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Author Topic: EP338: The Trojan Girl  (Read 7673 times)

eytanz

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on: March 30, 2012, 05:52:43 AM
EP338: The Trojan Girl

By N. K. Jemisin

Read by Mur Lafferty

First published in Weird Tales

---

The girl was perfect. Her framing, the engine at her core, the intricate web of connections holding her objects together, built-in redundancies… Meroe had never seen such efficiency. The girl’s structure was simple because she didn’t need any of the shortcuts and workarounds that most of their kind required to function. There was no bloat to her, no junk code slowing her down, no patchy sores that left her vulnerable to infection.

“She’s a thing of beauty, isn’t she?” Faster said.

Meroe returned to interface view. He glanced at Zo and saw the same suspicion lurking in her beatific expression.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Meroe said, watching Zo, speaking to Faster. “We don’t grow that way.”

“I know!” Faster was pacing, gesticulating, caught up in his own excitement. He didn’t notice Meroe’s look. “She must have evolved from something professionally-coded. Maybe even Government Standard. I didn’t think we could be born from that!”

They couldn’t. Meroe stared at the girl, not liking what he was seeing. The avatar was just too well-designed, too detailed. Her features and coloring matched that of some variety of Latina; probably Central or South American given the noticeable indigenous traits. Most of their kind created Caucasian avatars to start — a human minority who for some reason comprised the majority of images available for sampling in the Amorph. And most first avatars had bland, nondescript faces. This girl had clear features, right down to her distinctively-formed lips and chin — and hands. It had taken five versionings for Meroe to get his own hands right.

“Did you check out her feature-objects?” Faster asked, oblivious to Meroe’s unease.

“Why?”

Zo answered. “Two of them are standard add-ons — an aggressive defender and a diagnostic tool. The other two we can’t identify. Something new.” Her lips curved in a smile; she knew how he would react.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Lionman

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Reply #1 on: March 31, 2012, 03:18:49 AM
I really enjoyed this piece.  The 'net side of this tale being very gritty, dog-eat-dog sort of place, survival of the fittest.  And the way it ends is a nice twist, an uplifthing sort of thing...just not in the way we think of an uplift happening while applied to biologically engineered creatures made by man.

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Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #2 on: April 01, 2012, 12:03:07 PM
I generally like post-singularity stories. And by singularity I mean when computer programs become smart enough to write themselves http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity.
The use of "singularity" in this story as a sort of informational black hole threw me for a spin, but I got over it.

I love the idea of sentience emerging from castoff code. I'm a programmer by nature and training, and I often treat code as a living being, with a will of its own. So code coming to life is a common daydream caffeine hallucination of mine.
What I didn't like so much was the casualness with which these sentient chunks of code would violate humanity. I mean, it's understandable and perfectly logical, but it bothered me. These are creatures that evolved in a certain ecosystem and thus have very different morals. According to their morals there was nothing wrong with what they were doing. But what they were doing bothered me on a visceral level. I had a sort of instinctive revulsion from it. And I am a person who is eagerly awaiting the singularity.
So I was glad of the ending, humanizing the errant code-beings.

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Magic Smoke

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Reply #3 on: April 02, 2012, 09:38:49 AM
I absolutely loved this story. The whole concept of beings patched together from random bits of information communicated over the internet is just flat out cool. And like Max, I'm not sure why the word singularity was used to refer to something other than the point of AI self-replication, especially in this context. Perhaps it was a purposeful juxtaposition.



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #4 on: April 02, 2012, 01:24:22 PM
Hooray for a first-thing-in-the-morning post from me. Let's hope I can be coherent!

So, I really liked this one, but not at first.

At first, actually, I thought I was going to be disappointed. While the world the wolves inhabited was very interesting and compelling, I was galled by the arbitrary nature of the restrictions placed on them. It seemed a little too convenient, a little too contrived. The mysterious appearance of the Magic Girl Made of Super Code also annoyed me, at first, especially when I realized that there wasn't enough story left for her providence to be explained. She seemed like too big a mystery to leave so completely mysterious. Either of these elements alone wouldn't have bothered me, but together...

