Author Topic: EP262: Cruciger  (Read 43401 times)

eytanz

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on: October 14, 2010, 02:45:40 PM
EP262: Cruciger

By Erin Cashier
Read by Kij Johnson

First appeared in Writers of the Future 24

---

Captain Harash was its last occupant, the last living man from Earth, and both he and Duxa knew he was dying.

“It’s time, Duxa,” he told her.

She checked the output from his lifechair. While it was still replicating most of his bodily functions for him he did not seem appreciably worse than when she’d last monitored him, less than half a second before.

“We’re not at our destination yet, Captain.”

“You’ll make it there without me, Duxa.”

And the processors that she must have built but could never quite find — she was enormously bulky, and by now some of her was a mystery even unto herself — created an awkward sensation. Duxa told him: “I will be lonely without you.”

“And that’s good,” Harash said.

“You wish me pain?” Duxa asked him.

“No. I wish for you to feel. I wish,” and he paused here, his lips making the smacking noises she knew indicated a loss of reflexive controls as the plague made its way through his cranial nerves, “I wish that there were more things that you could feel, Duxa.”

“I think I feel quite a lot.”

Harash laughed, a coughing sound. “All teenagers do. Remember that, should you actually feel someday, that the white hot intensity fades, but to keep the embers stoking.”


Rated PG For brief violence, the death of tentacled creatures, and the end of the world as we know it.

Show Notes:

  • Recommended watching: Babylon 5
  • Feedback for Episode 254: A talent for Vanessa.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: November 04, 2010, 08:01:02 PM by eytanz »



wintermute

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Reply #1 on: October 14, 2010, 09:54:28 PM
I think I missed a section between "Duxa has no context for interpreting the language" and "Duxa can speak the language well enough to describe an entire new mythology".

Did I drift off for a few moments, or was it really just hand-waved away as her being a super-genius computer that can just figure it out by magic?

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SanguineV

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Reply #2 on: October 15, 2010, 09:52:52 AM
I found the inconsistencies in this story very frustrating, so much so they jarred me out of listening to the plot. The two big ones were the "infinite" resources of the main character, infinite processing power, infinite data storage, infinite lifetime... but then analysing data was a long and difficult process?! When computing power is infinite any non-infinite task is trivial.

The second was the inconsistent treatment of God (capitalised because that was the impression I had). Many humans believed in God (but not all agreeing on its nature) and yet this was apparently a pure fiction. Then later the main character is empathising with the plight of God (now apparently non-fictional).

These two really made the story hard to follow, as every five minutes it seemed to be that some new idea or problem was created or solved simply by changing the assumptions of the story. (E.g. store everything and compute effortlessly on the fly to learn a language or weather patterns, then suddenly struggle to compute basic data mining upon a known, limited, indexed data set.)

I also found the octopus creatures to be too close to humans and earth to really be seen as alien (I recognise one of the greater themes was all sentient species share traits). The world building around them seemed to be sorely lacking, they existed only to reflect humanity as the same as everything else out there.

Ultimately I suspect there are some deeper ideas hidden in the story and I am left curious about what they are. But I am not sure if they are (relatively) easily accessible upon another listen... or perhaps a mirage created by confusion of storytelling.



lhoward

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Reply #3 on: October 15, 2010, 12:09:32 PM
This story engaged me more than any other Escape Pod in recent history.  Longer stories normally don't work for me because of how I listen.  Longer than 40 min or so and I end up breaking up my listening into two sessions and that break costs.  But this story engaged me early.   I woke up the next day with the final 20 minutes ahead of me and anxious to find out how it would play out.

Excellent story and excellent selection.



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Reply #4 on: October 15, 2010, 05:52:18 PM



Talia

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Reply #5 on: October 16, 2010, 01:52:03 AM
Well, I found this story deeply, profoundly moving and am actually extremely shocked there are any negative comments about it. Heh. It had a very epic feel to me (and made me think of the flash fiction contest winning entry Light & lies, for obvious reasons!).

Quote
The second was the inconsistent treatment of God (capitalised because that was the impression I had). Many humans believed in God (but not all agreeing on its nature) and yet this was apparently a pure fiction. Then later the main character is empathising with the plight of God (now apparently non-fictional).

At one point, the computer thought something like that she'd found no evidence of God, but there was no evidence, or she couldn't prove, something she clearly knew was true. Or something like that. I don't remember the phrasing, but I do recall her noting that just because there was no evidence didn't mean it wasn't true.



Ocicat

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Reply #6 on: October 16, 2010, 02:27:10 AM
I quite liked it, mostly for the big ideas.  The implementation did have some flaws, but the overall narrative held my attention and raised some interesting questions.  The squids weren't that alien, I suppose, but I liked them and the descriptions of their visual language.  But am I the only one who drew the connection Crucian -> Cross -> Christian?



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Reply #7 on: October 16, 2010, 02:42:44 AM
Great story.  I especially liked the fact that the Crucigers we not humanoid and talked using light, a method of communication that is overlooked in most of today's Sci Fi.  I was a bit puzzled as to why with all the power Duxa appeared to have at its command it needed to destroy a planet that had sentient life forms to create a new Earth.  A small nitpick in an otherwise very interesting story.


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Reply #8 on: October 16, 2010, 04:45:42 AM
Just absolutely thrilled to have heard this one. It was a great big exploration of humanity, space, and faith, and it felt so epic in scope. Great piece of SF.

But am I the only one who drew the connection Crucian -> Cross -> Christian?

Nope. That struck me as well, and I thought it added another nice bit of layer to this story.


Wilson Fowlie

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Reply #9 on: October 16, 2010, 05:14:33 AM
There were things about this story I liked, and things I didn't like.

I basically liked the main premise, having a supercomputer (inconsistently depicted or not) take the remains of humanity to somewhere else in the galaxy and build a new home for us (though now that I think about it, I do wonder why that's a better solution than just waiting an equivalent amount of time around Earth itself for the Plague to die out for lack of a host, and then recolonizing).

I liked the author's optimism in having the human race get on with things and do something practical rather than seek pointless revenge on the virus-maker.  This flies in the face of the fact that most (all?) modern justice systems are based on little other than revenge, so I found it highly implausible.  But a pleasant thought, notwithstanding.

I liked that Duxa explicitly referred to her Tale To Expunge Her Guilt as a lie (since it was) and, more importantly, that she redeemed it by going back and telling the truth.

However, I didn't like what Duxa did at the end.  I know she felt that she was helping the Crucians*, but ultimately, she wasn't.  Their life cycle took into account the coming of the 'cold-no-food' season (to which I will hereafter refer as 'winter') - they mated and reproduced during that time so that the young born in the 'spring' would have a better chance of surviving (March of the Penguins, anyone?).  Since so many - didn't they say "almost all"? - die during the winter, they must have many, many children to replace them.

Now, what's going to happen when she builds them an ocean that never gets cold?  Are Crucians going to choose to have fewer children because they don't need to have as many in order for the species to survive, or are they going to continue to have large broods that will, inevitably, overcrowd the oceans and cause more problems than dying of the cold ever did?  This is assuming their biology even gives them a choice.

Actually, since they aren't religious, the likelihood of having fewer children (if they can) are a little higher than for the human race, but biological imperative is a strong thing, and thanks to Duxa's cryogenics, this change is going to happen in a single generation!  Duxa seems blithely - and, given the reasons for her creation, rather ironically - unaware of The Law of Unintended Consequences here.

(It's also possible that the Crucians will never have more children, because winter - or the ending of it - may be what triggers the mating urge, and winter will never come again.)

What bothers me is not so much what Duxa did, though I do think it's at best short-sighted and at worst reprehensible, so much as the fact that the history of humanity itself should have pointed at exactly this scenario (well, the overpopulation one, anyway) and this 'supercomputer' should have seen it.

Or maybe that's the point; and this is how we know she really is human: she does what she wants, however well intentioned, rather than taking the time to come up with a less facile, probably more painful, but ultimately better solution.

Overall, I liked this story.  I liked Duxa, I liked that she learned that a hard truth is better than a tempting fairy story, and I liked the way she became 'human' (or at least that she came to understand what it meant).  But the ending, Duxa's solution to her dilemma, disappointed me greatly.




* I did wonder, though only momentarily, why they were called Crucians instead of Crucigerans or something.  Perhaps the Cross connection that Ocicat mentioned was the reason.  Seems a bit contrived to me, though.

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Darwinist

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Reply #10 on: October 16, 2010, 11:01:19 PM
Great story.  I especially liked the fact that the Crucigers we not humanoid and talked using light, a method of communication that is overlooked in most of today's Sci Fi. 

Good point.  The only other aliens that communicated using light that I can think of were the Octospiders from the Rama Series.

I really liked this one overall.  There were some points in the story where I thought "wait, what?" but I was able to get past them.  I'd like to see more tales of this length in the future. 

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.    -  Carl Sagan


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Reply #11 on: October 17, 2010, 02:06:39 AM
The only thing I'll add is that I thought the story was going exactly where Wilson Fowlie said, above. I thought that in her quest to save both humans and crucians, she had doomed them both, and I sort of wanted that ending.

