Escape Artists

News:

News

ATTENTION: NEW FORUM THEME Please see here for details: http://forum.escapeartists.net/index.php?topic=13188.0

Author Topic: EP323: Marking Time on the Far Side of Forever  (Read 11931 times)

eytanz

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 6109
on: December 17, 2011, 11:58:58 AM
EP323: Marking Time on the Far Side of Forever

By DK Latta

Read by Josh Roseman

First appeared in Prairie Fire, 1999

---

I sit beneath the dark green sky, overlooking the valley that has changed much over the years.  What was once a stream has swelled into a river while, to the east, lush vegetation grows where I think there was once a shallow lake. I can’t remember definitely. The information is stored inside me, filed, itemized; I’m merely unsure how to access it. It will come to me. Later, when a random search, an unrelated thought, cracks open the proper conduits and a pulse of electricity resurrects the knowledge, unbidden.

Until then, I am content to wait.

Below my knee, the dented brass-coloured metal becomes the red of a tree trunk, substituting as a shin and foot. Like an antiquated peg-leg, like a stereotypical pira…pi…pi-

Pi is 3.1415926…

The organic substance must be replaced occasionally, but the concept has served satisfactorily for almost two hundred years. It was easy to jury-rig. Not so my mnemonic core.  I lack the appropriate tools and diagnostic programs.

Yes. There had been a lake, teeming with the hoorah-thet fish.

I call them fish simply to provide a basis of comparative orientation. Fish only exist on earth, and this is not earth.  Earth is a long, long way away.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Lionman

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 148
  • Next time, I'll just let sleeping dogs lie.
    • The Practice of IT.
Reply #1 on: December 17, 2011, 02:39:10 PM
I think that Isaac Asimov would be proud of this story.  Aside from missing his main character from I, Robot, this story would fit right in with that genre of robotic adventures.  In fact, I could easily see Gakha being a character left with the dilemma of having to make choices based on directives and laws programmed long, long ago, (likely in a galaxy far, far away.)

While in this story the shift in human morals is obvious, it is an interesting commentary on how we have evolved, not merely in language and cutoms, but also in our moral compass as a society as a whole.  Human history is full of it, and this becomes an extrapolation of that.  However, in the same thought process, it's a great cycle.  I could see that Gakha might live long enough to see another group of Humans visit him, whose compass has shifted back in line with his original programming.

Bottom line: Great story!

Failure is an event, not a person.


Darwinist

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 701
Reply #2 on: December 17, 2011, 03:34:18 PM
Wow, I thought this story was just great.  I reminded me of old-school science fiction or something out of Star Trek. 

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.    -  Carl Sagan


Max e^{i pi}

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1038
  • Have towel, will travel.
Reply #3 on: December 19, 2011, 12:09:14 PM
The first few minutes of the story had me thinking of Marvin. Before he got "cute-ified", how I saw him in my imagination.
The rest of the story was great (imagining Marvin was great too).
I'm wondering whether Gakha ever had some analogue to the Three Laws, or even the first one. I really hope it did. Because the idea of a robot becoming so "human" in its compassion to actually destroy other humans appeals to me.
It appeals much more than having a robot who was improperly programmed and thus was able to escape the bounds of its programming.
(Think about it, the first is not the same as the second. A robot could be programmed to generally not harm people, but not so rigorously that trying to break that command would shut the robot down. That is simply escaping poor programming.)

Also, my ears heard DK Latta, but my brain heard DK Thomson.  ;)

Cogito ergo surf - I think therefore I network

Registered Linux user #481826 Get Counted!



Swamp

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 2229
    • Journey Into... podcast
Reply #4 on: December 19, 2011, 04:13:32 PM
One of my new favorites!  A fabulous story!  It hit all of the right bouttons for me.  There is something about having a generally gentle giant taking care of business to protect the innocent, and of course extra bonus point for making it a robot.  I <3 robots.

Facehuggers don't have heads!

Come with me and Journey Into... another fun podcast


Megaflow

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 10
    • Megaflow Graphics
Reply #5 on: December 20, 2011, 12:37:51 AM
I loved this well-written story, and may have even shed a tear or two by the end. This was indeed classic science-fiction.



lhoward

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 18
Reply #6 on: December 20, 2011, 12:02:45 PM
I thoroughly enjoyed this story.  In many ways a throwback to a more classic kind of sci-fi.  Kept me engaged from the beginning right through to the end.  I saw the ending coming, but that didn't decrease my enjoyment one bit.



raetsel

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 116
    • MCL & Me
Reply #7 on: December 21, 2011, 04:06:02 PM
Wow, I thought this story was just great.  I reminded me of old-school science fiction or something out of Star Trek. 

