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Author Topic: EP356: Three-Quarters Martian  (Read 9036 times)

eytanz

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on: August 02, 2012, 11:23:17 PM
EP356: Three-Quarters Martian

By CR Hodges

Read by Mur Lafferty

Originally appeared in On the Premises (2011)

---

The first man to walk on the moon was a hero to five generations. The first woman to walk on Mars was forgotten even before her boots plunked into the red dust.

“Hey,” a husky voice said in the dark.

I ignored her: the Swedish hockey team was calling to me from the sauna.

“Anna-Jing.” Same voice. A large hand grasped my shoulder.

I was losing my battle to recapture the fading dream.

“Wake up,” commanded a new voice in a rich brogue, “now.”

I took a deep breath, tasting the dust in the cool air, then slowly opened my eyes. Pulling the threadbare blanket around me, I sat up in my hammock.

Kaiza, the first and likely last aboriginal Australian to teach planetary astrophysics at Stanford, gently removed her hand from my shoulder. “Trouble in Florida.”

“The launch isn’t today.” I said, still groggy. Our resupply rocket was scheduled to lift off from Cape Lee in a week. We needed this one—the last launch, from Kazakhstan, had crashed in West Korea.

“There won’t be a fecking launch,” said Mick, our mission commander. He gestured at the wall screen, which snapped to life. Grainy footage showed a giant rocket lying on its side like a beached whale, next to a familiar gantry. A dozen old pickups were parked beyond the shattered nosecone. Scores of horses and four oxen grazed nearby, a web of cables and ropes leading back to the rocket. A horde of men and women in shorts and tank tops, flip-flops and baseball caps, were prying metal panels from the side of the rocket. Hundreds more lay dead on the ground, interspersed with the bodies of gray vested soldiers.

“Where are the pitchforks and torches?” I asked. No reply.

A helicopter arrived, ten commandos zip lining to the ground just meters from the camera crew. Seventy looters went down in the first minute, but then flight after flight of arrows from unseen archers decimated the commandos.

“Goodbye freeze-dried steak and potatoes,” said Mick.

“Goodbye replacement mini reactor.” I pointed at the four oxen dragging a sledge with a brightly marked container the size of a large desk.

“Gotta crank the thermostat down again,” said Mick. He lumbered off to make it so.

The last image we witnessed before a sword crashed down on the camera lens was a line of children siphoning kerosene from the rocket’s fuel tank into buckets. Goodbye civilization.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #1 on: August 03, 2012, 06:40:54 PM
Wow. Seriously grim, but I liked the international cast. Not sure I buy world society falling about so completely and so widely. But I did like the gritty nature of a Mars exploration story at the "end of the world".



Peter Tupper

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Reply #2 on: August 04, 2012, 06:00:39 AM
I was interested in the opening of this story, with the astronauts on Mars struggling to survive while civilization on Earth crumbled, something I consider disturbingly possible. However, the ending was pretty much a rehash of the classic "The Cold Equations." I expected some consideration of the dilemma between "die in an interesting place, making history" and "maybe get home to Earth and be killed by some guy with an axe over the last package of Tang", but it was not to be.

As I listened, I kept thinking about the movie Red Planet. The "money quote" of that movie was "Fuck this planet." Val Kilmer says it after he's trekked across a semi-terraformed Mars full of hostile lifeforms and hazards, and been the only member of his team to survive when their robot companion goes berserk and tries to kill them. The driving emotion of this story is the urge to go home where it's safe. This kind of story is the polar opposite of the old-school, "manifest destiny/sense of wonder" space exploration story, with the message that alien worlds are lethal and ugly and boring, and humanity has no business going to them.

Even if you're starving to death on Mars, would you be completely inured to the fact you are on another planet, where no one has ever been, seeing things no one has ever seen?
« Last Edit: August 04, 2012, 06:02:59 AM by Peter Tupper »



Dem

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Reply #3 on: August 04, 2012, 06:34:55 PM
Sadly, for me, just rather ho hum, what's new? I'm pretty certain that, if I were in that situation, I'd be quite energised about getting back to earth, but very little of that came through to me from this story because it was just too familiar. I know - go write something better!

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


Cutter McKay

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Reply #4 on: August 05, 2012, 01:01:21 AM
Overall I liked this story. Maybe I'm just not well-read enough to recognize the similarities between this and other, better told, tales, but I found the characters interesting, especially the Australian Aboriginal astrophysicist, and the dilemma engaging. I do agree with Peter Tupper that, what's the point of leaving when all you have to go back to is post-apocalyptic chaos, but hey, better alive in chaos than dead in tranquility?