But then I realized that the story was really a myth. A Jesus myth with a little girl AI as the Big C. Big Jew that I am, I don't usually find Jesus myths super compelling, but I love stories with a mythic feel. Seeing the story in that light was a catalyst - suddenly everything else snapped into place and I got it. And then I loved the story.

Something I enjoyed all the way through was Meroe (the whole time I was listening, I thought it was Merrow - as in, the sea monster) and the wolves. They were incredibly creepy, wonderfully compelling, and deeply sad beings. Even when I was being annoyed at the seemingly random limitations placed on them "just 'cause" and the magical AI girl, before I saw the lines of connection that would make these things perfect, I enjoyed the wolves.

Anyway, I will add that I really want to know more about this world. I don't know if Jemisin is planning on revisiting this universe, but I'd read it. You know. Hint hint :P.

Wow... that was a surprisingly coherent post for 6:24 AM. Go me.

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Gamercow

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Reply #5 on: April 02, 2012, 02:52:49 PM
I liked this one, it was a kind of mash-up of Tron and Cyberpunk, and it was very enjoyable. 

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childoftyranny

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Reply #6 on: April 02, 2012, 09:45:21 PM
I very much enjoyed this story, its interesting as follow up to the previous story which was very much ambiguous trying to feel dreamlike this was very much focused.

I thought singularity fit perfectly for the way that the entire world seemed to crush down into one single spot, with all the traffic focusing in on this one point, the way they described it sounds like a sort of pseudo-intelligence. In opposition to the fragile intelligence of the wolves this was a social intelligence created by hundred or thousand of other minds involved and it could just consume the electric children.

The eating metaphor for sacavenging out the best parts of lesser organisms was interesting, since that is how so much growth and discovery does take place, in many ways original base ideas are very rare, but there are always new combinations for older ideas that can be put together to create things that are still new.

But then I realized that the story was really a myth. A Jesus myth with a little girl AI as the Big C. Big Jew that I am, I don't usually find Jesus myths super compelling, but I love stories with a mythic feel. Seeing the story in that light was a catalyst - suddenly everything else snapped into place and I got it. And then I loved the story.

Viewing this story as a myth works very I think, but I don't see it a Jesus or savior myth in that fashion, this strikes me as a fire-bringer myth. My favorite example is tales of Raven when he steals fire from the giants cabin, a savior in essence, but its the tool he brings to human-kind that allow them to thrive, this describes how the wolves became more, because a being from outside their world brought the code for fire.

It of course helps that I'm currently listening to Promise of the Wolves via Audible, I used Audible before it was cool, so the connection between predators, wolves and animals, tribal/pack logic are all heavy in my  head right now. Well played Escape Pod, well played...



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #7 on: April 02, 2012, 09:50:52 PM
But then I realized that the story was really a myth. A Jesus myth with a little girl AI as the Big C. Big Jew that I am, I don't usually find Jesus myths super compelling, but I love stories with a mythic feel. Seeing the story in that light was a catalyst - suddenly everything else snapped into place and I got it. And then I loved the story.

Viewing this story as a myth works very I think, but I don't see it a Jesus or savior myth in that fashion, this strikes me as a fire-bringer myth. My favorite example is tales of Raven when he steals fire from the giants cabin, a savior in essence, but its the tool he brings to human-kind that allow them to thrive, this describes how the wolves became more, because a being from outside their world brought the code for fire.

I see your point, and raise you this: there seemed to me to be a strong connection between the "fire" - dreaming, what the wolves learned from the girl - and salvation. Learning to dream and care saved the wolves from an empty and careless life.

Not that I really disagree with you. This story was definitely big enough for the both of us.

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childoftyranny

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Reply #8 on: April 02, 2012, 10:12:36 PM
I see your point, and raise you this: there seemed to me to be a strong connection between the "fire" - dreaming, what the wolves learned from the girl - and salvation. Learning to dream and care saved the wolves from an empty and careless life.

Not that I really disagree with you. This story was definitely big enough for the both of us.

