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Author Topic: EP141: The Color of a Brontosaurus  (Read 14524 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: January 18, 2008, 06:21:57 AM »

EP141: The Color of a Brontosaurus

By Paul E. Martens.
Read by Stephen Eley.
Closing Music: “Better” by Jonathan Coulton.
First appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Issue #29.

There was no doubt that the femur was that of a modern human. Not a proto-human, or some previously unknown dinosaur. Joel and Renee had arrived at the same answer. It was demonstrable, provable. When they finally did release news of the discovery, people might argue about it, but they’d be unable to refute it.

But how did they answer the next question? How did the bone come to be embedded in solid rock millions and millions of years before such a bone could have existed?

It had to be a time traveler. There was no other answer. Or was that just what he wanted to believe?


Rated PG. Contains some profanity and scientific politics.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Darwinist
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« Reply #1 on: January 18, 2008, 11:08:48 AM »

I thought this story was good.  It didn't blow me away but I felt good about it.  I didn't know where it was headed for the most part and I didn't see any of the twists coming.....but I hardly ever do.   I cringed a bit when the creationist charachter was introduced because I thought the story might take an evolution v. creationism turn but it didn't.  I'm a big fan of time travel stories and this was an interesting one.   Another good one by Martens.
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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 #2 on: January 18, 2008, 11:42:21 AM »

I agree with the sentiment of "good but not great". My main problem was with the debates between the three researchers - it was like the story was trying to represent an argument without actually engaging in one, with the result that the three characters became one-issue, platitude-spewing mouthpieces for the views they took. They were not acting as scientists, they were acting like politicians in a televised debate, throwing soundbites at each other rather than actually arguing.

Besides, I don't see where the idea that scientists need to be able to explain their findings in order for the findings to be valid. On the contrary - if you're sitting on a startling piece of emipirical data and you want to get grants, you publish it *before* you know what it means. Grants are given for ongoing research, not completed research.

This was not a major flaw in the story - the interesting bit was really the second half of the story and the relationship between the protagonist and his wife. But Steve presented this as a story about scientists, when it really doesn't get any closer to real scientists than TV shows where the only way you can tell apart the scientists from the non-scientists by the fact that they wear labcoats and glasses.
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bolddeceiver
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Plunging like stones from a slingshot on mars...


« Reply #3 on: January 18, 2008, 01:31:11 PM »

This is pedantic, but it bothered me each time it came up, and I can't imagine I'm the only one.  Given that this story was published in ASIM, I'm assuming it is from 2002 or later.  As any reasonably geeky second grader could tell you, the term "brontosaurus" was deprecated in the scientific community as early as 1903.  And while it has lingered in the public mind, I can't quite bring myself to believe that a modern paleontologist would be caught dead saying it as often as Stu did, let alone that his colleagues wouldn't call him on it.
« Last Edit: January 18, 2008, 01:36:51 PM by bolddeceiver » Logged
eytanz
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« Reply #4 on: January 18, 2008, 01:38:23 PM »

This is pedantic, but it bothered me each time it came up, and I can't imagine I'm the only one.  Given that this story was published in ASIM, I'm assuming it is from 2002 or later.  As any reasonably geeky second grader could tell you, the term "brontosaurus" was deprecated in the scientific community as early as 1903.  And while it has lingered in the public mind, I can't quite bring myself to believe that a paleontologist would be caught dead saying it as often as Stu did, let alone that his colleagues wouldn't call him on it.

Well, in general the Paleontologists in this story seemed to know about as much about dinosaurs as I did when I was 11 and fascinated by them. I didn't mention it, but that's another part of the same problem I had with their depiction.

Actually, with the oversimplified politics, oversimplified science, and pg-rated romance, I'm wondering if this story doesn't really have 11 year old boys as its target demographic. I probably would have found it extremely cool back then...
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bolddeceiver
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Plunging like stones from a slingshot on mars...


