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Author Topic: EP254: A Talent for Vanessa  (Read 16078 times)

DKT

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on: August 20, 2010, 12:32:41 PM
EP254: A Talent For Vanessa

By David W. Goldman
Read by: Dave Thompson of PodCastle

First appeared in Analog Science Fiction and Fact


The young woman, a Ms. Vanessa Kortright-Kingston, untwisted. “No, I mean that he just knows the date like that! As if he could look into the future.”

Marv snorted. “Calendar calculating. They all do that. Not worth a paper dollar, not even in a carnival sideshow.”

“I’ve heard of it, but — ” Her blue eyes were wide as a con man’s smile. “They can all do it?”

“Sure.” Marv tilted back, his big wooden chair squeaking. “All the Counters, anyway. It’s like the Artists — they all draw horses. Or dogs. Which is funny, because back when they got their talents you’d never see a horse here in the city. Dogs, okay, no big deal. But you ask any Artist to sketch you a horse, and blam — if the damn thing galloped off the paper you wouldn’t be surprised.”

Her gaze went a bit distant. “That’s what I’d like,” she said. “To become an artist. Or a musician.”


Rated PG for dreams realized.


Nobilis

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Reply #1 on: August 20, 2010, 02:31:32 PM
I am not a big fan of non-story stories, where what little conflict is present is there only to explore some "aint-it-nifty-aint-the-author-clever" piece of setting.  I want characters that exist to do more than describe the setting.  Three quarters of the way through this one, I thought it was one of those stories, and I would have turned it off if I hadn't been on my bike at the time.

But then it got a little interesting at the end.  A little.  At the end.

Kind of like getting through a dinner of mildly salty gruel to find that dessert is, in fact, vanilla ice cream rather than more gruel.




Void Munashii

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Reply #2 on: August 20, 2010, 02:58:23 PM
  Even though nothing much happened in the story, I still found it very interesting and fun. I liked the world that was created, and while I don't know how many more stories could really be set in it, it was still very nicely crafted without ever feeling like the author was doing an infodump.

  I was a little disappointed by the twist; I thought the fact that Vanessa seemed to somehow be able to break through the talents' general inability to socialize with new people was going to be more significant than it was. I thought that perhaps this was going to be her own natural talent; one that would be lost if she went through with the surgery. It's not that I disliked the ending, I just expected it to go a different way.

  As for Marv, I think he has built up some ability. He remember's the number Oliver said one time, and not to him, still twenty minutes later and he was able to easily find a two year old issue of a magazine that had a picture of Vanessa in it that he probably looked at one time when the magazine was current. That sounds like a talent to me.

  RE: the bit about what superpower you would choose in the intro. For years I have said I want the ability to control time; stop it, slow it down, speed it up, etc. Who needs super speed when you can just pause time, walk up behind the bad guy, and then just thwack him over the head with a 2X4 when you start time again?

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Dem

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Reply #3 on: August 20, 2010, 10:06:29 PM
I was quite entertained by this story to start with, the dialogue was convincing, there was technical detail but no info-dump, and I have a professional interest in the core material (autistic spectrum condition). After a while though, I began to have plot-hole problems and difficulties with some of the logistics so that my suspension of disbelief was threatened. The notion of surgery to induce a form of autistic talent (savant) doesn't seem too far fetched although it is highly unlikely, but the idea that people might 'become' autistic/savant by association is unfounded. Where close associates show those traits, it's usually because they share genes or have gravitated socially becasue of shared interests. Then there's 'the day room' - what is that exactly? Do the talents live there and, if so, who takes care of their needs? Some of them did not seem too capable of independent living so is Marv running an institution of some sort? At the end, he remembers a prime number and a picture. Not enough payoff for me!
That said, with a bit of work, this very interesting premise could have been a much tighter story and I wouldn't have had the opportunity to humph in public!

