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Author Topic: EP396: Dead Merchandise  (Read 18839 times)

eytanz

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on: May 16, 2013, 11:16:42 AM
EP396: Dead Merchandise

By Ferrett Steinmetz

Read by Kathy Sherwood

--

The ad-faeries danced around Sheryl, flickering cartoon holograms with fluoride-white smiles. They told her the gasoline that sloshed in the red plastic canister she held was high-octane, perfect for any vehicle, did she want to go for a drive?
She did not. That gasoline was for burning. Sheryl patted her pockets to make sure the matches were still there and kept moving forward, blinking away the videostreams. Her legs ached.

She squinted past a flurry of hair-coloring ads (“Sheryl, wash your gray away today!”), scanning the neon roads to find the breast-shaped marble dome of River Edge’s central collation unit. River’s Edge had been a sleepy Midwestern town when she was a girl, a place just big enough for a diner and a department store. Now River’s Edge had been given a mall-over like every other town — every wall lit up with billboards, colorful buildings topped with projectors to burn logos into the clouds. She was grateful for the dark patches that marked where garish shop-fronts had been bombed into ash-streaked metal tangles.
The smoke gave her hope. Others were trying to bring it all down — and if they were succeeding, maybe no one was left to stop her.

Rotting bodies leered out at her through car windows, where computer-guided cars had smashed headlong into the collapsed shopfronts that had fallen into the road. Had the drivers been fleeing, or trying to destroy the collation unit? She had no idea.
The ad-faeries sang customized praises to each auto as she glanced at the cars, devising customized ditties about the ’59 Breezster’s speed. Sheryl needed speed; at her arthritic pace, walking through the women’s district might tempt her into submission.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



silber

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Reply #1 on: May 16, 2013, 07:31:52 PM
Wow, nothing to say but GREAT STORY!  Escapepod has really been on a roll lately.



LarpingWombat

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Reply #2 on: May 16, 2013, 08:58:14 PM
What a great story. It took a little while to get going and left enough mystery as to what exactly was going on to really keep me tuned in and trying to puzzle things out as it went.

This story really made me think about what I enjoy most about science fiction: dreawing on elements of the world around the author and taking them to a logical (or even illogical) extreme as a case study of who we are and what we could, should, or want to be. The dystopian exploration that results from this type of extrapolation has always been a uniquely sci-fi element in my mind. It makes me think of classics like Heinlein's Starship Troopers, Miller's Canticle for Liebowitz, or the movie Gattica.

Furthermore, the ending was pure genius. The main character is so focused and driven to accomplish her goal that she is willing and able to fight the ad-faries where so many have ostensibly failed, only to find herself completely lost and unable to function without their input. It speaks to the way we let the world around us, especially the hyper-consumerism and advertising that is the focus of this story, subtly take over our lives without us even knowing about it.

Awesome!



micah_gideon

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Reply #3 on: May 16, 2013, 10:50:56 PM
I loved this story.

It took a while for it to draw me in and give me any hint that I might care (and maybe it was benefitting from initially low expectations), but once I was in, I learned that I did care. So much so, in fact, that I didn't see the end coming until after I'd read heard the last line. Nicely done.

It makes me wonder if this could have worked as well if I were reading it? Would I have kept reading if I had to be more actively involved or did this author use the fact that this is probably background for many of us to launch a stealth attack? There aren't many stories I've listened to that really seem to play to use the side effects of the modality as effectively as this one did for me and I wonder if there are authors that sort of write-for-audiobook?



Kaa

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Reply #4 on: May 16, 2013, 11:24:17 PM
I really liked this one. It's terrifyingly plausible.

I invent imaginary people and make them have conversations in my head. I also write.

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dpgates

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Reply #5 on: May 16, 2013, 11:36:48 PM
This was a terrific story!  It conjured connections with home shopping networks in my mind.  You know---the hosts' incessant wheedling, cajoling, and begging.  The way they dream up ridiculous situations where viewers "need" their product.  Part carnival barkers, part used car salesmen.  And the narrator's husband warehousing the mountains of stuff he bought and never used---brought to mind how I picture the trailers that QVC Frequent Buyers must live in.  This is one episode I intend to listen to at least one more time.



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #6 on: May 17, 2013, 04:38:30 AM
I dread the day when SF authors get into arguments over who first came up with the feral ad.

I dread it, because I'm afraid it's going to happen (the feral ads, that is. The argument will happen no matter what)

It put in mind of all sorts of SF things, from the short "Advertising at the End of the World" through Star Trek:TNG (where a mind-linked Crusher realizes that Picard doesn't always know if a decision is right, he just makes one)



Dem

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Reply #7 on: May 17, 2013, 12:27:02 PM
Anyone else cancelling their advance order for Google Glasses?

