Author Topic: EP250: Eros, Philia, Agape  (Read 31887 times)

Heradel

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on: July 23, 2010, 01:49:52 AM
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.

I Twitter. I also occasionally blog on the Escape Pod blog, which if you're here you shouldn't have much trouble finding.


Divya

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Reply #1 on: July 23, 2010, 07:26:51 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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Reply #2 on: July 23, 2010, 07:42:58 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, 12:29:54 PM
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, 04:45:19 PM
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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Dave

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Reply #5 on: July 24, 2010, 12:17:32 AM
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 24, 2010, 12:25:35 AM
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 24, 2010, 12:30:19 AM
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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Reply #8 on: July 24, 2010, 01:33:09 AM
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.


Talia

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Reply #9 on: July 24, 2010, 03:20:19 AM
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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Reply #10 on: July 24, 2010, 04:54:35 AM
I thought this story could be cut to about half its length and lose nothing important.  Otherwise, not bad.

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Reply #11 on: July 24, 2010, 11:53:43 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, 12:56:12 PM
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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Schreiber

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Reply #13 on: July 24, 2010, 05:49:37 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, 08:59:27 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, 09:13:14 PM
How this story slipped by the Hugo Awards is beyond me. .

It didn't. :)

Quote
Best Novelette
(402 Ballots)

    * “Eros, Philia, Agape”, Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com 3/09)



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Reply #16 on: July 25, 2010, 07:43:45 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 ;). 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.



wakela

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Reply #17 on: July 26, 2010, 04:17:04 AM
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. 




wakela

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Reply #18 on: July 26, 2010, 06:19:52 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, 12:34:38 PM
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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Reply #20 on: July 27, 2010, 01:00:29 AM
I've really enjoyed Rachel Swirsky's work that has been presented on Escape Pod. And this was no exception. This story actually made me step back and examine the relationships I have in my own life. Oh yeah and nice fat episodes help Mondays go by faster! Thanks!



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Reply #21 on: July 27, 2010, 05:44:31 PM
Poor Fuoco!  I enjoyed the story, and like some others found the main character completely unlikable.  It seemed almost as if Lucien was more capable of what we would call 'human emotions' than the protagonist.  He anguished for Fuoco, he deeply loved the child, he felt doubt and surprise and experienced his environment.  The woman, on the other hand, glided through her days like an automaton.  Passive, emotionless, demonstrating no real care...    Yeah, she was the real robot.



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Reply #22 on: July 28, 2010, 02:31:10 AM
It is rare that I read/hear a story that is just so beautifully and exquisitely crafted, yet still feel an almost tangible sense of loss after reading it.  While this story was so beautifully written it was also just achingly heartbreaking, a deeply emotional narrative that leaves the reader almost as scarred as the dysfunctional family it illustrates.  The barest glimmer of hope at the end doesn't really make up for the rest of the story, because you just know that none of these people are really coming out of this story 'OK', each person - robot husband, emotionally crippled wife, and poor, confused daughter, will never again regain the love and sense of family they lose here.   This story haunted me, truly haunted me all day today, so much so that this is the first time I've ever posted a comment to an episode of Escape Pod. 

I love this story, and somehow at the same time regret having heard it, as there are images here, sad, lonely images, that will stay with me for days, maybe weeks... 



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Reply #23 on: July 28, 2010, 03:08:47 AM
I wasn't a fan of this story when I first heard it on Tor.com. I'm still not.

And here I thought I was the only one ;-)


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Reply #24 on: July 28, 2010, 06:13:57 AM
Ms. Swirsky's characters don't have traits, only issues. It's almost formulaic: woman with dysfunctional love life, obligatory gay friends, no resolution, and the merest veneer of SF. Would anything substantive about the plot have changed if Lucian had merely been a naive young boytoy of a wealthy older woman who grew tired of the shallowness of his life and left to 'find himself'? The whole point of speculative fiction is to examine the effect, on some scale, of a posited change in the world, whether large or small, past, present, or future. This fulfills none of the above.

This is exactly the sort of drivel which drove me to stop listening to Podcastle.



