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Author Topic: EP395: Robot  (Read 3087 times)
eytanz
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« on: May 09, 2013, 04:54:28 AM »

EP395: Robot

By Helena Bell

Read by Eleiece Krawiec

--

You may wash your aluminum chassis on Monday and leave it on the back porch opposite the recyclables; you may wash your titanium chassis on Friday if you promise to polish it in time for church; don’t terrorize the cat; don’t lose the pamphlets my husband has brought home from the hospital; they suggest I give you a name, do you like Fred?; don’t eat the dead flesh of my right foot until after I have fallen asleep and cannot hear the whir of your incisors working against the bone.

This is a picture of the world from which you were sent; this is a copy of the agreement between our government and theirs; these are the attributes they claim you are possessed of: obedience, loyalty, low to moderate intelligence; a natural curiosity which I should not mistake for something other than a necessary facet of your survival in the unfamiliar; this is your bill of manufacture; this is your bill of sale; this is a warrant of merchantability on which I may rely should I decide to return you from whence you came; this is your serial number, here, scraped in an alien script on the underside of your knee; the pamphlets say you may be of the mind to touch it occasionally, like a name-tag, but if I command you, you will stop.

This is a list of the chores you will be expected to complete around the house when you are not eating the diseases out of my flesh; this is the corner of my room where you may stay when you are not working; do not look at me when you change the linens, when you must hold me in the bathroom, when you record in the notebook how many medications I have had that day, how many bowel movements, how the flesh of my mouth is raw and bleeding against the dentures I insist on wearing.

The pamphlets say you are the perfect scavenger: completely self contained, no digestion, no waste; they say I can hook you up to an outlet and you will power the whole house.

You may polish the silver if you are bored; you may also rearrange the furniture, wind the clocks, pull weeds from the garden; you may read in the library any book of your choosing; my husband claims you have no real consciousness, only an advanced and sophisticated set of pre-programmed responses, but I have seen your eyes open in the middle of the night; I have seen you stare out across the fields as if there is something there, calling you.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #1 on: May 09, 2013, 10:39:27 PM »

Wow.

Robots.

Alien Robots.

Flesh-eating alien Robots.

Human flesh-eating alien robots....

Human *body-snatching* flesh-eating alien robots...

Yikes. I'd like to think that the robot's flesh-eating was in grandma's head, but I don't think so.

Norm's chat about robots and old people put in mind of the movie "Frank", as well as the past Escape Pod - was it The Caretaker? And it also put me in mind of recent stories in Starship Sofa (involving aliens).

I liked it, I suppose, but lord it was creepy and depressing...
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Listener
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« Reply #2 on: May 10, 2013, 08:41:53 AM »

The stylistic nature of this story, which judging from the poem Norm read from at the end was probably influenced by said poem (though we can't be sure), I don't think supported something QUITE this long. About 75% of the way through, I was wondering when it was finally going to end. I did enjoy the story overall, but it just felt a touch too long to support itself.

It took a bit to get used to the way the reader's voice comes out of my car's speakers -- she triggered the lower registers. Nothing wrong with the production, but with certain voices the speakers just don't know what to do with themselves.
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bumdhar
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« Reply #3 on: May 10, 2013, 10:28:46 AM »

About half way through I was thinking that this was more of a prose poem than a short story. It was wonderful. The narration was could have used some editing in the lower frequencies, or she was to close to the mic. Norm’s talk at the end freaked me out abit.
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #4 on: May 10, 2013, 10:39:35 AM »

This was easily one of my favorite Norm outros ever. Informative and hilarious.

As for the story, I really liked this one, not only for the alien invasion which was so subtle it was awesome, but for picture it painted of the life of a bitter old woman without ever describing anything specifically to that point. The format was unique and strange (2nd person POV is hard to do right), as others have said almost more poem than prose, but it worked here.

I think Listener is right that it was just a bit too long for its own good, and it's not a style I would want to read/listen to on a regular basis, but right here, right now, I really liked it.
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matweller
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« Reply #5 on: May 10, 2013, 10:59:21 AM »

If it's the couple quick spots of distortion that you refer to, I'll take the blame on that. I'll skip the lecture on the challenges of making sound work in a wide range of speakers as opposed to programming for one constant room because I'm sure you can guess and I don't want to sound like I'm whining. Suffice it to say, I sacrificed those spots for the greater good.

If you just had trouble with the bass qualities of the voice on your car speakers, perhaps you could just make the adjustment from bass to treble that's been available on almost every car stereo ever made. Tongue  Of course I tease, but it may be that simple.

The stylistic nature of this story, which judging from the poem Norm read from at the end was probably influenced by said poem (though we can't be sure)...

