Escape Artists
December 20, 2014, 12:08:01 AM *
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.

Login with username, password and session length
News:
 
   Home   Help Search Login Register  
Pages: [1] 2 3  All
  Print  
Author Topic: EP350: Observer Effects  (Read 3526 times)
eytanz
Moderator
*****
Posts: 4721



« on: June 24, 2012, 10:12:52 AM »

EP350: Observer Effects

By Tim Pratt

Read by A Kovacs

---

“Ubiquitous surveillance isn’t the problem. Asymmetrical ubiquitous surveillance is the problem.” The Liberator was playing Chinese checkers against himself and talking, talking, talking, like always. “Who watches the watchmen, after all?”

We were superheroes then. Celebrities, back when there were such things. It was a slow night at orbital headquarters, and Eye-Oh was
sitting at the big screen, watching a couple of people fuck — consensually, or we would have done something about it — in an
alleyway. The screen was green with night-vision enhancements, and Eye-Oh’s strange complicated face was perfectly placid and empty as he observed.

“The problem is that we can watch ordinary people, and they can’t watch us,” the Liberator went on. He looked at me longingly, searchingly, and I thought it might be nice to tweak the inside of his brain and get rid of his earnestness, give him a little taste of what infamous brain-damage victim Phineas Gage got when that iron bar slammed through his frontal lobe, a total personality turnaround, from nice guy to sociopath. Let the Liberator be selfish and impulsive and violent and mercurial for a while, so he could appreciate the way normal avaricious sneaky hungry desperate needy people felt.

But that was supervillain thinking, and I’d gone straight and narrow. In those days I cured neurological damage instead of inflicting it. I fixed people. (Except bad people. Those, I was sometimes still allowed to play with with.) I’d refused to give up my supervillain name though. The Liberator had wanted to call me “Dr. Neuro” when I joined his little boys’ club, but I’d insisted on keeping my maiden name, as it were. Doctor. Please. I was a high-school dropout.

“Do you see?” the Liberator said. “If ordinary people could see us, if everyone could see everyone else, it wouldn’t matter if there were no privacy.”


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
Logged
Max e^{i pi}
Hipparch
******
Posts: 913


Have towel, will travel.


« Reply #1 on: June 24, 2012, 10:29:45 AM »

Hmm... not the Tim Pratt heropunk story I was hoping for, but a good one, nonetheless.

Is it wrong that the person I most identified with in this story was the protag, ex-villain turned villain again? I mean, The Liberator is a major tool and IO has a kickass name, but zero personality. Probably comes from knowing everything about everybody.
But that's not just it. He made sense. He thought for himself. He was rational. My only problem with him was that he was rather callous with how he used his powers. Yes, that's what I'd expect from a villain, but still, a little more forethought, perhaps?

However, this (and the previous story) did start an interesting train of thought in my head: were I suddenly bestowed with superpowers, would I be a hero or a villain? (What is commonly referred to in heropunk as a "cape" or a "mask", respectively).
Actually, what really provoked those thoughts was Mur's audio book Playing For Keeps. (You haven't listened to it yet?!)
Whatever it was, the "hero or villain" question always seems too cut and dried.
You can't draw the world in bold swatches of black and white with the occasional red underpants. Real life is far too complicated. People do good things for bad reasons, and bad things for good reasons. Good and evil isn't two sides of a coin but rather a sliding scale. You have to place yourself somewhere along it.
If put on the spot I'd probably say that I would try not to use my powers to cause harm to people, but fight for a "better good"? What the hell is that and who decides what it is?
Most of the hero/villain problems are problems of their own doing. Since there are capes there are masks. It's an arms race. And since the capes try to fight for the "better good" they end up making numbskull decisions like lobotomizing the entire human population of the universe.
Why? Because they believe in some kind of "greater good".
Sure, it's noble and all that, but who decides what it is and what an acceptable cost is? I wouldn't trust someone in spandex who destroys buildings as collateral damage to make that call.
Does that make me a villain? Probably not. But I do know that I occasionally would bend to the temptation to use my powers just to aggravate those goody-two-shoes heroes. Why? Because nobody likes the teacher's pet.
Sure the point of heroes is to hold an icon up to society, something for people to believe in.
But it's also holding up a mirror to society. And often we don't like what we see in the mirror.
« Last Edit: June 24, 2012, 10:36:33 AM by Max e^{i pi} » Logged

Cogito ergo surf - I think therefore I network

Registered Linux user #481826 Get Counted!

InfiniteMonkey
Lochage
*****
Posts: 468


Clearly, I need more typewriters....