« Reply #5 on: January 18, 2008, 01:49:16 PM »

And now, having finished the story (yeah, OK, I did pause it halfway through to post my earlier complaint), I give it an emphatically unemphatic yawn.
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DarkKnightJRK
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« Reply #6 on: January 19, 2008, 02:14:04 AM »

The "politics" of it did feel kinda tacked-on and one-demensional, but the rest I liked. I had a feeling that Stu would be the decomposed bone he finds in the present, but not exactly in that way.

Not bad--heard better, heard worse. Above average.
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Czhorat
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« Reply #7 on: January 19, 2008, 10:39:40 AM »

Not one of my favorites, for a few reasons. Stu seemed to be the closest thing to a fully realized character in the story, and even he kept fading into a single-dimensioned megalomania as the story moved on. A few problems.

First, the initial set-up. From the instant we saw the femur everybody reading it knew it would be Stu's. The bones always belong to the person who found them in the present.

Second, more damningly, the debate between the scientists. It annoys me when a scientist in a story argues against creationism with a simple, "No, that's not true. It violates the laws of evolution". This is the kind of thinking creationists use, starting with the conclusion and massaging the evidence to fit. A better retort to the young scientist would be that using Creation as an explanation ignores mountains of evidence to the contrary which is still yet to be refuted. A time traveller actually fits the evidence better because that explanation would more likely account for only one human femur being found from that period. Ever. That it was just something that looked like a human femur but really wasn't is an even better possiblity that nobody seemed to consider. As written, the story has no character who embraces the scientific method and looks at it as a scientist would.

If time travel is available when Stu's wife is from, wouldn't someone already have gone back to check out the dinosaurs? She could have learned in grade school that Brontosauruses are pink with green spots.

I liked that Stu only got back to the past posthumously, but on reflection the gesture seemed a bit empty and sentimental. If his son actually does invent a time machine, what's to stop him from going back a few years before his Dad died and letting him play with it?

All in all, I felt that it was a little bit sentimental and a little bit sloppy in the plotting to be truly engaging. On the positive side, I do love the title.
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eytanz
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« Reply #8 on: January 19, 2008, 11:51:13 AM »

Not one of my favorites, for a few reasons. Stu seemed to be the closest thing to a fully realized character in the story, and even he kept fading into a single-dimensioned megalomania as the story moved on. A few problems.

First, the initial set-up. From the instant we saw the femur everybody reading it knew it would be Stu's. The bones always belong to the person who found them in the present.


You know, that brings up another nitpick I have with this story. Not every 60-million year old bone becomes a fossil. Far from it, or we would be finding fossils all over the place. Fossils are created in very specific and rare circumstances. A living time traveller could conceivably arrange to commit suicide or murder under circumstances which make it possible to create a fossil. Sending a corpse back to the past is so big a crapshoot - especially since it was already established it's impossible to control the time travel exactly - that it is unlikely to result in anything but introduce a few new bacteria to the ecosystem. Not to mention that unless it's also a space travel machine, or Stu's funeral was held in the site of his dig, there's also the problem of how it got to the right place to begin with (ignoring the fact that the entire solar system is going to be pretty far away 60 million years in the past).
« Last Edit: January 19, 2008, 11:53:31 AM by eytanz » Logged
Czhorat
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« Reply #9 on: January 19, 2008, 11:58:33 AM »

Not one of my favorites, for a few reasons. Stu seemed to be the closest thing to a fully realized character in the story, and even he kept fading into a single-dimensioned megalomania as the story moved on. A few problems.

First, the initial set-up. From the instant we saw the femur everybody reading it knew it would be Stu's. The bones always belong to the person who found them in the present.


You know, that brings up another nitpick I have with this story. Not every 60-million year old bone becomes a fossil. Far from it, or we would be finding fossils all over the place. Fossils are created in very specific and rare circumstances. A living time traveller could conceivably arrange to commit suicide or murder under circumstances which make it possible to create a fossil. Sending a corpse back to the past is so big a crapshoot - especially since it was already established it's impossible to control the time travel exactly - that it is unlikely to result in anything but introduce a few new bacteria to the ecosystem. Not to mention that unless it's also a space travel machine, or Stu's funeral was held in the site of his dig, there's also the problem of how it got to the right place to begin with (ignoring the fact that the entire solar system is going to be pretty far away 60 million years in the past).

