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Author Topic: EP168: Family Values  (Read 26033 times)

Russell Nash

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on: July 25, 2008, 07:09:03 PM
EP168: Family Values

By By Sara Genge.
Read by Alasdair Stuart (of Pseudopod).
First appeared in Cosmos, August/September 2007.

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Senator Wu accepted Twing’s seed out of courtesy, although she had no intention of conceiving his child. Twing of Sails had thrown this party in his house in her honour, but he wasn’t as free with kilojoules as he was with genetic material, and Senator Wu wasn’t prepared to funnel the heat donations of her two crèche mates to bring another man’s child to the World. She acidified the pores in her tentacle and waved it around, letting the current carry away the dead spores. She smiled at Twing and a wave of blue burst from his centre and radiated towards the thin membranes that rippled on the edge of his disc-shaped body.

He didn’t look bad, but he wasn’t as comely as Senator Wu. Her body was an almost perfect sphere, and she was well aware of it. Wherever she went, she took care to rotate every few minutes, lest gravity pull on her too long in any one direction and tug her gelatinous figure out of shape.


Rated PG. Contains alien reproduction, politics, and other sordid topics.


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wintermute

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Reply #1 on: July 25, 2008, 07:18:33 PM
I enjoyed the story in general, but there's a technical niggle that annoys me:

The teacher transferred (more than) 10,000,000 zettajoules of energy to the senator. To put that into proportion, the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated had a fireball 9Km across and a mushroom cloud seven times higher than Mount Everest. It was 2,500 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

It released one forty-billionth as much energy as was transferred between these two beings.

Ten million zettajoules is as much energy as the sun puts out in 30 seconds. It's enough energy to boil every drop of water on Earth 15 or 20 times over.

You know what Douglas Adams said about space being big? Yeah, well, this is hot.

To be fair, without knowing the creatures' size or composition, it's hard to argue that they must be incapable of holding this much heat without being vaporised, but the fact that they're in a region where gravity can pull them out of being spherical strongly implies that they're smaller than your average gas giant. Also, there was something about people coming within a few metres being able to feel the residual heat? That implies that they're about human in scale, to within a couple of orders of magnitude.

The same thign happened with EP094: THe Last Wave, in which the author thought that 1012 picoseconds was a significant amount of time. So, I propose a general rule of authors: Don't throw around big numbers without actually knowing what they mean. Choose a scale in natural language that makes sense (a thousand years; 5,000 Calories) and then convert that into scientific notation.

Collorary for editors: When faced with numbers like this, convert back to something you can make sense of, and if it seems odd, raise the issue with the author. Because you know that your audience is going to do it.

Science means that not all dreams can come true


SFEley

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Reply #2 on: July 25, 2008, 10:49:18 PM
Collorary for editors: When faced with numbers like this, convert back to something you can make sense of, and if it seems odd, raise the issue with the author. Because you know that your audience is going to do it.

This is true.  I missed that totally; I often read too big-picture.  Good catch, Wintermute!

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JoeFitz

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Reply #3 on: July 25, 2008, 11:48:48 PM
A nice short piece, despite the technical quibble and the relatively simple story.



wintermute

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Reply #4 on: July 26, 2008, 12:18:01 AM
A nice short piece, despite the technical quibble and the relatively simple story.
I fully admit that it's a ridiculous thing to pick on. But I'm a horrible pedant.

I did enjoy the story. The language was beautiful.

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Void Munashii

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Reply #5 on: July 26, 2008, 12:26:31 AM
  While entirely too short, I found this to be a fun and entertainlingly squishy story. To be fair, if the story had been any longer with the same plot it probably would not have been as good as it is.
 
  Even though I felt that very little about the world was explained about the world in the story, I didn't feel that anything was lost by that. I would be interested in learning more of their world, but the lack of that knowledge did not detract from the story for me.

  The energy thing went somewhat over my head. I knew it was an insanely large amount of electricty, but without any information about the size of these creatures, their planet, etc, I just let it go.

  Given the Reagan quote at the end, does that mean this is another story featuring a prostitute? She does have sex with teacher for power after all.

  As far as water coolers go, we don't have one at my work anymore, no one hung around it when we did, and most of my co-workers are more the American Idol set than the EP set. It's quite sad really, I've tried to get the people who share my cube interested in a number of podcasts, but to no avail so far.

 

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JoeFitz

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Reply #6 on: July 26, 2008, 12:44:13 AM
But I'm a horrible pedant.