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 #8 on: May 17, 2013, 12:51:19 PM
I've gotten used to avoiding the "real" commercials thanks to DVR, but branding and product placement is everywhere.  There should be a drinking game for the number of times the Apple logo shows up.

This world where advertizing is omnipresent, has the ability to tap into your emotional vulnerabilities and has not the soul to draw a line between good business sense and pure ghoulishness is a terrifying vision.

And yes, Alasdair, the last lines gave me chills.


matweller

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Reply #9 on: May 17, 2013, 01:27:10 PM
Anyone else cancelling their advance order for Google Glasses?
How long do you think it will be until Google sponsors a life-casting senator?



flintknapper

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Reply #10 on: May 17, 2013, 03:08:38 PM
The story was not subtle. It was almost a commercial against commercialization. However, that is not to say that I did not like the story. I found the world fascinating, not just the advertising, but the little bits and pieces of the greater landscape hinted at by the author.



Dem

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Reply #11 on: May 17, 2013, 03:32:32 PM
Anyone else cancelling their advance order for Google Glasses?
How long do you think it will be until Google sponsors a life-casting senator?

I'd be counting on most politicians to end up right royally screwing themselves in the manner of the UK MP Alisdair mentioned in his outro. I so want to know who that was!

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 #12 on: May 17, 2013, 05:22:34 PM
Ferrett Steinmetz is the author of my favorite EP episode of all time, EP339: "Run," Bakri Says. So of course I was intrigued when I saw he was the author if this week's story. I was not disappointed.

This story is a fantastic exploration of where our country's, and planet's, over-commercialization is taking us. I loved the reference to the sponsor patches on the police uniforms as I find it completely feasible for government agencies to start accepting sponsorship from private companies as governments continue to cut budgets and reduce support. Loved it.

Also, the ending was brilliant. I've often wondered what will happen to our children who grow up on the internets if they're ever permanently cut off from that constant source of information and social connection. This story delivered an extreme, though viable, possible answer to that question.

This story prompted me to visit Ferrett's webpage and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Ferrett has had several other stories published on PseudoPod and PodCastle as well. I will be checking these out forthwith.  ;)

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Sgarre1

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Reply #13 on: May 17, 2013, 05:38:57 PM
Another coming to PSEUDOPOD very soon, in fact...



Cutter McKay

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Reply #14 on: May 17, 2013, 05:42:59 PM
Another coming to PSEUDOPOD very soon, in fact...
Sweeeeeeet.  ;D

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InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #15 on: May 18, 2013, 12:12:14 AM
There should be a drinking game for the number of times the Apple logo shows up.


There are a lot of shows and movies where that would leave players stumbling and slurring within the first 15 mins.



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #16 on: May 18, 2013, 12:14:53 AM

Also, the ending was brilliant. I've often wondered what will happen to our children who grow up on the internets if they're ever permanently cut off from that constant source of information and social connection. This story delivered an extreme, though viable, possible answer to that question.


Then allow me to recommend Feed by M.T. Anderson; that's the theme of the book. Well, not our children. Our children's children. Who have in-skull internet 24/7....



Cutter McKay

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Reply #17 on: May 18, 2013, 12:33:22 AM

Also, the ending was brilliant. I've often wondered what will happen to our children who grow up on the internets if they're ever permanently cut off from that constant source of information and social connection. This story delivered an extreme, though viable, possible answer to that question.


Then allow me to recommend Feed by M.T. Anderson; that's the theme of the book. Well, not our children. Our children's children. Who have in-skull internet 24/7....

I'm all over that...

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Windup

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Reply #18 on: May 18, 2013, 03:36:31 AM
For me, the early part of this story was like the part of my morning before the first cup of coffee: existential confusion.  I kept trying to figure out what was happening to the world, what the "collation unit" was, what was real and what existed only in the narrator's mind, and so on. Just like morning, it was quite a while before a coherent picture finally emerged.

Once I got to that point, though, I was really engaged.  I agree that it's an appallingly plausible scenario -- a "consumer society" that finally becomes so efficient at manipulating its consumers that it destroys them, and thereby negates its existence.  I wonder what kind of barbarians emerge from the collapse.

And I agree with others on the last line: sheer, terrifying genius. 

« Last Edit: May 18, 2013, 03:56:31 AM by Windup »

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El Barto

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Reply #19 on: May 19, 2013, 05:07:08 PM
For the first half of this story I found myself thinking, "This is too much of a caricature - too over the top and cartoonish in its depiction of this clearly unbelievable dystopian world."

