of it all. That’s why we were here. Forty settlers had stupidly refused to be evacuated from New Mars. Forty we didn’t know about until we got that one brief burst.

My mission was to make certain that they didn’t become forty armless, legless, gutless, screamless weapon components.


Rated R. Contains strong violence and heavy moral themes..


Referenced Sites:
Reading is Fundamental
Starship Sofa



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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coyote247
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« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2007, 11:18:19 AM »

I should find this story difficult. It doesn't go to any efforts to hide, nay, in fact presents from the start really it's only hook, which would in other stories of been a "what a tweeest!" Twilight Zone job at the end. It tries to create sympathy for a character in far too short of a time, and begins with what has to be a purposefully ridiculously flowery sentence.

However, it actually went down without any bother. A short, neat, concise bit of fast food. And as someone who values interesting scenarios far over new speculative ground, that makes it rank pretty well in my book.

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Alasdair5000
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« Reply #2 on: December 14, 2007, 11:28:03 AM »

Works for me.  Interesting aliens, utterly horrible central premise, nice take on military sci fi and some well realised and plausible human screw ups in there as well.  Good stuff.
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Chodon
Lochage
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« Reply #3 on: December 14, 2007, 12:44:36 PM »

I liked this story.  I like how we're left guessing about the aliens' intentions and why they attacked Humans in the first place.  I also liked the descriptions of the soldiers and their augmentations.  Very cool.

The only downside was I saw the ending coming a mile away.  When the little girl (Becky?) asked the soldier if he was here to rescue them and he said he was there to make sure the Shards didn't get them I knew what was going to happen.  It was still fun (that's a bad word to use, but the only one I can think of) watching the events unfold.  Overall great story.
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Lochage
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« Reply #4 on: December 14, 2007, 12:44:58 PM »

Saddest story ever.

Works well at its job of jerking tears, but not much to chew on once the credits roll.

I liked that the soldier valued the innocence of the child and wanted to spare her from horror, despite the nature of his mission.  She remained a person in his eyes.
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VBurn
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« Reply #5 on: December 14, 2007, 02:36:06 PM »

I think this would be a great stroy for a visiual media.  The foreshadowing was really strong and not much surprise at the ending.  Of course I think that may have been the author's intent because the stroy seem more about the narrator's humanity vs his machine upgrades.  Anyway, great story, well done, very enjoyable, even if it was a bit dark (maybe even better because it was a bit dark). 
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eytanz
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« Reply #6 on: December 14, 2007, 03:10:07 PM »

I liked the story, though not quite as much as the posters above. While I liked the depiction of the main character a lot - he clearly is not enjoying what he's doing, but he knows it's necessary, and gets it done - but the "war" aspect of it didn't gel for me. Simply put, this wasn't a war, not in the same sense that we have wars on earth. The aliens were well imagined, but their alienness and relentlessness made the whole situation feel more like a plague, with really big viruses. Real wars are messy, and they are fought by people who, if it wasn't for a quirk of fate or politics, would have a whole other range of possible interactions open to them. That didn't exist here, making the whole situation a lot simpler than war ever is.
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ajames
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« Reply #7 on: December 14, 2007, 07:15:48 PM »

This story gripped me from the beginning.  The description of the soldier's augmentations was cool and the portrayal of the soldiers gelled with what I would think a crack unit of suicide soldiers would be (though I have little real experience in this regard).

The foreshadowing (is it really foreshadowing if you are pretty much told how the story ends from the start?) worked well too, I thought, because you saw what had to be done, hoped that somehow something would happen to prevent it, yet watched as the inevitable events unfolded.

This was not a story about escaping impossible odds with heroics.  It was a story about heroically doing what must be done.  That is, some of the characters acted heroically, and with humanity; the others played the roles given to them.

My only complaints are that some of the farmers seemed a little too much like a stereotype of rural farmers in the old U.S. to me, and that I would have liked to have seen a bit more of the aliens, or a bit more of the soldiers' resistance to the aliens at the end of the story.

Great story.
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jrderego
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« Reply #8 on: December 14, 2007, 09:44:23 PM »

I enjoyed this story enough to listen to it twice in a row.
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ryanknapper
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« Reply #9 on: December 15, 2007, 01:34:49 AM »

Harsh, brutal and disgusting.  I would very much like to know more.
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Darwinist
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« Reply #10 on: December 15, 2007, 07:08:36 PM »


Wow.  I really liked this story.  I didn't see the end coming like most others did and it was like a punch in the gut.   What a heart breaker.   
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Darwinist
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« Reply #11 on: December 15, 2007, 07:12:54 PM »

My only complaints are that some of the farmers seemed a little too much like a stereotype of rural farmers in the old U.S. to me, and that I would have liked to have seen a bit more of the aliens, or a bit more of the soldiers' resistance to the aliens at the end of the story.

