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Author Topic: EP291: Shannon’s Law  (Read 4863 times)
eytanz
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« on: May 05, 2011, 04:58:32 PM »

EP291: Shannon’s Law

By Cory Doctorow
Read by Mur Lafferty

Originally published in Welcome to the Bordertown

---

When the Way to Bordertown closed, I was only four years old, and I was more interested in peeling the skin off my Tickle Me Elmo to expose the robot lurking inside his furry pelt than I was in networking or even plumbing the unknowable mysteries of Elfland. But a lot can change in thirteen years.

When the Way opened again, the day I turned seventeen, I didn’t hesitate. I packed everything I could carry—every scratched phone, every half-assembled laptop, every stick of memory, and every Game Boy I could fit in a duffel bag. I hit the bank with my passport and my ATM card and demanded that they turn over my savings to me, without calling my parents or any other ridiculous delay. They didn’t like it, but “It’s my money, now hand it over” is like a spell for bending bankers to your will.

Land rushes. Know about ’em? There’s some piece of land that was off-limits, and the government announces that it’s going to open it up—all you need to do is rush over to it when the cannon goes off, and whatever you can stake out is yours. Used to be that land rushes came along any time the United States decided to break a promise to some Indians and take away their land, and a hundred thousand white men would wait at the starting line to stampede into the “empty lands” and take it over. But more recently, the land rushes have been virtual: The Internet opens up, and whoever gets there first gets to grab all the good stuff. The land rushers in the early days of the Net had the dumbest ideas: online pet food, virtual-reality helmets, Internet-enabled candy delivery services. But they got some major money while the rush was on, before Joe Investor figured out how to tell a good idea from a redonkulous one


Rated PG - language


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: May 26, 2011, 05:32:00 PM by eytanz » Logged
StunGod
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« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2011, 08:58:54 AM »

Wow - I loved this.  (I even enjoyed the sausage-making lesson, although it was a bit distracting...It's a good reminder of how much work goes into producing the podcast)

I'm a network engineer, and really loved the combination of real, actual network terminology with the fantasy world.  Cory put a lot of thought into how to blend the two into something entertaining, yet plausible (well, in an internally-consistent way) that just reached out to my inner geek.  The world-building was good too - I'd love to read more stories from the Borderlands.  There's a lot of potential there, I think.

Minor complaint: SYN/ACK is pronounced "sin ack," not "sign ack."  To 99% of people, it's a tomayto/tomahto issue but it was kind of jarring to a guy who uses that term in conversation a couple of times a week.

Thanks for the story and the narration though - it made my day!
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Ocicat
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« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2011, 05:13:01 PM »

Please note: The file that originally went out had big editing problems, you may wish to download the newer corrected version.  Check the notes - if you see the Update / apology, you have the new file.
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heyes
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« Reply #3 on: May 07, 2011, 06:53:49 AM »

I have to say I enjoyed hearing the unedited version, it somehow added to the story.  That, and as a newbie podcaster, it was great to see that the greats have to do lots of editing every once in a while.

So, ah, the story.  Good story, great characters, very intriguing way of dealing with a truly "other" other.

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« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2011, 07:02:11 AM »

Overall i thought it was an interesting story, and i liked it, but i had a few problems that nagged me.

The ending was strange, we spend all this time establishing how important it is to Shannon to find a way to transfer information to the elf realm, yet when they don't hear anything from Synack for years they just shrug and ignore it, maybe the poem wasn't beautiful enough, maybe Synack was dead, are we to believe that Jetfuel doesn't care about her sister at all?

I also found Jetfuel's relationship with her father strange, we are told that he doesn't care for her because she is half human, yet when we meet him he is nice and caring and Jetfuel is the one that comes off as cold.

Also i spent most of the story thinking Shannon was a girl because of the name, and it got a little confusing towards the end when he was referred to as a boyfriend.
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matweller
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« Reply #5 on: May 09, 2011, 07:56:08 AM »

I also found Jetfuel's relationship with her father strange, we are told that he doesn't care for her because she is half human, yet when we meet him he is nice and caring and Jetfuel is the one that comes off as cold.
I thought this was odd too, but it also sounds exactly like my best friend's relationship with his father back in high school days.
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Unblinking
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« Reply #6 on: May 09, 2011, 09:05:53 AM »

It was an interesting idea, to merge the Fey with internet protocols.  Some parts made me think of Discworld's semaphore towers for obvious reasons.

