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Author Topic: EP244: Non-Zero Probabilities  (Read 10432 times)
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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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« 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
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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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« Reply #20 on: June 17, 2010, 11:44:02 AM »

That's great that EP got all five Hugo nominees.  Excellent.  Smiley

Typically, of the five nominees, there is one which really wows me, and the other 4 are good but not so spectacular that I would've voted for them as the top 5 of the year.  This was one of the latter, it was good, a neat idea, neat setup, but ran a little bit long, and in the end wasn't really spectacular.  If it hadn't been a Hugo nominee I'd say it was pretty good, but the expectations are raised by its nomination and I just didn't think it reached that high.
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« Reply #21 on: June 17, 2010, 05:07:46 PM »

One has to wonder why they weren't praying to Coyote or Loki. Gods of chaos, right? Tricksters?

[shrug]

I enjoyed the story and agree with an earlier poster that it reminded me of the wonderful show "Strange Luck."
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« Reply #22 on: June 18, 2010, 11:08:23 AM »

One has to wonder why they weren't praying to Coyote or Loki. Gods of chaos, right? Tricksters?

[shrug]


Wouldn't that make things worse?  If belief defines the world, then believing in order and inherent good in the cosmic plan will make one's life more pleasant than believing in chaos.
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« Reply #23 on: June 18, 2010, 11:16:06 AM »

Wouldn't that make things worse?  If belief defines the world, then believing in order and inherent good in the cosmic plan will make one's life more pleasant than believing in chaos.

I was thinking of it differently. NYC was already RULED by chaos, so obviously those gods were in charge, already.
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« Reply #24 on: June 19, 2010, 03:51:29 AM »

there've been questions about what makes a hugo nominee worthwhile, i have opinions.

a nomination doesn't have to mean that you're really in the running to win, the nomination itself (and the attention it brings) can be a reward on it's own.   on years when there is a strong contender that looks like a lock to win i like to think that one or two nominations may go to interesting stories that wouldn't normally win a popularity contest.

as an example, Meryl Streep got an oscar nomination for some cookie-cutter chick flick, the devil wears prada.  there was no real chance that she'd win with that role but she elevated her character beyond the writing and that spoke volumes about her as an actress.  she deserved the nod of a nomination.

i've considered the stories so far at least on par with some of the past nominations.  in this story, i like the way that it addressed (intentionally or not) the tendency of current specfic characters to treat strange phenomena as something to be feared or born as a burden.  there is almost never a character i can really identify with.

ok, so assume there's a ghost in the house.  this is new, probably dangerous, and we'll really want the kitchen walls to stop bleeding soon but, big picture, this is firsthand objective proof of life after death.  how is this not ultimately awesome?  sure, safety first & be pragmatic but also reevaluate your life and start wondering if maybe you should be eating kosher to see grandma again.

it seems like the only characters that are actively curious & interested by the strange stuff tend to be off kilter and die early for dramatic effect.  the pale scientist with a creepy grin who wanders up to stroke a slobbering alien muttering about how beautiful it is.

i spent the early part of this story suppressing sighs and trying to look past the protag's inward attitude and refusal to take responsibility for her life. actually finding a character that says outright that the strange stuff is interesting and worth sticking around for... that was nice.
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« Reply #25 on: June 20, 2010, 09:36:50 AM »

@ deflective
But cliches are part of the art form though. Trying to build a totally original backstory for each character and situation would make films last forever. Written and spoken sci fi, where you can have interior monologues, memories, dreams, flashbacks and so forth makes cliches less necessary.
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« Reply #26 on: June 20, 2010, 12:19:58 PM »

To me, stories about characters who simply take everything happening around them in stride, and think "cool!" and go about their day lack a certain conflict.  They can be entertaining on occassion (I recall a Clive Barker story about an atheist who refused to be rattled by his ghostly stalker), but a steady diet of it would become unsatisfying pretty quickly.
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« Reply #27 on: June 20, 2010, 01:07:26 PM »

To me, stories about characters who simply take everything happening around them in stride, and think "cool!" and go about their day lack a certain conflict.  They can be entertaining on occassion (I recall a Clive Barker story about an atheist who refused to be rattled by his ghostly stalker), but a steady diet of it would become unsatisfying pretty quickly.

