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Author Topic: EP317: Boxed In  (Read 3809 times)
eytanz
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« on: November 04, 2011, 08:32:34 AM »

EP317: Boxed In

By Marc-Anthony Taylor

Read by Barry Haworth

First appeared in British Fantasy Society Winter Journal 2010/2011

This one isn’t for the kids, because of references to sex workers and acts.
---

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #1 on: November 04, 2011, 09:02:43 AM »

I am the King Under the Mountain and this is the first post on this thread.

I really liked where this story was going, but I feel like it didn't quite get there. I understand the ending the author was going for - epic action begets epic consequences of a scope that this short story is too short to detail but trust me, it's going to be awesome - but something about it didn't work. Perhaps it was the main character's bland, clever passivity. Perhaps it was the abruptness of the ending, that I didn't feel I had enough time to really appreciate the scope of what was about to happen.

Or perhaps it was simply that I didn't really understand exactly what was about to happen. Is the idea that everyone was infected with HIV-3? Where the people trailing behind just a pack of the infected, ready to go breath on the rich? Or was it merely that the poor people were going to get into the domes, and that was supposed to be enough to screw things up? Because if the Occupy X movement has taught us anything, it's that the powers-that-be are willing to use force to push the dirty hippies out of the park and the sterilize it after they're gone.

It seems like that would be an anticlimax.

Anyway, the story didn't quite fly with me, but it was very close and I enjoyed it in the meantime.
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Seekerpilgrim
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« Reply #2 on: November 05, 2011, 12:52:35 AM »

Not quite sure about this one. It felt like the beginning of a much larger tale, and the story doesn't so much end as stop. The idea of digital prostitution isn't new (though the fact that his sister is his pimp is a new, somewhat disturbing twist), I'm really burnt out on Now-Then-Now-Then-Now narratives, and while I'd like to consider myself fairly intelligent, I'm not sure what the last bits are supposed to mean. The beginning of a revolution? A heist on the grandfather's belongings? The "rescue" of Amanda from her Rapunzel-like imprisonment? Hmm...I guess I AM sure about this one; I wanted to like it, but I didn't.
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Dem
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« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2011, 09:23:27 AM »

All of the above. There's something quite worthy about this despite it being a little cliché-bound at times. It had me visualising Victorian children being forced to clean chimneys in a post-apocalyptic, steam-punk dystopia (see - I meant it about the clichés!), but it never got quite grubby or soiled enough. I didn't like or dislike any of the characters enough to come down on their side so I didn't know whether to root for everyone getting access to the domes, or the clean guys getting turfed out. Despite the content warnings, it felt somewhat sanitised - although it's hard to see how the use of child digital prostitutes is consistent with the character's claim that child abuse was not allowed. I would have liked something a bit more committed, less YA and more gritty realism. I should have been wanting to wash my hands to get the grime out of my skin but somehow that didn't quite happen.
BTW, the link to Barry Haworth, goes to Mat Weller's site.
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raetsel
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« Reply #4 on: November 06, 2011, 11:10:35 AM »

I had real problems with the audio quality on this episode. The narration starting off waxing and waning from really tinny to "popping" bass. I was listening in headphones and switched to room speakers but it was still noticeable. That calmed down a bit about 9 minutes in to the episode but then there was still problems with the background plastic squeaking now again like the mouse or keyboard moving by the mic.

I guess I'm spoiled by the usual excellent quality of the audio on Escape Artitsts 'casts but the sound really distracted me.

So maybe that put me in a bad mood but I didn't enjoy this story. The basic concept of virtual riders or vicarious experiences is a well worn trope so you have to do something special to make it interesting but instead this story just flip-flopped back and forth in time to explain what the protagonist had done for the riders.

Like Dem said it did feel sanitised. I didn't think this was some street punk being pimped out by his sister, partly this was the dialogue which was unconvincing and not helped by the narrator's cultured tones. It's ironic that the story is about how riders get to a gritty and visceral experience yet it could not portray any of that to me the reader.

The story could have been cut to a flash piece and be just as interesting. Instead we have the protracted life story and then a big info dump about the domes. When Amanda explained about the domes and said "did you know that?" it felt like it was being addressed to me as the reader and just sort of patronising.
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matweller
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« Reply #5 on: November 07, 2011, 09:39:06 AM »

BTW, the link to Barry Haworth, goes to Mat Weller's site.
Yay, free promo for me!

I had real problems with the audio quality on this episode. The narration starting off waxing and waning from really tinny to "popping" bass. I was listening in headphones and switched to room speakers but it was still noticeable. That calmed down a bit about 9 minutes in to the episode but then there was still problems with the background plastic squeaking now again like the mouse or keyboard moving by the mic.
I apologize for this. I had been working with Barry on getting a decent recording out of him in an effort to get a new voice in the rotation. He finished this one in plenty of time, and I should have screened it sooner so we could work out the kinks together, but I didn't. The failing was mine and I'll try to do better going forward.
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raetsel
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« Reply #6 on: November 07, 2011, 03:19:57 PM »

I apologize for this. I had been working with Barry on getting a decent recording out of him in an effort to get a new voice in the rotation. He finished this one in plenty of time, and I should have screened it sooner so we could work out the kinks together, but I didn't. The failing was mine and I'll try to do better going forward.

