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Author Topic: EP238: Wind From a Dying Star  (Read 20249 times)

Swamp

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on: February 13, 2010, 11:01:30 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.


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« Last Edit: February 14, 2010, 11:51:46 PM by Swamp »

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KenK

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Reply #1 on: February 13, 2010, 11:40:46 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?



Subgenre

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Reply #2 on: February 14, 2010, 07:27:05 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.








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Reply #3 on: February 15, 2010, 09:52:43 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.



eytanz

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Reply #4 on: February 15, 2010, 09:57:09 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).



Yargling

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Reply #5 on: February 15, 2010, 02:06:35 PM
Loved this one after a brief slow bit at the start. Very sci-fi and yet very human  ;D



Sylvan

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Reply #6 on: February 16, 2010, 01:22:01 AM
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)



yicheng

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Reply #7 on: February 16, 2010, 10:13:26 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.



cdugger

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Reply #8 on: February 17, 2010, 01:37:10 AM
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!

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Reply #9 on: February 17, 2010, 04:19:51 AM
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.



Listener

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Reply #10 on: February 18, 2010, 01:22:23 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.

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.

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Reply #11 on: February 18, 2010, 03:51:50 PM
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.

The cow says "Mooooooooo"


kibitzer

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Reply #12 on: February 19, 2010, 07:52:41 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).


yicheng

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Reply #13 on: February 19, 2010, 02:05:13 PM
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?



wakela

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Reply #14 on: February 20, 2010, 04:23:32 AM
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. 



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Reply #15 on: February 20, 2010, 06:54:13 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. 

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acpracht

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Reply #16 on: February 22, 2010, 12:36:19 AM
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. :)



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Reply #17 on: February 22, 2010, 01:45:32 AM
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.



internalogic

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Reply #18 on: February 23, 2010, 02:32:38 PM
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.



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Reply #19 on: February 23, 2010, 03:18:58 PM
'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. 



Gamercow

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Reply #20 on: February 23, 2010, 03:36:03 PM
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?

1)because none of them has said so.
2)because there are no beings of any kind on this planet several tens of thousands of years old, let alone intelligent ones.

Old John is a distinct, admitted link to the past, millions of years old.

The cow says "Mooooooooo"


Talia

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Reply #21 on: February 23, 2010, 04:06:09 PM

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.

The story argued that abandoning him would be violating everything these beings stood for and believed in. Leaving him out there alone would be anathema to who these people are. Its a "stupid leadership decision" from the point of view of an outsider, perhaps, but these beings are of such a mindset that leaving one of their own, particularly a revered one like Old John, is utterly abhorrent. Even then perhaps it was a bad call, but one, I think, it was understandible to make.



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Reply #22 on: February 23, 2010, 04:32:27 PM
I reckon I could buy into the Old John going out in a blaze of glory theory. I seem to remember he did the "I'm just an old tired man, go on leave me I don't contribute anyway" thing, which could be seen as quite manipulative, especially given the leader's response.

BTW, in re-thinking what I've already said above, I suppose Old John is the putative link with contemporary humans. However, he's still a blob of energy and although he has these far off memories -- after a million years, would they really have any weight or emotional substance? I say no.


Talia

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Reply #23 on: February 23, 2010, 04:48:47 PM
I reckon I could buy into the Old John going out in a blaze of glory theory. I seem to remember he did the "I'm just an old tired man, go on leave me I don't contribute anyway" thing, which could be seen as quite manipulative, especially given the leader's response.

BTW, in re-thinking what I've already said above, I suppose Old John is the putative link with contemporary humans. However, he's still a blob of energy and although he has these far off memories -- after a million years, would they really have any weight or emotional substance? I say no.

If they're the remnants of what connects him to what he percieves as humanity, I'd think he'd cling to them pretty strongly, so I say yes.



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Reply #24 on: February 23, 2010, 05:58:12 PM
The story argued that abandoning him would be violating everything these beings stood for and believed in. Leaving him out there alone would be anathema to who these people are. Its a "stupid leadership decision" from the point of view of an outsider, perhaps, but these beings are of such a mindset that leaving one of their own, particularly a revered one like Old John, is utterly abhorrent. Even then perhaps it was a bad call, but one, I think, it was understandible to make.

Abandoning him to die is one thing.  Allowing him to choose to leave is another.  By "abandoning him", it sounds like he's helpless and unable to go on, like leaving a sick or injured person behind when they moved on to the next new home.  He proves himself both physically and mentally capable, so there's no abandonment to it.