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Reply #25 on: July 28, 2010, 07:02:02 AM
Ms. Swirsky's characters don't have traits, only issues. It's almost formulaic: woman with dysfunctional love life, obligatory gay friends, no resolution, and the merest veneer of SF. Would anything substantive about the plot have changed if Lucian had merely been a naive young boytoy of a wealthy older woman who grew tired of the shallowness of his life and left to 'find himself'? The whole point of speculative fiction is to examine the effect, on some scale, of a posited change in the world, whether large or small, past, present, or future. This fulfills none of the above.

This is exactly the sort of drivel which drove me to stop listening to Podcastle.

It is formulaic.  Waiting until really late/early and then starting an account just to make personal insults against authors (or one in particular).  I'm pretty sure this isn't really your first post.  Just in case my assumptions are incorrect, here is a link to an explanation about our One Rule.

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Reply #26 on: July 28, 2010, 04:59:54 PM
I find it fascinating how trolls take on different shapes and habits in response to different environments.  They're like some kind of omni-predator, adapting camouflage and hunting techniques for every online ecosystem.

---

For my part, I found this story compelling to listen to/read, but was utterly unable to sympathize with Lucian, primarily because he goes off into the desert to "find himself" by starting over without any "human words" and whatnot while completely ignoring the fact that his very ability to do so is a huge gift and privilege which he is choosing to indulge.  No one grows up in a vacuum.  We are all shaped by what we learn and what we experience and who teaches it to us.  Learning English instead of Chinese changed my brain when I was an infant.  My parents, my culture, my physical environment all contributed to shaping me, and I had jack all I could say about it.

Humans don't make themselves any more than robots do; Lucian's 'childhood' with Adrienne is just as much a true formative experience as Adrienne's own issues sprang from her abusive family.  Failing to recognize that and abandoning the responsibilities he chose for himself in pursuit of self-gratification via masturbatory auto-lobotomy is one of the most selfish things I have witnessed a character do.  He wasn't in any sort of abusive relationship; Adrienne wasn't even emotionally abusive to him.  He wasn't leaving for his own health or safety, mental or physical.  Add in the fact that his leaving pulls out the linchpin that was holding Adrienne's psyche and their little family together (something he had to know would happen) and basically we have just this perfect storm of someone causing real and measurable harm to others in the name of some ethereal and ineffable niggling point of philosophical consistency.  ("I'm a robot, but my formative years were shaped by humans instead of by whatever the hell it is I think they should have been shaped by.  OH GOD THE HORROR.")

In summary, Lucian can go sit and spin, and I hope sand gets in his joints and poisons his nanobots.



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Reply #27 on: July 28, 2010, 06:31:30 PM
Pretty much what Scattercat said.

With the addition that it may be that that reaction is what Rachel had in mind.

(What a lot of things we can use the word that for!)

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Reply #28 on: July 28, 2010, 06:49:49 PM
With the addition that it may be that that reaction is what Rachel had in mind.

My impression is that the author was going for controversy, but that her intention in showing us both sides of the story - in full - was to create controversy.

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Reply #29 on: July 28, 2010, 06:53:21 PM
I'm not sure whether or not it was intended to be taken that way, but it did significantly impair my enjoyment of the story because none of the other characters was competent enough to point out this fallacious logical reasoning on his part.  All Adrienne could do was sob into her wine about how no one loves her.

ETA: To clarify further, we are shown Lucian and his reasoning, and then we are shown Adrienne and the tragedy of her life without Lucian, but we are NOT shown anyone who can point out that Lucian's whole goal is fundamentally pointless and wrong-headed, displaying a core misunderstanding of how personality formation even works.  This annoys me, because it makes the story seem to be presenting the question, "Should Lucian serve his own needs or his family's needs?"  That's not the question because Lucian's actions aren't DOING anything, and his entire crisis of personality is predicated on a misapprehension of what it means to be human.
« Last Edit: July 28, 2010, 06:57:56 PM by Scattercat »



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Reply #30 on: July 28, 2010, 06:58:51 PM
I'm not sure whether or not it was intended to be taken that way, but it did significantly impair my enjoyment of the story because none of the other characters was competent enough to point out this fallacious logical reasoning on his part.  All Adrienne could do was sob into her wine about how no one loves her.

To be fair, that was me for a lot of college, so I have a lot of sympathy for that way of life.