« Reply #2 on: June 24, 2012, 01:23:50 PM »

My biggest problem with the story was the beginning, which sounded too much like a science and morals lecture. It's not that the ideas weren't interesting, I just didn't find they were presented in an interesting way, but rather too much like points on a presentation. I think a lot of this had to do with it being Lesion's internal monologue.

I found the actual implementation of The Liberator's "big plan" more interesting, a great lesson in the law of unintended consequences (a lot like a major plot point of "Leviathan Wakes" which I recently finished). And of course there's the rich irony that it's the "villain", with her less than optimistic view of human nature, who ends up being right.

I do think that the social chaos of everyone loosing facial recognition would be a lot larger than what Lesion talks about at the end of the story. Driver's licenses, passports... it would be nuts...
Logged
Max e^{i pi}
Hipparch
******
Posts: 913


Have towel, will travel.


« Reply #3 on: June 24, 2012, 02:07:29 PM »

I do think that the social chaos of everyone loosing facial recognition would be a lot larger than what Lesion talks about at the end of the story. Driver's licenses, passports... it would be nuts...
And then there's the fact that facial recognition is closely linked with patter recognition.
No more math, puzzles, plans, maps, software, law and order.... when you think about it, everything about modern culture is some sort of pattern, order to the chaos. With no ability to recognize those patterns.... pfft.
Logged

Cogito ergo surf - I think therefore I network

Registered Linux user #481826 Get Counted!

Scattercat
Caution:
Editor
*****
Posts: 4453


Amateur wordsmith


WWW
« Reply #4 on: June 24, 2012, 03:07:56 PM »

Prosopagnosia only affects face recognition, not all patterns.  Our social lives are so important, evolutionarily speaking, that we have a whole special segment of our brains JUST dedicated to face recognition.

Honestly, I found both scenarios kind of unbelievable.  The absence of privacy is already occurring, and I can't see it creating the kind of massive, uncontrollable upheavals described herein, even in the accelerated form shown.  And like the Monkey, I can't see worldwide face blindness causing only a minor blip.  Both events, it seems to me, would create significant upheavals, followed by swift adaptation.  If there's one thing humanity does well, it's adapt to changing circumstances.  Heaven save us from what we may one day get used to, as the saying goes.
Logged

---
Mirrorshards: Very Short Stories
100 Words.  No more.  No fewer.  Every day.
Splinters of Silver and Glass - The Mirrorshards Book
Unblinking
Sir Postsalot
Hipparch
******
Posts: 6655



WWW
« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2012, 09:48:17 AM »

Some interesting ideas in this one.

As the Liberator was describing his plan for absolute surveillance and what a great world that would be, I kept thinking "This sounds like a precursor to my story The Disconnected!"  Which, a few minutes later, it ended up not at all the same.  But I thought it was interesting how the theoretical ideas were similar.  Smiley

And wow the Liberator really is a crazy crazy person with no concept of how people would actually behave, and who feels like he has to "fix" everyone in any way that he can, no matter the risk.  That is scary!  I'm not sure that the absolute surveillance would have that kind of a big effect, I think that it would smooth itself out shortly.  

The face recognition worldwide would have a much larger effect, I think.  Honestly, I think that civilization as we know it would completely collapse.  Paranoia would become rampant because no one would know who they could trust.  Family units would fall apart, organizations would collapse, and most of the population would die because of the collapse of all the basic infrastructure that provides our overlarge population with food and medical attention and other things that keep us alive.  The second generation would rebuild from whatever was left, but it would be a much smaller population, with only the ruins of the previous generation to work with.  I think that facial recognition lies at the core of how we think about everything, if you take that away, all the social systems completely fall apart.

"Prosopagnosia" is a very interesting condition.  That you could not even learn to recognize your own face in the mirror is so unsettling, or to recognize your spouse, parent, best friend.  I watched a TV special on that a while back where they discussed the effects on people with that condition.  They also talked about a different condition that's kind of a hyper-recognition, where you can remember any face you see years and years later, and that also had some difficult effects because sometimes they'd greet somebody that they had seen in passing a decade earlier and if they weren't careful how they reacted they'd look like a stalker.
Logged

--David Steffen
The Submissions Grinder:  Fiction market listings, submissions tracker, always free, poetry and nonfiction markets coming soon!
s10wanderer
Extern
*
Posts: 3


« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2012, 04:07:53 PM »

This story started with so much promise, but I became frustrated once the author started to create a new condition and call it by another name, face blindness does not work the way it was described--it has nothing to do with recognizing emotion. That whole bit about the smile and the character not being able to see it is annoying to put it mildly (I get really annoyed when people generalize what I can and cannot do from a name of a condition). Being faceblind is more like seeing faces the way anyone else sees objects, the small details take a lot more time and work to memorize and the complicated nature of a face makes recognizing faces nearly impossible (yes, I do not always recognize myself in a mirror--and the parts I recognize are not facial structure but makeup and hairstyle). But in the end you do figure out who people are and while it can cause lots of problems, most people don't notice you have a hard time recognizing them until you tell them (or miss something obvious like asking "who is this" and pointing to yourself in a photograph...which does happen).

