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Author Topic: PC211 / 592: The Axiom Of Choice  (Read 17607 times)


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on: June 05, 2012, 03:53:33 PM
PodCastle 211: The Axiom Of Choice

by David W. Goldman

Read by Eric Luke, of the Extruding America podcast.

Originally appeared in The New Haven Review, Winter 2011.

The three of you have lingered outside the darkened club an hour beyond the show’s end. Your palms rest atop your guitar case, which stands vertical before you on the cracked sidewalk. Standing not quite as vertical, Paul steadies himself by pressing a hand against the club’s brick wall, just below a photocopied poster bearing an image of his face looking very serious. (DYNAMIC SINGER-SONGWRITER PAUL MURONI! says the poster. Your name appears lower down, in smaller type.) One corner of the poster has come loose. It flips back and forth in the unseasonably warm gusts that blow down the narrow street.

“But really,” says the guy, some old friend of Paul’s whose name you’ve already forgotten, “why should you two spend tomorrow driving way up the coast for one damn gig, and then all the way back the next day? I’ll fly you there tonight in my Cessna — tomorrow you can sleep in as long as you like.” His arms sweep broad arcs when he speaks, the streetlamp across the road glinting off the near-empty bottle in his grip.

Paul rubs the back of his hand against his forehead, the way he always does when he’s tired. You’re both tired, three weeks into a tour of what seem like the smallest clubs in the most out-of-the-way towns along the twistiest roads in New England.

Paul looks at you, his eyes a bit blurry. “What do you think?” There’s a blur to his voice, too. “I’m in no condition for decisions.”

Rated R for language, violence and sexual content.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: September 17, 2019, 11:26:52 PM by Ocicat »


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Reply #1 on: June 06, 2012, 04:13:20 AM
Often, when I see a PodCastle that's an hour long...I inwardly groan because it means I'll have to spend three commutes listening to it, because I can only listen to Escapepod, Podcastle, and Pseudopod in the car, since they require full concentration. When this one started, I admit it: I very briefly thought, "Maybe I'll just skip this one. It sounds annoying."

Then I gave it those few minutes Dave implored us to give it. I ended up taking the long way home--half an hour out of my way--because I wanted to hear the end tonight instead of tomorrow.

Wow. This was AMAZINGLY good. I'm usually not a fan of second-person POV stories, and those 'choose-your-own adventure' stories were...the opposite of good.

This...this was a work of art. A truly enjoyable--if bizarre--story. I found myself saying things like, "C'mon, man! 714! 714! GAH! You idiot!"

Good stuff.

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Reply #2 on: June 06, 2012, 05:05:41 AM
I found myself saying things like, "C'mon, man! 714! 714! GAH! You idiot!"

Good stuff.

You are the king under the mountain, and this particular part of your comment made me go:  ;D ;D ;D


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Reply #3 on: June 06, 2012, 12:09:33 PM
Still listening, but i just have to say that Dave is a genius and should get working on that "choose your own adventure" app ASAP!


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Reply #4 on: June 06, 2012, 04:27:23 PM
I was hoping the story would involve some of the weirdnesses that can result from the Axiom of Choice.

I'm not sorry that didn't happen. In all its bleakness, this was a captivating story.


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Reply #5 on: June 07, 2012, 03:23:58 AM
You have just finished listening to "The Axiom of Choice."

If it took you back to your childhood love of these books, go to section 101.
If it reminded you of the flowchart you have to present next Tuesday, go to 102.

Congratulations. You are normal and well-adjusted.

If you found the story an innovative twist on the choose your own adventure trope, go to 201.

If you found it trite and gimmicky, go to 202.

You were obviously raised by wolves. Read at least one Choose Your own Adventure Book. Then go to 101.

Saw that too did you? Good for you. It was fresh and original and made you think.

If you already knew about Axiom of Choice, go to 301.
If you found the information on Axiom of Choice new but interesting, go to 302.
If you found this information dull and irrelevant, go to 303

You are not my friend anymore. I'll take my ball and go home.

OK, Egghead, go to 401.

Good. You are normal, but open to learning. Go to 401.

Go take a literature class or math class or something. Then go to 304.

Appreciate it now?
Yes, go to 302.
No, go to 303.

Bravo, you have been able to appreciate this story on many of its multiple levels and to recognize it as one of the best ever run by Podcastle.


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Reply #6 on: June 07, 2012, 10:15:51 PM
Hmmm. Sounds like it might be worth giving this one another go.


