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Author Topic: PC148: State Change  (Read 7538 times)
Talia
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« on: March 15, 2011, 09:34:38 AM »

PodCastle 148: State Change

by Ken Liu.

Narrated by Heather Welliver.

Originally appeared in Polyphony 4.

When Rina’s soul finally materialized, the nurse in charge of watching the afterbirth almost missed it. All of a sudden, there, in the stainless steel pan, was an ice cube, the sort you would find clinking around in glasses at cocktail parties. A pool of water was already forming around it. The edges of the ice cube were becoming rounded, indistinct.

An emergency refrigeration unit was rushed in, and the ice cube was packed away.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor said to Rina’s mother, who looked into the serene face of her baby daughter. No matter how careful they were, how long could they keep the ice cube from melting? It wasn’t as if they could just keep it in a freezer somewhere and forget about it. The soul had to be pretty close to the body; otherwise the body would die.

Nobody in the room said anything. The air around the baby was awkward, still, silent. Words froze in their throats.


Rated PG.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2011, 05:47:09 PM by Talia » Logged
Void Munashii
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« Reply #1 on: March 15, 2011, 09:45:49 AM »

  I really like the world that this story created, even if it seemed to take awhile for the tale itself to get where it is going. There is one thing I was unclear on though; so the soul just appears in the afterbirth? That's what it seemed like when Rina's birth was described. If this is so, then how can Joan of Arc's soul have been from a specific tree? Was this just artistic license on the part of the speaker because it was the same type of wood?

  This got me thinking about what my soul would be if it were suddenly to materialize, and the answer I've come to is a cactus. This admittedly doesn't really leave room for a state change, but it still seems appropriate to me.
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Obleo21
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« Reply #2 on: March 15, 2011, 05:35:58 PM »

I felt the same way about this story: liked it, wondered about the beech tree... but I would have liked a different title.  I had figured out the "surprise" ending minutes into the story.  Still, a nice story and lovely reading. 
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #3 on: March 15, 2011, 08:10:06 PM »

I really enjoyed this story. I love tales that show us that no matter how much things change, the human experience stays basically the same. None of us really know how long we have. None of us really know how much the things we want will cost. We all make our way through life, learning more about ourselves and those around us every moment. I was also particularly struck by the main character's story. I didn't see it coming - I thought there was a chance that the author might kill her. It's only fair, after all. Her self-discovery was beautiful.

I think my soul might be a pencil, or maybe a potted plant.
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« Reply #4 on: March 16, 2011, 08:49:30 AM »

Interesting story.  It seemed to take me a very long time to figure out the details of the premise.  At first, I thought that she was resurrected from the dead as a baby and the ice cube was a byproduct of the resurrection.  It took me quite a while to realize that EVERYONE here is born with a phylactery, and that those phylacteries are NOT all ice cubes.  But I think that was just me being dense, after I realized this then I remembered the candle from the beginning.

The ending didn't come as a huge surprise, but that's because the process of melting isn't inherently destructive (except in certain cases like an ice sculpture where the specific form is of importance).  It's not like burning a cigarette, which converts the paper and tobacco into something which is not paper and tobacco and cannot easily be converted into paper and tobacco.

A good story with an interesting metaphor and an interesting metaphor, even though the ending wasn't a surprise it worked well enough for me anyway.

The only thing that I would've liked to see in the story is to see what happens if someone's soul is destroyed.  The only two opportunities for a soul to apparently be destroyed ended with the person not dying, so it made me wonder if the soul connection is just a superstition.  I mean, clearly the appearance of an object at the moment of every person's birth is a provable fact and is certainly of some importance, but to me that doesn't imply that destruction of this object will destroy the person as well. 
Edit:  Wait, did the candle-person die from burning her candle?  I kind of lost track of what happened to her.  If she died from burning her candle at both ends then I guess my suggestion of having a person die from it was already taken into account.  To me that happened when I was still confused about the premise, so reinforcing that later might have helped my dense unlearning brain.