I enjoyed it, but I really thought it was going to head elsewhere.

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blueeyeddevil

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Reply #12 on: October 17, 2010, 03:00:36 PM
Preface: I was a poor science student in school, though I have since gained an interest in evolution and phylogeny.
As such, I had a little trouble with the idea of the crucians having language, let alone an abstract/symbological visual language.
The descriptions of the crucians, such as they were, and their society offered no reason for, nor any survival benefit from having language.

I have an expectation, perhaps unreasonable, that large-scale star-spanner stories will always tend towards hard SF, in that they will be written with the best knowledge available at the time on the subjects they contain. This is a strange expectation, I know. I suppose it grows out of a feeling that when one engages, mentally, with something as grand as a planet-building ship travelling for (what the story suggests to be) at least a quarter of a million years, one should avoid anything that will help foster disbelief in the reader. Meh, I know it's silly.

As for the story itself...
I found it to be a well intentioned, if somewhat preachy, eden story.
-On a side note, does anyone know if there's a technical term for this sort of narration: A third-person narration that follows one character so exclusively as to almost be a first-person retrospective? I'm afraid my education has failed me here. If it doesn't have its own term, it should.-

Having a main character which is theoretically nigh-infinite in intellectual capacity is tricky; the great moral lessons of this story, reached by this nigh-infinite intellect, seemed rather simplistic to my own far-from-infinite intellect.
As it is, the whole thing just felt too bible-centric and western for my tastes.
And no, I don't think the cross/cruciger parrallell of the title was accidental.

« Last Edit: October 18, 2010, 11:20:00 AM by blueeyeddevil »



Loz

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Reply #13 on: October 17, 2010, 04:13:25 PM
I found the inconsistencies in this story very frustrating, so much so they jarred me out of listening to the plot. The two big ones were the "infinite" resources of the main character, infinite processing power, infinite data storage, infinite lifetime... but then analysing data was a long and difficult process?! When computing power is infinite any non-infinite task is trivial.

I must have missed the bit where Duxa was described as having infinite processing power. Very early on in the story we discover she is having problems with parts of her systems not responding or responding eratically, so she doesn't have infinite capability.

Quote
The second was the inconsistent treatment of God (capitalised because that was the impression I had). Many humans believed in God (but not all agreeing on its nature) and yet this was apparently a pure fiction. Then later the main character is empathising with the plight of God (now apparently non-fictional).

You don't need to believe a character is real to empathise with it, if that were the case then the whole realm of fiction would almost certainly not exist! She had the records and minds of all these people on board who cursed God for allowing this plague to wipe out humanity and why he wouldn't intervene, Duxa comes to realise that it isn't quite as easy as that. Not an argument that I have a lot of sympathy for, but the story presents it well I think.

Quote
I also found the octopus creatures to be too close to humans and earth to really be seen as alien (I recognise one of the greater themes was all sentient species share traits). The world building around them seemed to be sorely lacking, they existed only to reflect humanity as the same as everything else out there.

Well, this is one of the eternal complaints of science-fiction, are the aliens in a story too alien or not alien enough. Seeing as these were intelligent creatures that lived in water, communicated by patterns of light rather than sound and lacked any form of technology, how much more different do you want them to be?! Any more abstract and the story can't happen at all.

I am left with a question about the language the Crucians use. Constantly there are references to specific pictograms for specific concepts, such as shame, death, resurrection. Yet the story represents Duxa and the Crucians as having conversations in perfect grammatically correct English. Did anyone catch whether there was a language of letters that the Crucians were displaying to one another as well as these pictogram images of themselves, as otherwise I'm doubtful that the Crucian language was capable of the flexibility that the story gave them.

Quote
Ultimately I suspect there are some deeper ideas hidden in the story and I am left curious about what they are. But I am not sure if they are (relatively) easily accessible upon another listen... or perhaps a mirage created by confusion of storytelling.

Responsibility, faith, whether missionary work is morally justified, especially if you know what you're spreading is a lie, whether working to counteract that is morally justified, if you're stripping people of a lie that gives them comfort. How's that for starters?

What I found interesting is that, unless I missed it, none of the Crucians questioned Drux's right to alter the planet to make it habitable for humans, even before she decides to freeze-dry them for transplant to the new world. I suppose that even if God were to reveal he was a finite alien being rather than an all-powerful supernatural deity most people would be prepared to accord him some respect afterwards. They seem remarkably sanguine about Drux's brief stint as an Old Testament kind of deity and her killing of several of their kind. I suppose it just goes to show that in every religion, whether human or not, there are plenty of believers who are more than happy to live down to their creator's low standards but then there are those who actually surpass them.

I really enjoyed this story, which doesn't often happen with the longer pieces. But in this case the extra time gave the story the chance to expand and grow. I have only one complaint, a very minor one, with Ms. Johnson's excellent reading. There were a couple of times when it wasn't immediately clear that we were switching between the present day of Duxa's interactions with the Crucians and her reviewing of the tapes from the humans in her memory banks. But otherwise I love her voice and hope we can have her doing more readings for EA soon!



wintermute

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Reply #14 on: October 17, 2010, 06:06:07 PM
I am left with a question about the language the Crucians use. Constantly there are references to specific pictograms for specific concepts, such as shame, death, resurrection. Yet the story represents Duxa and the Crucians as having conversations in perfect grammatically correct English. Did anyone catch whether there was a language of letters that the Crucians were displaying to one another as well as these pictogram images of themselves, as otherwise I'm doubtful that the Crucian language was capable of the flexibility that the story gave them.

The language seemed to be entirely ideographic, rather than alphabetic, having one symbol per concept. This (in itself) doesn't limit the flexibility of the language, as Chinese demonstrates. But the fact that each symbol is an abstracted form of something a Crucian can form with its arms, or act out, that has a direct correspondence with the concept? Yeah, that would probably limit it.

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Reply #15 on: October 17, 2010, 09:59:18 PM
Though I don't care for religious stories, I liked this quite a bit. The epic scale and the sense of struggle to avoid a tragedy were moving.

If you think about it, this story is also about colonialism as well as theology. Duxa deals with the native creatures in bad faith to get what it wants.

My only real criticism is that the squid people are depicted as the "noble savage" archetype, too primitive to have lies and violence and so forth. I just don't buy that, particularly when depicted as living so close to the edge of survival. If the squid people weren't quite so forgiving of Duxa's mistakes, the story might have turned out the way I thought it would, with the reborn human race saddled with the "original sin" of the extinction of the squid people.

I also think that a sentient being would probably have some concept of an immaterial realm or afterlife, and would not need an outside inspiration.



Wilson Fowlie

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Reply #16 on: October 18, 2010, 05:06:56 AM
-On a side note, does anyone know if there's a technical term for this sort of narration: A third-person narration that follows one character so exclusively as to almost be a first-person retrospective?

Yes: third-person limited.

"People commonly use the word 'procrastination' to describe what they do on the Internet. It seems to me too mild to describe what's happening as merely not-doing-work. We don't call it procrastination when someone gets drunk instead of working." - Paul Graham


Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #17 on: October 18, 2010, 12:13:46 PM
Great story.  I especially liked the fact that the Crucigers we not humanoid and talked using light, a method of communication that is overlooked in most of today's Sci Fi. 

Good point.  The only other aliens that communicated using light that I can think of were the Octospiders from the Rama Series.
I loved those guys!
But their method of communication is vastly different. Crucians use glyphs, while octospiders use color bands. That is closer to our form of communication, I think. Because it suggests much more structure and rules. They have "letters" and "words" that need to be put in proper order to create "sentences". That I think makes it a much easier language to learn, because that is how we think. Whereas glyphs is a much more pictorial language. There is no structure, no order. Each glyph represents a complete thought, and it would take many times longer to learn the language, and even then we wouldn't be able to "think" in that language, because of how our analytical minds work.

Having gotten that tangent out of the way....
I also noticed many inconsistencies in the story, and in fact I had to go back and listen to other sections in order to follow the story.
That certainly had a negative effect on my listening experience, but didn't disturb me too much. I sometimes write with inconsistencies, and rather than correct them I leave them in, it often adds to the silliness of the story.
However, this story was not very silly.
I did like the idea of a hugely powerful spaceship playing god, sort of reminded me of that Futurama episode.
Basically, what is god? It all depends on your point of view. Control over life and death and apparent omniscience are the most popular definitions. In this case, Duxa is a god. (After a little practice).
However, many gods also create something from nothing, and Duxa can't do that. She can reshape planets, so maybe she is a god?
Who knows, but I wouldn't mind living on a planet with such an introspective god.
Most gods are not known for navel gazing, but more of an in-your-face-that's-what-I-want-and-so-be-it attitude.
A god that had her godhood bestowed upon her only after eons of learning and soul-searching might not be a bad idea.

-EDIT-
SHould I have used goddess? Too lazy to correct, pretend I did.
« Last Edit: October 18, 2010, 12:16:55 PM by Max e^{i pi} »

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Reply #18 on: October 18, 2010, 01:53:23 PM
The language seemed to be entirely ideographic, rather than alphabetic, having one symbol per concept. This (in itself) doesn't limit the flexibility of the language, as Chinese demonstrates. But the fact that each symbol is an abstracted form of something a Crucian can form with its arms, or act out, that has a direct correspondence with the concept? Yeah, that would probably limit it.

