Escape Artists
December 22, 2014, 07:04:34 PM *
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.

Login with username, password and session length
News:
 
   Home   Help Search Login Register  
Pages: [1] 2 3  All
  Print  
Author Topic: EP238: Wind From a Dying Star  (Read 11552 times)
Swamp
Hipparch
******
Posts: 2224



WWW
« on: February 13, 2010, 06:01:30 PM »

EP238: Wind From a Dying Star

By David D. Levine.
Read by Meg Westfox.

First appeared in Bones of the World, ed. Bruce Holland Rogers.

After a time she found a small patch of zeren. She spread across it, taking a little solace from its sparkling sweetness. “Zero-point energy” was what Old John called it, but to Gunai and the rest of her tribe it was zeren, delicious and rare. Gunai recalled a time when zeren was something you could almost ignore — a constant crackling thrum beneath the surface of perception — but now there were just a few thin patches here and there. These days the tribe subsisted mostly on a thin diet of starlight, and even that was growing cold. Soon they would be forced to move on again. Yeoshi had told her the foraging was better in the direction of the galactic core, but it was so far…

Rated PG. Contains sacrifice and space battles. Of a sort.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: February 14, 2010, 06:51:46 PM by Swamp » Logged

Facehuggers don't have heads!

Come with me and Journey Into... another fun podcast
KenK
Guest
« Reply #1 on: February 13, 2010, 06:40:46 PM »

Well that was pretty cool in a eschatological sort of way! I thought that the entities might be something like lost satellites, probes or space craft that somehow gained sentience. And then I thought that they might be microbes in a petri dish too. I think SE is right about what he said in the outro about stories with wide scope. They're very hard to do well and I thought this one was a noble effort. I'm still not sure what the wolves in the story were supposed to be though. Any ideas out there?
Logged
Subgenre
Guest
« Reply #2 on: February 14, 2010, 02:27:05 PM »

This reminds me of two other stories I've heard in audio format.

One is the excellent escapepod episode In The Late December, the other is the story of a posthuman warrior riding a rogue meteoroid and encountering a consciousness cluster (was that from here or Starshipsofa, I wonder...).

All three feature a really posthuman future where humans have evolved into spacefaring individuals (or individual forms at least, considering the consciousness clusters which imply collective intelligences). The idea of us neither staying a race of tool using city-dwellers or all conglomerating together into one big singularity and turning planets into computronium matroska brains fascinates me. It makes sense though as the sort of end-game of transhumanism. When all the cyborgs and bio-engineered space dwellers figure out a way to live without all the junk and clutter of habitats and so on indefinitely, wouldn't they?

I also liked how the hunter-gatherer society combined with the dying stars evoked the feeling of ice age hominids, trying to eke out a way of life and survive until the big thaw. Or in this case, to try to make it Coreward until the Cosmic AC resets the universe or something.





Logged
eytanz
Moderator
*****
Posts: 4721



« Reply #3 on: February 15, 2010, 04:52:43 AM »

I liked the ideas and worldbuilding behind this one more than the actual story. The "we advanced so far we've come full circle" trope was really well executed. And the story did a great job of introducing the vast differences between the post-human space tribe and humanity in comprehensible terms. But not much of a fan of the plot, which kind of fell flat to me.
Logged
eytanz
Moderator
*****
Posts: 4721



« Reply #4 on: February 15, 2010, 04:57:09 AM »

I'm still not sure what the wolves in the story were supposed to be though. Any ideas out there?

The story seems to take place somewhere with no non-human sentient life; but maybe the wolves are what remains of another civilisation that died out and whose society has devolved to animalistic behavior. Or maybe they are weapons left over from an older war (though it would have to be a pretty large-scale war if they are spread out throughout the galaxy, larger by far than the one that took place in the solar system).
Logged
Yargling
Peltast
***
Posts: 139



« Reply #5 on: February 15, 2010, 09:06:35 AM »

Loved this one after a brief slow bit at the start. Very sci-fi and yet very human  Grin
Logged
Sylvan
Palmer
**
Posts: 78



WWW
« Reply #6 on: February 15, 2010, 08:22:01 PM »

There is an ...urge... in me, in all of us, to try to race forward to understand speculative fiction and incorporate its differences into our minds as quickly as possible.  Those who love it really want to consume it, digest it, and hold it as part of us for all eternity before moving on in search of the next meal.  We love it so much that we are "the fans":  the fanatics.  And I bring this up because this urge in me almost made me miss what has been one of the best Escape Pod stories in a long time.

