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Author Topic: EP238: Wind From a Dying Star  (Read 20220 times)

Scattercat

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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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eytanz

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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.



heyes

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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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yicheng

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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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Unblinking

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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. 



Unblinking

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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.



Scattercat

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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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Unblinking

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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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Nobilis

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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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CryptoMe

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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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Kyoritsu

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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!