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Author Topic: EP318: The Prize Beyond Gold  (Read 3524 times)
eytanz
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« on: November 11, 2011, 12:46:08 PM »

EP318: The Prize Beyond Gold

By Ian Creasey

Read by Josh Roseman

First appeared in Asimov’s

---

Three days before the race, when Delroy had finished warming down from a
training run, his coach summoned him for a talk. Delroy could tell it was
something big. Michito’s job — assisted by his Enhanced empathy — was to
become exquisitely sensitive to his athlete’s mood, so as to help get the
best out of him. The attunement sometimes became mutual, and Delroy now
discerned a rare eagerness in Michito’s almost-natural face.

“The weather forecast for race day has reached certainty,” said Michito.
“Temperature: perfect. Humidity: perfect. Wind speed: just below the
permissible maximum. Wind direction –”

“Perfect?” said Delroy.

“Behind you all the way.” Michito grinned in delight. “It’s the final star
in the constellation. You’re in great shape, the weather will be ideal,
we’re two thousand metres above sea level” — Michito made a sweeping
gesture, encompassing the many other factors affecting performance — “and
it all adds up to one thing.”

“I’m going to win?” Delroy didn’t understand Michito’s glee: the weather
would be the same for all the runners.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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« Reply #1 on: November 11, 2011, 04:30:16 PM »

"I am the King under the mountain!" I believe that is the appropriate incantation one makes when deflowering a story thread. Or should one only do that over in PodCastle?

I liked this story. It gave a fascinating insight in to what it must be like to be an elite athlete and the dedication and commitment it takes to achieve your goals. The removal of choice, the idea of being a puppet of a team of people who are on the one hand working for you but also make you subservient to the setting of the record or the winning of the race was really well handled.

I loved the metaphor of the olympics being a waxing moon and the record being a comet.

The idea that all ancestral humans end up pulling together regardless of creed or colour whilst the enhanced humans are splintering and vying for supremacy is an interesting one.

As for the ending well the tension was built up well and I guess it would have been too much to ask to actually have some description of the race itself that would not have ended up being a disappointment somehow. That said it was yet another story where there wasn't a real resolution and you are left to work out for yourself (a) did Delroy break the record? and (b) what did he choose to do afterwards?

One minor nitpick with the description of the flyers. I get the impression the enhancements are still for the most part biological so the idea that fliers would have wings coming out of their back didn't sit right with me. Excluding insects the vast majority if not all of the flying or gliding creatures that I can think of have wings that are extensions of arms and powered by large pectoral muscles. How much more powerful/efficient these augmented muscles would need to be to be able to fit in a human body but have the power of flight is an interesting calculation and I vaguely recall reading about it on the web somewhere. I wonder if Ian Creasey mentioned any of that in his research that was mentioned in Mur's outro. I'll have a wander over....

Great narration and I loved the voice Josh used for the flying woman.
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Unblinking
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« Reply #2 on: November 13, 2011, 12:30:27 PM »

This one didn't do much for me.  I almost never like sports stories, so that certainly would make it an uphill battle no matter how it went.

I can't believe that he took the time to have this huge discussion so close to the race!  Even if the conditions are perfect there is no guarantee he will break the record.  That still would require everything to go perfectly.  One trip and his chance will be gone.  Some wind gusts in the wrong direction and his chance will be gone.  A muscle cramp and his chance will be gone.  I think that he is underestimating the psychological effect of the conversation.  If he is too daunted by the situation it could affect his running, by distracting him or causing him to worry.  If he is too certain of his chance to win he could slack off.  Personally, it would make much more sense if the harpy was sent as a ploy to pysche him out and mess up the race.

The part where Dop was dictating his every action the morning of the race was annoying.  Again, this seems to underestimate psychological factors.  Physically, there's not much that can be done the morning of the race besides diet.  He's not going to be any more prepared from a morning of regimen.  By that kind of constant irritation could certainly affect you psychologically, and probably in a negative direction.