And these people still seem to fear death, at least to the point of wanting to prolong the existence of the tribe.  So, given the choice between the almost-certain starvation of the entire tribe, and allowing one member to choose to travel alone, able-bodied and able-minded, the choice to let him travel by himself seems clearly the better of the options.  A hard decision, yes, but it's the leader's responsibility to make hard decisions for the sake of the tribe.  She failed and she's lucky that Old John was willing and able to pull their butt out of the fire in their time of need.

The bad leadership decision comes in by the fact that she chose for the tribe, or at least argued them into it.  She could have resigned as leader and decided for herself to travel, and that would've been reasonable and perhaps honorable.  She could have allowed a few volunteers (including herself or not) to accompany Old John so he wouldn't be alone, but allowing the bulk of the tribe to continue on to more certain pastures.  Instead, she drags them all down with her.



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Reply #25 on: February 24, 2010, 02:13:38 AM
I think the equivalent, Unblinking, might be asking a group of, say, devout Catholics to trample on an image of the Madonna and Child in order to be given a basket of bread.  Remember, the worst sin these transhumans can imagine is abandonment and exile.  That's worse than killing someone, to them.  Allowing John to go alone is equated to exile/abandonment in the leader's head.

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Reply #26 on: February 24, 2010, 08:19:15 AM
I think the equivalent, Unblinking, might be asking a group of, say, devout Catholics to trample on an image of the Madonna and Child in order to be given a basket of bread.  Remember, the worst sin these transhumans can imagine is abandonment and exile.  That's worse than killing someone, to them.  Allowing John to go alone is equated to exile/abandonment in the leader's head.

That would make sense, if the advisor guy (whose name I forgot) wasn't entirely casual about it. And the leader didn't react to him so extremely - she thought he was being cruel, but not that he was violating a taboo.

In fact, this was probably the weakest point in the story; the characters' behaviour and the explanation just didn't match. We see Old John say "I'd go", the leader thinking "should I let him? We owe him so much", the advisor say "oh, just let him go", the leader thinking "No, that's not fair". Then we get told "letting someone be alone is the greatest taboo in this society!" - just after we witness three people seriously considering it. It felt to me like the author was aware that there wasn't really good enough justification for going to Earth, and the taboo thing was added as a patch, but was not supported by the story.



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Reply #27 on: February 24, 2010, 03:26:13 PM
I think the equivalent, Unblinking, might be asking a group of, say, devout Catholics to trample on an image of the Madonna and Child in order to be given a basket of bread.  Remember, the worst sin these transhumans can imagine is abandonment and exile.  That's worse than killing someone, to them.  Allowing John to go alone is equated to exile/abandonment in the leader's head.

That comparison doesn't work well for me.
1.  Old John was going to leave of his own choice.
2.  The leader's responsibility is to her people.  If everyone thought this perilous journey was worth certain death, then fine.  But she talked them into it, and she's the leader, so she carries more responsibility.
3.  They said in the story that condemnation to loneliness was their worst crime, but they werent nonchalant about their own deaths when it came down to it.  Perhaps that is "officially" the worst crime in their idealisms, but it didn't seem to click with their behavior.  She is given the choice between two crimes:  abandonment and the murder/suicide of everyone she knows.  She chose the latter.

I'm not sure how to suggest alterations to the Catholic analogy to make it fit better with how I see it, because the story is such an extreme case.  The basket of bread is not a good choice for incentive, because a small portion of food as an incentive for one person to trample the Madonna, is not at all the same as depriving your tribe of any chance at survival to satisfy the nostalgiac urges of one man. 

Hmmm... I'm just not sure that there's a concrete example that has to do with Catholicism.  More apt would be a nomadic tribe on earth choosing to travel into the Antarctic wastes because the oldest member of their tribe wanted to go to the South Pole and you didn't want him to die alone.  If someone wants to volunteer to travel with him, good for them!  But convincing your whole tribe to travel to their doom on a whim is irresponsible and stupid.  This is a criticism of the character, not the story.  I don't find it unbelievable that a leader would make that choice, but it does make her unworthy to be a leader.

