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Author Topic: EP329: Pairs  (Read 3636 times)
eytanz
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« on: January 28, 2012, 06:27:24 AM »

EP329: Pairs

By Zachary Jernigan

Read by Matt Franklin of Fly Reckless

First published in Asimov’s, April 2011

---

I had been practicing turning myself into a knife. Between star systems I gathered and focused my particles into a triangle, a sharp shape. Hurling myself against the diamond-hard walls of my small ship, the point of the weapon hardened. I honed myself.

You see, I had decided to murder my employer. I had studied his weaknesses and come to believe myself capable of the act. I did not know when and where, nor did I know what would trigger it. I simply knew it had to happen. On that day I would either die or buy myself a measure of freedom.

Originally, this was the extent of my plan: To serve myself.

My name is Arihant. I am one of two humans still inhabiting a physical form, diminished though it is. Outside the walls of my ship, I am in form a faintly translucent white specter, strong and powerfully built—an artist’s anatomical model. Over the years it has become difficult to remember what my face looked like, and thus my features are only approximately human, my head bare. My eyes glow the color of Earth’s sun.

I am quite beautiful, Louca tells me. On more than one occasion she has run her hands over the ghostly contours of my body. “I wish you were solid,” she once said. “Oh, Ari. The things I would do to you.”

Louca is the one I am forced to follow and observe. Her name means crazy—an appropriate name. She is the second human possessing a body. Technically, her body is a black, whale-shaped ship one hundred meters long, but her avatars take the forms of anything she imagines. Very rarely, she is human, and never the same person twice. More often, she wears the bodies of flying animals.

She dreams of flying, which is appropriate.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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bluetube
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« Reply #1 on: January 29, 2012, 01:13:15 PM »

I enjoyed this story. Matt Franklin's reading was excellent, with a good range of voices.

There were a lot of great ideas in the story. A future in which humans are enslaved and traded across the galaxy, on timescales of decades or centuries was intriguing.

I'm not sure about the concept of trading souls though... this seems to stray away from Sci-Fi into the realms of Fantasy.

The passage of time was handled well, without dwelling on details. The repulsiveness of the Owner was portrayed succinctly and I felt for the humans in his control.

I had an odd sense of recognition for the voice of the female human... Have I heard a similar character recently?... Playful yet dangerous. Checking the EscapePod reader list, this appears to be the only reading by Matt Franklin. Another reader, then...?
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2012, 10:31:07 AM »

This story had me mostly confused due to huge gaping plot holes and other stuff left unexplained.
If all of humanity is enslaved and the souls are stored in memory cubes or whatnot, how did Arihant and Louca regain some sort of physical manifestation?
Why isn't this done for other humans?
What is the point of buying a human soul?
Why are the manifestations of Arihant and Louca so different? (Arihant mostly non-corporeal and Louca the AI of a ship that controls a body Huh )
If Arihant can turn his mostly-non-corporeal form into a knife, how does he move it? Why doesn't it just lie on the ground?
If in his "human" form Louca's hand passes through him, how can he stab his employer?
If it takes them years (decades?) to cross between star systems, and the reason that they are doing this and not a paid employee is, as explained, that nobody wants to lose that time, why does Arihant keep encountering his employer on multiple planets? Shouldn't he(?) be left far behind? Or if he doesn't mind decades of travel time, why doesn't he sell the human souls? He obviously will care for them, because they are his profits.

Every time I tried to ignore a plot hole or unexplained phenomenon and just follow the story a new one popped up. It was very difficult to immerse myself in the story, despite the truly excellent reading.
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bluetube
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« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2012, 11:07:21 AM »

@Max e^{i pi} I too had a few questions along the same lines as those you've listed, but I didn't find this a problem.