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Reply #31 on: July 28, 2010, 11:43:16 PM
For my part, I found this story compelling to listen to/read, but was utterly unable to sympathize with Lucian, primarily because he goes off into the desert to "find himself" by starting over without any "human words" and whatnot while completely ignoring the fact that his very ability to do so is a huge gift and privilege which he is choosing to indulge.  No one grows up in a vacuum.  We are all shaped by what we learn and what we experience and who teaches it to us.  Learning English instead of Chinese changed my brain when I was an infant.  My parents, my culture, my physical environment all contributed to shaping me, and I had jack all I could say about it.

Humans don't make themselves any more than robots do; Lucian's 'childhood' with Adrienne is just as much a true formative experience as Adrienne's own issues sprang from her abusive family.  Failing to recognize that and abandoning the responsibilities he chose for himself in pursuit of self-gratification via masturbatory auto-lobotomy is one of the most selfish things I have witnessed a character do.  He wasn't in any sort of abusive relationship; Adrienne wasn't even emotionally abusive to him.  He wasn't leaving for his own health or safety, mental or physical.  Add in the fact that his leaving pulls out the linchpin that was holding Adrienne's psyche and their little family together (something he had to know would happen) and basically we have just this perfect storm of someone causing real and measurable harm to others in the name of some ethereal and ineffable niggling point of philosophical consistency.  ("I'm a robot, but my formative years were shaped by humans instead of by whatever the hell it is I think they should have been shaped by.  OH GOD THE HORROR.")

In summary, Lucian can go sit and spin, and I hope sand gets in his joints and poisons his nanobots.

100% agree.  You said it better than I did. 

Quote from: Scattercat
ETA: To clarify further, we are shown Lucian and his reasoning, and then we are shown Adrienne and the tragedy of her life without Lucian, but we are NOT shown anyone who can point out that Lucian's whole goal is fundamentally pointless and wrong-headed, displaying a core misunderstanding of how personality formation even works.  This annoys me, because it makes the story seem to be presenting the question, "Should Lucian serve his own needs or his family's needs?"  That's not the question because Lucian's actions aren't DOING anything, and his entire crisis of personality is predicated on a misapprehension of what it means to be human.

But I'm not sure what you mean that his action aren't doing anything (though they were undoubtedly selfish).  You're self was shaped by learning English instead of Chinese, but you can't unlearn English.  Lucien can, so he's unlearning that and everything else.  Are you arguing that Lucien, like us, needs someone else around him in order to form his personality, so going out alone into the desert would be pointless?  Would you have been more satisfied if he had gone to join some kind of robot commune? 

I'm not trying to be argumentative, just trying to fully understand your point.  The Lucien part of the story was the only aspect that I found interesting, so I'm exploring it.  Since I agree with all your other points about this story, I'll probably agree with this one once I get it. 



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Reply #32 on: July 29, 2010, 12:20:02 AM
@wakela

I was mostly saying that going to "find yourself" by destroying your personality and memories and going out into an empty place is an exercise in futility, since everyone is shaped by the people around them.  If nothing shapes you, then you are nothing.  All Lucian is doing is trading being shaped by humans for being shaped by lizards, and frankly, humans have better amusement parks.

What I meant by Lucian's little pilgrimage "not doing anything" is that Lucian's crisis is entirely self-manufactured and would be better treated by therapy.  He's not solving any problems by obliterating his personality.



wakela

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Reply #33 on: July 29, 2010, 01:41:47 AM
@wakela

I was mostly saying that going to "find yourself" by destroying your personality and memories and going out into an empty place is an exercise in futility, since everyone is shaped by the people around them.  If nothing shapes you, then you are nothing.  All Lucian is doing is trading being shaped by humans for being shaped by lizards, and frankly, humans have better amusement parks.

What I meant by Lucian's little pilgrimage "not doing anything" is that Lucian's crisis is entirely self-manufactured and would be better treated by therapy.  He's not solving any problems by obliterating his personality.
In other words he already had a self that was developed during his childhood with Adrienne and Rose.  Now he's erased it and going to come up with a new one based on whatever he finds in the desert, but it's not going to be any more or less valid than the previous one.  Of course it's not unbelievable that a two,three-year-old robot would do this, but it is unbelievable that the faulty reasoning wouldn't occur to his wife or the narrator of the story.  Or the uber-psychiatrist part of Lucian's mind.   Yup.  Good point.  I could see how Adrienne would let him walk away, as she seems to be more comfortable getting drunk, lighting things on fire, and surrendering her responsibilities to others than she is with a healthy family life.  But the point should have been addressed.

