Author Topic: EP202: Will You Be an Astronaut  (Read 26660 times)

Russell Nash

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on: June 05, 2009, 02:37:34 PM
EP202: Will You Be an Astronaut

By Greg van Eekhout.
Read by Christiana Ellis.
First appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Astronauts are people who ride rockets into space.  They must train for a very long time before they go.  Astronauts must be brave and smart.

Will you be an astronaut?

* * *

The biggest rocket ever was the Saturn V.  On the launch pad it was taller than a 30-story building.  Today’s rockets are smaller and lighter.  Today’s rockets can be launched more than once.  They have wings and can come back to earth and land like airplanes.

When a rocket launches, it’s like an earthquake. The ground is shaking! There is flame and smoke. It’s like an explosion!

Antonio is strapped into his seat.  He is about to ride to a space station.  Because there is no air in space, Antonio must wear a space suit.  In the suit, Antonio can breathe and talk over radio.  He wears a helmet with a special faceplate that protects him from the sun.  The fingers of his gloves have tiny claws that help him work with small objects.

What’s all that noise? It must be a rocket! Astronauts are traveling to space!

5-4-3-2-1!  Lift off!


Rated PG-13. Deceptively G…



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: September 10, 2009, 05:36:39 PM by Russell Nash »



Russell Nash

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Reply #1 on: June 05, 2009, 02:39:21 PM
Maybe it's because I read two or three kiddy books a day to my kids, but this style got on my nerves really quickly.  The story overall was pretty good, but the way Christiana was selling it just rubbed me the wrong way.



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Reply #2 on: June 06, 2009, 01:43:34 AM
I actually liked the overall style and structure, and I respect what the author was trying to do.

But I feel like I zoned out during a crucial piece of exposition.  Or I just didn't connect the dots in the right way.  Was the listener supposed to be able to figure out what these Asps were, and where they came from?  How did Apollo 11 being lost tie in with everything else? 

I suspect things will become more clear for me once more people post in this thread.

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Reply #3 on: June 06, 2009, 03:20:42 AM
I wouldn't be so hopeful I'm having the same ??? feeling you are. But I didn't really like the style. Its just that imo if your going to write like that the story should really be for children (who are children on the outside not the inside ;D).

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Reply #4 on: June 06, 2009, 01:10:05 PM
Interesting story - abit of a dull start, but towards the end it really livened up. Enjoyable!

I actually liked the overall style and structure, and I respect what the author was trying to do.

But I feel like I zoned out during a crucial piece of exposition.  Or I just didn't connect the dots in the right way.  Was the listener supposed to be able to figure out what these Asps were, and where they came from?  How did Apollo 11 being lost tie in with everything else? 

I suspect things will become more clear for me once more people post in this thread.

The exposition was mainly just to explain that the story wasn't set in the rest world, I think.



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Reply #5 on: June 06, 2009, 03:43:26 PM
This was frustrating... I'm going to have to track down that F&SF where this was originally published, because the narration was just too much...

And I worship GVE.. That man's amazing.

Painful, painful narration.



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Reply #6 on: June 06, 2009, 07:55:11 PM
Interesting story - abit of a dull start, but towards the end it really livened up. Enjoyable!

I actually liked the overall style and structure, and I respect what the author was trying to do.

But I feel like I zoned out during a crucial piece of exposition.  Or I just didn't connect the dots in the right way.  Was the listener supposed to be able to figure out what these Asps were, and where they came from?  How did Apollo 11 being lost tie in with everything else? 

I suspect things will become more clear for me once more people post in this thread.

The exposition was mainly just to explain that the story wasn't set in the rest world, I think.

Yeah, it was just an indicator that the world the story is transpiring in has a different history than the world we inhabit today. Or, maybe.. I noticed how various Latin American & Spanish-speaking countries were spotlighted. I'm curious if it was intended that the Apollo 11 accident was meant to show that the U.S. lost interest in the space race after the calamity, and other countries took it up. Thus the "Spanish in space" thing. Just speculating.

Really enjoyed the story and felt the reading was well done. Decidedly different story structure, which was refreshing. I saw the end coming, but that's OK. It does raise the question: are there any more asps? Because once mankind loses its greatest weapon, the space station, aren't they all screwed? I kinda felt like that was a little unclear, but otherwise, another winner of a story. :)




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Reply #7 on: June 06, 2009, 09:13:12 PM
Interesting story - abit of a dull start, but towards the end it really livened up. Enjoyable!