Not impossible, but speaking in terms of all of the editors in the history of this show, if they don't specifically say they're citing source material, there's probably about an 80% chance it's just something they thought of when they read the story.
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Listener
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« Reply #6 on: May 10, 2013, 12:31:50 PM »

If you just had trouble with the bass qualities of the voice on your car speakers, perhaps you could just make the adjustment from bass to treble that's been available on almost every car stereo ever made. Tongue  Of course I tease, but it may be that simple.

Yeah, I suppose I could do that. I just never think of it.
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Kaa
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« Reply #7 on: May 10, 2013, 03:45:59 PM »

This is one of those rare stories where I'm not sure how I feel about it a day after listening to it. I do think it was verging on too long to sustain the POV (I didn't even mind the 2nd-person POV, here, so kudos on that), and I felt simultaneously that the last bit about the robot assuming her identity--and the part about Pizarro, which finally clued me in that it was a subtle alien invasion story--was both too long in coming, and perfectly timed to shock after the long list of "mundane" rules.

I think I might have to give this one another listen. Or a read.
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Windup
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« Reply #8 on: May 10, 2013, 11:08:27 PM »


As I was listening to the story, I thought that it was giving voice to the subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) fear that has haunted every slaveholding society in human history -- that the servants will turn the tables and claim the place of their masters.  The line about Pizarro at the end took me by surprise, and put a whole new spin on the thought. 

And I agree the outro was great.  If more history teachers were willing to say things like, "...one of the most successful dicks in history," there would be a lot more interest in history.  Wink
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matweller
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« Reply #9 on: May 11, 2013, 10:09:18 AM »

QFT:
And I agree the outro was great.  If more history teachers were willing to say things like, "...one of the most successful dicks in history," there would be a lot more interest in history.  Wink
I had one of those. He was one of the best teachers I ever had in any subject.
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flintknapper
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« Reply #10 on: May 11, 2013, 09:34:01 PM »

The story had a weird narrative style and wasn't really my cup of tea. I also think I heard or read this story elsewhere before. I have no idea where, but it sounded familiar.  The story itself was fine. I had no problems with it. In fact the author is to be commended. It was a melancholy tale without being overly dramatic. Also the main character, the elderly woman, was really fleshed out. She felt like a person. Not a good person, not a bad person, but a real human being. To bad she was being devoured by a robot.

One thing I did not get in the listen though. I get the robot is becoming her physically, but is it also assuming her personality as well? 
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Lionman
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« Reply #11 on: May 12, 2013, 05:10:16 PM »

Okay, so I did NOT like this story.  I kept thinking partway through I should just turn it off, or fast forward to the end.  While I can see why the narrator was chosen, I might have liked it better if it were read in an English or Australian accent.  At least then it would have been more interesting for different reasons.

I was, however, able to figure out exactly why I didn't like it:  It made me feel like I was listening to the internal dialog of an aging woman who was losing her mind, or suffering for a degenerative disease that was taking more than her body.  It made me feel like I was listening to my own grandmother who degenerated and passed away from Alzheimer's disease.

I just ground my teeth a little and pushed on through it, despite how I felt.  I understood the point of view and idea behind the writing, but I loathed it all the way to the end.

However, others will feel differently because they have different experiences.  Your mileage my vary.
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Russ Jenkins
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« Reply #12 on: May 12, 2013, 09:09:17 PM »

This was a long slow story for me too, if it was a story. Quite fun in places but a bit too long.
I liked Norm's outro a lot though as others have said, althoug I think it was factually inacurate.
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TheArchivist
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« Reply #13 on: May 13, 2013, 03:14:07 AM »

I don't know what's changed. Before I joined the forums I had enjoyed the majority of EP stories very much, but in the last six weeks I seem to have done nothing but moan.

Anyway,
This was a long slow story for me too, if it was a story. Quite fun in places but a bit too long.
I liked Norm's outro a lot though as others have said,
I think I agree with the comments about this one being a prose-poem rather than a story, and given that I really dislike most "poetry" it's no surprise that the very-definitely-written-by-a-poet style didn't endear itself to me. I didn't much like the closing extract that Listener thought may have influenced this piece, either.

I did, however, enjoy Norm's outro, factually misleading as it might have been (I'm not a historian so I couldn't say). Usually I prefer minimalist outros, but in this case I found the history lesson more interesting than the "story".
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adrianh
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« Reply #14 on: May 13, 2013, 04:23:59 AM »

I liked it.

I'm surprised I liked it because, like others here, it does feel very much like a prose poem (which is a form I don't normally get along with well.)

The length seemed about right to me. I liked the slow pacing and the growing disquiet. Making it shorter would, I think, have rushed the move from the mundane to the borderline horrific. I also enjoyed not knowing the reliability of the narrator. Flight of fancy? Dementia? Alien invasion? Replacement/cure? Who knows. Maybe the author ;-)

Lovely reading too.

Having had far too many friends and family die through long-term illnesses and dementia this was also one of those pieces that could have just as happily sat on Pseudopod as Escapepod for me.

