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Author Topic: EP311: The Faithful Soldier, Prompted  (Read 3562 times)
eytanz
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« on: September 23, 2011, 12:53:46 PM »

EP311: The Faithful Soldier, Prompted

by Saladin Ahmed

Read by Rajan Khanna

Special thanks to Hugo award winning Starship Sofa for allowing us to use Rajan Khanna’s narration that originally ran November 17, 2010.

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Rated appropriate for 15 and older due to language.

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Rain
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« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2011, 01:07:26 PM »

A common criticism i have about some short stories is that i feel we arent getting a full story, this was probably the best example of that in recent times. I had to check the file on the Escape Pod site just to be sure there wasnt a problem with the one on iTunes, the story ended so abruptly without any of the plot points getting resolved, it just felt like a very strange story to write.

That being said, even though i think it had major problems, i enjoyed what there was and it sounded like an interesting universe that i wouldnt mind hearing more from.

Also Norm Sherman continues to be incredible when hosting, i look forward to his intros just as much as i do the stories.
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statisticus
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« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2011, 07:52:02 PM »

I'm with Rain on this one.  The world that is built up for this story is an intriguing one, and I liked the way the decaying & glitchy technology becomes a background for world that otherwise looks like a pre-technological fairy tale of the Arabian Nights type.  The narrative was engaging and the characters interesting - I really sympathised with Ali & wanted him to succeed.

That said, the story didn't make much sense.  Ali gets a mysterious message from his glitchy implants which sends him on a hazardous quest for a cure for his wife.  So far, so good.  When he gets there there is no further guidance and he is arrested and beaten up, only to receive second hand the information of the next part of his quest.  He is then released, and the story ends abruptly, though we are given to understand that he will find the treasure and get home in time to cure his wife.  The ending felt way too rushed, and the motives of whatever is sending the messages is very unclear.  Why does it want to help Ali?  Why does it rely on a second hand message, delivered almost by accident, for the final vital clue?

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slag
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« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2011, 09:08:35 PM »

That captain fellow was such a nice man.
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jayazman
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« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2011, 10:59:53 PM »

To answer Norm's question, yes.  If a bush spontaneously burst into flames and burned without burning and started talking to me, yes I would do what it said.  Either something completely awesome was happening to me, or I was dreaming.  Either way, I'm going down that rabbit hole.  "My branches, oh the agony!"  Norm is great.

This story made me think about the world in which it is framed.  I thought of a society where your credit rating permeated every aspect of society, from your social standing, to your job, even in religious matters.  No matter how powerful you were, whether socially or politically or religiously, your credit rating made you or broke you.  Only one being was powerful enough to not need a credit rating, God, who needs no credit rating.  I can only imagine the impact of the credit rating on people's lives, and the fallout when that structure was challenged.

This story felt like an after story.  This is what happened to one of the characters after the main story had been told.  I imagined there is a whole series of novels that told the story of this world, and the wars and trials of the characters in that world.  I hope someday they are written, I would love to read them.

I liked that the author didn't feel the need to finish the story absolutely.  If Ali made it home, dug up the cure and saved his wife, then we've all already read that ending and there is no reason to write it out.  Or, there is another story waiting to be written about Ali, his trip home and what happens to his wife.  I personally hope for the latter, I want more stories in this world and with these characters.

Another thing this story made me think about is how many other people the thieves had tried to get to come to the mosque and deactivate the wall before they got Ali to do it.  Also, why weren't the OS problems ever fixed?  Even the Captain had glitches in his OS so it wasn't just the losers of the war who had them.  Maybe there is a reason, maybe not, just made me wonder.

I liked this story and Rajan Khanna's reading.
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enoch
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« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2011, 12:11:01 AM »

I really enjoyed this story... but I would be lying if I said I wasnt a bit confused. I top felt as if the ending was a little abrupt, and I wasnt sure where the story went after it ended, but maybe that was the point? I felt as if there was this big journey, the trip to the mosque, then the whole interegation bit. But then the cimax hits, and its immediately over.
I did enjoy how the god in this culture was a glorified computer, It makes sense in a way that It could happen to us.

Overall, definitely worth a listen to, but not amazing in my book.


Did I miss the part of the story that explained why this fountain with riches was important? I felt as if it was added in, and the author forgot to come back to it.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2011, 08:44:31 AM »

I'd listened to this over on StarShipSofa when it aired over there.

