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Author Topic: EP090: How Lonesome a Life Without Nerve Gas  (Read 33346 times)

Russell Nash

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on: January 26, 2007, 03:25:28 PM
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



slic

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Reply #1 on: January 26, 2007, 05:41:42 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.



Holden

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Reply #2 on: January 26, 2007, 07:12:28 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."



cyron

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Reply #3 on: January 27, 2007, 08:58:07 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 :)



Steven Saus

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Reply #4 on: January 27, 2007, 11:48:05 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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Reply #5 on: January 27, 2007, 01:40:28 PM
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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dreamingmind

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Reply #6 on: January 27, 2007, 05:17:23 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 :)
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!!!!

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ajames

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Reply #7 on: January 27, 2007, 08:34:09 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.



mthornton

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Reply #8 on: January 28, 2007, 05:58:49 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?



ajames

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Reply #9 on: January 28, 2007, 12:00:30 PM

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.



slic

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Reply #10 on: January 28, 2007, 03:16:00 PM
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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Reply #11 on: January 29, 2007, 12:41:24 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.



slic

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Reply #12 on: January 29, 2007, 01:00:53 AM
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.



Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #13 on: January 29, 2007, 06:02:56 AM
Reading this story in prose form, I totally didn't hear the helmet as British. But oh, it works.



.Morph.

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Reply #14 on: January 29, 2007, 09:06:29 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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Thaurismunths

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Reply #15 on: January 29, 2007, 12:47:45 PM
(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, 08:53:00 PM by Thaurismunths »

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Jonathan C. Gillespie

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Reply #16 on: January 29, 2007, 12:58:31 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.

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.

Published genre fiction author with stories in print and upcoming.

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fiveyearwinter

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Reply #17 on: January 29, 2007, 04:53:49 PM
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. :D



VBurn

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Reply #18 on: January 29, 2007, 06:49:15 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.



DKT

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Reply #19 on: January 29, 2007, 07:09:21 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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Reply #20 on: January 29, 2007, 08:13:40 PM
What a fantastic story, this is just the sort of thing I listen to EP for.  I love the hard-core Sci-Fi in audio form.
The reading was great, the character of the Helmet was fully realised in its one sided conversation, and that was what drew me in.  Exellently done all round.

More please!


Jim

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Reply #21 on: January 29, 2007, 08:28:36 PM
I wonder, why are governments in sci-fi stories referred to as empires?

Is it to get across the idea of a repressive, militant regime without having to come right out and say it?

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Russell Nash

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Reply #22 on: January 30, 2007, 11:19:47 AM
I wonder, why are governments in sci-fi stories referred to as empires?

Is it to get across the idea of a repressive, militant regime without having to come right out and say it?

Empire is anytime a country(or any political entity) starts taking over other countries(other P.E.s) or territory to increase it's sphere of influence and control. If you parrallel this story to the British in India or in the American colonies, you see how well the word works.



SFEley

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Reply #23 on: January 30, 2007, 08:02:07 PM
Moderator's Note: All the political digression from this point on has been moved to this thread in the Gallimaufry board.  We were getting too far off the track of the story.  The discussion's fun and there's nothing wrong with it; let's just do it over there.

ESCAPE POD - The Science Fiction Podcast Magazine


Jim Crow

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Reply #24 on: January 30, 2007, 10:34:15 PM
I really enjoyed this story, and it's my favorite of the last month or two.  It kind of brought everything together for me that I look for in an excellent Escape Pod story.  A clever and interesting story combined with a well performed reading.  Nice work all around.



Alasdair5000

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Reply #25 on: January 31, 2007, 02:51:41 PM
Great story:)  It reminded me quite a bit of the 2000AD comic series 'Rogue Trooper', about the last Genetic Infantryman (Yes that's right a 'G.I.').  He carried the bio-chips of his dead squad in his helmet, rifle and backpack and a lot of the fun of the series was seeing the four of them interact.
   However, where Rogue Trooper was always a bit of a tub thumper, I thought this was a very considered, almost poignant story.  I got the distinct impression that the helmet felt genuine regret for its actions and the ending was genuinely dark and affecting.

