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Author Topic: EP288: Future Perfect  (Read 4198 times)
eytanz
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« on: April 15, 2011, 03:21:12 AM »

EP288: Future Perfect

By LaShawn M. Wanak
Read by Dani Cutler

Originally published in http://www.ideomancer.com
---

I saw you at a party once. You stood by the bookshelf, reading a tattered volume on Proust. You wore an orange and yellow XTC shirt beneath brown flannel. I bumped your elbow by accident and you looked up, your eyes startling green.

I smiled and said, “Hi. I’m Nina.”

“Hi. Eric.”

I trailed behind you for the rest of the party. You introduced me to your friends and I laughed at their jokes. Twice, our sleeves brushed against each other.

Around two in the morning, you left with your friends. An hour later, I also left. I crossed the empty campus, humming under my breath, wondering if I’d ever see you again.

The watch on my arm beeped.

*

“This experiment will measure how small changes occurring before a certain event affect its outcome positively and negatively.”

The chair is her creation. She bought the frame on impulse at a medical supply shop. The conical helmet, perforated with slender tubes, fits on top. Whenever she maneuvers her head beneath it, she thinks of the hair dryers at her mother’s beauty salon. All those bulky astronaut bonnets lined in perfect rows, vibrating air molecules to a feverish pitch. She likes this scientific homage to her mother extracting time from thin air.

“Recording of the control event complete. Setting a change in a condition set slightly in the past. The goal of this first jump is to see if this will change the outcome of the event to a more positive circumstance.”

She types on the laptop built into the armrest, then glances at the elaborate flowchart tacked upon the far wall of the laboratory. Written in
her own hand, neat and precise, equations and sums branch and connect like a roadmap of a probability highway.

She wonders which formula will have his lips pressing against hers.

“Test #1. Begin.”


Rated R - language, adult situations


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: May 05, 2011, 04:56:07 PM by eytanz » Logged
Grishny
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« Reply #1 on: April 15, 2011, 10:35:01 AM »

You will generally get no complaints from me whenever you run any kind of story that plays with time or time travel. Two weeks a row? Two weeks of happy listening for me. Smiley

This story kind of reminds me of the move Primer. Won't say how in case there's someone who hasn't seen it yet, but if you liked this story I think you'd enjoy Primer.

The only thing I'm not sure I really "got" in this story was the smashing of the watch at the end. The watch didn't really seem to be doing what it was supposed to for her anyway; she grew less and less grounded over the course of the story. Maybe destroying the watch was a symbolic way of showing that by the end, she'd truly gone over the deep end and completely given in to her obsession. That's how I interpret it, anyway...
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Kaa
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« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2011, 12:03:08 PM »

I enjoyed this one a lot. I, like Grishny, love me some time travel, and it reminded me of Primer, as well. (I pause while basking in the thought of another Primer fan on the forum.)

I liked how she came apart as time went on, trying more and more frantically to achieve an apparently impossible outcome. I took the watch-breaking at the end to mean that she was done with "grounded" and was going to allow herself to just go insane, imagining scenario after scenario.
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« Reply #3 on: April 16, 2011, 01:18:50 PM »

I was ridiculously anxious, listening to this. After all, it's by One Of Our Own, which brings up all the stuff about wearing a fixed smile while watching a trash school play. It also makes me hypercritical. Like watching the Beatles at what was the Royal Command Performance; they were brilliant but I couldn't enjoy it.
This I enjoyed. There's nothing about it that was out of place; nothing I would change. The poignancy of Nina's search for love with the man who was clearly not destined to be hers was palpable. The time travel element was handled simply and skillfully, and without obfuscating vocabulary. That would have detracted from the love story. Nina's disintegration (and possible psychosis) showed that she would be searching fruitlessly for the rest of her life, and I felt for her. Very, very nice work, LaShawn, m'girl!
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kibitzer
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« Reply #4 on: April 16, 2011, 11:05:27 PM »

Well, I just loved this one. To be quite honest I'm a little over time-travel stuff as it's such a common trope in sci-fi -- I feel like it's been done to death, especially having just finished The Man Who Folded Himself, often feted as the last word in time-travel stories.