Ahem, a shockingly dreadful pedant would not actually be very pedantic, now would he? QED. ;)




wintermute

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Reply #7 on: July 26, 2008, 01:20:09 AM
The energy thing went somewhat over my head. I knew it was an insanely large amount of electricty, but without any information about the size of these creatures, their planet, etc, I just let it go.
Given the complete lack of detail, I was tempted to let it go, but when I ran the numbers, it turned out to so obnoxiously insane that they'd need to be planet-sized (and not a wimpy little planet like Mercury, either) to not be instantly vaporised. If it had been scaled back about 10 orders of magnitude, I'd considered it unlikely but ignored it.

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kylalipp

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Reply #8 on: July 26, 2008, 03:39:43 AM
 
  Given the Reagan quote at the end, does that mean this is another story featuring a prostitute? She does have sex with teacher for power after all.

 
I think the quote was more about politicians. :)

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Talia

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Reply #9 on: July 26, 2008, 03:51:49 AM
Alien jellyfish sex! Huzzah?

A fun story. I couldn't help half imagining it taking place beneath our very own seas. Jellyfish society :D






ryos

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Reply #10 on: July 26, 2008, 04:51:32 AM
This one left me lukewarm. Put another way, it only imparted a little bit of heat--a miserly donation at best.

Edit:
Quote
I fully admit that it's a ridiculous thing to pick on. But I'm a horrible pedant.

I'd say it's about as large a gaffe as Han Solo using parsecs as a measure of speed. IOW, it's worth poking fun of, but not getting upset over.
« Last Edit: July 26, 2008, 05:05:00 AM by ryos »



Swamp

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Reply #11 on: July 26, 2008, 02:11:44 PM
I will definately stand out from the pack and offer high praise for this story.  I thought Ms. Genge did a masterful job of bringing us a new world, with uniquique characters.  In a short time we learn their of thier motivations, their social structure (at least in regards to politics), their biology, and of course, their values.  I enjoyed becoming immersed {sorry, couldn't help it} in this world.  Also, the character building of such an alien species was fantastic--the wisdom and vunerability of Senator Wu, the passion and cunning of the teacher.  Great stuff!  This is the type of story that keeps me coming back to Escape Pod.

Regarding the energy transfer, they need to be careful.  If they get up to 1.21 gigawatts they might go back in time.

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MacArthurBug

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Reply #12 on: July 26, 2008, 02:25:49 PM
Whee! Now this is the sort of odd strange quick story I fell in love with when I first started reading short fiction. It's squishey and strange, the charactors fizz about in the imagination. Alasdair Stuart read wonderfully (happy 100th show!!) and I wouldn't be adverse to hearing this fine gentleman read more often, his voice makes me terribly happy.
More like this!

Oh, great and mighty Alasdair, Orator Maleficent, He of the Silvered Tongue, guide this humble fangirl past jumping up and down and squeeing upon hearing the greatness of Thy voice.
Oh mighty Mur the Magnificent. I am not worthy.


ScarecrovV

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Reply #13 on: July 26, 2008, 02:56:08 PM
Its good to see a story about Rocktipie that doesn't involve platinum knives.  :P



Darwinist

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Reply #14 on: July 26, 2008, 03:11:44 PM
   As far as water coolers go, we don't have one at my work anymore, no one hung around it when we did, and most of my co-workers are more the American Idol set than the EP set. It's quite sad really, I've tried to get the people who share my cube interested in a number of podcasts, but to no avail so far.
 

Funny, that's the way it is at my work  The majority of the people discuss Idol at length.  I am part of a small "Lost" group that chats a bit on Friday mornings but nothing like the time-wasting going on in the "Idol" group.   

Back to the story:  I liked it.  It was short so I listened to it twice.  Neat world building.  Props to Steve for giving props to Darwin's work!

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


tazo

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Reply #15 on: July 26, 2008, 05:34:48 PM
Hot.  In a... liquid sphere political pregnant jellyfish sort of way.

Which, let's face it, is the best sort of way.

Loved the worldbuilding (mild numerical mistake not with standing).  The story itself was interesting, if a bit cutoff (I got the feeling that there was something more there.  Maybe it's the dark bastard in me, but I kept expecting Teacher to have some sort of malicious motive), but the world building was what REALLY made this original.  It's not often you see someone taking on a world and a species so utterly unlike us (although apparently we wear pendants the year 'round).
« Last Edit: July 26, 2008, 08:57:14 PM by tazo »



Listener

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Reply #16 on: July 26, 2008, 05:56:18 PM
I liked it.  I didn't think it really WENT anywhere; more a slice-of-underwater-life than anything else. Not sure I really understood the teacher's motivations.  It always takes a moment to get used to Alasdair's reading voice, too.  Good world-building, very immersive (and that's not a pun).  Too many authors build worlds and use human notations for everything.  This one didn't.

