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Author Topic: EP339: “Run,” Bakri Says  (Read 4402 times)
eytanz
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« on: April 06, 2012, 11:30:41 AM »

EP339: “Run,” Bakri Says

By Ferrett Steinmetz

Read by Mur Lafferty

Originally appeared at Asimov's

---

“I just want to know where my brother is,” Irena yells at the guards. The
English words are thick and slow on her tongue, like honey. She holds her
hands high in the air; the gun she’s tucked into the back of her pants jabs
at her spine.

She doesn’t want to kill the soldiers on this iteration; she’s never killed
anyone before, and doesn’t want to start. But unless she can get poor, weak
Sammi out of that prison in the next fifty/infinity minutes, they’ll start
in on him with the rubber hoses and he’ll tell them what he’s done. And
though she loves her brother with all her heart, it would be a blessing then
if the Americans beat him to death.

The guards are still at the far end of the street, just before the tangle of
barbed wire that bars the prison entrance. Irena stands still, lets them
approach her, guns out. One is a black man, the skin around his eyes
creased with a habitual expression of distrust; a fringe of white hair and
an unwavering aim marks him as a career man. The other is a younger man,
squinting nervously, his babyfat face the picture of every new American
soldier. Above them, a third soldier looks down from his wooden tower,
reaching for the radio at his belt.

She hopes she won’t get to know them. This will be easier if all they do is
point guns and yell. It’ll be just like Sammi’s stupid videogames.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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matweller
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« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2012, 11:44:29 AM »

This is easily my favorite story of the year so far. As I said to Mur, the attention to the degradation of each repeat is a detail most people writing a save-point story would neglect and shows how much the author really thought about it and the loss of self over the repeats is an amazing extension of what I've felt before playing games. The first time you go through an area, it's new and exciting, and you may not see every inch, but if you make it through in one try, you feel like you've accomplished something. If you hit one you have to repeat over and over, it loses magic on every iteration, and by the time you're done, even if you can perform a delicate dance through the most difficult scene and you know the map form every angle and you're going to have the health and ammo you need when you're done, it still feels like less of an accomplishment.

So enjoyable. Thank you, Mr. Steinmetz.
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NoNotRogov
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« Reply #2 on: April 07, 2012, 04:23:08 PM »

I hope that the scifi trope of a lone, rogue inventor's bizarre and anachronistic technology in an otherwise mundane setting never departs the genre. Nothing encapsulates the speculative fiction methodology of establishing consistency and plausibility once a specific core conceit is given a free-pass card from disbelief as well as this tried and true Edisonade formula, in my opinion. That might have to do with the obvious other example, the Planet of Hats, where an alien or future culture or species is presented to make a commentary, is all about tying in a social commentary into the world of the story; meaning that even beyond the deliberately speculative element (the alien race itself or the technology of the future earth) that the mundane elements of the story are stylized in ways that stretch suspension of disbelief (see the attitudes and noir style plots of the cyberpunk genre).

Being a primarily social scifi fan, from my perspective the Magnificent Machine style of story introduces a clear and distinct speculative element that can be easily separated from the mundane world around it, allowing author and reader to gauge to minute degrees the level of genre tropes and other stylization in the mundane elements. That makes stories such as this, with one macguffin like the Save Point, a potential textbook showcase for applying plausibility to a narrative containing fantastical elements.
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enoch
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« Reply #3 on: April 07, 2012, 09:28:34 PM »

I really liked this story. Its definitely making my favorites of the year list.

This story, along with the Podcastle Miniature : Mario's 3 Lives, has given me a different perspective on video games. I know its just fiction, and I know that the characters in the games I play probably aren't independently sentient. But its still fun to think about isnt it?

This story also reminded me of the many hours spent playing DOOM. Im not sure why...  Smiley
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #4 on: April 08, 2012, 01:41:37 AM »

I'm going to speak up and say that I surprised myself and really didn't like this one at all. And, oddly, it was less a theme issue and more a craft issue. This is odd for me. Usually I'm the one saying "thematically this one didn't do it for me, but the craft was excellent..." Here, the themes were exciting, but I just don't like how the story was written.