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


heyes

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Reply #4 on: August 21, 2010, 05:27:32 PM
This story was a mixed bag.

The bad: The "true nature" of Vanessa's character just didn't fit with the tone of the story it was like a sudden and jarring genre change that didn't feel right.  Ultimately it had little impact on the story for me.  Neither did the obvious revelation about Marv's talent.  I mean Vanessa hammered on it over and over so, naturally, it was inevitable.  If there's going to be a Man-In-Black aspect, there has to be some kind of fear, paranoia, something noir to it for it to work for me.

The good: Marv, the day hab, the talents, they had a mood that was put together just right. Very authentic feeling to me. The narrator did a great job really getting Marv across, and working the story at just the right pacing.

In conclusion:

This seemed like a story that had to good ideas, but they just didn't get meshed together well. I think this would make a better longer story with some action outside the dayhab, some world building, and some higher stakes.  That isn't to say I didn't enjoy it, because I did!  This is one of those cases where more would actually be more.


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Talia

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Reply #5 on: August 22, 2010, 03:05:28 AM
Well, I enjoyed it, even if I was completely confused by the ending. I thought the story raised some interesting questions regarding choices and consequences, and assorted ethical issues, even as it painted a nice potrait of a guy trying to talk someone out of a tragic mistake. He obviously had a lot emotionally invested in his savants. It raises the question of if there are other people in this world with similar businesses who abuse their savants.

Overall enjoyable.



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Reply #6 on: August 22, 2010, 02:42:15 PM
I thought of this as... not really a "shaggy dog" story, but similar, in that the whole thing seemed to exist just to provide a lead up to a gag punchline ("What a kidder").

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Reply #7 on: August 23, 2010, 05:17:17 AM
it has taken me half an hour to figure out (hopefully) how to post...  I feel a need to address an issue and will try to do it in a polite fashion.  I listen to a lot of material on my ipod and have learned that there are some voices that are much more appealing than others.  And there are some that are not appealing.. even some completely the opposite, weighing down on the other end of the scale.  The reader for this story makes my skin crawl (so much for politeness).  I understand that everyone has an individual taste for what kind of voices they want whispering through their ear buds.  I can fast forward through Dave's intro's on Podcastle but i am helpless to do anything but skip the entire story on Escape Pod if he is to be the reader.  I am still crying over the departure of Steve Ely and am learning to love Mur.  Please do not let this happen again....pretty please?!



Talia

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Reply #8 on: August 23, 2010, 11:51:28 AM
If you understand that everyone has different tastes in what they want to listen to, then I'm sure you'll understand that everyone's individual tastes can't be specifically catered to. Dave's done many readings for PC; however you deal with those is just how you'll have to deal with his EP readings.



Listener

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Reply #9 on: August 23, 2010, 02:14:31 PM
I felt that the story went on way too long and the foreshadowing was too subtle. The plot got lost in the immense number of details, some repeated -- the cheek scratching, the squeaky chair, etc... Also, it seemed to be making a main point (in the future, we will incur brain damage instead of plastic surgery) as well as a sub-point (we need to take better care of people who have autism/aspergers/etc).

Basically trying to do too much at once. Not one of my favorites.

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DKT

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Reply #10 on: August 23, 2010, 11:55:25 PM
The reader for this story makes my skin crawl (so much for politeness). 

Heh. If you had waited until October, this would have been a totally polite comment!

Actually, you got me thinking: if you want, I'd be more than happy to send you a recording of me reading something simple for you to share with your friends around Halloween time and see if it scares all the kids banging at your door, asking for tricks or treats. For reals. Feel free to PM me.

And while we're at it, I thought I might as well make the offer good for any other fourmites interested. So here's the deal for everyone else: Anyone who wants PM me, I'll write and record you a new piece of Halloween flash fiction in which I actually do try to make your skin crawl. Maybe it'll be Halloween Space Opera? Maybe straight up horror. Maybe it'll be so candy-corn sweet it makes your skin itch? I dunno. But please PM me, so we can keep this thread mostly focused on the story.  :)

Thanks!

