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Author Topic: EP244: Non-Zero Probabilities  (Read 9711 times)
Swamp
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« on: June 10, 2010, 06:51:35 AM »

EP244: Non-Zero Probabilities

By N.K. Jemisin.
Originally recorded by Kate Baker for Clarkesworld Magazine, and is used here with their expressed permission.

Guest Host: Dave Thompson of Podcastle

Her neighbor — the other one, across the hall — helped her figure it out, long before the math geeks finished crunching their numbers.

“Watch,” he’d said, and laid a deck of cards facedown on her coffee table. (There was coffee in the cups, with a generous dollop of Bailey’s. He was a nice-enough guy that Adele felt comfortable offering this.) He shuffled it with the blurring speed of an expert, cut the deck, shuffled again, then picked up the whole deck and spread it, still facedown. “Pick a card.”

Adele picked. The Joker.

“Only two of those in the deck,” he said, then shuffled and spread again. “Pick another.”

She did, and got the other Joker.

“Coincidence,” she said. (This had been months ago, when she was still skeptical.)


Rated R. for Lucky Streaks and Getting Lucky.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Void Munashii
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« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2010, 10:08:16 AM »

  I really enjoyed the concept of this story; it reminded me of that old show "Strange Luck". The story was both very dark and funny at the same time, and I love dark humour.

  I liked the way it ended; leaving it all hanging as it did. I can't think of any real resolution to the situation that would have been any more satisfying.
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Talia
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« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2010, 11:03:50 AM »

Woo, Hugo month. Smiley I read this story just before the Nebula awards (I had the privilege of briefly meeting Ms. Jemison at that time). It's a great story, and the ending leaves me wondering where the airplane wound up. Its fun to speculate (and I love stories that leave room for speculation).

Weirdly (at least for me, where this is rarely the case) I've read or heard 3 of the 5 short story nominees this year (generally its at most 1), I guess I won't be listening to a lot of EP this month.. heh. :p 

I had the privilege also of hearing Mr. Resnick himself read his story back in March. Enjoyable, but I'm suspecting it won't take home the prize. (I am thinking a Nebula repeat, with Kij Johnson's 'Spar' triumphing, or perhaps a surprise victory for 'Bridesicle.').
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2010, 07:51:23 PM »

After listening to the story, I was wondering what put it on Escape Pod rather than Podcastle. 

Only just now, coming here, I remembered that the Hugo nominees always go on Escape Pod.
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Ocicat
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« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2010, 05:27:51 AM »

Though Dave mentioned a tradition of running all five Hugo noms.  Actually the tradition from previous years seems to have been to run all but one, and be unable to obtain the rights for the final entry. 

Good job on breaking with tradition and getting all of them this year!

And ya, this would normally be a more podcastle-ish type of story, though there was mention of scientists trying to make sense of the strange stuff that had happened to the city. 

I found it entertaining enough, but not Hugo level fantastic.  Interesting idea, but not explored the way I would have liked it.
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blueeyeddevil
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« Reply #5 on: June 11, 2010, 06:28:40 AM »

It's a decent enough story, but in my opinion kind of surprising as a Hugo nominee.
I myself didn't particularly love this story (I originally listened to it over at Clarkesworld). I know that one is supposed to try to enjoy first, analyze second, but I had a hard time doing that here.

A writing prof of mine had a baseball metaphor for this that seems apropos: "That's an awfully long run for an awfully short slide."

The second I finished this story I said 'wow, that was one long metaphor.' The whole thing seemed like an obvious, a red-herring-delivered-on-the-poll-of-a-sledgehammer-obvious parable for not letting fear of death stop you from living. That's a good enough thing on its own, but the whole probability-vortex concept had so much interesting potential that it seemed cumbrous and a bit of a shame to use it on this point.
 
Don't get me wrong, the writing itself was great. To make my own metaphor: all the small brushstrokes were beautiful, the composition balanced, I even liked the model being painted, but I didn't like angle the artist chose to depict.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2010, 06:42:52 AM by blueeyeddevil » Logged
Listener
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« Reply #6 on: June 11, 2010, 08:39:27 AM »

One of Kate Baker's better readings. Sometimes she sounds too blase about the subject matter and it doesn't work for me.

I enjoyed the story, and there was a lot of humor in it. The chain scene in the park, though, while getting its message across, didn't have any serious consequences -- Adele would've gotten Italian Ice on her clothes, and would've had to go home, shower, and change. I did like how the four-leaf-clover happened to be at her foot, making her the epicenter of a Good Luck Area, but, I mean... the whole scene, while amusing, did not ring true at all for me.

For comparison, in "Ink", Jacob sets off a chain that leads to a major change in a character's life and basically makes the ending possible by changing the timeline, whereas if he hadn't, the other timeline would've occurred. Now that's an impactful (I hate using that word) chain of events.

Otherwise, no qualms.
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #7 on: June 11, 2010, 09:15:04 AM »

Though Dave mentioned a tradition of running all five Hugo noms.  Actually the tradition from previous years seems to have been to run all but one, and be unable to obtain the rights for the final entry. 

Good job on breaking with tradition and getting all of them this year!

Actually, they got all five last year as well.

