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Author Topic: EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake  (Read 15687 times)
Swamp
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« on: May 27, 2010, 03:00:21 PM »

EP242: The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake

By Robert T. Jeschonek .
Read by John Cmar.

First appeared in Space and Time Magazine, issue 108.

For her entire adolescent and adult life up until three weeks ago, Lynda had been the queen of junk food. Aside from the briefest blips of non-junk spending due to occasional failed diets, she had purchased only the most fattening, high-cholesterol, chemical-soaked foods available from grocery stores, restaurants, vending machines, and mail order websites.

In short, she was the perfect woman. Though she was on a diet that day, she had eaten non-nutritious foods in great quantities all her life. Though her last purchases had been salad greens and bottled water, her 250-pound body told the true story.

I knew she was just waiting for someone like me to come along.


Rated PG. for innuendo-heavy snack cake desire.


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yicheng
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« Reply #1 on: May 27, 2010, 03:35:41 PM »

Pretty well written and well read.  It's a bit scary to tell the truth.

Good reason to eat organic, at least, since I'm pretty sure nano-computer-AI wouldn't be organic.
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Schreiber
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« Reply #2 on: May 27, 2010, 06:35:08 PM »

Can't help being reminded of the creature at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe who wanted so badly to be eaten. Smiley

It would be easy to read this story as a straightforward rail against commercialism and consumerism, and maybe that was Mr. Jeschonek's intention. But I think 'Love Quest cuts deeper than that. At its heart (or rather, its creamy center), I think Smidgen signifies an anxiety over the problem of persuasion.  Linda never really stood a chance against the snack cake's ingenuity. I don't mean to keep throwing out comparisons to canonical works of science fiction, but recall the final chapters of George Orwell's 1984. Linda, like Winston Smith, isn't really meant to be taken as a special case. She's just a normal human being. Which is to say she might as well be an oyster. Crackable by anybody who knows how.

The one thing humans seem to get better at over the centuries is manipulating other human beings. It's a horrifying and deeply problematic thought, but I think we're gradually coming to grips with the notion that under the right circumstances anybody can be convinced to do anything. In that light, Linda can almost be seen as a best case scenario. She successfully dies rather than give in to persuasion.

Personally, I thought the electro-shock diet implant she burnt out was meant to be a kind of foreshadowing and was disappointed when it turns out that eating the snack cake wasn't what killed her. But maybe Mr. Jeschonek wanted to end the story with a faint, but ringing, note of hope.
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Boggled Coriander
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« Reply #3 on: May 28, 2010, 03:31:45 AM »

On the one hand, I admit that the quasi-erotic descriptions made me smile.  It was a somewhat ashamed "I can't believe I found that funny" smile, but a smile nonetheless.

On the other hand, as someone who is skeptical about the effectiveness of dieting, I found it deeply depressing  that in the late 21st century we can grant sentience to snack cakes, but we industrial-society folk are still going on old-fashioned diets to lose weight.

But on the other hand, I've now gotten two out of three EA podcasts to say "Boggled Coriander" in the outro, so I guess on the whole I'm happy.
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ToooooMuchCoffeeMan
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« Reply #4 on: May 28, 2010, 03:36:29 AM »

Meh.

Very nice extrapolation on the technology for point-of-sale marketing, but in service of a trivial, silly, entirely predictable plot. Trivial and silly, but with a gratuitously horrifying suicide thrown in.
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Yargling
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« Reply #5 on: May 28, 2010, 04:45:46 AM »

Listening to this now and loving it!  Grin

Edit: Finished - overall, I liked it, and it does highlight the growing danger in our society of smart data mining which, rather than allowing the 'free market' to service the market better, allows them to manipulate the market increasingly to how they want it to be. And I have to admit, I never really thought about how something as apparently benign and 'dumb' as Amazon's suggestions could be developed to its logical conclusion of having an advertising AI in every product.
« Last Edit: May 28, 2010, 05:58:59 AM by Yargling » Logged
clperria
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« Reply #6 on: May 28, 2010, 07:29:10 AM »

I was loving this story untill the suicide. I thought that was unnecessary and it ruined it for me.
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Listener
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« Reply #7 on: May 28, 2010, 07:42:54 AM »

On the surface, this is a great Drabblecast-like story about a snack cake with a purpose and a desire to be loved. And if the story is taken for what it is, it's great -- funny, silly, cautionary, and in the end we have a criminal snack cake (murder -- chocolate can kill dogs -- and manslaughter -- unintentionally causing Linda to kill herself) who gets his...

...wait for it...

JUST DESSERTS!

And the reading was great, too.

But if you look deeper...