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Dem
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« Reply #15 on: May 13, 2013, 07:49:13 AM »

I first heard this on Clarkesworld and left a comment there. I was just going to post the link, http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/bell_09_12/ but in view of the rather more ho-hum opinions on EP, here it is in full:

'So much of what's not said seems to drive this story. There's no big world-building, no tracts of description or dialogue to slot us into the context. We're dropped in without a parachute and left to struggle along with the narrator in trying to make sense of it all. Because of that internal, personal work, the creeping horror, the grudging gratitude filled with latent hostility (she chose this, after all) are much more ours than they would be in a conventionally written story. Shows what you can do if you hybridise skill, technique, and artistry. Atta girl, Bell!'

I'm not sure I 'got' the alien invasion angle, if there was one, but does it matter? The weight of a story like this is in the interpersonal - in this case viewed via the intrapersonal - condition of the actor(s). What it must be like to lose oneself and to be an apparently willing party to that - blind but seeing, cooperative but resistant. Probably most people's trauma at some point in our lives.
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benjaminjb
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« Reply #16 on: May 13, 2013, 08:10:01 AM »

Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl" was recently the subject of the New Yorker's fiction podcast (where some published author comes to read and discuss some story previously published in the New Yorker). So after recently listening to that story, this story really does seem like the same form with sf-nal tropes. (Other possibility for inspiration: Carole Maso's Ava, a dying woman's last day of stream of consciousness remembering.) Frankly, I like experimenting with form, even if those experiments involve raiding literary work. (One of my favorite books is John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, which takes its form from Dos Passos without any shame.)

That said, "Girl" is a very short work (and includes two interjections by the daughter who is getting lectured/taught). I don't know what I would cut or trim here, but I can see why some people thought it went on too long.

Contra InfiniteMonkey, I thought the story's additions didn't do as much for me: an old woman dealing with her caretaker robot--I'm on board. A caretaker robot from aliens--okay, I'm listening. Caretaker robot from aliens with hints of body-replacing and some confused recollection of the old woman's career in exploration and the estrangement from her family that might have resulted--well, now I'm no longer on board and merely I'm waving from the platform as I see this story go on.
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matweller
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« Reply #17 on: May 13, 2013, 08:11:48 AM »

Yeah, what did I miss that said there was an alien invasion? If anything, I got that we had met an alien race and there was a trade agreement between.

Quote
This is a picture of the world from which you were sent; this is a copy of the agreement between our government and theirs; these are the attributes they claim you are possessed of: obedience, loyalty, low to moderate intelligence; a natural curiosity which I should not mistake for something other than a necessary facet of your survival in the unfamiliar; this is your bill of manufacture; this is your bill of sale; this is a warrant of merchantability on which I may rely should I decide to return you from whence you came; this is your serial number, here, scraped in an alien script on the underside of your knee...
I thought that this was something of a caretaker robot and that the "devouring" was either something being done to cure an infection or rid the woman of no longer usable parts or that all of the unseemly parts of the story were fantasies brought on by dementia setting in. That passive resignation to imagined horror is (in my experience) typical of people in that situation. I once had an elderly friend that was periodically convinced that I had lured his wife into an affair, yet he was always affectionate to me and glad to have my company.

Quote
I dream you will not stop; I will shrink to the size of a basketball and you will carry my head under your arms; you will tell people your name and it will be my name; you will tell people your husband is my husband, my children your children, my home is yours as well; you will place me on the sill and one day, when the window is open I will fall down and roll into the garden, into the fields and I will watch you from the horizon, the blue of my eyes glowing in the night when you pretend to look for me.

I don't get the invasion thing. Everything in this story suggests a grudging old woman resigning to her need for more and more assistance as she ages.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #18 on: May 13, 2013, 12:00:18 PM »

I think I should have commented sooner after I finished listening, because I'm starting to forget my impressions. I feel like I could see the alien invasion angle after I listened, but now I really only remember the alien robot caretaker part that Mat highlights.

Anyway, I like reading poetry, and poetry-prose appeals to me as well so I had no issues with the form this story took. I thought the reading also did a very good job of translating the mood of the piece. Just remind me to never hire an alien robot to slowly eat away my diseases flesh, I'm not so sure I'd trust it to know when to stop!
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #19 on: May 13, 2013, 12:37:50 PM »

Creepy flesh devouring alien overlord robots? Sure, why not. But on top of standard old-people-paranoia? We have a winner.
Also it creeped me out.

I found it very difficult to listen to this story. It sounded to me like she was whispering the whole time. Even with the volume cranked up to the max I could barely make out what she was saying. Add street noise to that and it became completely unlistenable to me. Which is a shame, because she clearly put a lot of effort into the reading.
« Last Edit: May 13, 2013, 02:17:16 PM by Max e^{i pi} » Logged

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