-Dave


wakela

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Reply #11 on: August 24, 2010, 12:24:04 AM
Not one of my favorites.  I didn't buy that kids would voluntarily give themselves asperger's to make themselvers more popular at parties.  I guess it could happen in the future, but I need convincing.  And her secret mission to see if talents could rub off seemed unlikely.  Wouldn't it have been easier to have a bunch of people in for tests?  Maybe this is preliminary visit to see if an expensive study is warranted.  Still.  I also don't accept that talent as a result of brain surgery could be transferred to someone who had not gotten the surgery, though the idea of making such an extreme sacrifice to increase your abilities AND the thought that there could be shortcuts is interesting.

I'm not going to go as far as "skin crawling" to describe Dave's voice, but I found the dry, world-weary monotone to be too lulling in a story that I already wasn't gripped with.  Though I think he (you) did a good job capturing the agent's character, and I'd be happy to hear him read other stories.







Rain

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Reply #12 on: August 24, 2010, 09:27:16 AM
I thought the twist ending was a big letdown for what seemed to be an interesting premise. I liked the idea that these special abilities came at a price, and that here we had a woman who wanted special talent so show off and the fact that it would leave her unable to understand the world or know when other were laughing at her was considered a positive thing. Too bad it was all forgotten about at the end.



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Reply #13 on: August 24, 2010, 03:15:36 PM
I was immediately struck by the identification of these "Talents" as autistic spectrum folks like me, but on a substantially more impaired level.  Then I am presented with the idea that people would _ever_ want to mangle their brains to become folks like me, but facing _more_ troubles than I do, so they could be _more_ popular in school. 

Uh huh.  Suspension of disbelief wouldn't do it.  Maybe removal of disbelief by trepanation followed by insertion of a lit blowtorch.

I kept waiting for the story to make some sort of sense.  Didn't happen.  The characters were potentially interesting.  It's a shame they weren't provided a worthwhile story in which to live.




Dem

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Reply #14 on: August 24, 2010, 03:32:47 PM
I was immediately struck by the identification of these "Talents" as autistic spectrum folks like me, but on a substantially more impaired level.  Then I am presented with the idea that people would _ever_ want to mangle their brains to become folks like me, but facing _more_ troubles than I do, so they could be _more_ popular in school. 

Uh huh.  Suspension of disbelief wouldn't do it.  Maybe removal of disbelief by trepanation followed by insertion of a lit blowtorch.

I kept waiting for the story to make some sort of sense.  Didn't happen.  The characters were potentially interesting.  It's a shame they weren't provided a worthwhile story in which to live.


Well said, that Grizzly. There are so many interesting possibilities here (is it plagiarism to run off with a few I wonder?) but they were all sidelined in favour of some premises that weren't really too feasible. And in the UK, you REALLY don't want to be a talent because, if Simon Cowell doesn't get you, the tabloids will. Sometimes you're so unlucky as to get both as Susan Boyle discovered. :-\

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


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Reply #15 on: August 24, 2010, 03:45:22 PM
The story itself was decently acceptable for they kind of story that it is. But with that stipulated  I think that EP has done enough of these "pro or con the transhuman path" offerings for a while. My two cents.  ;)



Talia

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Reply #16 on: August 24, 2010, 03:59:03 PM
I think you guys are overestimating the non-shallowness of the human race. I've seen more than enough incredibly vapid people doing dumb crap to find this completely believable.

And I like this type of story, myself.



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Reply #17 on: August 25, 2010, 12:31:33 AM
I think you guys are overestimating the non-shallowness of the human race. I've seen more than enough incredibly vapid people doing dumb crap to find this completely believable.

And I like this type of story, myself.