Even Homer nods! Like I said I'm spoiled by the usual excellent standards.
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #7 on: November 07, 2011, 03:28:59 PM »

For people who are interested in the tech in this story (brain/machine interfaces):

The day after this story came out, the Brain Science Podcast came out with an episode (to which I have yet to listen) about brain machine interfaces. It's a discussion of concepts from the book Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines--and How It Will Change Our Lives.

That last link takes you to the Brain Science Podcast's Amazon store link to the book. I'm not affiliated with the podcast, except as a fan.


(By the way, I notice that on the post, it says "Epub coming tomorrow!" Is that permanently true? Wink )
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« Reply #8 on: November 07, 2011, 04:28:17 PM »

Meh.
I liked the setting of the story. A nice caste society built atop the ruins of what seems to be a post-industrial wasteland rife with disease and cool tech. Caste systems usually bother me, but this one not so much. Probably because of the symbiotic relationship the two parts seemed to have with each other. Each one used the other and envied the other's greener grass. That could possibly open the door for some great conflict and plot twists... but it didn't.
The story was pretty dry, uneventful and to me played second fiddle to the setting. To the point where I actually said out loud (on a crowded bus) "to hell with this kid's stupid, irrational fear, tell me more about what he's seeing!"
So yeah, I would definitely love to read something a lot longer and more fleshed out taking place in this world.
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Umbrageofsnow
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« Reply #9 on: November 07, 2011, 05:01:38 PM »

The first time I listened to the podcast, I had to rewind. It's a sudden ending, not so much open as lacking in story. He's told to do something, does it, END. We never got to see any change in the character. He never made any difficult decisions, what he did can only improve his life, although that can't be said for others, but neither the character nor the reader is given time to think about any of the implications before the story is over.

Most of the action is caused by the two female characters, his sister, and client, both of whom are static and only appear through dialogue, although they are very much the puppetmasters, he is the unquestioning, unthinking puppet. The world is interesting, but nothing new, and the changes it is about to go through go entirely unexplored, making the setting much less interesting to me than it should be.

No character development, no adventure, no real plot. An overused setting.  Themes of rich versus poor and grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side are brought up, but nothing terribly interesting or new is said. The first 2/3 of the story are entirely character study of a boring, puppet-like main character, nothing interesting happening until the last 1/3 or so. Needless to say, I didn't like it.

I think what strikes me most is how much detail and time were spent on the character's largely-irrelevant childhood, only to wrap up the interesting non-flashback adventure/plot in one sentence.
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corvi42
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« Reply #10 on: November 07, 2011, 07:02:01 PM »

I don't like to slam episodes which I just don't like, but this one had such potential, and didn't go anywhere.

The story was essentially pornography. It was an exploration of the vast range of hedonistic experiences the protagonist was paid to experience on behalf of his bored clients. The whole escape/rescue/revolution thing at the end was massively under-explored. It was so hastily thrown together that I can't even say what it was supposed to be. It very deus ex machina  for the character to be literally flown away by a mysterious affluent benefactor (?or was it really his sister orchestrating it?). There were so many loose threads that this became a tattered mess at the end. Who were all the people in the ragtag caravan following them? What were they hoping to achieve? What was the sisters real role in all of it? What happens when he opens the glass dome? Was this the prison of the "grand daughter" client?  All I can think is that the author really didn't care enough to explore this, and that it was just tacked on to the end as a hasty attempt at creating a narrative in which to place the tales of prostitution which constitute the majority of the story.

The narration was also quite poor. This reader had an upbeat cheery tone throughout what was a very dark and bleak story. All the characters came out sounding like they were having enjoying a splendid day at the beach while describing how depressing their lives were.
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Unblinking
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« Reply #11 on: November 08, 2011, 09:48:42 AM »

This was an interesting idea, though reminiscent of others I've seen, but where is the story?  Where is the conflict? 

Sister:  Here's a contract.  Mucho money, very cushy.  Let's milk this for all it's worth.
Brother:  Okay.
Client:  You can back out anytime you want to, or refuse any request.  Let's go somewhere.
Brother:  Okay.
Client:  Now that we're here let's do something.
Brother:  Ok--
THE END

He never has any difficult decisions, never any real conflict.  It's a foregone conclusion that he'll accept the contract, and he never has any real regrets about accepting it.  And then it just ends.  What the heck?

I found the relationship he had with his sister incredibly creepy.  Maybe someday he'll throw off the yoke she's put on him, but that didn't happen here, so that wasn't this story.

although it's hard to see how the use of child digital prostitutes is consistent with the character's claim that child abuse was not allowed.

