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Author Topic: EP376: Shutdown  (Read 1881 times)
eytanz
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« on: December 28, 2012, 09:48:47 AM »

EP376: Shutdown

By Corry. L Lee

Read by MK Hobson

First appeared in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Vol. 28 (winner) (2011)

---

The alarm blared over the forest’s metallic rustling, and my HUD’s red
warning light glazed the view through my faceplate. Ten seconds until
the defense scan hit my position. Ten seconds until any motion, any
electrical signature would whip vines down from the iron-cored trees,
wrapping me as surely as steel cables, pinning me while cutter-bugs
took me apart.

My muscles clenched, and I froze. The training sims hadn’t prepared
me for the terror twisting my gut, for the way my heart seemed to
dance a _pas-de-bourrée_, its ballerina toes rapping against my ribs.

I didn’t have time to panic. I chinned my skinsuit’s kill switch and
dropped to the forest floor. In the silence after the klaxon died, my
breather hissed out one final gasp of oxygen. The red glow faded from
my faceplate and the forest closed in, dark without the HUD’s gain and
unnaturally silent without the suit’s audio pickups. Weak sunlight
filtered through the thick canopy, yellowed by sulfur gas, enough to
make out shapes but not details. In sims, they’d cut our visual
enhancement, but they must have extrapolated badly because the shadows
had never been this deep, the shafts of sunlight never so diseased.

I crouched on a patch of dirt, crumpling fallen leaves but avoiding
the forest’s ragged undergrowth. I folded my legs beneath me,
splaying my arms for balance. My hands slipped on the metal-rich
berries that covered the ground as if someone had derailed a freight
train of ball bearings. I swept some impatiently aside and rested my
helmeted forehead on the dirt. How much time had passed? Eight
seconds? No time to worry.

Gritting my teeth, I stopped my heart.

A vise seemed to close about my chest. Sweat beaded on my brow as I
dragged in one last breath, my body panicking, automatic reflexes
screaming at me to fight, to struggle, to escape. I fought them as
Sergeant Miller and Captain Johnston trained me, fought them and
stopped breathing. My vision narrowed. My lips tingled and went
numb. _Twelve minutes_, I repeated to myself as the forest grew dark
and disappeared.

_You’ll come back._ The words echoed in Sergeant Miller’s clipped
bark. Just a few minutes ago he’d given me the thumbs-up after
checking my suit’s seals. He’d rapped his knuckles against my helmet
for luck, and I’d stridden toward this forested hell.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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eytanz
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« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2012, 08:07:33 PM »

I've split out the post complaining about the lack of an audible cue for time breaks in the story. This is a recurring complaint that is true of many EP stories, and it makes no sense to keep repeating it in every story where it's relevant. This is a general complaint about EP editorial policy, and should be discussed in the "About EP" forum; the new thread can be found there.

From now on, it will still be valid to state whether or not people had difficulty with an episode because of time breaks within the episode thread; but any suggestions for changes to editorial policy in this matter will be deleted from episode threads and should be confined to the "About EP" thread linked above. I'm pretty sure this will actually increase the chances of something happening about it.
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #2 on: December 31, 2012, 03:23:49 AM »

Thank you Eytanz.
I was going to comment about the story, but I think Eytanz deserves his own entire post, just for all of the hard work he does in helping to keep the forums a (somewhat) sane environment.  Grin
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #3 on: December 31, 2012, 03:42:35 AM »

I really liked this story.

I saw Amaechi's transformation (from a person fixated with doing whatever the hell it takes to fulfill her dream into someone who actually learns to love what she is doing) from miles away. And looking back at it, in retrospect, the transformation appeared to be slightly forced and not smooth at all.
But while I was listening to it, it seemed to me to be the most smooth and natural thing in the world. I was so caught up in the story, identified so well with Amaechi that when it happened it took me a little by surprise. I loved it.
Maybe it's because I, like so many others, have found myself often enough doing something I didn't like or even hated just to achieve something else but then starting to enjoy the journey.

And the story.... wow.
Unknown, possibly hostile aliens terraforming (is it called terraforming if you don't make it like Terra?) planets and nobody knowing why. Yes, it's an old trope, but it's one that I happen to like.
The author cleverly avoided the it-was-all-a-misunderstanding trope and the bipedal-aliens trope. Also the architecture of the aliens suited their physiology and mindset. Basically square shaped corridors are nice, but there really is no reason to make them if you would rather use the walls. Four walls for climbing on makes much more sense that just two. This basically means that each corridor is actually four corridors. If I had to film it for TV or a movie I'd change those to hexagonal corridors, so my actors could walk along them, and we'd still have 4 walls. Also hexagons stack nicely together (honeycombs). But making a 4-walled corridor without a ceiling or a floor takes less resources, so makes more sense to these aliens. I love consistency in my stories.
In fact, when Norm had said that this week's author was a scientist by training and profession I said to myself "Oh good. No silly physics mistakes in this story, and it will probably make internal sense as well." I'm very glad I wasn't disappointed.