The Crucian language allowed more than just shapes a Crucian can form with its arms.  For instance, the symbol for "try" was a Crucian hollowing out a nest bed, and so the nest bed is external to the shape of the Crucian itself.  Another symbol, I forget which, involved one Crucian giving a crunch shell to another Crucian.  Even allowing a 2nd Crucian in a single pictograph expands the possible combinations, but showing a crunch shell shows again that they can create more images than just images of Crucians themselves.

Duxa guessed that their original language had involved only sign language using their limbs, but that they expanded to light signals for faster communication. A couple benefits she didn't seem to guess at were:
1.  Light signals may save metabolic energy, because the Crucian is not spending all their time thrashing about
2.  The light language can be significantly more expressive because it's not limited to Crucian shapes.

But am I the only one who drew the connection Crucian -> Cross -> Christian?

No, that crossed my mind and I'm certain that it was intended.  Especially in context of the religious content of the story and when she was trying to explain how she could still be alive after her probe had been destroyed--resurrection anyone?


I liked this story a lot when I first read it in Writers of the Future--I think it may have been in of the first WotF volumes I read, actually.  Yes, there are some flaws, in particular the fact that she first claims to have no context for the language and then is immediately speaking it fluently, and her resolution to the problem which as Wilson Fowlie points out could just lead to bigger problems with overpopulation choking the seas--given all of human knowledge she should at least have considered this possibility as that would be a fairly obvious consequence even from current scientific knowledge, from introducing foreign species to an ecosystem.

But I like an SF story that delves into theology and this one did well at it, blurring the boundary between technology and religion.  I like the fact that the machine protagonist does not consider God to be certain to be nonexistent just because there is no proof of His existence, and goes back and forth on what she thinks of Him, something which I relate to very closely myself.



Schreiber

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Reply #19 on: October 18, 2010, 03:07:12 PM
I really don't understand where people are finding these inconsistencies. Duxa is a computer that is capable of operating many different sophisticated pieces of hardware simultaneously. The Crucians are the descendants and worshipers Cthullu who are preparing for the apocalyptic time of No Food when the elder gods will grant them mercifully quick deaths before inflicting their wrath on the unbelieving Crunch Shells.

No, but seriously, the plot of "Cruciger" seemed fairly straightforward to me. Just throwing it out there.



heyes

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Reply #20 on: October 18, 2010, 03:41:44 PM
I really really enjoyed this story. Great science fiction, great social fiction, wonderful hope. In particular I loved the aspects of language and communication, and how it's acquisition by DUXA changed and shaped her. I loved the little stories that revealed DUXA's background, and how real and present that "back"ground was for DUXA.

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Reply #21 on: October 18, 2010, 05:29:33 PM
I really don't understand where people are finding these inconsistencies. Duxa is a computer that is capable of operating many different sophisticated pieces of hardware simultaneously. The Crucians are the descendants and worshipers Cthullu who are preparing for the apocalyptic time of No Food when the elder gods will grant them mercifully quick deaths before inflicting their wrath on the unbelieving Crunch Shells.

No, but seriously, the plot of "Cruciger" seemed fairly straightforward to me. Just throwing it out there.

I'm curious what this is in response to?  I'd say it's straightforward, sure, I didn't have trouble understanding it.  But I also thought the part about Duxa planning to insert this species into the post terraforming world and not expecting any problems with it to be inconsistent, short sighted, and just plain incorrect for a machine with all of human scientific research at its disposal.



Schreiber

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Reply #22 on: October 18, 2010, 07:01:03 PM
I really don't understand where people are finding these inconsistencies. Duxa is a computer that is capable of operating many different sophisticated pieces of hardware simultaneously. The Crucians are the descendants and worshipers Cthullu who are preparing for the apocalyptic time of No Food when the elder gods will grant them mercifully quick deaths before inflicting their wrath on the unbelieving Crunch Shells.

No, but seriously, the plot of "Cruciger" seemed fairly straightforward to me. Just throwing it out there.

I'm curious what this is in response to?  I'd say it's straightforward, sure, I didn't have trouble understanding it.  But I also thought the part about Duxa planning to insert this species into the post terraforming world and not expecting any problems with it to be inconsistent, short sighted, and just plain incorrect for a machine with all of human scientific research at its disposal.

I'd argue that with Duxa as a guardian angel, the reintroduced Crucians could probably expect some ecological firepower on their side once the terra-forming was complete. Duxa's solution seems like the best possible compromise between protecting the Crucians and fulfilling her mission of rebooting humanity.



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Reply #23 on: October 18, 2010, 07:12:15 PM
I really really enjoyed this story. Great science fiction, great social fiction, wonderful hope. In particular I loved the aspects of language and communication, and how it's acquisition by DUXA changed and shaped her. I loved the little stories that revealed DUXA's background, and how real and present that "back"ground was for DUXA.
]

I gotta tell ya' Heyes, every time I see one of your posts I crack the hell up because of the face you're making in the avatar. It significantly brightens my day when I bump unexpectedly into one of your posts for that reason.

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Reply #24 on: October 18, 2010, 07:56:57 PM

I'd argue that with Duxa as a guardian angel, the reintroduced Crucians could probably expect some ecological firepower on their side once the terra-forming was complete. Duxa's solution seems like the best possible compromise between protecting the Crucians and fulfilling her mission of rebooting humanity.


Perhaps, but the only way to keep the Crucians in balance in such an environment would be to limit their birth rate or increase their death rate.  It's perhaps not an insurmountableproblem, but it is a huge potential, and I get the impression that she is not planning anything in that respect.  With all of human history recorded, she should be aware of the risks, and would at least need to plan for them.



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Reply #25 on: October 18, 2010, 08:34:16 PM
I had complicated feelings about this story.

First of all, for full disclosure's sake, I am one of that group, much maligned in sci-fi and fantasy: a theist (specifically a Jew). I found the earliest parts of Cruciger appallingly boring. You see, the theodicy - the problem of God's justice - has never held much water for me. In the (paraphrased) words of The Dresden Files's Father Forthill: God doesn't protect us from the consequences of our or others' choices.

Because that would be stupid? What would be interesting about a world without consequences?

Anyway, I don't expect this explanation to fly for everyone, but it's worked for me for the last several years. As a result, most of Cruciger had me alternating between boredom and annoyance. I found myself thinking either "If I have to sit through one more appallingly ignorant slur of theism I'm going to turn this story off and listen to something that won't cause me to arrive at work pissed off" and "for crying out loud, humanity isn't dying because of God, humanity is dying because of some asshole with a bio lab and a screw loose - I'm sure a super-brilliant machine brain can figure this out."

Then I got to the end of the story, which was pretty much worth it.

You see, that's how I think about it, too. "Ooh, baby, do you know what that's worth?/Ooh heaven is a place on earth/They say in heaven love comes first/We'll make heaven a place on earth/Ooh heaven is a place on earth."

We get the world we deserve... well, when we deserve it. When we've got the guts and the brains, the foresight and the compassion to build it, heaven will be a place on earth.

So, that was worth it, kind of.

What ultimately frustrated me about Cruciger is this: the Crucians were boring little lumps of protoplasm and I find the idea of humanity's salvation coming out of a tin can is, also, boring.

Point One: the Crucians. They were the image of the noble savage trope. Beautifully simple, simplistic, boring little lumps with no darker passions, easy to essentialize and idealize into something supremely representative of perfection. Because they had no flaws, no darkness, they held no interest to me. I wanted Duxa to blow them up just so I could stop listening to her whine about them.

Point Two: salvation in a can. I don't like that humanity didn't have to work for their perfect world. All they had to do was die, beam their germ plasm into space on a space ship and let someone else handle the problem. That is, likewise, not an interesting story of struggle and sacrifice.

So, ultimately, this story didn't do it. The main argument failed to present an issue I've thought about in an interesting light, and two of the primary devices failed to thrill me. I give it two zeppelins out of five.

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sTalking_goat

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Reply #26 on: October 18, 2010, 08:56:24 PM
Did I miss the part where its was explained why Dexa had to deconstruct that particular moon?



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Reply #27 on: October 18, 2010, 09:50:52 PM
Did I miss the part where its was explained why Dexa had to deconstruct that particular moon?
If you did then I did too.
I was actually wondering about that.
And what exactly is the point of destroying the planet, building a huge scaffolding and pouring all the planet's guts on the outside?
Maybe some kind of hollowed out planet with an artificial sun on the inside? That would allow for significantly more living space and "warm waters lots of food".
But it would severely restrict any technologically advanced civilization. Limited resources, and nowhere to expand to.
Perhaps it was to construct a larger planet, and live on the outside of a hollow shell.
That seems a little more likely, but the side effects would be disastrous.
First of all, the new planet wouldn't be very stable. (This is true also of the previous scenario)
Second, again, limited resources.
Third, it would radically alter the planet's magnetic field, perhaps even destroy it. This would expose the planet to all kinds of harsh interstellar radiation. (This problem doesn't exist in the first scenario, the planet's thickness protects them).
Fourth, I think it would have difficulties holding on to its atmosphere.