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bamugo
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« Reply #5 on: March 16, 2011, 09:28:51 AM »

I definitely enjoyed this story. It opens up a VERY interesting world and provokes all kinds of thought experiments. The question I found myself asking, however, had to do with some of the other souls mentioned - particularly T.S. Eliot's coffee.

It would seem that an artist capable of such depth should be considered to have fully matured. But it also seems that one of the rules of the world is that real maturity is only possible after a state change of your soul. It was implied that Eliot died when his coffee was all drunk - no state change was possible. So why do some people get one, and others don't?
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« Reply #6 on: March 16, 2011, 09:56:47 AM »

It was implied that Eliot died when his coffee was all drunk - no state change was possible. So why do some people get one, and others don't?

  The bit about Eliot's coffee made me curious too, because like the ice to water or pack of cigarettes to empty box, ground coffee doesn't cease to be when you run hot water through it, it just changes from ground coffee to coffee grounds. Used up, sure, but not useless, and certainly not destroyed. Wouldn't this be a form of state change too?

  I sort of got the implication that you only die when the embodiment of your soul is destroyed, but what if your soul was something incredibly durable, like a titanium bar or something? Would Joan of Arc survived being burnt if someone witnessing it just held on to her branch for her?

  This would make warfare more difficult; you'd have to find and aim for an enemy's soul instead of, say, their head or heart. Genocide could be accomplished simply by stealing the target group's souls instead of shooting or gassing them. At the very least atheism would have to be practically non-existent since proof of the existence of your soul would be right there in your pocket/purse/freezer (hence the reference to the Common Book of Prayer, or at least that's how I interpreted it).

  The changes this would have on the world would be a lot more immense than what we see in this story. That's not a criticism, as trying to go into detail about the world at large would probably have derailed the story. Giving us glimpses via excerpts of biographies felt a lot more natural than a plain infodump would have.

  One last thing that I wondered about; is anyone ever born without a physical soul? How does/would society handle them?
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« Reply #7 on: March 16, 2011, 10:17:40 AM »

The story was pretty straightforward to me. It also seemed clear that losing or expending your soul wasn't the only way you could die, just a quick and easy way to end up dead. So, if your soul was a titanium bar you'd still die if someone shot you through the head.

As far as taking away people's souls as a method of genocide... that might work, but really, there are easier ways to kill people en masse than going through their pockets and taking away objects that might or might not be what you're looking for. You wouldn't want to take someone's prize pocketwatch only to discover that his soul was actually just the pebble he hid in his butt or something. You save time and energy by shooting him.

As for why some people get second chances and state changes and others don't... I dunno. Why do some people get a second chance at life and others don't? Why do some people reinvent and rediscover themselves while others fade away? It wasn't explained, but then, a lot of life isn't explained either.
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acpracht
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« Reply #8 on: March 16, 2011, 12:22:26 PM »

Really enjoyed this one. It seemed like an expanded and more interesting version of those "If you were an animal, what would you be?" kind of questions. In this case "If your soul were an object, what would it be?"

It's a neat conceit and a fantastic was of cutting right to the quick of each character. I especially liked how the unusual hook - the multiple refrigerators - pulled you in and then paid off satisfyingly.

Was anyone else getting echoes of "The Golden Compass" here and the "soul external to the body" idea?

My only criticism is with the title of "State Change"- it gave away too much. Once I registered that the woman's soul was the ice cube (maybe 1/4 of the way through) I had a pretty good idea of how it was all going to end.

-Adam

Oh, and I'd be a fountain pen-stylish, a bit snobby, and at turns smooth, creative and completely messy.

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Rain
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« Reply #9 on: March 16, 2011, 12:45:41 PM »

I have mixed feelings about this one

Good : I thought it was a very interesting soul system, i wasnt quite sure if soul object affected the personality, or if it was more of a Astrology thing, and the concept that your soul object could be very fragile or maybe dangerous was another interesting part.