I do like the discussion of how hard records will be to break in the future.  So much store is set in breaking records even in these days, when you know there is at some point a physical limit.  It seems like most of those who have broken records recently have been discovered to be using steroids or other such drugs, because even in this day and age the pressure to perform has pushed it so that that's almost a requirement.  Give another 100 years, and that will be even worse.

But in the end, this turned out to be another of a string of recent stories that ends as the story gets going.  We don't even get to see him race!!  What the hell!  It's not even a sports story, it's a "talking about sports" story.  And if he fails to break the record, which I think is what will happen after getting himself so distracted, then ALL of the outcome of the discussion is entirely moot.
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« Reply #3 on: November 14, 2011, 10:40:46 AM »

I didn't really enjoy the story that much for the same reason as Unblinking -- it was talking about sports, not actually playing them. I rather enjoy sports stories, but as someone who is most definitely NOT built for sprinting, running stories don't do it for me. There were a lot of really good ideas -- lobotomizing Dop, all the stuff that goes into the training regimen, the different enhanced people -- but I almost feel like we needed multiple stories to explore them fully.
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« Reply #4 on: November 14, 2011, 04:43:32 PM »

Yeah, I don't like it when the whole story is a description of something that's oncoming and we don't really get to see it because the story ends. But in this case I think it's meant to be a question for the listener as well as an ending to the story. In not telling what happened after the race, I think the listener's kind of forced to think about what Delroy should have done, and, in essence, what they would have done in his place if it were them.
But I think what irks me about this story is kinda the same thing that irks me about real life athletes, or really, anyone that has to make some kind of sacrifice in order to achieve a goal that's totally inconsequential for them.  Nobody HAS to win a gold medal. Nobody HAS to break a world record. And if you chose to do so, don't bitch about what it takes to get there.  If breaking the world record requires that Delroy look into the "smoother than glass mirror" mirror and see himself as much of an automaton(?) as DOP, then that's what it takes to get there.  He can quit anytime.
And if anyone states that he is some kind of failure, he can tell them to take on the training themself, as, in my experience, most critics of athletes, aren't athletic at all.
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« Reply #5 on: November 15, 2011, 12:20:44 PM »

I rather enjoy sports stories, but as someone who is most definitely NOT built for sprinting, running stories don't do it for me.

I'm not built for competitive running either, but that didn't stop me from participating in high school!  Never in my life have I really been of a high caliber in any sport that I played, but it passed the time, and it kept me from becoming a doughball.

In high school I participated in football and track (basketball at a younger age), and I was really bad at all of them. 
--On paper I made good lineman material.  I was a little over two hundred pounds, and fairly muscular.  Not huge, but a passable size.  But I never really got the knack of applying that muscle on the field.  I was moderately strong, could bench press more than my body weight, but I was never aggressive enough, and I had to think too much.  No action in football ever became reflexive.  I had to think everything through, and by the time I came to a conclusion the play was over.  The few times when I managed to react without thinking too much the results were equally bad, like tackling the guy who was only pretending to have the football.  I was really pathetic.
--In track, I tried the strength events like discus and shot put, and again on paper I should've done all right.  But I just could never get the hang of the forms, and so was relying only on brute force to do the tosses, which didn't really work out.  The coach put me in one long distance race, and I'm pretty sure I almost died.  I finished more than a whole lap behind my closest competitor, and I could barely move the rest of the day.  I ended up being a sprinter for the last couple years 100m and 200m.  Not because I was any good at sprinting, mind you, but at least minutes didn't pass between my closest competitor's finish and my own.  By the end of high school I was just good enough to be competitive with the better junior high sprinters.  I was really pathetic.

But I liked the coach, and it gave me something to do, got me out of the house.  I was very lonely and bored and it gave me something to do and people to talk to.