Yes; my first thought on reading this story is, who'd ever want to stake the certainty of brain damage for a chance at fifteen minutes of fame?  and my second thought was, you mean aside from the WBA, extreme fighters, and anyone who ever tried crystal meth?

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wakela

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Reply #18 on: August 25, 2010, 01:01:00 AM
I think you guys are overestimating the non-shallowness of the human race. I've seen more than enough incredibly vapid people doing dumb crap to find this completely believable.

And I like this type of story, myself.

Yes; my first thought on reading this story is, who'd ever want to stake the certainty of brain damage for a chance at fifteen minutes of fame?  and my second thought was, you mean aside from the WBA, extreme fighters, and anyone who ever tried crystal meth?
WBA = Boxing?
Those three examples involve people presumably doing something they enjoy.  Of course people do destructive things that are enjoyable.  My problem with the believability of the story is that, IIRC, the trend was for people to get this treatment to make themselves more popular.  I could see playing an instrument making you popular as long as you played the right music, but I've never been to a party where the guy who could count toothpicks went home with the hot babes.  The guy making fun of the toothpick counter is the popular one because he's funny and people find him charming, which is exactly what the brain treatment destroys.

I would have found the story more believable if people were getting the treatment to further explore their passions or careers.  Also, the decision of whether or not to destroy a part of your brain in order for you to be able to sit with the cool kids would be an easy one for all of us to make.  But getting this treatment to be a more prolific writer or a more focused scientist is more interesting.



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Reply #19 on: August 25, 2010, 01:08:41 AM
"...the ability to transform into a giant crab with a chainsaw claw." There MUST be graphic novel in that! Actually, how about an anime?


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Reply #20 on: August 25, 2010, 05:56:06 PM
I liked how this story started out... but it really turned around when the twist was revealed. It was really jarring and kind of turned the MC over on her head without too much explanation. It seemed to take the theme of the story (a young girl's insecurities) to somewhere else (government investigations zomeg!).

So... did no one in the world have a natural talent? How is it possible that someone could just absorb a talent from someone else? Too many questions, too few answers. Thought the writing felt a little clunky at times ...




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Reply #21 on: August 25, 2010, 06:55:40 PM
Add me to the people who think the twist detracted more than it added. Especially since it seemed to completely ignore the unusual connection Vanessa had with the talents. I would have preferred the story had ended with that feature important, not a loose thread.

I did like the subtlety in which the agent's talents manifested themselves. But tying it all to a point on how great a secret agent would be with those abilities was a major misstep. For one, is it just spending time with the talents? Or is it a function of his empathy towards them? Could it really be trained? I guess if the story started exploring those questions, I may have felt differently about the ending. But at the moment it feels like the twist really didn't serve any purpose but detract.



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Reply #22 on: August 26, 2010, 09:47:43 PM
What eytanz said. I had difficulties treating someone with the name 'Vanessa Kortright-Kingston' seriously. I wonder if Dave had any problems getting his mouth around the name each time he had to read it out? And considering that at one point Marv claims that the Talents aren't human, I wonder if the guy who gives out a non-prime number was supposed to be a too-subtle-for-me example that there is still some kind of functioning intelligence in there.

But no, the story wandered around in the cul de sac of having a point but seemed unwilling to purchase a property there.

And I have to give a "yay Dave" for Dave Thompson's reading which I thought was brilliant. Yay Dave!



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Reply #23 on: August 29, 2010, 09:19:24 AM
I now know why I am not a bellwether or a pop culture guru. I am happy to be plopped into a slice of time that is neither tight, nor complete. I like to be left with dozens of stories flying around my head as a result of reading one, which is why I liked A Talent for Vanessa. Like Bespoke over at Podcastle, it just left we hungry for more of the world created by the author.



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Reply #24 on: August 29, 2010, 03:04:14 PM
Like Bespoke over at Podcastle, it just left we hungry for more of the world created by the author.

Who is "we"? Do you have a mouse in your pocket?  ;D

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