To sum up, I think that this story is severely lacking in the consistencies department, and isn't very well thought out.
Its saving grace however is the philosophical discussion of godhood.
In fact, now that I just reread that last line, I wonder if the whole story was presented for just such a reason. You know, the author had a point to make, and tried to make it into a story so it would come across better, sort of hidden. Not an in-your-face kind of thing, but sort of subtle.
If that's the case, then this story fails. I hate stories that were written solely for their (not really) hidden agenda.

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wintermute

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Reply #28 on: October 18, 2010, 11:03:12 PM
The language seemed to be entirely ideographic, rather than alphabetic, having one symbol per concept. This (in itself) doesn't limit the flexibility of the language, as Chinese demonstrates. But the fact that each symbol is an abstracted form of something a Crucian can form with its arms, or act out, that has a direct correspondence with the concept? Yeah, that would probably limit it.

The Crucian language allowed more than just shapes a Crucian can form with its arms.  For instance, the symbol for "try" was a Crucian hollowing out a nest bed, and so the nest bed is external to the shape of the Crucian itself.  Another symbol, I forget which, involved one Crucian giving a crunch shell to another Crucian.  Even allowing a 2nd Crucian in a single pictograph expands the possible combinations, but showing a crunch shell shows again that they can create more images than just images of Crucians themselves.

Yes, but even if they're more complex than a single Crucian without props, they're still pictures of Crucians doing things that are intimately tied to the concept the ideoglyph is intended to represent. The symbol for "happy" is a picture of Crucian expressing happiness. The symbol for "to give" is a picture of a Crucian giving something to another. The symbol for "peptic ulcer brought on by overeating" is a picture of a Crucian looking bloated and uncomfortable.

I maintain that my point is valid.

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Reply #29 on: October 19, 2010, 12:38:14 AM
Yes, but even if they're more complex than a single Crucian without props, they're still pictures of Crucians doing things that are intimately tied to the concept the ideoglyph is intended to represent. The symbol for "happy" is a picture of Crucian expressing happiness. The symbol for "to give" is a picture of a Crucian giving something to another. The symbol for "peptic ulcer brought on by overeating" is a picture of a Crucian looking bloated and uncomfortable.

I maintain that my point is valid.

Human languages all come from descriptions of concrete ideas as well.  The Crucian language had symbols for fairly advanced concepts, such as, "Why?"  From my limited reading just now, our own English word "Why?" comes from a change in conjugation and case of the word "What?", which came similarly from "Who?", which is so old, the etymological dictionary I checked doesn't even have an 'earliest date' for it.  (If eytanz isn't prohibited from doing so by his new exalted station, ;) I hope he will correct any blatant errors I've made here.)

"Who?" is a pretty abstract concept, but it can be indicated fairly easily through gesture - point at (or otherwise indicate) 2 (or more) different people at the same time and look interrogative.  Add a gutteral grunt - "Hu?!" and there you are. :D

All words, even the most abstract ones, evolved from words indicating concrete ideas, such as people, directions, places, things, by analogy and metaphor and building (and then likely compressing) multiple words together.  That aspect of the story was probably the least problematic for me.

"People commonly use the word 'procrastination' to describe what they do on the Internet. It seems to me too mild to describe what's happening as merely not-doing-work. We don't call it procrastination when someone gets drunk instead of working." - Paul Graham


therinth

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Reply #30 on: October 19, 2010, 04:03:59 AM
Hello all -- I'm the author.

Reading everyone's comments has been fascinating.

Maybe I can clear up a few generic things without getting in the way. A globus cruciger is literally "a cross bearing orb", like you'd have seen Kings and Queens hold in their laps for official portraits in olden times. And the project that Duxa is taking on in reconstructing their world is very closely based on this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globus_Cassus, which I found fascinating, perhaps you all will as well.

Thank you all for taking the time to comment here. It's rare to get feedback from this many readers.



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Reply #31 on: October 19, 2010, 06:55:33 AM
Hello all -- I'm the author.

Reading everyone's comments has been fascinating.

Maybe I can clear up a few generic things without getting in the way. A globus cruciger is literally "a cross bearing orb", like you'd have seen Kings and Queens hold in their laps for official portraits in olden times. And the project that Duxa is taking on in reconstructing their world is very closely based on this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globus_Cassus, which I found fascinating, perhaps you all will as well.

Thank you all for taking the time to comment here. It's rare to get feedback from this many readers.
It is a rare privilege to have a dialog with the author of anything, and I am honored.

You are right, the globus cassus is fascinating, but I still don't think it's a very good idea.
If you're rebooting humanity, and have an infinitely capable and patient spaceship, why not make a Dyson sphere? Or at least a ring?

Cogito ergo surf - I think therefore I network

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Ocicat

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Reply #32 on: October 19, 2010, 07:16:36 AM
Or why put all your eggs in one basket, since the last batch of humanity was wiped out by all being in the same biosphere?  A bunch of smaller planets makes more sense, and the ship could probably have found a system with several planets/moons that would have needed minimal tinkering to support human life.



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Reply #33 on: October 19, 2010, 01:32:02 PM
Hello all -- I'm the author.

Reading everyone's comments has been fascinating.

Maybe I can clear up a few generic things without getting in the way. A globus cruciger is literally "a cross bearing orb", like you'd have seen Kings and Queens hold in their laps for official portraits in olden times. And the project that Duxa is taking on in reconstructing their world is very closely based on this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globus_Cassus, which I found fascinating, perhaps you all will as well.

Thank you all for taking the time to comment here. It's rare to get feedback from this many readers.

Hello!  I like it when the author stops by to comment on their story.  Thanks for the link too.  I hadn't even realized you were this author, despite having read your story a couple years ago, and you being the moderator in the critique section of the writer forum here.  :)



ioscode

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Reply #34 on: October 19, 2010, 03:12:39 PM
Did I miss the part where its was explained why Dexa had to deconstruct that particular moon?

It was to construct all of the containers and docking structures to hold the frozen crucians.



therinth

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Reply #35 on: October 19, 2010, 09:45:13 PM
Hello all -- I'm the author.

Reading everyone's comments has been fascinating.

Maybe I can clear up a few generic things without getting in the way. A globus cruciger is literally "a cross bearing orb", like you'd have seen Kings and Queens hold in their laps for official portraits in olden times. And the project that Duxa is taking on in reconstructing their world is very closely based on this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globus_Cassus, which I found fascinating, perhaps you all will as well.

Thank you all for taking the time to comment here. It's rare to get feedback from this many readers.
It is a rare privilege to have a dialog with the author of anything, and I am honored.

You are right, the globus cassus is fascinating, but I still don't think it's a very good idea.
If you're rebooting humanity, and have an infinitely capable and patient spaceship, why not make a Dyson sphere? Or at least a ring?

For whatever it's worth (and I know this gets the "apocryphal" stamp) but I read somewhere that dyson spheres wouldn't actually work (awesome as they might be) because a hollow sphere of sufficient mass and density to have enough gravity to hold an atmosophere on its inner surface would collapse back into a solid sphere. Ringworlds have the same problem in reverse: enough spin to produce sufficient sentrifugal gravity to hang on to an atmosphere and it will fall apart. The only solution is for the worlds to be made of handwavium, and deciding not to go the route of creative physics is a totally valid narrative choice. Perhaps Globus Cassuses (Globus Cassi?) are different? I don't know.

If I were going to poke holes in the plot, it would be these:
  • If she was going to eat the world and poo out a Globus, why did Duxa need an earthlike world in the first place? The materials on earth aren't rare, only their configuration (ie. biomass) is unusual. If you've got the ability to reconfigure planets, you can probably trivially reconfigure Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen.
  • What was up with this disease? How did someone manage to create an illness that overcame mankind's (significant) genetic diversity and somehow hang around in the earth such that Duxa could't wait for mankind to die and then use our old planet to make a new one? This one was particularly galling as adding the prefix "nano-" to the word "plague" would have tapped into our universal science fiction subconscious sufficiently to fill the hole

Ha -- I don't really have a fantastic answer for either of those. For me, writing it, the story was more about the relationship between Duxa and the Crucians, and the illness was more of an inciting event to set it in motion. And in retrospect, possibly more important than finding a particular planet to harvest chemicals from, would be more crucial to find an appropriate sun to spin it around.



Dairmid

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Reply #36 on: October 20, 2010, 04:15:22 AM

The second was the inconsistent treatment of God (capitalized because that was the impression I had). Many humans believed in God (but not all agreeing on its nature) and yet this was apparently a pure fiction. Then later the main character is empathizing with the plight of God (now apparently non-fictional).


I enjoyed the overall concept behind this story, but I found that way in handled God and religion annoying. This computer supposedly has access to the totally of human knowledge, including knowledge of religion, but seems to be completely ignorant of the historical contributions of religion (for example, the contributions to science made by Islam--such as being the 'zero' to the West--in it's early history to name just one). This author makes the error that is commonly found in science fiction, that of 1) looking at the world's religions, most of which are in or past their twilight, and saying 'This is religion', and 2) assuming that atheism is more rational, when in truth, their are both rational and irrational people among both theists and atheists.

