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Author Topic: EP139: Acephalous Dreams  (Read 12279 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: January 04, 2008, 04:38:28 AM »

EP139: Acephalous Dreams

By Neal Asher.
Read by Stephen Eley.

“AI Geronamid has need of a subject for a scientific trial. This trial may kill you, in which case it would be considered completion of sentence. Should you survive, all charges against you will be dropped.”

“And the nature of this trial?”

“Cephalic implantation of Csorian node.”

“Okay, I agree, though I have no idea what Csorian node is.”

The Golem stood and as she did so the door slid open. Daes glanced up at the security eye in the corner of the cell and stood also. He thought, briefly, about escape, but knew he stood no chance. His companion might look like a teenage girl but he knew she was strong enough to rip him in half.

“You didn’t tell me. What’s a Csorian node?”

“If we knew that with any certainty we would not be carrying out this trial,” replied the Golem.


Rated R. Contains scenes of strong graphic violence and sexual assault.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: January 14, 2008, 03:16:58 AM by Russell Nash » Logged
eytanz
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« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2008, 07:52:05 AM »

I really enjoyed this story, but I couldn't help thinking that the flashback rape sections was gratuitous, added for some sort of "shock" value rather than any thematic purpose. Yes, it added a bit to understanding Daes and his motivations for the murder, but it just didn't contribute that much that wasn't already established by the beginning of the story. This is especially the case since once things got going, Daes himself sort of got sidelined by his programming, so his past seemed to be less important anyway.

But other than that, really great story, set in an interesting world. I'll have to check out the novels set out in the same universe.
« Last Edit: January 04, 2008, 07:53:57 AM by eytanz » Logged
qwints
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« Reply #2 on: January 05, 2008, 04:46:20 PM »


This story had a lot of great ideas (if not entirely original), but I don't think the narrative was very compelling. While none of the ideas struck me as terribly original (except perhaps the archived minds,) they seemed fairly well thought out. I also liked the balance between exposition and action. 

On a side note, how about that justice system of the future? I'm kind of curious what people thought about it. It certainly seemed to reject the proposition "to understand all is to forgive all." I really didn't Geronamid's treatment of Daes. 

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« Reply #3 on: January 05, 2008, 05:04:51 PM »

Many EP stories have inspired me to track down the author and read more of their work.  This story has produced the opposite effect.  If this is "very typical" of Neal Ashers work as Steve said, I won't be running out to get it. 

To be fair, I did not listen to most of it.  I stopped after the first five minutes or so.  It was a little too gruesome for my tastes, but beyond that I just don't care for the follow-the-killer-and-get-into-their-mind story.  It's just not my idea of "having fun".  (That's also why I stop watching certain episodes of Criminal Minds if the material gets too dark, although the acting is very good on that show).  It's too bad; I may have liked to high tech elements of the story, but it wasn't worth wading through the rest of it in my opinion.

Once again, I would like to thank Steve for his content warnings.  I thought I'd listen a bit despite the warning, but after I got the basic feel of the story, I opted out.  After reading eytanz's comments, it sounds like I got out just in time. 
« Last Edit: January 05, 2008, 05:07:42 PM by kmmrlatham » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: January 05, 2008, 11:19:19 PM »

I'd have to listen to the story again to get this comment right --- but I don't think I will, mainly for the reasons already mentioned.

I found an interesting juxtaposition between the atheism of Daes (which I initially thought was 'Deus') and the near god like Geronamid. Geronamid is nearly all knowing (there was no question that Daes would be caught, and there was also the implication that the evil monk guy who sodomised Daes would have been caught if he were reported.) Hera the golem seemed very angelic. I was disappointed the story ended up going where it did, because I thought after the first ten minutes it would be some sort of commentary on the place of a religion in a highly technological society. I suppose that's just me, though. I'll just put it on the list of stories I want to write!

I wonder how the newly intelligent spiders will regard Daes in whatever mythology and/or religion they end up with?

Once the story finished, I was fairly happy with the result, although I did find Daes' transition from human to implanter of intelligent hive consciousness confusing. In print it may have been a bit better, because it's much easier to go back and read what happened. I figured it out eventually, but I don't like the feeling that I've missed something important.