If it's the story I'm thinking of ("The Yattering and Jack"), I thought the emphasis was less on the non-responsive Jack and more about the frustrations the Yattering experienced trying to work his mojo.  Except for the MINOR SPOILER unfortunate kitty killings (which is very much a hard limit topic for me), it was the reactions of the Yattering that made the story for me.

I'm not entirely certain how I feel about "Non-Zero Probabilities" (apart from my very negative reaction to the description of the cat...hard limit, doncha know).  Parts of it appeared to me to describe a world that was a bit "better" in that people are actually taking the time to talk to each other now and are (maybe) being a bit enriched by the experience, and yet there's this whole movement to kind of change world karma because things aren't as they used to be.  Or am I totally misreading things again?
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« Reply #28 on: June 21, 2010, 05:56:46 AM »

i was thinking of The Yattering and Jack as well.  it's a fun ride and i recommend it to anyone who thinks they might like it.  for people ok with spoilers:  Jack is not an atheist, his parents sold his soul to hell and he's well aware of his situation.  his placid attitude toward The Yattering is a considered tactic he uses to torment his tormentor.  but, that aside, Jack dismissing every supernatural phenomena that happens is pretty much the exact opposite of the active interest i was talking about.


Trying to build a totally original backstory for each character and situation would make films last forever.

i'm not sure why you read my comment to say that this is only a film trend, it's in written specific too.  but there are modern films where the main characters are proactive & investigative and drive the story (contact & flat liners jump to mind, kinda interesting that i wasn't really a fan of either). 
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« Reply #29 on: June 21, 2010, 12:23:19 PM »

Wouldn't that make things worse?  If belief defines the world, then believing in order and inherent good in the cosmic plan will make one's life more pleasant than believing in chaos.

I was thinking of it differently. NYC was already RULED by chaos, so obviously those gods were in charge, already.

I understand that, but praying to those gods will make them more real, and what good is a god of chaos who does not sow chaos?  Since this world is ruled by what you believe in, you should do your best to believe in order if you want the world to be orderly.
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« Reply #30 on: June 21, 2010, 12:27:38 PM »

as an example, Meryl Streep got an oscar nomination for some cookie-cutter chick flick, the devil wears prada.  there was no real chance that she'd win with that role but she elevated her character beyond the writing and that spoke volumes about her as an actress.  she deserved the nod of a nomination.

Or when Avatar was nominated for Best Picture.  I doubt it ever had any real chance, but the Academy wanted to increase Oscar ratings.  I haven't seen it because it was overyhyped and looked very cookie cutter, but even those I know who LOVED it said that the spec fx were fantastic but the story was low quality.
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« Reply #31 on: June 22, 2010, 07:32:14 PM »

Quote
...the spec fx were fantastic but the story was low quality.

That's pretty much true of all big studio films anymore, even when they have an excellent novel, story, etc, to work from.  If you want excellent quality stories and acting that transcend 1960s era cheesy props and fx you have watch old Twilight Zone reruns on the net. Very sad to note the cultural wasteland of modern America.
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« Reply #32 on: June 22, 2010, 08:55:19 PM »

Quote
...the spec fx were fantastic but the story was low quality.

That's pretty much true of all big studio films anymore, even when they have an excellent novel, story, etc, to work from.  If you want excellent quality stories and acting that transcend 1960s era cheesy props and fx you have watch old Twilight Zone reruns on the net. Very sad to note the cultural wasteland of modern America.

When most people spend a bunch of money to go out on the town, they want to be entertained, not necesarily be recipients of art.

There's still plenty of quality filmmaking to be found, particularly in independent and smaller films. "cultural wasteland" seems like hyperbole to me. Now, POP culture is a wasteland, but it always has been. There's still plenty of non-trashy culture to be found and appreciated in the nooks and crannies, though.
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« Reply #33 on: June 22, 2010, 10:22:22 PM »

I don't know where you live Talia but here are my options this day for new release in-theatre film "entertainment".
Toy Story 2, Karate Kid, A-Team, Get Him To The Greek, Shrek Forever After, Prince of Persia, Jonah Hex, Killers, Iron Man 2, and Marmaduke.  Roll Eyes

Mostly I scour the few remaining video rental stores, or browse through Hulu or Netflix to see discontinued TV shows and classic movies. Today's game isn't worth the candle, IMHO. 
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« Reply #34 on: June 22, 2010, 10:42:16 PM »

I don't know where you live Talia but here are my options this day for new release in-theatre film "entertainment".
Toy Story 2, Karate Kid, A-Team, Get Him To The Greek, Shrek Forever After, Prince of Persia, Jonah Hex, Killers, Iron Man 2, and Marmaduke.  Roll Eyes

Mostly I scour the few remaining video rental stores, or browse through Hulu or Netflix to see discontinued TV shows and classic movies. Today's game isn't worth the candle, IMHO. 

