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Author Topic: EP282: You’re Almost Here  (Read 9285 times)
eytanz
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« on: March 04, 2011, 02:04:04 PM »

EP282: You’re Almost Here

By Melinda Thielbar
Read by Mur Lafferty

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A&E are offering us a prize pack for a random drawing! So US residents, please email feedback at escapepod.org and put CONTEST in the subject line. We’ll do a drawing next week!

Check the blog entry for details!
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Text coming soon

Rated PG-13 This story contains one F-bomb.

Show Notes:

  • Feedback for Episode 274
  • Next week… The grandfather paradox rears its violent head.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!


« Last Edit: March 24, 2011, 02:11:51 PM by eytanz » Logged
stePH
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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #1 on: March 04, 2011, 03:18:20 PM »

Holy shit, that was bleak.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2011, 03:22:18 PM »

So, this story didn't really do it for me. I'm not honestly convinced by the arguments that the present is that much worse than the past. These arguments have literally been repeated for as long as recorded history - there are records of ancient greeks complaining that this new fangled habit of writing things down is going to ruin everyone's memories.

And you know what? It did... but the habit continued because we got something better, more effective, more efficient, and more fulfilling.

Is the future going to be different? Of course. That's the point. Are we going to communicate, create, and connect in the same ways we have? Of course not. The only thing constant is change. Are we going to stop communicating, creating, and connecting? Definitely not. Those are fundamentally human things to do. The tools and methods will change, but the content will not.

That said, despite falling into a fallacy I find annoying, this was a very well-written story. Second person is a highly underrated style. As a writer, I definitely grasped the angst of the main character's situation.

Also, I'm the king under the mountain Wink.

EDIT: Except for stePH Sad.
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2011, 03:25:27 PM »

EDIT: Except for stePH Sad.

 Huh I'm not sure which part of your post this refers to.

(PS: When is Norm going to acknowledge that Bill Peters is now Assistant Editor?)
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eytanz
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« Reply #4 on: March 04, 2011, 03:35:28 PM »

EDIT: Except for stePH Sad.

 Huh I'm not sure which part of your post this refers to.

(PS: When is Norm going to acknowledge that Bill Peters is now Assistant Editor?)

I think the "king under the mountain" is some sort of "first post" thingie, so he means you got there first.
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2011, 04:09:56 PM »

EDIT: Except for stePH Sad.

 Huh I'm not sure which part of your post this refers to.

(PS: When is Norm going to acknowledge that Bill Peters is now Assistant Editor?)

I think the "king under the mountain" is some sort of "first post" thingie, so he means you got there first.

Ah... I guess I should have posted, BOOBIES!  Tongue
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tinygaia
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« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2011, 04:50:16 PM »

I’m with stePH on this one. Bleak! I’ve had those days where I’m only going through the motions and wondering “Why am I doing all this again?” but it seemed like this guy was living in a perpetual state of that. It's the hopelessness of knowing you've been rendered irrelevant.

I’m disturbed by the attitude that it’s hopeless because all the original ideas are taken. Of course they’re taken! According to one of my old professors, there are only six plots in the universe, reused over and over again. That doesn’t mean we stop creating, though it does lend credibility to the idea of a computer program that could crank out a bestselling novel.

When the machines handle all of our art for us, that’s when our robot overlords have well and truly won – Watson’s Jeopardy adventures were merely a prelude to our inevitable demise. Every time iTunes tells me what I’m going to like and it’s right about it, we’re that much closer to SkyNet.
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Scattercat
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« Reply #7 on: March 04, 2011, 05:23:49 PM »

Okay, unusually for me, I have to say that I really, really dislike this story.  I read it in Bull Spec, actually, and hated it there.  I listened all the way through the audio, in case it got better a second time through, but I'm afraid the fiery hatred still burst out of every pore and turned me into a shrieking, laughing, Nicholas-Cagean maniac.

I really hate this story.

Specifically, I hate the protagonist, and his smarmy, smug hipsterism.  Yes, Writer Man, ONLY YOU see through the fakery.  ONLY YOU are the secret master of literacy who can duplicate commercial products with your amazing skill and become like unto a god, and it is only your forbearance and disinterested attitude that keeps you from exercising your power, for after all, what use are those mortal trinkets compared to your ART?  And naturally, that Art is far, far too fine and elegant for the crass world to every understand or appreciate.

I hate this man because I recognize that attitude.  I had it, once.  I thought that I was better than everyone, smarter than everyone, and that the only reason I didn't win every academic award was because I didn't feel like trying hard enough.  I made it out of that morass and learned a little bit about reality, but it was a hard and bitter struggle, and I was a god-damned worthless slug of a human being while it was going on.  I'm still pretty damned arrogant; this is me AFTER I learned humility, to give you an idea of how insufferable I was.

