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Author Topic: EP090: How Lonesome a Life Without Nerve Gas  (Read 16322 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: January 26, 2007, 10:25:28 AM »

EP090: How Lonesome a Life Without Nerve Gas

By James Trimarco.
Read by Frank Key (of Hooting Yard and Hooting Yard on the Air).
First appeared in Afterburn SF.

After the first week of practice, I knew how to anticipate Mickey’s every move. I knew how to sense weariness in the jogging of his spine and would inject increased levels of oxygen into his airflow when I did. I knew that his heartbeat grew irregular when the platoon crossed a rope bridge high over the practice-room floor, and for that exercise I would work a calming agent into his stream. I liked to chant patriotic slogans in his ear as we practiced. “Oh the children of empire are marching,” I sang, “to crush the rebel threat.”

Although my programmers intended these songs to stimulate high levels of patriotism, Mickey didn’t like them. Perhaps that’s when the first droplets of doubt moistened the soil where the pendulous flowers of my confusion would one day bud. . . .

I’m sorry, your honor, if my poetry offends you. That’s when I first questioned his loyalty, I should have said.


Rated PG. Contains battle scenes, Imperial propaganda, overenthusiastic chemistry, and bad poetry.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!


Referenced Sites:
 Befuddled by Cormorants by Frank Key
 EP Flash Fiction Contest
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slic
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Stephen Lumini


« Reply #1 on: January 26, 2007, 12:41:42 PM »

Great story!!  The POV is definitely unique, and it's the first time I've ever heard of courtmartialling a helmet. It also got me to wondering how smart the toasters are over there!

I really loved the idea that the rifle and the helmet could talk to each other without their master hearing.  And their over-the-top patriotism is terrific - reminded me a bit of the Patriotism chip installed in all the robots in the Futurama universe.
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Holden
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« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2007, 02:12:28 PM »

Note to self: Never keep secrets from my helmet.

Nice Robert E. Lee quote at the end. Was this partially done in honor of his recent birthday? Another well-known Robert E. Lee quote: "I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself."
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cyron
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« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2007, 03:58:07 AM »

I'm guessing that the AI's in this story weren't terribly up to speed on the 3 laws of robotics.  Of course, an AI gun that couldn't kill people wouldn't be much use I admit Smiley
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Steven Saus
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« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2007, 06:48:05 AM »

I thought this story was both brilliant and funny.  And even though I saw it coming, it didn't bother me at all.  I mean, who would really want that smart of a helmet?  It still worked just fine.  The narration was wonderful, and really sold it for me.

Besides, the title rocks, all on its own.
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Paul Campbell
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« Reply #5 on: January 27, 2007, 08:40:28 AM »

Good story.  My only gripe is the title.  It kind of gave the game away for me.  From the moment Nerve Gas was introduced within the story there was a certain inevitability from then on.

Nice narration.  Must check out Hooting Yard.
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« Reply #6 on: January 27, 2007, 12:17:23 PM »

I'm guessing that the AI's in this story weren't terribly up to speed on the 3 laws of robotics.  Of course, an AI gun that couldn't kill people wouldn't be much use I admit Smiley
After listening to the US Government brag about smart bombs and such and reading the exploding insect thread in this forum, I'm under no illusion that the 3 laws of robotics are anything other than a idea in a novel. The world of Terminator seems a more plausible destination.

Help!!!!

Don
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ajames
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« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2007, 03:34:09 PM »

Great story, and great narration.  My initial thoughts, after how much I liked the POV and the writing, were [1] wouldn't they at least turn off the patriotism chips of a spy's AI equipment?  [and the obvious answer, of course, is that they will now], and [2] isn't it a bit of a stretch to put a helmet, even a smart helmet, on trial?  But I have to admit I really loved the interactions between the judge and the helmet, and probably would have liked the story a bit less without them.
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mthornton
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« Reply #8 on: January 28, 2007, 12:58:49 AM »


A few people have commented on the ultra-patriotism of the helmet.  I actually have to wonder if we actually have a trustworthy narrator.  I don't doubt that the helmet was programmed to be patriotic, but I think it is worth entertaining the possibility that once a computer as sufficiently advanced AI as to be self aware it would be capable of stretching the truth to make it look as good as possible.  If computer do ever become self aware, can deceitful computers be far behind?
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ajames
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« Reply #9 on: January 28, 2007, 07:00:30 AM »


I don't doubt that the helmet was programmed to be patriotic, but I think it is worth entertaining the possibility that once a computer as sufficiently advanced AI as to be self aware it would be capable of stretching the truth to make it look as good as possible.


Excellent point.  But if it wasn't patriotism, then what was the helmet's motive?  There isn't much else offered in the story, except perhaps desire for a more blood-thirsty owner.  Or, more chilling, it did it because it could.
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slic
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« Reply #10 on: January 28, 2007, 10:16:00 AM »

The helmet most certainly wanted to make itself look good - remember when he asks for the rifle to be a character witness?  I also think that the fact the rifle and the helmet spoke on a private channel shows a level of deceit - or at least a lack of naivety.