I liked the constant references Anna-Jing made to her ghost leg, as I've heard this sort of thing happens with real-life amputees.

I also quite enjoyed the moment when Mick tried to admit to having cancer, to which I thought, Oh, it's going to be one of those stories, only to have that reveal immediately reversed by Gabriel calling him on his lie. That had me on my toes for a few minutes.

My only real wonder was why, in the end, Mick wandered out into the Mars wastes and killed himself. Sure, he's staying behind to die, but does that mean he has die before the crew leaves? Why not see them off with a hug and wave, watch the ship disappear into the black, and then harvest what soy the others left behind and wait it out? Maybe write a memoir or something to transmit back to earth. Again, better unnecessarily alive than unnecessarily dead.

Good story, though.

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Seekerpilgrim

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Reply #5 on: August 05, 2012, 07:00:11 AM
I liked this one, though it took me a while to warm up to it. I'm intrigued by the irony of the idea of humanity exploring the stars to better itself while back on Earth it's too little, too late. The Martian pioneers are not only watching things back home fall apart, those same events are dooming the explorers themselves; grim thoughts indeed. I applaud the author's decision to put forth the probably unpopular idea that until we get our own house in order, get our own shit together, then we won't (shouldn't?) be able to spread to other planets, taking our problems with us, viewing the galaxy as nothing more than a sponsorship opportunity...a chance to plant our flag, as in this story.

By Grabthar's Hammer...what a savings.


Listener

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Reply #6 on: August 06, 2012, 12:25:14 PM
This was a MUCH shorter version of one of the 2011 Hugo Month stories ("Plus or Minus"), which I believe was based on "The Cold Equations", IIRC. I appreciated the darkness and desperation of the story, and also the fact that humanity was losing its shit back on Earth and these Marstronauts can do nothing but watch, helpless. In a way that was more desperate than their food situation. Another thing that I don't see a lot of in SF is how the gravity of other worlds affects humans, but we had that here, too.

I think we all knew the Chinese rocket wouldn't be their savior.

Overall a really bleak story. Good, but bleak.

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Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #7 on: August 06, 2012, 12:50:40 PM
My only real wonder was why, in the end, Mick wandered out into the Mars wastes and killed himself. Sure, he's staying behind to die, but does that mean he has die before the crew leaves? Why not see them off with a hug and wave, watch the ship disappear into the black, and then harvest what soy the others left behind and wait it out? Maybe write a memoir or something to transmit back to earth. Again, better unnecessarily alive than unnecessarily dead.
Because they took all the supplies with them, they'd need them.
Also, there was nobody on Earth to receive his memoir or care about it.
This way he was buried decently. At least there is that.

I've often wondered what would happen to Earth colonies when Earth itself went to hell. If the colonies were self-sufficient it wouldn't matter. But what if they weren't?
This story explored that nicely. Risking everything only to die in a miscalculated airobreaking manuver has a certain romantic appeal to it. Much more than landing safely and living the remainder of your life as a criple in a post apocalyptic world.

A rather bleak story, but my only complaint is Mur's echo-ey sound recording.

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InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #8 on: August 06, 2012, 03:35:36 PM
Odd (and a little scary) that life imitated art, if thankfully only a little. Scientists make an incredibly complicated landing on Mars the same day someone shoots up a Sikh temple in the U.S.



Dem

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Reply #9 on: August 06, 2012, 03:50:02 PM
Odd (and a little scary) that life imitated art, if thankfully only a little. Scientists make an incredibly complicated landing on Mars the same day someone shoots up a Sikh temple in the U.S.
You have to hope we're in some sort of cosmic kindergarten and they won't let us out until we're good to go without the ruddy stabilisers.

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


FNH

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Reply #10 on: August 06, 2012, 05:20:43 PM
This story had me hooked. 

I loved the world building.

I really enjoyed it...but when do we get to hear the second half?

Seriously, what a daft place to end it.



Devoted135

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Reply #11 on: August 06, 2012, 08:16:52 PM
Apparently Mur is away from home right now. :P

Wow, such a desperate portrayal of one possible future. I love that the Mars rover Curiosity's successful landing this morning was juxtaposed with this stark reminder that being able to reach Mars doesn't equal being able to responsibly launch a colony there. While there are definitely parallels with "Plus or Minus" and "Cold Equations", I thought this story created its own niche in raising the question of whether it is better to face death resignedly on Mars or in a desperate attempt to return to an Earth that no longer exists.

I also loved the references to her phantom-limb: her foot stamping in frustration or her knee locking in a battle of wills. It's amazing how losing most of a leg can lend itself to tension-easing humor, no?


