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Author Topic: EP378: Scout  (Read 9880 times)

eytanz

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matweller

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Reply #1 on: January 11, 2013, 02:54:08 PM
The story's up now too. Sorry, I wanted to get the podcast in the feed ASAP so people turning on their podcatchers in the morning would get it, but I didn't have the story until just now. This should be the last time this is an issue for a while. Thanks for your patience!



Cutter McKay

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Reply #2 on: January 11, 2013, 10:19:35 PM
I really enjoyed this one. It was descriptive, interesting, and exciting. The aliens were decidedly alien, which is good, though it's annoying that we don't get to find out what it all meant. I like the idea of Falcon being little more than single drone among many, programmed to still believe he's somehow human. It was a bit of a nasty twist at the end.

Something occurred to me after listening that I see as a major flaw in the humans' plan. So they send out this scout to gather desperately needed information about the aliens, even to the sacrifice of its own existence. When that one becomes compromised, they simply send out a new one. They apparently don't bother to inform the new scout about its previous iterations, allowing it to believe it's still an individual. However, with no previous information, what is going to keep the new scout from acquiring the exact same information as the last one? The scout in this story got info on the ships, the sand, and the crystal thingies. With the same mind, chances are very high that the new scout is going to acquire the exact same info, which the humans already have. Unless I'm missing something, I think it's to the humans' detriment that they keep the new scouts in the dark about the old ones and the info already gathered.

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CorsonB

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Reply #3 on: January 12, 2013, 09:26:17 AM
Hi folks,

I just want to personally thank Bud Sparhawk for his help and insights for my interpretation of his story.  He's a great writer and I was privileged to be offered the reading of his story.  I hope I did it justice in his eyes (ears   ;)  ) and in those of all the Escape Pod fans.

I hope to be with you all soon for a new adventure.

Best to all,

Corson Bremer
Voice Actor
 

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Scattercat

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Reply #4 on: January 12, 2013, 06:03:06 PM
Cutter, I, personally, would have assumed that they tell each scout "what we already know" and don't get much into the details of how they know it.

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Bdoomed

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Reply #5 on: January 13, 2013, 04:40:30 AM
Not sure if I'm getting it right, but did the transmitters not work at all? I might have just missed it (attention deviated a few times during the story, that's what happens when you drive!), but I got the impression that the ship never got any info from the scout.  That could be why they didn't bother telling the scout anything, they thought he just failed outright, gathered no data, and died.
I remember they were complaining that the lights weren't blinking.  Am I right on this?

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?


Cutter McKay

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Reply #6 on: January 13, 2013, 06:31:43 AM
Not sure if I'm getting it right, but did the transmitters not work at all? I might have just missed it (attention deviated a few times during the story, that's what happens when you drive!), but I got the impression that the ship never got any info from the scout.  That could be why they didn't bother telling the scout anything, they thought he just failed outright, gathered no data, and died.
I remember they were complaining that the lights weren't blinking.  Am I right on this?

I was under the impression that they did receive the data, but that the story just cut away right before the transmission came in because we, the reader, already knew what the transmission said. I could be wrong.

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #7 on: January 13, 2013, 07:17:43 AM
I loved this one. It was a great example of realistic, psychological, and thoughtful science fiction. I was particularly struck by the skill with which the author explicated Falcon's situation and the realities of the war, gradually introducing us to the way human and shardy technology worked, so that when the big reveal came, it was a horrible not-surprise. The only thing that exceeded the explication was the pacing, which was totally perfect. The fact that the reading was spot on didn't hurt, either.

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Bdoomed

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Reply #8 on: January 13, 2013, 08:57:42 AM
Not sure if I'm getting it right, but did the transmitters not work at all? I might have just missed it (attention deviated a few times during the story, that's what happens when you drive!), but I got the impression that the ship never got any info from the scout.  That could be why they didn't bother telling the scout anything, they thought he just failed outright, gathered no data, and died.
I remember they were complaining that the lights weren't blinking.  Am I right on this?