Maybe it was a bit of a stereotype but there are plenty of rural types (not just farmers) in the current US that are like the farmers in the story.   
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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
eytanz
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« Reply #12 on: December 15, 2007, 09:13:05 PM »

My only complaints are that some of the farmers seemed a little too much like a stereotype of rural farmers in the old U.S. to me, and that I would have liked to have seen a bit more of the aliens, or a bit more of the soldiers' resistance to the aliens at the end of the story.

Maybe it was a bit of a stereotype but there are plenty of rural types (not just farmers) in the current US that are like the farmers in the story.   

Also, it's a self-selecting group - it would only be the people who most conform to the stereotype that would have stayed behind to begin with.
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Russell Nash
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« Reply #13 on: December 16, 2007, 07:51:36 AM »

I liked this one.  The basics of the ending were spelled out right at the beginning, but that wasn't the point.  This was about the journey.  How did we get here?  How will they go about completing thier mission?  What kind of "person" is this soldier?  Is he more man than machine? 

With no reason other than the fact he is still human, the soldier gives the only kindness he can.  He kills the child swiftly without her knowing what was coming.  And that was the answer to our last question.

My only complaints are that some of the farmers seemed a little too much like a stereotype of rural farmers in the old U.S. to me, and that I would have liked to have seen a bit more of the aliens, or a bit more of the soldiers' resistance to the aliens at the end of the story.
Maybe it was a bit of a stereotype but there are plenty of rural types (not just farmers) in the current US that are like the farmers in the story.   
Also, it's a self-selecting group - it would only be the people who most conform to the stereotype that would have stayed behind to begin with.

I don't think rural or city has anything to do with it.  You see these type of people every time there's a natural disaster that was predicted.  Every hurrican, every wild fire, every volcano.  This time it just happened to be brain stealing aliens.
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ajames
Lochage
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« Reply #14 on: December 16, 2007, 08:27:55 AM »

My only complaints are that some of the farmers seemed a little too much like a stereotype of rural farmers in the old U.S. to me, and that I would have liked to have seen a bit more of the aliens, or a bit more of the soldiers' resistance to the aliens at the end of the story.

Maybe it was a bit of a stereotype but there are plenty of rural types (not just farmers) in the current US that are like the farmers in the story.   

Also, it's a self-selecting group - it would only be the people who most conform to the stereotype that would have stayed behind to begin with.

Points well taken.  I think what I was reacting to more than the stereotype was the juxtaposition of a future time and place, with highly advanced spaceships and weapons and augmented half-machine, half-human soldiers fighting inscrutable aliens on a colonized planet somewhere in the distant universe [all of which was portrayed extremely well by the author] to characters who think and live in a way that not only exists today, but existed 50 years ago, and a hundred years ago, and more.  Certainly not the first time this type of juxtaposition has been done, but it always gives me pause when I come across it and am faced with a brave new future existing side by side with the present or the past.  Not because I don't believe that this could or would happen; indeed, this type of juxtaposition exists today.  But because I am left wondering why these particular old ways were selected by the author to continue on into the future.

I don't want to make too much of this, though, as it was a very minor distraction to me, and did not detract appreciably from my attention to the story.
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ajames
Lochage
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« Reply #15 on: December 16, 2007, 11:20:42 AM »

And I should also add that "criticism" was too harsh of a term, the portrayal of the farmers and their apparent anachronistic lifestyle was more like something that made me go "hmm".
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englishphil
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« Reply #16 on: December 16, 2007, 12:24:27 PM »

I didn't expect to like this story when I read the info box - the summary said "Pseudopod" to me more than it said "Escape Pod" and despite my tastes in video games I consider myself somewhat squeamish. But like it I did. I think that the idea of humanity being reduced to this dilemma or death versus fate-worse-than, while not necessarily original in the annals of science fiction, was handled in a way that created such pathos for me that by the end I felt like I couldn't not listen.

After a few weeks of stories that have left me pretty cold - good, enjoyable stuff but hasn't really stayed with me afterwards - this one was something of a disturbing jolt. Actually, I don't think I've enjoyed a story that's disturbed me in quite this way since EP90 "How Lonesome A Life Without Nerve Gas."

The funny thing is (and I know I'm taking my life into my own hands here if people more serious about popular music than I are reading Wink): getting the rights to use "No Bravery" by James Blunt for the closing music this week would have been a swine, but the story made the song leap out at me. No bravery in these soldier's eyes anymore, only sadness.