The logical conclusion is that Lucien would develop Lucien 2.0 based on the cruel competition of the desert ecosystem, come back to Adrienne and Rose, and bed more ruthless than her father was. 



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Reply #34 on: July 29, 2010, 02:16:03 AM
Or just wander around, imprinted on a lizard.



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Reply #35 on: July 29, 2010, 12:11:59 PM
I want to like this story, but can't make it happen.

I really like the idea of having Podcastle-Giant style episodes on Escapepod (and Pseudopod). Taking the time to build a more complex story or world, or go into more depth can be really enjoyable. I would love to see more of these longer episodes embraced by all the podcasts... and in that vein I hoped this one would be wonderful.

The themes of possession and how they can interact with normal relationships could have been an interesting investigation. (Without all the baggage of traditional slavery/indenturing.) But I never felt these were really addressed. Fuoco is just a pet with problems, and in the end is put down. Lucian's ownership is only glazed over, a minor diversion where the MC suddenly has a spine and drive. Even Rose could be seen as a possession, a child adopted to fit in with the rich woman's want to have a baby/pet/lover/anything-she-wants. Yet, none of these were really done in depth.

Where the story really fell down for me was the characters. As noted by heyes - Rose "was the only character that really came off as natural." Lucian's flaws have been picked over quite nicely by others in the thread so I won't repeat. What really fell apart was the MC, after 15 minutes I just wanted her to stop whining and wining, and either die or shut up. It seemed about a third of the story was beautifully* describing how useless she was. By the end it felt like the whole story was describing how a messed up** woman tries to fix her problems by buying things (Fuoco, Lucian, Rose).

I don't mind unlikeable characters, they can even work very well, for example The Valknut (PseudoPod), or The Clockwork Atom Bomb (EscapePod). But here the character had nothing to connect to, no problems except the past**.

Ultimately the lack of any connection with any of the characters left me bored with the lack of investigation of the potential ideas. Perhaps, as suggested by stePH, if it had been half the length nothing of importance (except my interest) would have been lost.

* For all the boredom and annoyance at the MC these scenes created, they were almost al beautifully written. So while the story never connected for me in any way (and disappointed me in others), I still admire much of the writing.

** I dance around this because by the end it wouldn't have surprised me if all the bad things her dad allegedly did to her were imagined. Noone else corroborates her story and in the end her behaviour in other areas is so erratic and delusional it could fit.



Darwinist

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Reply #36 on: July 31, 2010, 02:52:58 AM
I cringed a bit when I saw the length of this show, knowing that it would take a couple trips to/from work to finish but I was blown away by the story.  One of the better shows of the year I would say.   

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Reply #37 on: August 01, 2010, 03:28:04 AM
I have to say that I liked the themes that Rachael hit on -- Love and Possession.

I didn't feel like the Sci-Fi elements were tacked on. I felt that the entire relationship between Adriana and Lucien was influenced by the fact that she had purchased him. He was never quite a real person in her eyes -- despite the fact that she fell in love with him.

I think the emotional space between humans and androids is a ripe area for exploration in Sci-Fi as we move beyond the era of "3 Laws" robots and into more complex, more human, creations.



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Reply #38 on: August 01, 2010, 10:24:45 AM
I loved this story, it really made me think.  I agree with many posters who found the main two characters difficult to like, but loved the story anyway.
It made me wonder about our relationship to objects and each other, and how we have relationships in an age so governed by possessions, and the damage, so hidden but still so there, that that does to us and those around us.



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Reply #39 on: August 01, 2010, 11:43:13 AM
As I think about this story more (and I have thought about it often), one of the things that impresses me is how readily I accepted Lucien's right to "find himself" and his status as a sentient being.  Yes, I had some problems with whether Lucien would do this (for reasons I and others have pointed out), but I also never wondered why Adrienne didn't simply hit his reset button or bring him back to his makers for "realignment".  Partly, of course, this is due to being told about Adrienne's advocacy for robot rights and it being her decision to give him freedom to develop.  On the other hand, if I had a machine and gave it the capability to write some of its own programming, and it turned out to be a horrible mistake, turning it off before it caused harm to others (or myself) would probably occur to me quickly as at least a possible option - it didn't occur to me as a reader and I didn't wonder why it didn't occur at all to Adrienne.



