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Author Topic: EP294: The Night Train  (Read 12887 times)

eytanz

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on: May 26, 2011, 10:34:12 PM
EP294: The Night Train

By Lavie Tidhar
Read by Jean Hilde-Fulghum

Originally published in Strange Horizons

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Her name wasn’t Molly and she didn’t wear shades, reflective or otherwise.

She was watching the length of the platform.

Hua Lamphong at dusk: a warm wind blowing through the open platforms where the giant beasts puffed smoke and steam into the humid air, the roof of the train station arching high overhead.

Her name wasn’t Noi, either, in case you asked, though it’s a common enough name. It wasn’t Porn, or Ping. It wasn’t even Friday.

She was watching the platform, scanning passengers climbing aboard, porters shifting wares, uniformed police patrolling at leisure. She was there to watch out for the Old Man.

She wasn’t even a girl. Not exactly. And as for why the Old Man was called the Old Man . . .

He was otherwise known as Boss Gui: head and bigfala bos of the Kunming Toads. She got the job when she’d killed Gui’s Toad bodyguards—by default, as it were.

But that had happened back in Kunming. This was Bangkok, Bangkok at dusk—this was Hua Lamphong, greatest of train stations, where the great slugs breathed steam and were rubbed and scrubbed by the slug-boys whose job it was to nurture them before departure. And the Old Man wasn’t exactly an old man, either.

Scanning, waiting for the Old Man to arrive: Yankee tourists with in-built cams flashing as they posed besides the great beasts, these neo-nagas of reconstituted DNA, primitive nervous system, and prodigious appetite. Scanning: a group of Martian-Chinese from Tong Yun City walking cautiously—unused to the heavier gravity of this home/planet. Scanning: three Malay businessmen—Earth-Belt Corp. standardized reinforced skeletons—they moved gracefully, like dancers—wired through and through, hooked up twenty-four Earth-hours an Earth-day, seven Earth-days a week to the money-form engines, the great pulsating web of commerce and data, that singing, Sol-system-wide, von Neumann-machine expanded network of networks of networks. . . .

Wired with hidden weaponry, too: she made a note of that.


Rated R


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: May 30, 2011, 10:11:04 PM by eytanz »



KenK

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Reply #1 on: May 28, 2011, 02:16:33 PM
Lame.



Talia

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Reply #2 on: May 28, 2011, 06:45:17 PM
With the gender-bending and tech-speak and whatnot I found this story somewhat difficult to follow in audio (for quite a while I thought Darwin's Choice was borrowing the protagonist's body), but aside from that, I found it a brilliantly creepy little tale with many disturbing little elements - the boss guy giving birth to his clones was really repulsive. Despite it making it difficult for audio, I did enjoy the way the story played with the concepts of gender and sexuality, making everything interchangable in a world where technology allows you to hop from body to body.The only difficulty in featuring characters so alien is it makes them somewhat hard to relate to. Still, very interesting.

Plot was definitely overshadowed by the fascinating world-building, but I didn't mind. A complex, fascinating place.
« Last Edit: May 28, 2011, 10:52:12 PM by Talia »



Dem

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Reply #3 on: May 29, 2011, 12:45:27 PM
Cut out the techno-twaddle and this story would be a third of the length but infinitely stronger because, in my view, it wouldn't sound like a back-bedroom geek masturbating to a glossary of made-up futurisms.
That said, I really bought into the slug trains; largely because the idea kept triggering jokes, but also because they brought to mind Dune's sandworms - which triggered more jokes (standing proud at the reins of a swooping fiery worm, or dozing under your peaked cap on the front end of a slime trial - which career option would you go for?). I feel a bit mean, griping this way, but mostly I feel there is an astonishing story in here, pawing to be let out. Or indeed, birthed.

And the jokes? They start with 'We've had slug trains for decades, only we called it British Rail', and end with a plea not to let Bob Crow of the RMT union http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Crow anywhere near this tale or he'll gazillion-uple his membership by signing up every slug in the UK, and start picketing garden centres stocking slug pellets. No lettuce will ever again be safe!

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


Balu

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Reply #4 on: May 30, 2011, 10:51:47 PM
Cut out the techno-twaddle and this story would be a third of the length but infinitely stronger because, in my view, it wouldn't sound like a back-bedroom geek masturbating to a glossary of made-up futurisms.

You say that like it's a bad thing.



captain0terror

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Reply #5 on: May 31, 2011, 02:27:06 AM
i did not like this story. Lately, it feels like the quality of submissions or perhaps just the choice of submissions are in "decline". I would pretty much murder someone for a good Short Story SF story right now.. (i know there are a lot of other podcasts out there, i just have to arse myself to check them out)

Recently i've been sepending A LOT of time over at pseduopod, trolling through the archives, and i must say: Pseduopod is just amazing... Love the storys, love the narrators, love the short-but-sweet intros/outros (not in a gay way)

=)




Dem

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Reply #6 on: May 31, 2011, 09:00:59 AM
Cut out the techno-twaddle and this story would be a third of the length but infinitely stronger because, in my view, it wouldn't sound like a back-bedroom geek masturbating to a glossary of made-up futurisms.

