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Author Topic: EP197: From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled…  (Read 11030 times)

Russell Nash

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on: May 01, 2009, 08:49:19 AM
EP197: From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled…

By Michael Swanwick.
Read by Sarah Tolbert.
First appeared in Asimov’s, Feb 2008.

Imagine a cross between Byzantium and a termite mound. Imagine a jeweled mountain, slender as an icicle, rising out of the steam jungles and disappearing into the dazzling pearl-grey skies of Gehenna. Imagine that Gaudí—he of the Segrada Familia and other biomorphic architectural whimsies—had been commissioned by a nightmare race of giant black millipedes to recreate Barcelona at the height of its glory, along with touches of the Forbidden City in the eighteenth century and Tokyo in the twenty-second, all within a single miles-high structure. Hold every bit of that in your mind at once, multiply by a thousand, and you’ve got only the faintest ghost of a notion of the splendor that was Babel.

Now imagine being inside Babel when it fell.


Rated PG. Contains the destruction of cities, a lack of trust, and sentient suits.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: September 10, 2009, 05:35:18 PM by Russell Nash »



contra

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Reply #1 on: May 01, 2009, 06:35:01 PM
I don't have a lot to say.  I really enjoyed it.  It brought a tear to my eye at the very end; hope and all that jazz.  We all do have our own hope for what the main character did next.

Though I found the insect aliens a lot more interesting than the humans... or suit.  But maybe whats because I knew how the humans would act here (stanle one, controlling the important one who befriends person they wouldn't normally be put with); while the aliens motivations were at least partly a mystery.

Reminded me a lot of the first ringworld book, and I really enjoyed that.

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Reply #2 on: May 01, 2009, 07:05:34 PM
I don't have a lot to say.  I really enjoyed it.  It brought a tear to my eye at the very end; hope and all that jazz.  We all do have our own hope for what the main character did next.

Though I found the insect aliens a lot more interesting than the humans... or suit.  But maybe whats because I knew how the humans would act here (stanle one, controlling the important one who befriends person they wouldn't normally be put with); while the aliens motivations were at least partly a mystery.

Reminded me a lot of the first ringworld book, and I really enjoyed that.

Reminded me a lot of How Lonesome A Life Without Nerve Gas, though minus the psychosis.

I would have liked a lot more time spent with the aliens as well, and I suspect their formal language worked a lot better in text than in audio.

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JeremiahTolbert

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Reply #3 on: May 01, 2009, 07:31:01 PM
I would have liked a lot more time spent with the aliens as well, and I suspect their formal language worked a lot better in text than in audio.

The nature of their formal language was something we really struggled with in the production of this one.  Steve and I discussed it and settled on that method.  You can see the text of the story on Asimov's Website here: http://www.asimovs.com/hugos_2009/Babels.shtml

Can anyone think of another way we could have done that?

Also, I wanted to say that I know that recording quality for Alasdair's intro was a bit of a problem this week still.  I think we're getting the bugs ironed out, and I hope you'll bear with us while we make it work.

Thanks for all your comments, everyone. 



Yargling

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Reply #4 on: May 01, 2009, 10:31:38 PM
I would have liked a lot more time spent with the aliens as well, and I suspect their formal language worked a lot better in text than in audio.

The nature of their formal language was something we really struggled with in the production of this one.  Steve and I discussed it and settled on that method.  You can see the text of the story on Asimov's Website here: http://www.asimovs.com/hugos_2009/Babels.shtml

Can anyone think of another way we could have done that?

Also, I wanted to say that I know that recording quality for Alasdair's intro was a bit of a problem this week still.  I think we're getting the bugs ironed out, and I hope you'll bear with us while we make it work.

Thanks for all your comments, everyone. 

Indeed - the verbal doesn't easily lend itself to the visual branching of their language. The meaning is harder to get, although even in textual form it can be tricky.

               ::(cautious) greetings::
                              |
               ::(Europan vice-consul 12)/Quivera/[treacherous vermin]::
                              |
               ::obligations <untranslatable> (grave duty)::
                              |                                 |
               ::demand/claim [action]::               ::promise (trust)::


I think it translates as "Greetings Quivera; I demand/claim the obligation of a grave duty that I require you to promise to do". Even so, very hard to tell if I'm even in the right ball park - still, aliens would be hard to understand language wise.

As for the story itself, I enjoyed it. Not sure I like the economics theories of that world, but still - nice story, interesting aliens, and the sound effects for the voice was very good. And to for our alien friends...