I definitely see that, I wonder how far its safe to take dreaming in this story. It could be simply the imagination, where it gives the wolves the ability to dream of being more and more, although they already do that. I'd like to take it a step further and imagine that the non-static world is essentially a dream world, where things can be made and un-made in ways that are impossible in the static, when the wolves learn to dream they can think equally with the designers in that sense, and therefore truly be masters of their world, if still children to the static.



MrBlister

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Reply #9 on: April 03, 2012, 07:00:59 PM
Hello, long time listener first time caller.

This is my second exposure to N.K. Jemisin in recent months (read "Non-Zero Probability" a few months ago) and I think I am becoming a fan. I find this approach to cyberpunk both interesting and accessible. The characters are believable enough and the story isn't loaded with poorly defined virtual-jargon.



Anarquistador

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Reply #10 on: April 04, 2012, 02:59:33 PM
I saw the mythic undertones of the story as more Buddhist (or perhaps, non-specifically "Eastern") in its tone: the Trojan Girl was the bringer of Compassion. Through her the wolves attain a form of Enlightenment. They learn to see each other on an intellectual and emotional level, evolving from mere predatory beasts to true sentient beings, capable of empathy, imagination, and love. Although there were hints that Meroe already had some rudimentary sense of these things, but he lacked the capacity to fully understand or express them.

This concept is one near and dear to my heart: the notion of AIs evolving "wild" in the Ether, and what they might become free of the baggage we material beings are saddled with. It's interesting that the wolves almost seem like dolphins in personalities: intelligent, but cruel in ways so alien to human minds...

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yicheng

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Reply #11 on: April 04, 2012, 04:18:06 PM
This was definitely not one of my favorites.  The plot arch was fairly predictable and most of the characters were more or less one-dimensional.  The only thing that threw me for surprise loop was that I thought for sure they were going to end up eating the girl (and thus triggering the trojan).  In fact, I would suggest that the story might be better if they had.

The big fly in the soup, however, and which completely ruined the story for me beyond all salvation was that the author seemed to have thrown in every single scifi trope about computer and the intertubes that she could think of.  As a software engineer, it was just impossible for me not to literally roll my eyes every other minute.  Normally, I love NK Jemisin's work in the fantasy genre, but this story just seems badly conceived.  I don't even know where to start.

Perhaps most glaring is that the idea that Artificial Intelligences would somehow act, feel, and be motivated exactly how humans would.  In the mainstream study of AI, this idea (that AI should emulate humans) has long been dead and thought to be a hindrance to real advancement in the field.  It's far more likely that any form of real Artificial Intelligence would be barely recognizable by humans, and would probably resemble the emergent behavior of hive insects (ants, bees, wasps) than anything like a human consciousness capable of feeling fear, doubt, love, or hate.  Nor would any such AI's regard humans as "Gods".  In fact the very concept of Gods would be completely irrational and illogical.  In fact, it's highly debatable whether an AI would even have a sense of self-preservation.  Human beings are not the end-all of evolution and creation, so why do we need to be so egotistical as to assume that AI's should be "like us".

Another horrid trope that really needs to die is the idea that pieces of software can just "download" into a human being or even "go" anywhere on the net.  First of all, ask you self what happens when you download any form of digital media.  Does the original piece of software "disappear" or "go" anywhere?  No, the software just makes a new copy of where ever you downloaded to.  So even assuming that you could somehow write software that runs on the human brain, and then have some sort of interface to translate machine code into "human brain code", when Meros (sp?) et al downloads into the human beings, the would have just copied themselves to a new platform, leaving their old selves intact and exactly in the same spot.

Similarly, one virus wouldn't need to rip out or kill another virus simply to take its constituent pieces (or whatever).  That in and of itself is as non-sensical as me cutting off my leg, duct taping a shotgun to the stump, and expecting everything to be fine.  While the chances of producing a viable result would be astronomically low, a virus could simply copy what it needed without damaging its target.  The only thing that makes this form of exchange work in the real world (and in the virtual world) is that real viruses and computer viruses do this literally millions of iterations a minute so as to offset the 99.999% of failed results.

Also the whole information "singularity" as a black hole was big WTF?  Why would AI's be afraid of them, let alone be destroyed by them.  When they mention "Event Horizon" I literally groaned.  There's no physics or gravity in the Internet.  Why would they have to "escape" or be "drawn to" anything??  It just felt ridiculous and completely out of place. 