To summarize: this was an excellent story of a person growing and becoming more than she was when she first started, coming to terms with herself as a person and what she was doing with her life and what she wanted from it. All that wrapped up in a wonderful bit of science fiction that actually had enough to stand up on its own.
Two thumbs way, way up.
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« Reply #4 on: December 31, 2012, 04:58:04 AM »

I really liked this story.

I saw Amaechi's transformation (from a person fixated with doing whatever the hell it takes to fulfill her dream into someone who actually learns to love what she is doing) from miles away. And looking back at it, in retrospect, the transformation appeared to be slightly forced and not smooth at all.
But while I was listening to it, it seemed to me to be the most smooth and natural thing in the world. I was so caught up in the story, identified so well with Amaechi that when it happened it took me a little by surprise. I loved it.
Maybe it's because I, like so many others, have found myself often enough doing something I didn't like or even hated just to achieve something else but then starting to enjoy the journey.

And the story.... wow.
Unknown, possibly hostile aliens terraforming (is it called terraforming if you don't make it like Terra?) planets and nobody knowing why. Yes, it's an old trope, but it's one that I happen to like.
The author cleverly avoided the it-was-all-a-misunderstanding trope and the bipedal-aliens trope. Also the architecture of the aliens suited their physiology and mindset. Basically square shaped corridors are nice, but there really is no reason to make them if you would rather use the walls. Four walls for climbing on makes much more sense that just two. This basically means that each corridor is actually four corridors. If I had to film it for TV or a movie I'd change those to hexagonal corridors, so my actors could walk along them, and we'd still have 4 walls. Also hexagons stack nicely together (honeycombs). But making a 4-walled corridor without a ceiling or a floor takes less resources, so makes more sense to these aliens. I love consistency in my stories.
In fact, when Norm had said that this week's author was a scientist by training and profession I said to myself "Oh good. No silly physics mistakes in this story, and it will probably make internal sense as well." I'm very glad I wasn't disappointed.

To summarize: this was an excellent story of a person growing and becoming more than she was when she first started, coming to terms with herself as a person and what she was doing with her life and what she wanted from it. All that wrapped up in a wonderful bit of science fiction that actually had enough to stand up on its own.
Two thumbs way, way up.
Just what I was going to say - I wish! I've been lurking until someone said something I could agree or disagree with due to Christmas having sucked my brain out of my ears and here it is. The only thing I would add is the absolute delight at having a dancer of ballet as the MC - goodness me, how often do you see that? Ok, she defected in the end but she will never stop being a dancer because she is dancing her soldiering. Brilliant.
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« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2013, 08:33:23 PM »

I listened to this episode at the start of a 4 hour Christmas Day drive that I was dreading.  Given my frame of mind, I was completely prepared to listen to this story and move on to the next podcast in my queue. Instead, I was absolutely blown away.  I have deeply enjoyed many stories I've heard on EP over the years but this is the first one that lit the fire under my butt to register and post a comment. 

Almost from the start I empathized with the protagonist and before I realized it, I was literally cheering her on!  My heart started beating faster when she was fighting the aliens; I rejoiced when she shot her way out of the giant tree; and I held my breath as she dashed for the forest.  Then, when the story ended I fleetingly felt ripped off that I couldn't share in her celebration when she returned to base!  I couldn't care less if her companions made it out alive or not, but I was completely wrapped up in the persona of the protagonist. 

That has never happened to me in a podcast/audiobook before and only rarely happens in a paper book.  I absolutely loved this story for how it captivated me.  Was it technically perfect?  I don't know.  I'll leave comments on those aspects of the story to other posters but I will say again that this story was able to achieve what no other podcast/audiobook has been able to do for me.  Maybe this story helped me channel the Spirit of Christmas Present, but whatever the cause, I was carried off to a great place that I want to visit again and it helped kick-start a great Christmas Day. 

Thank you Escape Artists, MK Hobson, and Corry L. Lee.

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« Reply #6 on: January 02, 2013, 12:17:05 PM »

I had a mixed reaction to this one.

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding, the strange bug aliens terraforming without communicating, zapping our "advanced" technology and their apparently genegineered cutter bugs and whatnot.  The necessity of periodic death makes this a pretty scary journey with high stakes.