I agree that the premise is really cool. I would love to live in a face blind culture, but that is because I am face blind and there are ways to get around it (and I know them!). It really is just another way to see the same world. I have to use a lot more information before I can recognize people and this means that I have a more complex view of the world (at least I like to think so). My big complaint with this story is that the author didn't research face blindness (it has nothing to do with reading emotion--and there are a few of us who are face blind out there and we do function fairly well as a generalization--does that mean we get to take over this new world order because we have the power to see the people behind the faces? Face blindness, my new superpower!) or the author could have just make up a new condition to match what is described.
Logged
Unblinking
Sir Postsalot
Hipparch
******
Posts: 6655



WWW
« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2012, 09:06:41 AM »

Welcome, s10wanderer, to the forums!  I hope you stick around.  Smiley

This story started with so much promise, but I became frustrated once the author started to create a new condition and call it by another name, face blindness does not work the way it was described--it has nothing to do with recognizing emotion.

I meant to comment on that, because I'd never heard of it being tied to emotion either, but I forgot to do so.  I love Tim Pratt, but it does seem like he didn't research this well.  I guess one could handwave a little bit and say that the condition that the protagonist induced was not EXACTLY faceblindness but something like it, but I think it'd be a bit of a weak defense.

I agree that the premise is really cool. I would love to live in a face blind culture, but that is because I am face blind and there are ways to get around it (and I know them!). It really is just another way to see the same world. I have to use a lot more information before I can recognize people and this means that I have a more complex view of the world (at least I like to think so). My big complaint with this story is that the author didn't research face blindness (it has nothing to do with reading emotion--and there are a few of us who are face blind out there and we do function fairly well as a generalization--does that mean we get to take over this new world order because we have the power to see the people behind the faces? Face blindness, my new superpower!) or the author could have just make up a new condition to match what is described.

I don't know that I've ever met anyone with the condition, or at least no one that I knew to have the condition.  I am curious:  what do you think the result would be like if the entire world suddenly became faceblind like happened in the story (I mean actually faceblind as the condition exists, not the emotion-recognizing part that was in the story)?  I'm interested in your perspective on it.
Logged

--David Steffen
The Submissions Grinder:  Fiction market listings, submissions tracker, always free, poetry and nonfiction markets coming soon!
Devoted135
Hipparch
******
Posts: 884



« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2012, 09:16:48 AM »

While I enjoyed listening to this story, I think it was the weakest of the (only three weeks?!) superhero month stories. My favorite part was Lesion's commentary on how being a super hero is just like being a super villain, only more boring.

I'm going to argue that the Liberator was the *villain in this story. While we were told that the Liberator had an overdeveloped conscience, he certainly made a number of super villain-ish decisions. Based on the detail that the murder rate had dropped essentially to zero at the time the story started, I'm guessing that all of the super villains had either been converted (Lesion) or eradicated. This seems to have created a vacuum and, having no one to save and no evil plots to stop, the Liberator got bored and created new problems where there had been none. Thus: villain.



*the word villain looks really weird if you type it enough times Tongue
Logged
Devoted135
Hipparch
******
Posts: 884



« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2012, 09:20:49 AM »

Welcome, s10wanderer, to the forums!  I hope you stick around.  Smiley

This story started with so much promise, but I became frustrated once the author started to create a new condition and call it by another name, face blindness does not work the way it was described--it has nothing to do with recognizing emotion.

I meant to comment on that, because I'd never heard of it being tied to emotion either, but I forgot to do so.  I love Tim Pratt, but it does seem like he didn't research this well.  I guess one could handwave a little bit and say that the condition that the protagonist induced was not EXACTLY faceblindness but something like it, but I think it'd be a bit of a weak defense.


