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Author Topic: EP229: Littleblossom Makes a Deal With the Devil  (Read 5779 times)
Swamp
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« on: December 18, 2009, 10:20:02 AM »

EP229: Littleblossom Makes a Deal With the Devil

by S. Hutson Blount.
Read by Eugie Foster.

From beneath the camouflage of kindling on her back came Grandma Thinkbox’s quiet voice. “You should have something hot to drink, child. Do not make yourself sick.”

“Yes, nainai. As soon as I check on Pig.”

After Comrade Liu had been evacuated with the last of the support troops, Xiaoying had rearranged the personality of her assistant battlefield AI into something that suited her better. If she were going to spend months carrying it around, she wasn’t going to listen to it drone on like a party chief. The way it talked now reminded her of her grandmother. The missiles had overlays for their small brains, too, and she’d decorated them with personalities as well. Boredom was a more immediate enemy than Japan.


Rated PG. Contains violence and political complexity.

This episode is sponsored by SleepPhones - Pajamas For Your Ears



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: December 18, 2009, 10:33:21 AM by Swamp » Logged

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KenK
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« Reply #1 on: December 18, 2009, 11:43:28 AM »

Steve E. was right; The diversity of world views in sci-fi is kinda limited. This was a nice change. Not everyone is concerned with whether we'll have flying cars, ray-guns, space travel and perfect, healthy bodies and technological marvels as it sometimes seems when you peruse the sci-fi milieu.

Times change and tech changes but people don't. Political independence, personal autonomy and national identity are a strong part of the human personality and probably always will be. Technology will improve but technology is always a double edged sword though. That is the viewpoint that the story conveyed to me.

I hope EP will feature more stories from perspectives beyond the American-European authors pool. There are some good ones out there, as this story clearly demonstrates.

Welcome back too, Steve.
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MasterThief
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« Reply #2 on: December 18, 2009, 05:13:42 PM »

An excellent story, not only because it deals with politics and nationalism and love of country (from a Chinese perspective, but I'd say the feeling is universal...)

The most unexpected part were the missiles, the AI, and the tank.  They were not just "gee-whiz" things, they were characters in their own right in this story.  That is the mark of good sci-fi.  Thumbs up for this one!
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Swamp
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« Reply #3 on: December 18, 2009, 05:16:51 PM »

I really enjoyed Eugie's reading.  It flowed very nicely and the Chinese names seemed effortless.
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camaraman
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« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2009, 11:00:36 AM »

Great story, I like when weapons of mass destruction are given loveable personalities!
Did I ever mention that I am easily amused?
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radlilim
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« Reply #5 on: December 19, 2009, 03:21:30 PM »

Loved it! Great voice work and the story itself was engaging from the start. Reprograming the AIs to have personalities was a great and using the Zodiac animals was a great oriental touch.
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cdugger
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« Reply #6 on: December 19, 2009, 04:49:36 PM »

Well, I WAS going to listen to this on my mp3 player today, while driving around.

Battery was dead.

Crap.

Monday. I promise.
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Yargling
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« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2009, 06:44:39 PM »

I've just finished listening to the story, and I have to say: Bloody good! It had alittle of everything and not too much of anything. It covered its ground and world building just enough to give us insights and not so much it got bogged down, it had hints to the chinese zodiac, and friendly helper AIs. And tanks. And missiles. And politics. Basically, it does everything well, and the reading was good. Nice work.

As for the return of Steve; good news, although I think Jerry got alot of undeserved flak. But regardless, welcome back Steve.
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wakela
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« Reply #8 on: December 20, 2009, 07:00:02 PM »

Big likes.  The writer could have said "She was lonely" but instead he talks about the cold and the snow and we get a sense of loneliness.  AI personalities were great and subtle, and we didn't have to go through the entire zodiac to know they were there.  This story truly felt like a tip a of the iceberg with 90% of the story being unseen but necessary.

Great reading, too. 

I'm finding it interesting to think of how the story would have been different if it were set in Alaska with an American believing the clowns in Washington had sold his country out, or the Saudi desert.  You could have exactly the same things happen, but the tone would be much different. 
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Yargling
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« Reply #9 on: December 21, 2009, 07:24:04 AM »

I'm finding it interesting to think of how the story would have been different if it were set in Alaska with an American believing the clowns in Washington had sold his country out, or the Saudi desert.  You could have exactly the same things happen, but the tone would be much different. 

