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Author Topic: EP305: Midnight Blue  (Read 5971 times)
eytanz
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« on: August 12, 2011, 01:12:10 AM »

EP305: Midnight Blue

by Will McIntosh

Read by Paul Haring
Originally appeared in Asimov’s

---

He’d never seen a burgundy before.  Kim held it in her lap, tapped it with her finger.  She was probably tapping it to bring attention to it, and Jeff didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of asking to see it, but he really wanted to see it.  Burgundy (Kim had insisted on calling it burgundy red when she showed it at show and tell) was a rare one.  Not as rare as a hot pink Flyer or a viridian Better Looking, but still rare.

A bus roared up, spitting black smoke.  It was the seven bus–the Linden Court bus, not his.  Kids rushed to line up in front of the big yellow doors as the bus hissed to a stop.  A second-grader squealed, shoved a bigger kid with her Partridge Family lunch box because he’d stepped on her foot.  All the younger kids seemed to have Partridge Family lunch boxes this year.

“What did you say it did when you’ve got all three pieces of the charm together?”  Jeff asked Kim.  He said it casually, like he was just making conversation until his bus came.

“It relaxes time,” Kim said.  “When you’re bored you can make time pass quickly, and when you’re having fun you can make time stretch out.”

Jeff nodded, tried to look just interested enough to be polite, but no more.  What must that be like, to make the hour at church fly by?  Or make the school day (except for lunch and recess) pass in an eyeblink?  Jeff wondered how fast or slow you could move things along.  Could you make it seem like you were eating an ice cream sandwich for six hours?  That would be sparkling fine.

“Want to see it?” Kim asked.

“Okay,” Jeff said, holding out his hands too eagerly before he remembered himself.  Kim handed it to him, looking pleased with herself, the dimples on her round face getting a little deeper.

It was smooth as marble, perfectly round, big as a grapefruit and heavy as a bowling ball.  It made Jeff’s heart hammer to hold it.  The rich red, which hinted at purple while still being certainly red, was so beautiful it seemed impossible, so vivid it made his blue shirt seem like a Polaroid photo left in the sun too long.

“Imagine finding this in the wild?  Pushing over a dead tree and seeing it sitting there under the root?” Jeff said.


Rated appropriate for everyone!

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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grokman
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« Reply #1 on: August 12, 2011, 10:49:07 AM »

When I first heard that this was by the author of Bridesicle I was a little dismayed, as that one left me (sorry) cold, but Will McIntosh is definitely on my radar now. Awesome, fun story. All characters seemed authentic, and their reactions perfect. It left me wanting to hear more about when the spheres first showed up on earth; although it might be too late to hear that story now considering how this one ended. At first I was surprised that the government didn't step in and confiscate all spheres with unknown abilities - after all, the world lucked out that the sphere was REPRODUCTION - it could easily have been ANNIHILATION. Or maybe GROWTH - and all of the symbiotes ingested the world over suddenly grew 1000%, exploding out of everyone's bodies. Oh wait, this isn't PseudoPod  Grin
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matweller
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« Reply #2 on: August 12, 2011, 11:12:38 AM »

Hehe -- I was expecting APOCALYPSE, actually, but REPRODUCTION was a great way to go. Very Hitchcock/Twilight Zone. Very fun!
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Equalizer
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« Reply #3 on: August 12, 2011, 07:35:44 PM »

I agree with Mur in the fun-ness. Through the whole story, I kept thinking of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. While not exactly science-fiction, that story held a few similarities to this one. The honest, but poor, child trying to make a name for himself finds a priceless item. Except, in this story, Charlie actually sells the golden ticket. But, hey, everything worked out ok after all. I really liked this story. Simple, with an elegant happy ending.
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heyes
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« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2011, 08:01:33 PM »

Listening to this story I had to keep reminding myself that this was not an episode of Pseudopod.  I kept waiting for the nasty twist at the end.  However, this was not a Pseudopod episode!  It was a wonderfully fun story that brought me back to some of my own (less super powered) adventures as a kiddo. The story made me think about all of the computer/console rpg's I've played over the years, not to mention all sorts of anime, and what it must be like to be a normal person in those settings as well.  I mean, for example, the gameboy variations of Zelda show that when Link cuts the grass he gets rupees. So what about the the farmer who cuts the grass for hay?

Good pick folks.
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CryptoMe
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« Reply #5 on: August 12, 2011, 09:31:55 PM »

Definitely fun!