Okay, back to the Catholicism.  Since I can't come up with a realistic example, how about a silly example?  Imagine one hundred Catholic space colonists who've crash-landed their ship on a planet.  The planet is apparently devoid of life, but able to sustain it.  They have a few food rations, but they'll only last a few months.  Their only hope of sustainable life is to grow crops.  They have seeds, but they're contained within a pinata which has the unfortunate shape of the Virgin Mary with Child.  Some colonists think they should bash the thing open, get the seeds, start the crops, and though their survival is not assured, they will at least have a chance.  Others would never desecrate the sacred pinata, and would rather die on the planetary wasteland than to break it open.  Old Bob, in particular, refuses to entertain the notion of breaking the pinata.  They look to their leader to decide what to do.  In this story, she takes pity on Old Bob and talks everyone else into wandering the wilderness.  And they happen upon an abandoned starship filled with ample supplies, rations, and lots of good seeds so it all turns out okay, hooray for them.  But she could never have foreseen that it would turn out so well, barring some kind of psychic ability, it was still a stupid decision, tantamount to murdering her faithful parishioners.  Better decisions would have been:
1.  For those who will not see the pinata broken, or who wish to travel with Old Bob so that he needn't die alone, allow them to take a portion of the remaining food rations and wander the wastelands until their certain death--because they have not caused nor benefited from the desecration, they can die with clear consciences.  The rest of the colonists will stay behind, break the pinata, and survive as best they can--perhaps with troubled hearts, but they did what was necessary to survive. 
2.  If the leader wishes to make a stance as an example to the others, she can resign leadership and choose to travel with Old Bob herself.  That is both reasonable, and responsible.  She makes the decision for herself and sets a moral example, but allows others to make the decision for themselves. 

I like this example of the Catholic view better, though it is obviously unrealistic in its origins, more of an allegory than  a real life example.  In this case it is not a small portion of bread at stake but the survival of everyone you're responsible for the safety of.  And it's not a single choice made by a single person, but the entire group able to make their own choices (though the leader holds leadership, she does not control their minds).



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Reply #28 on: February 24, 2010, 03:27:59 PM
And before anyone asks the obvious questions:  Why would colonists carry all of their seeds in a Virgin Mary pinata?  And why would anyone make a Virgin Mary pinata in the first place?

The answer:  It's not a true colonization attempt, but a cruel, cruel social experiment set up by an evil administrator who wishes to test the boundaries of faith.



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Reply #29 on: February 24, 2010, 05:17:34 PM
I enjoyed this story quite well.  I really had that sense of wonder. I would have listened to hours of it, and desperately want to know more.

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Reply #30 on: February 24, 2010, 06:19:56 PM
@Unblinking, with respect, I think your analogies are flawed because we're talking about a hunter-gatherer society that fundamentally thinks and acts differently than Mayflower Puritans, or us modern settled folks.  A real-world example might be the last Apache break-out of Geronimo in 1885, where Geronimo (by now 56, and an old old man) lead a band of apaches (mostly women and young children, with about 24 warriors) into the New Mexico mountains.  It took 5,000 soldiers, 500 Apache scouts, 100 Navajo Scouts, and thousands of civilian militia over a year to finally catch him.  There weren't anything like dictatorships in a hunter-gatherer society, so it was basically him announcing he was going to make a break for it, and whoever wanted to come could join him.  I think for the Apaches, it was a pretty simple choice: A) Break out, be hunted by the US and Mexican military, probably die in a massacre, but live like a free Apache for a while, or B) Stay in the Res, and slowly die of disease, starvation, or old age.

Similarly, I think the tribe had a similar choice: A) Help John, probably die of energy-starvation, but maybe see Earth, or B) Leave John to certain death, and eek out a living on the rim, probably eventually dying by starvation or wolves.  I don't think choice-A is that far-fetched.



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Reply #31 on: February 24, 2010, 11:14:02 PM
The other thing is that what seems "stupid" to us might be a matter of the utmost importance to them.  I'm willing to accept that in their culture, exile is utterly horrific to contemplate, and the leader's decision was perhaps motivated as much by the lack of respect from her advisors as by her internal moral compass.  To her, it was more important to exemplify 'humanity' by accompanying John on his pilgrimage than it was to continue to live by staying where the food was more plentiful.  People often make pragmatically unsound decisions on the basis of less quantifiable beliefs, which is what I was trying to get at with the Catholic example.  I might not have made the same decision as in this story, but I can understand the mindset that led to it, and a character doing something differently than I would isn't something I consider a flaw in a story.

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Reply #32 on: February 25, 2010, 02:44:34 PM
@Unblinking, with respect, I think your analogies are flawed because we're talking about a hunter-gatherer society that fundamentally thinks and acts differently than Mayflower Puritans, or us modern settled folks. 

Agreed.  The Catholic example was silly, and not real-world at all.  I was just trying to come up with an example that used Catholicism taboos, since it had been brought up. 



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Reply #33 on: February 25, 2010, 02:51:58 PM
I might not have made the same decision as in this story, but I can understand the mindset that led to it, and a character doing something differently than I would isn't something I consider a flaw in a story.