ETA: the word "equal" in the third sentence :P
« Last Edit: August 06, 2012, 10:28:22 PM by Devoted135 »



Gamercow

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Reply #12 on: August 06, 2012, 09:05:40 PM
I loved this story, but I do love me some Space Exploration goodness.  My only problem with the story is that I was about 300 words into a story for the flash contest that has a very similar theme of "Lots can happen in the 300 days it takes to get to Mars".  Won't bother now, or will completely change it up. 

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Dem

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Reply #13 on: August 06, 2012, 09:57:55 PM
I loved this story, but I do love me some Space Exploration goodness.  My only problem with the story is that I was about 300 words into a story for the flash contest that has a very similar theme of "Lots can happen in the 300 days it takes to get to Mars".  Won't bother now, or will completely change it up. 
Go for it - I've forgotten this one already  :)

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


chemistryguy

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Reply #14 on: August 07, 2012, 04:06:24 PM
Go for it - I've forgotten this one already  :)

Exactly.  As others above have already pointed out, I've already heard this story several times before.

Also, less echo, more cowbell next time.


Scatcatpdx

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Reply #15 on: August 07, 2012, 08:12:18 PM
I can give my review about this story in three letters: meh


**some spoilers


It seems  to me just a rehash of  well used  and worn cliche of  stranded and one has to make the ultimate sacrifice right down  to the drawing of straws. (not drawing the straws again). With the earth falling into a new dark age, I thought  there was  potential for a better story as  what if they stay or others joined them.
The stoy had nothing  compelling going for it.
« Last Edit: August 07, 2012, 08:15:05 PM by Scatcatpdx »



Unblinking

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Reply #16 on: August 08, 2012, 02:03:13 PM
I listened to this one about halfway through, but at that point I just didn't care at all.  I guess I'm really just not the target for it.  This kind of space exploration story tends to fall very flat with me unless it has very compelling characters.  I did not find these characters compelling.



Unblinking

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Reply #17 on: August 08, 2012, 02:04:24 PM
Oh yeah, and regarding Mur's WorldCon meetup invitation, I am so in!  I emailed her about it too, but thought I'd mention it inthread here too.  Even if there aren't enough people to merit a full gathering, I think it'd be fun to meet those who'll be there.  If there's no official gathering, feel free to PM me to get in touch and figure out timing.



Kozak

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Reply #18 on: August 12, 2012, 07:24:01 PM
While the story didn't break any new ground, the raw, gritty flavor of Martian life kept me sucked in. And I loved how the characters fought so hard to return home, despite seeing Earth's civilization falling apart from afar.



lisavilisa

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Reply #19 on: August 12, 2012, 09:05:31 PM
Did anyone else suspect that all of the straws were long and he just waited for the last one to be drawn before going "welp I'm dead" and then scampering off before they can look at his straw.



chemistryguy

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Reply #20 on: August 13, 2012, 10:38:53 AM
Did anyone else suspect that all of the straws were long and he just waited for the last one to be drawn before going "welp I'm dead" and then scampering off before they can look at his straw.

Yes.  And one of the saving graces of this story was this wasn't pointed out.


Listener

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Reply #21 on: August 13, 2012, 08:30:08 PM
Did anyone else suspect that all of the straws were long and he just waited for the last one to be drawn before going "welp I'm dead" and then scampering off before they can look at his straw.

Yes.  And one of the saving graces of this story was this wasn't pointed out.

I did find it kind of a cop-out (for the character, not the story). Sure, we're supposed to think it was a bold, courageous thing to volunteer to die... but it wasn't fair to the others.

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SF.Fangirl

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Reply #22 on: August 15, 2012, 03:40:32 AM
Did anyone else suspect that all of the straws were long and he just waited for the last one to be drawn before going "welp I'm dead" and then scampering off before they can look at his straw.

Yes.



CryptoMe

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Reply #23 on: August 17, 2012, 05:14:59 AM
I thought this story created its own niche in raising the question of whether it is better to face death resignedly on Mars or in a desperate attempt to return to an Earth that no longer exists.

I agree with Devoted135 that this story was not the same old "someone has to sacrifice themselves so the rest can survive" story, precicely because of the backdrop of civilization falling apart on Earth. That I thought was a very thought-provoking concept. I don't know if we have ever experienced this in human history; stranded colony struggling because home is falling apart. Any historians out there care to enlighten us?



WillMoo

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Reply #24 on: August 18, 2012, 12:30:39 PM
I thought this story was pretty much a rehash of the "we only have room in the life boat for 3" device. Even with it combining that, in my opinion, tired plot with the other been-done-before "we are on a planet and Earth is falling apart but we still have to get back" it just felt stale and unimaginative. Granted this is my opinion on the story and other opinions may disagree.