"Wind From a Dying Star" is one of those tales that you need to chew.  This isn't something you gobble down.  I know that I wanted to and, in fact, I did so in the early moments, trying to wrap my head around the descriptions and setting in an effort to understand and pull myself into it all.  That, however, was a mistake.

Mr. Levine expertly revealed his world to us in slow, steady passages with just the right amounts of metaphor.  He gave us Old John, with whom we could identify.  He used terminology that we know from science and science fiction (zero-point energy) and related it to this future culture in an integral way that propelled the story forward.  All of this was revealed as the plot unfurled.

To have tried to rush forward at the beginning and get ahead of it was a mistake on my part.  I had to realize I was dealing with an expert story-teller, here, and slow down.

Boy, and am I ever glad I did!

Whether or not you believe in "the singularity" or even the concept of something being so futuristic as to be completely alien, "Wind From a Dying Star" allows us to see that world and understand it through expertly translating it for us while still managing to seem alien and strange.  It was, simply, beautiful; elegantly alien and futuristic on the edge of our ultimate future!

Top-notch work; thank you, Escape Pod for publishing this online for us!

Yours,
Sylvan (Dave)
Logged
yicheng
Matross
****
Posts: 221


« Reply #7 on: February 16, 2010, 05:13:26 PM »

It was a nice story, but I felt that it dwelt too much on the sacredness of "humanity".  I think at this point, these beings were as far from humans as present-day human would be from early hominids.  Even the most pro-evolution of us certainly wouldn't feel inspired to call ourselves as "lemurs" or "apes".  There might be a scientific interest, at best.  It just struck me as sort of egotistical to think that present-day humanity should be so high-esteemed by later generations millions of years later.  It was a good story in other respects, though.
Logged
cdugger
Peltast
***
Posts: 144

I read to be smart...er.


« Reply #8 on: February 16, 2010, 08:37:10 PM »

Good reading, but I had to start it twice. The tale started slow, with little explanation of who, what, where, and when. It took a while to get to know the characters. On a short story, "a while" is too long.

But, it came through in the end. Enjoyable!
Logged

I read, therefore I am...happy.
Ocicat
Castle Watchcat
Moderator
*****
Posts: 2212


Anything for a Weird Life


« Reply #9 on: February 16, 2010, 11:19:51 PM »

I thought the rate of unfolding was just fine.  Might have been a tad easier to figure out in text, but even in audio it was easy to tell that there was a lot we didn't know in the beginning of the story, and that you had to keep an open mind on questions like "where" "what" and "who".  The "why" of the story was perhaps a little under-explored, but I enjoyed the character of Old John quite a bit.  Regardless of setting, the story of the veteran who doesn't want his children to see the darkness he feels within him is timeless.  He's been though a lot, and his humanity has been compromised.  In this story, literally.
Logged
Listener
Hipparch
******
Posts: 3184


I place things in locations which later elude me.


WWW
« Reply #10 on: February 18, 2010, 08:22:23 AM »

It was a nice story, but I felt that it dwelt too much on the sacredness of "humanity".  I think at this point, these beings were as far from humans as present-day human would be from early hominids.  Even the most pro-evolution of us certainly wouldn't feel inspired to call ourselves as "lemurs" or "apes".  There might be a scientific interest, at best.  It just struck me as sort of egotistical to think that present-day humanity should be so high-esteemed by later generations millions of years later.  It was a good story in other respects, though.

Agreed.

As for me, I didn't care for this story. Far-future-evolved-humanity stories are often hard for me to like anyway, though I was warming to this one when suddenly it's ZOMG EARTH IS GOING TO DIE and I instantly knew what was going to happen.

Then the story got preachy -- humanity overusing its resources, preparing to fight million-year wars, Old John having a weapon/being a weapon... and using the bomb to save everyone's life via its energy felt cliche to me in the "using something destructive to instead create/save life" way.