Thats very true. China has a history similar to Russia in many ways; harash rulers for centuries, with foreigners defeating its army's in battles, and heavy internal conflicts eventually resulting in a communism party taking power. Although after that, the histories are somewhat different.

All of that seemed to flavour her emotions, feelings, and thoughts. The US does have a history featuring a rebellion against its homeland (Britain), but realistically, they've been a major power of the world for the last 60+ years, although sadly they repeat the mistakes of my people (the Brits), and other previous Empires.
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KenK
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« Reply #10 on: December 21, 2009, 09:07:13 AM »

Interesting observation Yargling. I see the USA as being in about the same situation as the Soviet Union was in the mid 1980's. An enormous political and military power sitting atop an untenable social and economic system. Like that old Chinese curse, we Americans may be in for some "interesting times".  Undecided
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cdugger
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« Reply #11 on: December 21, 2009, 09:46:19 AM »

OK, it's Monday, and, as promised, I listened.

First: It's so good to have Steve back. Things have been great lately, but I'm of the mind that Steve Ely and Escape Pod are supposed to go together. Maybe that's because I've listened from the 220's back to the 50's in EP episodes over the last, what, 2 months? PLUS Pseudopd, PLUS Podcastle. Good to hear your voice again, Steve!

Second: I really liked this story. It was extremely well written, probably one of, if not THE, best written stories on EP. As was mentioned previously here, so much was given to us by describing the atmosphere. We knew she was alone, but weren't told that. I found myself cold, confused, and angry, all with the character.

I didn't think I was going to like the reading at first, but found it perfect for the story. The plodding on through adversity was carried perfectly. A tightly controlled person being described by a near perfectly controlled voice. I almost felt like I was hearing the thoughts of the character.

Great job all around, guys!
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« Reply #12 on: December 22, 2009, 09:01:02 AM »

Oh, I get it, the devils are actually gwai lo.

Yeah. Figured that out pretty early on. Writing to a Western audience, though, I see how the reveal could work.

A pretty good story, I think.

Shao Ying being able to reprogram the missiles was a little difficult to believe -- I get the feeling she's a foot soldier type, perhaps a corporal or sergeant if not just a grunt. And that's because, unless something changed in China between now and the time this story took place, aren't women generally seen as second-class citizens in China? In the metropolitan areas, sure, women can be at least somewhat powerful, but to the best of my knowledge, women are currently not equal to men in most Asian cultures. Unless perhaps Shao Ying was the product of some sort of Young Communists program -- she was pretty strongly-programmed (so to speak) and that's why she was left behind, I think.

Anyway, beyond that I had no problems with the story. Her drive to save China was completely believable based upon what I know of Chinese culture, and the verification procedure bit at the end was right out of a fairy/morality tale.

Grandmother Thinkbox spitting out the maintenance cube at the last second was a little deus ex machina, though; I think the story could've been the same except that Shao Ying had to prove herself because GT was dead, not because they were not in maintenance mode anymore. One would think there'd be some sort of safety protocol where, if the main AI is destroyed, the missiles get locked down anyway pending security verification.

The reading was good, though there were some high-end artifacts in it. I'm not sure what they're called... little crackles on certain words and sounds.
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KenK
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« Reply #13 on: December 22, 2009, 09:48:18 AM »

The US Army uses TOW missiles that cost around $20k (each) and are operated by "grunts" as you put it albeit with fourteen weeks of additional training just to operate and maintain it. And that was ten years ago when I was active duty.  Roll Eyes

The real surprise for me was the integration of females into direct combat operations. The other was the way in she was abandoned without support in order to supervise six autonomous missiles. Hell, an expendable AI ought to be able to handle that. But that wouldn't make for a very good story though. My point is that too much technical  nit-picking tends to ruin the enjoyment of a good story.  Wink
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Listener
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« Reply #14 on: December 22, 2009, 10:07:09 AM »

The US Army uses TOW missiles that cost around $20k (each) and are operated by "grunts" as you put it albeit with fourteen weeks of additional training just to operate and maintain it. And that was ten years ago when I was active duty.  Roll Eyes

I totally flashed on the Christmas episode of Futurama where Robot Santa fired his Toe Missile.