   Like I say, great story.  I look forward to more from the author.



Djerrid

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Reply #26 on: January 31, 2007, 07:33:30 PM
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.

If AI's are given due process then their status in the Empire is near citizenship-level. Then things get messy when we get into guns that can vote, helmets that can run for office and toasters exercising their right to keep and bear arms.   



Paul Campbell

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Reply #27 on: January 31, 2007, 07:51:36 PM
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.

If AI's are given due process then their status in the Empire is near citizenship-level. Then things get messy when we get into guns that can vote, helmets that can run for office and toasters exercising their right to keep and bear arms.   

Caprica?

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slic

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Reply #28 on: January 31, 2007, 08:10:26 PM
Quote
If AI's are given due process then their status in the Empire is near citizenship-level. Then things get messy when we get into guns that can vote, helmets that can run for office and toasters exercising their right to keep and bear arms. 
Thanks, Djerrid.  That is what I was getting at - I wasn't looking to start a debate on politicizing fiction.



Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #29 on: January 31, 2007, 08:15:09 PM
"I wasn't looking to start a debate on politicizing fiction."

It's a point, though.

In eagerness to read this story as apolitical, have elements like a reference to an empire (with all the baggage that implies, particularly at a time when America is nation-building outside our borders) been pushed aside?



wakela

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Reply #30 on: January 31, 2007, 10:55:30 PM
I kept waiting for the part when I was supposed to just accept that the Empire was evil and the rebels were good, and I was already writing the post in my head that asked what the Empire did that made it evil.  I was happily surprised that the story did not go there.  It's about the helmet.  The Empire may be a force of evil or good (most likely both), but it doesn't matter to the helmet.

I was not a big fan of the reader, though.  I actually think Capt. Eley's voice is somehow more...helmet-like.



SFEley

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Reply #31 on: February 01, 2007, 03:07:24 AM
If AI's are given due process then their status in the Empire is near citizenship-level. Then things get messy when we get into guns that can vote, helmets that can run for office and toasters exercising their right to keep and bear arms.   

My interpretation of the story (and to be clear: that's all it is, just my personal take) was that the event wasn't intended as a "trial" or "due process" for the helmet.  From the helmet's perspective, that's certainly what it would have seemed like; but from the judge's and the society's perspective I believe this was just an inquest into the death of the soldier.

Problem:  A soldier died in active duty.  Apparently not from enemy fire.

Investigation:  Examine the records of the soldier's equipment and find out what happened.  It looks like the helmet has complete records.  And it was programmed to spout bad poetry.  How annoying.

Conclusion: Equipment failure.  Get that equipment out of active service so it doesn't happen again.  Write it up and arrange the pension for the soldier's family.  Next case.

I think this story holds up and is fully consistent with the helmet's belief that it's on trial.  Although it's also clear that the helmet's perspective is far more interesting, and absolutely the best POV for this story.

ESCAPE POD - The Science Fiction Podcast Magazine


Leon Kensington

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Reply #32 on: February 01, 2007, 04:24:05 AM
I couldn't agree more.



Djerrid

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Reply #33 on: February 01, 2007, 07:05:52 PM
I couldn't agree more.

Neither could I, Steve. But who says we can't spice things up.  ;D

What I'm suggesting is that if it is a SF writer's job to speculate outside of the bounds of reality we can give ourselves license to speculate outside the bounds of the story. For instance, if every soldier has at least one AI handy and they are used as museum pieces then they must be pretty wide spread. And if they can be reliable witnesses at criminal trials then the millions of household AIs would turn the Empire into a de facto surveillance state.