My take on this story was that there's a whole lot of advanced alien technology and near magical science (souls and whatnot) going on. Any disbelief just has to be suspended Smiley

Given the available airtime for the story, it would be impractical to explain everything and disruptive to the plot. I liked the way it just dived in and got on with the story.
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2012, 04:23:51 PM »

My take on this story was that there's a whole lot of advanced alien technology and near magical science (souls and whatnot) going on. Any disbelief just has to be suspended Smiley
Yes, but it was self-contradictory in many aspects.
I am one who generally has no problem with suspension of disbelief, but when the story has no self-contained logic and continuity, and even contradicts itself... that's a big no-no.

Also, just call me Max  Wink
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2012, 09:11:57 PM »

I don't usually take to stories where humans constantly shape-shift, but given the ultimate explanation (alien enslavement) I was ok with that. I did like the evil reptilian overlord, and the rest of the aliens, but I like aliens. And as badly as it would hurt Arihant, I would have liked to have heard the voices of the sold souls.
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« Reply #6 on: February 01, 2012, 01:46:35 PM »

I may be wrong, but I don't think Louca is the other human. I vaguely remember Ari (is it bad that since he was supposed to be a human from Earth I thought his name was Ari Hunt and his owner was just mashing it together according to his own dialect?) speculating on her species, I don't remember if the black whaleship form is his true form, or not, or if he doesn't know.

But I am fairly certain the second other physically instantiated human is the woman, or ghost woman like he is a ghost, he briefly saw on that one world before running away; and was haunted by for years to come, unable to enjoy his sims.

As for being physical and yet insubstantial, that doesn't seem too paradoxical - the story clearly referenced to him being material, having molecules, them just being spread thing apart; his density lowered to the point of being insubstantial, somehow. I think he was comparing this to most of the souls they trade in, including - as far as his knowledge - the souls all other still existent humans except for that one woman, being stuck in their cubes or chips or whatever they were, for whatever purposes.

I get why instantiated soul-cube beings would be useful servants, being as one would be able to hold the reigns of their existence, but the story did leave us just with the context that the soul cubes are valuable. But, if soul cubes' main use is as a way of transporting and enslaving beings, why aren't more of the human soul cubes they traded in instantiated? Why are there only two humans instantiated from their cubes in the lifetime of Arihant?  I feel like I'm missing something obvious, and this was a story I paid pretty close attention too; my current failure of memory notwithstanding.

The Louca character was very intriguing. An alien being, sympathizing with a human being, and more importantly empathizing with flying creatures, many of them of Earth origin. I like the idea of an insane alien as well, as a mind from such different circumstances as another species and another planet or other environment in the universe would be completely...unsane, from the human perspective, to begin with.

One could probably play with the concept of unsane versus insane, and the idea - whether it is trite or profound - that insanity is, as in this story, somehow universally detectable in certain ways - somehow a universal concept, that you can tell when a being of a completely alien mentality is acting erratic from that mentality.


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Darwinist
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« Reply #7 on: February 01, 2012, 09:03:19 PM »

Argh.....this story baffled me.  I listened to the whole thing but just didn't get it, and it wasn't interesting enough to go back and try again. 
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« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2012, 02:47:11 PM »

I thought that this one had a lot of really interesting themes running through it. For example, the idea that the MC was chosen for his predictability and unimaginative, yet it was the antithesis of these very qualities that allowed him to better his situation. (avoiding spoilers here, just in case). At the same time, I don't think that the narrative quite came together into one compelling story. Maybe it's just all the holes that Max pointed out, but something just seemed off. I do wish we could have gotten the perspective of the entrapped souls though.
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« Reply #9 on: February 04, 2012, 12:16:15 AM »

This story was awesome.  Really intriguing, both descriptively and thematically.
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« Reply #10 on: February 06, 2012, 01:05:28 PM »

This story just didn't hold my interest at all.  It wasn't bad, I just found it boring.  Honestly when I finished my work out in the middle of it, I gave serious consideration to just not bothering to finish it.  I did finish it because mostly because of I am not a quitter attitude but it didn't get any more interesting and I didn't care at all about the fate of "the last two humans" who didn't sound human at all. 