Finally, the whole virtual/real world duality is old and recycled.  It worked for Neuromancer and Snow Crash because the genre (and the technology it was based on) was very new, but in today's technology is there no "one" e-Morph virtual world.  There are many many many virtual worlds, each with its own rules and physics.  While I like the idea of AI's arising "out of the wild" from various rich game worlds (e.g. like a World of Warcraft 5 or maybe Everquest 9) the idea that they can travel and move to various other worlds is silly (see 3rd paragraph about copying digital files).  For pieces of software to exist outside of its native environment would like akin to plopping one of us naked on the surface of Uranus and expecting us to thrive.

So, sorry for the wall o' text.  If you liked the story, good on you, and hopefully I didn't rain on your parade.  But I really hope Ms Jemesin does some better research (at least more than watching a few movies) next time.



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #12 on: April 05, 2012, 06:57:23 PM
I enjoyed the story in a general "it was on" sort of way, but I have some of the same problems that yicheng has. I am VERY skeptical of the Vingeian singularity. And, no, I don't simply mean the use of singularity in this story. Though I suppose it was an interesting concept.

And my biggest problem occurred at the end, when, as often happens in AI-VR stories, I have no context with which to conceptualize where our three member wolf pack actually is. They're sleeping somewhere, but the very name of "where" they are means "shapeless" - so, are they *anywhere*? Can they even conceive of "place" and "location" they way we do?



Devoted135

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Reply #13 on: April 10, 2012, 07:22:47 PM
The action in this story ended up being very "tron-like" in my head, which unfortunately is not really a good thing. There were some points that I really liked, such as the relationship between the main characters. However, the girl they were hunting did not turn out to be very interesting in and of herself, and the ending was a little too close to a teaser ending for my taste.


And my biggest problem occurred at the end, when, as often happens in AI-VR stories, I have no context with which to conceptualize where our three member wolf pack actually is. They're sleeping somewhere, but the very name of "where" they are means "shapeless" - so, are they *anywhere*? Can they even conceive of "place" and "location" they way we do?

On the one had, you're absolutely right. On the other, I wonder if this story written with those elements properly in place would result in characters so foreign as to make it much less enjoyable.



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Reply #14 on: April 13, 2012, 06:03:54 AM
What began with a slow start quickly drew me in with the story's essential premise.  As our host observed, In a game, each revert to save, changes us, modifies our approach for a more successfull outcome.  Like a golf "mulligan" wouldn't it be great to have a "do-over" each time we stuffed up.  The arguments with my wife alone would be worth it, let alone never again stuffing up at work or to up the stakes even more, how about being the perfect parent, raising children worthy of a planet wide utopia, capable of achieving a unified level of humanity never before possible (let alone concievable). Hmmm, yeah and on that note, wouldn't it be great if monopoly money was real.   ;D



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Reply #15 on: April 13, 2012, 11:39:58 AM
What a great way to change society for the better: give people something that they want, that at the same time helps them to become better people. Someone should write the president!
Robert.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2012, 11:52:34 AM by eytanz »

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eytanz

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Reply #16 on: April 13, 2012, 11:53:01 AM
Moderator note: Please do not change the subject line for episode threads.

Thanks!



robertcday

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Reply #17 on: April 13, 2012, 01:49:39 PM
Moderator note: Please do not change the subject line for episode threads.

Thanks for the heads-up. It leads me to be curious as to why the functionality is there to do so, but without the temptation to flaunt rules set by them as what is in charge.
Robert.

fanaticus, meaning "insanely but divinely inspired"


eytanz

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Reply #18 on: April 13, 2012, 02:32:55 PM
Moderator note: Please do not change the subject line for episode threads.

Thanks for the heads-up. It leads me to be curious as to why the functionality is there to do so, but without the temptation to flaunt rules set by them as what is in charge.
Robert.

Well, the forum runs on general-purpose forum software, and it doesn't give us the ability to disable this function. And we don't disallow it for all thread - just for the official episode threads. The functionality can be used in all the non-episode boards.



