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Author Topic: EP194: Exhalation  (Read 29299 times)

Heradel

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on: April 10, 2009, 01:40:58 PM
EP194: Exhalation

2009 Hugo Nominee Winner!

By Ted Chiang.

Read by Ray Sizemore (of X-Ray Visions).
First appeared in Eclipse 2 ed. Jonathan Strahan.

Narration first appeared at and produced by Starship Sofa. Special thanks to Tony Smith and Ray Sizemore for their kind permission to resyndicate this award nominee.

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But in the normal course of life, our need for air is far from our thoughts, and indeed many would say that satisfying that need is the least important part of going to the filling stations. For the filling stations are the primary venue for social conversation, the places from which we draw emotional sustenance as well as physical. We all keep spare sets of full lungs in our homes, but when one is alone, the act of opening one’s chest and replacing one’s lungs can seem little better than a chore. In the company of others, however, it becomes a communal activity, a shared pleasure.

Rated PG. Contains entropy, eschatology, and empirical evisceration.
« Last Edit: August 10, 2009, 01:53:23 AM by Heradel »

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Listener

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Reply #1 on: April 10, 2009, 05:09:25 PM
Loved it.

The coda/denouement went on WAAAAAY too long, but it was worth it for the snippets, like "what if there are other universes and we're their argon source?" The "solipsistic telescope" and the autodissection were EXCEPTIONALLY cool.

Like Al, I loved the little glimpses into the world. By not giving away EVERYTHING or having a Captain Exposition character, the science really fit in well. I like stories with a little more science in them -- like this one.

For me, the narrator lived in a a very steampunky world -- steampunk robots, that is.

The story really makes you (okay, makes ME) think about who built/designed these robots, and when did they become sentient? Were they designed that way? The way the narrator refers to himself (itself?) makes me believe they were designed by an intelligent race (argon-breathers) who died off, and after a certain period of time, they made the leap to sentience and started building a society. Since they can't remember more than 100 years, and recorded history is only a few hundred more, I get the feeling that pre-history is the days when the argon-breathers used the robots as tools.

The reading annoyed me at first but when I realized they were robots, it got a lot better and made much more sense for the reader to choose that voice/style.

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raysizemore3

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Reply #2 on: April 10, 2009, 06:28:27 PM
The reading annoyed me at first but when I realized they were robots, it got a lot better and made much more sense for the reader to choose that voice/style.

I'm glad to hear that comment. It was exactly the response I was going for!

I wanted the listener to have an immediate sense of the alien, and so introduced a mild lilt to the character's inflection. Not an accent, so much, as a vague sense of the odd-- just enough to make the subconscious wonder just what type of person this is.



Yargling

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Reply #3 on: April 10, 2009, 08:26:44 PM
I enjoyed this one greatly; It reminded me of listening to the "Origin of Species" audiobook in its style and form.

The world and it robot citizens is very easily and naturally established and built up in detail and complexity. At first, I thought the story would veer towards an origin story of the encased robot race - but I was surprised with the directions it went, and I'm enjoyed the trial of the story of discovery. Also, it made me feel somewhat better about the idea that one day our Universe will reach the 'equalibrium' of heat death.

Overall, create story and I'd be interested in seeing these pressure-punk people reappearing elsewhere.



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Reply #4 on: April 12, 2009, 12:03:37 AM
I disliked the narration.  Once the story got rolling, and the narration wasn't so new, I really liked  this.



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Reply #5 on: April 12, 2009, 02:32:07 PM
A great story of a race that becomes more self aware through basic science.  I really liked the very end, when sects formed to try to re-establish the gradient by pumping more argon.  It reminds me of our own human failures to look at the true costs of what we do.  Also loved the auto-dissection and the idea that the main character invited a friend over in a few days as a safety.
Tony Chiang is one to watch.



slic

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Reply #6 on: April 12, 2009, 02:58:41 PM
I really enjoyed the idea of watching a Darwin or Newton as a robot.

Just like Listener, I found the ending too long.  And, honestly, I dropped off a bit in the middle of the "dissection". 

I was fascinated with the description of the new science, and if I had it written down I think I would have enjoyed it much more.

More stories in this universe would be welcome.



caid

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Reply #7 on: April 13, 2009, 05:03:34 AM
I loved this one, though I as well felt it got kind of repetitive at the end.

Additionally, I wish more people learned about the principle of energy conservation.



Darwinist

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Reply #8 on: April 13, 2009, 02:47:28 PM
Cool!   I really liked this one.  I thought the narration was good.  He also narrated one of the Nebula stories on StarShip Sofa. 

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


deflective

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Reply #9 on: April 14, 2009, 05:40:34 AM
excellent. i don't need to hear the rest, this is my hugo favourite.

i imagined this taking place inside an industrial argon tank that had been abandoned so that the resident nanobots were left to adapt their own programming. by making the nanobot's power supply hydraulic the engineers incorporated an excellent failsafe that makes sure that they don't accidentally escape.