I hate the story because it coddles this self-absorbed little twit.  It creates a world for him in which he really is special, in which he really could be the greatest writer ever, if he but stretched out his hand to take it.  It glorifies his quirks into signs of deep wisdom and sings paeans to his inability to say hello to a freaking woman at a coffee-shop because he is so sensitive.

The story looks at pop culture and remix culture and sneers.  Derivative tripe, it says, but then, it's what everyone wants.  The Philistines.  Real artists, true creatives, are above that, on a separate plane, and only pulled down into the muddle because the world is inescapable.  The story sighs wistfully at the thought of the pure Art that might be if only the world recognized its genius, if only it were left alone to tap that magical solitary ability it has to touch a higher level.  On behalf of all of the pop culture makers, the singers and writers and artists who work hard on that crappy third-tier sitcom, on that commercial for absorbent wipes, on that bouncy teenybopper song, nuts to that noise.  Real art IS derivative, because real art, art that speaks to people, art that has something to say and the ability to let people hear it, is art that is made OF and WITH the world, connected to it and spun of its fabric.  Art is a conversation, not some Platonic ideal.  I often remark that the last truly original statement was, "Let there be light," and everything since then has been building on what went before.  (And frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if He'd cribbed it from some other universe.)

I struggle with this even now, because I've got kind of an offbeat sensibility about things, and the stories I write tend to go over peoples' heads.  THIS IS NOT A STRENGTH, BUT A WEAKNESS.  If I can't write in a way that people understand, then I might as well not write at all.  Those who love me tell me that I'm just "smarter" or "better" or whatever, and God help me but I want to believe that, I do, and I get angry when people say, "I don't get it.  What did this mean?" in response to something I think is clear.  When I recover from that, I regard it as a failure, a lapse on my part, because there is no such thing as art that is too good to be understood, too refined to be appreciated, too original to be successful.  

I get so angry about this story because of this tendency of mine, because it would be so easy and so pleasant to tell myself that it's not my fault if my stories get rejected, it's just those darn ignoramuses who can't appreciate my genius.  It's painful to me to have to constantly fight off that mindset and remind myself that if people don't get my stories, it's my fault rather than theirs.  And I hate having to see a world such as the one in this story that whispers that seductive refrain in my ear, that tells me I'm special, I'm smart, I'm too good for them.  I hate pushing that away because I want it so badly to be true...

...and I know that it isn't.

Sorry about this, y'all.  Ms. Thielbar, please accept my apologies; you did not intend this message, I'm sure, and it is unreasonable to expect that you would foresee my reactions.  I seriously disagree with this story's organizing theme.  (And I'm not wild about the motifs; I tend to feel that anyone who can't find their quiet space because of all the technology and gadgets around them is the proverbial shoddy dancer placing the blame on the floor.)  I think remixing and deriving new material is the core of art, not its death, and this story bothers me deeply because of that, beyond my irrational dislike for the protagonist (exacerbated by the use of the second person telling me that I'm like him when I have fought so hard to get away from that place).
« Last Edit: March 06, 2011, 04:07:31 AM by Scattercat » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: March 04, 2011, 07:05:15 PM »

This was stunningly original... LOL
It looks like others didn't... but I really, really enjoyed this story. It's different, very different, than most. I like the 2nd person, and the familiar strangeness of it all.
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #9 on: March 04, 2011, 08:14:57 PM »

I’m disturbed by the attitude that it’s hopeless because all the original ideas are taken. Of course they’re taken! According to one of my old professors, there are only six plots in the universe, reused over and over again. That doesn’t mean we stop creating, though it does lend credibility to the idea of a computer program that could crank out a bestselling novel.

Actually, what I always think of is The Thirtysix Dramatic Situations as catalogued by Georges Polti.
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« Reply #10 on: March 05, 2011, 10:03:27 AM »

I'll comment more later, but if anyone wants to read the text version, you can get a PDF of Bull Spec #3 with Melinda's story here--you can opt out of the donation if you prefer:
http://www.bullspec.com/eorder?item_choice=3

(I have a story in that issue as well, as well as Lavie Tidhar and Katherine Sparrow if that gives you more incentive to check it out)
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blueeyeddevil
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« Reply #11 on: March 05, 2011, 12:21:37 PM »

I didn't hate this story. I didn't like this story. I didn't think there was anything special about this story.

