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Author Topic: EP385: The Very Pulse of the Machine  (Read 11055 times)

eytanz

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on: March 01, 2013, 08:10:51 AM
EP385: The Very Pulse of the Machine

By Michael Swanwick

Read by Amy Elk

--

Click.

The radio came on.

“Hell.”

Martha kept her eyes forward, concentrated on walking. Jupiter to one shoulder, Daedalus’s plume to the other. Nothing to it. Just trudge, drag, trudge, drag. Piece of cake.

“Oh.”

She chinned the radio off.

Click.

“Hell. Oh. Kiv. El. Sen.”

“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” Martha gave the rope an angry jerk, making the sledge carrying Burton’s body jump and bounce on the sulfur hardpan. “You’re dead, Burton, I’ve checked, there’s a hole in your faceplate big enough to stick a fist through, and I really don’t want to crack up. I’m in kind of a tight spot here and I can’t afford it, okay? So be nice and just shut the f*** up.”

“Not. Bur. Ton.”

“Do it anyway.”

She chinned the radio off again.

Jupiter loomed low on the western horizon, big and bright and beautiful and, after two weeks on Io, easy to ignore. To her left, Daedalus was spewing sulfur and sulfur dioxide in a fan two hundred kilometers high. The plume caught the chill light from an unseen sun and her visor rendered it a pale and lovely blue. Most spectacular view in the universe, and she was in no mood to enjoy it.

Click.

Before the voice could speak again, Martha said, “I am not going crazy, you’re just the voice of my subconscious, I don’t have the time to waste trying to figure out what unresolved psychological conflicts gave rise to all this, and I am not going to listen to anything you have to say.”

Silence.

- See more at: http://escapepod.org/#sthash.5PklNQzZ.dpuf


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Frungi

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Reply #1 on: March 03, 2013, 03:33:41 AM
This one irritated me from the very start, the way Martha was so blind to something that was so obvious to the reader/listener (or at least to me), after she and Burton had earlier been so excited over discovering what they thought was plant life. The dichotomy between that excitement and her denial of the voice in the radio—trying to convince herself that she had gone crazy when she was obviously making first contact—really ate at my enjoyment of the story.
« Last Edit: March 04, 2013, 08:07:21 AM by Frungi »



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #2 on: March 03, 2013, 12:28:23 PM
First of all, I am loving Mat's new rating disclaimers.
Second, I love the audio production of this episode, very well done Amy.
Third, it's pronounced aɪ.oʊ. That's 'i' as in "price" and 'o' as in "bore".
Fourth will have to come later, since I'm not done listening yet. But as soon as the voice started in Martha's headset I immediately thought of Asimov's Nemesis. I think that part of future explorers' training should be a basic grounding in science fiction. That way they will expect the unexpected and truly bizarre, and be better able to cope.

Cogito ergo surf - I think therefore I network

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Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #3 on: March 03, 2013, 03:39:15 PM
My god... it's full of stars...

A magnificent story. My only beef is that if Martha was traveling back along the trail they had driven, then she'd visit the second discovery first, and the first discovery second.
But otherwise, I loved this story. And I love it all the more for the ambiguous and open-ended ending.

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Frungi

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Reply #4 on: March 04, 2013, 08:35:32 AM
I should have said this in my first post, but my real problem with this story was that it seemed like it tried too hard in the wrong ways to force ambiguity. Aside from Martha's own doubts, there's never anything to suggest that the voice might not be real, but it feels like she keeps (weakly) trying to convince you anyway. It bugged me throughout the story. Even the ending, which was genuinely ambiguous, had to throw in her doubt.

I'm sorry if I sound harsh. I just can't stand when they halfway it like this. If it really was ambiguous, if I had no idea whether the voice was real or not, I would have enjoyed it more. If there was no doubt and it didn't have doubts artificially thrown in as an afterthought, I would have enjoyed it more. Character aside, I liked the story—but the character is just too big a part of this one to ignore.