Specifically, I thought that the pacing was way off. In this kind of story, you need to have the part where you show-don't-tell, letting the audience into the horror of Irena's situation. Then you go to the tell-don't-show part, where you use narrative techniques to evoke the length of time Irena is stuck in this loop and how it changes her, but without detailing every minute. And, finally, you return to more immediate storytelling for the gory, heart-wrenching finish. This is basically what Steinmetz did. The trouble is, I think he went to stage two too quickly, and then stayed in it for too long. In other words, too much tell, not enough show.

Secondly, I thought that the story completely failed to evoke the characters' background through a unique voice or style. I wasn't expecting it to be all Allah this, random non-English words that - I'm glad that the main characters were real people, not caricatures - but come on... the internal monologues of human beings do in fact vary according to their cultures of origin. These characters just sounded like Americans with funny names. It was kind of a cop-out, and it annoyed me. I feel that if you aren't going to bother really evoking a character's origin, it shouldn't exist. If you're going to make your characters sound like Americans, just let them be Americans. Set your story in a near future where America has become a totalitarian shit-hole where the government preys on its own people. Don't put it in some relevant middle-eastern style place and then don't bother to do your homework.

In conclusion: great themes, poor execution. Sorry, guys.
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H. Bergeron
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« Reply #5 on: April 09, 2012, 02:22:12 AM »

I definitely very much enjoyed this story for the reasons detailed above - the way it seems to degrade over time and the eventual insanity of the main character seemed well-done. I saw the insanity coming once the nature of the earlier experiment - with the other person who killed seventeen soldiers - became clear, but I still enjoyed the onset.

I have one tiny problem with the production, though, and I hope this is an appropriate place to mention it - the story ends on this harsh, excellent note and then, almost immediately, the music comes in. It's not like on Pseudopod, where the music slides in slowly, or on Beware the Hairy Mango, where the whole POINT is abrupt silliness. I feel like the sudden onset of the music hurts my enjoyment of the end of the story, and I'd prefer at least a beat between the last sentence and the start of the music - a moment to take a breath and let the end of the story wash over me.
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« Reply #6 on: April 09, 2012, 09:21:43 PM »

OK this one was brilliant.  I loved the pacing and the style that it was written in.

The idea behind it was clever and not knowing what actually happens to the girl in the end is clever.  Did she get out, get captured or did she in her madness do another reset?
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Yaekmon
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« Reply #7 on: April 09, 2012, 09:36:28 PM »

I thought this was a great example of the 12:01 PM/Groundhog Day time-loop sub-genre.

I do agree with ElectricPaladin's analysis of the structure: the middle seemed over-long and the ending seemed rushed. It took hundreds of attempts to get past three guards, but the guards inside were easy pickings because they weren't wearing vests?

But, overall, I think the good outweighed the bad, and it was an evocative and thought-provoking piece about how violence begets violence.
No matter how many approaches she tried, the violent mindset of her brother's captors meant she had no choice but to use violence against them. I think that it was in recognising this cycle of violence that she decided she must dispose of those who perpetuate it, even if one was her own brother.
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Lab Tinnion
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« Reply #8 on: April 10, 2012, 03:49:07 AM »

I have to agree with ElectricPaladin's second point about culture and thought patterns.  Irena's thoughts and way of thinking sounded American in every way, and not just because it was presented in English.  Also, I had a hard time swallowing the idea of "several old X-Boxes wired together with rusted antenna and whirligig copper cups" as something capable of pulling an entire human consciousness backwards through time.  That was just silly.