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Reply #40 on: August 01, 2010, 05:05:22 PM
On the other hand, if I had a machine and gave it the capability to write some of its own programming, and it turned out to be a horrible mistake, turning it off before it caused harm to others (or myself) would probably occur to me quickly as at least a possible option - it didn't occur to me as a reader and I didn't wonder why it didn't occur at all to Adrienne.

For Adrienne, the "damage" was in Lucien not loving her.  Whether she let him go on his own or reset his personality, she would already *know* that she gave him freedom and he turned away from her, and that fact would already have destroyed her.



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Reply #41 on: August 01, 2010, 06:25:29 PM
Poor Fuoco. I have to admit, I felt worse for the bird than I did anyone else in the story. Very good story, though.

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Rain

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Reply #42 on: August 03, 2010, 08:15:24 AM
Ok story, but the lack of an ending really hurt it considering it was very long and not much really happened. If we had learnt whether Rose would become a normal person again or if Lucian's quest would lead him to become more than just a mindless robot then the story could have been saved, but as it is, it felt like a drawn out first chapter of a book.



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Reply #43 on: August 03, 2010, 02:12:48 PM
It was a technically good story, but I found myself utterly unable to identify with any of the characters, or even like any of them. I mean, the kid, well, she was a little girl going through her 'parents' divorce. She didn't actually have much of a personality. The robot was just that, a robot, and I think 'real' AIs would be like this, at least for a time, their minds latching onto some 'deep' concept and losing themselves in it completely. The one I really didn't feel sympathy for was Adriana. I've known people who have been through types of abuse such as that. Thus the desire for a non-human companion, one she would never have to fear and knew was utterly safe with her daughter. Thus the falling utterly for him, believing him to be completely 'safe', with no chance of him ever leaving her. So when he leaves she totally cannot function anymore.

And that's what I really hate. Someone who, when their world falls apart, falls apart right along with it. I also didn't like how she didn't try to sympathize with her daughter, or even acknowledge her daughter's real issues. She didn't say 'I don't understand why he is leaving us either and I am very sad'. She didn't try to comfort her or mourn with her. Instead she tried to placate her with strawberries and goats. The kid doesn't need goats, she needs her damn mom. No wonder she'd rather be a robot, like her dad. Her mom wasn't there for her.

Oh, plus, I really hate parrots.

However, like I said, technically a very good story, but with me unable to like any of the characters I just couldn't enjoy the story.



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Reply #44 on: August 03, 2010, 03:49:02 PM
I find it really interesting how many people are objecting to the story on the premise that they don't "like" Adriana. Who said you have to "like" anyone in a story? Sympathy isn't necessarily liking. You don't have to want to be friends with - or even meet or have lunch with - the characters of a story to identify with them, feel sorry for them, and enjoy reading about their trials and tribulations.

I didn't like Lucian. I found the way he left his wife and daughter in the lurch to be appalling. However, I felt sorry for him. I wished he'd found a better way to do what he had to do. But he didn't and that's the story. And come on, who hasn't felt trapped? Who hasn't worried that the very underpinnings of your own personality are the causes of your pain and wondered how the hell you were every going to get out of it? Isn't that an interesting story even if you don't approve of Lucian's choice?

Similarly, Adriana was kind of pitiful, yes. I wish she'd gotten herself a shrink and not (or in addition to) a robot. It might have helped her get over her deeply seated trauma and be a better mother. That said, can you really all say that you have always felt in control of your life, that you've never broken down and been absent or made mistakes because of something sad that happened to you? Isn't it an interesting story to watch someone combat that human instinct, even if you like to think (or maybe even are) stronger than that yourself?

I don't know... I kind of think maybe this story hit too close to home for some of us. I'll freely admit that it did for me. The character's weren't universally likeable, but they were human and their pain was interesting, at least to me.

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Reply #45 on: August 03, 2010, 04:00:18 PM
Its funny that ElectricPaladin chimed in right now because I was essentially going to say the same thing. I think this was a very strong story about the psychological nature of what it is to love. I found Adriana to be a very sympathetic character because I thought it was clear that she could not form healthy, loving, relationships because of her early childhood abuse. Essentially, she could not form the bonds of love like a normal human. And yet, around her, are examples of that love that she cannot grasp.
It seems many people wanted the human character to be more...human. But, I found her eyes and excellent window into the confusing land of emotion.