By the way, on the chance Nathan reads my feedback, my username rhymes with "bungee."



Djinndustries

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Reply #5 on: March 04, 2013, 09:01:12 AM
This was the first Escapepod story in a while that really made me sit up and take notice. A well done mixture of interesting world, comic relief and hard sci-fi elements. I really enjoyed how the main character reached their rather horrifying challenge at the end.

I'm not sure what others may have wanted to create a more reliable unreliable narrator, but if I was tromping along on a sulfur poppy field, having conversations with a dead colleague in a broken spacesuit, my first thought probably wouldn't be, 'oh, for fuck's sake, not another corpse-jacking, planetwide sentience'. I don't need to be convinced that erstwhile colleague's voice might not be real as I'm pretty sure that's status quo for most non-schizophrenics.



Frungi

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Reply #6 on: March 04, 2013, 10:54:31 AM
I'm not sure what others may have wanted to create a more reliable unreliable narrator, but if I was tromping along on a sulfur poppy field, having conversations with a dead colleague in a broken spacesuit,

Thing is, it was pretty clear right off (at least to me) that, whoever it was, it wasn't her colleague, from the first halting line of dialogue. Not to mention the bits like "I'll make a bridge" and then a bridge forms. Besides, the narration felt too objective to be unreliable, too outside of the character's head. So first-person or a closer third-person would probably have helped my enjoyment.

Mind you, I'm not trying to sway anyone who enjoyed it (in fact I kind of envy you); just making sure my reasoning is clear, if only to make it easier for people to tell me why I'm wrong. =)
« Last Edit: March 04, 2013, 11:00:35 AM by Frungi »



Mouldy Squid

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Reply #7 on: March 04, 2013, 03:00:30 PM
I absolutely love this story, and have since I read it years ago in one of Dozois's Year's Best anthologies. Absolutely brilliant. I love what escape pod has done with it, especially the audio effects for the Machine's transmissions. Five stars.



matweller

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Reply #8 on: March 04, 2013, 04:21:00 PM
Personally, the issues Frungi's having didn't bother me. First, she was in an accident that involved the trauma of having killed her colleague, either of which could easily leave you not in the right frame of mind to fully process the fact of the planet talking to you. Both events together, and really the hardest part to believe is that Martha didn't just sit drooling in her suit until her oxygen ran out.

...or maybe she did, and the rest of the story is just An Occurrance At Owl Creek Bridge. </GratuitousBierce>

I thought the part people would be complaining about was the fact that it's another Sentient-Jupiter story. I mean -- and I'm asking this honestly -- is there some old myth about Jupiter being intelligent that both this story and 2001 have equal right to? Because to me it just felt like there's a curious amount of interest in that planet as opposed to others. Or maybe it's just that I've somewhat recently listened to Beneath - http://podiobooks.com/title/beneath/ - and I'm just over-exposed.



KenK

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Reply #9 on: March 05, 2013, 12:23:40 AM
People no matter how smart, brave, or grounded, find death hard to accept. Go figure?
« Last Edit: March 11, 2013, 08:09:30 PM by KenK »



Djinndustries

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Reply #10 on: March 05, 2013, 01:30:17 AM
Thing is, it was pretty clear right off (at least to me) that, whoever it was, it wasn't her colleague, from the first halting line of dialogue.

Interesting. It didn't seem clear to me at all. She could have been hallucinating. The colleague could have been a reanimated corpse. The colleague might have never died completely and was clawing back from the edge of death. The colleague might have been a shape-shifting alien that could breath sulfur. It could have been the suit's AI (there was a story about an animated suit with a dead person inside not too long ago) trying to speak. It could be that the protagonist had died already and she was walking through the afterlife. Or maybe it was all a dream... ;)

Of those, all seem more likely (by frequency in speculative fiction) than a brain-jacking planetary intelligence.