And somewhere around halfway I thought to myself, "Oh crap, this may be but a harbinger of an inevitable future."



Dem

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Reply #20 on: May 19, 2013, 06:34:31 PM
For the first half of this story I found myself thinking, "This is too much of a caricature - too over the top and cartoonish in its depiction of this clearly unbelievable dystopian world."

And somewhere around halfway I thought to myself, "Oh crap, this may be but a harbinger of an inevitable future."

That's about it. We're on our way and we're dancing to the edge with our eyes wide open.
Make that, eyes scanning the AR layers on our screens and the VR game we're fighting in our glasses. Memory implant and cloud storage? Oh, yes please ...

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


JDoug

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Reply #21 on: May 19, 2013, 07:13:01 PM
This story was really well written and I certainly don't regret listening to it. But I wasn't so keen on the world building....

1) It's a mildly depressing thought, but I tend to believe that most corporate leaders are more intelligent than myself. (Hence why they're leaders in a very competitive market). They're also ruthlessly pragmatic. As such, I found it difficult to believe that they would just passively watch the world collapse, rather than turn off the ad fairies. Previously 'evil' companies like McDonald's are becoming more and more 'responsible' as time goes on. This is because a) If consumers think you're evil, they're less likely to buy you product (I would have thought the protests/boycotts/bombings would have started when Malls started brain scanning. This world seemed considerably more relaxed than the one I live in) and b) You resource/income base needs to be sustainable for long term profit - e.g it's a bad idea to kill off your consumers.
2) Where the hell did the money come from. These people are addicts, using credit to pay for goods. But credit card companies only profit when you pay them back, which tends not to happen when you die. I realise this was a world where essentially economic collapse had happened, as a result of the adverts. But even before the collapse, where on earth did the cash come from? I mean, a mall in every town requires some serious resources.....
3) Reflective lenses in your glasses. Bet ya $50 they're released two days after the ad-faeries.

I realise that this is essentially nit-picking and normally I hate those who do it. I mean, come on, most sci-fi requires some suspension of disbelief. But I thought I'd rain down on this parade, since everyone else seems to love this story. And as I stated at the start, I did enjoy it. And I'm pretty sure the 15 year old version of me would have loved it. But right now he thinks I'm a sellout and is refusing to talk to me, so I'm not certain.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2013, 07:17:48 PM by JDoug »



adrianh

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Reply #22 on: May 19, 2013, 07:32:07 PM
I enjoyed it, but no where near as much as "Run, Bakri Says" - which was one of my fave stories of the last year or so on EP.

The mind-reading/implanting ad-fairies were a lovely conceit (if implausible on the mind reading / implanting side ;-).  I enjoyed some little worldbuilding details - like the line about the legislation on how long they could spend at your focal point. But the rest of the time I felt like I was being hit with the +10 sledgehammer of consumerism-is-bad.

That's not a message I disagree with by any means - but it was delivered bluntly and loudly. I tend to prefer stories that are bit more of a sharp stiletto in the night ;-)

The world felt stacked to fail in this particular way. The baddies were too bad. The goodies were to blameless. The worldbuilding felt more like a Swiftian conceit to get the message across, rather than something that was thought through to it's fullest extent.

(We have the technology for arbitrary mind reading, emotional manipulation, forced recollection of memories, and something with a theory of mind smart enough to control the vast majority of humanity. Are feral marketing AIs really going to be our worst problem?)

The last few lines were a killer though ;-)




matweller

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Reply #23 on: May 20, 2013, 01:06:24 AM
1) It's a mildly depressing thought, but I tend to believe that most corporate leaders are more intelligent than myself. (Hence why they're leaders in a very competitive market). They're also ruthlessly pragmatic. As such, I found it difficult to believe that they would just passively watch the world collapse, rather than turn off the ad fairies

You mean, like the Wall Street bankers, government regulators, and policy makers that allowed a global economic collapse to happen in 2008 despite the fact that it's coming was plainly visible to someone with zero economic education five years earlier?

You only have to listen to marketers talk about how to exploit mobile devices for five minutes to realize that this future is not only possible, but that they will march us all into it with as much vigor as the aforementioned Wall Streeters, with just as little conscience.



TheArchivist

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Reply #24 on: May 20, 2013, 12:49:31 PM
I'm going to have to listen to this one again before making any longer comments, but for now... yay! This was great! It started well and just got better, until it reach one of the most poignant endings I've heard in some time.