Well in their defense, Iron Man 2 was totally awesome, and I've heard TS3 is quite good too.

Not American cinema, but - near me, one of the theatres is playing Jean-Pierre Jeunet's (Amelie, City of lost Children) latest film, 'MicMacs'. I donno bout you but I'll pretty much see anything he makes. (and I will challenge to a throwdown anyone who sez 'Amelie' isnt a great movie Tongue).

Also, 'Solitary Man' with Michael Douglas, which is supposed to be good (but I don't know much about it).

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« Reply #35 on: June 23, 2010, 11:48:24 AM »

Quote
...the spec fx were fantastic but the story was low quality.

That's pretty much true of all big studio films anymore, even when they have an excellent novel, story, etc, to work from.  If you want excellent quality stories and acting that transcend 1960s era cheesy props and fx you have watch old Twilight Zone reruns on the net. Very sad to note the cultural wasteland of modern America.

When most people spend a bunch of money to go out on the town, they want to be entertained, not necesarily be recipients of art.

There's still plenty of quality filmmaking to be found, particularly in independent and smaller films. "cultural wasteland" seems like hyperbole to me. Now, POP culture is a wasteland, but it always has been. There's still plenty of non-trashy culture to be found and appreciated in the nooks and crannies, though.

Yeah, indie films tend to appeal to me much more these days.  500 Days of Summer was really good, as was Up in the Air. 

It's not that I dislike all major studio films--I'll definitely see Toy Story 3 and I'll probably like it.  But I'm not expecting it to be the best movie I've ever seen.  I have certain expectations for the plot and characters that Pixar generally does not have any trouble meeting, and then I'll probably like it.  Toy Story and Toy Story 2 both had decent plots, a clear goal, interesting and unique characters (if not particularly deep). 
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« Reply #36 on: June 26, 2010, 12:56:48 AM »

While we're on the subject, I want to know in what universe it makes sense to have a movie about a kid in China learning Kung Fu from Jackie Chan, and call it The Karate Kid.

That's basted in wrong sauce.
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« Reply #37 on: June 26, 2010, 03:13:42 AM »

The universe in which the worth of every movie is valued solely in the potential dollars it may generate by referencing already proven commodities in a desperate attempt to cover both a lack of creativity and a lack of belief in your own product?  That one....
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« Reply #38 on: June 29, 2010, 08:47:58 AM »

The universe in which the worth of every movie is valued solely in the potential dollars it may generate by referencing already proven commodities in a desperate attempt to cover both a lack of creativity and a lack of belief in your own product?  That one....

FTW
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--David Steffen
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Farseeker
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« Reply #39 on: July 15, 2010, 12:04:36 PM »

I enjoyed the story, much more than I expected to.  I was all prepared to dislike it because the root idea was so completely silly.  However the exploration of people's differing reactions to the phenomenon, capped by the host's Bull Durham quote, captured the attention of my pragmatic side.  If it seems to work, why not?  Does it really matter if it makes no sense, if it really works?
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LaShawn
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« Reply #40 on: July 19, 2010, 10:09:48 AM »

I listened to it on Clarkesworld and pretty much enjoyed it here too.
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ceruleangrave
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« Reply #41 on: August 14, 2010, 06:21:07 PM »

I really enjoyed this story and immediately started thinking about forwarding it to a close friend of mine. I enjoyed the premise and the setting, as I am someone who recently lived in and moved away from NYC. It got me thinking about the significance of my own daily rituals.
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Beryllos
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« Reply #42 on: August 25, 2010, 01:31:29 PM »

I thought this was going to go somewhere, but it felt like a series of scenes that never pay off. I liked Kate Baker's reading very much and I like the set-up. However, I don't think this short story would have convinced me to try her novel if I had not already read it.
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