One thing that my coach did that I really appreciated is that he made sure I lettered in both football and track in my senior year.  Like I said, I'd never gotten good at either one, but I can only assume that he wanted to encourage my persistance at participating in both sports all four years.  for each sport he had specific criteria that had to be merit to earn a letter.
--In football you had to play a certain number of quarters, so he made sure that I went in for a couple plays of enough quarters to earn this.
--In track you had to earn a medal.  For one race he put me on a sprinting relay team with three of our fastest runners.  I dragged the time down significantly, but the others were fast enough that we still earned a bronze medal. 
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« Reply #6 on: November 15, 2011, 05:55:59 PM »

I rather enjoy sports stories, but as someone who is most definitely NOT built for sprinting, running stories don't do it for me.

I'm not built for competitive running either, but that didn't stop me from participating in high school!  Never in my life have I really been of a high caliber in any sport that I played, but it passed the time, and it kept me from becoming a doughball.

I did wrestling. For one year. That was quite enough for me.

I think my issue was that I truly couldn't identify with Delroy because, to me, sprinting just seems... blah. Run as fast as you possibly can and win a medal. No offense to sprinters, who train like mad to be the best they can be, but I look at running/racing the same way I look at NASCAR. I can identify with most sports players where the object is to score points -- football, baseball, basketball, etc -- but running? Not so much.
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« Reply #7 on: November 16, 2011, 08:06:26 AM »

So the main conflict is the two characters explaining the sides of the cultural argument we'd just seen at play during the training regimen and had thoroughly explained in the narration?  And it doesn't even get resolved within the story?

Well, all right. 

I was kind of hoping for something to happen, though.

(I still like "Usurpers" best of the genetic-engineering-vs-baseline sports stories I've read.)
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« Reply #8 on: November 16, 2011, 09:44:00 AM »

Yet another story that didn't actually resolve itself. Undecided  This particular story's lack of an ending didn't bother me as much as the last few, but wow quite the trend.

Also, I have this nagging feeling that I've heard this story before. Not these exact words in this exact order, but a big race in a world where there's been lots of body modifications and the question of the value of the "ancestral form" in its purity. But that one definitely included the final race...


As for the story itself, I agree with Unblinking that the training regimen was totally ignoring the psychological aspect of preparation. It also crossed my mind that perhaps the harpy was sent by his trainer in order to rile him up, but it became apparent that that wasn't the case. Not to mention the incredibly disturbing idea of having a lobotomized digital clone just to marginally improve your training regimen.
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Gamercow
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« Reply #9 on: November 17, 2011, 05:07:13 PM »

This one sat poorly with me, for several reasons:

  • The 8.31 time is simply unrealistic, and quite frankly bad math.  Ian put up a graph with a logarithmic curve fit to the historical records.  The problem is that the curve is neither asymptotic nor a good fit.  Most lines I fit come up with a limit around 9-9.2.
  • The story seemed to me to be a Socratic essay, used to put forth a debate and discussion on a specific topic(in this case genetic engineering and/or the hunt for perfection)
  • Again, another story without an ending.  Very disappoint.
  • The story in large, and the discussion between the flier and Delroy were both very circular.  I understand many discussions are, but this grew boring to me after the third iteration of the same point.
  • The story didn't even breach the discussion of where the line is drawn with performance enhancements, which in my mind would have made a better story.  Isn't modern training, replete with computers and training simulators and what not already performance enhancing?  I suppose not because in the end, the athlete has to do the work, but still...
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« Reply #10 on: November 17, 2011, 08:23:34 PM »

I sure hope he didn't turn himself into one of those pumpkin headed bird-men.
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« Reply #11 on: November 23, 2011, 08:17:32 AM »

I really didn't mind the ending.  For me, the setup can be more interesting than the resolution.  Sometimes, I like being able to play through alternate resolutions in my head rather than have one force fed to me.