I was under the impression that they did receive the data, but that the story just cut away right before the transmission came in because we, the reader, already knew what the transmission said. I could be wrong.

See I assumed that at first, but then they start up the other clone with the idea that this one might do what the other one failed at doing.  The way it was put led me to believe that they never received anything at all, and they considered Falcon's scouting to have been a total failure.


I should mention that I thoroughly enjoyed this story.  The reading was fantastic too!

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?


Dem

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Reply #9 on: January 13, 2013, 02:38:43 PM
Sorry folks, I thought this was a grim piece of writing with so many inconsistencies of tense and phrasing that it just looked plain sloppy. The ending was a predictable cop-out whereby naive bits of Falcon are repeatedly despatched to investigate the aliens (armed, one assumes, with anonymised data from previous iterations) so that the aliens themselves never have to be elaborated. Did I hear that this has been published elsewhere? Was another draft used maybe?

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


eytanz

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Reply #10 on: January 13, 2013, 03:07:53 PM
I just noticed that the intro, while mentioning that this story is one in a sequence of stories about the same conflict, fails to point out that the first story in the sequence, Bright Red Star, was previously released as an Escape Pod episode (#136).



Peter Tupper

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Reply #11 on: January 13, 2013, 06:37:34 PM
The aliens were well-described, but the story telegraphed its ending pretty early on. The generic "happy Christmas" memories were a dead giveaway.



Rhio2k

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Reply #12 on: January 13, 2013, 06:46:58 PM
I just noticed that the intro, while mentioning that this story is one in a sequence of stories about the same conflict, fails to point out that the first story in the sequence, Bright Red Star, was previously released as an Escape Pod episode (#136).

Yeah, I noticed that when I heard the aliens' species name. Good to see a sequel after such a long time. The ending of the first story was...grim. Still listening to this one.



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #13 on: January 14, 2013, 12:25:03 AM
The aliens were well-described, but the story telegraphed its ending pretty early on. The generic "happy Christmas" memories were a dead giveaway.

I actually didn't think they were supposed to be generic. I thought the idea was that there had once been a real Falcon, and those were his real memories, but the Captain was the only one who still cared to think of the scout-things as any remnant of the real Falcon.

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Anthelion

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Reply #14 on: January 14, 2013, 12:29:38 AM
The aliens were well-described, but the story telegraphed its ending pretty early on. The generic "happy Christmas" memories were a dead giveaway.

I agree, it was pretty transparent. I liked the core idea as a whole, but it didn't feel like anything fresh  or original.
Voice job well done.



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #15 on: January 14, 2013, 10:22:41 AM
Whooh. Where do I begin?
How about at the end, or rather, after the end.
After it was all over, I got to thinking. See, the whole time we weren't sure what exactly Falcon was. But then, at the end, we discovered that he (yes, he. I was very attentive to this, and most of the time Falcon was referred to in third-person, except at the end, when it was he.) was just a very clever AI.
See, my train of thought went like this: At first I thought he was a cyborg, dead flesh replaced with cybernetic enhancements a-la Robocop. But that leaves a few details out. Remember, Robocop ate baby food to keep his organics running. As far as I could tell, his organics were his brain, facial flesh, and probably the lungs, heart and intestines required to supply those with nutrients and oxygen. But in our story, we only hear mentions of batteries. No organic power source. And then, at the end, the story begins anew at the same spot. So clearly he was programmed into a fully cybernetic device.
Therefore, I concluded that Falcon was the digital imprint of a human being. That is actually pretty clever, and solves the whole AI problem in a brilliant stroke. We don't need to program a super-smart computer capable of thinking for itself and reaching decisions and conclusions, we have human brain images.
But, and here is where it breaks down, why do we need a mostly dead person to begin with? It sounded like they reconstructed him like Robocop, but that clearly is not what happened. They seem to have discarded his organic body.
So, if the whole deal is just a person's mind in a robot, why do we need the mostly dead guy? Why not perfectly healthy, and awfully clever and well-trained people, who volunteer their minds for this with no danger to themselves? Just copy the mind onto a USB, plug into the robot turtle and go.
Then, there is the whole deal with the author trying to get us to feel all all-this-has-happened-before-and-will-happen-again. But that can't be true, because at the end Falcon was discovered, and self-destructed. Success of his mission depended on the element of surprise. Without it he would not be able to collect valuable data. But now the Tripods know that he was there, and the next mission will be a guaranteed failure.
So that trope broke.