Finally, I'll agree with the other posters and say that the head lopping and sodomy scenes were way too detailed. They could have been handled in a far less graphic way. In a few weeks when Steve covers the feedback for this story, the only thing I'm going to remember about it is the description of the evil dude drawing the infinity symbol on Daes. That disappoints me, because the scenes have tainted an otherwise good story.

Looking forward to next week!
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eytanz
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« Reply #5 on: January 06, 2008, 05:08:26 AM »

Btw, did anyone else feel that the story dated itself a bit by saying that the brains were "zipped"? It seems to me that the use of "zip" as a generic term for all archives is already fading a bit. I think that in 10 years or so no one will remember what a zip file is except computer science majors who care about compression algorithms.
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ajames
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« Reply #6 on: January 06, 2008, 07:29:32 AM »

After listening to "The Veteran" on EP, I did track down and read a novel of Asher's, "Gridlinked".  Lot's of very, very cool tech, near-omnipotent AI, disturbing human behavior with gruesome descriptions, all sorts of alien life - including a mysterious and extremely powerful alien life that appears to match or perhaps over-match the human-developed AI, and fast-paced action.

I've enjoyed his stories - not my typical reading but for me a fun change of pace.  Thanks for another Asher story, Steve!
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Thaurismunths
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« Reply #7 on: January 06, 2008, 05:46:31 PM »

I really, really enjoyed this story.
I got a little lost when the focus shifted from Daes' present to his molestation, but followed it pretty well otherwise.



I wonder how the newly intelligent spiders will regard Daes in whatever mythology and/or religion they end up with?
How so?
As I understood it the 'zipped' hive minds will stay as grains of picotech, passing from generation to generation, until their host organisms' brains are sufficiently evolved to handle the full Csorian intellect. At which time they would be unzipped, wipe out the preexisting consciousnesses, then go on breeding and dieing like any other civilization.

Finally, I'll agree with the other posters and say that the head lopping and sodomy scenes were way too detailed. They could have been handled in a far less graphic way. In a few weeks when Steve covers the feedback for this story, the only thing I'm going to remember about it is the description of the evil dude drawing the infinity symbol on Daes. That disappoints me, because the scenes have tainted an otherwise good story.
I really enjoyed this story, but I couldn't help thinking that the flashback rape sections was gratuitous, added for some sort of "shock" value rather than any thematic purpose. Yes, it added a bit to understanding Daes and his motivations for the murder, but it just didn't contribute that much that wasn't already established by the beginning of the story. This is especially the case since once things got going, Daes himself sort of got sidelined by his programming, so his past seemed to be less important anyway.
I'm a little surprised by this. I thought that showing the unpleasant circumstances of his rape did an excellent job of demonstrating that his crime was legally but not morally criminal. It was in fact justifiable homicide. It could have been covered by "and something bad happened" but I don't think that would have conveyed the unfathomable anguish and shame that act bestowed upon him.
As for the head lopping, I thought it was rather tastefully done. Murder is awful, but the aftermath is worse and should never be understated. I think if more people were made aware of the mundane realities and ramifications of doing harm to others we'd be living in a better world.
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eytanz
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« Reply #8 on: January 06, 2008, 06:21:28 PM »

I really enjoyed this story, but I couldn't help thinking that the flashback rape sections was gratuitous, added for some sort of "shock" value rather than any thematic purpose. Yes, it added a bit to understanding Daes and his motivations for the murder, but it just didn't contribute that much that wasn't already established by the beginning of the story. This is especially the case since once things got going, Daes himself sort of got sidelined by his programming, so his past seemed to be less important anyway.
I'm a little surprised by this. I thought that showing the unpleasant circumstances of his rape did an excellent job of demonstrating that his crime was legally but not morally criminal. It was in fact justifiable homicide. It could have been covered by "and something bad happened" but I don't think that would have conveyed the unfathomable anguish and shame that act bestowed upon him.

Well, let me first state that I don't think it was a justifiable homicide. Revenge is not a sufficient moral justification for killing, as far as I am concerned. It made the murder more sympathetic, but not justifiable.

That said, my point wasn't that the rape should have been omitted. It's that it didn't need to be described in graphic detail. There are plenty of ways of telling us that a rape occured without showing it to us. And note that I don't generally object to explicit detail in such scenes, when they add something to the story. In this story, I felt it was the occurance of the rape that was important, not its details. I just didn't feel the way it was described did much except give me a mental image I didn't really want or need.