My problem with the story was that I just couldn't identify with any of the characters or their motivations.  Delroy's laments reminded me of Louis from the Anne Rice novels.  "Oh boo-hoo.  My life sucks." (No pun intended).  Further I simply didn't care about Yarah and that the different clades were fighting over members and their futures. 
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mbrennan
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« Reply #12 on: November 24, 2011, 03:58:29 AM »

Huh -- usually I come in having not liked a story and find the thread full of raves for it.  In this case, it's the reverse.

Partly this may be because I started "The Prize Beyond Gold" having bounced off "Boxed In" a few minutes earlier.  I'm very hit-or-miss with dystopias, and I found myself very pleased that while aspects of this setting could be read as dystopian, that's left as a background flavor, rather than being in your face.  Unlike many of the listeners here, I was sympathetic to Delroy; I've never been competitive on that level in any field, but I can easily imagine that sometimes you just burn out on the entire process.  And that meant I actually read Yarah's arrival as being a deliberate ploy on Michito's part: he knew his athlete had fallen into apathy, and needed to give Delroy something to care about after the race, something Delroy would want enough to truly give his best.  Delroy, of course, always knew he'd have a choice of what to do after he stopped running, but at the start of the story, that was abstract, and hard to get invested in.  Yarah's pitch made it clear to Delroy that setting a new record would mean not only the chance to change, but also many subsidized options for how to do so, and the prospect of that much choice was the key.  (Could this have backfired on Michito?  Absolutely.  But it was "go for broke" time; if he didn't give Delroy a reason to care, they might fail anyway.)

As for the ending . . . I was okay with that, too.  For a little while there, I was afraid we would get "The Lady or the Tiger?" on a massive scale, not even finding out whether Delroy decided to throw the race or not.  But we did at least get to hear that he gave it his best.  I'm okay with not getting the result, because it would have gone one of two ways: Delroy fails to set the record (aw man, downer ending), or he succeeds and then it's a letdown because a) there's no way to narrate the race that would be exciting enough (hell, even one sentence of description might take longer than the race itself!) and b) the aftermath of that is really an entire different story.  So instead we got the important thing, which was Delroy lifting himself up out of apathy for one last try.  Since I assumed that was Michito's goal all along, I felt satisfied.

Maybe I was wrong about Michito deliberately letting Yarah through, or about his reason for doing so.  But that was the story I listened to, so to speak, and I liked it.

Oh, and for the record, I am not and never have been a runner. :-)  Bad knees, worse ankles, and no cardiovascular endurance to speak of.  So I didn't bond with it over the subject matter, I promise.
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« Reply #13 on: November 24, 2011, 04:34:26 PM »

I actually rather liked this one. The one time I got bounced out was when Delroy was takling about the abstract record set 70 years ago by someone he does not mention.

I did not see this to be in character for a competitor. I think it would have been a very personal competition - William Goldman, in MARATHON MAN (the book, not the movie) sets up a much more believable motivation: Babe is ALWAYS thinking about Nurmi, the real-life record holder whose mark he wants to beat; it's what keeps him going when... well, you gotta read the book. Delroy is not a machine; he has to try to beat a PERSON (dead or alive, present or not), not a number.
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« Reply #14 on: November 24, 2011, 11:20:29 PM »