I don't personally have a name for this style of a story, though I guess I could label it a 'slippery slope' or an 'ad absurdam' story, because that seems to be the basic idea behind the story structure; i.e. take a current phenomenon, be it cultural, social, or technological, then apply it categorically to everything you can concieve of that it possibly could be applied to, and a few that it probably couldn't. Ta-dahh, you have a story.

This is not to denigrate the story, this form is tried, true, and something of a useful barometer for perceptions about culture.

Within this particular story, perhaps because of the subject, the old issue (and I think the issue is almost as old as writing) of creativity-within-the-framework-of-the-known has come up. The writing program in the story seems to me to be a glaringly obvious metaphor for the use of writing formulas. I don't see much difference between the protagonist of this story agonizing about the success of his writing program and any other story about a successful creator of any other sort wondering if he/she is just doing the same thing over and over.
I'm sure Stephen King has said to himself: 'I have an idea for a story...some sort of evil presence moves into a small New England town and begins possessing and killing the inhabitants...hmmm, have I done this before?'  Or Dick Francis: 'I know, I'll do a story about horse racing!' Or any number of others (provide any appropriate jokes in this vein as you wish).

Apropriately, this story is just another part of a web of derivative works. There's nothing wrong with this fact.
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Talia
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« Reply #12 on: March 05, 2011, 01:25:04 PM »

An interesting jaunt into a (barely) future world. I didn't follow the protagonist's personal journey too closely; mostly what I enjoyed were all the little intriguing details of this world.
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blueeyeddevil
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« Reply #13 on: March 05, 2011, 02:32:21 PM »

The story looks at pop culture and remix culture and sneers.  Derivative tripe, it says, but then, it's what everyone wants.  The Philistines.  Real artists, true creatives, are above that, on a separate plane, and only pulled down into the muddle because the world is inescapable.  The story sighs wistfully at the thought of the pure Art that might be if only the world recognized its genius, if only it were left alone to tap that magical solitary ability it has to touch a higher level.  On behalf of all of the pop culture makers, the singers and writers and artists who work hard on that crappy third-tier sitcom, on that commercial for absorbent wipes, on that bouncy teenybopper son, nuts to that noise.  Real art IS derivative, because real art, art that speaks to people, art that has something to say and the ability to let people hear it, is art that is made OF and WITH the world, connected to it and spun of its fabric.  Art is a conversation, not some Platonic ideal.  I often remark that the last truly original statement was, "Let there be light," and everything since then has been building on what went before.  (And frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if He'd cribbed it from some other universe.)

I struggle with this even now, because I've got kind of an offbeat sensibility about things, and the stories I write tend to go over peoples' heads.  THIS IS NOT A STRENGTH, BUT A WEAKNESS.  If I can't write in a way that people understand, then I might as well not write at all.  Those who love me tell me that I'm just "smarter" or "better" or whatever, and God help me but I want to believe that, I do, and I get angry when people say, "I don't get it.  What did this mean?" in response to something I think is clear.  When I recover from that, I regard it as a failure, a lapse on my part, because there is no such thing as art that is too good to be understood, too refined to be appreciated, too original to be successful. 

I imagine starting in here will send this veering dangerously toward split-threaddom, but so be it.
I think all the positive claims made here are true, but I don't think their inverse is necessarily false.

 I am convinced that the English language and the culture which surrounds it is terribly insufficient in that it has:
One. Little. Three-lettered. Word.
to encompass all of what may be conceived of as Art. To boil down the salient parts of the argument:
Art is personal. Art is communal. Art is explicit. Art is abstract. Art is cathartic. Art is balanced. Art is what we say it is. Art is what experts say it is. Art speaks to people on a personal level. Art causes deep discomfort and revulsion in the consumer. Art stimulates thought. Art transports the consumer to a place beyond thought. Art needs an audience. Art needs no audience.
Aaaaand, anything wishing to call itself Art only need meet one or any combination of these descriptors. 
Oh, yes, I almost forgot what brought us here: Popular success proves/disproves the value of a piece of Art.

If you want to do this sort of thing professionally, then accessibility is clearly going to be your byword. This doesn’t mean that the struggle to do something more shouldn’t take place. This is the only single factor that I think is defensible as a criterion for artistic creation: if it’s easy, you’re probably not doing it right.

It is of little comfort to Melville (who died destitute) that the work that ruined him is now considered not only his greatest work but one of the great pieces of western literature.  This doesn’t mean we should wish for a world without ‘Moby Dick’ (or whatever other piece you wish to name, if MD isn’t your cup of tea). Yes, good art may be considered accessable, yet that doesn't mean it was accessable at the moment is was created. Any creator needs to struggle with this, suffer with this, there's no cure for it.