As for falling apart....I don't think she was ever together to begin with. She never got the help she needed and was stuck in false relationships with her siblings and with an artificial life form. Well, anyway, this psychology major from long ago loved it.

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Reply #46 on: August 03, 2010, 04:02:09 PM
I kind of think maybe this story hit too close to home for some of us. I'll freely admit that it did for me. The character's weren't universally likeable, but they were human and their pain was interesting, at least to me.

Maybe that is the problem. When I read a speculative fiction story, I'm generally hoping to escape all the big, hairy BS of my day-to-day life into a more interesting place where my problems are puny or non-existent. Making ends meet while trying to juggle personal, professional, and hobby lives pales in comparison to fighting for your life against zombies or aliens or evil robots from the future.

What this story did was turn that back around and show us ourselves. A particularly dysfunctional, Jerry-Springer-esquely exaggerated version thereof, perhaps, but altogether too real nevertheless.

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Reply #47 on: August 03, 2010, 07:43:18 PM
I don't always have to like the characters in a story in order to enjoy the story, but as a general rule, if I want to punch them all in the face for the way they're behaving, the odds of me enjoying the story are pretty low.  (I blame a scarring experience with Death of a Salesman in high school.  You know that scene from Clue, where Mrs. White goes into her whole "flames on the side of my face" bit?  Yeah.  Like that.)  Basically, I need a reason to care what happens to the characters, and liking them is the commonest and most comfortable path that can take; if that fails, then I need curiosity, or a desire to see them get their comeuppance, or (sometimes) a non-character reason like a fascination with the world.

I don't remember if I finished reading this story on Tor.com, but when I realized I'd encountered it before, I listened for a few minutes longer, then stopped.  I didn't care what happened to the people in it, and I didn't want to spend another forty minutes or so with them in order to find out.  It was very profoundly not my kind of story, and such a long example of same that I had no desire to stick with it.



wakela

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Reply #48 on: August 04, 2010, 11:40:57 PM
Isn't it an interesting story to watch someone combat that human instinct, even if you like to think (or maybe even are) stronger than that yourself?

I don't know... I kind of think maybe this story hit too close to home for some of us. I'll freely admit that it did for me. The character's weren't universally likeable, but they were human and their pain was interesting, at least to me.

These are good points.  I didn't get the sense the Adrienne was combating her instinct.  It seemed like she was allowing herself to be a victim of it.  (Note: Allowing herself to be a victim and being a victim are not necessarily the same thing.)  It's kind of like watching someone eat lots of unhealthy food every day and then complain that they're overweight.  Even if I know that they have an eating disorder and that it's really hard for them to change their behavior I have a hard time sympathizing unless they try.  Add to that that Adrienne is not only ruining her own life, but the lives of two innocents.  Her conflict is how she handles Lucien's rejection, but really that's the least of her problems.

Another problem I had (though this is not the story's fault) is that this did not hit close to home for me.  It hit as far away from home as it could have.  I've had my share of girlfriends who had been damaged by abuse, and I've had my moments of doing stupid things for dumb reasons, but overall I'm a satisfied guy.  So I have a hard time relating to stories that center around people who seem to be bending over backwards to hurt themselves and everyone around them.  Again, this is just me. 



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Reply #49 on: August 16, 2010, 05:02:33 PM
I actually enjoy the phrase excruciatingly pale. To me it suggests "so pale he/she is rather painful to look upon".

But is there such a thing as being so pale to be painful to look upon?  At best, I'd say it's a distracting exaggeration.



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Reply #50 on: August 16, 2010, 05:17:58 PM
I actually enjoy the phrase excruciatingly pale. To me it suggests "so pale he/she is rather painful to look upon".

But is there such a thing as being so pale to be painful to look upon?  At best, I'd say it's a distracting exaggeration.

I'd say there is. Not literally, of course. Its hard to express what I mean, something along the lines of so pale as to be jarring. 