Still, even with all that said, I really liked this story.  Taken as fantasy, it's an excellent exploration of how violence degrades humanity.  Unfortunately, a lot of the narrative force in this story was lost in the podcast version.  It's a gritty, action piece with a lot of hard emotions.  The reading just failed to carry that.  If any story ever needed a good performance reader, this one was it.  The repetition of the title line alone should have gotten harsher (and more sickening?) with each iteration, not because Bakri said it differently each time, but because it came to mean something different and more to the main character (and by extension to us) as it went on and on.

I found myself agreeing in the end with Irena's choice in the story to destroy both the machine and its creator, not to keep it from the "Americans," but to keep it from existing at all.  A world with such machines would be not only free of consequences, conscience, and humanity, it would be irrevocably chained to the moment.
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Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today - but the core of science fiction, its essence has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.~~Isaac Asimov
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« Reply #9 on: April 10, 2012, 09:10:22 AM »

Every video gamer has that "Throw the controller" moment.  To this day, some 25 years later, the end pogo-boss to Mega Man sticks in my head as the first to really make me throw my controller.  I can't imagine adding the sensation of experiencing of your own death to the equation, I find Irena's reactions completely believable. 

That said, I did find the setting a bit weak, and the tech a bit weak as well, but the characters involved(mostly Irena) were excellent.
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MrBlister
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« Reply #10 on: April 10, 2012, 03:01:50 PM »

I really like the premise, but the story seemed rushed. I didn't really feel the main character change, because I never really got to know her at all. The world she is moving through seems like a blank slate as well.
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childoftyranny
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« Reply #11 on: April 11, 2012, 08:20:30 PM »

In that best way I enjoyed this story but not without reservations. My first was definitely the setting, its a setting that can evoke quite a few emotions and I'm not sure that this story was set up to catch those and use them rather than evoking them. We should all agree the war is a terrible terrible nasty thing, a child having their mother destroyed in a war more-so, it matters quite little whether that bomb was in the right or wrong place to the dead. I think a nameless enemy would have worked fine in this story and helped to protect it from unrelated feelings since it deals with such a touchy subject, a hat-nod to Electric Paladin for giving me the nucleus to really say this the right way.

Secondly, while completely necessary the repetition nevertheless got on my nerves, there isn't much beyond that, I'm glad the overal story was evocative to get my beyond that. I caught me in the same fashion that the repetitive torture scenes in 1984 did, I reached the amount of horror I was going to get for the moment and then it just felt like someone was poking me with the horror stick(hmm, there must be a flash fiction idea in a "horror stick").

Fourthly, I think the story did quite well at evoking that horror. The transition to her first kill was pretty abrupt, in the subjective time sense of a listen, even if we know there were many attempts until it to that, I could imagine one of the soldiers accidentally shooting his partner in one attempt leading her to act bolder as a more fluid transition.

Between the brother and sister I think there is a fantastic comparison, we see both as emotionless but in different ways, by the end I think you believe Sammi doesn't understand emotions really, but Irena, hid hers. In her effort to take of her family she tucked them away and even used them as a focus to go into the never-ending battle that warped and twisted those same emotions. This was another brutal story I think, love is a dangerous weapon.

Thirdly, After Ferret has given use this and Devourhttp://forum.escapeartists.net/index.php?topic=6090.0 we need to get him to think think happy thoughts, THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS!

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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #12 on: April 11, 2012, 08:25:49 PM »

Thirdly, After Ferret has given use this and Devourhttp://forum.escapeartists.net/index.php?topic=6090.0 we need to get him to think think happy thoughts, THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS!

Ferret gave us Devour? That's good - between this one and the unicorn one, I was beginning to think that I just didn't like his stories. I'm glad he also produced one of my favorites - yay for ambiguity!
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« Reply #13 on: April 11, 2012, 10:18:01 PM »

Let me start off by saying I absolutely loved this story. As others have stated, I think is one of the best stories, not only of this year, but of the last hundred or so that I've managed to go back since I discovered EscapePod. What I loved most was the despairing realism that eventually this situation would drive you mad. Stories like Groundhog Day make it seem like a fun party. Yes, Bill Murray does lose it a bit, but in the end, he grows from the experience and is a better person for it. Not in this tale.