I actually liked the overall style and structure, and I respect what the author was trying to do.

But I feel like I zoned out during a crucial piece of exposition.  Or I just didn't connect the dots in the right way.  Was the listener supposed to be able to figure out what these Asps were, and where they came from?  How did Apollo 11 being lost tie in with everything else? 

I suspect things will become more clear for me once more people post in this thread.

The exposition was mainly just to explain that the story wasn't set in the rest world, I think.

Yeah, it was just an indicator that the world the story is transpiring in has a different history than the world we inhabit today. Or, maybe.. I noticed how various Latin American & Spanish-speaking countries were spotlighted. I'm curious if it was intended that the Apollo 11 accident was meant to show that the U.S. lost interest in the space race after the calamity, and other countries took it up. Thus the "Spanish in space" thing. Just speculating.

Really enjoyed the story and felt the reading was well done. Decidedly different story structure, which was refreshing. I saw the end coming, but that's OK. It does raise the question: are there any more asps? Because once mankind loses its greatest weapon, the space station, aren't they all screwed? I kinda felt like that was a little unclear, but otherwise, another winner of a story. :)



From how the story read, the space station isn't the most critical, hard to replace part of that system - the Proton Cannons would be, and they were on independent satillites, linked by remote control. Hence, simply sending up a small temporary module to control the guns would probably work.



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Reply #8 on: June 06, 2009, 09:24:48 PM
I guess thats true, ja.



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Reply #9 on: June 06, 2009, 09:45:35 PM
Painful, painful narration.

I was really waiting for the narrator to let out a "Go, Antonio, go" line.

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Reply #10 on: June 06, 2009, 11:22:30 PM
I'm curious if it was intended that the Apollo 11 accident was meant to show that the U.S. lost interest in the space race after the calamity, and other countries took it up. Thus the "Spanish in space" thing. Just speculating.

Really enjoyed the story and felt the reading was well done. Decidedly different story structure, which was refreshing. I saw the end coming, but that's OK. It does raise the question: are there any more asps? Because once mankind loses its greatest weapon, the space station, aren't they all screwed?

it sounded like the world's major tech centers were hit in the initial asp (acronym?) attack.  the states & europe were damaged and struggling to rebuild, it was up to other people to create a global defense and prepare for the next attack.

the current defenses were probably already compromised when the asps learned how to jam radio signals, some sort of major change was needed.  maybe retrofit laser link relays into the firing platforms?

i went back and forth on the reading; irritating at times but appropriate.  it's one of the risks that comes with of performing a story instead of giving it a straight reading, you may add to the experience but it's also one more thing that could go wrong.



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Reply #11 on: June 07, 2009, 01:41:20 AM
ThisI'm going to have to track down that F&SF where this was originally published

Ideally, people would read along with the narration, just like small children when they're first learning about death from the sky. Give me a few days and I'll put the text up on my website with Creative Commons doohickeys, etc.

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Reply #12 on: June 08, 2009, 04:26:38 PM
I really enjoyed the style of this story. We've seen similar takes on sleeper agents and sympathetics who may or may not really be that (V, Battlestar Galactica), but I enjoyed hearing how the kids were reprogrammed at school.

Also, I thought Christina Ellis narrated this perfectly. I understand why it grated some people but for me she absolutely nailed the text books on tape feeling. I could even picture the photographs incorporated in the reading primers. The only thing missing was the beep to indicate when I was supposed to turn the page. (Although I'm thankful they weren't punctuating this story :) )


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Reply #13 on: June 08, 2009, 07:53:43 PM
So if I express concerns about the environment, such as pollution, deforestation, climate change, or overpopulation ... it indicates that I'm under alien control and working against the good of humanity?

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Reply #14 on: June 08, 2009, 08:11:21 PM
I really like how this story plays with our expectations. On the one hand, it hits all the notes to make us suspect the narrator - the obvious government paranoia and jingoistic brainwashing, the the fact that the the sign of contact with the aliens is concern about the environment, the fact that, at the end, the alien seems very benign. But then - everywhere the aliens touch ground, everything is dead. Not just the humans, but no plants or animals either. And it doesn't seem to be the case that this is self-inflicted by humanity (even though there are hints about "cleaners" and "quarantine"), because the only plausible way to get the level of destruction described by the story is mass nuclear war, and all the powers capable of large scale nuclear destruction were the first to go - so, unless the story is really unreliable, and there was mutual nuclear annihilation by the worlds largest powers and the aliens weren't really a factor, it seems that there really is a threat. And, quite likely, the aliens' benign sounding message is really a bigger lie than any of the propoganda in the story.