I think much of what I didn't like about it stems from the flashforward-flashback-flashforward format that has become too popular in recent years, and which as usual has managed to kill what tension I had.  The flashbacks are primarily aimed toward the goal of establishing a method of dying and reviving, which is fraught with peril even though they're just sitting in labs and stuff.  But because our first section takes place in the future after this has become routine for her, there is no tension in that.  The two main tensions in the story are the killing of herself, but that's already resolved in the first scene and only attempts to show us in the flashbacks.  The other one is the faceoff inside the tree but that was resolved by her just taking the weapon out of her enemy's hands, THEN taking her own weapon out of the enemy's hands and then running and shooting a lot.  Her being able to grab the alien weapon was improbable, but them then allowing her to take the slug thrower just after that  when they should be extra alert just struck me as ridiculous.  And she's so well armored that there wasn't really any tension of her blasting her way out--they hit her lots of times but she just kept going.

 There's some really awesome stuff here, and I was interested enough in the worldbuilding to listen to the end, and I don't regret listening.  But I didn't feel that the tension was played up very well.
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« Reply #7 on: January 02, 2013, 01:22:22 PM »

Her being able to grab the alien weapon was improbable, but them then allowing her to take the slug thrower just after that  when they should be extra alert just struck me as ridiculous.
That bothered me a little bit at first too, but then I remembered that they don't have articulated joints, but rather tentacles. Now, if you think about it, tentacles aren't very well suited for holding on to things that other entities would really rather you didn't hold on to. No tendons to pull bones tight, no interlocking fingers. Just a coil of tentacle sort of holding it in place. A good tug in the direction that is perpendicular to the direction that the tentacle is coiled will release whatever was grasped there.
That also explained (to me) why she didn't try to use their weapon on them. The interface would be designed for tentacles, and so alien to her that she wouldn't be able to figure it out on the run.
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« Reply #8 on: January 02, 2013, 02:36:02 PM »

That also explained (to me) why she didn't try to use their weapon on them. The interface would be designed for tentacles, and so alien to her that she wouldn't be able to figure it out on the run.

I thought their weapon only worked on electronics, like an EMP, but the aliens are not electronic.  Maybe I totally misunderstood that.
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« Reply #9 on: January 02, 2013, 04:45:47 PM »

That also explained (to me) why she didn't try to use their weapon on them. The interface would be designed for tentacles, and so alien to her that she wouldn't be able to figure it out on the run.

I thought their weapon only worked on electronics, like an EMP, but the aliens are not electronic.  Maybe I totally misunderstood that.
They did keep shooting at her.
Also, if it only works on electronics, then when they keep shooting at her and it does her no harm then it's not because of her armor. It's because her electronics are already dead.
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« Reply #10 on: January 03, 2013, 09:29:33 AM »

That also explained (to me) why she didn't try to use their weapon on them. The interface would be designed for tentacles, and so alien to her that she wouldn't be able to figure it out on the run.

I thought their weapon only worked on electronics, like an EMP, but the aliens are not electronic.  Maybe I totally misunderstood that.
They did keep shooting at her.
Also, if it only works on electronics, then when they keep shooting at her and it does her no harm then it's not because of her armor. It's because her electronics are already dead.

Yeah, I think you're right.  The story specifi ally mentioned her body armor protecting her, so I think I misunderstood what the weapon did.
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #11 on: January 03, 2013, 09:49:00 AM »

That also explained (to me) why she didn't try to use their weapon on them. The interface would be designed for tentacles, and so alien to her that she wouldn't be able to figure it out on the run.

I thought their weapon only worked on electronics, like an EMP, but the aliens are not electronic.  Maybe I totally misunderstood that.
They did keep shooting at her.
Also, if it only works on electronics, then when they keep shooting at her and it does her no harm then it's not because of her armor. It's because her electronics are already dead.

Yeah, I think you're right.  The story specifically mentioned her body armor protecting her, so I think I misunderstood what the weapon did.
It confused me too.
But her suit may be some sort of Faraday Cage and protect the remainder of her electronics. Like her breather. (Why not her HUD? Because that would be in the helmet and not protected by the cage. Plus, it receives exterior EM stimuli as input, so can't be shielded.) But I wouldn't call a Faraday Cage armor.
The other option is that she stole the EMP gun, and then they shot at her with particle beams, directed energy or slug thrower weapons. Her carbon fiber armored suit did protect her against that, but then we're back at you being dissatisfied with there being no tension.
Either way, that did not bother me too much while I was listening to the story, I was totally caught up in it.
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« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2013, 07:54:01 AM »

The idea of her having to "die" repeatedly to bypass the alien security was interesting.  OIherwise the story seemed to be stuff cribbed from bad movies.  A factory-working, ballet-dancing, tech-armor wearing, hard-as-nails female action hero protagonist?   Please.  We're already into made for SyFy territory and things don't get better.  The chase/shootout, in particular, was something that might have been exciting on screen; a verbal description of it was just tedious as there was no question that Our Heroine would escape.  The only reason I can come up with for the aliens not pursuing her or switching on their security is that the author wanted it that way.  Our Heroine suddenly deciding she loves the army appears to be similarly motivated.
I guess I didn't like this story very much at all.

