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Author Topic: EP250: Eros, Philia, Agape  (Read 14728 times)
Heradel
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« on: July 22, 2010, 08:49:52 PM »

EP250: Eros, Philia, Agape

By Rachel Swirsky
Read by Mur Lafferty
Originally published in: Tor.com (full text available at link)

The objects belonged to them both, but Adriana waved her hand bitterly when Lucian began packing. “Take whatever you want,” she said, snapping her book shut. She waited by the door, watching Lucian with sad and angry eyes.

Their daughter, Rose, followed Lucian around the house. “Are you going to take that, Daddy? Do you want that?” Wordlessly, Lucian held her hand. He guided her up the stairs and across the uneven floorboards where she sometimes tripped. Rose stopped by the picture window in the master bedroom, staring past the palm fronds and swimming pools, out to the vivid cerulean swath of the ocean. Lucian relished the hot, tender feel of Rose’s hand. I love you, he would have whispered, but he’d surrendered the ability to speak.

Rated PG for marital strife and implied child abuse.

Show Notes:

This is a long one, we’re bringing occasional novelettes to Escape Pod now, and what better to launch the effort than a Hugo nominee?
Next week… Escape Pod looks at an alternate history with alternate aliens.
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« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2010, 02:26:51 AM »

I felt so bad for Fuoco - it is not fair for anyone to love someone else so much and not have it reciprocated.

But really loved the story.
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Boggled Coriander
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« Reply #2 on: July 23, 2010, 02:42:58 AM »

I'll admit in the past I haven't been a big Rachel Swirsky fan.  She's an awesome writer, but her stories just haven't been to my taste (which says more about me and my taste than it does about her).

But I loved this story.  Loved it.  Didn't read it on Tor.com when it was posted (I don't care much for reading long fiction off a computer screen), so Mur's reading was my first exposure to it. 

Feel like I should have more to say but the words aren't coming.  Maybe after I read more responses I'll be able to clarify my reaction.
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« Reply #3 on: July 23, 2010, 07:29:54 AM »

I, too, loved this story. And was angry they killed Fuoco. I was also angry it wasn't a Hugo nominee for short story, then looked it up and found it was a Hugo nominee for Best Novelette! I have always been a fan of Rachael on podcastle, was sorry she left, but didn't realize, till now, she was such a great writer. Also, great narration by Mur.

P.S. Peter Watts' The Island, also a novellette nominee, was recently on starshipsofa. http://www.starshipsofa.com/20100630/aural-delights-no-143-peter-watts/
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« Reply #4 on: July 23, 2010, 11:45:19 AM »

This story broke my heart. Stories about broken families and spoiled relationships have always struck me, perhaps because so many of my friends growing up were children of divorces, while my parents soldiered on in a marriage that didn't seem - to me - to do anyone any good.

That said, I've always found it hard to sympathize with the character who leaves his or her children in order to "find" himself or herself. My attitude has always been that once you have kids you have an obligation to find yourself right where you are. Wives and husbands you can leave, but kids own you.

That said.

I really felt for Lucian, and understand why he had to leave. He had no idea who he was, what he was, or how to love. It's a tragedy, and his journey towards, away from, and towards human self-awareness was poignant and striking. I like that Eros, Philia, Agape ended on a positive note. I like to envision that as the future the story was headed towards, but I can't let myself forget that the story was definitely presenting it as a possibility, no more and no less.

Oh, and by the way? I thought Rose's reaction to her father's disappearance was incredibly, breathtakingly, sad. More importantly, it was basically realistic, despite the unrealistic context. The rest of the story was really great, but this is the moment that jumped out at me and said "this author is really, really talented."
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« Reply #5 on: July 23, 2010, 07:17:32 PM »

I'm confused... hasn't this story run on an EA cast before? It's the one with the android husband who goes off to find himself, right? Is it just running again because it's a Hugo nominee? I'm so confused @_@
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« Reply #6 on: July 23, 2010, 07:25:35 PM »

I'm confused... hasn't this story run on an EA cast before? It's the one with the android husband who goes off to find himself, right? Is it just running again because it's a Hugo nominee? I'm so confused @_@

Nope, this hasn't been on any EA cast.  I know Tor has a podcast, maybe they simulcast on that and you heard it there?
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« Reply #7 on: July 23, 2010, 07:30:19 PM »

Will comment more fully later, but there are some... odd word choices here.  Such as "excruciatingly  pale" to describe a person.

The only way I've ever heard "excruciating" used is to describe pain or longing or some other unpleasant emotion/feeling, not sure how it can be applied to paleness, except in a humorous way like I might expect in Pale Force (with Jim Gaffigan and Conan O'Brien).
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kibitzer
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« Reply #8 on: July 23, 2010, 08:33:09 PM »

I'm confused... hasn't this story run on an EA cast before? It's the one with the android husband who goes off to find himself, right? Is it just running again because it's a Hugo nominee? I'm so confused @_@

Yeah, I was also confused. It ran as number 13 on the tor.com 'cast -- maybe that's where you heard it.