SF.Fangirl

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Reply #19 on: April 30, 2012, 01:43:32 AM
Like Electric Paladin and Lightspeed Kiwi, this was a slow start for me.  I actually shut it down a couple of minutes into the story not being a big fantasy fan and the the whole wolf thing seeming very much fantasy.  Once I gave it another go I had some slow going through the world building and trying to figure out what was going on.  I did end up really enjoying it.  In retrospect the science was kind of closer to fantasy probably, but that thought never occurred to me while listening.  I'm not a fan of singualrity/post-singularity stories, but I did enjoy this one.

In short, I was very pleasantly surprised.    This was a good one that makes me glad I still download Escape Pod every week.



Unblinking

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Reply #20 on: May 18, 2012, 01:36:49 PM
So, sorry for the wall o' text.  If you liked the story, good on you, and hopefully I didn't rain on your parade.  But I really hope Ms Jemesin does some better research (at least more than watching a few movies) next time.

Has it occurred to you that Jemisin's choices in this story need not have stemmed from inadequate research, but intentional choices to create a good story?  I'm a software engineer myself, and I don't think you're wrong about any of the points you made about how computers work.  I noticed discrepancies as the story went on, but they didn't really bother me, unlike your average spy show that includes a hacker but was clearly written by someone who doesn't understand even a Wikipedia-level of knowledge about encryption.  But I enjoyed the story because it constructed a world that, though I don't consider it particularly plausible, I found very fun and compelling.  I thought most of the oddities were explained to some extent by the constraint that humans have put on the software systems though the "thous shalt not be smarter than humans" rule struck me as very difficult to enforce--how would one objectively measure that of an unwilling general purpose software program?

This story started a little slow.  I try to give every story at least 10 minutes past the intro to give me a chance.  The vast majority of the time, if I am not hooked at the beginning then I am bored by the end.  This was the rare case where this wasn't true--it took me several minutes to really grasp the setting here (especially with the confusing name Amorph I wasn't sure if that was a person or a trait, eventually realized it's just the Internet), and I didn't really get interested fully until their rival had forced the amusement park interface on them and offered them the truce.

As I was reading this, this story does use a lot of things are already very commonplace:  the virtual world, emergent AIs, neural interfaces, an artificial being granted the capacity for love.  But the way it was put together made it seem novel, and more interesting then its commonplace component parts.



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Reply #21 on: May 18, 2012, 01:38:55 PM
One more thing to add:  I'm not really sure what the title is supposed to mean.  A Trojan, in computer terms, is a program that once it infiltrates your system opens a backdoor for malicious programs to enter, like the Trojan horse concealing soldiers.  I'm not sure how exactly this girl is a Trojan.  The ability to dream is conveyed in this story as the opposite of malice, it's compassion.  Filing the Trojan Horse with hugs and fluffy bunnies?



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #22 on: May 18, 2012, 01:59:19 PM
So, sorry for the wall o' text.  If you liked the story, good on you, and hopefully I didn't rain on your parade.  But I really hope Ms Jemesin does some better research (at least more than watching a few movies) next time.

Every expert complains about this, and we all need to shut up and deal with it. I studied religion in college; most made-up religions make me want to either laugh at the improbability or cry at the unoriginality. I teach middle school science now; most story scientists baffle me, and don't get me started on the depiction of teaching and education. Every time a "good teacher" character says "open your books to page..." I kind of want to throw up.

But the fact is that we know things that other people don't. We have expertises. But what you have to remember is that stories aren't written for us. They're written for the average reader. Did this story seem appropriately "computer-y?" Yes. Is that enough for most folks? Probably. Most importantly, is this a hard sci-fi story in which the reality of the computerized environment really matters? No. Therefore, Jemesin did her job just fine. Sorry you weren't pleased.

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Unblinking

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Reply #23 on: May 18, 2012, 04:21:16 PM
Every expert complains about this,

Not every.



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #24 on: May 18, 2012, 04:27:36 PM
Every expert complains about this,

Not every.

Fair enough.

I bet most experts feel it. I bet some complain about it. But it's true; not everyone complains.

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