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Reply #51 on: August 16, 2010, 05:25:31 PM
I don't always have to like the characters in a story in order to enjoy the story, but as a general rule, if I want to punch them all in the face for the way they're behaving, the odds of me enjoying the story are pretty low.  (I blame a scarring experience with Death of a Salesman in high school.  You know that scene from Clue, where Mrs. White goes into her whole "flames on the side of my face" bit?  Yeah.  Like that.)  Basically, I need a reason to care what happens to the characters, and liking them is the commonest and most comfortable path that can take; if that fails, then I need curiosity, or a desire to see them get their comeuppance, or (sometimes) a non-character reason like a fascination with the world.

Good answer, I agree with this.  Characters don't have to be likable, but if I care enough about them then I will keep listening to find out their fate.

I'm afraid I just may not be a fan of Swirsky's work.  Maybe I'm partially saying that because the long Swirsky Podcastle story that ran the same week left me equally cold.  I gave it a listen for 15 minutes or so, but I just got sick of the moping moping moping and didn't want to listen to moping for the rest of the episode.  I realize that people in real life too, but it's just not interesting to watch at length.  In general I'm just not that big of a fan of novellas because almost everyone I read is at least 4 times as long as it needs to be, and this dilution of the great ideas makes it less interesting for me.  This is true for me with novellas in general, but this one was compounded by all the moping.

It was a good ten minutes in before I realized Lucien was artificial--that was too long for that to go ambiguous, though I seem to be the only one who had that problem so I may have just missed some important clues.

And there were some parts in the part that I listened to that induced groans from the choice of wording.  "Excruciatingly pale", as I mentioned earlier, is one of these.  That particular phrase could work in a comedic setting because it's just plain silly, but in a story that's trying to take itself seriously it just doesn't work for me.



boothamshaw

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Reply #52 on: August 23, 2010, 05:25:02 PM
Sorry - I just got to this today, and gave up after about fifteen minutes. Previous comments clearly demonstrate that the story has lots to offer discerning listeners, but sadly not me.



El Barto

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Reply #53 on: September 26, 2010, 01:13:02 AM
I almost gave up on this story after 15 minutes but the concept eventually grew on me and gave me a lot to think about, in ways that I haven't seen much discussed in the comments here so I'll add my two cents.

To me the story was about love and how some people think that if they love someone that should be enough to make them stay.   And how some people think that if you do enough things for someone else and help them in some big way, they "owe" you their love as here where the woman kept going on about how she couldn't understand how the robot could leave her after she grew to love him and after she gave him his freedom and his conscious free will. 

But love doesn't work that way.  And sometimes the more you do for a person the less they want you.

Frankly, I was surprised and disappointed that she didn't give him full control of his free will until after she married him.  After all, when he was saying "I do" she had to know that it was his programming saying it and not his true essence/free will.  To me that felt like her hedge against the risk of giving him that power and then asking do you want to get married -- because he might well say "absolutely not."

I don't want to speculate too much into the author's intent but I don't think we were meant to like the woman in the story.   Rather, her whiny un-likability made it OK for us to think, "good for him" about the robot when he decided to leave.   And the twist of the little girl added heartbreaking complexity.

Overall, a good story for thinking, though I would have enjoyed it more at half the length.   




yicheng

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Reply #54 on: October 06, 2010, 09:07:31 PM
I usually listen to my Escape Pod episodes in batches, and this was my favorite out of the recent dozen or so stories that I had queued up. 

I liked the masterful way the author painted the characters and made them 3-dimensional and (as other have said) human.  I was all set to despise Adriana, but after the first 25 minutes, I started to relate to her as a very wounded but ultimately redeemable person.  Lucian was amazing.  I've always thought that AI's in general were hard to depict and write in sci-fi stories because they are by definition, not even remotely human.  Although technically I guess Lucian would an AL (Artificial Life) in that he was specifically designed to emulate a human being, I still found his characterization convincing both as a human and as an AI.

I have to also wonder if this story could have worked the other way: with a human male and an AI female.  I'm leaning towards no.  The sexual slavery element and the ostracism of socially-inept males would have probably permanently detoured the story from being relatable.



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Reply #55 on: October 08, 2010, 10:08:00 PM
Fine story.  I greatly enjoyed it already on podcast, on Tor.com.  Don't know why Escape Artists seems to be repeating stories already podcast elsewhere these days -- there's little need to.  Just give a shout out in your intro if you wish, and post your own stuff.