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Author Topic: EP078: The Shoulders of Giants  (Read 1364 times)
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« on: October 17, 2009, 05:05:50 PM »

EP078: The Shoulders of Giants

By Robert J. Sawyer.
Read by Stephen Eley.

The Pioneer Spirit was a colonization ship; it wasn’t intended as a diplomatic vessel. When it had left Earth, it had seemed important to get at least some humans off the mother world. Two small-scale nuclear wars‚ÄîNuke I and Nuke II, as the media had dubbed them‚Äîhad already been fought, one in southern Asia, the other in South America. It appeared to be only a matter of time before Nuke III, and that one might be the big one.

SETI had detected nothing from Tau Ceti, at least not by 2051. But Earth itself had only been broadcasting for a century and a half at that point; Tau Ceti might have had a thriving civilization then that hadn’t yet started using radio. But now it was twelve hundred years later. Who knew how advanced the Tau Cetians might be?


Rated PG. Contains minor profanity, and very tame references to populating new worlds. Hey, someone’s got to.


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« Reply #1 on: October 20, 2009, 07:03:37 PM »

ooh hey! nice seeing this here so I can comment on it! I adored this story it's in my little que or re-listens.
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« Reply #2 on: October 24, 2009, 08:21:30 PM »

Space ships!  This is one of the first EP's I listened to and I was hooked.  Still one of my favs.  Robert Sawyer is always solid. 
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« Reply #3 on: October 25, 2009, 11:17:49 PM »

See, I heard this one and mostly thought, "Man, what whinerbabies.  They come out of coldsleep into an amazing new world and all they can do is bitch about how they weren't there first?  And now they want to put an enormous drain on a thriving colony's likely-troubled economy just to give themselves another chance at hogging the glory?"

It seems terribly selfish to me.  There are likely a lot of ways they could actually be, y'know, useful to real, solid people right where they are, and maybe even do some more exploring and discovering once they've gotten their feet back under them.  Nothing as grand, sure, but if the goal is to help everyone and not just be giant narcissists, then that ought to be enough.

Basically, I feel like the theme here does a disservice to all the people who work hard to contribute in small ways, whether in moving forward the boundaries of scientific knowledge or in making future generations happier, healthier, and wealthier.  If you're not a Big Name, if you're not "FIRST!!!" then nuts to you.  You don't really matter.  These people are destined for bigger and better things than you'll ever achieve.  Push off, farmer providing for his family.  Take a hike, poorly-paid lab-monkey who helped put these colony ships together in the first place.  Sit and spin, Common Man.

I'm usually the biggest intellectual elitist around, but this story made me want to go find John Galt and punch him in the face.
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eytanz
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« Reply #4 on: October 26, 2009, 03:33:32 AM »

Basically, I feel like the theme here does a disservice to all the people who work hard to contribute in small ways, whether in moving forward the boundaries of scientific knowledge or in making future generations happier, healthier, and wealthier.  If you're not a Big Name, if you're not "FIRST!!!" then nuts to you.  You don't really matter.  These people are destined for bigger and better things than you'll ever achieve.  Push off, farmer providing for his family.  Take a hike, poorly-paid lab-monkey who helped put these colony ships together in the first place.  Sit and spin, Common Man.

I'm usually the biggest intellectual elitist around, but this story made me want to go find John Galt and punch him in the face.

That's a very interesting take - it honestly hadn't occured to me. I understood the story very much to the contrary - you have a ship manned by the people who are determined not to be common - they are the people who have the attitude you describe, the ones who are all about being "first". And they lose the race. The ones who were in it for the glory discover that while they were rushing ahead, everyone else, the regular people, overtook them.

They're not arriving to discover a colony sorely in need of assistance. They are arriving to discover a developed world that doesn't need them anymore. Why do you think a ship of several hundred people, with technology that is centuries old, will be helpful to a world of millions?

Now, I admit it's been a while since I heard this story, but I don't think they were putting an "enormous drain" on the colony's resources - they're getting some charity, sure, but I always thought it was just that. A small gesture from a colony that has a lot to spare. Maybe I'm just wrong here, or misremembering, but I really didn't get any sense that the colony was anything but prosperous, and that outfitting one ship was not something that they would think twice of.