You say that like it's a bad thing.
Ya turn over a stone ... sigh

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


Dem

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Reply #7 on: May 31, 2011, 09:08:30 AM
...the front end of a slime trial...

   slime trail - slug qua slug
   slime trial - slug under pressure

Don't you just love Freudian typos?


Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


iamafish

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Reply #8 on: May 31, 2011, 12:21:05 PM
this story was just a little too sluggish for my liking, plus the weird sexual, trans-gender stuff made me feel all slimy. I feel like there was a pretty interesting story trailing off somewhere behind some of the weird stuff that was going on, it just kept slipping away from me.

sorry


matweller

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Reply #9 on: May 31, 2011, 01:06:31 PM
I guess you wouldn't classify this as 'cyberpunk' but I put the writing style in the same vein as Jeff Noon, and I would guess his writing generates a very polarized audience. It just happens to be a style I love.

The blessing of and problem with this style--in my opinion--is that it requires you to let yourself go completely so that you can be immersed, and that isn't something easily done in the short story format or audio venue when it comes to initiating those being exposed for the first time or converting those willing to give it another try. As someone who delights in the aural freefall of this kind of story, I was in it in a minute and cradled lovingly to the end.



Listener

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Reply #10 on: May 31, 2011, 01:12:55 PM
I just found today's Penny Arcade, and it is totally relevant to what Bill said in the outro: Are you a customer here?

When I thought about what I wanted to say about the story, I thought of this:

In a China Mieville novel, he introduces tons of phantasmagoric and other futuristic/alternately-technological topics. The thing is, he has hundreds of thousands of words to do it in. He can draw it out so the reader is not overwhelmed. But this story had to cram it all into 6000 or so words (I didn't count), and so there was really no time to breathe or think or absorb each piece of this future world before another one was dropped on our heads like that corner of the overhang that always, ALWAYS drips on you after a storm no matter how much you try to walk around it. (Clearly there's a problem with the overhang at my house.) But with so much stuff crammed into this story, it was too difficult to follow the technology and the plot gets a little lost in that.

I will not make any slug jokes. I'm not sure there was enough background in the story anyway for there to suddenly be slug-locomotives for long-distance passenger trains. I mean, sure, I know fossil fuels probably got too expensive or ran out, but I think we needed to be told that.

I also kept thinking that DC was going to show up again, either as the Boss or as the hijacker, but he never did. It felt like a Chekhov's Gun. I don't recall ever hearing a satisfactory ending to Moulin Rouge's association with him.

So, overall: I didn't really care for the story.

I felt the reading was a little flat. The narrator's voice didn't change pitch very much, and while I had no trouble discerning characters, it didn't help with the pacing or the tension. It was like an internal monologue... on the outside.

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Unblinking

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Reply #11 on: May 31, 2011, 01:50:06 PM
Don't get me wrong, I like a good complex world, but I like a strong story to exist within it, and after 20 minutes that didn't seem to be getting any closer to happening. 

It's not surprising that Listener mentioned China Mieville.  I've only read one book by him, Perdido Street Station, and I liked it in general, but gosh could he use a bit of a trimming to cut back on sections that are just dead weight, explaining aspects of the world that I just didn't care that much about.  Maybe this was like that, and the plot came in later, but I just wanted some kind of goal, some kind of tension to keep me going.



Devoted135

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Reply #12 on: June 01, 2011, 03:14:50 PM
I had a super hard time getting into this one, but once I did I guess I liked it well enough. I agree with all of the criticisms, and would add that I felt incredibly sorry for all of the people that let DC use their body. I have to imagine that even in a world where people purposefully alter themselves to that extreme that it would be traumatic to wake up and find out that you no longer have the body you thought you did.



acpracht

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Reply #13 on: June 01, 2011, 05:53:50 PM
I didn't care for this one. I'm usually not a prude, but the "edgier" elements of this one left me repulsed more than intrigued.

Glad I listened through, though, as I discovered the excellent EP 105: Impossible Dreams after listening to feedback.



grokman

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Reply #14 on: June 03, 2011, 01:35:44 AM
This is one of the very few EscapePod stories that I had to give up on. The narration was just too difficult to follow. It almost sounded like the reader hadn't seen the story before she started reading it, and therefore missed some crucial pauses, while adding unnecessary pauses at other times. That coupled with all of the foreign (granted, to me) words, and it was very hard for me to keep up. I don't mind stories that require me to THINK and to pay attention, but I couldn't get past just the technical flatness of the narration.