And isn't that thought more disturbing than the thought of government brainwashing? The thought that the government brainwashing is actually correct?



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Reply #15 on: June 08, 2009, 08:35:10 PM
Meh!  and Purple!



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Reply #16 on: June 08, 2009, 11:08:03 PM
Blugh.  The structure of this story rubbed me the wrong way.

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Reply #17 on: June 09, 2009, 11:52:05 PM
I love this, reading style and all - I have a soft spot for children's stories and subversions of them, there's something purer about the message even in the satire, and want more.  Its pacing is fantastic in building the "good vs. evil" propaganda up to something unsettling and wrong-feeling.  I would have liked to know more of the truth, as a lot of eytanz's question were mine.  The asps keep promising "warm" and "alive" and "soft" and it makes me wonder if mankind is somehow more machine than men now, or if it's just the technology itself they're referring to. 



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Reply #18 on: June 10, 2009, 08:39:37 AM
... so, unless the story is really unreliable, and there was mutual nuclear annihilation by the worlds largest powers and the aliens weren't really a factor, it seems that there really is a threat. And, quite likely, the aliens' benign sounding message is really a bigger lie than any of the propoganda in the story.

And isn't that thought more disturbing than the thought of government brainwashing? The thought that the government brainwashing is actually correct?
Something that has intrigued me over the decades is how popular fiction, TV, movies, etc. keep revising who or what is an acceptable default "enemy". The "bad guys" have a habit of becoming mere "rogues", or antiheroes, or fellow victims of circumstance. (Hey, look at "The Sopranos". Would that show have been possible as a regular TV series in, say, 1965?) Without an spectacular atrocity to pin on them, you have to treat them as regular folks driven to desperate acts, requiring character development ... yadda-yadda, which eats up screen time. The Asps are a vague kinda' enemy. We're told that they were responsible for the desolation, but somehow I think of the attempts at telepathic control to be more convincing that it is an alien threat. Other than that, they seem to exist as only [purple?] lines on a screen.

Which brings to mind the notion of people fighting wars by remote control from bunkers, rather than face-to-face in the field. They're just dots on a screen or icons in a HUD.

I wonder how this story would have been be received prior to 9/11.

Quote
The asps keep promising "warm" and "alive" and "soft" and it makes me wonder if mankind is somehow more machine than men now, or if it's just the technology itself they're referring to.

It suggested to me that the Asps are so alien that they have a totally different notion of what should appeal to humans, like a kid trying to tempt a fish with a chocolate bar.

Unrelated to all of the above: I kept thinking of the Dragonriders of Pern, defending the planet from Thread.

[later]
Oh great. Now I have the idea from rereading eytanz' post that maybe the Asps showed up to put a stop to the nukes, and the PowersThatBe are trying to blame the desolation itself on the Asps. Except the Earth seems pretty unified now, so what's the point?
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Reply #19 on: June 14, 2009, 04:00:43 PM
Maybe this is reading too much into the story that isn't there, but maybe the part about the asps causing scorched earth is a lie?

At any rate, i was going to post how i thought this reading was perfect for this style, even to the point of being able to hear the beep when the slide was supposed to change, but Dave beat me to it. =)



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Reply #20 on: June 14, 2009, 07:49:28 PM
I liked the story but the ending confused me a bit.  I thought the narration was kind of neat, reminded me of being read to in kindergarten.   I think if the story would have been longer it eventually would've wore me down, though.  I didn't understand why Antonio chose to sacrifice an entire space station to kill that particular asp.  They didn't seem like they were a dime a dozen in this version of the future. 