Good points. I just ignored the idea of space travel the way I do in all time travel stories; I just assume that the time machine has some way of finding some roughly analogous spot on the Earth as part of its workings. I think Spider Robinson mentioned that problem in one of his Callahan's Bar stories.

Did anyone else wonder what Stu was trying to accomplish by looking through the photos of the dig? If a time traveller really had come back to see the dig, woudln't he have likely returned to his own time by now? I can just imagine it.

"That must be him. Nobody saw him before , he was staring at the discovery as if he knew what he was looking for."

"OK. Now what?"

"..."

As I said, the more you pick at the one the more it unravels.
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« Reply #10 on: January 19, 2008, 01:47:50 PM »


Second, more damningly, the debate between the scientists. It annoys me when a scientist in a story argues against creationism with a simple, "No, that's not true. It violates the laws of evolution". This is the kind of thinking creationists use, starting with the conclusion and massaging the evidence to fit. A better retort to the young scientist would be that using Creation as an explanation ignores mountains of evidence to the contrary which is still yet to be refuted. A time traveller actually fits the evidence better because that explanation would more likely account for only one human femur being found from that period. Ever. That it was just something that looked like a human femur but really wasn't is an even better possiblity that nobody seemed to consider. As written, the story has no character who embraces the scientific method and looks at it as a scientist would.


Yeah, that drove me nuts, too.  There is a ton of evidence and scientific information available to properly argue against creationists but the charachters just let it slide. 

Czhorat and eytanz brought up some great nitpicks.  That's why I like reading the story comments.  I usually listen to the stories while driving to work and I don't think that hard about them while fuming at the ineptitude of my fellow drivers. 
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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
ajames
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« Reply #11 on: January 20, 2008, 09:55:58 AM »

This was a good story, but not good enough to make me overlook its many flaws.

I too found the debate between the scientists totally implausible.  What scientist wouldn't put a finding like that out to the rest of the world as soon as possible and simply say, "I don't know what this means, but damn if it isn't interesting!"  They would be free to discuss possible implications without jeopardizing their careers, even if it was a hoax - as long as they stray from the facts and made it clear that one of the possible explanations was indeed an elaborate hoax of some kind. 

The debate was so implausible that I for a little while I believed the scientist convinced it was a hoax was indeed a time traveler, and it was his mission to ensure that the secret of time travel did not get out to the public.

The best part of this story was the love story within it, and I recall one of Steve's earlier intro's about there not being enough love stories in science fiction being more relevant to this story than his intro about scientists.
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swdragoon
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« Reply #12 on: January 20, 2008, 11:20:59 AM »

What I love about sci fi is that no mater the problem the over use of the planet or evil aliens the solution is alwas a human being. A fragle flawed scared human being. That hope is what I love about sci fi.
Oh and why are all scientist named stu?
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Improvise, Adapt ,Overcome.
High 5
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« Reply #13 on: January 20, 2008, 05:08:21 PM »

This story was chewing gum for the mind.
It was a keeps-you-busy-but-don't-expect-a-full-stomach kind of story.

While listening to it I couldn't help but slipping into the wonderfull feeling that the old pulp stories from the fifties used to give me.
Sure, it was not all that scientifically correct, the characters were about as flat as the Netherlands and some parts were very illogical but I don't have pointy ears or come from Vulcan so screw logic!
Not every story has a message, some are just entertainment.

This one had a nice minty flavour and it kept my teeth clean, what more can you ask from chewing gum?
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Yeah, well..how is your Dutch then eh?
swdragoon
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« Reply #14 on: January 20, 2008, 07:51:23 PM »

I don't rember the store saying it was stu's bone. And I don't know what scientst you know but the ones I know (mostly MD and phisics) argue very sumlee to that
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Windup
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« Reply #15 on: January 20, 2008, 08:21:17 PM »

This one misfired for me on all levels.