That said, Old John's sacrifice was very well done.

I also didn't understand the motivation of the humans -- what did they do? What was their purpose? To just exist? Steve mentioned that in his outro and I guess I understand it, and the tribal metaphors used in the story seem to bear that up. I think there may have been too much metaphor when the bad guy were called wolves, though.

Overall, I think it was probably a good story, but it wasn't a good story for me.
Logged

"Farts are a hug you can smell." -Wil Wheaton

Blog || Quote Blog ||  Written and Audio Work || Twitter: @listener42
Gamercow
Hipparch
******
Posts: 649



« Reply #11 on: February 18, 2010, 10:51:50 AM »

Even the most pro-evolution of us certainly wouldn't feel inspired to call ourselves as "lemurs" or "apes".  There might be a scientific interest, at best.  It just struck me as sort of egotistical to think that present-day humanity should be so high-esteemed by later generations millions of years later.  It was a good story in other respects, though.

We might feel differently if one of the lemurs or apes we evolved from was still around and telling us stories about the past, as Old John was to the evolutionary descendants of current humans.
Logged

The cow says "Mooooooooo"
kibitzer
Purveyor of Unsolicited Opinions
EA Staff
*****
Posts: 2019


Kibitzer: A meddler who offers unwanted advice


« Reply #12 on: February 19, 2010, 02:52:41 AM »

I found this one difficult to like. I think it's because the "humans" were so far evolved that I really felt no connection with them -- I basically didn't care what happened to the characters.

Now, I understand they retained recognisably human emotions, motivations and reactions. But still, they were just blobs of energy to me -- like The Crystalline Entity or even the space jellyfish in "Encounter At Farpoint".

In far-future stories there's often a contemporary human to anchor the perceptions and perspectives. For example, Clarke's Childhood's End had the last human alive witnessing the final (or beginning?) evolutionary leap away from being body-bound. His 2001 had a completely human character becoming something far different, but after the change I still identify with Bowman. Wells' Time Machine had the traveller as the observer of far-distant humanity and beyond that, the dying earth. Through all the strangeness I care what happens to the traveller.

I'm aware the examples I've offered essentially deal with meat-humans rather than energy forms. My point is: relating to energy forms and pondering how they might live, love, think, react is -- for me -- a purely intellectual exercise that doesn't engage my emotions. As fascinating as the premise is, in this context it's only that -- an intellectual puzzle that I can easily discard since I fundamentally don't care what happens.

(To underline: this my opinion -- I'm not saying the story is crap at all; clearly many have enjoyed it).
Logged

yicheng
Matross
****
Posts: 221


« Reply #13 on: February 19, 2010, 09:05:13 AM »

We might feel differently if one of the lemurs or apes we evolved from was still around and telling us stories about the past, as Old John was to the evolutionary descendants of current humans.

How do you know they're not?
Logged
wakela
Hipparch
******
Posts: 779



WWW
« Reply #14 on: February 19, 2010, 11:23:32 PM »

I realize that when you write a story set this far into the future you can kind of make up you own rules, and I like stories like this.  You can suspend 90% of your disbelief.  But there were a few things that still seemed unlikely.  They would undergo a dangerous journey to a distant place without any weapons or stored "food."   Also, I was willing to accept that they could not absorb energy from the Sun despite their finding the wind, i.e. energy, strong enough to want to hide from it.  But then they could absorb energy from a bomb, and I thought it seemed kind of iffy.  And they would have known before hand that they were getting low on food, but the didn't seem concerned. 

I go back and forth regarding the anti-war message.  It seemed very preachy and cliche, but then I realized that it might be a little too preachy and cliche.  John is so consumed with his guilt that he is even uncomfortable using his weapons to defend the tribe against a non-intelligent enemy.  And he doesn't want to tell the bad stories from his past even though that may be the best way to keep them from repeating it.  In this light the story seems, while not pro-war, anti-anti-war.   The remaining humans are so peaceful and innocent that they are more like children, but they are still in a world of wolves, and John could have prepared them but didn't.  I know none of this is explicitly stated, but the author does go to the trouble of saying that the wolves are non-intelligent.  If he wanted an anti-war message, why do this?

