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Author Topic: EP285: Jaiden’s Weaver  (Read 6109 times)
eytanz
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« on: March 24, 2011, 02:14:21 PM »

EP285: Jaiden’s Weaver

By Mary Robinette Kowal
Read by Kij Johnson

Originally published in Diamonds in the Sky
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I was never one of those girls who fell in love with horses. For one thing, on our part of New Oregon they were largely impractical animals. Most of the countryside consisted of forests attached to sheer hills and you wanted to ride something with a little more clinging ability. So from the time I was, well, from the time I can remember I wanted a teddy bear spider more than I wanted to breathe.

The problem is that teddy bear spiders were not cheap, especially not for a pioneer family trying to make a go of it.

Mom and Dad had moved us out of Landington in the first wave of expansion, to take advantage of the homesteading act. Our new place was way out on the eastern side of the Olson mountains where Dad had found this natural level patch about halfway up a forested ridge, so we got sunshine all year round, except for the weeks in spring and autumn when the shadow of our planet’s rings passed over us. Our simple extruded concrete house had nothing going for it except a view of the valley, which faced due south to where the rings were like a giant arch in the sky. Even as a twelve-year-old, angry at being taken away from our livewalls in town to this dead structure, I fell in love with the wild beauty of the trees clinging to the sheer faces of the valley walls.

The only thing that would have made it better was a teddy bear spider so I could go exploring on my own. I felt trapped by the walls of the house and the valley. I had this dream that, if I had a spider, that I’d be able to sell its weavings for enough to install livewalls in my room. That’s not as crazy as it sounds; teddy-bear spider weavings are collected all over the colonies and sell for insane amounts of money.

I had a search setup so anytime there was news of a teddy bear spider or a new tube surfaced, I’d be right there, watching those adorable long-legged beasts. I loved their plump furry faces and wanted to run my fingers through their silky russet fur.

I wonder what goes through a survey team’s mind when they name things. I mean a teddy bear spider isn’t a bear and it isn’t a spider, but it looks like both those things. On the other hand, a fartycat looks nothing like a cat. They do stink, though.

Not quite a year after we’d moved, one of my city friends had forwarded an ad from a local board which set my heart to racing.

Teddy bear spider eggs: 75NOD shipped direct.


Rated G Teddy bear spiders!

Show Notes:

  • Feedback for Episode 277
  • Next week… Coin collecting SF. I’m serious.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: April 15, 2011, 03:22:01 AM by eytanz » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: March 25, 2011, 12:47:22 AM »

This was a nice and really well-written story, but I kept wondering why it was written as genre fiction at all.  It seems like it could have worked just as well as a story about a girl who wanted her own horse.  (In fact, I'm fairly sure I've read this precise story at some point, but without the genre trappings.  The horse is lame or half-blind instead of missing a limb, they sell a foal instead of the weavings, etc.)

This is something that bothers me a bit because I feel like the genre stuff was just tacked on, an afterthought; to me, the point of genre fiction is that it lets us go beyond the bounds of the actual, to place characters in situations they couldn't face if not for the genre trappings, to ask "What if...?"  A story that doesn't need to be genre to happen seems to me to be a story that ought not to be genre.  If you could tell this nice bit of nostalgia as simple realism, why not do so?  It's not that realism is "better" (nor that genre is "better," frankly); I just don't see why one would spend the time and effort to convey an alternate world if that world doesn't get used to good effect in the story itself.
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« Reply #2 on: March 25, 2011, 08:30:51 AM »

(In fact, I'm fairly sure I've read this precise story at some point, but without the genre trappings.  The horse is lame or half-blind instead of missing a limb, they sell a foal instead of the weavings, etc.)

Maybe you're thinking of "Dreamer", a 2005 movie.  "Charlotte's Web" is along similar lines as well, though with a pig instead of a horse.

I'm with scattercat on this one.  The story's resemblance to a mainstream girl-with-a-horse story was only strengthened by the narrator's insistence that it was not a girl-with-a-horse story.  Which isn't to say that girl-with-a-horse stories are bad, or that this story was bad.  It was well-written and had convincing characters.  But the genre didn't seem to affect anything.


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acpracht
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« Reply #3 on: March 25, 2011, 09:44:48 AM »

Loved it. Loved it. Loved... it.

I loved how the science fiction elements of the story were all there, but they were all in support of the realisic, human story at the center rather than hogging center stage. I loved hearing about a family that, while struggling, wasn't destitute and miseable. I loved a story about a basically functional and loving family. I loved it casting me back to my own childhood and my own intense desires of the moment.