Now there is nothing in the story that would back that up but its fun to flesh out the world that he hints at. That's why fan fiction is so engaging.



scissorfighter

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Reply #34 on: February 06, 2007, 12:57:15 AM
I've been listening to Escape Pod for a while now, and although most of the tales are enjoyable and well done, this is the first one that's actually motivated me to stand up and say so.  A great creative piece, masterfully read.  Good work.



BSWeichsel

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Reply #35 on: February 06, 2007, 03:20:30 PM
So Far this is up there with the Union dues stories for me. Only thing that I thought was what At least what I though the helmet looked like but other then that it was a very enteraining story. Only question is why metain the Sea boots if we don;t know what they do? Was just a little bit confused about that.

Good story all in all.

Since it began, who have you killed? You wouldn't be alive now if you hadn't killed somebody.


Russell Nash

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Reply #36 on: February 06, 2007, 04:13:14 PM
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.

If AI's are given due process then their status in the Empire is near citizenship-level. Then things get messy when we get into guns that can vote, helmets that can run for office and toasters exercising their right to keep and bear arms.   

Members of the British government have started suggesting that new laws need to be written that will cover rights for intelligent machines.



tsanders

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Reply #37 on: February 06, 2007, 09:17:34 PM
Then things get messy when we get into guns that can vote, helmets that can run for office and toasters exercising their right to keep and bear arms.   

It gets worse once the logic goes circular. After all, would the arms (the voting guns) have the right to keep and bear toasters? ;)



fiveyearwinter

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Reply #38 on: February 07, 2007, 03:49:26 PM
You know, that's a really good point!

hm. Somethin' to ponder.

Also -  I agree with the idea that the gas mask wasn't really 'on trial,' per se - more that they were doing a routine investigation of his programming to see what caused him to think that killing his owner was the proper course of action.



Brian Reilly

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Reply #39 on: February 08, 2007, 05:11:37 PM
This is easily the best episode of 2007, and indeed one of the best stories I have heard on EP. It's got everything- an intelligent machine who loves poetry and singing, criticism of militarism which doesn't go into political preaching, a Douglas Adams-style humour, plenty of action, betrayal, mars, hi-tech weaponry, death, a fantastic narrator, patriotic hymns, a truly unexpected twist at the end (who would have thought he'd end up as a museum exhibit?).

My only criticism is that I saw the soldier's pretend betrayal, and Tortuga's reaction to it, a mile off.

More from this author please!

The 21st Century is when it all changes, and you’ve gotta be ready- Captain Jack, Torchwood.


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Reply #40 on: February 08, 2007, 07:29:14 PM
Beautiful story! Excellent narration, tone, accent, very well exposed, not a single gram too much fat. In my view probably one of the best ever featured on EscapePod. Short and to the point, using SF as background and not as an end in itself. Many thanks for this masterpiece!



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Reply #41 on: February 08, 2007, 10:11:04 PM
Nice story. Reminds me greatly of 'Rogue Trooper' that I read with great enthusiasm in my teens (and later).



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Reply #42 on: February 10, 2007, 12:55:03 AM
This was one of my favorite Escape Pod stories by far.
I think the voice and accent of the reader really fit this
story well.  The reader gave the story a great British
SF feel, very 1984.



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Reply #43 on: February 11, 2007, 04:06:51 PM
Just wanted to say (long time listener of Escape Pod, first time commenter ) that this is exactly what I want to hear on this podcast.

More like this!



Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #44 on: April 02, 2007, 11:26:25 PM
The author of this story has an article up at Strange Horizons: http://www.strangehorizons.com/2007/20070402/trimarco-icke-a.shtml



JoeFitz

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Reply #45 on: May 15, 2007, 01:27:05 PM

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.

I'm convinced the helmet was lying throughout, especially about its patriotism. The protestations were just too much for me. Apparently, the murderer was always singing patriotic songs, but the murder victim didn't like them. The murderer always followed the letter of all mission parameters (which would make for a dangerous combat accessory), but the murder victim deviated from them and refused to explain. The murder itself was an enormous overreaction to what was (at best) an ambiguous display of loyalty. The helmet came to the most extreme conclusion very quickly and acted on the most extreme response. The decision not to excrete the toxins used to kill speaks to premeditation.