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Anthelion
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« Reply #13 on: January 07, 2013, 02:57:54 AM »

l enjoyed this one - growth lies in the limit-experience, that seemed to be the point to me.
For Foucault, "the idea of a limit-experience that wrenches the subject from itself is what was important to me in my reading of Nietzsche, Bataille, and Blanchot". In this way, the systems of philosophy and psychology, and their conceptions of reality and the unified subject, could be challenged and exposed, in favour of what systems/ consciousness had to refuse and exclude.  In this way, he strove for what Foucault would call "the point of life which lies as close as possible to the impossibility of living, which lies at the limit or the extreme". It was at the edge of limits where the ability to comprehend experience breaks down that Bataille sought to live. (Wiki)
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flashedarling
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« Reply #14 on: January 07, 2013, 11:06:31 AM »

I thought their weapon only worked on electronics, like an EMP, but the aliens are not electronic.  Maybe I totally misunderstood that.

Perhaps I'm misremembering but my impression was they hit her with the EMP that shorted out her systems. Then once she grabbed the gun and ran they switched to conventional high-speed projectile guns.

Of course I suppose it could be that their guns do both, a high speed projectile that also disrupts electronics on a hit.
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« Reply #15 on: January 07, 2013, 04:23:20 PM »

And on a rather minor point, Sulphur Dioxide does not smell of rotten eggs. That's Hydrogen Sulphide.
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« Reply #16 on: January 08, 2013, 12:54:38 PM »

What a Story !! This was like someone ripped the Heart out of an very good Action Movie and forced it to be a story.  It was Action and Adventure and had room left over for an interesting Charakter development plot.  Just Great. I was thrilled...
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« Reply #17 on: January 09, 2013, 12:25:23 PM »

I really enjoyed this story. I found that it avoided many of the tropes which sometimes turn me off in Escape Pod. From the episode introduction, I expected that by the end the main character would have learned that the aliens communicated by dance, and that she was the only way to save the republic. Nope, just run and gun shoot-em-up.

I also enjoyed the idea of humans learning to control their biorhythms more extensively. I was also glad that the author didn't go into the methods too much, as it seems like that might be a rabbit hole of explanation to a 21st century listener. Quick and concise, moving from one plot point to another. I enjoyed the way the little deaths lead to the death of her old self.

That being said, I felt like the author knew more about the aliens than she was saying. The "ecology" was pretty well developed and was interesting, but I was hoping to get more from it. I love when alien exploration stories do the "big reveal," and I feel like that was lacking. For such an interesting set, I expected a bit more from the aliens than "icky better squish them"
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« Reply #18 on: January 09, 2013, 01:17:47 PM »

Well I can see why this story won the Writers of the Future contest. I really enjoyed it. I do agree with some of the nitpicking already covered, but overall I found it engaging and interesting. The idea of her "dying" every fifteen minutes--or whatever the time interval was--was quite an interesting concept and made for some great lines like:
Quote from: Corry L Lee
My HUD blared its warning, and I killed myself again.
And
Quote from: Corry L Lee
I wanted my life back. “Then teach me how to die, sir.”

It seems like I should feel ripped off at the end when she abandons her lifelong dream of being a dancer. I mean, it's what we were promised in the beginning, so having her just say, "Aw, f@%k it." seems like it should be a disappointment. And yet it wasn't. I was right there cheering her on, "Yeah, Amaechi! F@%k dancing and f@% them!"

The interspersed flashbacks when she was "dead" worked well for introducing her situation and companions, though this style of storytelling is beginning to get a bit trite. Still, it's the best way to start in the action and still build the character.

I did have a hard time with her getting shot repeatedly yet barely being affected by it. When the enemy's guns don't harm her the tension deflates as we are no longer fearing for her life.

In the end it kind of felt like a Michael Crichten novel to me: Lots of fascinating and well written build-up; quick, easy escape at the end. That said, I love Crichten and I really liked this story.
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« Reply #19 on: January 09, 2013, 02:50:12 PM »

Wow, this one was pretty great! I had to restart it once or twice to make sure that I was oriented properly in the story, but I think that's just because the action was fairly quick paced for audio. I also totally failed to follow the fine detail of her battle with the aliens, my brain just couldn't visualize it. Still, it carried me along pretty well and I picked it back up as she was running back to her ship. I'm glad that she found a new place in the world, with people who would see her for all of herself, and not just a couple missing fingers.


As she was running, her escape started to seem a bit too easy, making me grow very suspicious that this might just be a simulation/training exercise. Sort of the opposite of an Ender's Game scenario. When she woke up back at the base my suspicions were confirmed, and I was groaning that she had lived through that whole ordeal in the span of one 12 second (that was the length I think??) "practice death." Then we jumped back into the action and I realized that actually I was wrong and that was just an ill-timed flashback. I'm starting to get really sick of flashbacks.
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