But this one I enjoyed, more so than last week's. For a start, the time-travel method was more dressed up -- good old pseudo-science in chairs and helmets and electrodes and equations! But more than that, I think the time-travel was a device to study obsession and the idea that "my life would be perfect if only I hadn't/had <insert action>...". This is a pervasive and seductive idea that people follow, living in regret rather than moving on. It's partially why people such as myself like computers and programming -- that's a world that's (broadly speaking) controllable. Effects always have traceable causes that can be put right. People, and life in general, are far from controllable hence the interest in programming. (As an aside, that's kind of ironic since much software development is more about people interaction than technical skill and technique).

Right now, I can think of only one event that, had I the power, I would go back and change. It was an awful, awful misunderstanding that destroyed a friendship. It's sobering to think that putting that one incident "to rights" may have done nothing. Maybe it would have helped. Maybe this misunderstanding would have broken out in another way. Maybe things would be even worse. Who knows? I can't know and I just have to live with it, repairing what I can, if I can.

I know I'm making broad-brush generalisations here but it's just to give you an idea of what I felt for the story.

I felt for the protag, even as she descended further into her obsession and was ultimately unable to pull herself out. It's a little like last week's story where the urge to rewrite your life was on display. However in Tabula Rasa there was a definite end -- the bottle eventually ran out. Here, the protag has no limiting factor. I fear for her.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #5 on: April 17, 2011, 12:09:16 AM »

I'm sorry to say that I didn't like this one at all.

Ultimately, I believe that Future Perfect failed to hold together on a thematic level. The main character's many permutations - she was clearly altering every possible variable in her life, not just the small ones - showed that there was nothing essentially "her" about herself. I know it's true that I could be almost anyone if the circumstances of my life were changed, but really? Award winning physicist, crack whore, normal nice guy, serial rapist/murderer... these people are so incredibly varied that the changes she was making in each alternate universe were not small. Why were they even a woman and a man in each world? Why did he always have those same striking green eyes? Why weren't they lizard people? Why is the side of my head sticky? Anyway, the point I'm making is what was she hoping to find in these worlds? Given that she was willing to sacrifice everything about herself for this all-consuming "love," why did she think she would still be someone capable of appreciating it if she ever found it?

In other words, you can have determinism, a world in which she is who she is on some level, regardless of her circumstances, and so is he, or you can have free will. You can't have both.

My second beef with the story is more personal than thematic. I though that the character's interpretation of love was incredibly adolescent. I'm lucky enough to be in love with my fabulous wife, and I am confident in saying that love is not a moment of connection in a crowded party. Love is a choice I make day after day. I don't have a problem with a character who has a painfully adolescent idea of love, but if you're going to write a supposedly mature woman - a grad student - with such a teenage idea of love, you've got to tell me why. What's her damage? Why is she a grown woman who still loves like a twelve year old?

This brings me to my final problem with the story: ego dilution. The story spent so much of its time in alternate realities that we never got to know the main character for herself. That potentiated with her weird idea of love to create a deadly cocktail of disbelief that ultimately prevented me from enjoying the story.

Or maybe I'm just in a bad mood. I seem to dislike a lot of stories right now.

Anyway, I felt like there was a good story buried in here, somewhere, but the premise needed to be thought out a little more and the structure replaced with one that didn't leave me wondering quite so much as to the main character's motivation.

So, yeah. Better luck next time.
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Scattercat
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« Reply #6 on: April 17, 2011, 01:34:57 AM »

I don't think you're supposed to think she has a really good grasp on love or the right way to handle it, frankly.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #7 on: April 17, 2011, 01:38:55 AM »

I don't think you're supposed to think she has a really good grasp on love or the right way to handle it, frankly.

Obviously, but a grasp that bad demands an explanation.
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« Reply #8 on: April 17, 2011, 03:58:54 AM »

I don't think you're supposed to think she has a really good grasp on love or the right way to handle it, frankly.

Obviously, but a grasp that bad demands an explanation.

I dunno.  Have you seen the divorce rate recently?  Or listened to any celebrity gossip about marriage and love?  I think not having that poor a grasp of love needs an explanation.
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kibitzer
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« Reply #9 on: April 17, 2011, 04:08:10 AM »

Or maybe I'm just in a bad mood. I seem to dislike a lot of stories right now.