Not only did the author take the worst aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition to equal 'religion' (the computer's vast knowledge of human religion should have clued her to the many other traditions in the world), she posited that God as 'God' (though the computer can't seem to decided if God fiction or real but absent--as others noted). Many sci-fi writers (and atheists) seem to do this; take the Old Testament God as God and say, 'Look, see how terrible God is.' And then create similarly terrible gods. It's annoying in its falsity.

As I said, conceptually a great story, but if one is going the include the totality of human religious experience, then one should do that, rather than lean on a narrow Western view (that not even all Western believers hold) and call it 'religion'.   

To discover a new world, you must be willing to get lost. You have to risk sailing off the edge of the earth.


eytanz

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Reply #37 on: October 21, 2010, 12:40:17 PM
I split off the discussion of dsyon spheres and their physics, as, while rather interesting, it had wondered away from relevance to the episode. You can find the new thread here

In doing so, however, I accidentally got a post by Electricpaladin in the wrong thread. Sorry, this is my first split and it's a bit tricky. Here are the contents of that post:

Hello all -- I'm the author.

Reading everyone's comments has been fascinating.

Maybe I can clear up a few generic things without getting in the way. A globus cruciger is literally "a cross bearing orb", like you'd have seen Kings and Queens hold in their laps for official portraits in olden times. And the project that Duxa is taking on in reconstructing their world is very closely based on this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globus_Cassus, which I found fascinating, perhaps you all will as well.

Thank you all for taking the time to comment here. It's rare to get feedback from this many readers.
It is a rare privilege to have a dialog with the author of anything, and I am honored.

You are right, the globus cassus is fascinating, but I still don't think it's a very good idea.
If you're rebooting humanity, and have an infinitely capable and patient spaceship, why not make a Dyson sphere? Or at least a ring?

For whatever it's worth (and I know this gets the "apocryphal" stamp) but I read somewhere that dyson spheres wouldn't actually work (awesome as they might be) because a hollow sphere of sufficient mass and density to have enough gravity to hold an atmosophere on its inner surface would collapse back into a solid sphere. Ringworlds have the same problem in reverse: enough spin to produce sufficient sentrifugal gravity to hang on to an atmosphere and it will fall apart. The only solution is for the worlds to be made of handwavium, and deciding not to go the route of creative physics is a totally valid narrative choice. Perhaps Globus Cassuses (Globus Cassi?) are different? I don't know.

If I were going to poke holes in the plot, it would be these:
  • If she was going to eat the world and poo out a Globus, why did Duxa need an earthlike world in the first place? The materials on earth aren't rare, only their configuration (ie. biomass) is unusual. If you've got the ability to reconfigure planets, you can probably trivially reconfigure Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen.
  • What was up with this disease? How did someone manage to create an illness that overcame mankind's (significant) genetic diversity and somehow hang around in the earth such that Duxa could't wait for mankind to die and then use our old planet to make a new one? This one was particularly galling as adding the prefix "nano-" to the word "plague" would have tapped into our universal science fiction subconscious sufficiently to fill the hole
« Last Edit: October 21, 2010, 12:42:39 PM by eytanz »



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #38 on: October 21, 2010, 01:31:19 PM
In doing so, however, I accidentally got a post by Electricpaladin in the wrong thread. Sorry, this is my first split and it's a bit tricky. Here are the contents of that post:

That's ok. I'm a teacher, so I get split on all the time.

Captain of the Burning Zeppelin Experience.

Help my kids get the educational supplies they need at my Donor's Choose page.


Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #39 on: October 21, 2010, 07:33:13 PM
In doing so, however, I accidentally got a post by Electricpaladin in the wrong thread. Sorry, this is my first split and it's a bit tricky. Here are the contents of that post:

That's ok. I'm a teacher, so I get split on all the time.
My mom is a teacher and she doesn't get split on. Mostly she gets ignored :(

If we keep this up, would it get split too?

Cogito ergo surf - I think therefore I network

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Heradel

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Reply #40 on: October 21, 2010, 07:45:32 PM
Splitting is one of the oddly dark arts of forum moderatorship.

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


jjtraw

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Reply #41 on: October 22, 2010, 04:30:40 AM
Like Dairmid and ElectricPaladin, I did not like the way religion was handled in this story.

All the conflict in the world would not vanish if only there were no monotheism. At its worst, religion can be an *excuse* for horror. But it is never the *reason.* Taking this narrow, stereotyped picture of faith, and calling it the root of all evil, is a trope I see in sf all too often. Pet peeve.

Having said that - there were lots of things I really enjoyed here. Cruciger had a wonderful epic feel, and that isn't easy to convey in a short story. And while I frequently did not agree with Duxa's choices, I empathized enough for her character and her predicament that I really cared about them. Well done.

And the reading was superb.

-Jijit



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Reply #42 on: October 22, 2010, 11:23:08 AM

I'd argue that with Duxa as a guardian angel, the reintroduced Crucians could probably expect some ecological firepower on their side once the terra-forming was complete. Duxa's solution seems like the best possible compromise between protecting the Crucians and fulfilling her mission of rebooting humanity.


Perhaps, but the only way to keep the Crucians in balance in such an environment would be to limit their birth rate or increase their death rate.  It's perhaps not an insurmountableproblem, but it is a huge potential, and I get the impression that she is not planning anything in that respect.  With all of human history recorded, she should be aware of the risks, and would at least need to plan for them.

Making a new planet for humans to live on would at the very least take thousands of years,s he would have plenty of time to work things like that out.



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Reply #43 on: October 22, 2010, 01:15:03 PM

I'd argue that with Duxa as a guardian angel, the reintroduced Crucians could probably expect some ecological firepower on their side once the terra-forming was complete. Duxa's solution seems like the best possible compromise between protecting the Crucians and fulfilling her mission of rebooting humanity.


Perhaps, but the only way to keep the Crucians in balance in such an environment would be to limit their birth rate or increase their death rate.  It's perhaps not an insurmountableproblem, but it is a huge potential, and I get the impression that she is not planning anything in that respect.  With all of human history recorded, she should be aware of the risks, and would at least need to plan for them.

Making a new planet for humans to live on would at the very least take thousands of years,s he would have plenty of time to work things like that out.

Indeed, but it never crossed her mind now?  She's supposed to be super-intelligent, with all of humanity's knowledge at her fingertips.  I don't buy it (thought I did still like the story).



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Reply #44 on: October 22, 2010, 04:33:43 PM
Like Dairmid and ElectricPaladin, I did not like the way religion was handled in this story.

All the conflict in the world would not vanish if only there were no monotheism. At its worst, religion can be an *excuse* for horror. But it is never the *reason.* Taking this narrow, stereotyped picture of faith, and calling it the root of all evil, is a trope I see in sf all too often. Pet peeve.


It's not calling it the root of all evil here though, it's just saying it's tricky to be God.

Or so lesser beings tell me.



icegirl

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Reply #45 on: October 22, 2010, 08:39:57 PM
Possibly it is because I am not specifically religious, that I found the religious considerations interesting - ultimately it seems like it doesn't matter if the religion is true or a really good story, since the story produces ideas that are in and of themselves valuable. I really like this story - there may be some inconsistencies, but it was only a short story not an encyclopedia of the invented world, so I expect to have to gloss over a few things without complete and full explanations. Overall, for me I was so taken up with where the story was going, I didn't worry about the issues others have brought up. Obviously it is an interesting issue why you would hollow out a world to build a new one, but I took that as base programming that the computer would not question, so I assumed that the problems with the idea were inherent in the computer's design by flawed designers. I am assuming in this created world as in real life - sometimes the guy who gets funding for his project isn't getting it entirely because he has the best idea...



El Barto

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Reply #46 on: October 22, 2010, 11:08:50 PM
I loved this story . . . .  until I read all the comments here and realized how many flaws it had!

No, just kidding -- I did love this story and was not distracted by some of the leaps-of-faith the story required because I was too busy thinking about how tempting it must be to pretend to be a god when the opportunity arises.   

In particular, it made me think about the many powerful and charismatic people in our history who proclaimed that they glimpsed (or talked to) a god who gave them a message and instructions and rules.   Once people get going believing something -- not just religion -- it can be extremely difficult to change their minds.

As for the issue of the computer learning their language instantly, I assumed she took her time and went through trial and error and it didn't matter to me whether it took her a subjective month or year to do it.

The creatures as noble savages issue didn't bother me much because I didn't presume that they never engaged in violence before religion came to town -- I presumed they chased and ate their food.   But I also thought that their intra-species violence was new to her arrival.

This whole story reminded me of a favorite Futurama episode, where Bender is floating in space for eternity and a colony of little beings lands on him and they think he is god and he plays along, to terrible results. 

I found the ending hopeful, not depressing.   Humanity gets another chance and when they all wake up they get to make first contact!

All in all, a very nice story with an excellent forum discussion as well -- icing on the cake.




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Reply #47 on: October 23, 2010, 12:27:30 AM
mmmmmmmmmmmm a delicious story.  yes the ending was a little dissapointing but not to the point that the magic was lost.  Thanks for a wonderful tale!