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Reply #10 on: April 14, 2009, 05:15:00 PM
Loved it.
+1

The reading annoyed me at first but when I realized they were robots, it got a lot better and made much more sense for the reader to choose that voice/style.
again +1, though as the story went on I think the narrator sounded less "robotic".

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Reply #11 on: April 14, 2009, 06:41:07 PM
Best "heat death of the universe" story ever! 

Of course, it's a lot more than that too - which is what makes it great.  The robots were a great alien society, and I loved the unanswered questions of who built them and how they got left there.  But mostly, as a physics dork, I thought the equalization of pressure was a great easy to grasp form of entropy, showing how that leads to the heat death of the universe.  Well done!



Corydon

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Reply #12 on: April 15, 2009, 12:23:04 AM
What a great story!  It's truly original, and emotional without being maudlin.  I'd be delighted to see this one win the Hugo.

i imagined this taking place inside an industrial argon tank that had been abandoned so that the resident nanobots were left to adapt their own programming. by making the nanobot's power supply hydraulic the engineers incorporated an excellent failsafe that makes sure that they don't accidentally escape.

That's a really neat idea.



Arion

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Reply #13 on: April 15, 2009, 03:40:42 AM
Best "heat death of the universe" story ever! 
I still have to give that accolade to Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question"

However I have to agree with all the comments on the physics and the world-building of the alien robot society which were all very well developed and handled superbly.

A very strong contender for the Hugo award, in my opinion.  If the rest of the stories are of this calibre then it's a bumper crop of SF this season, to be sure.



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Reply #14 on: April 15, 2009, 10:19:05 AM
I have nothing intelligent to add to the discussion here.  I just want to say that this was my favorite Escape Pod in quite a long time.

I've encountered about a half dozen Ted Chiang stories and every one has been, at the very least, interesting and thought-provoking.  If an anthology of his stories ever shows up round here, I'll buy it.

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Reply #15 on: April 15, 2009, 04:14:55 PM
I really liked the imagry presented by this, I spent some time imagining how boggling it'd be to study ones own brain strewn into hanging peices, and still be coherant. An interesting idea.  The story ran a bit long- but overall I really enjoyed this one. Well read, if a little dryly at moments.

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Heradel

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Reply #16 on: April 15, 2009, 04:24:19 PM
I have nothing intelligent to add to the discussion here.  I just want to say that this was my favorite Escape Pod in quite a long time.

I've encountered about a half dozen Ted Chiang stories and every one has been, at the very least, interesting and thought-provoking.  If an anthology of his stories ever shows up round here, I'll buy it.

I have this out from the NYPL right now, it's good. Stories of Your Life and Others

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OsamaBinLondon

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Reply #17 on: April 16, 2009, 04:46:07 AM
Wow!



Ocicat

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Reply #18 on: April 16, 2009, 05:10:37 PM
Best "heat death of the universe" story ever! 
I still have to give that accolade to Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question"


The Last Question is a great story, no doubt.  And of course very explicitly about the heat death of the universe.  Maybe that's why I liked this story more.  It had more going on, and used the heat death of the universe only by analogy, just the simple evening out of pressures.  Easy to understand, that.  Much easier to comprehend than the stars going out.  The smaller scale is something you can wrap your brain around.  But either way, it's all entropy.

Also, the Asimov story has the ending where the computer becomes God.  Which is cute, but does sort of undermine the whole end of the universe thing.



Arion

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Reply #19 on: April 16, 2009, 09:10:44 PM
Best "heat death of the universe" story ever! 
I still have to give that accolade to Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question"


The Last Question is a great story, no doubt.  And of course very explicitly about the heat death of the universe.  Maybe that's why I liked this story more.  It had more going on, and used the heat death of the universe only by analogy, just the simple evening out of pressures.  Easy to understand, that.  Much easier to comprehend than the stars going out.  The smaller scale is something you can wrap your brain around.  But either way, it's all entropy.

Also, the Asimov story has the ending where the computer becomes God.  Which is cute, but does sort of undermine the whole end of the universe thing.

Yes, that was an interesting story ending choice for Prof.A to arrive at, being an avowed secular humanist, and all.  Still it did rather neatly answer the question "Did God make Man, or Vice-Versa" with the answer being "Yes."  One can assume Asimov is postulating a cyclic universe wherein the big bang leads to a complex universe with increasing entropy balanced with increasing information acqusition within the cosmic AC, leading to another big bang.  Over and over and over... again.  It does solve the questions about "what happened before the big-bang?" and "who laid the cosmic egg, anyway?"

It must be nice for a current author to have people debate whether his story is better than one by Asimov. 



DigitalVG

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Reply #20 on: April 17, 2009, 11:42:30 PM
Best story I've heard on EscapePod in a long long while.

I particularly enjoyed the thought put into the construction of the world.  The mechanisms which ran the lifeforms and their tools were fairly believable.  Properly managed airflow works just like a babbage engine and pneumatics can otherwise power just about any mechanism.