Yeah spot on. I can just see this in the effusive colour hues of an episode of Star Trek TOS.

At one point I was thinking that the humans in the "scouting party" just wouldn't be that avaricious and uncaring but then I remembered how humans have treated other members of their own species in an analogue to a first contact situation such as in Australia or the Americas (North and South) and then I realised the scouting party's behaviour was totally in line with how humans behave.

Great Story.



Evolution13

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 3
Reply #8 on: December 22, 2011, 09:22:21 AM
I loved this story, but I do have one nitpick.. How is it that a civilization for whom Terraforming is trivial is still interested in mineral wealth?



InfiniteMonkey

  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 483
  • Clearly, I need more typewriters....
Reply #9 on: December 22, 2011, 10:40:25 PM
"This is going to be awkward...."

This was a really good "science fiction as theater of human dilemma" story. I expect people to have objections to the idea of a machine exceeding its programming (Gakha was supposed to gather data on the indigenous life, not protect it) but I am glad that it ended how it, rather than the bleak pitiful ending I was expecting.

I loved this story, but I do have one nitpick.. How is it that a civilization for whom Terraforming is trivial is still interested in mineral wealth?

I dunno. Humans do all sorts of irrational things (which I think is one of the points of the story) - why do we still invest so much value in gold?

But I suspect your point is "If they can rearrange the atmosphere, can't they just create elements?".

Maybe that's harder than we suppose. I'll wager Issac Newton would have guessed we'd be able to turn lead into gold before we could fly.
« Last Edit: December 27, 2011, 10:53:16 PM by InfiniteMonkey »



Max e^{i pi}

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1038
  • Have towel, will travel.
Reply #10 on: December 23, 2011, 09:15:54 AM
I loved this story, but I do have one nitpick.. How is it that a civilization for whom Terraforming is trivial is still interested in mineral wealth?

I dunno. Humans do all sorts of irrational things (which I think is one of the points of the story) - why do we still invest so much value in gold?

But I suspect your point is "If they can rearrange the atmosphere, can't they just create elements?".
Two possible answers:
1. Just like the Star Trek replicator paradox. They can use replicators to effectively replicate nearly anything they want, except for the elements required to power the replicators. This is the given explanation for ST Voyager's rationing in early seasons, before they were able to resupply. So too in this universe, they can rearrange atmospheres and whatnot, maybe they have working transmutation, but they still need specific base elements to work from or help power it.

2. Terraforming need not be an instantaneous magical process. Like in the Firefly 'Verse, they have huge machines that spit out atmosphere from an intake of toxic chemicals and other stuff. It still takes decades, and has nothing to do with being able to transmute elements.

P.S. I love citing other scifi as valid sources. :D

Cogito ergo surf - I think therefore I network

Registered Linux user #481826 Get Counted!



Kaa

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 618
  • Trusst in me, jusst in me.
    • WriteWright
Reply #11 on: December 27, 2011, 09:32:50 PM
I really liked this one. I've never seen a better use of the Zeroth Law of Robotics. Also known in Texas as the "He NEEDED Killin'" defense...

I invent imaginary people and make them have conversations in my head. I also write.

About writing || About Atheism and Skepticism (mostly) || About Everything Else


Gamercow

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 654
Reply #12 on: December 28, 2011, 03:36:12 PM
An excellent classic robot story. 

The cow says "Mooooooooo"


H. Bergeron

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 55
  • COACH! Check this out!
Reply #13 on: December 30, 2011, 11:42:30 AM
I loved this story, but I do have one nitpick.. How is it that a civilization for whom Terraforming is trivial is still interested in mineral wealth?

I dunno. Humans do all sorts of irrational things (which I think is one of the points of the story) - why do we still invest so much value in gold?

But I suspect your point is "If they can rearrange the atmosphere, can't they just create elements?".
Two possible answers:
1. Just like the Star Trek replicator paradox. They can use replicators to effectively replicate nearly anything they want, except for the elements required to power the replicators. This is the given explanation for ST Voyager's rationing in early seasons, before they were able to resupply. So too in this universe, they can rearrange atmospheres and whatnot, maybe they have working transmutation, but they still need specific base elements to work from or help power it.