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Reply #7 on: June 07, 2012, 10:41:27 PM
This was incredible, I loved it.  I used to read the Choose Your Own Adventure books all the time when I was a kid, our library had an enormous collection. I would spend hours just reading them over and over.  I think I only stopped when I discover Piers Anthony and his world of Xanth.  I hadn't thought about them in ages, and the twist this story presented on my old obsession has me floored. 

And the Choose Your Own Adventure part wasn't even the best part about this episode.  The story itself was tragic and emotional and provoking.  We all make choices almost constantly, every minute of every day.  We have no real way of knowing if and when we make a fatal mistake as it's being made more often than not.  As much as I read these books as a kid, that never really hit home as hard.   The adult themes helped that along nicely of course.  The stories i remember didn't feature amputations or fifths of Scotch or sleeping on park benches...

Fantastic reading as well.  Another topnotch PodCastle!


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Reply #8 on: June 08, 2012, 03:53:35 AM
Wow, I just have to come out of lurking to say that was fan-freaking-tastic. Not just on a literary level but also a "life lesson" level, which I think it was going for. After listening it, I took a little while to reflect on choices made. Also, I now have two slogans I want for my first tattoos: Mens sana in corpore sano (Sound Mind in a Sound Body) and with this story, You Always Have A Choice.

Seriously, thank you so much for this story. Maybe it won't turn my life around, but it's given it a nudge in the right direction.
« Last Edit: June 08, 2012, 04:23:32 AM by zerotkatama »


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Reply #9 on: June 09, 2012, 03:29:56 AM
I found this story mesmerizing and super immersive. My favorite part was that, with only one exception, all the choices in the first half of the story were the ones I wanted to make, had it been a real "choose your own adventure."  What was interesting to me was how the early choices (as I realized later) were the ones that were the most rebellious, reckless, or chaotic, and the later choices were those where the character just gives up and accepts fate, pre-destiny, or inertia. It was like a cosmic experiment with free-will. By the time the character is accepting everything, I really felt like yelling "Gah!" and I started to worry that the story would let me down, but it wrapped up in the most perfect way it could. I think the ending was the only possible one the story could have had, and I was incredibly satisfied and content afterwards. "The Axiom of Choice" left me with a lot to think about, and I loved the choice of quotes afterwards.


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Reply #10 on: June 10, 2012, 04:19:56 PM
while I love the concept and execution of this story, I got so depressed halfway through I had to switch to pseudopod to cheer me up.


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Reply #11 on: June 11, 2012, 10:53:07 PM
I was quite choked up by the end.

I started out thinking this was a gimmicky story and ended up thinking was thought provoking and challenging. Choices. We have them to make and we are responsible for the outcomes. I am responsible for my own choices. Good to be reminded. I need to go away and think about that.


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Reply #12 on: June 12, 2012, 05:23:22 AM
I knew the end of the flashback sequence had to come, but it still hurt. Why did the cute, intellectual ginger have to go away?   :'(

So, yeah. I enjoyed the story, but I have a bone to pick with its message. It's a little heavy on the judgment. 'Sure, most of the bad things that happened to you were a result of your bandmate's friend accidentally taking his plane for a swim in the Pacific and your subsequent depression and addiction to painkillers, but none of that would have happened if you hadn't dropped out of college and become a musician.' Saying that life is a series of choices is true to an extent, but it's also a really convenient excuse to judge people who aren't as well off as you.


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Reply #13 on: June 12, 2012, 12:43:51 PM
Okay, I really liked this story. However, this is not fantasy. Making a story in the style of "choose your own adventure" does not make it Sci Fi/Fantasy. There were plenty of those books that were just "fiction". Fantasy should have some fantastic element about it, and this is just a story about a guy in modern times told in a novel manner.

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Reply #14 on: June 12, 2012, 07:45:29 PM
This might be my new favorite Podcastle episode.

First of all, Dave, you are reading Choose Your Own Adventure books all wrong.
Back in first grade I had devised the most logical way of reading them, and now, many years later I realized that I was implementing a depth first search algorithm.
I'd read the story, and at every choice I'd stick a finger to mark the spot, then make a choice. I would follow this choice to its logical conclusion (death, do you realize how morbid those books were?) then backtrack one choice and pick the other one. And so on and so forth, going through every possible choice in the book in logical, and story-telling, order.