Also, works that looks at things and sneeringly says ‘derivative tripe’ are important, because, sometimes, they're right. Yes, yes, nothing is really right or wrong in terms of taste, but the consensus does eventually consign things to the scrapheap of history, and critical works are part of that process. Critical works are also part of the process that elevates something to the immortal, arguments made are sometimes arguments defeated. Sometimes things really are derivative crap, sometimes someone really is smarter than everyone else (or at least everyone who’s bothering to think on the subject). 

Though, admittedly, people who claim this are usually just annoying poseurs.
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« Reply #14 on: March 05, 2011, 03:45:24 PM »

I didn't hate this story. I didn't like this story. I didn't think there was anything special about this story.

I don't personally have a name for this style of a story, though I guess I could label it a 'slippery slope' or an 'ad absurdam' story, because that seems to be the basic idea behind the story structure; i.e. take a current phenomenon, be it cultural, social, or technological, then apply it categorically to everything you can concieve of that it possibly could be applied to, and a few that it probably couldn't. Ta-dahh, you have a story.

This is not to denigrate the story, this form is tried, true, and something of a useful barometer for perceptions about culture.

Yeah, what BlueEyedDevil said. I didn't like it, but I didn't hate it as much as last week's.  It may help that it was shorter and I didn't at all have a "you wasted my time" feeling, but I quickly put it out of my head and couldn't quite remember what it was about.  The only part I liked was the start when the girl of his dreams sat down with him because all the other seats were full and proceeded to ignore him.  Once he left the coffee house, the story did nothing for me at all and was quickly forgotten.
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Darwinist
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« Reply #15 on: March 05, 2011, 04:24:21 PM »

Yeah, what BlueEyedDevil said. I didn't like it, but I didn't hate it as much as last week's.  It may help that it was shorter and I didn't at all have a "you wasted my time" feeling, but I quickly put it out of my head and couldn't quite remember what it was about.  The only part I liked was the start when the girl of his dreams sat down with him because all the other seats were full and proceeded to ignore him.  Once he left the coffee house, the story did nothing for me at all and was quickly forgotten.

I'll third this motion.  I shrugged after it was over and it was quickly forgotten.  It kept my company on my commute.
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« Reply #16 on: March 06, 2011, 01:56:58 AM »

I'm entirely on the opposite side of this story from Scattercat, and I think I explain say why in responding to this:

"I hate the story because it coddles this self-absorbed little twit.  It creates a world for him in which he really is special, in which he really could be the greatest writer ever, if he but stretched out his hand to take it.  It glorifies his quirks into signs of deep wisdom and sings paeans to his inability to say hello to a freaking woman at a coffee-shop because he is so sensitive."

That's the thing -- it doesn't. It doesn't at all. Let's talk about just the coffee shop. The protag has a chance to meet the woman of their dream and doesn't, retreating into observation, defeat, and then cowardly retreat, and that's the only opportunity for human contact in the story, squandered. (The protag's got a job where they know even their editor doesn't read their stuff, their interaction with readers is abstracted and faked.)

They're not the greatest writer ever, or at least, they're certainly not willing to confront that and take a chance, in exactly the same way they discard the shot at social connections. Instead, just as the moment with the woman is wasted, the potential of writing in their true voice is discarded, notebook by notebook, for the comfort of generic writing. Instead, they've gone to great lengths to reinforce their own disdain for their work, taking some pride in the sophistication while damning themselves for the effort.

The protag probably tells themselves that they could meet that women of their dreams if only everyone wasn't so introverted in exactly the same voice they assure themselves that they could be a great writer if only everyone wasn't so obsessed with remix culture.

It doesn't coddle the protag. It's merciless to them. And at least for me, it shakes me because it's a bleak reality not far-drawn from the present, and because I see myself making those exact kind of rationalizations, when in total, if all of us compromise and shirk, those rationalizations lead to exactly the kind of bleak world the protag lives in.

Disclaimer: I loved this story.
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Scattercat
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« Reply #17 on: March 06, 2011, 04:02:30 AM »

@blueeyeddevil

There are critics, and that sort of guidepost is indeed useful, and then there is a stymied artist who blames the world for not understanding his/her genius when that isn't the problem at all.  Art that isn't accessible might well find its time and place later (such as "Moby Dick") and there is a huge luck factor in which bits become important and which don't.  However, the story seems to take the tack that true artistic genius is solitary and idiosyncratic.  That is, the man writing in his notebooks with his weird quirks, HE is an Artist.  These other people, blogging away or chattering on social networks, they are noise, interference, blockages.  That's what annoys me here, because I don't see any reason why the Solitary, Tortured Artist has to be either solitary or tortured, and I think the stereotype does more harm than good in terms of how, when, and why people produce art.  Collaboration and pop culture are both sources of really good art in various forms, earnest or ironic, harsh or loving, bitter or saccharine, just as much if not more so than the Solitary Artist in his secluded loft.