The story failed to confront any of the potential time travel issues it raised.  I'm supposed to buy the idea that his wife comes from the future, gets pregnant in the past and raises a child and there are no repricussions to any of this?  At the very time that momentus events are re-shaping global society, no less.  Give me a break.  And we'll just ignore the implications of dumping a clutch of 21st-Centrury microbes, fauna, clothing, etc. into the mid-Jurassic as well. At a minimum, there's got to be some sort of explanation offered -- conservation of history, peeling off of "alternate histories,"  something. I'm not saying it can't be handled, I'm saying that the story just ignored all those problems, and I couldn't.

I agree with everyone who found the debate between the scientists hokey as well.  In addition to the solid one-dimensioness of the characters, I agree that with that kind of anamolous finding, your first impulse would be to publish as quickly as possible.  Stuff gets published all the time without interpretation -- and figuring out what it meant would furnish a gusher of grants.

Even the "love story" didn't do that much for me -- characters were too undeveloped. 

Even high-quality outlets throw the occasional clunker -- this was one of Escape Pod's.
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sirana
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« Reply #16 on: January 21, 2008, 06:56:14 AM »

Ok, I seem to be the only one who really loved the story. Most of the criticisms that have been brought up are certainly valid, but they didn't bother me a bit. I like time travel stories and I rarely read one that feels right to me. This was one of them.
I liked the quiet telling, I liked the breaking of the group of scientists over something they couldn't explain, I loved Stu's reaction when his wife tells him she is pregnant.
The story made me happy in some parts and sad in others, but overall it made me feel really good.
I don't really know why. Normally I am not so lenient when a story has logical issues or stock characters. But in this case the emotion it evoked trumped everything else.
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Simon
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« Reply #17 on: January 21, 2008, 09:59:41 AM »

Not one of my favorites, for a few reasons. Stu seemed to be the closest thing to a fully realized character in the story, and even he kept fading into a single-dimensioned megalomania as the story moved on. A few problems.

First, the initial set-up. From the instant we saw the femur everybody reading it knew it would be Stu's. The bones always belong to the person who found them in the present.


You know, that brings up another nitpick I have with this story. Not every 60-million year old bone becomes a fossil. Far from it, or we would be finding fossils all over the place. Fossils are created in very specific and rare circumstances. A living time traveller could conceivably arrange to commit suicide or murder under circumstances which make it possible to create a fossil. Sending a corpse back to the past is so big a crapshoot - especially since it was already established it's impossible to control the time travel exactly - that it is unlikely to result in anything but introduce a few new bacteria to the ecosystem. Not to mention that unless it's also a space travel machine, or Stu's funeral was held in the site of his dig, there's also the problem of how it got to the right place to begin with (ignoring the fact that the entire solar system is going to be pretty far away 60 million years in the past).

On one of my last undergraduate geology fieldtrips (I was always a good sample-hunter), amongst Silurian mudstones (approx 420 million years old) in the North of England I came upon a slab of mudstone with what appeared to be a perfect trace fossil of a Hominid...  Heel, toe-prints, ball of a foot, padshapes at the front.  Almost exactly what you see when you come out of the shower and look at your footprints...

These marks were preserved in a courser, sandier medium than the surrounding mud...  So, like any sensible geologist I cracked off the sample, stuck it in my bag, and took it to a couple of my professors...  I got some enthusiastic responses at first, but when I told them it was British the winds changed as you would expect.  And when we finally analysed the damn thing the apparent coarser material turned out to be mud-flaking, a well documented erosional process and in no way a footprint.

I started listening to this story, and the understanding of Geology and Geologists was just a little too unlikely, so I have given up so far.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2008, 10:11:26 AM by Simon » Logged
Rain
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« Reply #18 on: January 21, 2008, 11:29:12 AM »

I liked this story, it was nice and fun
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FNH
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F Napoleon H


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« Reply #19 on: January 21, 2008, 04:17:32 PM »

This  was a good well written story.  The man character slipping into monomania was well handled. I felt the relationship between him and his wife was well done.  The stress/angst he felt when she asked why it would be "differn't for him" to leave, as opposed to herself was inspiring.  He thought about it but couldn't let go of his obsesssion. 

Outstanding peice of work.

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