Or do you feel that rape by an authority figure in itself is not a justifiable cause for murder, but orchasterating group rape is? Or that adding (graphic) humiliation pushes it over some sort of moral line? That's implied by your post, but I find it hard to seriously think you meant it that way.

Quote
As for the head lopping, I thought it was rather tastefully done. Murder is awful, but the aftermath is worse and should never be understated. I think if more people were made aware of the mundane realities and ramifications of doing harm to others we'd be living in a better world.

The murder scene, I felt, was handled a lot better than the rape scene. It was brutal, but it made sense to me within the context of the story.
« Last Edit: January 06, 2008, 06:23:43 PM by eytanz » Logged
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« Reply #9 on: January 06, 2008, 06:49:08 PM »

I'm with Thaurismunths.  I thought this was a great story.  It put me in a rich, well-developed, fascinating world.  It instilled a sense of wonder and awe in me, and that to me is the point of science fiction. 

I really enjoyed this story, but I couldn't help thinking that the flashback rape sections was gratuitous, added for some sort of "shock" value rather than any thematic purpose. Yes, it added a bit to understanding Daes and his motivations for the murder, but it just didn't contribute that much that wasn't already established by the beginning of the story. This is especially the case since once things got going, Daes himself sort of got sidelined by his programming, so his past seemed to be less important anyway.
I'm a little surprised by this. I thought that showing the unpleasant circumstances of his rape did an excellent job of demonstrating that his crime was legally but not morally criminal. It was in fact justifiable homicide. It could have been covered by "and something bad happened" but I don't think that would have conveyed the unfathomable anguish and shame that act bestowed upon him.

Well, let me first state that I don't think it was a justifiable homicide. Revenge is not a sufficient moral justification for killing, as far as I am concerned. It made the murder more sympathetic, but not justifiable.
I guess I'm in between.  I think the more subtle implication of the rape we got in the beginning of the story was sufficient to instill sympathy with Daes, but I don't think the gratuitous description of the rape later on was completely out of bounds.  Now that I think of it, it could have been the Csorian implant bashing Daes's personality the same way it attacked Geronomid in it's initial contact.

The thing that DID bother me about the rape was that it reduced the character of the priest to one of two-dimensional evil.  We go from the priest as an intentionally undeveloped character to a more developed but uninteresting one.  Also, the scene transported me from the far future world I was enjoying to present day sensationalistic scandals.  Science Fiction author is critical of religion.  There's a new one.

I also didn't like the jabs at "arrogant humanity."  I'm supposed to feel guilty because I didn't catch on that bugs were smarter than me? 

But overall, I would like to vote in favor of more hard SF stories like this one.  And if this is typical of Neal Asher, I'm going to look for more of his stuff.  Thanks, Steve!
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Thaurismunths
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« Reply #10 on: January 06, 2008, 07:19:04 PM »

I really enjoyed this story, but I couldn't help thinking that the flashback rape sections was gratuitous, added for some sort of "shock" value rather than any thematic purpose. Yes, it added a bit to understanding Daes and his motivations for the murder, but it just didn't contribute that much that wasn't already established by the beginning of the story. This is especially the case since once things got going, Daes himself sort of got sidelined by his programming, so his past seemed to be less important anyway.
I'm a little surprised by this. I thought that showing the unpleasant circumstances of his rape did an excellent job of demonstrating that his crime was legally but not morally criminal. It was in fact justifiable homicide. It could have been covered by "and something bad happened" but I don't think that would have conveyed the unfathomable anguish and shame that act bestowed upon him.

Well, let me first state that I don't think it was a justifiable homicide. Revenge is not a sufficient moral justification for killing, as far as I am concerned. It made the murder more sympathetic, but not justifiable.
I absolutely respect you and this opinion. We differ on our views of 'justifiable homicide' but I'm ok with that.

Quote
That said, my point wasn't that the rape should have been omitted. It's that it didn't need to be described in graphic detail. There are plenty of ways of telling us that a rape occured without showing it to us. And note that I don't generally object to explicit detail in such scenes, when they add something to the story. In this story, I felt it was the occurance of the rape that was important, not its details. I just didn't feel the way it was described did much except give me a mental image I didn't really want or need.