That being said, I see the points several of you have made about the short-comings of this story, but I think those issues can be addressed by looking at the story in a different way. Not to say that any of you don't know how to read or listen to a story, in fact, many of your comments here in the past have helped broaden my understanding and appreciation of the stories broadcast. But I think in this case, some of you may be looking at the story from the wrong angle.

Consider Orson Scott Card's MICE Quotient; the idea that there are four parts to every story: Milieu (environment), Idea, Character, and Event. Each of these four aspects is in every story to some degree, but one is always paramount. I think the problem here is that some of you might be reading this as either a Milieu story or a Character story. A Milieu story begins when a character is placed in a foreign environment and ends when they leave or adapt to that environment. Irena is already in her environment, so this doesn't apply, and environment is not as important to the story. The Character story begins when the character wants to change their role in life and ends when they either accomplish it or give in to it. Again, doesn't apply and so a weaker character development can be overlooked.

This is clearly an Idea story. The Idea story begins when a question or problem is posed, ie. "What if we could reset our lives to a save point every time we screw up?" and ends when the answer is presented, ie. "You will eventually go mad." Card says, "...appropriate characterization for an idea story not necessarily the same thing as appropriate characterization for another type of story. Characters stand for ideas, or exist primarily to discover them."

So, for me, the idea story of creating a machine that can reset time is a wonderful idea, even in its hokey incarnation of networked X-boxes, because it asks the question of "What if?" and answers it in a dark, yet surprisingly realistic way. I think it was fantastic. I can easily get past the lack of character development or environment, even the cliche "Evil United States vs. the Terroristic Middle East" because the Idea itself is so interesting and well perceived.

This post quickly got away from me and for that I apologize. I do not mean to sound preachy or lecturing. One quick note,
Secondly, while completely necessary the repetition nevertheless got on my nerves,

I loved the repetition precisely because it got on my nerves. I thought it added to the growing sense of madness in the story.

My two (50?) cents. Thanks for hearing me out.
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matweller
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« Reply #14 on: April 12, 2012, 12:35:36 AM »

I have one tiny problem with the production, though, and I hope this is an appropriate place to mention it - the story ends on this harsh, excellent note and then, almost immediately, the music comes in. It's not like on Pseudopod, where the music slides in slowly, or on Beware the Hairy Mango, where the whole POINT is abrupt silliness. I feel like the sudden onset of the music hurts my enjoyment of the end of the story, and I'd prefer at least a beat between the last sentence and the start of the music - a moment to take a breath and let the end of the story wash over me.

I reject the comparison to any other show. I rather like the way the way we end a story and then the sudden music pulls you back into reality and forces you to see how gripped you really were. Plus, it's the way it's been done since long before I was at the reins, so there.

You're right, though. The music came in at least a half second sooner than I would have normally put it. I think what happened was that I aligned all the tracks the way I wanted them, then listened all the way through again to QC it. I caught an edit in the middle, and then had to adjust all the tracks at the end, and I must have slipped on placing them. I'm sorry. It's a fluke, but I agree that it should have been timed a bit better. Thanks for the catch!
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Yaekmon
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« Reply #15 on: April 12, 2012, 06:23:13 AM »

Stories like Groundhog Day make it seem like a fun party. Yes, Bill Murray does lose it a bit, but in the end, he grows from the experience and is a better person for it. Not in this tale.

You should watch the short film 12:01PM, starring Kurtwood Smith.
It's a much grittier take on the time-loop than Groundhog Day.

It's my second favourite short film of all time, after The Bloody Olive.
That one shares a theme with another Hollywood film, but to say which would be a spoiler.

I'm pretty sure both are on YouTube.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #16 on: April 12, 2012, 09:43:08 AM »

This is easily one of my favorite EP stories of the year. For me the repetitions, the alternating between tight focus on one or two iterations and the staccato portrayal of tens more iterations, the leaps in mind-frame that Irena took... it all worked for me.