* How much must a Smidgen snack cake cost to have all this stuff in it?
* Hovercarts? Who needs those when wheels work just as well, and what grocery store would pay for them?
* In the future, fat people are still seen as ugly and unattractive, apparently.
* What Boggled Coriander said about dieting.
* If you can have smart AIs, and palmscreens that download stuff, why couldn't her smart apartment or smart RFID chip pick up on words like "kill myself" and preemptively call the police? I kept expecting that to happen.

One thing I noticed -- a "smidgen" is a small thing... so the marketers were at work there too, making you think you're eating just a tiny thing.

I really liked some of the marketing trickery, which isn't as far off as one might think, especially with Facebook's pervasive data-mining-and-sharing and the way we completely put ourselves out there online. I mean, if I tweet about being hungry I get autofollowed by diet gurus. If I bitch about search marketing or Facebook's privacy fails, I get autofollowed by social marketing "experts". If I RT something funny that my sexblogger friends have said, I get autofollowed by a pornbot. It's all just a matter of time... which, I think, is in the end, the point the author was making: this is coming. We can't stop it. Might as well accept it.

For all that, I really liked the episode.
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #8 on: May 28, 2010, 10:23:15 AM »

This one's for no.  Lame doesn't begin to cover it. 

The utterly ludicrous concept of a sentient snack cake is made even worse by piling on every stupid cliche of a pickup/seduction story.  I'm up to where she's bought the cake and taken it home, and not even sure I want to continue.
« Last Edit: May 28, 2010, 10:24:59 AM by stePH » Logged

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Void Munashii
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« Reply #9 on: May 28, 2010, 01:59:45 PM »

  I enjoyed this one, but felt it went on a little too long, and the whole process seemed like a lot of time and effort to sell one unit of snack cakes. I can see the methods in this story becoming a reality, but not to such an exaggerated level as this.

  There were some parts of the story that nagged at me; as Listener pointed out, why hovercarts? Surely the expense of powering them would outweigh any possible advantages to having them in the first place. I cannot even think of any advantages to hovercarts other than being futuristic-y. Also, if you live in a world where food talks to you and tries to convince you to eat it, wouldn't you develop a block to that sort of stuff in the same way I am not swayed by 99% of television commercials.

  I also though of "Restaurant and the End of the Universe" while listening to this story, and all in all I would have side with Arthur Dent. I have little interest in eating anything that is smart enough and has the ability to try to convince me to eat it.

  The reading for this was perfect, although I kept thinking of the boss from "The Takeover" (for probably obvious reasons) the whole time.
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KenK
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« Reply #10 on: May 28, 2010, 03:45:24 PM »

B.F. Skinner and his ilk would be so proud if this happened in real life.  Cheesy
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #11 on: May 28, 2010, 03:49:57 PM »

Well, I went ahead and finished it, if for no other reason that I've never abandoned an EA story yet, and I've suffered through worse than this.  But it only got worse; the narrative full of lines that could have been dropped seamlessly into a porn story.  Like snack cakes themselves, this story was made of suck.

On an unrelated note, I feel sorry for Gamercow, whose name has been mispronounced twice in the feedback sections now (DKT said "Game-crow" in a recent Podcastle, and now wossname says "Gamer-crow").
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Heradel
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« Reply #12 on: May 28, 2010, 05:50:48 PM »

On an unrelated note, I feel sorry for Gamercow, whose name has been mispronounced twice in the feedback sections now (DKT said "Game-crow" in a recent Podcastle, and now wossname says "Gamer-crow").

That was me, sorry if I did. I'll make a note for the next time I use one of their comments.
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Traeonna
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« Reply #13 on: May 28, 2010, 05:57:56 PM »

Disturbing enough was the reinforcement of the fact that society is already going into a very scary direction as far as RFID, targeted marketing, etc., but then the author took us on a ride complete with pseudo-erotic snack cake talk and a bit of feederism for taste. Although completely silly, the story left me a bit distressed. I fear the day my snacks start ACTUALLY talking to me.
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eytanz
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« Reply #14 on: May 28, 2010, 06:35:32 PM »

I'm about 12 minutes into the story right now, and am taking a break from it. I'm curious as to the setup - what happened to Linda? Why is she dead? But the rest of the premise just isn't engaging me. Plus the whole thing is ridiculous. I glanced above and saw the critique about the silliness of hovercars, but also - do these stores only allow one customer at once? the targetted coupons are one thing - we already have early versions of that, and it will get to the level described in the story soon - but rearranging the store to suit the shopping patterns of one customer? What if two customers with conflicting patterns are shopping at once? And, unless they have free energy in the future, it must be more expensive for the store to run this system than the benefit it gives.