FireTurtle

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Reply #11 on: March 05, 2013, 02:19:16 AM
Chiming in to say I really enjoyed this one. I loved the ambiguity of the main character's mental state. Every time I thought I had her pinned down (insanity vs. sentient planet) something would happen that made me change my mind.

I thought the portrayal of the mind of meth was failry accurate as well. Actually, I found the whole psychology of the main character compelling and thoroughly interesting. It was very stimulating, even if the actual science of planet sentience kind went way over my head. And, her message home (if in fact it existed) totally rocked.
One for the win column, all the way around, inclduing the excellent narration and sound effects.

“My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world and exiles me from it.”
Ursula K. LeGuin


InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #12 on: March 05, 2013, 04:00:58 AM
Well, I loved it to death (pun unintentional). Possibly for the reasons Alasdair was banging on about at the end, but mostly because it was a damn good space story with a Big Idea. That may or may not be real. I like that there's just enough ambiguity for there to be another interpretation (the fact that we're allowed to hear the Io-Torus radio transmission tends to make me think it's real), plus there's the uncertainty at the end, even if she's really taking to Io.

PS I knew someone would bring up the pronunciation of the moon's name. I just knew that for once it wouldn't be me. I know that there's some disagreement here - Carl Sagan for years argued that the correct Greek was what we hear here - EE-oo, instead of the British I-0. And the Brits are hardly infallible when it comes to pronunciation  ;)

PPS - Well, Mat, no, the MPAA wouldn't have agreed with you on a rating. They only allow one f-bomb per feature for a PG-13. Mind you, I don't care. But others might.



matweller

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Reply #13 on: March 05, 2013, 04:30:48 AM
"The Rating Board nevertheless may rate such a motion picture PG-13 if, based on a special vote by a two-thirds majority, the Raters feel that most American parents would believe that a PG-13 rating is appropriate because of the context or manner in which the words are used or because the use of those words in the motion picture is inconspicuous."

Luckily, in this case the MPAA isn't an authoritative body and the board -- me -- had a unanimous decision. :P

Thanks for the tip, though. Since I'm using their grading scale, I should probably abide by their guidelines in general. Or perhaps I should just stop using them. a while ago, Mur and I were debating on some witty ways to rate the stories. I think I had suggested using famous directors as a scale i.e. "Tarantino" for violent and vulgar or "Kevin Smith" for vulgar and insulting or "Scorsesi" (he makes the best fucking films) for possible artistic vulgarity and so on. But we never really settled on anything. It's a topic for another thread, but I would welcome recommendations for structuring ratings.

Perhaps a "Mat's Mom scale" would be appropriate. As in, "Mom would have let me listen to this in her presence," or "Mom would have let me listen to this, but not while she was awake," or "This is something I could have only listened to in my own Walkman until I had my own house." The possibilities are endless...



chemistryguy

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Reply #14 on: March 05, 2013, 11:59:03 AM
I'm in total agreement with Frungi.  The story did not come across as ambiguous and I envy those who saw it that way.

If the writing would have indicated a deterioration of her mental state  I would have bought it.  As she passes through her initial shock and progresses to full-blown, meth-induced, tired-as-hell paranoia, she maintains a rational inner voice.  It needed subtly, and the fact that she keeps denying the mechanized voice only convinced me that it was real.

Otherwise, it was a  gem of a story idea and Amy did a fine job conveying the story as it was written.

Quote
I thought the portrayal of the mind of meth was fairly accurate

 ::) Based on experience or perceived experience?



FireTurtle

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Reply #15 on: March 05, 2013, 02:47:28 PM
Quote from: chemistryguy link=topic=6768.msg109351#msg109
[quote
I thought the portrayal of the mind of meth was fairly accurate

 ::) Based on experience or perceived experience?