On the other hand, the story was very engaging. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it and was entirely caught up in it. The mystery of a hostile alien species whose technology is sufficiently different from ours to look like magic. The tension of the mission, and the fact that even though the story was told in first-person, there was no guarantee that the mission would succeed.
It was only after the fact that I began to realize that the plot was so full of holes that you could use it to scrub a space ship.

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Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #16 on: January 14, 2013, 10:24:39 AM
I just noticed that the intro, while mentioning that this story is one in a sequence of stories about the same conflict, fails to point out that the first story in the sequence, Bright Red Star, was previously released as an Escape Pod episode (#136).
Broken link in that forum post.
The episode can be found here: http://escapepod.org/2007/12/14/ep136-bright-red-star/

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Scumpup

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Reply #17 on: January 14, 2013, 12:35:56 PM
The aliens were intensely interesting to me.  The robot turtle that thought it was human, much less so.

Quote
But, and here is where it breaks down, why do we need a mostly dead person to begin with?
Hatred was one of the robot turtle's prime motivators.  Not just any old hatred, either, but advanced hatred.  Perhaps to get the kind of hatred that makes hurting the enemy more important than anything, including self-preservation, you need imprints from a mind that has suffered in the most ghastly ways at enemy hands.  I completely agree, btw, that the Falcon scouts were completely robotic and controlled by an AI copied from Falcon the (late) Space Marine.




Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #18 on: January 14, 2013, 01:50:51 PM
The aliens were intensely interesting to me.  The robot turtle that thought it was human, much less so.

Quote
But, and here is where it breaks down, why do we need a mostly dead person to begin with?
Hatred was one of the robot turtle's prime motivators.  Not just any old hatred, either, but advanced hatred.  Perhaps to get the kind of hatred that makes hurting the enemy more important than anything, including self-preservation, you need imprints from a mind that has suffered in the most ghastly ways at enemy hands.  I completely agree, btw, that the Falcon scouts were completely robotic and controlled by an AI copied from Falcon the (late) Space Marine.
Geez, I can't believe you blew the chance for a perfectly good Billy Crystal quote. :P

Putting that aside, hatred is a nice motivator, I agree. But I don't think you need it. A scientist who has spent his or her entire life seeking new information, probing the universe, would jump at the chance to have their brain copied into a robot. And that scientific drive of curiosity and getting good results would be a far better motivator than hatred. It would be a much more focused and driven robot.

Also, now that you mention that hatred, it was borne of the fact that the aliens turned human beings into slugs to suck their minds. "If they’d had throats and lungs they’d be screaming in pain."
Why is that any different from what the humans did to Falcon? In fact, one line that made the connection for me was: "Falcon might have been screaming in pain the whole time, but nobody heard because most of the lower face was gone and the exposed vocal chords were charred nubs."
Sounds awfully familiar, no?

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Scumpup

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Reply #19 on: January 14, 2013, 02:28:47 PM

Putting that aside, hatred is a nice motivator, I agree. But I don't think you need it. A scientist who has spent his or her entire life seeking new information, probing the universe, would jump at the chance to have their brain copied into a robot. And that scientific drive of curiosity and getting good results would be a far better motivator than hatred. It would be a much more focused and driven robot.

Also, now that you mention that hatred, it was borne of the fact that the aliens turned human beings into slugs to suck their minds. "If they’d had throats and lungs they’d be screaming in pain."
Why is that any different from what the humans did to Falcon? In fact, one line that made the connection for me was: "Falcon might have been screaming in pain the whole time, but nobody heard because most of the lower face was gone and the exposed vocal chords were charred nubs."
Sounds awfully familiar, no?