Yeah. I think that's it. For me, this one won on many levels.
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Kanasta
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« Reply #10 on: April 17, 2011, 05:40:41 AM »

I didn't like this one for similar reasons to ElectricPaladin I think. Frankly, the guy was an idiot, and obviously he likes Muriel more- so give up! I could have enjoyed it a lot more if, for example, she had been trying to stop someone she loved from dying in an accident or something, or if there was a more compelling reason why their relationship could not work out than simply erm, he's just not that into you. I really liked the ideas behind it and the writing was good, but I couldn't get past the unromantic romance. Plus, sorry, but a universe where you have won a Nobel Prize is a negative outcome?
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Scattercat
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« Reply #11 on: April 17, 2011, 06:14:10 AM »

Complaining that the romance here wasn't very True-Love-ish is kind of like complaining that Norman Bates was just too much of a Mama's boy to be a believable small business owner.  Of course it wasn't romantic; it's not a romance story, but a story about a self-destructive spiral of obsession.

@EP's original point about the consistency in chaos

I think that's rather the heart of the story there.  That is, the reason she always fails is precisely because she's so obsessed that she's willing to sacrifice everything she is to achieve this brass ring she's aimed herself at.  She goes through a multiplicity, but always with the guiding intention of owning this man's love and devotion, and because she's coming at it from the wrong angle, she can't ever achieve it no matter how many times she tries.  Her error is never in any of the branches she makes once she goes back in time; it's more fundamental than that.  She's going off the rails back at the first binary, and none of the various endings she finds after that wrong turning will get her where she's going. 

The similarity of the trappings (green eyes, gender, lack of lizardocity, etc.) is just for the convenience of the reader, I suspect, and should probably not be fretted over any more than the good-guys-wear-white-hats rule.
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Kanasta
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« Reply #12 on: April 17, 2011, 06:39:56 AM »

Complaining that the romance here wasn't very True-Love-ish is kind of like complaining that Norman Bates was just too much of a Mama's boy to be a believable small business owner.  Of course it wasn't romantic; it's not a romance story, but a story about a self-destructive spiral of obsession.

I agree with that, but if I'm going to read about an obsession I'd rather it was more interesting, that's all. This reminded me of listening to a boring friend banging on about the boy who obviously couldn't care less and analyzing every little detail. This romance is actually very True Love-ish in my eyes, i.e. unbelievable and immature!
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« Reply #13 on: April 17, 2011, 08:47:24 AM »

This reminded me of listening to a boring friend banging on about the boy who obviously couldn't care less and analyzing every little detail. This romance is actually very True Love-ish in my eyes, i.e. unbelievable and immature!
As the dude who always ended up being the 'friend' of these chicks, I can assure you that not only is that portrayal accurate, but where it lacks is in not going to the full depth of the psychosis, for which we should all be thankful.
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« Reply #14 on: April 17, 2011, 01:41:50 PM »

If the experience is so common (apparently to several people), why is it therefore unbelievable that this story's protagonist is the same way?  I'd pretty much agree that this is the spec-fic extension of the person completely obsessed with an uninterested partner and all the neurotic analysis that goes into such a one-sided relationship, but to me that just means the story successfully did its job.
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« Reply #15 on: April 17, 2011, 05:12:10 PM »

Oh, I didn't mean that the portrayal of the protagonist was unbelievable, I meant that I can't believe in her love - because it does have that adolescent quality. SO all I'm saying is that, as a romance, I can't believe in it, because it is more like a teenage infatuation/obsession, but as a tale of obsession, I don't find it that interesting because the actual obsession is pretty mundane. If it was meant to be a love story, I would have liked it to have more depth and for the characters to be likeable, but if it was a tale of obsession, I would have liked it to be a more exciting obsession, not a timetravel variant on the neverending analysis you will hear in any teenage girls' changing room.
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kibitzer
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« Reply #16 on: April 17, 2011, 09:57:05 PM »

...not a timetravel variant on the neverending analysis you will hear in any teenage girls' changing room.

well for those of us who have never frequented teenage girls' changing rooms...  ;-)
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SanguineV
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« Reply #17 on: April 18, 2011, 01:13:23 AM »

I see this story both succeeding and failing at the same time for me. The success is in the capturing the science fiction (not a fantasy bottle to grant time travel wishes like last week) and in writing a good variation on time travel. It is clear the character is slipping away from her supposed place at the beginning and spiralling into some 'bad' ending.