I was "there" - parts of it actually had me saying "Oh no" out loud, smiling or on the verge of tears (driving, though, so held off).

I like that mowing lawns and pulling weeds has been replaced by mechanical turking (which I do myself - quite a bit).

I was going to have a small beef with the adult-sounding choice of narrator, until it occured to me that this was a nostalgia piece, and it was of an older Jaiden reflecting on her past.

As to the question of "What can this do that a horse and girl story can't do"? I would say - what all good science fiction does: Give you a new perspective on human stories. As for me, I couldn't care less about "a girl and her horse" stories. With this one - I found myself touched, brought in, transported. And I see it all as a part of the new perspective brought in by the sci fi elements.

-Adam
« Last Edit: March 25, 2011, 09:46:51 AM by acpracht » Logged
NoNotRogov
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« Reply #4 on: March 25, 2011, 09:55:35 AM »

If we start disqualifying science fiction that is essentially a repackaged literary plot, we'll run out of everything but the strangest social SF scenarios.
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eytanz
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« Reply #5 on: March 25, 2011, 11:15:56 AM »

This was a nice and really well-written story, but I kept wondering why it was written as genre fiction at all.  It seems like it could have worked just as well as a story about a girl who wanted her own horse.  (In fact, I'm fairly sure I've read this precise story at some point, but without the genre trappings.  The horse is lame or half-blind instead of missing a limb, they sell a foal instead of the weavings, etc.)

I've had that complaint before, on other stories, but I didn't feel that way for this one. In fact, if anything, it felt like the inverse - rather than having a non-SF story and give it genre dressings, like the author had a world in her mind first, and then didn't really know what to do with it so she went with a well-worn plotline (disclaimer: I'm aware that this probably isn't at all the process that actually happened, but that's the impression I kind of got).

Ultimately it didn't matter to much for me, though, because while familiar, the story was very well told. I knew exactly what's going to happen at practically every point, but I still felt the girl's frustration when her well-meaning parents got her the toy, and her delight when Kali hatched, and her delight yet again at the weavings at the end. So, I really enjoyed it, even if I can't point to any one feature and say "there! that's why this *needs* to be science fiction".
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« Reply #6 on: March 25, 2011, 01:06:44 PM »

Loved it. Loved it. Loved... it.

I loved how the science fiction elements of the story were all there, but they were all in support of the realisic, human story at the center rather than hogging center stage. I loved hearing about a family that, while struggling, wasn't destitute and miseable. I loved a story about a basically functional and loving family. I loved it casting me back to my own childhood and my own intense desires of the moment.

I was "there" - parts of it actually had me saying "Oh no" out loud, smiling or on the verge of tears (driving, though, so held off).

I like that mowing lawns and pulling weeds has been replaced by mechanical turking (which I do myself - quite a bit).

I was going to have a small beef with the adult-sounding choice of narrator, until it occured to me that this was a nostalgia piece, and it was of an older Jaiden reflecting on her past.

As to the question of "What can this do that a horse and girl story can't do"? I would say - what all good science fiction does: Give you a new perspective on human stories. As for me, I couldn't care less about "a girl and her horse" stories. With this one - I found myself touched, brought in, transported. And I see it all as a part of the new perspective brought in by the sci fi elements.

-Adam
Yes yes yes! If it had been a horse, I would have switched off. I wanted to know about the teddy bear spider (wonderful name!) and when I got that, I also got Anne McGaffrey's dragons and that magical imprinting process. A process that is replicated the world over by things that come out of eggs. Barring turtles. And maybe crocodiles. By the end, I loved this creature; I felt the bond between Jaiden and this little thing. And I wanted a teddy bear spider to go, please! I blame oxytocin. Bastard hormone scuppers us every time!
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« Reply #7 on: March 25, 2011, 09:09:51 PM »

Adam said it all already.

Interestingly, I didn't make the connection to a horse story until I read this thread. I know: the narrator even mentions horses at the beginning - how thick can I get? But I heard this as a dog story! As Jaiden worked to raise her own money for the Teddy Bear Spider, I kept thinking "This is Where the Red Fern Grows as SF." I loved how the author took what could essentially be a country story out of the Great Depression and gussied it up with internets and other new-fangled technology. And what's not to like about Teddy Bear Spiders? I'll take two, please.