But, I would like to know why this world was stuck in the 70's; Partridge Family, sphere catelogues instead of databases, cashier's cheque instead of automatic money transfer, etc.  I don't know why, but it kind of struck me as odd and needing some explanation.  Maybe people stopped creating new art and developing new technology because their efforts were side-tracked by the quest for "powers"? Just a thought....
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grokman
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« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2011, 11:48:59 PM »

But, I would like to know why this world was stuck in the 70's; Partridge Family, sphere catelogues instead of databases, cashier's cheque instead of automatic money transfer, etc.  I don't know why, but it kind of struck me as odd and needing some explanation.  Maybe people stopped creating new art and developing new technology because their efforts were side-tracked by the quest for "powers"? Just a thought....
I just assumed that it was set in the 70's (but not "stuck"). The 70's were a more innocent time for kids than today is. I grew up in the 70's and running around town at age 11 with my best friend was something that I enjoyed and something that I wish my teenage daughter could've experienced more. I think that being set in a more innocent time was crucial to the story's FUN, as it would've seemed unlikely that many kids today would be interested in trying to catch carp bare-handed.
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acpracht
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« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2011, 11:39:54 AM »

Cool! Pokemon for everyone!
OK, not quote the same thing, but I definitely got that fun vibe of wanting to collect and discover and show off the rare one you worked so hard to find.
Mur definitely got it right: F-U-N.
There was one point when I was a little dismayed that Jeff chose to sell the midnight blue (No, kid! Hold onto your dreams. Stick it to the man!) But his motivation for doing so was well set up (you're never going to get to see what it does if you hold onto it, so you might as well trade and get some of the spheres you've always dreamed of, plus make your mom happy and buy a house, etc.) It's the equivalent of the middle class kid trading the one awesome card (he managed to pull from the one booster pack he bought) for a rich kid's entire collection: the rich kid gets to fawn over the one super-rare, but the middle class kid actually gets to play.
And of course, it turned out brilliantly. I don't think it could have ended any other way that would be satisfying.
I'd like to see this turned into a full-length novel, with more exploration of how the spheres came to be.
Excellent choice - more fun ones like this, please!

-Adam
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corydodt
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« Reply #8 on: August 13, 2011, 03:25:05 PM »

Great story. Thanks, Escape Pod, for sharing. Smiley

[...] it would've seemed unlikely that many kids today would be interested in trying to catch carp bare-handed.

Totally agree here. I went right along with it when this scene occurred in the story. Had it been set in 2011, that scene would have seemed grossly unrealistic, mostly because modern kids entertain themselves in different ways than 70's kids entertained themselves.

But . . .

The 70's were a more innocent time for kids than today is.

Can we put this expression to bed finally? There were no "more innocent times". Our history is one of change and changing tastes. There is as much innocence today as there was when I was a kid in the 70's and 80's. The idea is an invention of our imperfect memories and authors of fiction who like to magnify the flawed perception of our past.

The setting didn't impinge on the story very much here, so I can't fault this particular author for doing it; the story fit together perfectly and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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washer
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« Reply #9 on: August 14, 2011, 04:19:20 AM »

Fun with a capital F.  Yessir.

This story was pretty light-hearted, no one did anything evil to acquire spheres, there was no terrible ending, and the billionaire wasn't a scheming bastard out to kill our bright-eyed protagonist.  I liked that.  Every now and again a story where you don't have to see the worst in people is alright by me.

Despite the fun factor, I still found my brain wracked by the ending.  If the midnight blue reproduces, and there are only two, what will happen to the midnights of this next generation?  Will the people who discover the midnight blues combine them for the good of everyone or hold out all miser-like waiting for a payout, or will they perhaps try to steal it?  How will the economics of spheres work after they become so numerous again?  Will that smoking guy's shop close down?  Will new powers become available that weren't there before?  Will people save some powers to give to their children or loved ones, or begin hoarding them to sell once the supply runs scarce again?

Argh.  I've got even more questions than that.  Stories like this always do that to me.  Don't get me wrong, McIntosh did a great job, I just wish I could corner him and make him answer all my questions so I could stop all this darn rattling around in my head!
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matweller
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« Reply #10 on: August 14, 2011, 09:26:44 AM »

Great story. Thanks, Escape Pod, for sharing. Smiley

[...] it would've seemed unlikely that many kids today would be interested in trying to catch carp bare-handed.

Totally agree here. I went right along with it when this scene occurred in the story. Had it been set in 2011, that scene would have seemed grossly unrealistic, mostly because modern kids entertain themselves in different ways than 70's kids entertained themselves.

I'm 36 and I just found out what 'noodling' was on an episode of Insomniac with Dave Attell less than 10 years ago. People still do it.