I agree completely, I've never heard of face-blindness relating to reading emotions. In fact, when Radiolab asked Oliver Sacks that exact question, he said he thought he was perfectly adept at reading people's emotions.
As usual, Radiolab is relevant: http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2010/jun/15/strangers-in-the-mirror/
Logged
timpratt
Extern
*
Posts: 16


« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2012, 11:06:44 AM »

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments. I generally try to avoid stomping in and talking about Authorial Intention (and with a story 5 years old, who even remembers what I intended)? But I did want to say: fair cop on the bit about the Liberator not being able to recognize Lesion smiling. That was sloppy of me, and I should have done better. (I won't claim I did exhaustive research, but what I did involved reading a lot of Oliver Sacks, so I should've gotten that bit right.)
Logged
timprov
Palmer
**
Posts: 33



WWW
« Reply #11 on: June 26, 2012, 01:10:46 PM »

I am so torn!  First of all, I love all of Tim Pratt's stuff (The Marla Mason stories particularly)  so I was excited to see a story here.  But, I have to be honest, I didn't love this story at all.  Maybe it was high expectations, maybe it was that it was told in such a stoic way, or maybe I just couldn't believe someone would allow something like the kiosks to happen,  it just didn't speak to me at all. 

I'll still buy all the Marla Mason stories though, so I at least have that going for me.

-Tim

Logged

Even in failure there can be Nobility! But failing to try brings only shame!
-Silver Surfer

www.timothypcallahan.com
Andy C
Palmer
**
Posts: 21



« Reply #12 on: June 27, 2012, 02:24:12 PM »

Hi guys

So I ended up thinking: 'Was this just the exploration of a moderatly interesting idea, or was it a proper story (or both)?' And I think that's more a reflection on me than the story.  Undecided

Every time I listen to EP it reminds me of how wide a range of taste there is within the genre. And what I really like is a just a slice of that range. I also do like other stuff that might not appeal to my preference in terms of SF type - if it's really well done (e.g. 'The  Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees' refercened below)

I suspect I am in a minroity because this story (and quite a number of the others on EP) make me end up thinking "where's the story? Where's the arc? Where's the action and the excitement? Is this just going to be a clever idea acted out by a bunch of 2D characters?" And then I think - no that's not fair because what I think would be a good story other people would think of as maybe naive, or old fashioned, or derivative- and I think that might well be a fair criticism of what I like. It may be that superheros are the fantasy end of SF, and I am looking for a little more realism, a bit more 'hard' in my SF.

Also, I've realised that short story is a really tough medium to do well. I listen to other podcasts with short stories that are by the very best authors from all genres writing over the last few decades, these works have a transcendent quality that I only occasionally see on EP. The ones that have gotten close recently are 'The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees' and Siverberg's classic 'Hawksbill Station'

So I ended up thinking this story was okay (2.5 - 3 stars out of 5) but I don't know whether that's just because it's not in a style that I like or because we've lost our way somewhere and are not able to tell very exciting compelling stories any more.

So community, anyone agree with me, or anyone want to put me right?

Thanks

Andy
Logged
timprov
Palmer
**
Posts: 33



WWW
« Reply #13 on: June 27, 2012, 02:57:32 PM »

I don't disagree Andy, you articulated a problem I've been trying to articulate for a while now, most of the stories you're talking about are basically "So, this happened, then this happened, then we did this, then we did this, then this happened."   Which, from all my writing and reading about writing, seems to go against "show, don't tell."  Sure, sometimes that's not possible in a story, especially a short story, but it does tend to wear on you if you hear, or read it, often enough in different stories but different authors.

One of my favorite stories on here was Hawksbill station and I think it's because we saw everything that happened as it happened (for the most part anyway.)  Same thing with Origin and Nemisis, sure there was some telling, mostly to provide background, but the meat of the story was told as it was happening, not afterwards by a narrator.

So, you're not alone Andy, listening to this story I found myself thinking "okay, this is good, but when are going to have a superhero fight?"

-Tim 
Logged

Even in failure there can be Nobility! But failing to try brings only shame!
-Silver Surfer

www.timothypcallahan.com
s10wanderer
Extern
*
Posts: 3


« Reply #14 on: June 27, 2012, 05:18:13 PM »

Hi Unblinking,


I meant to comment on that, because I'd never heard of it being tied to emotion either, but I forgot to do so.  I love Tim Pratt, but it does seem like he didn't research this well.  I guess one could handwave a little bit and say that the condition that the protagonist induced was not EXACTLY faceblindness but something like it, but I think it'd be a bit of a weak defense.

It is indeed, as Tim Pratt uses the technical term: Prosopagnosia. This makes it a weak defense.

I don't know that I've ever met anyone with the condition, or at least no one that I knew to have the condition.  I am curious:  what do you think the result would be like if the entire world suddenly became faceblind like happened in the story (I mean actually faceblind as the condition exists, not the emotion-recognizing part that was in the story)?  I'm interested in your perspective on it.