Is it a coincidence that Norm always hosts the stories with the cool critters in, or have you guys worked something out? I picture it like so:
Mur: "Hang on... there's a giant chinchilla in this week's episode! Light the beacon!"
(Shazam! Out of the black night, with horrible vengeance...) Norm: "Fear not, citizen!"
You know what? Don't tell me. I like my version. I'll keep it.
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Scattercat
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« Reply #8 on: March 25, 2011, 09:28:16 PM »

What new perspective, exactly?  How is this story interesting where a girl and her horse story isn't?  The whole strength of the narrative was in the language and the emotional world of the child, strongly realized and portrayed with nuance and affection.  You could have done this story Mad Libs style with [NOUN] instead of "teddy-bear spider" and it would have been just as lovely and touching (though a bit odd to read, admittedly.)  I just don't see how the speculative elements changed the story one iota; why is a teddy-bear spider that functions just like a horse in every way except the name better or more interesting?  (Other than as a plush toy, which I freely admit I would immediately snap up, because it did sound adorable.)

I feel like there's some sort of weird prejudice at work here.  "Horses?  Ew, boring!  Palette-swapped horse-analogue?  ZOMG YES!" 
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« Reply #9 on: March 26, 2011, 01:30:49 AM »

How is the kid still unsatisfied with her life after her dad gives her a ride on his JETPACK?!?! This is the only thing that I had a hard time getting my head around. It was a typical "short but sweet" episode: well made and gave me a content attitude afterwards.
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« Reply #10 on: March 26, 2011, 08:30:06 AM »

If we start disqualifying science fiction that is essentially a repackaged literary plot, we'll run out of everything but the strangest social SF scenarios.

Well put.  I liked the story.  It was a nice little escape on my way home from a stressful day at work. 
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« Reply #11 on: March 26, 2011, 03:58:30 PM »

For me, the girl/horse complaint has no teeth because my personal definition of good writing is good, realistic, interesting personal drama in any setting. Really, the difference (regardless if genre) is whether I find the characters and setting personally engaging. I mean, if I couldn't appreciate that, then I'd miss out on a lot of great movies. Essentially, Die Hard, Alien and Elmo Goes To Grouchland are all the same plot line, but luckily they all resonate for me in different ways. Conversely, I hate Van Halen because all their songs sound identical to me, even though people who's opinion I respect tell me they actually didn't suck. I usually just let the car radio keep scanning while I keep smiling on down the road.
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« Reply #12 on: March 26, 2011, 04:29:13 PM »

I think people are missing my point.

1) "It's still scifi!"

- I never said it wasn't.  I have no problem calling it so and putting it on EP and the rest.  My point was that it didn't *use* the speculative elements in any way that required them to be speculative; their planet colony was just like a remote farm in the American Midwest, their communications worked just like the Internet and phones, the spider-bear was just like a horse, etc.  It's SF that didn't have to be SF to work just as well.  Compare, for instance, something like, I dunno, "Blade Runner," which wouldn't have been nearly as interesting if replicants were just regular people who had stolen someone's identity.  That's what I'm talking about here.

2) "It's good anyway!"

- I agree wholeheartedly.  It's an excellent story and a good piece of writing, which is precisely why I'm not sure I see why it was an SF story.  See, making something speculative means that you are of necessity limiting the audience; there are a lot more people who won't read genre fiction than who won't read plain fiction.  Also, when you make something speculative, you have to expend precious wordcount either on explaining genre tropes that fans of the genre take for granted or else risk confusing people who don't know what those tropes are.  For this story, the speculative elements were like the paper umbrella in a cocktail; they jazzed it up a bit, but didn't add anything substantive, and I'm left wondering why we would go to the extra trouble to make it speculative when it didn't need to be.  It's a perfectly strong story in itself and doesn't need adorable spider-bears to be good enough to sell and receive considerable praise.
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« Reply #13 on: March 27, 2011, 10:31:34 AM »

I enjoyed this story a great deal. I thought it did a good job of capturing both life as a child - remember how everything was either the beginning or the end of the world? - and the feel of classic pioneer stories. I was particularly impressed by how the author wove in the modern and post-modern science that would be a reality, even for someone living in a future space colony. Little House on the Prairie, with the Internet.

And spiders.

I did think the story's ups and downs were a little precious, but then again I've never been a huge fan of pioneer stories; reading the entirety of the Little House of the Prairie series once was enough for me. I think that if I had been a bigger fan of pioneer literature I wouldn't have minded the predictability of the plot as much as I did.

Which, all in all, wasn't much. The story was a bit predictable, but it was also extremely well-written and genre-savvy for not one but two highly disparate genre. It was plenty of fun and as I wrote originally, I did enjoy it.