                                    ::Praise (noteworth)::
                                               |
                                        ::Tale (lie)::
                                   |                             |
                    :: Telling [action] ::               :: Content (information) ::
                                   |                             |                |
                    :: Audio (enjoyable) ::       :: Unique/varied :: :: World/setting (strong) ::
« Last Edit: May 01, 2009, 10:42:38 PM by Yargling »



deflective

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Reply #5 on: May 02, 2009, 12:15:12 AM
i had problems following the audio on this one.  the story was enjoyable when i read it and it's an obvious challenge to translate it into an audio performance, my respect for tackling something like this.  i was tired and distracted when i listened to it but i think there are a couple things that could have made it clearer for me.

if ever there was a need for a set-up in the introduction, this was it.  it would have made a huge difference if you let us know beforehand that the reader would be trying to present an alien sign language that the author had represented with a branched representation on the page.  not knowing this, combined with the synthesized voice effect, reduced those sections to confusing noise for me.  again, i was tired & distracted and it the previous compliments show that it worked for some people but the synthesized voice just served to make a challenging presentation even more difficult to understand.

it looks like the alien language has a variety of signs that are made with only one leg and others that are made with both legs.  there are times when a single, combined word is represented and other times each leg is representing a different word.  using the word 'branch' to represent each successive sign was confusing and unnecessary, pausing a beat would have been much better. those times when there was actually a branch (each leg signing a different word) use 'right' to signify one side and 'left' for the other.

the signs were also subtle enough to convey subtext (brackets) and overtones [square brackets], things we would normally represent with our tone and cadence.  the best way to represent this in an audio performance is to actually use use tone and cadence, things which were largely masked by the synthesization.  one example is to drop the voice to a lower register for (subtext) and raise it for [overtones].

anyway, that was my take on JeremiahTolbert's challenge.  i enjoyed the story but the reading didn't really work for me.



Darwinist

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Reply #6 on: May 02, 2009, 11:34:37 PM
I really liked this one, probably my favorite of the Hugo noms. 

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


allan

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Reply #7 on: May 03, 2009, 12:21:09 AM
I am curious.  Did anyone see a kind of structural similarity between this story and Le Guinn's, "The ones who walk away from Omelas"?  I don't have the two in front of me, but the deferential beginning, and the unresolved ending seemed like each other as far as my memory serves me.

And of course, both are about imperfect moralities.



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Reply #8 on: May 03, 2009, 06:20:43 PM
Mixed reaction to this one - the world building, especially the alien culture, but also the recognizable-yet-different human culture were brilliant, and kept me sustained. However, the interaction between the two - especially the moral/economic discussions and parallelisms - failed to engage me.

But I'd rather have flawed genius than flawless competence, especially in hugo candidates, and this certainly falls under the first category (of course, it's in the running against Exhalation, which has equal or greater genius, but, in my opinion, significantly smaller flaws. But it's head and shoulders over the other three stories).



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Reply #9 on: May 04, 2009, 01:49:58 PM
as soon as the modulated voice came on i had to pause this story and not come back to it.



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Reply #10 on: May 04, 2009, 03:45:11 PM
I just couldn't get into this one.  Maybe it's because the story doesn't lend itself well to audio; perhaps I'd have liked it if I'd been reading it.  "Exhalation" for the win, no question.

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Reply #11 on: May 05, 2009, 12:26:16 PM
I've heard this story before. I think. Maybe I just read it in Asimov's. But lately these has been so much duplication of content between Escapepod and Starshipsofa that I'm not sure.

But I liked it and liked the narration. Better than the previous time I read/heard it.

I didn't like it not having a real ending, in the sense we aren't told how it comes out in the end. There's enough of that in life.



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Reply #12 on: May 05, 2009, 01:47:02 PM
I liked the language best. The whole self-aware spacesuit thing was kind of confusing -- sometimes she's filing stuff under here and here with links to here, and other times she seems to be sentient. I'd rather the writer had picked one and stuck with it.

The story was WAAAAAAY too preachy when Carlos explains the concept of a capitalist system. That part should have been either trimmed or removed entirely. SF readers are smart enough to understand the concept of a trust- or information-as-capital society.

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eytanz

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Reply #13 on: May 05, 2009, 02:12:46 PM
The story was WAAAAAAY too preachy when Carlos explains the concept of a capitalist system. That part should have been either trimmed or removed entirely. SF readers are smart enough to understand the concept of a trust- or information-as-capital society.

Are you sure you meant "preachy"? I think it's didactic, and lecture-like, but it did not seem to be trying to preach anything.



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Reply #14 on: May 05, 2009, 08:40:23 PM
The story was WAAAAAAY too preachy when Carlos explains the concept of a capitalist system. That part should have been either trimmed or removed entirely. SF readers are smart enough to understand the concept of a trust- or information-as-capital society.

Are you sure you meant "preachy"? I think it's didactic, and lecture-like, but it did not seem to be trying to preach anything.

Well, yes, both of those things, but to my ears (trained by working in a college english department for three years) there was an undercurrent of "this is a bad way to run things".

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Heradel

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Reply #15 on: May 05, 2009, 08:49:14 PM
I would have liked a lot more time spent with the aliens as well, and I suspect their formal language worked a lot better in text than in audio.

The nature of their formal language was something we really struggled with in the production of this one.  Steve and I discussed it and settled on that method.  You can see the text of the story on Asimov's Website here: http://www.asimovs.com/hugos_2009/Babels.shtml

Can anyone think of another way we could have done that?

Also, I wanted to say that I know that recording quality for Alasdair's intro was a bit of a problem this week still.  I think we're getting the bugs ironed out, and I hope you'll bear with us while we make it work.

Thanks for all your comments, everyone. 

