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Author Topic: EP334: The Eckener Alternative  (Read 11583 times)

eytanz

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on: March 02, 2012, 10:42:47 AM
EP334: The Eckener Alternative

By James L. Cambias

Read by Mur Lafferty

Originally appeared in All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, edited by David Moles, 2004

---

The Hindenburg swung gently on the mast at Lakehurst as the sky over New Jersey turned to purple twilight.  All the passengers, the reporters, the newsreel men were gone.  A couple of sailors stood guard beneath the big ship to enforce the no-smoking rule.

John Cavalli waited until the watchman below had turned away, then slid down the stern rope to the ground.  He hunkered down next to the big rolling anchor weight for a couple of minutes, then hurried off into the darkness beyond the floodlights.

Once he was clear, Cavalli stopped to peel off the Russian army arctic commando suit he’d been wearing ever since the Zeppelin had lifted off from Frankfurt-am-Main.  It had kept him warm as he hid among the gas cells with his IR goggles and fire extinguisher, but now in the warmth of a spring evening it was stifling.

He hit the RETURN button on his wristband and disappeared.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: March 02, 2012, 11:24:51 PM by eytanz »



Julio

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Reply #1 on: March 03, 2012, 11:34:54 PM
Troll (obvious? maybe not so obvious?) comment....

Messing up with the Wright brothers inventing a slingshot propelled aircraft would have made no difference with the invention of airplanes, as it was Santos Dumont who actually invented it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/14-bis).

I did love the story.
« Last Edit: March 04, 2012, 12:22:28 AM by Julio »



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #2 on: March 04, 2012, 02:15:20 PM
Loved the story.
The idea of a semi-obsessed time traveler trying to find key points to minimally change history and bring about the airship revolution is comically entrancing. And what better way to open than by averting the Hindenburg disaster?
But I think that my favorite part was when he realized that in order to save the airship he had to prevent WWII. And I loved how he found another minimally invasive way of pulling that off, even though he had to introduce certain people to time travel. It was still one of those small acts that caused (or in this case prevented) a landslide.
The old argument of "what if Hitler were killed" inevitably ends with "somebody else would have done it". Well, here he prevented Hitler from ever coming to power, and was forewarned about the future. So chances are pretty good that he prevented WWII.
And I love the ending. In my mind there could not be a better ending. The time traveler who always immediately knew the outcome of his actions, stuck in history not knowing whether he had succeeded or not, only knowing that he was flying on an airship.

Also, I think that if I ever become a time traveler I will use cans of soda to mark my place in ever-changing history.

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SF.Fangirl

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Reply #3 on: March 04, 2012, 07:25:14 PM
Lots of fun.  I don't have much to say about it, but I enjoyed the heck out of the story.  Escape Pod has had two winners in a row in my opinion.



hoyajon

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Reply #4 on: March 04, 2012, 08:22:10 PM
IMHO it is excellent writing like this which is the reason Steve Ely created Escape Pod in the first place.  Great job in picking up this gem Ms. Lafferty!

I must also say, while this makes a great short story with the indeterminate ending, I could see this plot as a novel, in the vein of "The Doomsday Book", with each attempt at altering history being its own fun chapter with an adventure and a sub-plot.



Magic Smoke

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Reply #5 on: March 04, 2012, 11:18:38 PM
This was a nice laid back story, and didn't get too pedantic with the science involved in the time travel like many stories tend to do. I was really enjoying it until the end, when the main character potentially starts a nuclear war or worse just to bring back airships. That's like shooting a dozen people because you want a soda, and they're standing in front of the vending machine.



antares

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Reply #6 on: March 05, 2012, 09:24:17 AM
Enjoyable story.

t was Santos Dumont who actually invented [the airplane].

No. The Wright Brothers get credited with the first powered flight on 17 December 1903. Santos-Dumont performed the second witnessed powered flight on 23 October 1906. Both flights were straight line. The fact that the Wright Brothers' flight was not verified by the FAI is meaningless. According to the rules of the FAI, Yuri Gagarin was not the first man to orbit the earth, because he did not return to Earth in his spacecraft -- he ejected from it after reentry and parachuted to Earth.

