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Author Topic: EP177: Usurpers  (Read 17546 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: September 27, 2008, 03:23:21 PM »

EP177: Usurpers

By Derek Zumsteg.
Read by Stephen Eley.

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King spots a knock-off cluster, glowing sunny in the rain, too fit, perfectly proportioned. Tear off some burnished bronze, never-burning skin. Shove it under a microscope, see the designer signature, Chinese characters like tattoos on the necks of college girls.

All ten ranked cross-country runners this season took family trips to China after school let out last year. When they’d returned and established dominance, King took the Asics guy up on his offer to join the experimental training program. Found himself running by himself, following daily instructions from an email address. King knows there’s a machine on the other end, some oracle in some data center chewing on his performance data full time. Responds only to email, immediately, all hours.


Rated PG. Contains strong emotions and moderate violence.

Rated R. Contains strong language, strong emotions, and moderate violence.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: September 28, 2008, 04:46:58 AM by Russell Nash » Logged
Heradel
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« Reply #1 on: September 27, 2008, 04:54:55 PM »

Certainly guilted me into running on a dreary, 20 degree (C), New York day. I liked it. 
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DaveNJ
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« Reply #2 on: September 27, 2008, 06:08:12 PM »

Loved it, as my comment under the story read, but I have a quibble here with the rating.

The line "Un-F-Bomb-believable" is at the very beginning of the story. I'm not bothered, and I never check ratings except for the novelty factor, but this thing is listed as PG. Language might be an issue for some, and I'd hate to see such a great story tainted by somebody getting angry after sharing it with their ten-year-old.
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SFEley
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« Reply #3 on: September 27, 2008, 09:28:21 PM »

Loved it, as my comment under the story read, but I have a quibble here with the rating.

The line "Un-F-Bomb-believable" is at the very beginning of the story. I'm not bothered, and I never check ratings except for the novelty factor, but this thing is listed as PG. Language might be an issue for some, and I'd hate to see such a great story tainted by somebody getting angry after sharing it with their ten-year-old.

Thank you, Dave.  I wasn't thinking straight about that, and had honestly forgotten about the language.  Changing it now.
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alllie
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« Reply #4 on: September 28, 2008, 11:14:08 AM »

Very nice, I enjoyed it, got involved, wanted King to win though I think a lot of that was due to Steve’s reading. Steve made it exciting.

During the story I was periodically distracted by my own horror at the effort these guys and their parents were putting into running. There was kind of an OCD element in it for me. People were obsessed with something that was useless and pointless - since they weren’t running or getting gene modifications for health reasons. What’s up with that? Why is running, winning a race, important or interesting? If the runners had put half that much effort into learning they might have changed the world. In the end all the running was for nothing. Well, King might get a scholarship, then run for 4 years in college, then what was he gonna do with his life? Not run for a living. All that effort and pain for what? A plastic crown? 

I’m sure that Steve is right about the importance of exercise but I’m incapable of finding competitive sports important. For me sports are something I click away from when it shows up on TV. When I realized the podcast had a sports theme I almost clicked it off but in the end I enjoyed the story. What I didn’t enjoy was the underlying assumption that sports justify sacrifice and suffering. I just don’t get that. Maybe you have to be into sports  or have a Y chromosome. (I expect some denials from XX's who enjoy them too.)
« Last Edit: September 28, 2008, 02:32:28 PM by alllie » Logged
Zathras
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« Reply #5 on: September 28, 2008, 11:28:29 AM »

WW!  lvd ths stry!   Cheesy

Seriously, this is my favorite EP since Me and My Shadow.

Steve's reading was phenominal!  Only problem with the narration was that Steve missed the "white boy trying to be ghetto" wassup.  Should have been more wazzzzzzuuuup!  Check out the Bud Light commercials.

This was scifi at it's best.  It had the science to qualify, but was centered around  a character's confrontation with it.

I felt the pace of the story was perfect.  I was racing along with the story, anticipating the finish, but not the impossible time.