The motive seemed clear enough: a moderately self-aware machine with an inflated opinion of itself was bored with taking orders it didn't like from someone it didn't respect. It found an excuse it thought it could rationalize and buttressed it with character assassination of the murder victim on the stand.

JoeFitz



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Reply #46 on: May 20, 2007, 10:48:59 PM
A little late to the game. maybe no one will read this, but...

One of my favorite new quotes has come out of this story.

"One never knows just how one's feelings for another will grow or wilt with the passing of the hours"

I just love that!

Thanks for a pretty good story with a great narration. I think I may need to re-listen, though, after reading this thread. I am not sure I really "got" what happened with the attack at the end. I did laugh at the helmet getting sent off to a fate worse than the brig- museum piece, indeed!



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Reply #47 on: June 15, 2007, 06:50:59 PM
What a great story! And really well read.

And what a great device to have the story narrated by an AI helmet who is gung-ho about war, while the soldier under it is trying to end the war. The courtroom framing device worked really well too.

The character of the smart helmet in this story could have been inspired by the officer played by Robert Duvall in Apocalype Now, who loved the smell of napalm in the morning.



Planish

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Reply #48 on: June 22, 2007, 03:34:35 AM
My only criticism is that I saw the soldier's pretend betrayal, and Tortuga's reaction to it, a mile off.
"Pretend"? He totally went over to the rebels.

Now to speculate on "what would happen next". I think the inference is that the investigators would find that the AIs did their duties, but the human let them down. The obvious solution is to do away with the human element. Then you think "oh, is that what they've been attempting to do in the Real World, through behaviour modification?"

I'm not suggesting that this is indeed the case (ie. that troops are being conditioned to put aside human feelings and become automatons), but that is one of the things that people fear. See Stanley Kubrick's "Failsafe".

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Reply #49 on: July 12, 2007, 03:46:24 AM
I am a relatively new listener, and I'm really glad that this was the first story I listened to--it totally hooked me in, and I'm now a regular subscriber to the podcast. I thought this story was well-written, with an intriguingly unreliable narrator. Great stuff!



chornbe

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Reply #50 on: July 24, 2007, 02:43:43 AM
Fun one! Absolute romping fun.

More Union Dues, please!

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Chodon

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Reply #51 on: August 07, 2007, 04:28:37 PM
My favorite EP story of all time.  I kept thinking of Div from Penny Arcade of Bender from Futurama turned into a gas mask during this story.  That's a scary thought.

Those who would sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither.


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Reply #52 on: July 13, 2008, 07:53:57 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.

I'm convinced the helmet was lying throughout, especially about its patriotism. The protestations were just too much for me. Apparently, the murderer was always singing patriotic songs, but the murder victim didn't like them. The murderer always followed the letter of all mission parameters (which would make for a dangerous combat accessory), but the murder victim deviated from them and refused to explain. The murder itself was an enormous overreaction to what was (at best) an ambiguous display of loyalty. The helmet came to the most extreme conclusion very quickly and acted on the most extreme response. The decision not to excrete the toxins used to kill speaks to premeditation.

The motive seemed clear enough: a moderately self-aware machine with an inflated opinion of itself was bored with taking orders it didn't like from someone it didn't respect. It found an excuse it thought it could rationalize and buttressed it with character assassination of the murder victim on the stand.

JoeFitz

I hate to perform thread necromancy, but I feel the strong urge to disagree with you - I'm listening to all of Escape Pod, from "Imperial" to now, during my vacation and have been perusing the forums for the threads for each story after listening.