I gave it a try but after 20 minutes it hadn't gone anywhere besides just telling me that it has a premise of Fey with internet protocols.  I wanted some plot tension to show me what the main character wanted.  There was a throwaway comment about wanting to set up this whole elaborate system so that he could send just one packet, and that was interesting, but then was not mentioned again for a long time after.  I'm sure others will like this one, it is a neat idea, I thought the idea of peddling a huge volumed set of Wikipedia was both silly and interesting, but for me it reminded me of the hard science fiction stories I tend not to like because they spend so much time explaining their premise and never seem to get to the plot.
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« Reply #7 on: May 09, 2011, 01:00:23 PM »

It seemed like there was a huge setup coming, but by almost 50 minutes into the episode I was thinking... um... where's the conflict, exactly? Then we get an interesting world study crunched up with a plot that has no real resolution, other than to pay off the fact that Shannon likes Jet Fuel in that way. This has bothered me with some of Doctorow's other works (but not all). I think in a way that's part of his style -- to remind you that, in the real world, there is rarely a neat, tidy ending that goes the way we expect or want it to.

It took me a while to realize that Shannon is actually a male character. I think that was less a narrator issue than the fact that, in my upbringing/experience, Shannon is generally a girl's name (although not always). The "with your junk hanging out" line should've clued me in sooner than it did.

Overall an enjoyable story, but toward the end it got bogged down in technobabble.
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #8 on: May 09, 2011, 04:07:53 PM »

It took me a while to realize that Shannon is actually a male character. I think that was less a narrator issue than the fact that, in my upbringing/experience, Shannon is generally a girl's name (although not always). The "with your junk hanging out" line should've clued me in sooner than it did.

This slightly earlier line:

  I am Shannon Klod, the founder of BINGO, the lad who brought networking to B-town

was my first clue. But it wasn't until the 'dangling junk' line that I was sure.

I liked this story. I didn't actually mind the tech talk at the time (though, in retrospect, I can see how that would make for not wanting to read/hear it twice). I thought it made the story a good vehicle for non-techies to get a rudimentary understanding of how the Internet itself got started. It was as much as history story (in disguise) as it was fantasy.

To me, the conflict arose between Shannon and Faerie (what we, in Canada at least, are taught is the theme of 'man vs. his environment') - his befuddlement at the difference between his world and theirs, his struggling to understand and ultimately subvert the difference, and the outcome. Not all conflict has to be interpersonal.
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« Reply #9 on: May 09, 2011, 04:47:03 PM »

This slightly earlier line:

  I am Shannon Klod, the founder of BINGO, the lad who brought networking to B-town

was my first clue. But it wasn't until the 'dangling junk' line that I was sure.

I must have heard "lad" as "kid". Ah well. It didn't change my enjoyment of the story in either direction.
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zoanon
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« Reply #10 on: May 09, 2011, 08:26:20 PM »

I too kept forgetting that Shannon was supposed to be a man. I pictured him as a lady the whole time and I preferred it that way.
I really liked the set up of this story, all the explanations about the internet and all that. I was totally thrown by the ending, a whole hour of build up to connecting with the fae world and suddenly all that matters is getting the girl ?
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« Reply #11 on: May 10, 2011, 08:50:59 AM »

To me, the conflict arose between Shannon and Faerie (what we, in Canada at least, are taught is the theme of 'man vs. his environment') - his befuddlement at the difference between his world and theirs, his struggling to understand and ultimately subvert the difference, and the outcome. Not all conflict has to be interpersonal.

Sure, there's man vs. environment, but what are the stakes here?  If he doesn't keep the internet running smoothly, then the consequence is that the internet doesn't run smoothly.  It's not much of a life-changing consequence, and he said himself he doesn't really care about the money or the prestige, he said he only cares about sending that one packet, but then changed the subject before he told me what that packet meant.  Without knowing what that packet is, or at least what it represents, early in the story, there just wasn't much tension in this conflict, for me.


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Devoted135
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« Reply #12 on: May 10, 2011, 09:50:39 AM »

This story was sort of middling for me. I also had to keep reminding myself throughout that Shannon was supposed to be a guy, despite all the little hints. Between that and the technobabble I found myself having to concentrate harder on the little details, at the expense of listening to the story. I did like the description of Faery and how everything is perceived differently there, but those details were sort of lost for me in the midst of explanations of semaphore and carrier pigeons.