The training and sacrifices made, especially by such an egomaniac, show just how important this race is to King.  

I found the pre-race insults 100% in tune with teenaged boys.  I was one, and have one living in my home.

Mr. Zumsteg did an outstanding job of making me root for a character that I normally would despise, The Arrogant Jock.  

Thanks for getting this one, Steve!

vn f t ws lt  Roll Eyes
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Zathras
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« Reply #6 on: September 28, 2008, 11:34:46 AM »

People were obsessed with something that was useless and pointless

You mean something like a scifi podcast?

I don't know what your hobbies are, but I'm sure there are people who would find them useless and pointless.

Hell, I find some of my hobbies to be useless and pointless. 

On that note, GO CUBS GO!!!!!!!!!!!!
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alllie
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« Reply #7 on: September 28, 2008, 11:44:31 AM »

I don't know what your hobbies are, but I'm sure there are people who would find them useless and pointless.

Hey, at least I enjoy my useless and pointless hobbies. The runners were just suffering.

OLYMPIC PERFORMERS FACED SACRIFICE -- AND ADULT DIAPERS
« Last Edit: September 28, 2008, 11:51:04 AM by alllie » Logged
SFEley
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« Reply #8 on: September 28, 2008, 12:24:03 PM »

Steve's reading was phenominal!  Only problem with the narration was that Steve missed the "white boy trying to be ghetto" wassup.  Should have been more wazzzzzzuuuup!  Check out the Bud Light commercials.

Thank you for the kind words.  But for what it's worth, my not doing the "wassup" that way was deliberate.  For one thing, the story's set at least several years in the future, and the teenagers of that time would not remember or care about the Bud commercials.  For another, if I tried to copy it too closely, too many of today's listeners would think "Steve's trying to do the Bud commercials?"  That would be a distracting thought and break the attention out of the narration for at least a few moments.

And for a third, I can't stand those commercials.  >8-P
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« Reply #9 on: September 28, 2008, 12:33:37 PM »

Loved this Episode, so much so that I got motivated to post on these forums for only the 3rd story.  This story and Steve's outro hit home for a few reasons.

1) Admittedly it's been 10 years since I ran High School XCountry (very slowly), but maybe it was because I was in the back of the pack, but I don't remember things getting rough at all! Wink

2) When I was running, I wieghed about 190 lbs.  After 5 years of undergrad I weighed about 220.  I'm in my 6th year of grad school, and at my nadir (apex?) I weighed about 250.  So last month I decided to get back into running... slowly.  There are monthly 5k runs in my area to feed my competitive nature but they're relaxed enough not to be discouraging.

3) Since I started running there have been a number of beneficial side effects besides having lost 15 pounds.  Ironically I have more energy.  I'm eating healthier because it's just easier to run with a better diet, and I'm more focused on my research.

Keep up the running and so will I, Steve!
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SFEley
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« Reply #10 on: September 28, 2008, 01:01:14 PM »

Hey, at least I enjoy my useless and pointless hobbies. The runners were just suffering.

Talk to a competitive runner.  The suffering is a deep part of the enjoyment.  

I think that carries through in the story: "Unexpected joy."  And the emotional reaction to the clock, and the moment of silence.  The way I read the story, King's happiness and fulfillment at the end are as absolute as his determination.  They would not be possible without it.  King is happier at winning than Steve would have been, because King put his entire being into it and paid a higher price for it.

That's not exclusive to athletics.  I have several activities and passions which sometimes cause me a significant amount of pain.  Podcasting is occasionally one of them.  Lack of sleep, locked knees...  I'm not going to whine about it.  Some weeks are simply harder than others.  I never made that a factor in whether I should do it.

My recent exercise kick is another.  I don't push myself close to any breaking points, but I do try to keep it from being easy.  If I didn't feel my outro rant was already going on too long, one thing I would have said was: "Oh, and yes, it is really hard for me to do this.  That's a point in its favor.  It makes the endorphin high that much better.  And I really feel we should do things that are hard.  If we don't, we'll eventually get worse and worse at the easy things."  