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Reply #48 on: October 23, 2010, 05:55:05 AM
I logged on here to say a few things about this story, only to find that ElectricPaladin had already said what I wanted to say. So...thanks EP  ;) I found the idea of the ship and her wrestling with her feelings fascinating, but I find it is too easy to blame religion or God, and not the humans that make the wrong choices.



eytanz

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Reply #49 on: October 24, 2010, 09:47:57 PM
So. This was the first story that was posted after I became Escape Pod moderator. But, at the time, I still had more than 20 hours backlog of podcasts to listen to, including several EP stories. I hate listening to stories out of order, so I didn't. But that meant I had to moderate this thread without knowing the story, which was annoying. Because people had lots of interesting stuff to say and that coloured my perception of the story in all sorts of ways. I was trying to read people's posts quickly to see if I can judge if there are any problems without actually spoiling too much of the story for myself. That worked surprisingly well, which is good to know for the future when I have other stories I won't have time to read quickly.

Anyway, as far as the story itself - I *really* loved it. I was aware of the plot holes that people posted above - mostly because I saw their posts beforehand - but none of that bothered me once the story got going. It just really engrossed me. I'm a sucker for stories about benign AI, and I was really involved in Duxa's moral quandaries. Really, really cool.



Dave

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Reply #50 on: October 24, 2010, 10:45:42 PM
So, okay, there was a lot of handwavy technology going on here, but that wasn't the point. This story grabbed me by the heel and dragged me all over the emotional spectrum before gently setting me down somewhere where I felt good about myself and the future of humanity's children, if not humanity itself. I was really angry with Dexa at first, but she managed to redeem herself (and by extension, us) by the end. Dexa was unpredictable enough that I was never *quite* sure what she was going to do next, which kept the tension up during the otherwise straightforward ending.

Really enjoyed this one, and in fact the recent batch of casts across the EA family has been pretty excellent. I'd have to subscribe if I weren't already a supporter. But at the least I can pimp you guys on FB, so I'll do that instead.

Thanks, and keep 'em coming!

-Dave (aka Nev the Deranged)


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Reply #51 on: October 25, 2010, 06:48:26 PM
Enjoyed!

More Union Dues, please!

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yicheng

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Reply #52 on: October 26, 2010, 06:06:47 PM
I enjoyed the story overall, and had feelings similar to ElectricPaladin.  I found the idea of a sentient super-computer to be interesting, if not too original.  I have to also echo ElectricPaladin's sentiment that the Crucians fall way too easily into the noble savage stereotype.  It seems paradoxical that the Crucians had no sense of heaven, soul, or supernatural before Duxa and yet seemed to have no trouble understanding these ideas when Duxa presented them.  They have no social structures to speak of, are non-territorial, and yet have a very complex and flexible language (one that is apparently the same globally, which is something humans have yet to achieve).

I have to also say that I though the ending was too sweeping.  As others have said, we saw now mention of natural predators so we have to assume that the only thing keeping the Crucian population in check is the winter.  Remove that and you'd essentially be assuring an exponential population growth, followed by a Malthusian population crash when food supply is exceeded by demand.  Hard to believe that Duxa's super-computing brain couldn't have seen that one coming.



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Reply #53 on: October 27, 2010, 02:38:46 AM
I wonder if Duxa is short for DeUs eX machinA?  Quite nearly literal in this case...  (and not meant as a criticism).

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Reply #54 on: October 27, 2010, 11:39:58 AM
I wonder if Duxa is short for DeUs eX machinA?  Quite nearly literal in this case...  (and not meant as a criticism).

Ooh, I never thought of that.
That's quite interesting, and I hope you're right.
That puts the whole story in a brand new light.
I found all of the difficulties in this story due to science rather tiresome and they detracted from my enjoyment of the story.
If, however, Duxa is the deus ex machina that saves humanity that means that the whole story can now fall into the dystopia/cynical genre and all the imperfect science only adds to the ludicrousness.
It also answers all of the theological questions that arose. What is (god(s)/God/G-d erase the ones you don't like) if not a grand dues ex machina? (If I'm not mistaken the term even comes from Shakespearean plays where a god would descend onto the stage to save the day, using a complex system of gears and pulleys).

In any event, regardless of whether this is what the author intended, I like it very much, and now like the story even more.  ;D

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Reply #55 on: October 27, 2010, 03:34:27 PM
Actually, from the Greek and Roman plays, which - this being the dawn of the art form - tended to resolve complicated plots by simply having the gods come down and fix everything at the end.



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Reply #56 on: October 27, 2010, 05:26:22 PM
I wonder if Duxa is short for DeUs eX machinA?  Quite nearly literal in this case...  (and not meant as a criticism).

If it was, it wasn't intentional! (I wrote this story in about three days, at Clarion West, my last week. For all I really know, my hindbrain could have been grasping at straws.)



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Reply #57 on: October 28, 2010, 04:00:21 AM
I adored this story.  The space travel/technology bits were a bit weak, but in this story, I didn't care.  I didn't care because I cared about the Crucians and Duxa and the last humans so much.   The Crucians were noble savages, or whatever trope you choose to stick them with, but to me, they were believable.  Just because Duxa hadn't seen conflict before doesn't mean that it didn't exist.  In fact, it probably did, given Scar's attack on her probe the first time she came down.  For me, the story was about growth, and change, and personal evolution.  Duxa grew, and as she did so, her view of theology changed.  Yes, the view was primarily Judeo-Christian, and this may have been a flaw, but one I could live with, given the length of the story. 

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Reply #58 on: October 28, 2010, 01:35:03 PM
I wonder if Duxa is short for DeUs eX machinA?  Quite nearly literal in this case...  (and not meant as a criticism).

If it was, it wasn't intentional! (I wrote this story in about three days, at Clarion West, my last week. For all I really know, my hindbrain could have been grasping at straws.)

It's an interesting idea, but I'm not sure it really fits a Deus Ex Machina anyway.  Yes, she swooped down and saved the lowly creatures, but did so only to save them from her own actions.  I don't think it counts as a Deus Ex Machina if the problem itself is caused by the same deity that solves the problem.  :)



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Reply #59 on: October 28, 2010, 01:49:49 PM
Oh, and there was a race of beings in either Judas Unchained or Pandora's Star by Peter F Hamilton that used symbolic language transmitted in the UV spectrum. 

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Reply #60 on: October 28, 2010, 08:13:35 PM
I wonder if Duxa is short for DeUs eX machinA?  Quite nearly literal in this case...  (and not meant as a criticism).

If it was, it wasn't intentional! (I wrote this story in about three days, at Clarion West, my last week. For all I really know, my hindbrain could have been grasping at straws.)

It's an interesting idea, but I'm not sure it really fits a Deus Ex Machina anyway.  Yes, she swooped down and saved the lowly creatures, but did so only to save them from her own actions.  I don't think it counts as a Deus Ex Machina if the problem itself is caused by the same deity that solves the problem.  :)


What about the deus ex machina that saves humanity?

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Reply #61 on: October 28, 2010, 08:44:06 PM
I wonder if Duxa is short for DeUs eX machinA?  Quite nearly literal in this case...  (and not meant as a criticism).

If it was, it wasn't intentional! (I wrote this story in about three days, at Clarion West, my last week. For all I really know, my hindbrain could have been grasping at straws.)

It's an interesting idea, but I'm not sure it really fits a Deus Ex Machina anyway.  Yes, she swooped down and saved the lowly creatures, but did so only to save them from her own actions.  I don't think it counts as a Deus Ex Machina if the problem itself is caused by the same deity that solves the problem.  :)


What about the deus ex machina that saves humanity?

I don't think it's a Deus Ex Machina if the Machina in question creates the device that saves it. That's a Deus [In/of] Machina. 

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Reply #62 on: October 29, 2010, 09:48:11 AM
I wonder if Duxa is short for DeUs eX machinA?  Quite nearly literal in this case...  (and not meant as a criticism).

If it was, it wasn't intentional! (I wrote this story in about three days, at Clarion West, my last week. For all I really know, my hindbrain could have been grasping at straws.)

It's an interesting idea, but I'm not sure it really fits a Deus Ex Machina anyway.  Yes, she swooped down and saved the lowly creatures, but did so only to save them from her own actions.  I don't think it counts as a Deus Ex Machina if the problem itself is caused by the same deity that solves the problem.  :)


What about the deus ex machina that saves humanity?

I don't think it's a Deus Ex Machina if the Machina in question creates the device that saves it. That's a Deus [In/of] Machina. 

Well, what if there are all kinds of holes in the story concerning that?
Like how humanity succumbed to this plague.
How they were able to construct such an AI.
And such a space ship.
And find a suitable planet to destroy/rebuild.
And in fact, all of the questions that were brought up in this thread.
Duxa just comes out of the clouds and solves them all.