What I liked most though was the detailed description of the world because it really stymied your attempts to think your way out of it.

If the atmosphere is pure argon, you can't make fire easily.
None of the elements in the world were as hard as the chromium shell so you couldn't dig your way out of it either.  The limited constraints made it hard to engineer a way out of the problem and instead forced you to consider the philosophical points.  A very fine tactic.

But I must confess it tickled the pure engineer in me more than the philosopher.  There was one VERY important force in the world that was missed.  The pendulums used it.   If the ceiling was so incredibly high, simply by climbing much higher in their atmosphere, they could largely escape their fate.  Simply build very high up and a giant pendulum, then stopper up the great breath.  The pendulum loads empty lungs on one side of it's swing and unloads full ones on the other.   The lungs have a simple pressure-switch that snaps the lid shut at a particular air pressure (the bottom of the pendulum arc)    There.  A simple mechanical solution. :)

Also, if you want to get really geek-crazy...  There were magnets and glass lenses and mirrors.  That's enough conductors and semi-conductors to build vacuum tubes and a few simple IC.  You might be able to create an electric generator and use that to power an argon laser to try to puncture the shell, or at least liquefy chromium for making other tools which could then be used for digging away at the shell.  Of course, if it's infinitely thick, it's a futile act, but we never gain knowledge if we don't try to gain knowledge, right?

I do enjoy the whole 'seat of consciousness' question though.  It's entertaining to wrestle with and his self-analysis was pretty neat and the whole universe did have a nice set up for making people think about that.



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Reply #21 on: April 19, 2009, 01:36:28 AM
EP runs a lot of really, really good fiction. 95% of it falls in that category for me. Much rarer is the piece that, in my opinion, falls into the "truly outstanding" category.

This story merits that distinction. Its been a while since I've heard a story that made me go "Wow!" and speculate for some time afterwards. I've enjoyed other Ted Chiang stories before, too, but this one takes the cake. the ideas were so original to me, and he went into amazing detail.. painted a pretty vivid picture in my head.

Kudos. Rooting for this one to win.



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Reply #22 on: April 19, 2009, 02:32:59 PM
Long time listener, first time caller here. I'm moved from lurking to say that this is my favourite Escape Pod story of recent memory. Really very good and filled with a pleasing internal logic that doesn't disappoint upon further examination.

Well done, that man!



Arion

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Reply #23 on: April 19, 2009, 08:26:55 PM
There was one VERY important force in the world that was missed.  The pendulums used it.   If the ceiling was so incredibly high, simply by climbing much higher in their atmosphere, they could largely escape their fate.  Simply build very high up and a giant pendulum, then stopper up the great breath.  The pendulum loads empty lungs on one side of it's swing and unloads full ones on the other.   The lungs have a simple pressure-switch that snaps the lid shut at a particular air pressure (the bottom of the pendulum arc)    There.  A simple mechanical solution. :)

Also, if you want to get really geek-crazy...  There were magnets and glass lenses and mirrors.  That's enough conductors and semi-conductors to build vacuum tubes and a few simple IC.  You might be able to create an electric generator and use that to power an argon laser to try to puncture the shell, or at least liquefy chromium for making other tools which could then be used for digging away at the shell.  Of course, if it's infinitely thick, it's a futile act, but we never gain knowledge if we don't try to gain knowledge, right?


Interesting points, but in my opinion, the key phrase here is "largely escape their fate."  Sadly, since none of your proposed suggestions are the engineering grail that is the perpetual motion machine, it only delays the inevitable.

Not knowing what's on the other side of chromium shell, it could well be that cutting through to the other side would rather hasten their end in a decidedly abrupt manner.  (Sort of like if human-kind came up with a way to generate a singularity to harness the power of all that infinitely dense mass, but screwed up and ended up spaghettifying the earth...)



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Reply #24 on: April 20, 2009, 02:57:04 AM
This is a great one. My favourite from at least the past year.
It had a unique combination of:
- robots,
- a Victorian flavour in the writing style, an alternate technology that is (not steam, and is) sufficiently plausible to generate semi-serious discussion, and
- a bit of an "Euuuw" factor in the self-dissection scene.

Pressure Death of the Universe. What's not to love?

There was one VERY important force in the world that was missed.  The pendulums used it.   If the ceiling was so incredibly high, simply by climbing much higher in their atmosphere, they could largely escape their fate.  Simply build very high up and a giant pendulum, then stopper up the great breath.  The pendulum loads empty lungs on one side of it's swing and unloads full ones on the other.   The lungs have a simple pressure-switch that snaps the lid shut at a particular air pressure (the bottom of the pendulum arc)    There.  A simple mechanical solution. :)
But - operating the pendulums for the clocks (or anything) also uses up pressure. Climbing up high uses up pressure. Hauling things up high (for the use of the survivalists), whether by rope or by being placed on a pendulum, uses up pressure. TANSTAAFL.
« Last Edit: April 20, 2009, 02:59:00 AM by Planish »

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