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Author Topic: EP399: My Heart is a Quadratic Equation  (Read 14394 times)

eytanz

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on: June 07, 2013, 07:32:31 AM
EP399: My Heart is a Quadratic Equation

By Shane Halbach

Read by Christina Lebonville

--

I.      Brian

“So, uh, Chrysanthemum, what do you do?”
“Science. You know…science stuff. I’m a scientist.”
“That’s…not very specific.”
“Well, it’s kind of hard to explain,” said Chrysanthemum. In words you’d understand she added to herself.
She used the lull in the conversation to take a pen out of her pocket. Idly she doodled the inside of a hydrogen-powered rocket on a spare cocktail napkin. It was a nice restaurant, she’d give him that. He’d even ordered wine. Big spender. She added an extra fin to her schematic, for stability.
He broke the silence. “Chrysanthemum is an unusual name.”
“The Chrysanthemum is in the Asteraceae family and has been cultivated in Japan for over 2,000 years.”
Brian coughed and looked down at the table, quiet once more.
Turn off the mouth, she thought, this is not how normal people talk.
She stole quick glances at him, her eyes flicking back and forth between his face and the pen in her hand. He was clean cut, with short brown hair. By the way it was carefully styled, she guessed he didn’t keep it short for the convenience, the way she kept her own black hair short. He was taller than she was, but then she was petite. His nose was a bit on the large side, but at least he seemed nice. It would probably be an adequate genetic pairing, if she didn’t mind inane small talk.
He took a breath and waded in again.
“Have you always lived in the city?”
“Yes,” she replied glumly. This is intolerable. How do people do this?
This time the silence stretched on and on, like time in a black hole as it approached singularity. Her mind groped for something to say.
“I’ve created a nuclear-based energy weapon,” she blurted out.
Brian raised his hand.
“Check please!”


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Listener

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Reply #1 on: June 07, 2013, 11:51:44 AM
At first I thought this was a story about a girl who works in a science lab and had trouble finding love. Then I figured out what she really was, and I knew exactly how the story was going to end.

I was right.

As with "The First Book of Flaccid Swords", this story leans very hard on tropes -- the manic pixie dream girl scientist who can't find love; the mom who ignores the evil genius because she wants her daughter to find love; the nerdy guy who even the scientist doesn't like until she realizes they have stuff in common; the guy who thinks that women belong in very specific gender-based roles. The only non-tropish character was Brian (from the beginning). Although told amusingly and performed well, other than a bit of popcorn, I don't think it's going to stick with me for long.

I do like that the story was short enough for us not to get tired of the joke. That was a good choice on the author's part.

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matweller

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Reply #2 on: June 07, 2013, 01:25:34 PM
It was quick and fun. I'd like to see it put into the DeRego universe and included with an anthology of Union Dues tales.



chemistryguy

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Reply #3 on: June 07, 2013, 01:49:05 PM
What listener said.


flintknapper

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Reply #4 on: June 07, 2013, 02:23:53 PM
I wish it had ended with the phrase "your lair or mine?" I felt like the last few hundred words were not necessary. However, I enjoyed the story. A lot of the dialogue reminded me of the Big Bang Theory. I could almost picture the characters looking like Sheldon and Amy. Mad scientists falling in love, what is not to like about that.



Cutter McKay

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Reply #5 on: June 07, 2013, 07:52:44 PM
I think the one thing this story had going for it was the subtle reveal that she was really a mad scientist. I very much liked figuring that out. After that, it all became very stereotypical and boring. Honestly, it was fun, and I'm not saying I didn't like it. But, along with Listener's complaints that the characters were all cookie-cutter tropes, there was almost no tension to the story. I mean, we could see where things were going with Albert, and then they went there, and the characters were all happy. The end.

Love is not that simple, especially for two introverted, sociopathic geniuses. Once they hit it off on the date, I was expecting to watch their relationship grow, struggle, and maybe even fail. (I didn't pay attention to how long the episode was). So when it ended with their mutual badness let's-destroy-the-world-together, I was surprised and a little disappointed.

That said, I'm probably expecting too much out of what is supposed to be a fun look at supervillian dating, which I did enjoy. I liked the different guys she went through to get to Albert, and I loved how they were on Chet 6 at the end. Fun and funny.

I think for what it was, I'm glad it wasn't any longer, it was just right for the amount of levity.

Also, Nathan: Best Comments Review. Ever. (And not just because I was quoted in it  ;))

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EFBQ

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Reply #6 on: June 07, 2013, 09:11:02 PM
I really enjoyed this one.  It was light and fun and a nice ride.