I liked much about this story, but most of all I liked the mysterious nature of the prompted guidance, manifesting apparently as a glitch but giving real guidance along the way.  Is it someone trying to help him, someone trying to use him as a tool to their own devices, an AI pulling strings, a god?  I don't think you can really know, but I like to speculate.

The ending felt way too rushed, and the motives of whatever is sending the messages is very unclear.  Why does it want to help Ali?  Why does it rely on a second hand message, delivered almost by accident, for the final vital clue?

The unclear motiviation was important to my enjoyment of the story.  This prompt is taking on the apparent form of a god, and a god likely wouldn't explain its motivations, and neither would someone who's trying to masquerade as a god to pull strings.  The secondhand message to me just strengthened the speculation, because it's clear that whoever is pulling the strings is VERY good at what its doing.  It understands these people well enough to know how to manipulate them into this outcome even indirectly.
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raetsel
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« Reply #7 on: September 26, 2011, 02:32:39 PM »

Like the other posters I felt the ending was just too abrupt after some excellent foundations for the story. I wondered if i had missed where the fountain was that Ali was heading off towards.

I did take it that by the end of the story Ali had regained his faith in his god.

That captain fellow was such a nice man.

This was one of the highlights of the story.
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SF.Fangirl
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« Reply #8 on: September 26, 2011, 11:34:18 PM »

I liked this story a lot despite the lack of clarity.  I would have like more explanation though.  Did the Sheik let him go because he realized he was the Ali he was looking for?  Did Ali pass the information to him? That what I thought the first listen through.  The second listen I thought that perhaps Ali knew that the fountain with the riches was in his hometown and he would soon be rich enough to save his wife.  But Ali got the message that "she was saved" before he made it out of the prison.  In the end this story was unsatisfying because I think we needed at least a bit more of a hint as to what was happening. Still I found I enjoyed it a lot for a story that left me confused and would like to listen/read more short stories set in this universe.
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l33tminion
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« Reply #9 on: September 27, 2011, 12:38:08 AM »

I liked this story a lot, and I really liked the ending.  I think taking away some of the ambiguity would diminish it.  The ending isn't whether Ali finds or doesn't find the treasure, it's that he's accepted "God's will".  It's also an iconic story of the ex-[whatever] who must put on that mantle one last time, at the end of the story, Ali has finished that one last mission and can truly be at peace.

I really liked the setting, too.  Also, I like the choice of things used to establish that Ali is some sort of super-human badass: Fighting a nano-augmented tiger, and walking from Beirut to Cairo in two weeks.  Honestly, I thought the latter was more evocative, it was more dramatic for being plausible.  If the land between Beirut and Cairo was a wasteland without guarded borders (Israel has met a bad fate in this story's timeline), it would be possible for someone to make that journey (~500 mi.) in that timeframe... if they could survive the wilderness while maintaining a death-march pace for weeks at a time.
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« Reply #10 on: September 27, 2011, 10:51:32 PM »

I loved this story. I thought the ending was perfect, there was no need to add more clarity, mainly because (and maybe this is just me here) this story wasn't really about the physical journey or whether or not Ali's wife lives. This was a story about faith and love. There are not many sci-fi stories out there that are able to cover these issues well without demonizing one or the other. Or both. I loved that there was no way of knowing where the messages were coming from or who sent them. Was it an AI glitch, a higher power, theives, or random chance? That was the beauty of this story. Ali puts his faith in something, hoping for the best, trying to avoid the worst, not knowing what the outcome will actually be; that is faith. To me this story was essentially a lesson in faith, regardless of what you put your faith into (glitchy AI, God, hacked headware, etc.). I thought this story was fantastic.
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brlteach
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« Reply #11 on: September 28, 2011, 03:25:44 PM »

Norm, serious critisism here:  Shame on you.  How dare you presume a theoretical command to reform Depeche Mode (original or not) could be pointless!  May the major god of the 80s (and god of the early 90s) strike you with an eletric keyboard.  And then command you to reform the band.
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brlteach
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« Reply #12 on: September 28, 2011, 03:52:06 PM »

Well, enough Norm-bashing.  I emphatically echo most of the previous posts (I realize emphatically echo is probably an oxymoron):  this was a non-story.  Though it had the basic building blocks of an incredible story, the story ended before I found out what the storyline was about.  Nice world-building, but weak story line.  And, yes, I do understand the story is about the trip itself, but it was incomplete. I was left wondering when the story would begin as it ended.