I also agree with those above who are wondering why the story ended up as a "he gets the girl" instead of a "he succeeds/fails in his life-long goal." All of the conflict was set up around whether or not they would succeed in sending and receiving a packet, and then getting the confirmation back. Simultaneously, his and Jetfuel's relationship was introduced and developed in a way that seemed pretty platonic to me. So I was a bit bemused when Shannon's response to not hearing anything was to shrug and say "well, at least Jetfuel and I are happy together."
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zoanon
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« Reply #13 on: May 10, 2011, 09:29:17 PM »

I totally forgot to say how much I loved the fairies legal system!
I can just imagine laws based on aesthetics, LOVE IT.
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Gamercow
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« Reply #14 on: May 11, 2011, 11:53:31 AM »

I liked this story, but thought it ended in a wave of hands and smoke.  I think that the moral of the story was that Shannon's passion in the early days wasn't really about the adventure of forging new ground, but rather was a passion for Jet Fuel, and once he realized that, getting that one packet transmitted seemed less important.  I was a bit annoyed at their glibness towards Synack's fate, but young people in love can do that sometimes.

Speaking of packets, and referencing to Unblinking's post, that one packet was important because if he could get that one packet along, he could potentially get more packets, and therefore could open up communications between fey and "real" worlds, something that previously could never be done.

Re: the tech. Sending individual packets via pigeon and even light signals is dumb.  Packets are structured in such a way that computers like them, and can understand them, and can process them quickly.  If you reduce this to pigeon, or scroll, or heliography, it is just plain nonsensical.  Use the right tool for the job.  Transmit messages in whole via pigeon, then translate that into 1s and 0s, and THEN feed it into a computer. 
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« Reply #15 on: May 12, 2011, 03:04:47 AM »

I had the same problem with this story as I had with Little Brother: Tedious explanation. Doctorow spends so much time describing novel technologies that the story just fades away. I mean, not much happens. We get an in-depth view of how the hodgepodge network works, but after a few paragraphs of that I could care less. Where's the tension? Where's the conflict? Why should I keep reading/listening? In the end it just feels like someone geeking out over networking.

Too much telling. Not enough showing.

Still, some great concepts introduced. Love how the Fey universe functions chiefly on aesthetics, beauty, and drama.
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Gamercow
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« Reply #16 on: May 13, 2011, 09:07:36 AM »

Finally remembered what this story reminded me of.  Cryptonomicon, at least the cable laying part.
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« Reply #17 on: May 13, 2011, 11:13:40 AM »

Classic Doctorow. Fascinating premise, great education value, and interesting characters who fail to achieve emotional reality. I was particularly unimpressed with the smooth, content-free transition from coworkers to lovers. One scene "that would be so inappropriate," next scene "worst boyfriend ever." What the heck? I always feel smarter after reading Doctorow, but I find his characterization incredibly frustrating.

For a while there, I thought Shannon was a girl. It was Mur's excellent reading. That was interesting - I've never known Doctorow to tackle gay or female protagonists, and here he was doing both! Until, finally, it became clear that he wasn't. I was a sad paladin.
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Talia
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« Reply #18 on: May 13, 2011, 11:56:58 AM »

Classic Doctorow. Fascinating premise, great education value, and interesting characters who fail to achieve emotional reality. I was particularly unimpressed with the smooth, content-free transition from coworkers to lovers. One scene "that would be so inappropriate," next scene "worst boyfriend ever." What the heck? I always feel smarter after reading Doctorow, but I find his characterization incredibly frustrating.

For a while there, I thought Shannon was a girl. It was Mur's excellent reading. That was interesting - I've never known Doctorow to tackle gay or female protagonists, and here he was doing both! Until, finally, it became clear that he wasn't. I was a sad paladin.

His main character in the excellent short story 'Anda's Game' is female.
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« Reply #19 on: May 13, 2011, 12:06:16 PM »

Classic Doctorow. Fascinating premise, great education value, and interesting characters who fail to achieve emotional reality. I was particularly unimpressed with the smooth, content-free transition from coworkers to lovers. One scene "that would be so inappropriate," next scene "worst boyfriend ever." What the heck? I always feel smarter after reading Doctorow, but I find his characterization incredibly frustrating.

For a while there, I thought Shannon was a girl. It was Mur's excellent reading. That was interesting - I've never known Doctorow to tackle gay or female protagonists, and here he was doing both! Until, finally, it became clear that he wasn't. I was a sad paladin.

His main character in the excellent short story 'Anda's Game' is female.

Huh. Haven't read that one. Is he any good at writing women?
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