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Reply #63 on: October 29, 2010, 10:26:56 AM
I'm not entirely sure I understand what you're saying here, Max. All the questions you list are potential plot holes, but they don't affect the question of whether Duxa is a Deus ex Machina. A Deus ex Machina is a literary term - it means a plot element that came out of nowhere at the end of the story and resolved the problems. Duxa may resolve all the problems without much explanation, but she didn't come out of nowhere - she's there from the beginning of the story, and the fact that she's both willing and able to solve humanity's crisis is mentioned from very early on. You can argue that the science in the story is bad, but that just means that the story's outcome is unrealistic, not that it's unexpected, and a Deus ex Machina has to be unexpected.

I guess you might also be saying that from the point of view of the last humans Duxa is a Deus ex Machina - humanity seems lost and there's suddenly a machine that can save it. But I think the story addresses this perspective quite explciitly - it makes the point that all of humanity's resources were diverted into the Duxa project, and that humanity had known how to build such an AI/spaceship for a while, they just didn't want to pay the cost. You may, again, argue that it's terribly convenient that humanity had developed the Duxa technology in time for its plague (though I would think that by that criteria, about 99% of well-regarded SF is bunk), but that still doesn't make it a Deus ex Machina.

Of course, there's a literal meaning of Deus ex Machina as well - a god in a machine - which does apply in this case, as Duxa is a machine which plays the role of a god. That's how I interpreted RKG's original post. Beyond that, I just don't think the term applies.



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Reply #64 on: October 29, 2010, 02:15:41 PM
I don't think it's a Deus Ex Machina if the Machina in question creates the device that saves it. That's a Deus [In/of] Machina. 

I agree.  If humanity saves itself by creating a miraculous god/machine, that is humanity creating its own solution, not a solution coming unexpectedly from the heavens.

Of course, there's a literal meaning of Deus ex Machina as well - a god in a machine - which does apply in this case, as Duxa is a machine which plays the role of a god. That's how I interpreted RKG's original post. Beyond that, I just don't think the term applies.

Ah, that's true.  I had been thinking of it in the literary context.  Taken literally it makes sense.

Random side-note--my favorite usage of "Deus Ex Machina" is the double meaning in the FPS "Deus Ex".  The protagonist acts as a deus ex machina dropping into problem areas and serving as an unexpected solution, and he is also more literally a "god from a machine" because he is a nanotech-augmented special agent.  :)



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Reply #65 on: October 30, 2010, 08:39:06 PM
... a lot of stuff.
I won't make a huge double post, it's two posts up, go read it.

What I mean to say is, if Duxa is the Deus Ex Mchina, then the whole story, in my eyes (ears?) at least, takes on a whole new meaning.
It isn't about the internal conflicts of a complex machine, the strange and interesting tale of how humanity screwed up and tried to save itself, or even the emerging godhood of AI.
The whole story is a parody.
A spoof.
Basically it's saying "Oh look how convenient it is that some god can come out of the clouds and save us. True we may have to work very hard to create that god, but that's OK. That means that we can do anything we want. Carrying all of humanity's eggs in one basket is no longer a problem. Duxa will save us."
Where Duxa here is the Deus Ex Machina, the magical solution.
The science doesn't need to work in this kind of story, because that's not the point.
The same for the plot holes.
In fact, these imperfections even help to drive the point home.
"Yes, there are problems. Things don't fit right or make sense, but that's OK, Duxa will save us."

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Reply #66 on: November 01, 2010, 06:11:17 PM
... a lot of stuff.
I won't make a huge double post, it's two posts up, go read it.

What I mean to say is, if Duxa is the Deus Ex Mchina, then the whole story, in my eyes (ears?) at least, takes on a whole new meaning.
It isn't about the internal conflicts of a complex machine, the strange and interesting tale of how humanity screwed up and tried to save itself, or even the emerging godhood of AI.
The whole story is a parody.
A spoof.
Basically it's saying "Oh look how convenient it is that some god can come out of the clouds and save us. True we may have to work very hard to create that god, but that's OK. That means that we can do anything we want. Carrying all of humanity's eggs in one basket is no longer a problem. Duxa will save us."
Where Duxa here is the Deus Ex Machina, the magical solution.
The science doesn't need to work in this kind of story, because that's not the point.
The same for the plot holes.
In fact, these imperfections even help to drive the point home.
"Yes, there are problems. Things don't fit right or make sense, but that's OK, Duxa will save us."

That's an interesting line of thought.  One of the ways that religion can be a deteriment to individuals and society is when it is used as an excuse to avoid responsibility.  For instance, one of my co-workers has told me many times about a relative of his who is able but refuses to get a job to provide for his family, and whenever asked why will only say "God will provide" and then living off of welfare and gifts from others.  Or, for instance, taking the phrase "Be fruitful and multiply" as an order to have as many kids as possible--the statement made a whole lot more sense in the days when the death rate was high enough to balance out high birth rates.

Which isn't to say I'm trying to knock religion.  I don't really consider myself an atheist, but that's one aspect of religion I see as a problem.
« Last Edit: November 01, 2010, 06:12:55 PM by Unblinking »



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Reply #67 on: November 01, 2010, 09:11:17 PM
The issue is that "We can save ourselves if we work hard enough" isn't really an abdication of responsibility.  "Cruciger" certainly doesn't pull any punches in claiming, assigning, and addressing issues of responsibility and fault.  Humanity destroyed itself, but humanity also (attempted to) save itself.  This is the story of that second part, but that doesn't mean that it's a story about how everything's okay in the end and we don't have to do anything.  Duxa is the product of a large amount of work and resources; yes, she also has a lot of slightly unbelievable powers, but she isn't a deus ex machina in a literary or literal sense.

If I give my kid a $30 allowance for no reason other than that we have the money, I'm giving him/her something for nothing and not teaching responsibility.  If my kid has to perform age-appropriate chores to receive that allowance and stands to lose it if he/she doesn't, then I'm not enabling him/her to avoid responsibility. 

Duxa came into existence because, within the story, humanity came together in the face of the plague and worked to build her.  You might criticize that as an unrealistically rosy picture of what humans tend to do in times of crisis, but you can't say that she came out of nowhere or that her existence abdicates humanity's responsibility for their troubles.



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Reply #68 on: November 02, 2010, 01:56:51 PM
I always determine the Deus ex Machina-ness of a character by comparing them to Gandalf.  The closer to Gandalf, the closer to Deus ex Machina. 

I think Duxa is at about .4Ga. She has incredible powers, and saves the day, but did not come out of nowhere to save the day. 

For reference, Dumbledore came in at .8Ga.

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Reply #69 on: November 02, 2010, 02:03:41 PM
I always determine the Deus ex Machina-ness of a character by comparing them to Gandalf.  The closer to Gandalf, the closer to Deus ex Machina. 

I think Duxa is at about .4Ga. She has incredible powers, and saves the day, but did not come out of nowhere to save the day. 

For reference, Dumbledore came in at .8Ga.

Have you ever seen something >1.0 Ga? Or is Gandalf an absolute measurement, like Kelvin.

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Reply #70 on: November 02, 2010, 07:44:54 PM
I always determine the Deus ex Machina-ness of a character by comparing them to Gandalf.  The closer to Gandalf, the closer to Deus ex Machina. 

I think Duxa is at about .4Ga. She has incredible powers, and saves the day, but did not come out of nowhere to save the day. 

For reference, Dumbledore came in at .8Ga.
Hehe
Using Gandalf as a scale for measuring Deus Ex Machina.
I like it, and with your permission will adopt it for myself.

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Reply #71 on: November 02, 2010, 08:25:06 PM
If my kid has to perform age-appropriate chores to receive that allowance and stands to lose it if he/she doesn't, then I'm not enabling him/her to avoid responsibility. 

I disagree*: they can avoid the responsibility by giving up the reward that comes with it, just as I can quit my job and give up the pay and benefits.

The difference between a job and the child's situation is that, as a member of the household that generates the chores, the kid has an intrinsic responsibility to do those chores.  Part of that is because, regardless of allowance, they are still getting benefit - room, board, love, education, etc. - just from living there.

Another part of it is simply that it's an aspect of householding.  When you** live by yourself, you live as squalidly as you want to, but most people have a maximum squalor threshold.  It is to be hoped that if you live with someone else, that threshold comes down, and that it comes down even further if a child is introduced to the home.  (Note that, as a parent, I'm aware that actual squalor is liable to exceed parents' theoretical threshold at times.)

Anyway, part of being a household member is doing your share of the work involved to run it (however that's agreed upon by the parties involved).  No one gets paid for doing it; it's just what has to be done, including by children, when they're old enough.

By tying the allowance to the chores, you give the kid an excuse to opt out of chores whenever they want, at a relatively minor cost (given the benefits they get regardless).


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*I don't disagree with your point about "We can save ourselves if we work hard enough," Scattercat, just the example you chose to illustrate it.

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Reply #72 on: November 02, 2010, 08:41:16 PM


Have you ever seen something >1.0 Ga? Or is Gandalf an absolute measurement, like Kelvin.

I have never seen >1.0 Ga.  Allanon, from the Shanara series, is .95 Ga, but none have passed the great wizard himself.  I believe Gandalf is like the speed of light, absolute, but others may prove me wrong.  :) 

And yes, feel free to use this for yourself! 