As for the story itself... wow.
The story by itself was great. Compelling, interesting and made for some great storytelling.
Then there was the choosing element. I found myself making the choices in my head and comparing them to the story. It became a sort of game. I would try and pick not what I would choose, but what the character in the story (yes, I know it's me) would choose.
And that is when I noticed that you could actually feel the change in the character development. When the choices became different. It's very rare that you get to see such an obvious and clear character development, and true this was a gimmick, but it was wonderful. Watching the choices go downhill, then uphill, then downhill.... each choice visibly adding a new layer to the complexity of the character....
And then there was the meta-choice issue. Simply. Brilliant. It was originally set out by showing that there really was only one choice for this character to make, and then went along and explored that element in the story itself. It makes you want to sit and and think about it, until you fully grok it.

And for those of you wondering: the one element that is in any and all sets is the NULL element.

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Reply #15 on: June 13, 2012, 04:46:34 AM
I found this story almost too bleak to post about (clearly *almost*). Yes, I know, there's an uplifting ending of sorts, but still.

(It's been a rough couple days. Though I did find the structure interesting).

I look forward to the upcoming Squonk story.  ;)


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Reply #16 on: June 13, 2012, 10:18:25 AM
If, after just 30 minutes of this, you stick #2 pencils into your ears and hammer to pieces your mp3 player, go to Section 513.


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Reply #17 on: June 13, 2012, 01:58:28 PM
What a heart-wrenchingly beautiful story! The structure could have easily felt cheesy or contrived, but instead it carried me deep into the heart of the story.

As I listened, I kept hoping that he would make the *better* choice and really felt it each time that he didn't. In the flashback (flash-sideways?) sequence I kept actually wincing, expecting that he would not make the right choice. And then he did make the right choice! It's amazing how such a simple device as presenting the character's choices at each major branch point allowed me to become incredibly invested in his development as a character. Kudos!


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Reply #18 on: June 13, 2012, 01:58:50 PM
I look forward to the upcoming Squonk story.  ;)

Me too! :D


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Reply #19 on: June 13, 2012, 02:42:28 PM
This was an interesting gimmick for a story, and I think the author did as well with it as could be done with this particular gimmick.  Unfortunately, I just had trouble getting into it.  It was a Choose Your Own Adventure story, minus the Choose Your Own Adventure part.  It kept the stilted 2nd-person style necessary for a Choose Your Own Adventure, but took away my ability to affect the path.  And then it went on and on and on.  If it were half the length I think I could've enjoyed the idea in a nice compact exploration, but it just kept going and going.

Also, I agree with this:
IIt's a little heavy on the judgment. 'Sure, most of the bad things that happened to you were a result of your bandmate's friend accidentally taking his plane for a swim in the Pacific and your subsequent depression and addiction to painkillers, but none of that would have happened if you hadn't dropped out of college and become a musician.' Saying that life is a series of choices is true to an extent, but it's also a really convenient excuse to judge people who aren't as well off as you.

His life went down the toilet due to events caused by the plane crash, but it all would've been much clearer if they had been more directly caused by some dumb choice he made, rather than just a random occurrence that happened to happen.  I mean, there's nothing wrong with being a musician, especially if that's what you love to do.  This was just driven home all the further when he went back and chose the other path which involved staying in school and everything turned out splendidly.  Mmmm... okay, I don't think that's where the problem lay.  That kind of had a ring to it of Mr. Mackey "Drugs are bad, mmmkay. Dropping out of school is bad, mmmkay."

There were some really cool ideas here.  Most of all was the discussion of determinism vs. free will as applied to Choose Your Own Adventure.  All of the choices and paths are written in permanent ink on paper, so therefore they are predetermined.  But each time you read it you can choose which choices, which gives you free will.  Interesting mix there.

Usually I read CYOA books like Dave did, I felt like I had to start at the beginning again.  I chose the right path as an engineer, because I've always been a bit algorithmically minded, when I do something over and over like reading those books I tend to choose a method and stick with it.  I do that with many things, for no particularly good reason.  There was one book which really stymied me to the point that I had to try a different tactic.  It was one on a particularly hostile alien world, and almost every choice would end in death if choosing the wrong path.  I tried that one so many times, and then I changed to the tactic of just stepping back a choice or two after a death, and that didn't work either because there was only ONE happy ending and it required a very specific path, which included some choices that seemed to have bad results at the time but ultimately proved beneficial.  The only way I ended up reaching the ending was to find the happy ending in the book, and then flip through until I found the page that sent you to that page number, and so on until I reached the beginning, and then step through in that same order in reverse. 
That was a really fun book.  :)  I tried to get my dad to read it, but he got very frustrated very quickly.