My guess for lack my interest 1) too fantasy ... it's so far out there and there's no scientific explanation that it seems a lot more like fantasy which I generally do not like.  Lack of any explanation about what was happening did not help this for me. 2) too post singularity ... I usually can't get into stories about "humans" who are nothing like humans at all and "Pairs" fits that bill.  IMO the bleak future and highly depressed narrator is not the kind of thing that's going to excite a reader.

Still it wasn't obviously flawed that I saw.  I'd guess that this is a story whose milage will vary widely - well liked and well disliked.
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Talia
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« Reply #11 on: February 07, 2012, 08:48:15 AM »

I enjoyed it. Interesting take on humanity's fate in the wake of apocalypse. Though I wonder why human souls are so valuable. What makes them special, as opposed to the souls of other creatures? Or do only humans have "souls"?

I may be wrong, but I don't think Louca is the other human.

From the quote in the first post - "Louca is the one I am forced to follow and observe. Her name means crazy—an appropriate name. She is the second human possessing a body." So yeah, she is.

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4WheelDrive
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« Reply #12 on: February 07, 2012, 07:38:17 PM »

Seems to me there is a rash of "humans are too stupid to survive themselves" type stories.

Call me a rose-colored-glasses kind of guy, but I take umbrage with the "doom, gloom, and despair" of the human race.  Don't we get any credit for thriving this far? Huh
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Gamercow
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« Reply #13 on: February 07, 2012, 10:43:19 PM »

This one hooked me in early, and dragged me along happily.  The narration absolutely sold it, with the deadpan voice for Arihant, the slightly mad voice for Louca, and the reptilian voice for the "master".(don't have the spelling)  I loved the settings of the different worlds, the different species, the various mundane things that Louca and Arihant did while on leave, like some sort of deranged vacation. 

To answer some questions:(please note, this is my interpretation, and in no way represents the reality of what was going on in the author's mind)
I'm not sure about the concept of trading souls though... this seems to stray away from Sci-Fi into the realms of Fantasy.
Souls, consciousnesses, minds, call it what you will, a rose by any other name...

If all of humanity is enslaved and the souls are stored in memory cubes or whatnot, how did Arihant and Louca regain some sort of physical manifestation?
I'm thinking that Arihant was basically in the same form as the people in the cubes, but the people in the cubes had their consciousnesses "bound" for lack of a better word to a specific form, while Arihant was downloaded into some sort of freer form.  Louca, however, needed to manipulate things in a more physical way, and was able to download herself into various avatars for just such tasks.  She happened to like raptor forms.  I'm not sure how the avatars worked, but I'm guessing it was a matter compiler kind of thing. They did have a LOT of time between systems.

Why isn't this done for other humans?
I'm guessing it is some sort of delivery method thing.  The humans are delivered in the memory cubes that force them into a specific form, like some sort of conscious hologram, chained to the box it was delivered in. The conquerors of Earth harvested all the humans, and effectively cornered the market.  Perhaps some of the human cubes were "jailbroke", but Arihant and Louca wouldn't know about that.

What is the point of buying a human soul?
Entertainment.  Think conscious Tamagotchi or Your Very Own Holopet. 

Why are the manifestations of Arihant and Louca so different? (Arihant mostly non-corporeal and Louca the AI of a ship that controls a body
Arihant's consciousness has been downloaded into some sort of self-controlling sentient molecular cloud, a la Doctor Manhattan. Louca, on the other hand, needs to do physical chores such as pushing the cart with the cubes. I'm guessing that they left Arihant in cloud form because avatar-forms cost more, or they just didn't give a crap about Arihant, as he was just the watchdog.

If Arihant can turn his mostly-non-corporeal form into a knife, how does he move it? Why doesn't it just lie on the ground?
If in his "human" form Louca's hand passes through him, how can he stab his employer?

Again, going back to Dr. Manhattan, he might be able to use electromagnetism to control form.  If he can do this, he can control his density.  But, to be solid, he would have to considerably reduce his volume. 

