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Author Topic: EP290: Tom the Universe  (Read 4350 times)
Bdoomed
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« on: April 28, 2011, 04:31:57 PM »

EP290: Tom the Universe

By Larry Hodges
Read by Mat Weller

An Escape Pod original!
---

I permeate this universe, which I’ve named Tom, and guard against its destruction. If someone had done that for the universe I came from, then Mary, my sweet Mary, would still be alive, and I wouldn’t have killed her and everyone else when I accidentally destroyed that universe.

And now I’m on the verge of destroying much more.


Rated PG-13 - sexual situations


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: May 12, 2011, 05:29:37 PM by eytanz » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: April 28, 2011, 06:31:31 PM »

Yay, Tom the Universe!  I've been waiting for this one since reading it in the slush pile!   Grin
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« Reply #2 on: April 29, 2011, 08:52:16 AM »

I can certainly say that I've seen a story that went this direction before.

There were a couple parts that dragged, when it started getting into the branes, that I still don't have any grasp of.  When it got past explaining that then I enjoyed the story, how this guy took only 100 years to get over the destruction of all existence and then singlemindedly spends billions of years manipulating the universe for his own selfish purposes. 

It did get a little hard to follow when he kept referring to his simulation of the past universe and jumping back to the current universe in the making, but I think I sorted it out.

I wonder if our universe is Tom or the one before it?

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« Reply #3 on: April 29, 2011, 11:27:34 AM »

I wonder if our universe is Tom or the one before it?
Dunno, but if I can get a good price for a tachyon emitter on eBay, the next one will be "Mat". Cheesy
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« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2011, 03:30:34 PM »

I've explored the concept presented in this story before as a rationale for mad scientists (supergeniuses who have micro-singularities in their brains, causing information that travels through their synapses, or however that neurobiology works, to pass through and then back again - resulting in super processing power but also a level of distortion that we would label madness; totally not a rational exploration of singularities at all just a cool sounding handwave) but I must admit I have never contemplated the kind of existential apocalypse presented in this story.

It's sort of like a Solipsistic Mutually Assured Destruction scenario, or a WMD designed by Emmanuel Kant.
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« Reply #5 on: April 30, 2011, 02:53:55 AM »

I really would have liked this story to end with the creation of a Mary universe. Or that the twist would have been that Mary and Jerry were so close together they expanded into a single brane and made a Mary-and-Jerry universe. Either of those would have ended the story on a somewhat more ambiguous note - there could be a hope of redemption for Tom, as Mary or M&J could recreate the universe without making his mistakes - but it would by no means be certain. As it is, the story ended up simply being "Tom's desire for revenge backfired and destroyed all he attempted to preserve" which is perhaps more classically tragic but also less interesting to my modern sensibilities than a more open ending.

Also, for all his computer power, he really wasn't that smart, right? I mean, he killed his alternate *while* Mary was cheating on him. Even if he managed to save her, she would have been wracked with far greater guilt than she would have otherwise. The promise of happiness for both of them was obviously gone with him dead, but he would have made a serious dent in her prospects for happiness at all. Or pushed her to be be with Jerry. Did that never occur to him in the millions of years since his change of heart? Couldn't he have tried to deflect both meteors, aiming the first one at the tachyon machine instead of his head, or something?

That said, reservations about the ending and plot nitpicking aside, I did think this was a good, clever story, that kept me interested throughout even as I got progressively more annoyed at Tom and his stupidity.
« Last Edit: April 30, 2011, 02:55:50 AM by eytanz » Logged
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« Reply #6 on: April 30, 2011, 06:05:20 AM »

This story felt kind of overwritten -- all that extra science-y stuff really dragged it down. I think shorter explanations or a lot of "take it from me, that stuff is boring" could really have tightened it up and made it better-paced. Also, if Tom has the power to move tachyons at will because they're so insubstantial, and he had the entire universe's computing power, couldn't he just have been slightly more careful with the direction he was throwing the tachyons so they didn't get into Joey's head?