I don't know a whole lot about the military, so I will defer to you.

FTR, "grunt" was not intended to be a derogatory term.
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MacArthurBug
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« Reply #15 on: December 22, 2009, 11:21:26 AM »

Gorgous well layered masterpiece. One of my new favorites for strength of plot. More like this!!
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Yargling
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« Reply #16 on: December 22, 2009, 08:44:20 PM »

Interesting observation Yargling. I see the USA as being in about the same situation as the Soviet Union was in the mid 1980's. An enormous political and military power sitting atop an untenable social and economic system. Like that old Chinese curse, we Americans may be in for some "interesting times".  Undecided

Possibly, but if the US goes down, at the present, China will follow because the US and Chinese economies are actually chained together. Alot of money was loaned by the Chinese to US businesses and offices, and should they bankrupt on the deals, its likely the Chinese economy will have a meltdown too.

Though the mistakes I was referring too had more to do with getting into wars with countries that have a history of causing problems for all involved (Afghanistan, and to a limited extent, Iraq), not learning the lessons of counter-guriella warfare from the Brits (and then later, Vietnam), and generally stuff along those lines. Also, championing freedom and democracy in one area (Israel, Iraq) whilst oppositing it elsewhere (Iran in the 1950's, Uzbekistan, Iraq when Saddam was installed), which just makes the Americans seem not credible.
I found myself cold, confused, and angry, all with the character.
Its too cold here at the moment to tell the difference Wink but the snow on the streets did add to a connection with the characters situation.


Oh, I get it, the devils are actually gwai lo.
I think its a term on the lines of the Old English word Orc, meaning "Foreigner/demon", which is ironically where Tolkien probably got his idea's from.

The Norman's of the invasion of 1066 where referred to by the local Brits as 'Orcs' because of their brutal methods and nature. Also, elves where forest spirits that could help or hurt humans. On a side note, it annoys me when people complain about Western fantasy being 'clones of Tolkiens world' when Tolkiens work was based on European folk lore as valid a folk lore as Eastern folk lore....erm, yes...

Back on topic...

Shao Ying being able to reprogram the missiles was a little difficult to believe -- I get the feeling she's a foot soldier type, perhaps a corporal or sergeant if not just a grunt. And that's because, unless something changed in China between now and the time this story took place, aren't women generally seen as second-class citizens in China? In the metropolitan areas, sure, women can be at least somewhat powerful, but to the best of my knowledge, women are currently not equal to men in most Asian cultures. Unless perhaps Shao Ying was the product of some sort of Young Communists program -- she was pretty strongly-programmed (so to speak) and that's why she was left behind, I think.

I'm not sure - she seemed more like a member of an elite forces unit, like the SAS or similar - the 'grunts' of such units tend to have strong skills a regular grunt wouldn't. That or a member of some sort of special insurrant unit.
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KenK
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« Reply #17 on: December 23, 2009, 07:05:27 PM »

Quote
...she seemed more like a member of an elite forces unit, like the SAS or similar - the 'grunts' of such units tend to have strong skills a regular grunt wouldn't. That or a member of some sort of special insurrant unit.
That's just how it seems today. Thirty years ago anyone who could operate a computer (way less complex than the one I'm using to write this) would be viewed by most lay-people as some kind of lab coat wearing witch doctor who could speak to machines. Today third-graders can program and do html and such like. And it'll be the same with soldiers as well in the not-too-distant future IMHO. The author's projecting the future of a trend was spot on in that particular regard.

And despite all their propaganda, coercion and social engineering Shao Ling still thought for herself and stayed faithful to what she believed in right until the end. The more things change the more they stay the same. Duty, honor, country.  Wink
« Last Edit: December 23, 2009, 07:07:55 PM by KenK » Logged
Boggled Coriander
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« Reply #18 on: December 24, 2009, 04:03:26 PM »

China is a formerly proud country laid low by a corrupt government and bought out by foreigners, and at war with the Japanese... seems a lot like WW2-era China, doesn't it?  This is a future where history may not be repeating itself, but it is rhyming. 
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KenK
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« Reply #19 on: December 24, 2009, 05:27:18 PM »

Quote
This is a future where history may not be repeating itself, but it is rhyming.

Well, it is fiction after all. I doubt the Japanese could prevail against China today. Damn good story though.  Grin
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