I didn't particularly like it when I heard it on tor.com and I still don't -- perhaps I missed the subtleties of theme Rachel was dealing with here.  But this happens to me a lot -- folks love, love, love a story and I'm left thinking, "huh? did we listen to the same tale?" For example, "Behold of the Eye" didn't do much for me but many went nuts for it.
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Talia
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« Reply #9 on: July 23, 2010, 10:20:19 PM »

Will comment more fully later, but there are some... odd word choices here.  Such as "excruciatingly  pale" to describe a person.

The only way I've ever heard "excruciating" used is to describe pain or longing or some other unpleasant emotion/feeling, not sure how it can be applied to paleness, except in a humorous way like I might expect in Pale Force (with Jim Gaffigan and Conan O'Brien).

I actually enjoy the phrase excruciatingly pale. To me it suggests "so pale he/she is rather painful to look upon".
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stePH
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« Reply #10 on: July 23, 2010, 11:54:35 PM »

I thought this story could be cut to about half its length and lose nothing important.  Otherwise, not bad.
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ajames
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« Reply #11 on: July 24, 2010, 06:53:43 AM »

Rachel is an artist with words, and this story is no exception.  Many of her stories have taken my breath away, and others have impressed me on a craft-level but failed to make a connection with me (as another poster has stated, this probably says more about me than about the given story).  This gave me a lot to think about and I enjoyed listening to it, but I couldn't quite connect.

That said, I've always found it hard to sympathize with the character who leaves his or her children in order to "find" himself or herself. My attitude has always been that once you have kids you have an obligation to find yourself right where you are. Wives and husbands you can leave, but kids own you.

That said.

I really felt for Lucian, and understand why he had to leave. He had no idea who he was, what he was, or how to love. It's a tragedy, and his journey towards, away from, and towards human self-awareness was poignant and striking. I like that Eros, Philia, Agape ended on a positive note. I like to envision that as the future the story was headed towards, but I can't let myself forget that the story was definitely presenting it as a possibility, no more and no less.

I guess what made Lucian's leaving difficult for me to connect with was the complete disconnect with his previous "self".  This genius psychologist couldn't predict the devastating effect his leaving would have on his wife and child and find a better way to do it? It is one thing to throw an object in the sea, quite another to throw the people you love into an abyss.  As far as we know, there was no self-destruct built into Lucian's programming, leaving him only a limited time to find himself. 

I suppose this is where the forgetting comes in to play, and once the process of "agency" was begun Lucian's previous self began disappearing, making him capable of rebirth but having unintended and unseen consequences on the people in his life.  Logically I can see this, but for me this part needed to brought out a little more forcefully and earlier for me to really connect with what was going on in the story.

Anyway, great story - thanks Rachel and EP!
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« Reply #12 on: July 24, 2010, 07:56:12 AM »

A couple of points:

Implied incestuous rape merits more than a PG rating. It should be rated at least PG-13. I'm not sure why there was no mention of suggested rating at during the intro to this story, but I would have appreciated it.

There something about this story that I really liked and somethings that I didn't care for.  For one the only character I really enjoyed was Rose, she was the only character (of the main members of the triangle) that really came off as natural.  That works for Lucian, he's not natural, but Adriana was just a miserable cuss, so much so that I just couldn't swallow her.  The idea that she was an activist for anything other than her own barely functional coping mechanisms was something I had to accept as a premise for making the central fact of the plot happen, but it just didn't jive for me.

The world-building was done with a deft touch, and the author did a very good job of answering my questions about the setting just as they came up. I think there was a a nice balance between moving the plot and description of scene and emotion, although at times I think things were stretched a little longer than needed.

Finally, and for me this is what makes the story work as a whole, what I really really enjoyed was examining the way in which each of the three main characters engaged in their relationships.  We have Adriana, a real human with with a essentially a series of false relationships being used to fill a deep emotional hurt.  Even her house is filled with non-living servants, with whom she barely engages.  So too her car. We have Lucian an artificial constructed multiplicity with a series of swarming selves merging into a single being with a deeply powerful capacity to understand his (its) relationship to not only people, but everything around it.  And finally we Rose, lovely Rose who seems to accept things as they are, or at least how she is able to understanding them.  Somehow defining herself and knowing herself through the lens of her Mother and Father.  And of course neither of her practical parents are really her genetic parents.

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« Reply #13 on: July 24, 2010, 12:49:37 PM »

How this story slipped by the Hugo Awards is beyond me. I enjoyed this story almost as much as "Dispersed by the Sun, Melting in the Wind." I also thought the Octavia Butler quote at the beginning of the story was very instructive.

The heartbreaking irony is that Lucien's dilemma is exceedingly human. And despite the rather detailed elements of hard sci-fi, I never felt bored or taken out of the story by the details. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think Rachel took what the Iowa Workshop does best and incorporated it into our neighborhood.
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« Reply #14 on: July 24, 2010, 03:59:27 PM »

I guess what made Lucian's leaving difficult for me to connect with was the complete disconnect with his previous "self".  This genius psychologist couldn't predict the devastating effect his leaving would have on his wife and child and find a better way to do it? It is one thing to throw an object in the sea, quite another to throw the people you love into an abyss.  As far as we know, there was no self-destruct built into Lucian's programming, leaving him only a limited time to find himself. 