I think it would be weird, more so because the sudden loss of facial recognition is much more serious than learning how to cope with it (this is why it was only connect to brain trauma until ten or twenty years ago). The "normal" part of me would say that people would learn to adapt and while most would have their perception-confidence (that the world exists as you see it) severely shaken, humans would adapt quickly, with general levels of paranoia only slightly raised.
But the part of me the loves science fiction knows that cell phone technology and cameras would include retinal scanners or similar identification technology within two weeks.
Logged
Unblinking
Sir Postsalot
Hipparch
******
Posts: 6655



WWW
« Reply #15 on: June 28, 2012, 09:03:17 AM »

So I ended up thinking this story was okay (2.5 - 3 stars out of 5) but I don't know whether that's just because it's not in a style that I like or because we've lost our way somewhere and are not able to tell very exciting compelling stories any more.

I'd say it's because it's not in a style you like.  Much of the reason that I say that is because one of the stories that you listed as being awesome, "The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" was incredibly boring to me.  Escape Pod hits a better like:dislike ratio for ME than almost all magazines do right now.  Drabblecast probably maximizes that ratio, but even then it's not 100% like.  I used to have subscriptions to Analog and F&SF but I let them both lapse, because I just found their stories lacking overall.  They might have one worthwhile story per issue and it was never a novella.  Presumably other people don't feel that way, because alot of those stories are the ones that get Hugo nominations.

Generally an editor will put a pretty characteristic stamp on their magazine.  Escape Pod is Escape Pod and always will be, but there is a distinct feel with Mur as editor that's different than Steve as editor.  My only advice is to find editors who pick stories that YOU like and then read as much of their output as you can, buy or donate to their publications to vote for them with your dollars.

Logged

--David Steffen
The Submissions Grinder:  Fiction market listings, submissions tracker, always free, poetry and nonfiction markets coming soon!
Unblinking
Sir Postsalot
Hipparch
******
Posts: 6655



WWW
« Reply #16 on: June 28, 2012, 09:06:33 AM »

But the part of me the loves science fiction knows that cell phone technology and cameras would include retinal scanners or similar identification technology within two weeks.

I didn't even think of that!  But you are completely right.  Retina scanning technology is already available, as well as facial recognition technology, fingerprint technology etc...  At this point these are used mostly in police investigations and more expensive security systems, but worldwide Prosopagnosia would change these technologies from expensive tech which only appeals to niche markets to a cheap commodity that everyone wants.  The companies that have already invested the effort to make robust systems for doing this will have a huge boom!
Logged

--David Steffen
The Submissions Grinder:  Fiction market listings, submissions tracker, always free, poetry and nonfiction markets coming soon!
Thomas
Palmer
**
Posts: 58



« Reply #17 on: June 28, 2012, 10:12:59 PM »

people seem to have issues with the face memory problem. while a bit farfetched and the particulars being a bit off, what happened in response seems likely and believable.
I especially agreed with the worlds response to the "no privacy" action.

but

I had issue with how Tim introduced the story. I actually quit listening and almost didn't continue.
Observation effect. was initially used to describe what happens when you observe subatomic particles. These particles cannot be observed directly so you do something to them and watch the after effect. you change the particles to observe it.
People have taken this phenomenon and applied to to the observation of human and animal behavior. "The act of observation effects the behavior being observed." Do hidden cameras make people behave differently? If they aware of the cameras presence, sometimes. If they are unaware of their presence, no.

The misuse of this effect and Schrodinger's cat truly bother and irritate me. Excuse my rant.
Logged

Enjoy and be nice to each other, because "WE" is all we got.
s10wanderer
Extern
*
Posts: 3


« Reply #18 on: June 28, 2012, 10:53:57 PM »

But I did want to say: fair cop on the bit about the Liberator not being able to recognize Lesion smiling. That was sloppy of me, and I should have done better. (I won't claim I did exhaustive research, but what I did involved reading a lot of Oliver Sacks, so I should've gotten that bit right.)

Thanks for admitting it. I do get tired of being told what I can and cannot do based on the name of a condition that sounds like something from a science fiction novel (the most recent real life example being that I should not teach because of this... which is what I am in training to do via philosophy grad school right now. But you are not my insulting colleague, so I will spare you my wrath).
Logged
Talia
Moderator
*****
Posts: 2539


I like pie


« Reply #19 on: June 29, 2012, 08:01:38 AM »

Well, I enjoyed it. A fun exploration of the law of unintended consequences, I thought. Plus, the main protagonist was clearly (to my mind, anyway) a sociopath, which was an interesting point of view.

Note to self: don't recruit seemingly reformed villains for my crime-fighting squad, particularly not if much is at stake.
Logged
Pages: [1] 2 3  All
  Print  
 
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.20 | SMF © 2013, Simple Machines Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!