2. Terraforming need not be an instantaneous magical process. Like in the Firefly 'Verse, they have huge machines that spit out atmosphere from an intake of toxic chemicals and other stuff. It still takes decades, and has nothing to do with being able to transmute elements.

P.S. I love citing other scifi as valid sources. :D

Yes, I tend to think of terraforming as being based in microscopic life - like, seeding the oceans and lakes with algae that digest the primary elements of that atmosphere and bind whatever they need to while releasing the appropriate quantities of oxygen, basically in the same way (as I seem to remember from science classes?) that the Earth got its atmosphere.


In other news, I really enjoyed this story. The reader had a somewhat flat affect, but it worked very well for this story. I kind of saw the ending coming, but I still love the idea of the robot hulking out on the landing party. Even so, I have a somewhat unsettling feeling of imagining myself in the boots of the humans in this story, not really knowing what they were getting themselves into.

Formerly Ignoranus - now too big for my britches, literally and figuratively.


SF.Fangirl

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 145
Reply #14 on: January 01, 2012, 05:25:17 AM
Gosh, this story made me ashamed to be human as the villians were in this story.  They were a tad too realistically greedy for my reading comfort.  I was happy with the ending though.



archaevist

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 116
Reply #15 on: January 01, 2012, 11:06:30 PM
I loved this story. The eternality of the robot's motives? The slip from from idealism to pragmatism from the humans? Gakha's sadness over his lost friend? Succulent.



Devoted135

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1252
Reply #16 on: January 04, 2012, 05:29:06 PM
I really loved this story, especially watching how Gakha's mission to document and describe the local environment gradually eased into a mission to preserve and protect. The humans made me cringe, and I kept hoping that the engineer would stand up to his superiors in Gakha's defense more strongly than he did.

The bias against Gakha simply due to his age seemed a little off (we have whole museums to memorialize old technology), but then again I suppose we wouldn't want steam engines telling us that we shouldn't use our modern metro systems.



Listener

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 3187
  • I place things in locations which later elude me.
    • Various and Sundry Items of Interest
Reply #17 on: January 04, 2012, 07:16:34 PM
The bias against Gakha simply due to his age seemed a little off (we have whole museums to memorialize old technology), but then again I suppose we wouldn't want steam engines telling us that we shouldn't use our modern metro systems.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starlight_Express#Original_London_production.2C_1984

Just sayin'...

"Farts are a hug you can smell." -Wil Wheaton

Blog || Quote Blog ||  Written and Audio Work || Twitter: @listener42


Devoted135

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1252
Reply #18 on: January 04, 2012, 07:49:11 PM
The bias against Gakha simply due to his age seemed a little off (we have whole museums to memorialize old technology), but then again I suppose we wouldn't want steam engines telling us that we shouldn't use our modern metro systems.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starlight_Express#Original_London_production.2C_1984

Just sayin'...

That has to be one of the trippiest musicals that I've ever come across...



Listener

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 3187
  • I place things in locations which later elude me.
    • Various and Sundry Items of Interest
Reply #19 on: January 04, 2012, 09:26:29 PM
The bias against Gakha simply due to his age seemed a little off (we have whole museums to memorialize old technology), but then again I suppose we wouldn't want steam engines telling us that we shouldn't use our modern metro systems.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starlight_Express#Original_London_production.2C_1984

Just sayin'...

That has to be one of the trippiest musicals that I've ever come across...

When you see it in person, you really get the idea of how kid-centered it is. But even in my 20s, which is when I saw it, it was still somewhat cool. They did try to mess it up with 3D glasses, though; hopefully that trend is over.

"Farts are a hug you can smell." -Wil Wheaton

Blog || Quote Blog ||  Written and Audio Work || Twitter: @listener42


eytanz

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 6109
Reply #20 on: January 05, 2012, 04:17:08 PM
I'm not as positive about this story as most of the commentators above are. I mean, there's a lot to love here. Especially, I really liked the way the story played with the narrator's voice, making us emphasize with Gahka *because* he/it is unreliable. And I really like the themes of morality and perspective. But there are a few issues with the story that undercut these themes and made the less successful than they should have been, I think.

1 - The first, less important issue is how contrived the whole thing is. There's a whole planet here, and the two visits from Earth happened to be within a few meter of each other? I could forgive the coincidence if it was the only issue, but in conjunction with the others below it glared at me.