I guess that depends on how the society defines "child abuse".  He may not be considered a child at 16 in that society (that's the age he lost his virginity), and they may not consider sex to be abuse, at least for the consenting and sexually mature.  He said he was so horny he didn't really mind, so he certainly didn't consider it abuse.  When I was 16, I expect my reaction would've been the same.  I don't think he considered losing his virginity at 16 to be abuse, and even though it was contractual he also consented.  Yes, by US law it would be statutory rape, but this is a different culture with different laws.

Which is to say, that made sense to me!
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Talia
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« Reply #12 on: November 08, 2011, 03:21:58 PM »

Well, I thought the story was great. Fascinating setup, interesting world where the class division has become quite a literal thing. I was OK with the story ending where it did, because to me the story was this brother and sister basically being manipulated into being terrorists (although the sister seemed to be pretty keen to go along with it). It's a story about class warfare, basically, where the poor were naturally losing, not only economically but physically, their lives. This struck me as the start of an uprising - the story was just how the people got to that point, the point where they'd take action instead of just sitting around waiting for death.
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Gamercow
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« Reply #13 on: November 08, 2011, 09:11:08 PM »

If I hadn't read "Diamond Age", I think I would have liked this a lot more.  However, I have read "Diamond Age", and this seems like a cheap knockoff.  A somewhat entertaining knockoff, but overall not fulfilling.
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b0rkenb0rg
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« Reply #14 on: November 08, 2011, 09:11:23 PM »

I rather enjoyed the story for many of the reasons people have listed as negatives. (Also I didn't notice poor audio quality; one of the benefits to listening via a mono-aural A2DP Bluetooth connection, I suppose)

The general lack of character development and cheery caution of our protagonist kept well with his role as one who continually hoped to transcend the squalor into which he was born. His optimism was tempered by having such an intimate view into the bland desperation of those who lived inside. I thought it essential that he didn't make any serious choices until the very last moment of the story when he breached the domes sanctity. His turning point was when he decided that either his rider was mad for wanting to perhaps ruin her safe existence or that he was for balking at the opportunity to fulfill his lifelong goal, but he then opened the airlock anyway. That was his point of transcendence: not from filth to cleanliness but from a passive actor in the fantasies of others to an active hero who reunites to shards of humanity (for better or worse).

I imagine that the writer worked backwards from that moment when an outsider blows open the containment of a domed city and spoils the order maintained therein. It all does seem a bit contrived from that standpoint, especially when you consider that any decent environmental systems engineer wouldn't put an entire city at risk via single points of failure.

Unblinking, if the author is writing for a British audience then they may assume the age of consent to be 16.
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statisticus
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« Reply #15 on: November 09, 2011, 07:17:39 AM »

I apologize for this. I had been working with Barry on getting a decent recording out of him in an effort to get a new voice in the rotation. He finished this one in plenty of time, and I should have screened it sooner so we could work out the kinks together, but I didn't. The failing was mine and I'll try to do better going forward.

Even Homer nods! Like I said I'm spoiled by the usual excellent standards.

What this means is that Barry needs to fork out for a decent microphone, rather than the cheapo headset he is currently using.  Kudos to Mat for making it sound as well as he did.

(Barry, outing himself.)
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Devoted135
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« Reply #16 on: November 09, 2011, 10:06:39 AM »

My main reaction to this story was frustration. Like Max, I was yelling at the MC to stop being irrationally afraid (only I was yelling into my lab's freezer at a bunch of tubes instead of at a bus full of people). It's like he was primed to expect the worst, so every little thing seemed to set off alarm bells. Perhaps I was missing something, but it really seemed like his reactions were seriously out of sync with the situation.

And then the story just ended. Exactly where the story should have started. I'm all for ambiguous endings when they are done well, but this spate of non-endings has me really in the dumps. Sad Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming EP or the editors. I blame the authors and whatever is causing this trend in the writing world. Hopefully it will end soon!
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Talia
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« Reply #17 on: November 09, 2011, 10:20:21 AM »

My main reaction to this story was frustration. Like Max, I was yelling at the MC to stop being irrationally afraid (only I was yelling into my lab's freezer at a bunch of tubes instead of at a bus full of people). It's like he was primed to expect the worst, so every little thing seemed to set off alarm bells. Perhaps I was missing something, but it really seemed like his reactions were seriously out of sync with the situation.

I tend to disagree. He was being offered an obscene amount of money for... what, exactly? He's a street kid.. being concerned about safety is absolutely a priority. And his concern was clearly merited IMHO, considering what she dragged him into.
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Listener
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« Reply #18 on: November 09, 2011, 10:29:03 AM »

Everyone has already said everything I wanted to say. I guess we have a consensus, more or less...
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #19 on: November 09, 2011, 03:19:59 PM »

Everyone has already said everything I wanted to say. I guess we have a consensus, more or less...

Has anyone said anything you didn't want to say? Smiley
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