If the midnight blue reproduces, and there are only two, what will happen to the midnights of this next generation?  Will the people who discover the midnight blues combine them for the good of everyone or hold out all miser-like waiting for a payout, or will they perhaps try to steal it?  How will the economics of spheres work after they become so numerous again?

My assumption about this was that each generation has only one Midnight Blue, but they are so hard to find that people forget what they do in between. I thought the author was making the suggestion that the Midnight Blue was basically the equalizer. I could posit the political suggestions involved there, but I'm trying not to be a broken record. Wink
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Swamp
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« Reply #11 on: August 14, 2011, 12:22:02 PM »

Wonderful story!  The kind that makes me love Escape Pod!  And a perfect foil for the cynicism and of last week's story.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #12 on: August 15, 2011, 09:04:22 AM »

My assumption about this was that each generation has only one Midnight Blue, but they are so hard to find that people forget what they do in between. I thought the author was making the suggestion that the Midnight Blue was basically the equalizer. I could posit the political suggestions involved there, but I'm trying not to be a broken record. Wink

I think you're probably right on that, but I get the impression that this is only the 2nd iteration of the spheres, so we'd have to wait until the next Midnight Blues were found to be sure.

But, I would like to know why this world was stuck in the 70's; Partridge Family, sphere catelogues instead of databases, cashier's cheque instead of automatic money transfer, etc.  I don't know why, but it kind of struck me as odd and needing some explanation.  Maybe people stopped creating new art and developing new technology because their efforts were side-tracked by the quest for "powers"? Just a thought....

I think it was just plain set in the 70s, though of course a 70s with the spheres added in, an alt-hist fantasy I guess you could call it.  Since Johnny Carson is the popular talk show host, assuming that's similar to our timeline, he retired in 1992 and died in 2005, so that gives a couple decade window for it to happen.  Unless Carson had some longevity spheres or something.

Anyway, cute story.  I liked the kid and I was rooting for him.  His dilemma was very well set up.  That would be a hell of a hard choice, deciding whether to sell that or not.  It was actually a little disappointing that the millionaire had so handily cornered the situation and could tell him straight out that the boy will never get the staff and other sphere.  That made the decision a no-brainer.  Would you rather have $850k, or a shiny sphere that does nothing for you?  If it hadn't been that cleancut the dilemma would've been that much stronger I think.  but still, I generally liked it.

One thing that I didn't like so much was that the whole "collect the spheres" idea reminded me of video game sidequests that I tend to avoid if possible, of the "collect 100s of collectible items to get something worthwhile" variety.  Especially Diablo 2, wherein you have a combiner that takes lesser items and makes a greater item.  As a result, to really make it ahead in the game you collect several cracked gems and combine into a flawed gem, find several flawed gems and combine into a better quality gem, etc...  A few minutes into that and I was annoyed at the amount of time it was going to take to get any worthwhile gem (which can then be permanently implanted into an item to give it extra attributes).
--Anyway, that association isn't really a flaw in the story, just a flaw in the video games it reminds me of.
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P.C. Haring
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« Reply #13 on: August 15, 2011, 05:59:03 PM »


If the midnight blue reproduces, and there are only two, what will happen to the midnights of this next generation?  Will the people who discover the midnight blues combine them for the good of everyone or hold out all miser-like waiting for a payout, or will they perhaps try to steal it?  How will the economics of spheres work after they become so numerous again?

My assumption about this was that each generation has only one Midnight Blue, but they are so hard to find that people forget what they do in between. I thought the author was making the suggestion that the Midnight Blue was basically the equalizer. I could posit the political suggestions involved there, but I'm trying not to be a broken record. Wink

I took the interpretation that the Midnight Blue wasn't an 'equalizer' in design, but given how commercial the spheres had become, how depleted the supply had been that the market for spheres had evolved into the haves vs the have nots, the use of the Midnight Blue leveled the playing field.  Those who had no powers, and no resources with which to buy spheres, had a shot...and those who had spent so much time and money in collecting everything had essentially wasted all that effort and the values of their investments had, in that instant, plummeted faster than the U.S Stock market did last week. 

Now what happens with this generations of Midnight Blues are found...who knows....
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matweller
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« Reply #14 on: August 16, 2011, 08:00:11 AM »

I took the interpretation that the Midnight Blue wasn't an 'equalizer' in design, but given how commercial the spheres had become, how depleted the supply had been that the market for spheres had evolved into the haves vs the have nots, the use of the Midnight Blue leveled the playing field.  Those who had no powers, and no resources with which to buy spheres, had a shot...and those who had spent so much time and money in collecting everything had essentially wasted all that effort and the values of their investments had, in that instant, plummeted faster than the U.S Stock market did last week. 