The first public, documented airplane flight took place in Paris 08 August 1908. And the Wright Brothers did it. They, not Santos-Dumont, invented 3-axis control. That and an engine make an airplane.

And don't cite wikipedia as an authority. It isn't.



Anarquistador

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Reply #7 on: March 05, 2012, 01:59:28 PM
Man. When will people learn that time travel is a BAD idea? It all ends up being Nazis and dinosaurs in the end.

I wasn't sure how to take this one. The main character seemed ferociously irresponsible. Well, EVERYONE involved at Time Travel U (did the institute have a name? I think I missed it) seemed pretty disturbingly casual about the whole thing, but this guy in particular didn't seem like he should be trusted with it. He's off tweaking human history, and for what? He thinks airships are neat. Airships are dumb, man! Impractical symbols of the extravagance of the corrupt bourgeiosie! Mere toys of the idle elite, who amuse themselves at the expense of science and progress and the dignity of the commonwealth!

...oooh, I think I skipped a med. Excuse me a moment.

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Reply #8 on: March 05, 2012, 02:42:14 PM
I didn't really care for this story.  Primarily because I didn't really care about the stakes.  Would I like to ride in an airship?  Sure, sign me up.  Would I change all of human history to do so?  Not really.  Maybe it was meant to be spoofing stories where someone goes back in time to change something major for altruistic reasons, or even when people go back to save a loved one's life for purely selfish reasons.  But for this one, what he wanted was so trivial that I just didn't give a crap.  Many terrible things happened in WWII, and I can understand wanting to change that.  If his goal were to undo those atrocities, then I would still question whether it was a good idea since he could make things so much worse but at least I could respect his reasons.  Here I also couldn't respect his reasons.  I like how Magic Smoke put it (welcome, Magic Smoke!  I hope you stick around!):

I was really enjoying it until the end, when the main character potentially starts a nuclear war or worse just to bring back airships. That's like shooting a dozen people because you want a soda, and they're standing in front of the vending machine.

(Maybe I'd also add that the soda machine is nuclear powered, and not bullet-proof.)



Gamercow

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Reply #9 on: March 05, 2012, 09:43:35 PM
This one missed the mark for me because, while I think airships are pretty neat, they really are a technological cul de sac.  Airplanes are some pretty effing amazing feats of engineering,(e.g. The Concorde, SR-71 Blackbird) and I think people miss that sometimes.  That said, with fossil fuels becoming scarce, we may see a resurgence of solar airships, or perhaps ultralights.

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jk_jackel

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Reply #10 on: March 06, 2012, 08:38:46 AM
I loved this one, possibly because I am a historian and love when someone explored a little bit of counterfactual history even if there is time travel involved!

The open ending was possibly my favourite part, at no point did they explicitly state what this change had actually accomplished. I found myself thinking about that alternate history and whether he would have actually stopped Hitler's rise to power. I came the the conclusion that it wouldn't have. I don't think the fact the someone else became president with a huge amount of money to hire guards would have stopped him. The storming of the Munich Beer Hall in 1924 shows he would take any steps he needed to, and the scale of popular support behind the Nazi party means that no matter how many guards he hires one of them would be sympathetic enough to kill him.

But that also made me think... Airships would never beat planes. So even if he did stop WWII the airships would still die. I couldn't think of any scenario that includes planes that would allow them to continue.



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #11 on: March 06, 2012, 08:53:48 AM
But that also made me think... Airships would never beat planes. So even if he did stop WWII the airships would still die. I couldn't think of any scenario that includes planes that would allow them to continue.
That's not the point.
Right now our protag is stuck back in time, but in the golden age of the airship. And that is what counts.

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olivaw

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Reply #12 on: March 06, 2012, 09:44:37 AM
Even if this change was too close to have much of an effect on WWII, I bet it made huge butterfly changes to WWIII.