The reading and sound quality was great.  I look forward to hearing more from this author.  Hopefully, this story will be expanded.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #13 on: September 29, 2011, 08:40:07 AM »

May the major god of the 80s (and god of the early 90s) strike you with an eletric keyboard. 

How about a keytar?
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The Submissions Grinder:  Fiction market listings, submissions tracker, always free, poetry and nonfiction markets coming soon!
InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #14 on: September 29, 2011, 09:30:37 PM »

I won't go so far as to say this is a non-story, but I do think it's a story that lacks a proper resolution. I hate to sound like an old fogey, but it's something of a modern failing. It's a shame really, because I too really liked what story that we got.

So what had happened to our protagonist? And what had the police sheik heard from him - and heard before - that made him release him?

And in answer to Norm's intro question, my first reaction would be to look for the hidden cameras.
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blueeyeddevil
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« Reply #15 on: September 30, 2011, 07:51:31 AM »

This story is rated S for setting (or M for milieu, if you use the Orson Scott Card system).
This whole piece feels like a notebook piece for a larger novel, something written to figure out the tone and details of the world. Something, that were said novel to become successful, would later be tossed into a 'lost stories' compilation. Nothing great, nothing terrible, but most of all, nothing notable.

I'll give the story credit for this, it does buck the typical 'acceptance/refusal of the call' theme. This story was more of a 'accept the call, then get depressed, grab your stuff and go home while the call says "hey, wait, where are you going?" to your departing back' story.
However, this doesn't actually make for a gripping tale. One of the things about the old chestnuts, they get used because they work, more often than not.

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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #16 on: September 30, 2011, 08:18:31 AM »

One of the things about the old chestnuts, they get used because they work, more often than not.

Pop pop pop.
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knigget
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« Reply #17 on: October 02, 2011, 12:51:49 PM »

I haven't commented in a while, but this story demands a comment - because, to me, it's a s close as it gets to a perfect magical realism piece.  Oh, you could probably wave all kinds of genre rules at me that prove it isn't, but the point is - whether its content, or the absolutely perfect reading, made the story work, and the ending I thought was absolutely perfect. It's a Middle Eastern story! And, like the 1001 Nights stories, they don't end so much as segue into the next story. Which we can now look forward to. Which will generate a bunch of loose ends without necessarily tying up any of the ones from this story.

Absolutely loved this one. Award-worthy.
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Gamercow
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« Reply #18 on: October 04, 2011, 03:34:58 PM »

Can someone please hack Saladin's OS to tell him to make a full length novel based on the world built in this short story?  It is a wondrous and genuinely interesting world.  I want to listen to it again to see what I missed.
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Umbrageofsnow
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« Reply #19 on: October 04, 2011, 08:12:16 PM »

Definitely a story worth listening to twice, but I don't want to see a full length novel here.  A great setting can be left undeveloped, I often find stories richer for not being set in the world of 9,000 other pages of fiction.

I see this not as a story about a journey, or faith, per se, but about the human need to reach out for any hope at all when things look completely hopeless.  At the start of the story Ali is described as not particularly religious and he worries that he is going crazy like the guys who kill their wives and claim their prompts told them to.  By the end, he hears himself speaking and sounds just as much the fanatic as the imam and the captain perceive him to be.

He followed the prompts because he had no better hope to save his wife, had there been a better one, at the beginning of the journey, he wouldn't have done anything so crazy.  By the end of the story, he is willing to do anything, because what better hope is there?  He is committed to his faith now because at each point he has no better option than to hope the prompts are helping him.  If they aren't, what else is he going to do to be more useful?  By the end, through repetition of needing this hope, he believes.

I personally subscribe to the powerful AI manipulating people on a larger scale than this story theory, but whether it is human criminals or AI, you can bet that after they leave Ali's "cut" of the theft under that fountain in front of his house, they'll be able to get him to do whatever else they need him to do, out of pure faith.  He has become a useful, fanatically committed tool to whatever cause controls the prompts.

I really liked this story, it begins in media res and ends without any extra frills.  An amazing economy of words, and everyone seems to agree a lot of worldbuilding occurred too.  I think moving critical bits of the story between-the-lines enhances, rather than diminishes, the storytelling.

P.S. for those who don't get why the fountain was significant, from the beginning of the story:
"His thoughts went to her again, to his house behind the jade-and-grey marble fountain"

« Last Edit: October 05, 2011, 03:00:57 AM by Umbrageofsnow » Logged
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