Or do you feel that rape by an authority figure in itself is not a justifiable cause for murder, but orchasterating group rape is? Or that adding (graphic) humiliation pushes it over some sort of moral line? That's implied by your post, but I find it hard to seriously think you meant it that way.
I feel differently.
I think the details were important to morally justify Daes' actions and demonstrate that he was not a psychopath but the proper executioner for the mastermind of his degradation. And I think that was important because I don't believe the Geronamid homunculus was being honest with Daes when it said he was only chosen because of the time of his conviction. I think the Geronamid chose him because a less stable or more desperate prisoner might have tried harder to breach containment or not had as much will to live. That would have forced the Geronimid to destroy not only the prisoner, but the node as well, taking with it the entire Csorian civilization.
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« Reply #11 on: January 06, 2008, 07:41:30 PM »

I enjoyed this story, I think it had interesting notions of how predatory natures figure into questions of survival. It almost seems as if the main character wasn't chosen by accident, but the story seemed to spin it as if he was just what became available on short notice.
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« Reply #12 on: January 06, 2008, 11:11:25 PM »

I thought the story was good overall, however the murder and sodomy scenes were a little over the top.  I don't agree that the detailed descriptions of said scenes were necessary.   
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« Reply #13 on: January 07, 2008, 10:43:18 AM »

I liked it overall. It's good to have a story with a strong idea (even if it has been done before).  The sodomy scenes were unnerving, but I think that was intentional.  I also think it was important to touch on the humiliation involved to better understand why Daes did what he did. You can't really do that without going into some detail.  Maybe it goes back to the old "show don't tell" argument. Sometimes the showing is unnerving.
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« Reply #14 on: January 07, 2008, 12:13:54 PM »

I am going to give this story a thumbs up, even though I have a couple of problems with it. 

Starting with the problems.  I am not sure why the POV's crime was important other than for a hook.  I think we probably could started the story in the jail cell with the Golem telling him that his sentence has been commuted.  Along the same lines I am not sure that the descriptions of his boyhood trauma were necessary.  The sign of infinity made an interesting calling card, but I am not sure there was enough detail about why that was significant to the priest who did that to him.  Maybe I am missing something but  I am not sure why it was all that important.  In short I don't think that Daes adds anything to the story. 

The whole idea of an AI that controlled everything, obviously not new, seemed very plausible in this case, but I would have like to know more about it, how it came to be, what it did or does for the world, I think these things would have made for a better story than Daes.  IMHO it might have been interesting start out with  AI Geronamid and since the new intelligence reached out to him it could have been a two way communication from there as AI Geronamid, experienced what his test subject was experiencing.

I think the idea of resurrecting a dead race is a very good topic for stories.  I like the fact that the AI found what it needed to do this and had decided to control it.  As the new intelligence was trying to escape,  it reminded me to Jurassic Park, and I thought that was the way the story was going to go.  There could have been more information about the new /old race.  As Daes leraned about them, or as I suggested above the AI Geronamid learned about them. 

In the end what I believe we have here is a really good concept for a story that could be better put together.  I would also suggest that there a lot more to this story that could be told, than is presented here.  I found my self wanting for details, down any of the many roads that this story opened up.  Maybe I should read the rest of the books in this universe and that would help.

 
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« Reply #15 on: January 07, 2008, 04:34:16 PM »

This story seemed to have two pretty good ideas, neither of which really had a chance to develop, and that really didn't have much to do with each other.

The first was the possibility of AI intervention in one of humanity's oldest problems -- one crime that begets another.  As the story moved away from the opening murder and the main character described the inevitability of his capture, I thought that was where we were going.  I really hoped the author had some insight into how (presumably) dispassionate machine intelligence could address crime, punishment, rehabilitation and related issues.  I was even hoping we might see some interaction between the AI and the religion on those topics.

Unfortunately, it turned into nothing more than a setup for the "prisoner with one last chance" beginning to the second section.  As another poster pointed out, we could have just as easily begun this section with the golem in the cell, hearing about the crime only in retrospect, if at all.  The crime was no longer important to this part of the story, and certainly didn't justify the time and energy that went into the rather gruesome flashback.

The idea of resurrecting an extinct race from stored information was also an interesting idea, but it didn't really go anywhere, either.  If we swallow the implausibility of a biological storage device that just powers up and works once its implanted in an alien species -- and I would be willing to do that, with a little more persuasion than was offered -- the story didn't deal with any of the major topics that arose. 