I don't believe at all that the helmet is not actually patriotic - it's utterly, absolutely patriotic.  It just isn't as smart as it thinks it is.  The helmet reminds me of a backwoods, redneck type - the sort who would do his best to scare away strangers to his town, never knowing that the stranger is searching for a place to start up a factory.  Or something like that.  The helmet is programmed to see absolutely everything in terms of Us (YAAAY THE EMPIRE IS AWESOME) vs. Them (BOO HISS GO TO HELL).  Patriotism is not a front for it - it's built into the helmet's very circuits.  Every god damned electron that rolls through the silicon of that helmet is PULSING with patriotism.

The reason for the helmet killing his soldier is the whole Us vs. Them conflict and a lack of considered analysis.  This is understandable for a designer - who wants your helmet to be rationalizing whether or not it should be doing what it's doing?  The creators of the helmets would want it very simple.  The helmet protects the soldier.  Period.  Except this presents a problem - the helmet can't be allowed to be used against the Empire.  We don't want arms dealers selling them to Martian commandos, do we?  Hell, no.  Especially if we have a giant war machine.  War machines need loyalty, patriotism.  The helmets, guns, any kind of AI needs to be specifically designed to bolster that.

I'm rambling.

What I'm trying to get at is that the helmet is practically made of patriotism.  The problem is that the helmet is too smart for its own good, but not quite smart enough.  It thinks of itself as eloquent, poetic and well-treated, but it's really just a goddamn helmet with a computer that they made smart enough to compute ballistics and inform the wearer in a sensible manner.  The helmet is too big for its britches, so to speak.


In other news, I loved the story.  Yes, the overall trend of what was going on - what the helmet was going to do, what the soldier seemed to intend - was obvious from the beginning.  The only thing that was in doubt was whether or not the soldier was really betraying the Empire or just ingratiating himself with the enemy.  It hurt, when he talks about how long it took the soldier to die - made it seem like the helmet truly did feel remorseful for what it did, even if it believed that it was justified in its actions.

Formerly Ignoranus - now too big for my britches, literally and figuratively.


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Reply #53 on: July 13, 2008, 02:37:35 PM
I'm not suggesting that this is indeed the case (ie. that troops are being conditioned to put aside human feelings and become automatons), but that is one of the things that people fear. See Stanley Kubrick's "Failsafe".

As long as this thread has been resurrected (and this being the first time I've read it), I'd like to point out:

Kubrick had nothing to do with Fail-Safe but did make a similar film at the same time (Doctor Strangelove) and pressed Columbia to release his film first.

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El Barto

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Reply #54 on: September 09, 2009, 07:01:11 PM
Bam!  5 stars.   I loved it for many of the reasons people listed above.  Fantastic story.

I love the debate here about the helmet's true motives.   Working at a company that makes software and then tests it I can tell you that there is no way that anyone can ever test something fully before releasing it.  I'm sure the government/army quickly pushed out software updates to handle the situation described, and that somewhere a development team sat shaking its head that they hadn't thought to QA the scenario of the helmet feeling so conflicted.



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Reply #55 on: February 11, 2010, 06:02:31 PM
Great story, great choice of narrator.  Yet another strike against RPPs.

My favorite part was the interaction between Tortuga and the judge, especially with the purple descriptions.  It's fun to write ridiculously purple descriptions, and by doing it in this way, the writer could get away with it and hang a lantern on it by having the judge point it out.  And I loved the attempted simile after the chip removal "I felt like a device meant to serve its master who ended up killing him instead" or however that went.  :)

The problem with it's programming seemed to boil down to one simple thing:  It had conflicting axioms hard-coded into its systems:  The Master is Good.  The Empire is Good.  When the axioms conflict it had to improvise and came to the conclusion Empire > Master, and acted accordingly.  I like how it's patriotism wasn't at all based on logic--it's just hard-coded.  It IS patriotic and there is no chance for alteration.  After all, if your helmets start rebelling and killing your own soldiers then that could turn the tide of the war against you in a moment.