Great concept, good ideas, bit of a plodding execution in places.

The reading was well-done, although this character kind of struck me as someone whose voice wouldn't be quite as bombastic. I'm thinking more Wilson Fowlie/Kane Lynch.
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« Reply #7 on: April 30, 2011, 02:20:10 PM »

I have no problem with a sci-fi story throwing in a lot of science-related content, but calling the writing in this story "extra science-y stuff" gives it too much credit.  Even my FTL-embracing mind couldn't suspend disbelief when hearing that human consciousness somehow requires infinite material density, and descriptions of separate universes colliding (let alone the idea that we could destroy the universe by prodding a black hole).  Oh yeah, and this absurd omniscient universe-man with infinite thinking power?  Still has sex drive (and the related jealousy) as one of his basic motives.  I wonder where the Tom universe keeps it's gas-giant testicles.

I would have definitely liked to hear less of an attempt to pretend this story is plausible, and more actual storytelling.
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« Reply #8 on: April 30, 2011, 03:05:38 PM »

I really would have liked this story to end with the creation of a Mary universe...Mary or M&J could recreate the universe without making his mistakes - but it would by no means be certain.

This flashed at me while I heard the story too. I thought it might be cool if Tom's love for mary left him bitter about the betrayal, but without the change of heart to save her. Then, a Mary universe gets created and she re-creates the whole gig but doesn't betray Tom because she is so sorry for the indiscretion, thereby proving her to be the more mature 'god.'

Also, for all his computer power, he really wasn't that smart, right?

To me, that was one of the main points of the story -- what if bad things happened because god was a bit of a bumbler. I mean, he has his change of heart because he grows enough to know how petty he's being, right?

Speaking of which, I think one of the most amazingly understated lines in the whole thing was when he mentions that he doesn't care about the destination of the meteor's other half because "they deserve it." The thought of a force of nature being willfully callous tickles my macabre side.  Grin
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« Reply #9 on: May 01, 2011, 08:44:32 PM »

I very much enjoyed this story.  I actually sat in my driveway to hear the end.  I just wonder if it was the first time I did that...  or second?
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« Reply #10 on: May 02, 2011, 07:19:03 AM »

So glad Mary & Joey didn't leave town on a cosmic donkey.
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« Reply #11 on: May 02, 2011, 08:51:37 AM »

I really would have liked this story to end with the creation of a Mary universe. Or that the twist would have been that Mary and Jerry were so close together they expanded into a single brane and made a Mary-and-Jerry universe. Either of those would have ended the story on a somewhat more ambiguous note - there could be a hope of redemption for Tom, as Mary or M&J could recreate the universe without making his mistakes - but it would by no means be certain. As it is, the story ended up simply being "Tom's desire for revenge backfired and destroyed all he attempted to preserve" which is perhaps more classically tragic but also less interesting to my modern sensibilities than a more open ending.

Also, for all his computer power, he really wasn't that smart, right? I mean, he killed his alternate *while* Mary was cheating on him. Even if he managed to save her, she would have been wracked with far greater guilt than she would have otherwise. The promise of happiness for both of them was obviously gone with him dead, but he would have made a serious dent in her prospects for happiness at all. Or pushed her to be be with Jerry. Did that never occur to him in the millions of years since his change of heart? Couldn't he have tried to deflect both meteors, aiming the first one at the tachyon machine instead of his head, or something?

That said, reservations about the ending and plot nitpicking aside, I did think this was a good, clever story, that kept me interested throughout even as I got progressively more annoyed at Tom and his stupidity.

I think I would've liked the ending better if it had ended with Mary becoming a universe as well, but I didn't dislike this ending.

And regarding Tom's intelligence, for me that was one of the better parts of the story.  He has infinite power of computation at his disposal, but that ability doesn't tell him how to direct those extra processing cycles.  He spent billions of years planning how to get the girl back, he's not rational at the best of times, and the extra computation power hasn't changed that.  