The problem with using the type of scientist you describe is that such folks often have moral qualms about killing and funny ideas about the value of sentient life and what we and the aliens could learn from each other that would get in the way of the mission.   The mission is about gathering information for the purpose of utterly destroying an enemy, after all.  Somebody who already has a military mind-set and who also has a deep-seated personal desire to see the enemy destroyed is a better candidate.
Yes, it did sound familiar.  I just chalked it up as a typical ham fisted science fiction attempt at saying Something Profound About The Nature Of War and moved on.  I've seen it too many times in too many stories by too many different authors for it to be deeply moving now.



Scumpup

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Reply #20 on: January 14, 2013, 02:35:23 PM
One of the reasons I, perhaps, wasn't as affected by this story as I might have been is that Falcon reminded me much too vividly of Bert the Turtle of "Duck and Cover" fame.
Quote
    There was a turtle by the name of Bert
    and Bert the turtle was very alert;
    when danger threatened him he never got hurt
    he knew just what to do...
    He'd duck! [gasp]
    And cover!
    Duck! [gasp]
    And cover! (male) He did what we all must learn to do
    (male) You (female) And you (male) And you (deeper male) And you!'
    [bang, gasp] Duck, and cover!'
I kept getting mental flashes of the action in the story done in b&w animation of the same style as 1950's PSA's.



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #21 on: January 14, 2013, 02:36:18 PM
Also, now that you mention that hatred, it was borne of the fact that the aliens turned human beings into slugs to suck their minds.

"If they’d had throats and lungs they’d be screaming in pain."

Why is that any different from what the humans did to Falcon? In fact, one line that made the connection for me was: "Falcon might have been screaming in pain the whole time, but nobody heard because most of the lower face was gone and the exposed vocal chords were charred nubs."

Why, yes, Max e. I believe that was intentional.

Why did they use a human's brain-image to make their scout-turtle?

1) Because they hated the enemy. Hatred is a powerful motivator, and it can blind you to easier solutions. They hated the enemy, and they wanted their machine to do it, too, because it made them comfortable, it made them happy, it reflected their hatred in the wider world in a way that was satsifying.

2) Complex AIs may not be possible in this setting. They certainly aren't possible for the shardies, who had to reduce humans to slugs to predict their actions. An AI running a genetic algorithm could have started predicting humans in a similar amount of time. We still don't know if real self-aware AI is possible - ok, we're pretty sure that it is, but we can't do it yet - but maybe in this world, it isn't possible, or if it is, the humans don't have the technology yet. What they can do, however, is take a human brain-image, pare it back to the important parts, and use that.

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #22 on: January 14, 2013, 02:38:43 PM
ALSO, while I'm at it, to brainstorm some reasons Falcon had to die:

1) The procedure to produce a human brain-scan is invasive and killed him.

2) They tested the procedure on wounded soldiers (who could be spared from the fighting because, well, they wouldn't be doing any fighting ever again), and Falcon just happened to die shortly thereafter.

3) Falcon was wounded, and volunteered for this duty, and happened to die later unrelatedly, but the scout's memories didn't go that far back.

Remember - we don't know how Falcon died. We know the captain is sad about his death, but we don't know how or when it happened. We assumed it had to do with his being injured, because the captain was mulling about it, but I don't believe he ever says as much. We also assume that it has to do with becoming a scout, but that is not clearly said - the captain never says as much, and the scout is an unreliable narrator.

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Scattercat

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Reply #23 on: January 14, 2013, 02:58:45 PM
Also, in addition to hatred being a powerful motivator, if you are a cursed man-machine with no functioning body parts to speak of and whose life is a constant torment, you're a lot less likely to ruin your mission with the slightest ounce of self-preservation instinct.  A mind that thought of itself as a living, sentient being inside of an undying metal shell is going to have a very different attitude toward, for instance, burning out the last of its batteries to send one tiny piece of additional, potentially useless data back to base.

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #24 on: January 14, 2013, 03:09:25 PM
Also, in addition to hatred being a powerful motivator, if you are a cursed man-machine with no functioning body parts to speak of...

"Cursed Man-Machine" was the name of my highschool band.

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