I'll be back once I'm done listening to this story, and see if my impression changes.
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KenK
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« Reply #15 on: May 28, 2010, 06:59:18 PM »

I wonder if it would be ethical or even legal to, oh..say, use known psy-ops methods to sell alcohol, tobacco, or food with diabetes inducing sugar levels to people?  Wink People are just such simple creatures and no match at all for the social science and marketing types in the pay of today's sociopathic capitalists. Lost cause to even try and fight them really. I think that's what the story was about and I think it was spot on, too.
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Ocicat
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« Reply #16 on: May 28, 2010, 09:58:21 PM »

There is nothing about this story that is plausible...   This story is taking marketing trends and exaggerating them past the point of plausibility and into the realm of the silly.  Which is great if you ask me.  If you've got sentient talking snack cakes that can see, I'm not going to quibble about a hovercart.  Get silly enough, and I'm going to stop thinking of the story as "Science Fiction" and just go with a good parable.  Going over the top allowed the story to make commentary on marketing in a memorable way, add in subtext about dishonesty in relationships, and be funny to boot.  Thumbs up from me.

Though even I was wondering why she didn't have other AI's to talk to around the house, and why fat is still so unattractive.  With all that pressure to consume, there must be plenty of fat people out there, dating each other. 
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contra
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« Reply #17 on: May 29, 2010, 12:13:11 PM »

I'm about 12 minutes into the story right now, and am taking a break from it. I'm curious as to the setup - what happened to Linda? Why is she dead? But the rest of the premise just isn't engaging me. Plus the whole thing is ridiculous. I glanced above and saw the critique about the silliness of hovercars, but also - do these stores only allow one customer at once? the targetted coupons are one thing - we already have early versions of that, and it will get to the level described in the story soon - but rearranging the store to suit the shopping patterns of one customer? What if two customers with conflicting patterns are shopping at once? And, unless they have free energy in the future, it must be more expensive for the store to run this system than the benefit it gives.

I'll be back once I'm done listening to this story, and see if my impression changes.

Well it would be all about how it worked behind the scenes.

It may be cheaper for the company to keep the underground sorting system on all the tim,e in the event of stock needed, or getting older stock out of there.  Also it depnends the time of day they were shopping and how important the cake company is to the shop. 
They may have a special deal to allow this level of interaction with their customers to the point of rearranging the whole story for them.

For when you are finished

In it though, it mentions that the store computer decided that cake was most likely to win; so maybe it does this for every customer, and everyones weakness appears to them at the exact moment they don't need it.  Also I didn't see it as taking the main product on the front of the shelf, and taking them all over there; more it took some of them and put them in a good place. 

I can see why people may want or go for something like this though.  Walk into a shop, and what you usually buy is waiting there for you.  People are just mad enough to want that.


I like the story.  Though the idea of it having eyes creeps me out more than anything else.
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« Reply #18 on: May 29, 2010, 08:09:32 PM »

I wonder if it would be ethical or even legal to, oh..say, use known psy-ops methods to sell alcohol, tobacco, or food with diabetes inducing sugar levels to people?  Wink People are just such simple creatures and no match at all for the social science and marketing types in the pay of today's sociopathic capitalists. Lost cause to even try and fight them really. I think that's what the story was about and I think it was spot on, too.

Hey Kenk, I'm kinda getting lost on where you are being facetious and where you are being serious.
   I agree that there is an ethics that should be followed in marketing (though often isn't).
   But, I do not agree that it is a lost cause to fight unethical marketing practices.
   And I do not believe that people are "simple creatures" who can't think for themselves.
Is it difficult to resist marketing and social pressures? Yes. Is it impossible? I certainly don't think so. sure

I think the story makes a good effort to show this in an exaggerated way. Linda killed herself in her bid to resist the marketing temptation machine. To me, this shows great strength in a perverse way. If she can do it, others can too. And I think most would find a more balanced solution than Linda's.

BTW Kenk, sorry if I misinterpreted the meaning of your post. As I said, I kinda got lost in there somewhere.
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« Reply #19 on: May 29, 2010, 11:06:28 PM »

Escape Pod continues the theme of Inappropriate Objects Express Sexual Desire.

I liked this story.  I think the various elements listed as implausible are only implausible if you look from the current perspective.  Once the protein-based quantum computer technology becomes cheap and easy, no one will think twice about putting it in snack cakes.  I hear these cries of "Implausible!" as faintly echoing the cry of a 1950's scifi viewer crying, "Yeah, like they'd have computers in everything.  C'mon!  Computers are as big as houses!  Even if they got smaller, they'd still weigh at least fifty pounds.  You'd never fit one in a car or a television or a watch."
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