I have been thinking about how one could translate it differently, and I haven't found a way to do it better. I could make out what was being said, but I did have to listen to a few of them twice.

I Twitter. I also occasionally blog on the Escape Pod blog, which if you're here you shouldn't have much trouble finding.


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Reply #16 on: May 06, 2009, 03:03:57 PM
I would have liked a lot more time spent with the aliens as well, and I suspect their formal language worked a lot better in text than in audio.
and
I have been thinking about how one could translate it differently, and I haven't found a way to do it better. I could make out what was being said, but I did have to listen to a few of them twice.
For my part, I didn't feel like I needed to understand the alien's speech as it was being said.  I picked up enough of it to get the sense of how it 'worked' and what it might look like on the page.

However, the surrounding story gave enough context that I knew what had been meant, if not the specific way that meaning had been expressed.  In fact, I was impressed by that aspect of the writing.  It's not easy to refer to a foreign-language passage (think Han Solo/Chewbacca) in a way that communicates its meaning but isn't awkward and contrived.  "Yes, I do agree that the current political system is unstable and needs to be overhauled." Bleah.

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zerocrossing

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Reply #17 on: May 06, 2009, 06:10:39 PM
I would have liked a lot more time spent with the aliens as well, and I suspect their formal language worked a lot better in text than in audio.

The nature of their formal language was something we really struggled with in the production of this one.  Steve and I discussed it and settled on that method.  You can see the text of the story on Asimov's Website here: http://www.asimovs.com/hugos_2009/Babels.shtml

Can anyone think of another way we could have done that?

Also, I wanted to say that I know that recording quality for Alasdair's intro was a bit of a problem this week still.  I think we're getting the bugs ironed out, and I hope you'll bear with us while we make it work.

Thanks for all your comments, everyone. 

I didn't mind the alien language format, it's supposed to be hard to parse for us humans, but what often bothers me is the use of vocal effects like the harmonizer.  To me they just sound cheesy and make it hard to understand.  I usually listen to escape pod, well on a Pod of some sort (iPhone) and I purposely don't wear noise canceling headphones to avoid not hearing things like approaching cars.  The result is I very often can't understand the words at all.  I often even miss the Escape Pod episode title for the same reason.

So, while I liked the episode very much, I'd like to see the voice effects ditched all together or toned down a lot.  I bet you could get more intelligible speech using something like the Antares AVOX software. http://www.antarestech.com/products/avox.shtml



Russell Nash

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Reply #18 on: May 07, 2009, 07:10:15 PM
This one wasn't doing it for me and i ended up turning it off.



Nobilis

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Reply #19 on: May 07, 2009, 11:01:18 PM
I found the plot rather cliche, but the author hung a lampshade on it so it gave me a chuckle and that was okay.  In fact, he hung the lampshade upside-down.

Or something like that.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LampshadeHanging

The reading was particularly well done, and I, for one, liked the vocal alterations.  (How was that done, by the way?)  The challenge of the branching sign language was well-assailed.






DigitalVG

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Reply #20 on: May 12, 2009, 04:23:11 PM
Liked this one, though it was challenging as an audio experience.  Intellectually, I understood the translation of the alien's language by the computer.  It was basically a logic tree, interpreting direct words and then presenting possible meanings until it had collected enough data to render a possible interpretation.  It was just jibberish on longer bits though.

The other thing that might have been helpful would have been using a slightly different voice for the suit's autonomous functions from the copy of the woman's personality.  Perhaps the 'things I'm thinking' instead of 'things I'm saying' sort of sound could have been done post-recording with some simple effects.

I understand that the character in the suit could only hear the woman's voice, but for the audience, it would have been nice to make a small distinction between the suit's actions, the female personna's thoughts, and the female personna's vocalizations.


Other than that, very nice.  It's always a pleasure to hear a story with aliens that are _alien_ and not just a human stereotype and a bit of latex rubber on the bridge of their nose.



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Reply #21 on: May 10, 2010, 05:35:53 PM
I couldn't stand this one.  The alien vocals were near-incomprehensible to me.  I'm not sure how they could've been done in a more understandable way, but I just don't think it's well suited for audio.  I think that the EP team did as good a job as can be expected with the alien language, and I like the tradition of running the Hugo noms, so I can't really complain. 

The story itself, though, I just found extremely boring.  The beginning had me interested with this otherworldly Babel being destroyed.  I never really got a grasp for the setting other than that it was weird and outer-spacey, but that's not a big deal in an action scene.

And then the looooooooonnnnnnnng didactic discussion comparing and contrasting the economic systems of two different species.  It was about as interesting as economics can be, but not what I would call entertainment.  And it just kept on repeating the same points over and over again until finally I just gave up.

When a story's a nominee of a major award I expect something much better than this--I don't get how this one was a nominee.  I'm glad that Exhalation got the prize, because that one was really great.



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Reply #22 on: February 21, 2013, 02:25:01 AM
I think the producers made a good decision with the alien language, but a terrible decision with the footnotes. The footnotes should have either been re-written as asides or parentheticals (not bad) or excised completely (better). None of the obtrusive footnotes added anything of value to the story.

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