I don't really get Cutter's 'lack of tension' comment.  Then tension comes from the fact that the audience understands their match made in heaven will be under constant threat from the (as yet undefined) superhero who will inevitably destroy their idyllic union.   :)



Windup

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Reply #7 on: June 08, 2013, 05:47:34 AM
Well, that was fun.  Mad Scientist Romance isn't something you see every day...  Though I agree with the people who said I would have loved to see it end with "Your lair or mine?"

I don't really get Cutter's 'lack of tension' comment.  Then tension comes from the fact that the audience understands their match made in heaven will be under constant threat from the (as yet undefined) superhero who will inevitably destroy their idyllic union.   :)
Sequel!!!   ;D

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TheArchivist

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Reply #8 on: June 08, 2013, 05:13:48 PM
What a delightfully charming story, of a young woman's search for love finally satisfied when she meets the right man for her, two soul-mates united at last through the fickle whims of capricious fate. So touching that it came to a happy ending.

Yeah, I'm a sucker for a nice bit of traditional romance, and if the complete jerk that Chrysanthemum dated almost twice got his comeuppance into the bargain that makes me extra happy :)

I especially loved how her mum totally failed to understand what she was told, seeing only her clichéd expectations. I think that bit resonated more than I probably ought to admit to... :o



Kaa

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Reply #9 on: June 08, 2013, 11:41:03 PM
I wish it had ended with the phrase "your lair or mine?" I felt like the last few hundred words were not necessary.

This, exactly. I was convinced the story was over and I was prepared to hear the closing music crank up...when suddenly the story continued for another few hundred unnecessary words.

Loved it, but I think I would have loved it even more if it were just that tiny bit shorter.

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Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #10 on: June 09, 2013, 10:46:00 AM
Haven't listened to this one yet, but the title made me think of that famous xkcd.

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Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #11 on: June 09, 2013, 11:52:03 AM
* Max e^{i pi} wipes a tear from his eye
*sniff* That was beautiful. Short and sweet.
Also funny. I too thought that the story was over with "your lair or mine?" but the image of the two of them taking over the world from their invisible flying fortress, one city at a time, was just too good to miss out on.
Yes the characters were tropey, but so what? Chrysanthemum combined all the best qualities of Kim Ros, Dr. Horrible, Hugo Drax (the movie version) and approximately 80% of the world's bloggers (introverts unite!). It was kinda fun.
Good thing the story was short though, I'm not sure it would hold out for much longer. But I am looking forward to the sequel where Alan Turing Horowitz and his girlfriend Magnoliophyta (known online as wH173_h47_h4X0R and N07_A_R0807) launch their counterstrike in the name of civilization, bureaucracy and good pastries everywhere.

I realize now how appropriate my previous post was. Show of hands: who hasn't tried to make a robot significant other? Am I right?
...
Why are you all raising your hands? It's nothing to be ashamed of...
* Max e^{i pi} goes back to his Markov text generator

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Dem

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Reply #12 on: June 09, 2013, 01:44:03 PM
I've met Chet. Go, psychopathic scientist girl.

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InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #13 on: June 09, 2013, 03:31:09 PM
This was amusing, and I did enjoy it. Though I must admit that I didn't see things from the characters' perspective. From Chrysanthemum's POV, I don't really see the desire the rule the world. Maybe I'm not ambitious enough, but it's really not worth the trouble. All that messy use of coercion, the constant challenges.... really, who cares if you know better than everyone else? No one's going the thank you for it, no matter how good a job you do.

And if my date suddenly blurted out "I have an atomic death-ray!!" or whatever, I wouldn't ask for the check. I'd be intrigued. I'd ask questions. Even if the person was clearly crazy, I'd keep on plumbing to see just how deep the crazy went. Maybe even ask for a demonstration. Yeah, sure, I might up in pieces in a freezer, but the odds of that are still pretty low.

The story did make use of a lot of stereotypes (Chet, Mom, Albert), but it did it well. And like flintknapper I think the coda wasn't needed. It's like the author wanted to go completely over the top and/or show complete conviction in the whole supervillian/mad scientist thing.



JDoug

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Reply #14 on: June 09, 2013, 08:11:05 PM
I didn't really like this one. There's nothing wrong with tropes (has there ever been a story that hasn't contained one? That's a genuine question by the way.)  but there was nothing in the story that interested me. The best way I can sum up my initial response to it is ' Meh. Check please.'

And brief mad scientist rant. Why on earth is her heart like a quadratic equation? Is the title just invoking a mathematical word to seem cute. I mean Quadratic equations are kind of interesting, in that they can have two solutions (which can be identical or imaginary), but this story was a traditional 'there is one true soul mate' trope - if anything, her heart was a linear equation.

Personally I think most hearts are quartic equations at the very least. That means four solutions that are most easily found using a trial and error method, rather than a formula.