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@Milhous

He sends his "real" work to his editor, who pronounces it "incomprehensible."  Not bad, mind; the editor just can't understand it.  (Presumably because it's above his level, doncherknow.)  The presence of the Internet and the myriad gadgets and the taste-matching algorithms (as embodied in the coffee shop machine) are all presented negatively, as things impeding him from pursuing his Great Work properly.  The overall tone I took away from that ending was that this man would have been a Literary Genius if only he had had the strength to pursue his Solitary Ambition and not indulge in mere crass commercialism and creating popular items enjoyed by the masses.  As I stated above, I disagree on the strongest possible terms that the best art comes from a uniquely gifted individual whose inherent qualities make him more special than other people, that art must come from an Artist with inborn gifts.  Lots of people can create really great art by a lot of different routes.

I would agree that the story isn't entirely kind to the protagonist.  My complaint, however, is more that the story seems to take as a given the idea of the Great Man, the hero who is born rather than made, and I find that philosophical concept flawed, at best, and downright repugnant in some of its darker forms.  Innate talent and proclivity may indeed come in a variety of levels and strengths, but the idea that this man was born to be a Great Writer and prevented from doing so because he was seduced by commercial success is distasteful to me.  I take a more democratic view of art and its production; I don't believe in genius, or at least I believe in not believing in genius.  (I'd be plenty awed despite myself if I got to meet Terry Pratchett, for instance.)
« Last Edit: March 06, 2011, 04:05:42 AM by Scattercat » Logged

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« Reply #18 on: March 06, 2011, 10:00:55 AM »

Until I read this thread I didn't think it was some sort of allegory for the agonizing Artistic Process or some kind of whinny complaint about derivative works, or even a hubris piece about the superiority of the protagonist.
All I thought it was was a speculative piece about the near future, say 2-5 years down the line. Already to you see trends of people ignoring each other in public, wrapped up in their own little media sphere, cut off from those around them. I do it myself. Sunglasses and headphones to avoid talking to people I really don't want to. When I go to a coffee shop or a restaurant by myself I usually bring my own entertainment with me, laptop, tablet or book.
There's nothing new here, just a setting.
The main issue I thought was what Mur mentioned at the end about "You might also like..." which was pointed out by the protagonist at the Barist-O-Matic. It's not that we are losing our ability to create new (or derivative) art, it's that we are being constantly told what to think. We won't go see a movie unless three different rating sites have given it a good rating. We (ok, not me, mostly the female "we") watch Opera to find out what books to read and what to wear. We base our purchases on what other people liked, and we feel extremely proud when a comment on our wall has over a thousand "likes" (not to mention the "I have more friends than you" competition).
The author simply took it one step further and said, oh hey, here's a guy (or gal) who wrote a computer program to spew out literature that is designed from the bottom up to be liked by everybody. So everybody reads it.
That's it.
I found it interesting, amusing and little bit personal in places. Definitely a story with a moral, but the moral isn't "create your own work" but "Think your own thoughts".
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« Reply #19 on: March 06, 2011, 09:24:22 PM »

I loved this story.  I love a good dystopian tale and this really did it for me.

It caught my attention from the opening lines (possibly because it was in fact describing the physically ideal woman of my possibly overly influenced by Heinlien adolescence).  I know 2nd person doesn’t work for everyone, and most times I don’t like it either, but this time I really did feel put in the protagonist’s shoes.

And I loved the how it slowly built to the dystopian feel. 

But I didn’t hear this as a story about art, or even Art – I’m not an artist and that part of the story didn’t jump out at me on first listen (I see it now, and will give it a relisten with that in mind).  Rather I heard this as a story about human isolation.  That even as we live in an increasingly “connected” world we risk becoming increasingly disconnected from each other. 

That theme of isolation seemed to be sounded throughout the story – from not talking with the ideal woman, to the people plugged in in public, the drivers not even bothering to pay attention as they drove, to editors not bothering to read his blog posts, to the protagonist not reading the comments.  Yet everyone was pretending that they were in some way not isolated.  The thought of being surrounded but all alone, gives me shivers.

I can’t comment on the story as it relates to art, but as it relates to community I found it powerful and moving. 
When it ended I had a line from Dylan’s apocalyptic masterpiece, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” running through my head:  “Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’”. 
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