I have more direct examples, but they're out of scope and probably TMI.  (Some of you who've really paid attention can probably guess.)  Point is: pain and enjoyment are not opposed.  Within the right context, they can complement each other, or even be mutually essential.
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Zathras
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« Reply #11 on: September 28, 2008, 04:12:00 PM »

Steve's reading was phenominal!  Only problem with the narration was that Steve missed the "white boy trying to be ghetto" wassup.  Should have been more wazzzzzzuuuup!  Check out the Bud Light commercials.

Thank you for the kind words.  But for what it's worth, my not doing the "wassup" that way was deliberate.  For one thing, the story's set at least several years in the future, and the teenagers of that time would not remember or care about the Bud commercials.  For another, if I tried to copy it too closely, too many of today's listeners would think "Steve's trying to do the Bud commercials?"  That would be a distracting thought and break the attention out of the narration for at least a few moments.

And for a third, I can't stand those commercials.  >8-P


Ah, I'll agree with 2 and 3, and that's enough.  Unfortunately, you can still hear whiteboyz saying wazzup.  Ugg.
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Darwinist
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« Reply #12 on: September 28, 2008, 07:55:37 PM »

People were obsessed with something that was useless and pointless

You mean something like a scifi podcast?

I don't know what your hobbies are, but I'm sure there are people who would find them useless and pointless.

Hell, I find some of my hobbies to be useless and pointless. 

On that note, GO CUBS GO!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yeah, WTF?  I think a lot of our own interests would be "useless and pointless" to others.   My son spends tons of time practicing soccer when he won't play competitively after this year.  I spend time in the gym pumping iron when I sit on my ass all day at my job.  Different strokes for different folks. 

Loved the story, too.  A couple things didn't make sense to me and I was distracted during my listen but I'll listen again. 

And this transplanted cheesehead would like to counter Zathras' closing cheer with my own:  GO BREWERS GO!  It's been 26 years.   
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Lagbert
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« Reply #13 on: September 28, 2008, 08:42:42 PM »

There are two socio-political elements that are implicit to story of the world that just rubbed me the wrong way:

If this story is a near future story, you'd think the rich parents would still link China with lead paint and bad milk and wouldn't dare risk their precious spoiled children there.

What would the FDA and HLS say about mutants, potentially giant petite dishes for new epic plagues, coming into the country?  I think there would be some pretty heavy bans.
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DaveNJ
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« Reply #14 on: September 28, 2008, 09:20:53 PM »

Very nice, I enjoyed it, got involved, wanted King to win though I think a lot of that was due to Steve’s reading. Steve made it exciting.

During the story I was periodically distracted by my own horror at the effort these guys and their parents were putting into running. There was kind of an OCD element in it for me. People were obsessed with something that was useless and pointless - since they weren’t running or getting gene modifications for health reasons. What’s up with that? Why is running, winning a race, important or interesting? If the runners had put half that much effort into learning they might have changed the world. In the end all the running was for nothing. Well, King might get a scholarship, then run for 4 years in college, then what was he gonna do with his life? Not run for a living. All that effort and pain for what? A plastic crown? 

I’m sure that Steve is right about the importance of exercise but I’m incapable of finding competitive sports important. For me sports are something I click away from when it shows up on TV. When I realized the podcast had a sports theme I almost clicked it off but in the end I enjoyed the story. What I didn’t enjoy was the underlying assumption that sports justify sacrifice and suffering. I just don’t get that. Maybe you have to be into sports  or have a Y chromosome. (I expect some denials from XX's who enjoy them too.)


Useless and pointless to you, perhaps, but competitive athletics are a huge part of human culture. They're also the key to an education for a lot of people who couldn't afford one otherwise.

I dunno, I guess equating value with what one will do for a living seems crazy to me. Why post on message boards? Why write? Why create art? The competitive nature alone is enough for a lot of people to enjoy sports, even if they'll never make a dime playing them.