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


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Reply #21 on: June 15, 2009, 04:16:15 AM
After to listening to this again I found I enjoyed this a lot more. It reminded me, very lightly, of Ender's Game where children are slowly turned into soldiers. But thats only skin deep because this story has a different flavor than Ender's Game. I think that the children are slowly trained without their knowledge and shown things throughout childhood that tell the answers to the questions of the people at the food depot. Although come to think of it im assuming that antonio was still a child..... Under that assumption he might not draw a connection between the station being badly damaged and asps being stopped. Also long term thinking isn't a strong point for children. From what I've heard the guns are orbital and don't have that much to do with the station other than its near and therefore it would have little to no lag between guns and when he pulls the trigger. Lag could be why they don't control them from the ground. Anyways, Antonio no longer sees himself as human hes a blue circle and that is a purple line, blue circles stop purple lines.

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Reply #22 on: June 16, 2009, 07:16:25 AM
One thing makes me suspect unreliable narrator more than anything: manual targeting for space weapons. Totally ludicrous. (Or just the writer has been brainwashed by stupid TV scifi.  :))


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Reply #23 on: June 16, 2009, 01:38:54 PM
The style of a children's book was totally nailed here, and I liked the little nods to when exactly this might be taking place -- I put it between 2050 and 2100. However, it was really LONG, for a children's book. My daughter loves "Curious George Goes Fishing" -- it's the longest book she owns that isn't a peek-a-boo one-line-per-page book (there's a LOT of words in it) -- and I get so tired of reading it because it's sooooooo loooooong. (Yet I read huge books to myself all the time. Go figure.) I would more see this as a series... "Will You Be an Astronaut #1: Antonio Goes to Space", "#2: Where do Astronauts Come From?", "#3: What do Astronauts Know?" et al.

I think because the single book was so long, I started thinking "okay... now it's going to end... no, now it's going to end... no, now it's going to end... oh jeez just let it END".

The part about the worms was a little heavy-handed even though the audience is children (the audience of the children's book, not the audience of Van Eekhout's story).

I think the reader did a good job, though I'd rather have heard Steve or Dani Cutler or Mur Lafferty; Steve has the right touch of earnestness for this, and the two ladies can do young voices very well. I know the narrator isn't necessarily a child, but adults tend to read to children in a certain way that I think they could have done. Actually, I wish I'd narrated this story.

Good all around.

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Reply #24 on: June 16, 2009, 03:25:10 PM
The style of a children's book was totally nailed here, and I liked the little nods to when exactly this might be taking place -- I put it between 2050 and 2100. However, it was really LONG, for a children's book. My daughter loves "Curious George Goes Fishing" -- it's the longest book she owns that isn't a peek-a-boo one-line-per-page book (there's a LOT of words in it) -- and I get so tired of reading it because it's sooooooo loooooong. (Yet I read huge books to myself all the time. Go figure.) I would more see this as a series... "Will You Be an Astronaut #1: Antonio Goes to Space", "#2: Where do Astronauts Come From?", "#3: What do Astronauts Know?" et al.

Interesting. I kind of took it as part of a text book for school. If they were teaching from this in elementary, like 4th or 5th grade, the length of this would be just right :)


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Reply #25 on: June 16, 2009, 10:42:33 PM
One thing makes me suspect unreliable narrator more than anything: manual targeting for space weapons. Totally ludicrous. (Or just the writer has been brainwashed by stupid TV scifi.  :))

How do fighter pilots or patriot missiles banks acquire targets lock-ons?  Hmmm?  Same deal with these space weapons.  Automated space weapons can only pick up potential targets, but not tell what they are (space debris, asteroid, comet, friendly craft, satellite, or hostile asp) or if they should be fired on.  You'd need human intervention to call the final shot.



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Reply #26 on: June 17, 2009, 02:13:09 PM
The style of a children's book was totally nailed here, and I liked the little nods to when exactly this might be taking place -- I put it between 2050 and 2100. However, it was really LONG, for a children's book. My daughter loves "Curious George Goes Fishing" -- it's the longest book she owns that isn't a peek-a-boo one-line-per-page book (there's a LOT of words in it) -- and I get so tired of reading it because it's sooooooo loooooong. (Yet I read huge books to myself all the time. Go figure.) I would more see this as a series... "Will You Be an Astronaut #1: Antonio Goes to Space", "#2: Where do Astronauts Come From?", "#3: What do Astronauts Know?" et al.

Interesting. I kind of took it as part of a text book for school. If they were teaching from this in elementary, like 4th or 5th grade, the length of this would be just right :)

Really? Awful simple textbook. Of course, it HAS been more than two decades since I was in elementary school.