I did like the same stuff that Steve mentioned.  The scope and humans reverting to a nomadic existence. 
Logged
Scattercat
Caution:
Editor
*****
Posts: 4453


Amateur wordsmith


WWW
« Reply #15 on: February 20, 2010, 01:54:13 AM »

Quote
They would undergo a dangerous journey to a distant place without any weapons or stored "food."
 

Weapons seem to be unnecessary; they ARE weapons, in some ways, and the only things that can threaten them are those just like themselves.  As for the food, well, they all were shocked to find that there wasn't any around the Solar System, and even John hadn't expected the energy to be just absent.  Remember, they're in a sort of hunter-gatherer mode now; you take what you can carry and no more, because weighing yourself down is just asking for trouble.

Quote
Also, I was willing to accept that they could not absorb energy from the Sun despite their finding the wind, i.e. energy, strong enough to want to hide from it.  But then they could absorb energy from a bomb, and I thought it seemed kind of iffy.

The bomb appears to be a different and much higher grade of energy.  To carry on John's metaphor, if the energy of the Sun is "drinking from a hailstorm," then the bomb would be like a firehose; still hard to catch, but at least it's actually water when you get some in your mouth instead of ice you have to crunch and melt.

---

I liked this one.  "So advanced it becomes simple again" is an interesting trope to explore, and hunter-gatherer societies are interesting objects of study in themselves.  In that regard, I thought the story didn't really delve deeply enough for my tastes, but I did just spend a month reading a handful of books on primatology, so my bar for "portrait of a tribal culture" might be set a little high right now.

I think looking for a "message" isn't really helpful here.  The only overt message seemed to be about the nature of humanity and its continuity; the war stuff was more John's personal hangup than a serious theme of the story.  The other beings barely understand what a war even IS.  Sure, John's all torn up about it, but the others have a hard time understanding why.  The focus isn't on the war per se, but on John's memories and what they mean to him.  John's memories are of the OLD way of being human; that includes both war and whales, and in the end those memories carry on, uninterrupted but altered by the passage of time. 
Logged

---
Mirrorshards: Very Short Stories
100 Words.  No more.  No fewer.  Every day.
Splinters of Silver and Glass - The Mirrorshards Book
acpracht
Peltast
***
Posts: 90


« Reply #16 on: February 21, 2010, 07:36:19 PM »

I hear where those with constructive criticism are coming from on this one. Still...

For my part, I quite enjoyed it - enough that I'm taking the time to comment on an episode for the first time.

Creating a world that presents an extremely different form of life from our own is particularly challenging. It's even more challenging to do well.

This piece reminded me most of Isaac Asimov's "The Gods Themselves" - which is a must for anyone who enjoyed this story.

Thanks for your time. Smiley
Logged
Mobius04
Extern
*
Posts: 1


« Reply #17 on: February 21, 2010, 08:45:32 PM »

For every story there will be 1% that will feel nothing, and 1% that will be profoundly influenced by the tale.

For this week's story I am one of the later.

In addition to it being a great story, Old John struck a cord with me. I recently returned from an deployment to the Middle East and found the readjustment retuning home far more difficult than that of entering a war zone. I shared Old John's apprehension on the changes he underwent during his time in service. Though I am entirely human, I've spent the last two years refining my thoughts and habits to become the greatest instrument of war I can be.

The degree I changed did not become apparent to me until I returned home to my family and friends. They all expected the same man they knew two years ago to step off the plane with a big shit eating grin and crack sarcastic jokes like nothing happened. I wasn't that man anymore. Instead my eyes darted to the rooftops and alleyways for small arms fire and concealed IEDs. There wasn't much left of the son and friend they loved who was replaced with a soldier who thought in tactics and warfare.

I thought they only saw a monster, the one I saw every morning when I looked into the mirror and saw haunted hallow hazel eyes staring back at me.

Gunai's plea to Old John at the end of the story struck a cord with me. Regardless of how Old John perceived himself as a weapon of war, Gunai saw him as her companion and friend. Because of that one moment of friendship and sincerity I was able to open up and talk to one of my friends about what I was going through. He told me that no matter how I changed or how many wars I'll fight in the coming years that I would always be Ryan to him.