Bad : The ending with the ice cube melting seemed a bit too "magical" for me, the story was set in a modern society so it seems odd that nobody would know that a melting ice cube didnt mean the soul was gone, if everyone has a soul object then surely it will have happened before that the object was destroyed like that.

2. I really hated the theme, i understood the ending as 'live a little, even if that means committing suicide'
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #10 on: March 17, 2011, 09:06:53 AM »

Was anyone else getting echoes of "The Golden Compass" here and the "soul external to the body" idea?

Yes, very much so.  (In a good way.)

I would have liked a different title.  I had figured out the "surprise" ending minutes into the story.  Still, a nice story and lovely reading. 

I rarely remember titles when I'm listening to the story, or I probably would have had the same experience.

It occurs to me that maybe the choice of title was deliberate: that we were meant to know (well, guess) that Rina wouldn't die when her soul melted and that the uncertainty for us was whether or not she would work that out or spend the rest of her life giving everyone the cold shoulder.

Now I'm wondering what would happen if she boiled her soul (assuming she could do it in such a way as to retain it).  Would it matter if non-soul water already in the air mixed with it?  Could that even happen, or is it, perhaps, not really water but some soul-y manifestation that imitates all its properties?
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« Reply #11 on: March 17, 2011, 09:22:07 AM »

Now I'm wondering what would happen if she boiled her soul (assuming she could do it in such a way as to retain it).  Would it matter if non-soul water already in the air mixed with it?  Could that even happen, or is it, perhaps, not really water but some soul-y manifestation that imitates all its properties?

Interesting question!  I think that boiling it would kill her, not because the water is destroyed but because it is dispersed.  Same as if she sloshed the water all over the office, I'd think it would need to stay together.

What if she is left somewhere dying of dehydration--should she drink the water?  If she did drink it, would she die?  If she didn't die, would her urine or sweat contain her soul after her body processed the water?  She thinks the ice cube was a pain in the butt--it would be pretty embarrassing to have to carry around a cup of pee all the time.
« Last Edit: March 17, 2011, 09:23:58 AM by Unblinking » Logged
acpracht
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« Reply #12 on: March 17, 2011, 11:57:05 AM »



 She thinks the ice cube was a pain in the butt--it would be pretty embarrassing to have to carry around a cup of pee all the time.

[/quote]

Hahaha! That would make for some pretty awkward dinner party conversation...

Come to think of it, I think a jar of pee would be Howard Hughes' soul in this universe.  Grin
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Obleo21
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« Reply #13 on: March 17, 2011, 04:04:24 PM »


What if she is left somewhere dying of dehydration--should she drink the water?  If she did drink it, would she die?  If she didn't die, would her urine or sweat contain her soul after her body processed the water?  She thinks the ice cube was a pain in the butt--it would be pretty embarrassing to have to carry around a cup of pee all the time.


Or what if the soul was something really embarrassing from the start. or too heavy to carry around.  It also seems like some people got living souls (branch) and some have non-living souls.  You'd think that a whole soul-based class system would be in place.
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HR_Duff_n_Stuff
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« Reply #14 on: March 17, 2011, 04:11:50 PM »

I was reminded first of  Philip Pullman's Subtle Knife trilogy, another venue with souls palpably externalized, although there, the flexibility was high when you were young, and settled to match 'you' at some point in your young life. That kept well with the world-view of young folks viewing adulthood as an end-point reached by age twenty or so.  State Change makes a very nice complementary statement about the different life perspectives looking backwards, where you watch your younger self dodging and contorting to avoid the maze of important things on a pell-mell dash to what we were fixated on at that moment.