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Reply #27 on: June 17, 2009, 03:36:53 PM
Heh. I meant it would've been a section from a text book.

Ah, substitute teaching. How I miss it :)


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Reply #28 on: June 17, 2009, 07:54:03 PM
Ironically or fittingly, "Will You Be an Astronaut?" has been excerpted in Scope, a language arts magazine published by Scholastic and distributed to schools. Fiction sometimes mushes up against reality in strange ways.

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Reply #29 on: June 19, 2009, 11:32:27 PM
I thought Christiana Ellis did a good job narrating this children's indocrination book.  But with that being said, I have never liked books that talk down to kids, even when I was learning to read, and that is what this felt like.

I do realize that hippies and eco terrorists are the scourge of humanity, which is what I took away from the story.  But even though the story echoes my beliefs, I do not like feeling bludgened with it.  I have criticized other stories which beat me over, and over with hippy tripe.  So this story beat me up with anti-hippy rhetoric, whether pro or con my head still hurts from the heavy hand used to beat me. 

When these worms start planting gardens and wearing peasent shirts, they suddenly become enemies of humanity?  The story never associated these Asp influenced humans with violent behavior which I find puzzling.  Wouldn't a propaganda book at least tell horror stories about the damage done by these worms, instead of saying they "say strange things"? 

My rambling is done so in keeping with  the lower education theme it's time for grading.
Reading    B
Concept   C
Execution  D

Overall Grade a solid C
 



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Reply #30 on: June 20, 2009, 01:25:13 PM
When these worms start planting gardens and wearing peasent shirts, they suddenly become enemies of humanity?  The story never associated these Asp influenced humans with violent behavior which I find puzzling.  Wouldn't a propaganda book at least tell horror stories about the damage done by these worms, instead of saying they "say strange things"? 

If the asps really were out to destroy humantiy, I think the point of the worms was not to act as direct agents, but to lower humanity's guard. The asps don't need help killing humans, they need help eliminating technology.



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Reply #31 on: June 23, 2009, 12:47:28 AM
Man, it was hard to swallow the narration here.  Don't get me wrong, it was perfect for the story, but it was just hard to bear.  I did get used to it after awhile though, once the Asps came in and the story got rockin.
I really enjoyed this story.  I was wondering if it was going to take an Ender's Game route and was happy when it didn't.



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Reply #32 on: June 23, 2009, 01:53:06 AM
And isn't that thought more disturbing than the thought of government brainwashing? The thought that the government brainwashing is actually correct?
I think you hit the nail on the head here.  My interest level would have dropped to zero if the Asps or the government had ended up being pure evil.  I dreaded the reveal that the humans had caused the gray areas through environmental neglect and was relieved when it didn't happen. 

The brainwashing of children to rat on their neighbors and parents was chilling, but made even more so by the fact that it actually sounded like a good idea.  Why don't more writers try to make things truly morally ambiguous? 

I did find the reading tedious, but I thought it completely appropriate for the story.  Ellis did a great job, but maybe this isn't the best story for audio.



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Reply #33 on: June 23, 2009, 03:00:08 AM
also notable: the similarity between asp & tasp (a device from the known space series that disables people by remotely stimulating the pleasure centers).  like in mars attacks, if an alien race keeps assuring you that they're friends while they're killing you then you got to stop listening at some point.



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Reply #34 on: June 23, 2009, 03:45:41 AM
also notable: the similarity between asp & tasp (a device from the known space series that disables people by remotely stimulating the pleasure centers). 

The word "asp" puts me in mind of snakes.

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Reply #35 on: June 24, 2009, 05:06:59 AM


Am I the only one that thought of this?



Russell Nash

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Reply #36 on: June 24, 2009, 07:49:37 AM

Am I the only one that thought of this?

Nope.  I also had this:



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Reply #37 on: June 25, 2009, 09:23:10 PM
I loved the way this story was told.

It was just the right amount of over-saccharin blandness that you would expect from a sort of children's info-mercial or school lesson about 'aliens up there in space'.

The story itself (earth is being attacked, the Asps appear to have a different philosophy (or more likely would still be attacking and wiping out earth whatever we were doing), there are brave astronauts/soldiers defending us....) wasn't so amazing, imo.

But the atmosphere, i.e. being in the midst of what sounds like a pretty brutal invasion and but being shown it through this overly-positive narration - excellent.