Good thought-provoking pick, Steve. Thanks.

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Thaurismunths
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« Reply #17 on: December 16, 2007, 12:52:42 PM »

Stories like this are why I like EP so much. It's different.
Not my taste, but still different.

I couldn't get in to this story even a little bit.
We were told rather than shown everything: the history, the aliens, the soldier's mental state, even the tech. The whole thing was an El Camino on which the author bolted some clunky high-tech ideas, with a couple of 2D holographs in the passenger seats, which was then put it on a very predictable auto pilot to nowhere.
The tech added nothing to the story other than to say this was in the future, and to show off the author's creativity. None of the body modifications were demonstrated, the aliens were so vague that I didn't care about them, and none of the characters faced any conflict. I think there was some kind of hint at the idea that we were becoming bigger monsters than the Shards. I think the author also hoped to play at some deep emotional meaning, but the characters were all so flat that the dramatic interaction was just pantomime.
We were walked through and spoon fed the world, the war, and the character's emotional states. Everything we were shown I expected  to be a moment of contradiction to all the spoon fed status quo, only to be disappointed. I kept waiting for the solider or farmer to be a Shard, the whole thing to be the memories of a canned brain, or a revelation of the true and unexpected nature of the enemy, but alas.
As for the journey vs. the destination, a journey would still indicate that the plot was going somewhere, and the destination would suggest that the end justified the means. I didn't see either of these here. Everything went according to plan, as it would with a well trained troop of crack soldiers. But I couldn't even get the satisfaction of a job well done because it was a half dozen super-modified soldiers against some scared farmers, and even though there was a brief mention of tacts (only thrown in to say "hey, I've seen a war movie too!") they weren't the focus of the story either and could have been simply glossed over for atmosphere.

That said, I'm still glad a story like this made it on EP.
I love the variety we get presented with, and apparently I'm in the minority here.
« Last Edit: December 16, 2007, 12:54:44 PM by Thaurismunths » Logged

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goatkeeper
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« Reply #18 on: December 16, 2007, 02:11:54 PM »

I kept waiting for the solider or farmer to be a Shard, the whole thing to be the memories of a canned brain, or a revelation of the true and unexpected nature of the enemy, but alas.

Me too!  I held out to the very last words of this story hoping for this...

Still, I enjoyed this one a lot.    I didn't get the worn out humans are really worse than the aliens thing- quite the opposite actually. "Some of them understand" said the soldier- the fight or flight thing we humans have is weird, but at least we have a mechanism.  The question is raised if the soldier feels like he is a machine with his mods- clearly he can still feel despite knowing what has to be done. Even Roberts was doing what he thought was a noble thing- The Shardies were just mindless (literally it would seem) killers.
I think it can be argued that, through neccesity, humans were becoming like the Shardies. Still, this story was a brief snapshot of characters that, despite being almost inhuman in modification and training or being stupidly human in their habit for self-preservation, were still very much human and were in opposition to somthing very much not.
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contra
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« Reply #19 on: December 16, 2007, 06:03:28 PM »

I liked this one. 

I understand people were waiting for something to happen, or dislike just being told somwthing rather than experiancing it for the most part.The soldier knew the story for the most part before the story started, and I can see why people dislike that.

Yes it would have been nice to see something about the war, but for this story it wasn't needed. The story was these people had a horrible job to stop people becoming machines and killing humans by becoming machines and killing humans; the characters knew this was the cas and it was how they dealt with that.

The aliens were just implied to be totally different to us, but when pressured we would do what they were doing anyway.  And in the aliens situation (meeting an alien race aggresivly expanding outwards) I can't honestly say that I think we wouldn't attack them and try to destroy them.  At the world today, you have people blowing themselves up for their religion killing innocent people.  You have wars raged on people due to ignorance because they can.  You have people dying of famine and lack of drinkable water while we have a choice of foods, waste lots of it, and buy water in bottles because we prefer it. 
Given a race expanding too close to Earth or just us in general, assuming we are out there, I can see us easily attacking and justifying it to ourselves with mild ease.

So I think that the story needed to be told to us, the amount of information we were given needed to be told to us as if it was a breif.  Without knowing that we augment the troops to that level, the comparison to the Futurama style heads in jars doesn't work as well.  I don't think that going into it a lot of detail about and one of these things would have helped the story at all. 
Or it may have helped it, but made it so long as it wouldn't be on escape pod.

So well done.  It didn't make my almost cry, but I'll be listening to it again.
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