I wasn't trying to say it was a flaw in the story, though it did cause me to have trouble relating to their plight.  As I said in an earlier post:

Quote
This is a criticism of the character, not the story.  I don't find it unbelievable that a leader would make that choice, but it does make her unworthy to be a leader.

I'm interested in it as a discussion of character motivation, I'm not trying to say the story sucked.  If it were shown that isolation was actually their biggest crime, then I might be more swayed.  But when the second person who hears of his plans to travel says "Great, he just slows us down anyway." it pretty much convinced me that was just an ideal the leader held, or perhaps merely CLAIMED to hold to support her own ego, rather than anything that actually motivated tribal behavior.  The tribe needed quite a bit of convincing to get them to go--if isolation was as terrible as it claims, and the worst thing that any tribe member could do to another, then there would've been no need for discussion.  Everyone would've said "Well, what are we waiting for, let's go to earth."  And then, because everyone chose to go on the journey, it's an individual decision and both worthy and honorable, rather than a poor leadership decision.



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Reply #34 on: February 25, 2010, 05:14:36 PM
Is it not the leader's job to uphold moral standards?  Their society holds this as a value, that exile is terrible and only monsters abandon their own.  The younger set of the society is willing to bend that rule and tread the gray areas, to let Old John go off on his crazy mission without any backup.  The leader makes the choice to uphold her moral standards - one that even she herself doubts from time to time - rather than make the pragmatically expedient choice.  I don't know that you can say that's entirely wrong-headed from a leadership perspective; part of her job is to keep the laws and traditions strong and hold the tribe together so they can accomplish things like the space-whale, which none of them could do alone.

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Reply #35 on: February 25, 2010, 06:51:50 PM
Is it not the leader's job to uphold moral standards?  Their society holds this as a value, that exile is terrible and only monsters abandon their own.  The younger set of the society is willing to bend that rule and tread the gray areas, to let Old John go off on his crazy mission without any backup.  The leader makes the choice to uphold her moral standards - one that even she herself doubts from time to time - rather than make the pragmatically expedient choice.  I don't know that you can say that's entirely wrong-headed from a leadership perspective; part of her job is to keep the laws and traditions strong and hold the tribe together so they can accomplish things like the space-whale, which none of them could do alone.

What's the point of upholding moral standards if by doing so you kill your entire tribe?  If they hadn't found any energy source then they would have all watched as each one starved to death, wasting away to nothing.

Yes, I would call that the wrong choice.  If it had ended in the more likely way and they'd all died, then the wrongness would've been easier to see, but the outcome does not change the wrongness of the choice.



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Reply #36 on: February 25, 2010, 08:06:11 PM
It depends on whether you regard survival or morality as the more pressing need.  As I said, many groups and individuals over the course of history have chosen to place their moral precepts above their needs, even up to and including their own survival.  I'm not prepared to call them all wrong.

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Reply #37 on: February 25, 2010, 08:24:27 PM
The part of the story I liked the best is that "Old John" had tricks up his sleeve that those young whipper-snappers didn't know about and couldn't do even if they wanted to.  Of course, being graced with an amazingly youthful and energetic body myself, I would certainly NOT feel any personal empathy for the character of Old John.



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Reply #38 on: February 26, 2010, 05:39:08 PM
It depends on whether you regard survival or morality as the more pressing need.  As I said, many groups and individuals over the course of history have chosen to place their moral precepts above their needs, even up to and including their own survival.  I'm not prepared to call them all wrong.

Choosing for yourself is fine.  Choosing for others is wrong, especially when there were children involved--and there's some children-analog at least, since there's a pregnancy analog.  My opinion only, of course.  The parents in the tribe would've had to watch their children starve to death--I have trouble seeing that as right when there was a better option.

Why couldn't just a small group have travelled with John, comprised of those who wished to do it?  The decision didn't need to be all-or-nothing, the leader just chose to see it that way.  The choices she saw:
1.  Old John travels alone, dies alone, and we continue on.
2.  We force Old John to stay with us and Old John is denied his driving urge and is miserable.
3.  We travel with Old John to Earth and we all die together.

And my addition:
(4)  Old John travels with a small group of volunteers to Earth, who die, but die together.  The rest of us continue on.

#4 avoids both the killing of the entire tribe, AND avoids the supposed greatest taboo (though like I said, they didn't really seem that bothered by it in action).  The leader could be the first volunteer, and her show of solidarity could draw in a few others who hold to the supposed code of behavior. 