Now what happens with this generations of Midnight Blues are found...who knows....
I think the author just had a mother who collected Beanie Babies and was left holding a metric ton when the value washed off of them...  It's like any other fad collectible -- people race to be the "richest," that guy gets on TV and is the awe of the world for a week and the next fad comes and he's the proud owner of a pile of worthless crap. I won't lie and say I've never been caught up in such a thing, but I'm pretty sure I haven't been since high school. It always amazes me when adults fall for that mess.
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« Reply #15 on: August 16, 2011, 08:33:08 AM »

I took the interpretation that the Midnight Blue wasn't an 'equalizer' in design, but given how commercial the spheres had become, how depleted the supply had been that the market for spheres had evolved into the haves vs the have nots, the use of the Midnight Blue leveled the playing field.  Those who had no powers, and no resources with which to buy spheres, had a shot...and those who had spent so much time and money in collecting everything had essentially wasted all that effort and the values of their investments had, in that instant, plummeted faster than the U.S Stock market did last week. 

Now what happens with this generations of Midnight Blues are found...who knows....
I think the author just had a mother who collected Beanie Babies and was left holding a metric ton when the value washed off of them...  It's like any other fad collectible -- people race to be the "richest," that guy gets on TV and is the awe of the world for a week and the next fad comes and he's the proud owner of a pile of worthless crap. I won't lie and say I've never been caught up in such a thing, but I'm pretty sure I haven't been since high school. It always amazes me when adults fall for that mess.

Remember pogs?  Good god, those were the dumbest fad I've ever seen, little cardboard circles.  I was even in the target age group for them, and I knew a lot of people who were really into them and I just couldn't fathom it.  I kind of wanted to grab them by the shirt and yell "You know they're just cardboard circles, right??!?!"

Not that I haven't spent my share of money on junk, but it's usually junk of the variety that I find amusing or entertaining without other people telling me so.  The nice thing is, non-fad junk tends to be much less expensive than fad junk.  Smiley
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hangfire
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« Reply #16 on: August 16, 2011, 11:43:42 AM »

This story really succeeds in portraying the mind of a child, and getting across the feeling of being young. I actlually really enjoyed the retro- elements; it's not often that science fiction stories have telegrams! I was pretty disappointed by the ending though, while not as formulaic as "He gets to wish that everyone could get talents regardless of wealth", it was pretty predictable.

I felt most let down by the final sentence. Why not "there were so many spheres out there to find, swap and share, and Jimmy wanted to every one of them. Gotta get 'em all."
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« Reply #17 on: August 16, 2011, 06:48:10 PM »

Hmmm....a flying millionaire named Branson who wants to own everything? I wonder....

A pretty good story. Very fun and evocative of a more innocent time.
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bolddeceiver
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« Reply #18 on: August 16, 2011, 07:57:45 PM »

I too assumed this was the first time around the cycle, which leads me to think -- next time around, you can bet it's going to take a lot longer for a midnight blue to get used, as those who benefit from their scarcity are now know to buy the midnight blue pieces up and keep them locked up safely so long as there's still money to be made in selling or monopolizing the charms (that is, if they aren't destroyed outright).

Fun story, and one that's kept me thinking these kinds of "if...then" scenarios since listening yesterday afternoon, which is usually a big selling-point in spec-fic for me.

I just assumed that it was set in the 70's (but not "stuck").

I thought that it was pretty much explicit that it at very least wasn't present-day, given the daydreams about being interviewed by Johnny Carson.  (Oh wait, unless Johnny absorbed an Eternal Youth?  Hmmm...)

Can we put this expression to bed finally? There were no "more innocent times". Our history is one of change and changing tastes. There is as much innocence today as there was when I was a kid in the 70's and 80's. The idea is an invention of our imperfect memories and authors of fiction who like to magnify the flawed perception of our past.

Quoted for truth.
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childoftyranny
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« Reply #19 on: August 16, 2011, 09:15:35 PM »

My assumption about this was that each generation has only one Midnight Blue, but they are so hard to find that people forget what they do in between. I thought the author was making the suggestion that the Midnight Blue was basically the equalizer. I could posit the political suggestions involved there, but I'm trying not to be a broken record. Wink

I know there is no indication of this at all, but I like to think each time the spheres are reset their powers switch out, thusly, the midnight blue is something different each time, so that the only way to know which one is the reproducer is to fathom its rarity, and you'll only figure that out after however many years it takes to get to this level of scarcity again, so plenty of time to forget. *sings Koom Ba Yah*
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