I 100% agree that her thought patterns seemed quite American so I was thrown off when it was revealed that she was meant to be Middle Eastern, and I do wish that the various sides had remained ambiguous. However, I was able to hand-wave away the silliness of xboxes hooked together and a handcuff consciousness-tether. Smiley


The first time you go through an area, it's new and exciting, and you may not see every inch, but if you make it through in one try, you feel like you've accomplished something. If you hit one you have to repeat over and over, it loses magic on every iteration, and by the time you're done, even if you can perform a delicate dance through the most difficult scene and you know the map form every angle and you're going to have the health and ammo you need when you're done, it still feels like less of an accomplishment.

Having watched my husband go though this scenario countless times (most recently in playing through the Uncharted series, and perhaps most memorably in the MGS series) this piqued my interest. I would have thought that the satisfaction of finally getting through and performing "a delicate dance" would still be high, but he totally agrees with you that having to try 3-5ish times increases the satisfaction but 10-20X makes it completely lose all of its charm.
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aceofwands
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« Reply #17 on: April 12, 2012, 11:03:18 AM »

I must post or risk losing my privileges, it says here, so "hi".

I didn't have particularly strong feelings about this story, I just didn't enjoy it as much as others obviously did.  As a point of reference, though, the ebook-pocalypse story has been my highlight so far.  I like a podcast that makes me laugh in the face of complete strangers.

Getting back to Bakri I think the choice of setting set a weight on the story's shoulders that it couldn't really carry.  In fact the real-world elements, like the references to x-box, were probably the weak-point.

That being said I didn't mind the Heath-Robinson McGuffin - it's fiction, after all, and time-travelling consciousness-tranference fiction at that, so x-boxes or egg-boxes would have been all the same to me.  I just felt it moved past the point where a Groundhog Day story would have had something useful to say about the people involved, and overplayed the save-game trope to the point of creating the same grinding impatience just to get to the end-of-level boss.

In the end, I wasn't even clear on the message - war is hell, video-games desensitise, or overachieving geek brothers must ... avoid plot spoliers?
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #18 on: April 12, 2012, 11:55:58 AM »

This story really worked for me, too. While I realized that no configuration of XBoxes would result in any kind of time travel, I realized that that was really just a hook into the 'save point' aspect of video games and gave it a pass for the idea.

I didn't see where this was going at all (my own naïveté, I suppose) and the moment when I realized that Fahrouz's 'insanity' was simply(?) a result of the same kind of repetition the main character was going through (and yes, that Bill Murray's character went through in Groundhog Day), was a bit of a stunner, I have to admit.

What I loved most was the despairing realism that eventually this situation would drive you mad. Stories like Groundhog Day make it seem like a fun party. Yes, Bill Murray does lose it a bit, but in the end, he grows from the experience and is a better person for it. Not in this tale.

I think the difference is in the circumstances. There's a huge difference between reporting on a benign - if ridiculous - winter ritual in the peace of the U.S., and breaking into a military prison in the Middle East in war time. The latter situation could drive you insane without a time loop.

Also, I don't think the main character in this story lost her sanity. She lost her ability to see Bakri and the guards as humans, because while she was repeating her actions, they weren't.

But she also recognized that she had lost that perspective as a result of the time loop; as soon as she was no longer in it, she regained her ability to recognize someone as, not a video game obstacle to be overcome, but another person, to be seen as an individual and loved for it.

Makes me wonder if Fahrouz came to the same realization by the end of his similar - and probably longer - journey.


(Edited for word choice.)
« Last Edit: April 13, 2012, 01:48:10 PM by Wilson Fowlie » Logged

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« Reply #19 on: April 13, 2012, 06:28:13 AM »

..and then I thought: 'all that effort trying to perfect that inner loop when it may, in fact, be only one iteration of a bigger outer loop'! Brain warming stuff; me likes.
Robert.
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