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Reply #73 on: November 02, 2010, 09:05:41 PM
Yeah, okay, chores aren't necessarily the best example.  I don't actually get to pay anyone in real life, though, and more people use the chores-payment scheme than actually manage businesses.  It's an imperfect analogy, but I wasn't trying for a full 1-to-1 equivalency, just a way to illustrate my point that, definitionally, a deus ex machina comes from nowhere and saves the day without cost, and thus anything that is paid for - even if the payment is rather off-screen - is not a deus ex machina and should not be critiqued as such.

This is a fuzzy realm, admittedly.  If my protagonist has a super-awesome secret agent car that can turn into basically anything he needs and I say somewhere in the introduction that it cost a bazillion squintillion dollars, I have not sufficiently justified the car to make it lose that taint of deus ex machina.  Perhaps a better phrase might be that anything that *costs* is not a deus ex machina, if the distinctino is clear. 

In this particular case, however, the cost is quite clear, and a fair part of the story is a meditation on the losses incurred and the meaning Duxa gains thereby.



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Reply #74 on: November 03, 2010, 01:38:23 PM
And yes, feel free to use this for yourself! 

Awesome!  It is a very worthy measurement system.   ;D  Now I'm going to try to think of something that exceeds 1.0Ga...

How about the end of Monty Python and the Holy Grail?  Well, I guess that didn't really SOLVE anything, just truncated it...



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Reply #75 on: November 29, 2010, 12:31:42 AM
I really loved this story.  I know this thread isn't really going anymore but I just wanted to throw my thoughts in having gotten to it late.

I understand why people could find it convenient that Duxa had endless resources to fix the problems she encountered and I can appreciate the logistical questions of how something like Duxa could be built in the first place.

To me the story wasn't so much about these aspects of the universe the story is set in.  I felt the author did a good job of setting up a scenario that leaves us with interesting questions.  Humans in Duxa's universe obviously are more technologically advanced than us by a great deal, the plague didn't hit in any near future to us.  Likewise, humans still manage to get wiped out.  So we weren't masters of even our own solar system yet apparently.  I felt enough information was given there to get us going with out having to give a step by step of how we got to where we are.

Earth has been rendered uninhabitable by a plague.
Our only choice is to engineer a new home in another system.
We used every scrape of resource we had left to create Duxa.

The real story here is only focused on the Sci-Fi in so much as it shapes who and what Duxa is.  How she goes from something that only barely grasps death to truly understanding the value of life. 

I found the scene when she kills Sun in freezing experiments to be right at the heart of this story.  Even though the character exists in the story for just a little while, you get the feeling that Duxa has made a huge emotional connection to the him and she's really, for the first time ever, experiencing true loss. 

Duxa had known people before, but I'd venture that Sun was the first real friend she'd had.  To go from casually holding her sign informing everyone "I'm going to destroy your planet soon" to her outburst over Sun...  well I found it very effective.


As for the inconsistent computing power of Duxa,  all I know is my computer can do somethings nice and fast and other things painfully slow.  I imagine a moon sized space craft which isn't even sure where it's own processors are might be just a tad inconsistent at times.  :)




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Reply #76 on: November 29, 2010, 05:24:03 PM
I really loved this story.  I know this thread isn't really going anymore but I just wanted to throw my thoughts in having gotten to it late.

No need to apologize for raising inactive threads!  :)



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Reply #77 on: January 02, 2011, 10:43:55 PM


Have you ever seen something >1.0 Ga? Or is Gandalf an absolute measurement, like Kelvin.

I have never seen >1.0 Ga.  Allanon, from the Shanara series, is .95 Ga, but none have passed the great wizard himself.  I believe Gandalf is like the speed of light, absolute, but others may prove me wrong.  :) 

And yes, feel free to use this for yourself! 

Oh, man... Allanon... I was a huge Terry Brooks fanboy when I was a kid, but I remember thinking of the 12 step group every time I read his name. And he was definitely pretty high on the Character-As-Plot-Device scale. He always had ooooone more trick or reserve of power up his sleeve.

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Reply #78 on: January 04, 2011, 05:27:54 PM
Oh, man... Allanon... I was a huge Terry Brooks fanboy when I was a kid, but I remember thinking of the 12 step group every time I read his name. And he was definitely pretty high on the Character-As-Plot-Device scale. He always had ooooone more trick or reserve of power up his sleeve.

Yeah, I could not stop thinking of the 12 step group either.  I knew some people in Allanon, so it really made me wonder why they chose that name.  And yup, you can't get much more plot-devicey than that.  I thought the Sword of Shannara was pretty good when I read it, but I hadn't read Lord of the Rings yet...  And the other followup books were just terrible.  In each one, a new threat that endangers the entire world--if those really came around every few years, then statistically the world's got to end one of these times.



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Reply #79 on: January 04, 2011, 05:31:29 PM
Oh, man... Allanon... I was a huge Terry Brooks fanboy when I was a kid, but I remember thinking of the 12 step group every time I read his name. And he was definitely pretty high on the Character-As-Plot-Device scale. He always had ooooone more trick or reserve of power up his sleeve.

Yeah, I could not stop thinking of the 12 step group either.  I knew some people in Allanon, so it really made me wonder why they chose that name.  And yup, you can't get much more plot-devicey than that.  I thought the Sword of Shannara was pretty good when I read it, but I hadn't read Lord of the Rings yet...  And the other followup books were just terrible.  In each one, a new threat that endangers the entire world--if those really came around every few years, then statistically the world's got to end one of these times.

I don't know.  I actually quite liked "Elfstones."  I felt like Terry Brooks managed to make his world much more unique in that one and gave it a sense of place instead of just Middle-Earth with the serial numbers filed off.

And you can't tell me that "Druid of Shannara" and "Elf Queen of Shannara" aren't both just awesome by themselves.  That series as a whole is middling-to-fair, as the first and fourth books are mediocre at best and the overplot isn't really all there, but that stone city thing... man.  That stuff is rad.



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Reply #80 on: January 04, 2011, 05:57:41 PM
I don't know.  I actually quite liked "Elfstones."  I felt like Terry Brooks managed to make his world much more unique in that one and gave it a sense of place instead of just Middle-Earth with the serial numbers filed off.

And you can't tell me that "Druid of Shannara" and "Elf Queen of Shannara" aren't both just awesome by themselves.  That series as a whole is middling-to-fair, as the first and fourth books are mediocre at best and the overplot isn't really all there, but that stone city thing... man.  That stuff is rad.

I thought both "Elfstones" and "Wishsong" were of low quality, trying to suck more money out of a concept that he'd taken as far as he could.  I guess I was thinking of the original "trilogy" only when I referred to the followup books disparagingly.  I haven't read Druid or Elf Queen since I was a teen but I remember enjoying those very much, because the writing and ideas just seemed much better and not just rehashes of the original, the Shadowen being a cool component especially, and the stone city.  I particularly liked Walker Boh (I think that was his name).

I believe Druid was the 2nd Shannara book I ever picked up, having no money at the time and instead only able to grab whatever book was available at the library.



Scattercat

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Reply #81 on: January 04, 2011, 11:14:27 PM
"Wishsong" is a bit pants, since it basically relies heavily on the Magic Omnipotence power for its plot and resolution.  I liked the implacable horror-movie of "Elfstones," though, and it was one of the earliest books I read that really subverted a trope strongly.

(What is it with "Cruciger" and spin-off discussions?  Isn't this like the third digression?)



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Reply #82 on: January 05, 2011, 07:50:16 AM
"Wishsong" is a bit pants...

Are you English, cat?? Thought you was an USian.


Scattercat

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Reply #83 on: January 05, 2011, 07:47:55 PM
"Wishsong" is a bit pants...

Are you English, cat?? Thought you was an USian.

My formative years were significantly shaped by Monty Python, Terry Pratchett, and P.G. Wodehouse.  I am prone to veering wildly from patois to patois in my speech and writing, switching from online slang to oddball Britishisms to Buffy-speak to academic papers more or less at random. 

I'm USian, but one who is widely read and fond of linguistic oddities.  I pick up my slang where I find it.  "Manky" is another excellent British word that doesn't get as much use as it should, for instance.  I do have to police myself to avoid putting "a bit" and "rather" in every sentence. 



Wilson Fowlie

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Reply #84 on: January 28, 2011, 09:57:26 PM
Apropos of the Gandalf discussion.  (Note: the best part is at the bottom.)

"People commonly use the word 'procrastination' to describe what they do on the Internet. It seems to me too mild to describe what's happening as merely not-doing-work. We don't call it procrastination when someone gets drunk instead of working." - Paul Graham


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Reply #85 on: February 16, 2011, 02:39:05 AM
I just wanted to say this EP episode was my first. And I loved it! Good story and well read. I've been hooked on Escape Pod ever since.

Only part I didn't like? Finding out hour-long episodes are not typical.  :D

"I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates who said, 'I drank what?'"
- Chris Knight, Real Genius


kibitzer

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Reply #86 on: February 17, 2011, 01:31:10 AM
I just wanted to say this EP episode was my first. And I loved it! Good story and well read. I've been hooked on Escape Pod ever since.

Only part I didn't like? Finding out hour-long episodes are not typical.  :D

Well, good intro, then! Stick around. Hope you enjoy the ride.