It is clear in the story that the helmet is self-aware enough to deserve a fair trial rather than just shut it off - and this also, indirectly, says something of the society Tortuga (sp?) exists in that they put him on trial versus just wiping the memory or cracking it open for parts.
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Scott Nash
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« Reply #11 on: January 28, 2007, 07:41:24 PM »

As near as I can tell, there is no political bias.  Some people are so obsessed that they will 'pull' political meaning out of anything and nothing.  Bill O'Riley and his ilk teach them that.  Remember "Happy Feet?"  Leftists can be just as bad as the right.
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slic
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Stephen Lumini


« Reply #12 on: January 28, 2007, 08:00:53 PM »

Do you mean in this story or in general?  In general, really good sci-fi stories are about ideas , and since politics is essentially about ideas, they do often cross - intentionally or otherwise (Starship Troopers, Brave New World, etc etc etc).
And certainly, in my humble opinion, a story like Blood of Virgins (EP:88) is very cleary making a statement.
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Rachel Swirsky
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« Reply #13 on: January 29, 2007, 01:02:56 AM »

Reading this story in prose form, I totally didn't hear the helmet as British. But oh, it works.
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.Morph.
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« Reply #14 on: January 29, 2007, 04:06:29 AM »

The helmet ,with its british accented narrator (which we should have more of, us brits love it) and dry humour reminded me strongly of a douglas adams creation.
I found this unique view point an extraordinarily good read and enjoyed it alot. I dont really want to try and read more politics than overly necessary into this story because i think it would dry up my enthusiasm for it, so simply put, i wont.

Great story :>
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« Reply #15 on: January 29, 2007, 07:47:45 AM »

(All Statements)^2 = Ditto!

Update:
Ok, so just saying "Ditto" was a lame way out of actually coming up with something good to say about this piece. And I doubt anyone will back up in the conversation to read this, but for what it's worth:

First off, the reader's accent added greatly to both the smart helmet's feel and its personality, though it reminded me of "Marvin" from "Hitchhiker’s Guide." I knew after the first few lines that the helmet did it, I knew after the first battle how it was going to be done, I knew when he jumped off the transport just why the helmet did what it did. I didn't know 'till 3 seconds after it was too late, just how wrong it was. I was expecting it to be an uber-authoritarian empire that didn't allow free thought (and maybe it doesn't) that supported the helmet's actions. And what a great idea for controlling soldiers: A piece of equipment that is indispensable, essential even, to the soldier that will keep them from defecting.
« Last Edit: January 29, 2007, 03:53:00 PM by Thaurismunths » Logged

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« Reply #16 on: January 29, 2007, 07:58:31 AM »

As near as I can tell, there is no political bias.  Some people are so obsessed that they will 'pull' political meaning out of anything and nothing.  Bill O'Riley and his ilk teach them that.  Remember "Happy Feet?"  Leftists can be just as bad as the right.

Scott, you're welcome to your opinion, I just wanted to call things as I saw them.  I generally despise political pundits on both sides of the coin.  Bill O'Riley is one of the worst -- nothing redemable about that man.
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fiveyearwinter
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« Reply #17 on: January 29, 2007, 11:53:49 AM »

I loved this story. I love all sci-fi stories that deal with AI in general - it's so interesting to hear the way people portray them. Especially when the the story is from the AI's perspective!

I never thought of the AI's patriotism being false - that's exactly what I'm talking about! Deceptive AIs are nothing new, but that just didn't hit me.


oh man. Cheesy
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VBurn
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« Reply #18 on: January 29, 2007, 01:49:15 PM »

I loved the story.  The narrator was awesome.  I love the Charlie Brown effect of not hearing the judge, just the helmet's overstated response, kind of like Lucas did with Chewbacca. 

My take on the court-martial was more of cost analysis action.  The helmet was too costly to just toss out, they had to evaluate if it was fit for combat.  Now here is a question: as the judge, would you put the helmet back in active combat duty? 

My answer is no.  I think the helmet made the right choice giving the info he had, probably the same decision any other solider would have made.  But I do not think the helmet is fit for duty because he will second guess himself at every tough call.
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DKT
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« Reply #19 on: January 29, 2007, 02:09:21 PM »

Wow.  What a story.  Guns don't kill people.  Helmets do.

I haven't read very much military sci-fi aside from Starship Troopers, but I had a great time with this story.  I loved that it was narrated from the smart helmet's POV.  I loved the way Tortuga talked to the gun without the user, Mickey, being able to hear.  And I loved the title. 

Overall, just a really fun sci-fi story.  I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up being a favorite around here.
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