And your link wasn't about athletics, it was about a performance prior to an athletic event orchestrated by a totalitarian government. Not quite the same thing.
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Zathras
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« Reply #15 on: September 28, 2008, 09:27:24 PM »

And this transplanted cheesehead would like to counter Zathras' closing cheer with my own:  GO BREWERS GO!  It's been 26 years.   

26 years?  Why do you think I'm a scifi fan?  100 years.  I'm a little concerned, though, I swore I wouldn't die until after the Cubs won the World Series, figured it was my ticket to immortality.

Kidding aside,

I didn't really consider the full ramifications of having modifications done in China.  Didn't one of the Bond movies propose Cuba as the most advanced medical community?

I listened to this again.  I hadn't realized just how vicious and animalistic I felt the first time.  I knew the story was ruthless, but the second time around I looked more at how I felt.  

It connected with me in a similar manner as Fight Club.  I remember thinking that Conversations with and about my Electric Toothbrush made me think of Fight Club as well.  Gonna let this thought stew for a while and see if I can pinpoint why.

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SFEley
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« Reply #16 on: September 28, 2008, 09:56:43 PM »

If this story is a near future story, you'd think the rich parents would still link China with lead paint and bad milk and wouldn't dare risk their precious spoiled children there.

I'm not a rich person, but I know rich people, and I also worked for a while in the international division of UPS.  I've seen the research, and so have a lot of rich parents: China is gearing up to completely kick our asses at technology and industry on almost all fronts.  The United States falling back to #2 superpower within the next decade is practically inevitable.  Smart investment is already moving there as fast as it can.  "Lead paint" and similar issues are on the other end of the industrial food chain, and wouldn't concern people going there for high-end cleanroom biotech.  It'd be like refusing to come to the US as a tourist because the news says some buildings here still have asbestos.


Quote
What would the FDA and HLS say about mutants, potentially giant petite dishes for new epic plagues, coming into the country?  I think there would be some pretty heavy bans.

I think you mean "petri dishes," but that's an interesting point.  The story doesn't delve enough into the technology to say whether or not this would be a risk.  However, if there's one constant about bureaucracy, it's that it's reactive, not proactive.  If this "gene doping" tech was new at the time of the story, it could easily be a few years before the government got its act together enough to clamp down on it.  Athletic associations would move faster but not instantly.  As for disease, I would be very surprised if any laws or regulations got passed about it until an epidemic actually happened.

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Heradel
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« Reply #17 on: September 28, 2008, 10:52:31 PM »

Quote
What would the FDA and HLS say about mutants, potentially giant petite dishes for new epic plagues, coming into the country?  I think there would be some pretty heavy bans.

I think you mean "petri dishes," but that's an interesting point.  The story doesn't delve enough into the technology to say whether or not this would be a risk.  However, if there's one constant about bureaucracy, it's that it's reactive, not proactive.  If this "gene doping" tech was new at the time of the story, it could easily be a few years before the government got its act together enough to clamp down on it.  Athletic associations would move faster but not instantly.  As for disease, I would be very surprised if any laws or regulations got passed about it until an epidemic actually happened.

There is that line about how drugs have to be kept below certain levels, which to me makes it seem like there's some sort of liberalization of the rules to allow medications and modifications — even if performing the operations is banned in the US. And the Government's bureaucracy can also fall down on the job, the current Wall St. crisis was caused by the lax efforts of the regulators rather than the regulations. There were some bad regulations passed and good ones repealed, but the SEC's dereliction of duty with regulating was the major issue.
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« Reply #18 on: September 29, 2008, 12:43:59 AM »

i enjoyed this one. a protracted action sequence can be a lot of fun in a short story and this had an interesting style.

chances are good that we're gonna see some olympic records beat by paralympic athletes as prosthetics improve to the point that they're an advantage.
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wintermute
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« Reply #19 on: September 29, 2008, 07:04:55 AM »

True story: This ended about 5 minutes before I got to work, so I set my DAP to shuffle all music, as I normally do when I don't have a podcast to listen to. The song that got me the rest of the way to work this morning?

Eye of the Tiger.
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