Thanks Steve. Know that you helped change one soldier's life for the better. Hooah.
Logged
internalogic
Palmer
**
Posts: 33


« Reply #18 on: February 23, 2010, 09:32:38 AM »

I thought this story was really, really excellent.  So imaginative, evocative, and well-developed.

It's so easy to take stuff like this for granted.  To forget that the authors are pulling it out of nowhere.

I liked the feeling of plausibility that I got.
Logged
Unblinking
Sir Postsalot
Hipparch
******
Posts: 6655



WWW
« Reply #19 on: February 23, 2010, 10:18:58 AM »

'Twas interesting, and had a lot of great ideas, including the return to nomadic behavior, and the warrior's sacrifice.

 but I didn't find it all that compelling, for a few reasons I've been able to pin down:
1.  Perhaps I am too well-rooted in my meaty existence but I find it hard to really care about a bunch of space-amoebas, "human" or not.

2.  The entire plot hinged on an extremely stupid leadership decision.  To use the nomad analogy:  The oldest member of the tribe wishes to return to the grounds of his former home, which is in the middle of a war-blasted wasteland.  He tells the chief and she directs the whole tribe to follow with her without adequate resources into the wasteland which has no resources to gather, and then acts surprised when there are no resources.
-Okay, this was justified in the story by the claim that they believed zero-point energy could not be depleted.  But CLEARLY it could be depleted, because prior to that point they had already talked about having to move across the cosmos to find ever-more scarce food supplies, and it mentioned that Earth was in the middle of a particularly resourceless area.  If Old John wishes to go and visit his homeland, probably as some sort of dying wish, I can totally respect that.  But the chief dragging the whole tribe along with him to certain death is just disregarding the value of all of their lives, all for a trip of nostalgia that only holds meaning for one person, no matter how venerable and respected he is.

3.  The happiness of the plot depended on a series of deus ex machinas suddenly popping out of nowhere and saving the day, until those moments things looked hopeless, again, until John finally speaks up.  The resolutions were just too convenient for my taste, by all likelihood they should've starved or been torn apart by the wolves because of their terrible decisions, and they only survived because of conveniently placed solutions.
-By searching the whole area, they come up with exactly one puddle of energy.  If there was one, why wouldn't there be more?  And if they hadn't found this single one, if their search had gone just a little bit to one side of it, then they would've all died.  If there was so little energy left, it's just luck that kept the wolves from eating the last of it already.
-They're up against the wolves, losing, getting torn apart, at which point John suddenly reveals that he's a super-weapon more than equipped to deal with these beasts.  Phew!
-They're stuck with no further resources, and many wounded, and then John, again, conveniently steps in to save the day.  "Oh, by the way, the humans back in the day kept energy caches nearby."  Oh, thanks for letting us know that before, Johnny.


Perhaps this string of deus ex machinae speaks of a more sinister motivation on the part of Old John!  Consider this:
Old John is tired of being disrespected, and being a drain on his tribe, so he concocts a scheme that will allow him to die in a blaze of glory while saving the lives of the rest.  He knows the chief well enough that he can con her into dragging everyone else along, and he knows where the bomb cache is hidden.  His plan is to drag everyone there until they're starving to the point of desperation, then pull off his bomb trick to save the tribe with his sacrifice.  The bomb's probably not even broken and in need of his direct intervention--it's all a ploy to necessitate his sacrifce.  It's not like any of the others know how bombs work--they've got to take his word on it.  The plan is all going smoothly until the puddle of energy is discovered.  "Damnit!" he thinks, "What are the odds?!"  So he has to improvise.  He knows well enough that if energy is that scarce there will be wolves, so he adds a new stage to his plan:  watch while the wolves slice and dice, but step in before the losses become too grievous and show off his mad warrior skillz.  His improvisations work splendidly and he succeeds in his mission, and no one is ever the wiser that they were all pawns in his scheme to immortalize himself. 
Logged

--David Steffen
The Submissions Grinder:  Fiction market listings, submissions tracker, always free, poetry and nonfiction markets coming soon!
Pages: [1] 2 3  All
  Print  
 
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.20 | SMF © 2013, Simple Machines Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!