Why did the AI, who was clearly motivated to protect humanity, resurrect the aliens in the first place?  What is the alien's attitude toward humanity, once the initial possibility of inhabiting their bodies is closed off?  What does this alien civilization plan to do with its new lease on life?  How is humanity going to react to them?  How is the AI going to react -- beyond its initial decision to resurrect them, but route them to an inferior host? 

Give it two stars for some interesting ideas, but withold the rest for unanswered questions...
« Last Edit: January 07, 2008, 08:57:58 PM by Windup » Logged

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« Reply #16 on: January 08, 2008, 06:39:48 AM »

I don't think the crime and humiliation of Daes should be so easily dismissed as irrelevant.  Remember, the alien's first experience of humanity is through the eyes and memories of Daes, and while the future ramifications of this aren't explored in the current story, it is certainly implied that Daes' experiences have made an impression on the aliens.  Also, if you take out Daes' story, then you have AI vs. alien, which could still make for an interesting story, but a relatively sterile one, and certainly not an Asher story.

The AI and golems are featured prominently in at least one of Asher's novels, and therefore IMO fuller explanations aren't necessary in this story.  If he's left the reader with enough information to understand what happened but wanting to know more after a short story like this, then he's done his job.
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eytanz
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« Reply #17 on: January 08, 2008, 07:20:22 AM »

I don't think the crime and humiliation of Daes should be so easily dismissed as irrelevant.  Remember, the alien's first experience of humanity is through the eyes and memories of Daes, and while the future ramifications of this aren't explored in the current story, it is certainly implied that Daes' experiences have made an impression on the aliens.  Also, if you take out Daes' story, then you have AI vs. alien, which could still make for an interesting story, but a relatively sterile one, and certainly not an Asher story.

True enough. But there's a big difference between a character going through humiliation and giving us the details to such a graphic degree. I'm not saying that the rape should have been eliminated completely. I'm saying that A - Rape by an authority figure is bad enough. I don't think the humiliation actually added anything to how bad Daes's experience actually was. There is a sense in which this story seems to think we have been desensetized to rape, that it's not shocking enough on its own, and it condones that desensitization. I find that worrisome. But - more importantly for my actual critique of the story - B - "show, don't tell" is not a hard and fast rule. There are ways of telling that don't mute the importance of an event, and times when it's better to do so.

Look, I liked this story. A lot. And I see why it made sense for things to happen like they did. I just don't understand why things had to be told the way they do. It may be important thematically for Daes to go through the rape and humiliation. I can't see why it benefitted the story for the listener to witness it.
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« Reply #18 on: January 08, 2008, 09:09:40 AM »

True enough. But there's a big difference between a character going through humiliation and giving us the details to such a graphic degree. I'm not saying that the rape should have been eliminated completely. I'm saying that A - Rape by an authority figure is bad enough. I don't think the humiliation actually added anything to how bad Daes's experience actually was. There is a sense in which this story seems to think we have been desensetized to rape, that it's not shocking enough on its own, and it condones that desensitization. I find that worrisome. But - more importantly for my actual critique of the story - B - "show, don't tell" is not a hard and fast rule. There are ways of telling that don't mute the importance of an event, and times when it's better to do so.

My only thought on this is that there are times that it is better to leave it up to the readers imagination.  My thoughts from before stand, I think that the story could have been told almost completely with out Daes, but being that it is not I don't think all the details were necessary.  It as you said it just contributes to the desensitization of violent crime in general. 

Some times as a writer, you want the reader to feel what the character is feeling and the, the cold of a winter day, the heat of the sun baking their skin, the feel of the spider crawling up the back of their neck, but when it does not add anything to the story, no matter how well written, no matter how much the author likes it, no matter how graphic it is, it should be cut.  I know there is a debate about if these event added enough to this story to warrant their being there, so just to add my voice to that.  I found myself being distracted while I listened to the rest of the story, by these details. 
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« Reply #19 on: January 08, 2008, 11:48:48 AM »

My comments have mostly already been made.  In short, I think the story was interesting, especially the stuff on the planet with Daes trying to break into Geronamid, and the Golem part was kind of interesting, but the story itself... well, I think it had some of the same problems I had with "The Veteran".

Also, it seems as though Asher has to start his shorts with a violent scene.  I understand it can catapult a reader into a story and keep him/her interested, but if you do something too often, it becomes a cliche.

I give it 65% thumbs up.
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