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Reply #38 on: June 25, 2009, 11:06:08 PM

Am I the only one that thought of this?

Nope.  I also had this:


Ah, but Missile Command had the purple lines!



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Reply #39 on: June 26, 2009, 06:18:32 AM

Am I the only one that thought of this?

Nope.  I also had this:


Ah, but Missile Command had the purple lines!

Which is why I thought of Missile Command along with Space Invaders.



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Reply #40 on: June 26, 2009, 08:09:30 AM
One thing makes me suspect unreliable narrator more than anything: manual targeting for space weapons. Totally ludicrous. (Or just the writer has been brainwashed by stupid TV scifi.  :))

Possibly the aliens use devices or natural abilities to block or jam radar. Visual scanning would be the only way, and as far as I'm aware, the methods for computer-based visual scanning have only just really come into place.



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Reply #41 on: October 12, 2009, 07:22:32 PM
Another story that fell in the middle for me.  I thought that the format was interesting at first, but eventually seemed forced.  It was somehow clever and predictable at the same time.  I may have to go back and listen to this one again.  5/10

The cow says "Mooooooooo"


Jago Constantine

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Reply #42 on: November 26, 2009, 12:49:29 PM
Just a note that my weekly science fiction discussion group in Second Life listened to this story the other week and enjoyed it - we plan to make listening to episodes of Escape Pod a regular part of our meeting schedule  :)



Bdoomed

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Reply #43 on: December 01, 2009, 06:01:08 PM
Just a note that my weekly science fiction discussion group in Second Life listened to this story the other week and enjoyed it - we plan to make listening to episodes of Escape Pod a regular part of our meeting schedule  :)
That is beyond awesome

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?


Merkuri

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Reply #44 on: December 02, 2009, 01:30:25 PM
I would pay to get a copy of this story actually illustrated like a children's book with full-page colorful pictures of each scene.  I imagine such a book would have to have some sort of warning on the cover similar to the warning given at the beginning of the podcast.  When I listened to the story I imagined the narrator sitting in a room of children, reading the story and holding up the pictures for everyone to see.



CryptoMe

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Reply #45 on: December 04, 2009, 01:09:00 AM
When I listened to the story I imagined the narrator sitting in a room of children, reading the story and holding up the pictures for everyone to see.

Yes, I got this impression also. It's like story time at kindergarten. The author's choice of words and style reflect this very clearly.
« Last Edit: December 04, 2009, 01:11:02 AM by CryptoMe »



ahutson

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Reply #46 on: January 01, 2010, 11:27:10 AM
One of the most memorable Escape Pod stories, and one of my favorite readings.  If I knew how, I would add ambient music and sound effects.  I keep searching for other readings by Christiana Ellis without much luck.  Have heard more of Greg Van Eekhout's pieces on Drabblecast, I think.  His website, writingandsnacks.com, he mentions that he writes for both children and adults.



stePH

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Reply #47 on: January 03, 2010, 07:49:45 PM
One of the most memorable Escape Pod stories, and one of my favorite readings.  If I knew how, I would add ambient music and sound effects. 

Wouldn't that violate the "no derivatives" terms of the CC license?

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Reply #48 on: April 26, 2010, 05:59:51 PM
At first, the narration really grated on me.  The narrator did a good job, and it fit the story very well, but it's just not what I like to listen to.  But as the story went on it got better.  For me the story had three major stages:

1.  A kid's books about astronauts.  A little dull for me, just telling kids about astronauts. Astronauts are cool but was a tidge bit too educational.
2.  A kid's book about astronauts fighting beasties and death on a massive school is a fact of life to the extent that it's even explained in kid's books.  This particularly hit home when the story started pointing out that the children's families could die and things like that.
3.  A kid's book that's probably government brainwashing.  By the end of the story I seriously doubted that the asps were real at all.  I'm figuring that the superpowers messed up and blasted each other with nukes, leaving other countries to rise to power.  These other countries make up the asps to give them something to unite against, and to give them an excuse to kill hippies.  This particularly hit home when it was telling the kids to watch out for those people who are acting "weird", and to report them to three other adults.  That sounded an awful lot like a Red Scare.

It's hard to pull off a multi-stage tone change like that and overall I really liked it.  I'm also glad for the warning at the beginning that warned that it was not a kid's story--that kept me listening long enough to get to the good parts.