I liked this story about as much as the Pseudopod story about WikiLeaks clips from Iraq.  Which is to say, I didn't.  This is one of the best five that they could come up with?
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Talia
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« Reply #8 on: June 11, 2010, 09:38:57 AM »

Matter of taste. I liked this one quite a lot. Not everything can please everybody. Heh, if the Hugo nominations had to consist of five stories, or books, or whatever that everybody liked, I daresay there would never be Hugos.
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shtick
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« Reply #9 on: June 12, 2010, 03:15:37 AM »

i post on this forum so infrequently that i have to reset my password every time i do. this story go my attention, though, and here's why. i see this story as basically a though experiment about what life would be like if we lived in a world of magical thinking. most people worry about bad things happening. most people wish good things would happen. the world of this story has begun to behave the way people's imaginary world does.

some might point to the "chain" scene in the park as a counter example to this, but i don't see it that way. it is an illustration that people don't just like to imagination the good and the bad, but also the extraordinary. we don't dwell on event-chains like "i reached into my pocket to grab a tissue and my car-keys fell out and now i have to call a mechanic" we like to think "i reached into my pocket, my car keys fell out, and a stranger saw me looking forlorn on a corner and offered me a ride and now we are married and i have to move to peru" you get the point.

the focal point of this story is that the characters can change the outcome of events just by wishing. and this makes this story one of those weird ones that are either very good or very bad. i am going to get political now, so if you don't want your escapism disturbed, stop reading. the world we currently live in is crisis. it occurred to me a couple of years ago that america is engaged in an experiment in mass magical thinking. maybe this is just my own overactive imagination, but this is what i listen to financial reporting about how all that we need to do to get back on track is to 'regain confidence in the market', or when i listen to political commentary that focuses on how people perceive a policy, rather than on the effects of that policy. not to mention that almost every single Hollywood movie, especially the ones made for children, explicitly say that wishing makes it so.
maybe magical thinking is essential in times of crisis, because it makes the crisis bearable. but it is also a really, really bad habit. and this is why this story might be bad.  If the ending is supposed to be positive, that we can just all get together and click out heels together and all of our problems will be over, and that is someone's reaction to the current state of our society, that's frightening.

on the other hand, if this story is meant to be frightening, it really, really is. if it is meant to point out how people would much rather wish away their problems than take action, it's brilliant.  i especially like the fact that the main character is someone i am forced to identify myself with, lifestyle-wise, while at the same time despising her for how fey-practical and completely ineffectual she is.

i have said that this falls into the category of things that i can't tell if they are brilliant or terrible. but, since the answer to this question seems to rest on what the author's intention was, i think the question is moot. my rule for this is, if it bugs me this much, it must be good.



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KenK
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« Reply #10 on: June 12, 2010, 04:26:18 PM »

Mass hysteria on display. The same sort of thoughtless emotional reaction that motivated lynch mobs or witch burnings not so long ago in human history; past but not really past. Witness the endless and bizarre conspiracy theories that people take seriously, even today in advanced countries. Human, all too human.

Decent story but just doesn't seem to be Hugo quality IMHO.

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Darwinist
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« Reply #11 on: June 12, 2010, 04:43:05 PM »

Looking forward to hearing all the Hugo noms but the first one didn't do much for me.  It had its moments but overall I was disappointed, maybe I came in with too high of expectations because I knew it was a Hugo nom.   Looking forward to next week.
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« Reply #12 on: June 13, 2010, 02:52:15 AM »

Good post, shtick.
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KenK
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« Reply #13 on: June 13, 2010, 07:52:34 PM »

I am surprised that this story was nominated for a Hugo and I'll be shocked if it wins.  Shocked
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Listener
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« Reply #14 on: June 14, 2010, 09:13:46 AM »

Looking forward to hearing all the Hugo noms but the first one didn't do much for me.  It had its moments but overall I was disappointed, maybe I came in with too high of expectations because I knew it was a Hugo nom.   Looking forward to next week.

I'm sorry, but everyone saying "nom" is making me think of this:

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« Reply #15 on: June 14, 2010, 11:11:33 AM »

Enjoyed it on Clarkesworld. Enjoyed it here. Good luck to the author in the Hugos.
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« Reply #16 on: June 14, 2010, 11:50:26 AM »

Enjoyed it on Clarkesworld. Enjoyed it here. Good luck to the author in the Hugos.

I think it was an enjoyable story, and I think it was noteworthy for its positive take despite the myriad of horrible things that could (and did) happen... and perhaps the positivity is what propelled it this far. But yeah, I don't think it's going to win.
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CryptoMe
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« Reply #17 on: June 15, 2010, 02:52:58 PM »

As many have already said, I was disappointed for a Hugo nom, nom, nom...

Maybe I would have liked the story better if the venues filled with praying people were all hit by freak natural disasters? Who knows, maybe they were...  Grin
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eytanz
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« Reply #18 on: June 15, 2010, 03:51:53 PM »

In response to the people above who are expressing surprise that this is a Hugo nominee: after a few years of following the hugo short stories (thanks to EP), I think the majority of them are roughly divided into two categories:

1. Stories that hinge on describing alien cultures (Exhale, Tk'tk'tk, Kin).

2. Well written, usually feel-good, stories that recast familiar scenes from American life in SF or fantasy terms, but aren't particularly challenging or controversial.

This story falls squarely into the second camp. It is, in fact, a very typical hugo nominee. It is written well by a clearly talented author (and I would have been able to tell that from this story, even if I wasn't already familiar with her). It also could easily be adapted into a lifetime/hallmark channel movie.

I enjoyed it, but I don't think it's going to stick with me.
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MapleStirrups
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« Reply #19 on: June 15, 2010, 10:41:24 PM »

I enjoyed it, but I don't think it's going to stick with me.

Yeah, I came here to discuss the story, but it turns out I don't remember any of it. I even had to hear it all the way through on EP before I realized that I'd heard it before on Clarkesworld. It was good, just not memorable.
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