Anarquistador

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Reply #13 on: March 06, 2012, 01:08:13 PM
This one missed the mark for me because, while I think airships are pretty neat, they really are a technological cul de sac.  Airplanes are some pretty effing amazing feats of engineering,(e.g. The Concorde, SR-71 Blackbird) and I think people miss that sometimes.  That said, with fossil fuels becoming scarce, we may see a resurgence of solar airships, or perhaps ultralights.

God, that would be depressing. We need to start working on that anti-grav engine.

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Gamercow

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Reply #14 on: March 06, 2012, 02:56:46 PM

God, that would be depressing. We need to start working on that anti-grav engine.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and when fossil fuels become scarce, humanity will either travel less, or find alternative fuel sources.  Personally, I think that 75-80% of business travel could be avoided with online meetings.  But that's a separate tangent.

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Talia

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Reply #15 on: March 06, 2012, 03:13:47 PM
Man, Cavalli  was a totally self-centered jerk.. and not much better than Hitler himself. He chose to risk likely destroying most of the people he knew pretty much purely to save these airships. That's pretty messed-up if you ask me - seems likely his actions led to the destruction of thousands if not millions of lives, poofed out of existence because he couldn't give up his dream. What gave him the right to decide his whims were more important than the lives of all his co-workers?

Good story, I liked it, but the protagonist was to my mind pretty clearly evil. Truly and deeply self-centered, trying to hide it behind the excuse of "Well if I stop Hitler, I'll theoretically save all these other people! Who are more important than my co-workers, because I say so!

..... and I'll also get my airships." Hrmph. Hopefully consequences catch up with him and kick his butt.



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Reply #16 on: March 06, 2012, 05:36:18 PM
Truly and deeply self-centered, trying to hide it behind the excuse of "Well if I stop Hitler, I'll theoretically save all these other people! Who are more important than my co-workers, because I say so!

..... and I'll also get my airships." Hrmph. Hopefully consequences catch up with him and kick his butt.

I don't think he even considered saving people from Hitler as part of his motivation.  He just wanted to get the airships, saving people of any sort was a complete coincidence.



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #17 on: March 06, 2012, 11:22:23 PM
Truly and deeply self-centered, trying to hide it behind the excuse of "Well if I stop Hitler, I'll theoretically save all these other people! Who are more important than my co-workers, because I say so!

..... and I'll also get my airships." Hrmph. Hopefully consequences catch up with him and kick his butt.

I don't think he even considered saving people from Hitler as part of his motivation.  He just wanted to get the airships, saving people of any sort was a complete coincidence.
Yeah, because he never really tried to do it that way, only as a last resort.

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Balu

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Reply #18 on: March 07, 2012, 12:09:12 AM
This one missed the mark for me because, while I think airships are pretty neat, they really are a technological cul de sac.  Airplanes are some pretty effing amazing feats of engineering,(e.g. The Concorde, SR-71 Blackbird) and I think people miss that sometimes.  That said, with fossil fuels becoming scarce, we may see a resurgence of solar airships, or perhaps ultralights.

Not just airships, but sailing ships too.

19th century tea clippers could make it from China to England in a few weeks. Add modern materials to the build, and you've effectively got a totally sustainable source of fast, trans-global bulk transport.



Balu

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Reply #19 on: March 07, 2012, 12:26:26 AM
It seems that a lot of you guys didn't like the protagonist because he abuses his power to achieve a flippant end. I didn't like him that much either, but I also thought that his motivation was what made this such a great story.

Firstly, it shows that, in a world where people won't stop Hitler because it might not suit them, you pretty much have to invent your own values.

Secondly, I thought that this was really clever in the way that it played with alternative universe tropes. Almost every alternative universe sees Hitler either getting killed off early or winning the war. Almost every alternative universe also has airships.

That's why I found this to be such an elegant and witty piece of work (although I suppose you do have to be a bit of a geek to 'get it').



Anarquistador

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Reply #20 on: March 07, 2012, 01:57:48 AM
Firstly, it shows that, in a world where people won't stop Hitler because it might not suit them, you pretty much have to invent your own values.