It just goes to show that people don't change unless they want to.  Apparently that even applies if said person becomes the universe.
« Last Edit: May 02, 2011, 08:56:03 AM by Unblinking » Logged

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« Reply #12 on: May 02, 2011, 01:40:23 PM »

I really liked the sciency-parts of this story, probably more than the actual plot parts.
Which is weird for me, because I generally like or dislike a story mostly on the strength and complexity of the plot. For me, this story wasn't even about the plot, it was about the science. And I loved it for that.
In fact, the first time I read about branes (Brian Greene's Elegant Universe) I pondered the implications of branes and brains. I didn't take it this far, but I love where Larry took this.
A singularity in my mind? Hell yeah!

Stepping back from the science parts and examining the plot on its own merits, this story was still pretty good. A nice piece that takes solipsism to the final and inevitable conclusion, yes the universe as a whole exists, but it is my mind.
However, I did not like Tom (the personality) even a little bit. Forget about his self-obsessive and destructive behavior. Forget about his callousness. Forget about the fact that he single handedly made the entirety of creation to have never existed. What bothered me most was his lack of imagination.
Dude! You're the mind behind a brand new universe! You can do absolutely ANYTHING! Why the hell are you just going to create exactly the same identical universe we had before? Do something different! Make it more interesting!
But no. Tom's imagination (if it ever existed) never expanded beyond his singularity.
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« Reply #13 on: May 02, 2011, 01:49:16 PM »

So glad Mary & Joey didn't leave town on a cosmic donkey.

You must mean an Arcturan Mega Donkey.
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« Reply #14 on: May 02, 2011, 02:27:07 PM »

So glad Mary & Joey didn't leave town on a cosmic donkey.

You must mean an Arcturan Mega Donkey.
Are they particularly stable?
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« Reply #15 on: May 02, 2011, 02:56:04 PM »

So glad Mary & Joey didn't leave town on a cosmic donkey.
You must mean an Arcturan Mega Donkey.
Are they particularly stable?
No more than a donkey by any other name.
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« Reply #16 on: May 02, 2011, 06:25:09 PM »

I liked this one, and count me as liking the science-y bits.  One cosmological note, a meteoroid moving at 26 m/s would be 820 TRILLION miles away one million years away.  To shift that meteoroid 5 feet on impact, it would need a very very small amount of energy.  But, Tom did say it would take a billion years to wiggle a pencil or some such.   On a narration note, 10^-35 was being read as 10^35, missing the negative.  Both of these points are trivial, and of no consequence to the story or my enjoyment thereof. 
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« Reply #17 on: May 02, 2011, 09:03:26 PM »

I quite enjoyed this story and liked that it didn't go all sappy.

I particularly liked that, despite being essentially infinite, he was so hurt and angry and curious that he was willing to recreate the entire universe as he did.

Sometimes, love really hurts.
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« Reply #18 on: May 03, 2011, 07:23:09 AM »

I very much enjoyed this story.  I actually sat in my driveway to hear the end.  I just wonder if it was the first time I did that...  or second?

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« Reply #19 on: May 03, 2011, 02:48:09 PM »

Hello, forum. New poster here; been listening for a few weeks to the archives.

I did enjoy this story, despite the narrator missing the negation of the exponents as noted upthread.  The end left me wondering, though- if Tom was simultaneously extant throughout the entire space-time continuum of his universe, why could he not have simply averted the second asteroid earlier?  I got the impression that he was constantly fiddling with things at earlier points in the Tomverse timeline to make things just so, in order to recreate the universe he came from (meteoroids notwithstanding).  But then again, perhaps Tom wasn't bright enough for this to occur to him, no matter his protestations to having the computational power needed to recreate and simulate Universe Prime.

I was also reminded of this comic from xkcd:
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