Cynandre

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Reply #15 on: June 09, 2013, 08:12:49 PM
I loved it. And I'd wish there was a sequel. It reminded my fiancée and myself of the the Doctor Horrible Universe ... except a much happier ending.


Until their children grow up and defeat their oppressing Parents because " they just do not understand them." :)
« Last Edit: June 20, 2013, 09:03:25 PM by Cynandre »

Insanity takes it's toll. Please have exact change.


benjaminjb

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Reply #16 on: June 09, 2013, 10:28:23 PM
I had some hope for this at the beginning, but the turn towards "mad scientist love" made it less interesting to me. Maybe I've just been reading too many stories that were cute new takes on mad scientists. At some point, "cute" doesn't really repay.



astadt

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Reply #17 on: June 10, 2013, 02:33:22 AM
I have a dog named Chrysanthemum, but we call her Chrissy. And she isn't good at science or world domination.



simpo1961

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Reply #18 on: June 10, 2013, 11:18:32 AM
Hm reading that list what does shane do in all his spare time? ::)



TheArchivist

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Reply #19 on: June 10, 2013, 11:44:54 AM
I wish it had ended with the phrase "your lair or mine?" I felt like the last few hundred words were not necessary.
Maybe. I totally agree that is a good line, and it would be a fine place to finish if the intended message is "even mad science geeks can get laid". But I didn't think that was the intended message. I think the story is going for "even supervillain mad scientists can find true love", and the last few hundred words are needed to get that.


And if my date suddenly blurted out "I have an atomic death-ray!!" or whatever, I wouldn't ask for the check. I'd be intrigued. I'd ask questions. Even if the person was clearly crazy, I'd keep on plumbing to see just how deep the crazy went.
As would I. But then Brian is so clearly not you or me. His opening line "so, what do you do" is fairly pathetic even before we realise it's relatively late in the date. Chrysanthemum has already assessed him as too stupid to understand, which may be generically true of most people but I don't think she'd be that dismissive on no evidence. Which means that Brian is exactly the sort of guy who would have nothing to say in reply to her horticultural note on her name, and probably be utterly scared off by an extreme swing-ball comment about death-rays.



Listener

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Reply #20 on: June 10, 2013, 12:10:25 PM
I have a dog named Chrysanthemum, but we call her Chrissy. And she isn't good at science or world domination.

...as far as you know.

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chemistryguy

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Reply #21 on: June 10, 2013, 01:07:05 PM

Show of hands: who hasn't tried to make a robot significant other? Am I right?

Oh yeah, that!  Why would she take a man who only redeeming quality (according to her) was his looks, put his brain into a robot and try to make a relationship work?  It makes no sense.  I invoke the "Chewbacca defense"!


Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #22 on: June 10, 2013, 06:13:22 PM

Show of hands: who hasn't tried to make a robot significant other? Am I right?

Oh yeah, that!  Why would she take a man who only redeeming quality (according to her) was his looks, put his brain into a robot and try to make a relationship work?  It makes no sense.  I invoke the "Chewbacca defense"!

Nononono. You misunderstand. His brain, as far as human brains go, is pretty worthless. Which makes it the perfect candidate for a prototype robot powered by a human brain! Let's face it, making a good AI is hard, but what if you could circumvent the problem? Use natural intelligence! (Or the closest thing you could get your hands on).
The thing is, it's not guaranteed to work, so you should use somebody you don't mind losing, in case it doesn't.

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Cutter McKay

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Reply #23 on: June 10, 2013, 11:32:22 PM
I don't really get Cutter's 'lack of tension' comment.  Then tension comes from the fact that the audience understands their match made in heaven will be under constant threat from the (as yet undefined) superhero who will inevitably destroy their idyllic union.   :)

I think you answer your own question there. The "as yet unidentified superhero" is completely absent from the story. There's no indication that the Mad Lovers are facing any opposition whatsoever. Chrysanthemum meets a few guys she doesn't like, one that she enslaves for being a dick, and then Albert. They fall hopelessly in love, and destroy the world together. No opposition, no tension. A fun story, but a little too shallow.

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InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #24 on: June 11, 2013, 01:12:29 AM

Show of hands: who hasn't tried to make a robot significant other? Am I right?

Oh yeah, that!  Why would she take a man who only redeeming quality (according to her) was his looks, put his brain into a robot and try to make a relationship work?  It makes no sense.  I invoke the "Chewbacca defense"!

Yeah, that didn't make any sense to me either. You don't put the dumb brain in the robot body, you put the computer in the handsome body. The former defeats the whole purpose. And I don't think that can be explained away by how difficult it is find good AI. Or if it is, the author should have said so.