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Author Topic: EP280: Endosymbiont  (Read 8080 times)
eytanz
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« on: February 18, 2011, 02:27:26 PM »

EP280: Endosymbiont

By Blake Charlton
Read by Mur Lafferty

Originally published in Seeds of Change
---

"Do you know what day it is? What year?”

“It’s like mid August, 2017?” her voice squeaked. Jesus, had she really lost her mind?

“That’s right.” She smiled. “Don’t be scared. I just wanted to be sure.”

“What do you mean don’t be scared?” she blurted. “Sure about what? Jesus! How long have I been here? How many times have you seen me before?”

Jani held up her hand. “Slow down; it’s okay…I’m not an oncologist, but I’m following your case. The cancer responded well to the treatment. And our research suggests that the side effects are temporary.”

Stephanie started to protest but then stopped. A terrifying memory flashed through her mind. “Mom said they might take me to a hospital for the dead.” She didn’t know what that meant but the memory was clear. “She said you’d keep me here to fool me into thinking I’m still alive.”

Jani was holding up both hands now. “Slow down. The survival rates are scary but they’re far better—”

“You’re not listening. She said they’d take me to a hospital for people who’ve _already_ died. I have to escape before—”

Stephanie started to stand but Jani put a heavy hand on her shoulder and said “Lullaby.”

The word opened a bloom of orange light across Stephanie’s vision. A static hiss exploded into her ears, and she felt herself falling. There was a firecracker yellow flash and then…nothing.


Rated PG-13 For swearing (one f-bomb) and disturbing hospital images

Show Notes:

  • Feedback for Episode 272: Christmas Wedding
  • Next week… Horticulture, dermatology, and love



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: March 10, 2011, 05:52:17 PM by eytanz » Logged
l33tminion
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« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2011, 12:17:15 AM »

The ending is perhaps a bit too set up as a thought-exercise for the reader.  But I like that sort of story, I suppose.

One thing I didn't quite understand:  Why did the main character make a different decision at the end of the story instead of stalling another time?  What was different from previous iterations?

Also, I feel that the third option (the one the narrator doesn't really consider) was not sufficiently explored.  Then again, if that hadn't been included, the choice would have been a bit of a But Thou Must (where the answer to "will you sacrifice yourself to help humanity?" are "yes" and "ask again later"), the main character's parents would have wanted to give her another option.
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blakecharlton
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« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2011, 07:00:31 PM »

blake here. just thought i'd pop over to share for any bio geeks into the science behind the story; there's a really interesting perspective on eukaryote evolution & endosymbiosis in this month's Science:
 Alcock et al., "Tinkering Inside the Organelle" 327 (5966): 649-650 <http://www.sciencemag.org/content/327/5966/649.short>
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acpracht
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« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2011, 08:14:45 PM »

For me, this was easily one of the best stories I've ever heard on Escape Pod.
From the intriguing first image (which pays off throughout the story) to the gradually revealed mystery to the human story that underlies it all - great stuff.
This was "The Matrix" in reverse- rather than escape the computer, the savior has to go deeper into the simulation, become more mechanical.
If I have any criticism, it's that the concept was a bit complex to follow in an audio format. But I liked having something a little deeper. The story itself was a bit how I would imagine a rattlesnake's tail would taste - thick and chewy.
-Adam
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #4 on: February 20, 2011, 03:44:27 PM »

I always did like postsingular stories.
This one was perfect.
Good world building, the slow buildup, and the final epic choice. All predictable, but all wonderful.
What really got me was the choice at the end. It was obvious that that is what she was leading up to, and since we were watching her escape from the hospital for the 16th time (and not the first) it was obvious what she was going to choose.
But I still kept hoping she would choose something else.
One thing I didn't quite understand:  Why did the main character make a different decision at the end of the story instead of stalling another time?  What was different from previous iterations?
Because every time she goes back to the hospital she loses a little bit more of herself. It's a hard decision to sacrifice everything for the good of the people, and not many people can do that. By going back to the hospital she was slowly rubbing herself out, so that there would be less to lose when she finally went back to the Source (sorry Neo). Alternatively, there was less of her to make the decision not to make the sacrifice. In any event, there was a slow constant buildup over the years until we got to this point, where she is capable of making the "correct" choice.