[/quote]

Based on years treating people who are/have been on meth. I live in an area that is saturated with meth and work in the medical field. I should also add that I give people mind altering drugs for a living and you'd be amazed at how rational their thought processes can be even when they have no actual relation to reality. Just like dreams seem logical *at the time you are dreaming*.

“My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world and exiles me from it.”
Ursula K. LeGuin


chemistryguy

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Reply #16 on: March 05, 2013, 04:50:27 PM
Quote from: chemistryguy link=topic=6768.msg109351#msg109
[quote
I thought the portrayal of the mind of meth was fairly accurate

 ::) Based on experience or perceived experience?



Based on years treating people who are/have been on meth. I live in an area that is saturated with meth and work in the medical field. I should also add that I give people mind altering drugs for a living and you'd be amazed at how rational their thought processes can be even when they have no actual relation to reality. Just like dreams seem logical *at the time you are dreaming*.
[/quote]

Great to hear your perspective.  Thanks.


JauntyAngle

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Reply #17 on: March 05, 2013, 09:43:16 PM
TOYNBEE IDEA
IN MOViE `2001
RESURRECT DEAD
ON PLANET JUPITER.



Alasdair5000

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Reply #18 on: March 05, 2013, 09:43:52 PM
NICELY DONE!:)



AM Fish

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Reply #19 on: March 06, 2013, 12:06:47 PM
I didn't feel the story needed more ambiguity.  Even though, after hearing the ending, I did wonder if it was, as mentioned above, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, the question of what was real or not was less important to me than Martha's ability to face this disaster, her struggle against egotistical ambitions, and her "negotiation" with the machine.  I liked her best when she replied to the Machine's lack of certainty with, "Gotcha."



BradleyT

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Reply #20 on: March 06, 2013, 02:18:19 PM
Before I start I would like to say my quick hello to the Escape Pod family.  This story marks my arrival at the end of a three month journey from EP1, chronologically, to here at EP385.  I am happier then ever to know that this is something that will likely live on as a new weekly escape.  It is quite a nice feeling to know that I am finally able to hear these stories as they are put out and can finally join in on the conversations about them.  I know I have had several that I wish I had been a listener of at that time to be able to add some comment to and now I have my chance so here we go.

I am must say that I really did enjoy this story, I did not find it ambiguous but rather a good transitional story.  We start with some question of whether or not she was imagining the voice and her struggle to accept that it was real and then we bring back the mystery again after the machine makes her the bridge and we think that it is about to bring her to the ship or the ship to her but are instead hit with an earthquake/volcanic activity that destroys the only escape.  I think the real climax was when we hear the transmission played and for me the story could have ended right then and I would have still thought it was great.  Of course the author took a gamble to push the story just a little further and while it was not as great for me personally I still thought that it brought the story to a satisfying slightly open close.

I would like to also say that the new production extras have really brought the overall immersion of these stories to a whole new level.  I love what the team is doing here and I honestly look forward to a happy future here.



JauntyAngle

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Reply #21 on: March 06, 2013, 03:28:02 PM
The whole Jupiter/resurrection thing reminded me of Toynbee Tiles. I wonder if they were an inspiration for the story?

Other than that, I thought it was great. There were plausible reasons to believe the voice was real, and that it was not. However, I think the evidence points more strongly to space madness. Here is what the suit told her halfway through the story, when she was taking one more hit of meth:

"Warning: Continued use of this drug at current levels can result in paranoia, psychosis, hallucinations, misperceptions, and hypomania, as well as impaired judgment."
Her thoughts and behavior are pretty consistent with those symptoms.



FeloniusMonk

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Reply #22 on: March 06, 2013, 10:21:14 PM
I enjoyed this - it didn't shift my world but it was a good story.
What really struck me was that in the end Martha still wasn't number one. Burton would be the first human uploaded (maybe) and Martha would eternaly be number two. Ouch.