Wow - this story really did help me grow. I'm going to defend Lucian using a concept from a story I hated - the play "A Doll's House," by Ibsen. In that play, the main character leaves her husband and child rather abruptly because she realizes that she is no kind of wife or mother the way she is now. She can't stay and work it out with them because she's totally worthless as she is. Her husband deserves a better partner and her child deserves a better parent. If she's going to do this, she's going to need to do this right, by breaking herself down and starting again, from the beginning.

That said, I do agree that Lucian left his family in a lurch, and it is pretty sad.

I think I like that all this was implied rather than explicit, however. I enjoyed the slow unfolding of Lucien's dilemma rather than a simple, declarative section where he laid out his intent.
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Talia
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« Reply #15 on: July 24, 2010, 04:13:14 PM »

How this story slipped by the Hugo Awards is beyond me. .

It didn't. Smiley

Quote
Best Novelette
(402 Ballots)

    * “Eros, Philia, Agape”, Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com 3/09)
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« Reply #16 on: July 25, 2010, 02:43:45 AM »

I found this story very affecting. I think I'm always moved by stories with children in them and especially about family relationships and how they effect kids, perhaps excruciatingly so Wink. Usually I'd be very angry about a character leaving his or her family in the lurch but there was something about the way the story unfolded that made me sympathetic to Lucien.

Ultimately this is a rare and special story for me because I felt it made me understand myself, people and life in general a little better. Thanks, Rachel and Mur.
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« Reply #17 on: July 25, 2010, 11:17:04 PM »

I wish I could have read this story when I was still an English major in college.  Adrienne loving three beings in three different ways, but at the same time she has a relationship of superiority with all of them.  Then there are her two married friends, the same sex and so unequivocally equal.  The essay practically writes itself.  The process Lucien was going through fascinated me, and it's exactly why I come to science fiction for intellectual stimulation.

But the characters made it a bitter pill to swallow.  All of them are self-centered and self-loathing, miserable, and competing to see who can be the biggest jerk to the others.  I felt no warmth in the relationships.  The parents shirking their responsibility to their child and/or each other made them unlikable to me.  Great job, guys.  Innocent Rose is going to turn out as screwed up as you two.  And Adrienne seemed like a stereotypical woman character.  She's neurotic, goes to pieces when her man leaves her, and even has a gay man for a best friend.  Her breakdown is somewhat defensible in that Lucien seems to have been designed to be psychologically irresistible.  Women *must* fall in love with him, which ties wonderfully into the theme of free will and ownership.  But still doesn't change the fact that women in stories are obsessed with men. 

I've mentioned before that there seem to be a lot of stories written by women with a woman MC who cannot function without being in a relationship.  I'm not sure what to make of this.

I'm not exactly sure why, but I don't feel like my dislike of the characters ruined an otherwise great story for me.  It's more like Lucien's journey made me like a story I otherwise would not have.  It was very thought provoking. 

Regarding the reading, did Mur sound odd to anyone else?  Her voice seemed a little lower.  I wonder if she was using different equipment.   She often took loud breaths before a paragraph, which I found distracting once I noticed it. 

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« Reply #18 on: July 26, 2010, 01:19:52 AM »

OK, so I finally broke down and looked up the words in the title.

Eros: Love with a sexual content. (purely sexual?)
Philia: Familial love
Agape: divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love.

But this is in the same Wikipedia article, and it kind of confuses me:
Quote
Greek philosophers at the time of Plato and other ancient authors have used forms of the word to denote love of a spouse or family, or affection for a particular activity, in contrast to philia—an affection that could denote either brotherhood or generally non-sexual affection, and eros, an affection of a sexual nature.

I had been looking at the story from the point of view of Adrienne and seen Fuoco, Lucien, and Rose as the recipients of three kinds of love from her.  But maybe Swarski intends me to see Adrienne as the recipient of these three kinds of love from them.  The difference is Fuoco, who loves Adrianne with an agape kind of love, but it is unrequited. 

The definitions for Eros, Philia, and Agape are pretty hazy, so I'd be interested in what others think. 
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« Reply #19 on: July 26, 2010, 07:34:38 AM »

I wasn't a fan of this story when I first heard it on Tor.com. I'm still not.

I think the very best parts of the story -- the MC (I forget her name) buying a robot husband and training him, them having a kid, then the kid wishing she was a robot like her dad (complete with blood scene), all of that got lost to me amid the details and the hemming and hawing. I agree with stePH that it could've been trimmed to a much shorter piece and still kept its ultimate message (which I think I understood as well as anyone else listening casually). The gay best friends, the extremely long future-tense denouement, the sisters, even most of the daddy issues*, all of that made the story so long that after a while I kept wondering where it was going. When it finally got there, I was so burnt-out on trying to follow it that I just wanted it to end.

* Obviously these were pretty important to the MC and the reason she had a robot husband built, but there was just too much of it.

This reading sounded odd to me, like it was slowed down artificially. Maybe Mur's changed the way she reads in the past year or so; I don't know. I only listened to snippets here and there, since I heard it on Tor.com earlier this year.
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