I think this was one of those stories that could have been hit or miss for me depending on my mood. Luckily, it was about running. And I had finished a 5k at a new personal best time about 30 minutes before I started listening to it. Timely. Pun not intended, but what the hell. As someone who isn't competitively fast but has been slowly making her way from the left side of the bell curve to successively narrower areas of the right, I totally empathize with the striving to get just a little better and the extremes to which one might go in order to obtain the next goal.
Someone said that (yes I'm to lazy to quote, I am full of turkey), they didn't understand why he wouldn't be after a person vs the record. Well, since the record was set 75 years earlier, its unlikely he ever met that athlete and I don't think he cold reasonably be expected to feel as though he was competing "against" him, given that he was already an old man. A record though, one that 75 years of athletes have been smacking into like a brick wall, I'd be up against that sucker. I'd want to be The One Who Broke It.
As far as running vs point-scoring sports, I think its purely a matter of opinion. For me, there is nothing better than knowing its just up to me -my body and mind- to get to the finish line, no extra equipment, no other players, just me. Same thing with watching competitive running. Its amazing what the human body can do just with its own power.
Sigh. I really am a running nerd.
Erm, the sci-fi element...interesting. Not particularly awe-inspiring in its novelty, but I liked the close examination of sport in a body-mod type world.
As for the ending, I liked it. If it hadn't been written EXACTLY how it had been, I probably would have chucked my iPhone across the car in frustration. But, there was something about the mention of freedom which really is "The Prize Beyond Gold" and it just tied it all up neat and bow-like in my noggin.
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« Reply #15 on: November 26, 2011, 06:55:55 AM »

I liked the story, but the premise is still foreign to me. The idea of a record as something special (even more so in a society with some body modifications which would let anyone break it) is ridiculous. Fairness in sports is just non-existent ideal. Everyone already starts life with unfair advantage/disadvantage that is written in every single cell of their bodies. Then there's weather conditions which can by chance never be perfect in athletes career. Also there's clothing, aerodynamics of clothing were worked out, but it was definitely unfair to first runners who had no such advantage.
I for one see no reason to restrict modified humans from competitions.
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« Reply #16 on: November 29, 2011, 04:45:24 PM »

(I still like "Usurpers" best of the genetic-engineering-vs-baseline sports stories I've read.)

Yeah, I liked this one ok... but it was basically a pale shadow of Usurpers, which was much more powerful and atmospheric, with a more realistic and evocative character.
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« Reply #17 on: November 29, 2011, 06:57:47 PM »

It isn't so much a "sports" story, it's more of a "be the best you can be" and "at what cost, perfection". The inner dialog seemed to be aimed at to be the ultimate performer/producer/person, what do you lose? do you have freedom of choice? do you have a life? do you have true friends or relationships beyond your endeavor? and once you complete your "quest", what then? if your life has been focused on obtaining this one goal, what happens next? do you go on to be the next big thing in a new enterprise?

this story has the ending it has because the answers are different for each of us.

focusing on the sports aspect of this story takes away from the story. it is about pushing oneself to the limits of human endurance/enterprise/endeavor to reach more than anyone else has done before and exploring what that could mean for your future once you obtain that goal.

the fractionating of society based on enhancements is the new racism, where what enhancements you have places you within a particular group. now, that aspect of the story i would like to be explored more. what new obscenities can we heap on each other in the name improving the human race through science/technology.

ok, enough rambling.

i enjoyed the story, found it to be an introspective piece that gave me plenty to think about. (and ramble on about)

enjoy.
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« Reply #18 on: November 29, 2011, 10:14:51 PM »

As an exjock, I was on the fence about the story. What made the story less enjoyable for me was the fact Delroy had the conversation with the harpy at all. Right before a game, a competition, anything that I cared about that much.... oh hell no would I even remotely have considered speaking to someone. The conversation between the harpy and him afterwards about races... how it's no unmodified human can ever set a real record, that made me laugh as it reminded me of video game 'all stars' who get all crazy when they lose and start trotting out a line of excuses as to why they lost.... lag, older equipment, cheap tactics, etc, etc.

Now, the parts of the story I did like involved the Dop--I'd love to have one of them. I also enjoyed some of the angst as well. I'm not much of a sprinter (Spindaddy is built for comfort, not speed) so the actual times did nothing for me. All in all, I thought it was interesting, but I doubt I would listen to it again.
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« Reply #19 on: November 30, 2011, 01:36:50 PM »

I thought this was fabulous science fiction!  Well thought out projection of sports in the future, not that I expect all of it to happen, but I like how it was envisioned.
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