The anology I get is if a sailing vessel left from Europe to North America in the 16th century, only to arrive in modern day Boston. I don't think the city will go bankrupt if they outfit their ship with modern sails and riggings.

Edit: (Ok, I relistened and found the part where they say starships are expensive. But still, I didn't get the sense it's an "enormous drain". Just not as insignificant a gesture as I said above. And the story makes it clear that the alternative is that the community will have to basically support the "colonists", since they don't have the skills to function properly in the society. The story says it's cheaper to do that, but the point is, the choice is basically between two ways to be a drain on this society, not between helping and hurting).
« Last Edit: October 26, 2009, 03:55:03 AM by eytanz » Logged
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« Reply #5 on: October 28, 2009, 05:30:05 AM »

I agree that the specific situation isn't necessarily as extreme as I painted.  (I do like my hyperbole.)

Nonetheless, the underlying message still rankles.  I'd have been a lot more sympathetic if the colony ship had stayed on the planet and the main characters spent a lot of time looking up at the stars and yearning.  Who can't understand regret and missed opportunities?  It's the way the story as a whole - the narrative structure of it - supports the idea that heading off further into space for no damned good reason is a good and noble action, whereas staying would somehow be terrible.  (I'm thinking specifically of the part where the man from the planet arrives breathlessly ready to fly off with the ship full of would-be colonists.  That's a pretty clear "what they have > what you have" statement on a symbolic/thematic level.)

I dunno.  Maybe I'm just not a "colonist."  If I arrived to find a fully functioning planet, my reaction would be "Woah, sweet!  Awesome!  Dude, the human race pulled it off!  Woo!"  I'd be fascinated to re-integrate into the culture again and learn all the new things.  Instead, they act like someone peed in their Cheerios.  I don't grok their instinctive response, and the structure and ending of the story tells me that because I don't, I'm not as good as they are, not as brave and noble, not a member of their elite class of mind that resents other people doing well or whatever.  (<- editorializing) 

The closest analogy/explanation I can think of is the attitude of athletes towards non-athletes.  I have no interest in sports.  None.  I enjoy competition, mind, and I love to play board games and so on, but I don't have some burning desire to win at all costs, to defeat my opponents and see them thrown down before me.  (Like, I love Magic: The Gathering, but I've never played tournaments and don't understand those who do.)  The vibe I've gotten all my life (from commercials, from my father, from coaches, etc.) is that this desire to win at any cost and be BETTER is inherent in the good athletes, and moreover is Just and True and Righteous, and it makes me feel small and worthless because I don't have that need to be BETTER expressed in that way.
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« Reply #6 on: February 11, 2010, 10:03:57 AM »

I'm with Scattercat on this one--their reaction didn't make much sense to me.  They thought the human race might be dead by the time they reached their destination and they're pissed off to find that's not the case.

And, a bigger question:  Why the hell didn't they thaw out the colonists and let them make their own choice?  I realize that their cryo-units are one-shot devices, but that doesn't mean that they couldn't make new cryo-units with the newest technology!  It might just be the engineer in me griping...  It's one of those things--if a story is trying to be hard SF I'm going to be much more nitpicky about the science than something that's obviously not hard SF.
1.  Some of the colonists might want to stay on Sorar.  I'd be pissed if I didn't at least get the opportunity.
2.  The cryo-units were designed to run for 1200 years, not 2 million.  Presumably they're safe over the 1200 year interval but there's no telling what they'll do over the long run.  Even if they run for 10,000 years I'd say that's pretty good considering the original design.  And then all the freezers short out and all of the colonists die.  Also, what if the power scheme of the new ship is incompatible?  What if the hardware/software is incompatible?  They're making some pretty big leaps of faith there.
3.  How are you going to move the cryo-units?  Presumably the cryos are running on ship-board power, so how are you going to move them from this ship to the new ship?  I doubt you can unplug a human freezer for transit without damaging the human inside.

Also, why did they have 4 extra cryo-units?  When she started her romance with the guy I was assuming there were no extras so they would have to leave with exactly the same number of people they arrived with.  Then suddenly at the end he says he wants to come and the 4 extra units are mentioned out of nowhere.  That's one of those details that would've been useful early on.
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