I picked up on that too. Really, no character in this one was particularly likable. Everyone seemed very self-centered and detached. So maybe the main character was mildly more likable, if only because we got to know him better.

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InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #21 on: March 07, 2012, 05:01:37 AM
Hmmm

I had a problem with this story. Summed up in one word. Airships.

Now, I love a good time travel story, and I like the debate about "butterfly problems". But really it was a mash-note for Airship Worshippers, of which I am not. Yeah, it's clever that he stopped Hitler by means of something other than a bullet, but he did it using the father of airships.

Airships are beautiful and graceful, but they are NOT a good alternative to airplanes. They are at the mercy of the weather to a far greater degree than an airplane, and they can hardly match an airplane for either speed or carrying capacity. Air travel would have been less "democratic" than it was in the 1950s.

And yeah, maybe he's happy that he's in a golden age of airships, but the author doesn't seem to indicate that this is going to end. And it would (on top of whatever world political problems might or might not have been caused, which IMHO is more interesting then "Horray! Airships!")
« Last Edit: March 07, 2012, 03:05:29 PM by InfiniteMonkey »



Talia

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Reply #22 on: March 07, 2012, 11:41:56 AM
Hmmm

I had a problem with this story. Summed up in one word. Airships.

Now, I love a good time travel story, and I like the debate about "butterfly problems". But really it was a mash-note for Airship Worshippers, of which I am not. Yeah, it's clever that he stopped Hitler by means of something other than a bullet, but he did it using the father of airships.

Airships are beautiful and graceful, but they are NOT a good alternative to airplanes. They are the mercy of the weather to a far greater degree than an airplane, and they can hardly match an airplane for either speed or carrying capacity. Air travel would have been less "democratic" than it was in the 1950s.

And yeah, maybe he's happy that he's in a golden age of airships, but the author doesn't seem to indicate that this is going to end. And it would (on top of whatever world political problems might or might not have been caused, which IMHO is more interesting then "Horray! Airships!")


I'm pretty sure that was the entire point of the story, that he was chasing a dream that was doomed to fail, regardless of consequence. I thought that was made pretty clear by the fact airships failed all those other times...



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Reply #23 on: March 07, 2012, 02:34:24 PM
Hmmm

I had a problem with this story. Summed up in one word. Airships.

Now, I love a good time travel story, and I like the debate about "butterfly problems". But really it was a mash-note for Airship Worshippers, of which I am not. Yeah, it's clever that he stopped Hitler by means of something other than a bullet, but he did it using the father of airships.

Airships are beautiful and graceful, but they are NOT a good alternative to airplanes. They are the mercy of the weather to a far greater degree than an airplane, and they can hardly match an airplane for either speed or carrying capacity. Air travel would have been less "democratic" than it was in the 1950s.

And yeah, maybe he's happy that he's in a golden age of airships, but the author doesn't seem to indicate that this is going to end. And it would (on top of whatever world political problems might or might not have been caused, which IMHO is more interesting then "Horray! Airships!")


I'm pretty sure that was the entire point of the story, that he was chasing a dream that was doomed to fail, regardless of consequence. I thought that was made pretty clear by the fact airships failed all those other times...

I agree with Talia.  Which, honestly, is one of the things that aggravated me about the story.



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #24 on: March 07, 2012, 03:12:55 PM

I'm pretty sure that was the entire point of the story, that he was chasing a dream that was doomed to fail, regardless of consequence. I thought that was made pretty clear by the fact airships failed all those other times...

I'm not so sure. In every other timeline, the airships failed after World War II. The implication here is that without Hitler there would be no World War II, but our hero couldn't get rid of Hitler because that would be "too big a butterfly" (damn skippy). So the only way to put airships ahead is do something that would be forbidden but that the world might be better off with. Only of course he didn't do it to save people.

Morale: Don't give obsessed nerds the keys to the time machine.

The ending isn't closed, so we don't really know, but my sense of the story is that (at the very least in the main character's mind) this time it wouldn't.