The misdirection toward a focus on souls as something consumed by living worked well with cigarettes, salt, coffee, water, but still let the change of perspective be as believable as, say, how a teen perspective of love as some rare prize to be schemed for and clung to, can change to that of an experienced parent who can see it as a well that only runs dry if you stop giving it away by the bucket-full.  Also nicely managed was the thread that souls aren't (or shouldn't be) isolated, insulated, discrete things. They mix, they contain, they influence nearby people, and their state  matters. As the urban legend story goes, about using the bird cannon to test aircraft windshields   "Thaw the Chicken First"

Now to look about and see what always-nearby thing I've been lurking in.  The collection of lava lamps looks promising....
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Scattercat
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« Reply #15 on: March 17, 2011, 05:42:17 PM »

Excellent, excellent story.

@Rain - The ending isn't so much "Live dangerously" so much as "Sometimes things aren't what they seem.  Even you don't know you as well as you might think."  Amy discovered the truth about her soul after living dangerously, but it wasn't because she lived dangerously that she learned the truth; living dangerously, in fact, had blinded her to the truth, letting her think that she had to burn bright and disappear in a breath when she didn't have to if she didn't want to.  In the same way, Rina learned that her frozen state was a choice rather than a limitation because she found something she desired enough to risk herself to obtain.  You find things out by trying things, is more the tone the ending sets; it advises taking risks not because suicide is life, but because you only learn new things if you try new things.
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« Reply #16 on: March 17, 2011, 09:31:52 PM »

I loved this story.  The passages from biographies were beautiful and they did a wonderful job fleshing out both the world and Rina’s character.  Knowing what she read and who she read about really gave me a sense for who she was.

Was anyone else getting echoes of "The Golden Compass" here and the "soul external to the body" idea?

I totally missed this as I was listening to the story (though I love Pulman’s work).

I was reminded first of  Philip Pullman's Subtle Knife trilogy, another venue with souls palpably externalized, although there, the flexibility was high when you were young, and settled to match 'you' at some point in your young life. That kept well with the world-view of young folks viewing adulthood as an end-point reached by age twenty or so.  State Change makes a very nice complementary statement about the different life perspectives looking backwards, where you watch your younger self dodging and contorting to avoid the maze of important things on a pell-mell dash to what we were fixated on at that moment.

I think this is a very insightful observation.  I really enjoy how it brings home the idea that we think we know exactly who we are when we are young and often find out as we grow up that we were both very right and very wrong at the same time.  I also love how this brings into focus the way our expectations for ourselves and the expectations of others changes who we are. 
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Devoted135
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« Reply #17 on: March 18, 2011, 10:01:10 AM »

This one really caught me up in the story and did a good job of conveying the tension surrounding trying to keep the ice cube from melting. Also, I never really pay attention to the name of the story so for me the payoff at the end was great.

I loved how it raised all sorts of existential questions about who we are; in the story we are able to observe how each person is shaped by their perception/understanding of the physical embodiment of their soul. At first glance this seems to be very different from our own world, but really, our soul shapes each of us individually and it's just a lot harder to observe when we aren't physically carrying it around in our pocket.
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tinygaia
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« Reply #18 on: March 18, 2011, 05:27:58 PM »

As it did for others, the story title left me anticipating the ending, but I was pleased when the state change turned out to be a matter of choice. The way Rina kept checking those freezers, I was convinced there WAS going to be a power failure and this would turn into a Pseudopod story. Instead, happy endings all around!
I enjoyed each celebrity biography in turn and was especially tickled by Eliot's coffee. The charismatic guy in the office kept me guessing - what could his soul be? - so the reveal at the end was extra satisfying.

Also, to join the discussion on what my soul would be... probably a rock. I have a great collection in a bowl on my desk and I pick through them when I have writer's block.
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« Reply #19 on: March 18, 2011, 05:37:04 PM »

I think the metaphor is most interesting when you consider how well it encapsulates the idea that we are shaped by our innate natures, and yet we can also shape them right back.  A pack of cigarettes can be smoked and then turned into a house for a hermit crab.  A block of Styrofoam could be carved into a sculpture of a tiger, or maybe a doorstop.  We are what we are, but we are also what we choose.
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