Gamercow

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Reply #15 on: June 03, 2011, 02:51:08 PM
The first 20 minutes or so of this story were dense.  So much so, I felt the story would improve upon a second listening, and it did.  Matt and Listener have it right though, the author is trying to cram an eight course meal into a happy meal box.  World building like this necessitates a lot of words and a lot of space.  Unfortunately there is neither in this format, and things suffer for it.  I liked the MC, and her history and motivation, and I liked the exploration of the kathoey mindset and outlook.  The story as a whole is okay, but could have been made better if stretched to a novella length.

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InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #16 on: June 03, 2011, 04:19:42 PM
My first reaction, while only 10 minutes in, is "when did you guys hire a robot?"



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #17 on: June 03, 2011, 05:07:13 PM
Ok, I've listened to the whole things now, and my reaction was that while interesting, I agree that the front-loaded density makes it a bit off-putting, and I thought the setting and outre sexuality made it a little too reminiscent of The Wind-Up Girl and River of Gods.

But the real problem for me, given all that front-loaded density, was the flat reading, especially at the beginning. She warmed to it at the end, but it took a while.



l33tminion

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Reply #18 on: June 03, 2011, 05:40:42 PM
Bluh. The setting was "out there" in a way that seemed exploitation-y rather than interesting, the story never made me care about the characters or their motivations.



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #19 on: June 03, 2011, 06:29:21 PM
For me, this story was everything <a href=" http://escapepod.org/2010/11/11/ep-265-kachikachi-yama/">Kachikachi Yama[/url] tried - and failed - to be. There were weird themes of futurism and transhumanism all wrapped up in the passions and flaws of real people. The difference was that while Kachikachi Yama was about an unsympathetic jerk with an outdated idea of "honor," The Night Train was about a much more believable, sympathetic, and genuine antiheroine. Darwin's Choice was an incredibly neat love interest and the Frogfather was amusingly bizarre. Overall, I adored the feel of the story: the complexity, the brutality, the beauty, the weirdness, the sexiness, the weird sexiness... all of it really worked for me.

Five out of five zeppelins.

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matweller

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Reply #20 on: June 04, 2011, 04:37:00 AM
For me, this story was everything <a href=" http://escapepod.org/2010/11/11/ep-265-kachikachi-yama/">Kachikachi Yama[/url] tried - and failed - to be.

Excellent observation. I concur.



Faraway Ray

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Reply #21 on: June 07, 2011, 06:26:32 PM
Literally just finished listening to this. Dear god, was that really only forty minutes? if I hadn't had laundry to fold I'd have turned it off about fourteen minutes in.

By about the ten minute mark I was barely paying attention. There is way way too much backstory and hardly any of it relates to anything important to the reader. We get an absurd amount of detail about the main character, none of which ever becomes relevant. Why does the transgender stuff matter? It's fine as a setting detail, but maybe only in a few sentences, instead of a lengthy discourse over the blah blah blah "hands" (irrelevant) blah "kept the penis" (irrelevant) blah "guy I know gave people VD for the hell of it" (not a factor) blah blah etc.  It might've helped if we had any reason to care about the MC, but all of the things she looks back on feel very factual and dull, as if she never had any emotional stake in her past. It's hard to empathize with someone who doesn't seem to have any goals.

Sad to say, part of that might just be the reading, which was very monotone and flat. The end sequence on the train should have been tense but it ends up moving at about the same pace as the rest.


A story of lust, violence and jelly.

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Scattercat

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Reply #22 on: June 07, 2011, 08:11:02 PM
I dunno what story you guys listened to.  That was awesome.  I'm with ElecPal; Kachikachi Yama tried to be cyberpunk, but this was cyberpunk.

(For reference, Darwin's Choice was not there to serve as a plot revelation; he was there to serve as thematic foil to Boss Gui.  The story is about the conflict between the desire to change oneself - to 'evolve,' as the posthuman put it - or to strive for stasis and control.  Boss Gui chooses to clone himself and install those clones as leaders everywhere he can to preserve his own power; DC, it is implied, chose to destroy himself in the creation of a new and better posthuman digital entity.  The former will eventually totter and fall to the Red Queen as all monocultures will; the latter will survive.  Moulin Rouge, as a normal human who has transitioned genders, is in a position to appreciate aspects of both, and is slowly losing her own self to her gradual transformations in Boss Gui's service.)

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Salul

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Reply #23 on: June 08, 2011, 03:23:17 AM
I'm sorry to say it, but I'm in there with those who just weren't able to get into this story. The narration was, as a matter of fact, flat, and that didn't help.

For the record, I thought Kachikachi Yama worked quite a bit better than this - at least insofar as it didn't try cramming so much stuff in at once. The storyline wasn't terribly original, but as a short story and cyberpunk I thought it worked well enough.

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Gamercow

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Reply #24 on: June 08, 2011, 01:55:21 PM
More stuff.  First off, I have to get this off my chest.  <Public Enemy> Y'all look out for the night train! </Public Enemy>

Secondly, this story reaffirmed that everyone that is posthuman after the singularity is a pompous asshole.

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