The failure is in the lack of creativity of all the elements. Time travel is widely done. All the potential worlds are almost the same (and the people in it also essentially the same, no lizards, no dead before the moment, no other worlds/alternate history, etc). The driver for the main character is (Romeo and Juliet style) love.

I guess it is a positive reflection on the writing that despite the passée ingredients the story itself comes out fine. On the flip side I think this could be improved by appealing more to the obsession/infatuation and the effects on the character. While these are there, the shifts are sudden (perhaps lacking foreshadowing). Examples:

1 - She is locked out of her lab and at that moment reveals she has it all in her head. A scene earlier of her dreaming about this, doodling equations during meals, anything to show how obsessed she was with the science of it would have led into this better.

2 - Her sudden violence towards the watch could have been foreshadowed by assaulting the door to her lab when locked out, or other violent behaviour towards things earlier.

Both of these just happened to carry the story/idea, they didn't develop. I suppose another approach would be to shorten the jumps in time as she becomes more desperate. At first she spends a night trying to win the man she obsesses over, later an hour, then a moment, obsessed that if she can just find that one second that is right it will all collapse to her dream state.


...not a timetravel variant on the neverending analysis you will hear in any teenage girls' changing room.

well for those of us who have never frequented teenage girls' changing rooms...  ;-)

Now I'm off to a teenage girls' changing room - for research! (You guys will bail me out if I am arrested right?)
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« Reply #18 on: April 18, 2011, 09:49:06 AM »

I liked this story, certainly more than "A Taste of Time", because initially, there was a definite purpose for the time travel other than "I want to make my life 'right'." Unfortunately, by the end, it devolved into that, which got me thinking about time travel stories, and who writes them, and why.

  In the last 6 episodes of EP, we've had three time travel stories.  All three have dealt with women "fixing" their lives.  All 3 have been written by women.  I understand that society puts a lot of pressure on both men and women to have the "perfect" life, are women pressured more?  I would initially say yes, because they are pressured more in so many ways,(just look at a magazine rack for evidence of this) and are generally presented with a more romantic, adored princess in the castle view of the perfect life.  In "Future Perfect", the MC definitely states her idea of the perfect life, that is a happy marriage with Eric.  In "A Taste of Time", the MC leads what most would consider a perfect life, and yet is still unsatisfied because she faces old age and the loss of her spouse.  In "Grandfather Paradox", we assume that the third iteration is the "perfect" outcome for the MC, i.e. married and pregnant.  I find it interesting that all three stories take a different paths, but are all aiming for that perfect life of husband and children.
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« Reply #19 on: April 18, 2011, 11:55:49 AM »

Congratulations, LaShawn!  This is your Escape Artists debut, yes?  That's great! 

I think that's rather the heart of the story there.  That is, the reason she always fails is precisely because she's so obsessed that she's willing to sacrifice everything she is to achieve this brass ring she's aimed herself at.  She goes through a multiplicity, but always with the guiding intention of owning this man's love and devotion, and because she's coming at it from the wrong angle, she can't ever achieve it no matter how many times she tries.  Her error is never in any of the branches she makes once she goes back in time; it's more fundamental than that.  She's going off the rails back at the first binary, and none of the various endings she finds after that wrong turning will get her where she's going. 

Scattercat summed it up well for me.  Because she is obsessed with that particular goal at all costs, she is sabotaging her own attempts.  She is approaching the problem with the goal of, as scattercat said, "owning this man's love and devotion".  I believe she could have found a future where they ended up happy together if she hadn't taken this tactic with it, but by trying to force it, she has ruined the chance of that outcome, her obsession is coming through and destroying any chance they might have.

Also, in most of these worlds, the guy was not exactly a great guy with stable relationships.  Serial killer, crooked cop, cheated on various wives.  The best he is ever portrayed is strictly neutral, which only looks good in comparison to the bad versions.  So the consistent trend to not end up with him might've been an aspect of this.

Anyway, if you couldn't tell, I thought this story was very good.  It did come a little too closely on the heels of the last one, so I'm glad that Mur mentioned why.  I can't knock that reasoning.  I'm glad to have an Escape Pod this week, even if it was very similar to the last week's premise.
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