Escape Artists



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Author Topic: EP296: For Want of a Nail  (Read 16026 times)


  • Lochage
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Reply #40 on: June 20, 2011, 07:03:23 PM
Oh, Hallelujah!  Frabjous day!

A Hugo story that actually has a plot, character development, and drama!  It's marvelous.  Not only that, but it made twists and turns along the way.  One of my favorite Hugo nominees ever. Thank you!

At least one of the other has all these things too!  Peter Watts's "The Things".  I'm looking forward to hearing the other two, maybe it'll be a very well rounded year!
Just listened to that over at Clarkesworld. Now that is class.

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


  • Lochage
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Reply #41 on: June 20, 2011, 10:57:33 PM
I didnt really get the problem with Cordelia, now that they knew the uncle was not in his right mind why did have to mess with her programing or revert to the older copy? That extra code really didnt matter anymore.
Ok story, nothing i was crazy about.
I think the problem was that they had to treat her like a compromised system.  They can't trust Cordellia to do it's job anymore.  Whenever the protagonist thought she had cleaned up the mess, the code reasserted itself. 

In IT thought, a computer that's been infected/compromised can
almost never be trusted again.  It takes a high degree of certainty about what really happened to make sure you aren't leaving backdoors in place or something, and it felt like they couldn't each that certainty with Cordellia. 


  • Extern
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Reply #42 on: June 23, 2011, 05:20:27 PM
Joined to say how much I enjoyed this story. It satisfies a particular part of my scifi appetite that I often don't get from contemporary SF. A hard-science problem and its social consequences? Perfect!

One thing the story did which had nothing to do with the story itself was it reminded me how ANGRY a book made me. This book (actually two books) is the Commonwealth saga by Peter F. Hamilton. I'm going to avoid naming specific characters in the spoiler space below, but it will still be spoily to see the event coming at all, even if you don't know who it's about: Er, never mind, this forum doesn't have the SPOILER tag. Shocking! Don't read between the lines then...

--------------------- spoilers for Pandora's star and Judas Unchained -------------------
The bad guys in these books have the ability to make people sleeper agents, with the compromise buried so deep that  the victim can't tell it's happened, even if they are activated. In the story, a woman is so compromised, and given a compulsion to fall in love with a main character, which puts her in a position later to do a VERY BAD THING, the cause of which we don't know for something north of 1000 pages. When all this finally comes out, the woman is sent for "deprogramming". The main character tosses this off as no big deal, he'll get his wife back and he could keep the good stuff - she'll still love him.

HOLD THE HELL ON. The entire reason she fell in love with you was outside of her control. If you're removing the bad programming, you gotta remove the compulsion too, and start the relationship from scratch, AT MOST (better off to let the woman live her life never knowing you; you have WAY too much inside information about her). This destroyed the story for me, because it solidified the idea I was getting during the books that the "good guys" weren't really all that good eitther, and their vaunted society was creepy as all hell.
------------------------------------------ END SPOILERS ----------------------------------------

Anyway, what I really liked about "for want of a nail" is that it faced the same problem - the unrecoverable compromise of the personality of a loved one (Cordelia), and made a hard choice. That right there is excellent drama.

I didnt really get the problem with Cordelia, now that they knew the uncle was not in his right mind why did have to mess with her programing or revert to the older copy? That extra code really didnt matter anymore.

They found the code that made Cordelia protect Georgio, but not the part that caused her to erase evidence that it was happening. The concern, and this is a classic one going back to HAL in 2001, is that as Georgio gets worse and worse, the compulsion to protect him will make Cordelia go to greater and greater lengths. Say, turn off the air in Rava's compartment if she figured it out and nobody was around to see it. Cordelia would become a danger to everyone.

Perhaps a better AI designer would have figured out how to seperate Cordelia's recordkeeping functions from her core personality, but I suspect that if we ever get an AI, it will be just as difficult to do this as it would be to erase a single memory from a person without affecting anything else. Forgetting things HURTS - it's maddening when you can't think of a word, but you can think of everything surrounding that word. You'd have to do massive "pruning" to avoid that kind of effect, and I think that's exactly what the rollback is for. Capturing a state is a lot easier than altering the interconnections.

« Last Edit: June 23, 2011, 05:47:16 PM by Peevester »


  • Palmer
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  • Too much knowledge never makes for simple decision
Reply #43 on: June 24, 2011, 04:52:50 AM
Loved this story and hated it at the same time. Living with a relative who is currently mentally deterriorating in front of me daily, there is something to be said for protecting and taking care of the elderly and I immediately reject the idea of shirking this responsibility. However this is a very painful process and it's at that point where I do not know if he even knows I'm here, talking to him, and what comfort I can give him beyond a warm bed and warm food.
I loved the idea that the AI was not only the recorder of the family, but part of the family. That is until she malfunctions against the wishes of said family and they essentially kill her and start up a new one. Crazy, but I love it.

I don't know who you are or where you came from, but from now on you'll do as I tell you, okay?


  • Peltast
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Reply #44 on: June 26, 2011, 03:07:36 AM
Great story, weak ending.

-Dave (aka Nev the Deranged)


  • Palmer
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Reply #45 on: June 28, 2011, 02:12:48 AM
Oh, Hallelujah!  Frabjous day!
...One of my favorite Hugo nominees ever. Thank you!

Amen to that.
For the past two years running I had begun to really lose interest in the Hugo nominations. This story delivers the goods and has brought back a serious ray of hope. It ain't perfect, and yes the ending is slightly anticlimactic; but it's intelligent, it develops as it goes along...AND it is true and unadulterated sci-fi.

Rushing over to Clarkesworld now.

There be islands in the Central Sea, whose waters are bounded by no shore and where no ships come...

Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany


  • Lochage
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Reply #46 on: June 29, 2011, 08:09:43 PM
Very, very nice indeed. Really enjoyed this one, though it took me some time to get into it. I loved how the situation unraveled and Cordelia found a bigger mess than she had planned on, one that had great ramifications for her. I pretty much saw how it tied into the the plot.

On a side note..."awkwardness"? I thought the comments were pretty valid. It wasn't as if I was going to go over to someone's house and beat them with my flip-flop if they didn't like my story...

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  • Hipparch
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Reply #47 on: June 29, 2011, 08:18:35 PM
It wasn't as if I was going to go over to someone's house and beat them with my flip-flop if they didn't like my story...

No, you only do that if he refuses to marry you after his brother leaves you a widow :P.

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  • Peltast
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Reply #48 on: October 27, 2019, 11:03:01 PM
I really like the idea of an A.I. acting as a family chronicler. I've often regretted not asking my grandparents about the times they lived in while I had the chance. It would be awesome to have a "family" member like Cordelia who had first hand knowledge over several generations.

I also found the the idea of paralleling dementia with Cordelia's loss of memory to be a clever idea.

Having said all that, I found the scene of the family meeting near the end confusing. Were Cordelia's decisions based solely on the uncle's tampering? I f so, why was she still protecting him after the code had been removed? Why would the family insist on scrapping a valuable piece of technology? They have no compunctions about recycling flesh and blood relatives, so why not force a rollback on a machine?

I think there is a great story here, but that penultimate scene isn't as clear to me as I wish it was.