If it takes them years (decades?) to cross between star systems, and the reason that they are doing this and not a paid employee is, as explained, that nobody wants to lose that time, why does Arihant keep encountering his employer on multiple planets? Shouldn't he(?) be left far behind? Or if he doesn't mind decades of travel time, why doesn't he sell the human souls? He obviously will care for them, because they are his profits.
I think he's keeping track of the duo.  By the end, he is convinced that Louca is up to no good, and combines his suspicions with a hunting trip.

What makes them special, as opposed to the souls of other creatures?
I believe that it was mentioned in the story that the reptilian conquerors had other delivery services.  It was during the explanation as to why two humans were the couriers.  This wasn't their first  time at the rodeo.

(Waits for the "tl;dr" responses)
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« Reply #14 on: February 15, 2012, 07:12:01 PM »

I loved this story, especially how quickly it dealt with the death of Earth. I don't think it strayed into fantasy at all personally, as has already been said what we call souls could quite possibly be a usable resource for a conquering alien race. Arthur C Clarke said that 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.' so these aliens could have found a way to bind and imprison our souls for all eternity.

I also saw there use simply as slaves, for whatever reason, and imagined the girl from the cube in the story almost as being used as an exotic dancer who would be one of a kind, as well as not needing to be paid, fed or slept.
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« Reply #15 on: February 23, 2012, 12:50:39 PM »

Many interesting ideas in this, and I was digging it throughout most of it, despite having too many unanswered questions (some of which Max brought up). 

But after the ending wrapped up, I didn't really feel like the story had any point.  Loca comes in at the end, killing the lizardman by smushing him.  We knew she was crazy, so there was always potential for this, but it still seemed like a deus ex machina to me, because I hadn't seen anything that suggested she actually wanted to kill it.  And then the lizardman was just replaced with a slightly different lizardman.  So what was the point?  They ended up pretty much back where they started.
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« Reply #16 on: February 23, 2012, 09:55:36 PM »

Louca made several comments and hints throughout the story.  Arihant just interpreted them to mean Louca was mad at him rather than trying to invite him to help her plot the killing.

And ending up in the same place was kind of the point.  Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss, sort of thing.  You can make small changes, win small victories, but in the end, you're still trapped in the system.  Now, you can dislike that sort of cynical theme, certainly, but I think it was very much purposeful the way everything went (almost) back to the way it was.
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« Reply #17 on: February 24, 2012, 09:59:55 AM »

Louca made several comments and hints throughout the story.  Arihant just interpreted them to mean Louca was mad at him rather than trying to invite him to help her plot the killing.

And ending up in the same place was kind of the point.  Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss, sort of thing.  You can make small changes, win small victories, but in the end, you're still trapped in the system.  Now, you can dislike that sort of cynical theme, certainly, but I think it was very much purposeful the way everything went (almost) back to the way it was.

Fair enough.  I still found it pretty pointless.  And if it's point was to say that struggle is pointless, well telling that point also seems pretty pointless to me. 

Also, I would've liked if the protagonist had actually done something to change his fate.  By having Loca do it, he was pretty much a bit player in his own story.  He planned and planned and planned, and then she beat him to it.
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« Reply #18 on: February 24, 2012, 04:05:34 PM »

And Louca's crazy, isn't she? 

The sensible person doesn't take risks.  Planning and forethought.  You can plan yourself all the way into your grave if you don't watch out...

(Again, I think that was a purposeful structure; Arihant's story is a classical tragedy, in a way.  He is trapped by his own inertia just as Louca is trapped by her lack of foresight.)
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« Reply #19 on: February 27, 2012, 12:05:52 PM »

And Louca's crazy, isn't she? 

The sensible person doesn't take risks.  Planning and forethought.  You can plan yourself all the way into your grave if you don't watch out...

(Again, I think that was a purposeful structure; Arihant's story is a classical tragedy, in a way.  He is trapped by his own inertia just as Louca is trapped by her lack of foresight.)

I understand that.  But since I spent so much time in the guy's head, I'd prefer him to be relevant to the plot arc, but he wasn't. 
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