Finally, I think this story would make a great one for kids or young adults, for much the same reason that Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky is a great YA novel. Both follow a familiar pioneer story format, but add speculative fiction elements.
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« Reply #14 on: March 27, 2011, 02:29:16 PM »

Yes, this story has been done before, in exactly the same way.
But the world building in this story was very nice, and more than made up for being repetitive.
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« Reply #15 on: March 27, 2011, 02:56:23 PM »

I for one loved it.  Had a bit of Firefly vibe to it, western in space.  Seems like it could be set in the same universe as Firefly, but written from a young girl's POV rather than a spaceship captain's.
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« Reply #16 on: March 27, 2011, 09:57:45 PM »

This one was a fairly well written, well-read piece.

It's a story about a little girl who never has to make a difficult decision, never has to overcome significant challenge, and never has to learn anything to get everything she wants. We hear nothing of the financial burden that the spider would have put on the family (mentioned at the beginning) aside from vague warnings from her parents. We hear nothing of the studies she's made in how to care for a spider. Patience is the only thing she needs, and she has plenty of it.

I recommend this story to listeners under the age of ten. It would be a good bedtime story for little ones, nice and reassuring.  The world needs stories like that, seriously. It's good.

It's not to my taste, personally, but it takes all kinds, yes?

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goatkeeper
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« Reply #17 on: March 28, 2011, 01:07:15 AM »

This one was a fairly well written, well-read piece.

It's a story about a little girl who never has to make a difficult decision, never has to overcome significant challenge, and never has to learn anything to get everything she wants. We hear nothing of the financial burden that the spider would have put on the family (mentioned at the beginning) aside from vague warnings from her parents. We hear nothing of the studies she's made in how to care for a spider. Patience is the only thing she needs, and she has plenty of it.

I recommend this story to listeners under the age of ten. It would be a good bedtime story for little ones, nice and reassuring.  The world needs stories like that, seriously. It's good.

It's not to my taste, personally, but it takes all kinds, yes?



those are good points, and I would have liked to have seen them explored in maybe a different story.  Maybe even a different story that I would have preferred to this one.  But those points couldn't really have existed in this story w/o altering the mission of this story...

the same way reality would always innately stamp out any of our dreams at this age.  As much as this can be debated a 'scif' story as to how you point at the content delivery, it's so very very fantasy in that it captures that ideal thing we all so much have as youngsters: that thing that we can work for and then attain and be happy--

But this story looks at it from the the little girl perspective, and most of us remember what it was like to have single-minded desires not based in reality.  
  There's a magical age where it's not about compromise. Where it's about believing in and working so hard you find the magic win-win-win-win scenario.
« Last Edit: March 28, 2011, 10:03:54 AM by goatkeeper » Logged
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« Reply #18 on: March 28, 2011, 08:56:38 AM »

How is the kid still unsatisfied with her life after her dad gives her a ride on his JETPACK?!?! This is the only thing that I had a hard time getting my head around. It was a typical "short but sweet" episode: well made and gave me a content attitude afterwards.

To me that was one of the most interesting aspects of the stories, a commentary on how what we consider mundane is defined by what we see around us, not by what is or is not objectively wondrous.  Jetpacks are only awesome to us because they don't exist in any consumer-ready form, and we see lots of imaginary stories where they always look so damned COOL.  Compare that to a kid who has grown up always having access to the Internet.  I didn't first have access to the Internet until I was about 15 and I'd go over to a friend's house who had it before me and I'd waste away the hours on there.  Ask a kid who's grown up with it in her house how awesome the Internet is, and she'll probably just shrug--the Internet has always been there, after all.  Always, like refrigerators and corrective lenses.
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« Reply #19 on: March 28, 2011, 09:15:27 AM »

How is the kid still unsatisfied with her life after her dad gives her a ride on his JETPACK?!?! This is the only thing that I had a hard time getting my head around. It was a typical "short but sweet" episode: well made and gave me a content attitude afterwards.

To me that was one of the most interesting aspects of the stories, a commentary on how what we consider mundane is defined by what we see around us, not by what is or is not objectively wondrous.  Jetpacks are only awesome to us because they don't exist in any consumer-ready form, and we see lots of imaginary stories where they always look so damned COOL.  Compare that to a kid who has grown up always having access to the Internet.  I didn't first have access to the Internet until I was about 15 and I'd go over to a friend's house who had it before me and I'd waste away the hours on there.  Ask a kid who's grown up with it in her house how awesome the Internet is, and she'll probably just shrug--the Internet has always been there, after all.  Always, like refrigerators and corrective lenses.

Ever see videos of jet man?  so cool http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPCg5LYaAB0&feature=related
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