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cuddlebug

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Reply #17 on: July 26, 2008, 08:15:39 PM
Oh, this one gets a squishy tentacles, ähm, thumbs up from me. Who would have thought jellyfish sex could be that exciting, but it seems the description of all kinds of ways to *tranfer energy* is always very welcome in our circles.   

Only too bad twirling around a bit to counteract the effect of gravity on our bodies is not really working in these parts. (… and trust me I spend a lot of time twirling around, assuming dancing counts as twirling around, that is…)

Fun story, way too short though, the world was so interesting that it might offer food for more stories? Just a suggestion (... for the people in the forum crit group maybe? Those who are squishing their brains over what to write about next?)



wintermute

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Reply #18 on: July 26, 2008, 08:27:39 PM
Only too bad twirling around a bit to counteract the effect of gravity on our bodies is not really working in these parts. (… and trust me I spend a lot of time twirling around, assuming dancing counts as twirling around, that is…)
I'm guessing that these octopoda don't have a well defined "up" or "down" in the same way that humans do, so they can spend extended periods of time having gravity pulling them in different directions without it getting uncomfortable or inconvenient. Of course, not having a hard skeleton probably helps, too.

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stePH

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Reply #19 on: July 27, 2008, 03:58:35 AM
Was the flanging/phase-shifting on the narrator's voice really necessary?  It made it hard for me to understand.  I've listened to Alasdair's Pancast and prefer the "dry" recording for easy intelligibility.

Story was OK.  Didn't hate it; wasn't too long.

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bolddeceiver

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Reply #20 on: July 27, 2008, 04:21:20 AM
I guess I depart from the pack; my impressions were exactly the opposite of the usual -- I really dug the story, didn't care for the world-building.  I know, I know, it's really tough to write truly alien aliens, and this was a valiant attempt.  But it fell to two related pitfalls.  First, while in physiology and mechanics these blobs were totally inhuman, and their culture was pretty alien.  But their mental and emotional process were, well, pretty much human.  Maybe there are some universals of what might be expected to develop in communicative sentient beings, but these guys seemed to think pretty human.

And that gets me to the other problem.  These guys seemed to think about their situation too much.  They felt almost like they were mildly surprised by their own biological and social activity.  So many things were said, not just in narration (acceptable, as the story is being narrated to humans) but also in dialogue (less acceptable, since the blobs are talking amogst themselves), that seem like they would have been left unsaid by a creature who had lived with that set of rules all its life.

Still, great story, and at very least tons of points for ambition just for trying to write a story so short about aliens so alien.  This definitely comes in on the top side of the EP median for me.



Schreiber

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Reply #21 on: July 27, 2008, 08:29:13 AM
I did like the irony of casual and ostensibly anonymous sex saving a politician from a political gaffe.  But the story itself was weak soup.  Those zettajoules might have been better spent on character development and an emotional arc that didn't feel like a deleted scene from some  intergalactic version of "The West Wing."



eytanz

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Reply #22 on: July 27, 2008, 03:36:25 PM
I enjoyed the story, and I echo Steve's sentiment about the worldbuilding. But there was something that worried me about the ending - maybe it's my cynicism, and years of being disappointed by (Earth) politics, but it seems to me that if all it takes to get a "Get A Senate Voice" token is some flattery and a larger donation (of body heat in this case) to a politician, without her ever checking to see what the guy's actual politics are - well, isn't that an echo of the worst people say about lobbyists today?



stePH

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Reply #23 on: July 27, 2008, 03:53:07 PM
But there was something that worried me about the ending - maybe it's my cynicism, and years of being disappointed by (Earth) politics, but it seems to me that if all it takes to get a "Get A Senate Voice" token is some flattery and a larger donation (of body heat in this case) to a politician, without her ever checking to see what the guy's actual politics are - well, isn't that an echo of the worst people say about lobbyists today?

In a word: yes.

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slic

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Reply #24 on: July 27, 2008, 03:56:16 PM
Well, I lost the chance to be the clever one to make the link to "The West Wing"  :(  
I definitely enjoyed the behind the scenes manoeuvres.

I found the story to be excellent!  It couldn't be any longer without being much much longer.  Schreiber wasn't wrong in describing it as a scene more than a complete episode, but that is often the weakness of short stories.

The story used every word effectively.  Every description helped move the story forward and explain the world.

Having disliked/meh'd most of the stories recently on Escapepod, I have been wondering if I am too picky - then this story comes along and delivers all the things I really enjoy in character-driven sci-fi.  I enjoyed so much, and it contained so much information, it is the first Escapepod story I've ever listened to twice.

bold deciever - the story has to be written from a human sense or else we couldn't possibly relate.  This is a mistake some writer's make when writing aliens - if they are too different from our understanding then the reader never relates.  This is clearly shown when people attribute human motivations to their pets and other animals.