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Reply #39 on: February 27, 2010, 12:57:18 AM
In one of my lit classes in college, we read a story by Jack London (?) about an elderly Eskimo man who is left to freeze to death by his tribe because he is too old and he's a burden on the tribe's resources.  The old man was perfectly fine with the tribe's decision because that was their people's tradition and it was his time.  The story illustrated how a different culture can approach aging and death in a way that seems senseless and cruel because of our cultural biases. 

Wind From a Dying Star reminded me a lot of that story even though the tribe's action was basically the opposite of that in the London (?) story.  In this tribe's culture, everyone sticks together even if it means that everyone may suffer.  Our reactions to that action reflect our own cultural biases.



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Reply #40 on: February 27, 2010, 01:34:42 PM

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.

What's our goal, our purpose, as far as we're aware? For all we know, just existing is all we do.



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Reply #41 on: February 28, 2010, 01:21:39 PM
Just wish I'd written it! :)

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Reply #42 on: March 04, 2010, 12:28:01 AM
One word: Contrived.

Not my favorite.



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Reply #43 on: March 04, 2010, 05:18:24 PM
Just joined the forum. And that because I really enjoyed this story on many levels. They've been chewed over here, but I wanted to agree with SE about the resonance with First and Last Men, not to mention Starmaker by Olaf Stapledon.

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Reply #44 on: March 12, 2010, 04:00:05 AM
This story did nothing for me. I couldn't relate to the blobs of energy-consumers. I didn't feel for Old John. I was blase about the whole trip to Earth. The entire tribe seemed like it was on it's last legs, just waiting to die, and I couldn't care....

Then I read Mobius04's post. I am really happy to hear that, even if this story did nothing for me, it did a lot for someone else. That makes this story worthwhile for me. Thank you so much for sharing, Mobius04.

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.



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Reply #45 on: March 19, 2010, 11:40:53 PM
it was soooo slow. i found myself drifting off at some points and had to re-listen to the parts i dazed out for. the concept of the story was fascinating, but that was not enough to carry the slow pace of this story.  even the fight and death scenes were slow.

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Reply #46 on: March 27, 2010, 01:36:23 AM
 I felt the same connection as Mobius04 but nowhere near as direct. I've changed as well and can't even remember how I was just a few years ago, if it was even possible to go back to the man my friends and family knew and enjoyed. We can only build and move forward, you can look back but all that is good for is to learn how to move forward more precisely.

That being said Mobius04 gets my vote for best reply ever. Hoouuahh!



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Reply #47 on: April 01, 2010, 04:08:50 PM
I enjoyed some aspects of this story, such as the sociological vision the author sets out for us.  The idea felt true to me that, even if we evolve (or, it could be argued, devolve) beyond physical form into beings of energy and thought, we retain our notions of loyalty and belonging. The idea that humans will become something more pure than what we are, yet not lose our connections to those we love  is seen in most religions, in some form or other, so I suppose it is not a wild leap to see it in a science fiction story.  I really enjoyed hitching a ride during many parts of this journey.

One thing bugged me, however, and maybe it was just me.  I couldn't get around the author's choice to give us very vague baddies, and call them wolves.  I couldn't not think of Stephen King's Dark Tower series--specifically The Wolves of Calla--whenever I saw "wolves."  I mean, seriously--giving us an enigmatic group of villains called "wolves" that threaten a community of humans after the breakdown of human civilization as we know it?  It's a bit like singing Whitney Houston on American Idol.  You had better be one helluva flawless, original diva, or else you are only highlighting your inadequacies. 

To be fair, I almost understand the choice--wolves are fierce pack-animals renowned for their hunting prowess, and traditionally associated with darkness and night.  They are the antithesis of the gatherer community of energy-based beings that we are supposed to sympathize with, (which also has pack-like social structures).  But, the powerful symbolic import of wolves, and their part in a genre master's opus, gives them the sort of weight that must be met with sturdily-crafted, original characterization purpose, and plot.  Merely naming the next foggy monsters to chase us in the dark "wolves" is not enough to make that fog take shape. Or, to put it another way: plunk that much weight on a thinly woven bit of story, and you risk tearing holes in the fabric of your universe-building.   



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Reply #48 on: April 04, 2010, 07:46:57 PM
Very much enjoyed the story. IMO, the alienation and loneliness that Old John felt was very well done. The way I understood it, he thought of himself as the only remaining "true" human (even if his form had actually changed) - he seemed to regard his tribe buddies as constructs designed by the old humans (which they pretty much were), I think towards the end he even haid a line like, "But you're not hu..." where he goes and corrects himself. Either way. Great story, and, as is the case with the majority of David D. Levine's stories I've read, leaves a lot to consider / think about after you're through. Thanks to EP for buying this one! Cheers!