One thing that I particularly like about post-singularity stories is the way that humanity is now forced to face the music of not being the (third) smartest race on the planet. How do we cope with this? What kind of new challenges does it bring?
I'm happy to see that in this case humanity's fear of the unknown is sufficiently strong to shackle the new technology and prevent humanity from realizing its full potential.
This is nothing new, Asimov's US Robot and Mechanical Men company fought against the Frankenstein Complex for centuries. I sometimes wish we could all embrace new technology, but that would make for very boring fiction. So, well done on that regard.
Also the solution is unique and intriguing. I like it.

If anybody wants to read more excellent post-singularity fiction, I recommend Rudy Rucker's books Postsingular and The Ware Tetralogy, available free from Feedbooks.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2011, 06:04:49 PM by Max e^{i pi} » Logged

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acpracht
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« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2011, 06:03:53 PM »

By the way, excellent article on the Singularity and Raymond Kurzweil in the latest issue of "Time." By Lev Grossman, another of my favorite writers.
-Adam
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blueeyeddevil
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« Reply #6 on: February 20, 2011, 08:30:40 PM »

Good story, and interesting if considered in part of the Escape Pod continuum. In one way, this is the counterpoint to Conditional Love This is a similar story told from the other side.

I do not wish to lessen what is good about this story by saying 'oh, this is just like something else.' Rather, by realizing the similarities of story and seeming goal between the two, a contrast may show certain qualities about the work.

This is Sophie's World, the singularity version.

[spoilers, both for this story and Sophie's World]
parallell: little girl goes through a series of interesting, if occasionally gratuitously expository, moral and philosophical self-discoveries, and then eventually realizes that she herself is an artificial construct living within a man-made form of media, which she then figures out how to escape.

This being said, the one work is a book that is a good three inches thick, while the other is a story that, when read aloud, is about an hour long. Because these stories are basically tackling the same goal, it seems inevitable that the shorter story seem a bit strained to bring the whole shebang to proper fruition.

It still works as a story, though certain gaps seem inevitable in a short work with such a big goal.
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kibitzer
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« Reply #7 on: February 20, 2011, 08:54:10 PM »

Fabulous. Best story on EP for a while. I love a sci-fi story that can take some pretty mind-bending concepts and personalise them which is what happened here. Throughout, I cared about Stephanie and felt happy I could share this journey with her. I got strong sens of most of the characters, particularly Stephanie's mother and father, and I thought the scene at the end with her father's AI was so well done -- very poignant and affecting. Fantastic, in every sense!
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #8 on: February 21, 2011, 03:29:59 AM »

I do not wish to lessen what is good about this story by saying 'oh, this is just like something else.' Rather, by realizing the similarities of story and seeming goal between the two, a contrast may show certain qualities about the work.

Uh, yes. That's what I meant.
The thing is, I read and listen to so much fiction that it's hard NOT to draw similarities. In my book, being compared to Isaac Asimov is one of the greatest compliments any writer can receive.
And in this case, it wasn't simply copying an old idea, but creating a new foundation (haha) for it.
A good story is about good conflict, and a good ending is good conflict resolution.
There were several conflicts here. The main one was between humanity and the machines, but no less important was the conflict between Stephanie's humanity and her desire to end the other conflict.
And I think both were resolved very nicely. As kibitzer said, that scene at the end was very powerful, very emotional. It's the mark of good character building and excellent writing.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that this is the best story on EP (there are so many best stories) but it's up there.
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KenK
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« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2011, 09:28:34 AM »

Way too long. Could have used a good edit.
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Dem
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« Reply #10 on: February 21, 2011, 09:55:38 AM »

In step, for once! This was a classy story and very well read by Mur. As virtual world technology becomes increasingly sophisticated in its capacity to generate a sense of presence and co-presence, people are beginning to think of it as an option for self preservation. Thus the considerations of what 'life' is if it isn't something that keeps a body or mind active are up for grabs, and the whole groundhog v expanded consciousness business is debated amongst folk who would otherwise never have thought about such things.
This story was so well developed that even knowing where it was going ultimately, did not detract because it was the getting there that mattered. I loved the way in which Stephanie left small hints for herself so that she accrued and retained knowledge over the time it would take for her to mature sufficiently to be able to use it. The build was subtle and unobtrusive but had the quality of strategies used to support people with short term memory loss - repeat something often enough and make it active and a little more will creep into long term memory each time.
You're one to watch, you Blake Charlton, you!
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acpracht
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« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2011, 02:25:07 PM »

Long but worth it, in my opinion.

Try listening to StarShip Sofa sometime. Now that's long!