2 - The second, more important problem I had with the story is the whole shooting of Gahka's alien friend/ward, and the discussion afterwards. That was just overkill, in my opinion. They moved from being selfishly destructive to being cartoon villains. Gahka's actions in the end could have been as easily motivated by the realization that the terraforming meant genocide of his alien protectees. There was no need for anything as crude or unsubtle as that. (Actually, I was also unclear on why they were draining the swamp. Were they planning on terraforming the planet one inch at a time?)

Now, one thing worth considering is that in all likelihood, Gahka's actions didn't save the planet, as unless Earth is terraforming so many planets it has a policy of abandoning them the moment anything happens to a ship, or unless they keep having their ships land at exactly the same spot, then the next ship down will be able to plant its machines uninterrupted. This is not in itself a weakness; Gahka's actions are all the more poignant for being futile, and buying his alien buddies a few more years or months is better than nothing. But that would have made the moral consequences of the story far interesting if the terraforming was the main motivation for Gahka's killing of the crew.

I'm not saying the story is bad. Far from it. Nor that the moral issues it raised aren't interesting. But I have a definite sense that the story took the easy way out by making the situation so clear-cut. Which is a shame.



Requiem42

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 5
Reply #21 on: January 26, 2012, 01:36:53 AM
This is one of the best stories Escape Pod has had in quite awhile.



Gamercow

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 654
Reply #22 on: January 26, 2012, 02:42:51 PM
1 - The first, less important issue is how contrived the whole thing is. There's a whole planet here, and the two visits from Earth happened to be within a few meter of each other? I could forgive the coincidence if it was the only issue, but in conjunction with the others below it glared at me.


If there were two separate planet surveys, they both may have come up with the same place as the optimum location for landing, due to geographical conditions.  If the second landing was predicated on the findings of the first, it would be sensible to say "Okay, they thought this was a good place to land, why not just land there again?"

The cow says "Mooooooooo"


eytanz

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 6109
Reply #23 on: January 26, 2012, 04:20:02 PM
1 - The first, less important issue is how contrived the whole thing is. There's a whole planet here, and the two visits from Earth happened to be within a few meter of each other? I could forgive the coincidence if it was the only issue, but in conjunction with the others below it glared at me.


If there were two separate planet surveys, they both may have come up with the same place as the optimum location for landing, due to geographical conditions.  If the second landing was predicated on the findings of the first, it would be sensible to say "Okay, they thought this was a good place to land, why not just land there again?"

I'm not entirely sure what you're talking about here - the two visits I meant were Gahka and the survey/mining ship. There was no other ship, and Gahka did not arrive as part of a survey, he was launched blindly through a wormhole and crashed-landed. Also, the survey/mining ship were not aware Gahka was there until after they landed, so I'm not sure how their landing could be predicated on his presence.

Also, we don't know where Gahka landed - he could have landed quite a distance away and travelled to his current location in his early years on the planet. That doesn't change the fact that the survey ship chose to land within a short distance of his home.
« Last Edit: January 26, 2012, 04:26:02 PM by eytanz »



Gamercow

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 654
Reply #24 on: January 26, 2012, 04:21:17 PM
1 - The first, less important issue is how contrived the whole thing is. There's a whole planet here, and the two visits from Earth happened to be within a few meter of each other? I could forgive the coincidence if it was the only issue, but in conjunction with the others below it glared at me.


If there were two separate planet surveys, they both may have come up with the same place as the optimum location for landing, due to geographical conditions.  If the second landing was predicated on the findings of the first, it would be sensible to say "Okay, they thought this was a good place to land, why not just land there again?"

I'm not entirely sure what you're talking about her - the two visits I meant were Gahka and the survey/mining ship. There was no other ship, and Gahka did not arrive as part of a survey, he was launched blindly through a wormhole and crashed-landed. Also, the survey/mining ship were not aware Gahka was there until after they landed, so I'm not sure how their landing could be predicated on his presence.

Also, we don't know where Gahka landed - he could have landed quite a distance away and travelled to his current location in his early years on the planet. That doesn't change the fact that the survey ship chose to land within a short distance of his home.

You're right.  I forgot the wormhole thing, I thought they launched Gahka towards a target, and didn't just throw robotic seed into the wind.  Derp.

The cow says "Mooooooooo"