Frungi

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Reply #23 on: March 08, 2013, 07:17:02 AM
I just want to clarify some things, because there seems to be some confusion over my comments on this story:

I thought it was plain from the very beginning that, whatever the voice on the radio was (and I had no idea what it was), it was something that was clearly not used to human language, or at least to English, and it certainly wasn’t her dead colleague. My first guess was it was some alien, somewhere, trying to communicate with her (“Am trying. To communicate.”). I didn’t assume the voice was a drug-induced hallucination because she hadn’t had any of the drug yet. Sure, it could have been a post-traumatic hallucination, but its speech seemed too broken for it to simply be that, and the story isn’t told from Martha’s mental state. The only suggestion that the voice wasn’t really speaking to her came from Kivelson’s own dialogue and inner monologue.

Not to mention that later on in the story, when she was admittedly pumped full of drugs and possibly more likely to question herself anyway, there was concrete evidence that the voice was real and was what it said it was. First, she’s stuck on the other side of an uncrossable lake of sulfur, and the voice says it’ll build a bridge; after it wakes her up, she walks across a bridge. Second, it warns her before an earthquake. There might be others I forgot, but the story gave no evidence that it wasn’t real.

Other than one brief hallucination of a horse that was gone when she blinked, the prose simply never gave me any cause to doubt anything it described. It wasn’t describing the world as she saw it; it was describing the world as it was and her reactions to it. And yet the story still feels like it wants you to question it along with Kivelson, as irrational as her doubt seems. It wants you to think that she’s as crazy as she’s working so hard to convince herself she is. This felt to me like an attempt to manufacture a feeling of ambiguity, rather than having a story that was actually ambiguous, and to me it left the actually-ambiguous ending feeling hollow.

Added on to this is the gulf between Martha’s initial reaction to what they’d initially thought was a new plant life-form, and her reaction to intelligent life trying to communicate with her. On discovering the “flowers,” their “first big discovery,” she’s positively gleeful; but her initial and constant reaction to whatever strange being is trying to communicate with her is a completely dismissive and disbelieving “Shut up.” Even after she accepts that it’s probably real, and that it’s really a machine built by ancient aliens, there isn’t a trace of that awe. I simply can’t buy it.

Maybe I misunderstood what the story was trying to do, and the reader’s not supposed to share Martha’s doubt. Maybe the POV should have been less objective and more inside Martha’s head. Maybe it just didn’t focus enough on the fact that the alien intelligence was using her freshly-dead colleague’s voice, and how hard it would be to get past that. But this story failed, to me.
« Last Edit: March 08, 2013, 07:19:10 AM by Frungi »



Cutter McKay

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Reply #24 on: March 08, 2013, 10:18:58 PM
Well, I didn't not like this story. The mood was good, the productions effect were awesome, Amy's robot voice was perfect, and the story was interesting. It did feel a little long to me. And am I the only who took the self-constructed bridge of crystal as a sign that the voice of Io was real? I mean, all other ambiguities and unreliable narrators aside, a bridge of crystal that constructs itself, across which Martha trudged, was not an imaginary voice in her head. That really happened. Now, granted, Martha could have hallucinated the whole thing, but she and Burton passed the lake before, so it was real. In my mind, that removed any and all doubt about Io's reality.

Also, I couldn't help but wonder about Hols. What purpose did he serve? We never saw or heard from him. Was he just there to make it so that Martha didn't come in last once again? And why couldn't she communicate with him via radio? I get that the range might have been too great, but she got pretty close at the end, is three miles too far for radio transmission? And then, on top of everything, Martha pretty much dooms him by abandoning him to take a literal leap of faith. He has no idea what's going on. Martha assumes that the ship is irreparable, but she doesn't know for certain. She still has enough air to get there. It just felt like he served no real purpose in the story and was subsequently forgotten about in the end.

I did like the transmission Io sent out, telling the universe of Martha's discovery. And the hard science of the story was very interesting and well explored, the crystals, the lake, etc. As I said, I didn't not like it, I just wasn't blown away by it either.

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