-Adam
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blakecharlton
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« Reply #12 on: February 21, 2011, 03:57:17 PM »

okay last time the author pipes up with a bonus feature link, promise. i was asked to write a post about "writing strong women" and described how i came up with stephanie's character. so, for the curious: http://www.blakecharlton.com/2011/02/character/

okay, now i promise to shut the eff up.  ; )
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #13 on: February 21, 2011, 04:28:03 PM »

okay last time the author pipes up with a bonus feature link, promise. i was asked to write a post about "writing strong women" and described how i came up with stephanie's character. so, for the curious: http://www.blakecharlton.com/2011/02/character/

OK, that was kinda cool.
Very nice.
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Dem
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« Reply #14 on: February 21, 2011, 05:38:27 PM »

okay last time the author pipes up with a bonus feature link, promise. i was asked to write a post about "writing strong women" and described how i came up with stephanie's character. so, for the curious: http://www.blakecharlton.com/2011/02/character/

okay, now i promise to shut the eff up.  ; )
You can drop the eff back in any time you like, for me, matey. You need a few more posts anyway, before anyone's going to take any notice. Hehe  Cheesy
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Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.
kibitzer
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« Reply #15 on: February 21, 2011, 08:31:01 PM »

okay, now i promise to shut the eff up.  ; )

Feel free to witter on as much as you like! It's always cool when the author drops by.
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raysizemore3
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« Reply #16 on: February 22, 2011, 10:58:09 AM »

Deep love for this one.  Best EP in some time.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #17 on: February 22, 2011, 12:36:05 PM »

LOVED this story. Even though I knew what choice Stephanie was going to make, I grieved for her as the story unfolded in my ears. I also loved how the very first image of the snake eating its tail was woven throughout the narrative, and how bits and pieces of her previous victories poked through despite her being wiped.

It's really interesting to me to think about how the stages of grief are depicted. We learn that over the course of her time in the VR hospital, each time Stephanie made her way to anger --> loneliness she was not ready to move on yet due to the enormity of the choice before her. So, she chose to go back to the beginning (denial) and work her way through to anger and loneliness again in the hopes that next time she would be ready. It was only when enough of herself had been parsed down (and, I think, she came to terms with her situation), that she was able to face her choice head on and move forward into the next stage of her life.
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Unblinking
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« Reply #18 on: February 22, 2011, 01:08:49 PM »

Most of the story was really great.  I suspected that it was a virtual world from very near the beginning when she was commenting on the conservation of mass in the Ouroboros toy, but I didn't really mind that early revelation.  I liked how she left clues for herself.  I like the room-hacking to get herself out and the convoluted manner in which she has become the only machine-bourne human mind to exist long term. 

The middle stretch of the story got a bit long.  I'm not sure that there's any way that it could've been shorter and still conveyed the important meanings, but it just seemed like a lot of explanatory dialogue that started to get on a little long.  She also seemed a bit slow to cotton on to the idea of herself becoming an organelle in the AI production--I'd assumed she'd thought of that at least 15 minutes before she actually did so when she finally realized it it seemed like old news.

If I had to pick one favorite component of it, it was probably the extremely dumb daemon nurse. 
"What is your favorite color?"
"Maybe you should ask the doctor that, sweetheart."
She reminded me of an NPC in one of those old text-based adventures.  There are certain questions for which answers are pre-set, but if you ask anything else you'll get some kind of stock disimissive answer that probably wouldn't make sense in real life.  It also made me think about jobs in which "I need to ask my manager" is the default response for anything not in the default question set, and to think about a future where all of those jobs have been terminated to be replaced by IM chatbots.  *shudder*

What I didn't get about this story, though, was the ending.  So she chose a 4th option, which was...  what?  Suicide?  She didn't want to be lonely, she didn't want to forget, and she didn't want her death to usher forward empathic AIs, so she just kills herself instead?  If she's going to choose to die, why wouldn't she choose the option that allows her death to accomplish something else at the same time?  Or did she just want to resist the choice that they wanted her to make to kick them in the nuts on her way out?  If I'm understanding the ending correctly I'm having trouble with the choice she made.  Am I completely misunderstanding what that meant?
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acpracht
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« Reply #19 on: February 22, 2011, 02:17:49 PM »

@Unblinking - Whoah... I guess I need to go back and listen. I thought she picked door #3 at the last moment - to become an "organelle" in the computer AI. I didn't catch on to an option 4 at all... Did I mishear?

Love the connection to the NPC is a text-based game. Smiley
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