Author Topic: EP404: Zebulon Vance Sings the Alphabet Songs of Love  (Read 7854 times)


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EP404: Zebulon Vance Sings the Alphabet Songs of Love

by Merrie Haskell

Read by Amanda Ching


The noon show is the three-hour 1858 Booth production. The most fashionable historical war remains the First American Civil. Whenever FACfans discover that Lincoln’s assassin played Horatio, they simply must come and gawk at this titillating replica of their favorite villain playing no one’s favorite character.

FACfans love authenticity. To the delight of Robot!Hamlet, today’s clients insist that Edwin Booth stride the stage beside his more famous brother. Most performances, Robot!Hamlet remains unused in the charging closet, for the first law in our business is _Everybody Wants to Play the Dane_.

Today, Robot!Hamlet is afire with Edwin Booth’s mad vigor, and runs his improv algorithms at full throttle; he kisses me dreamily, and rips my bodice in a way that would never have been allowed in Victorian America. The FACfans don’t look hyperpleased about this; it tarnishes their precious authenticity.

Robot!Horatio also loves the 1858 Booth. It’s the only time anyone comes to a performance for him alone. But what about the rest of us, the remainder of the AutoGlobe’s incantation of robots? We bear with it, as we bear with all the other iterations of our native play.

The FACfans barely notice me when either Booth is on stage. I clutch my ripped bodice; exit Robot!Ophelia. I get me to a nunnery.

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!


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Reply #1 on: July 12, 2013, 12:13:22 PM

How could I not think of Romie-0 and Julie-8 while listening to this?

Anyhoo, it was bound and destined to be a a love story, but I really wish it hadn't.  I'd have been much happier had we left things a bit open ended seeing as feelings and independent thinking were all relatively new things to Robot!Ophelia.

LOL moment - Zebulon's singing about rigor mortis, and his rigid rod

Huh moment - Ophelia waxing romantic over Zebulon's gelatinous eyes


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Reply #2 on: July 13, 2013, 07:34:28 PM
@ Chemistryguy: I completely agree about this piece's destiny as a love story, and a shared wish that there had been another way.

Weird, because I didn't really want it to be an unhappy anti-love story piece either. I think I'm on the same page as the author in thinking that Ophelia gets a really raw deal in general cultural history, but I don't think a romance with a self-satisfied artiste is really going to fix much on that score. Nonetheless, I enjoyed many of the descriptions and also giggled at the hero's rigid rod. I also liked the character of the Ophelia robot a great deal, and thought she(it?) was convincing. Top points for craftsmanship, with a middling score for failing to solve the great injustices of literary history.


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Reply #3 on: July 13, 2013, 11:42:15 PM
Who says it was for romance? He gave a kidney for a cousin, maybe he would bet the farm on a new, cute costar.


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Reply #4 on: July 14, 2013, 06:46:25 AM
I was both amused and horrified at the idea that celebrity-worshiping culture spread across three hundred years to Vega.

I was both amused and overjoyed that the same could still be said of Shakespeare.

And I'm a little sick of Clarke's famous law. It figured prominently in a book I read recently (and wasn't crazy about).

All in all, it was a nice little love story. If a bit weird. It's the nicest resolution to the question "what if we gave robots human feelings?" I've heard in a while.


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Reply #5 on: July 14, 2013, 09:49:21 AM
The name "Zebulon Vance" and the idea of robotic theatre troops reminded me of Douglas Adam's HHGTTG universe. Zaphod and the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation would be right at home ;-)

Narration was solid, but the story left me a little cold. I found the insight into Robot Ophelia's tiered role/actor/other personality nice but the love story seemed a little bit of a let down. Not because it was badly done (it wasn't), but the rest of the story hinted at more interesting questions - the way this society has enslaving sentient beings for entertainment purposes. Having Zebulon purchase RO didn't seem a particularly satisfactory conclusion to that thread of the story.

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Reply #6 on: July 14, 2013, 01:56:46 PM
I dunno what it was about this one, it had all the elements that should make it a great story, but it didn't feel like one.
I guess I'm a little bit overstimulated with the robots-becoming-human trope.
Maybe two months from now I'll like this story better. For now it gets a B-.

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Reply #7 on: July 14, 2013, 02:27:08 PM
I listened to this straight after listening to a Clarkesworld offering in which drones (that sound a lot like AIs) are - ahem - servicing an increasingly willing human population which is beginning to want emotional connection with them and not getting it. The polar opposite and utterly mind-melting for a hot summer day. The two should meet, please, and get it sorted out.

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Reply #8 on: July 15, 2013, 08:50:21 PM
If there is a number of times I can hear a person say "Robot Ophelia" such that it will stop making me smile, this story doesn't hit that number. I'm just a dude who loves his robots and his sadly underexplored-in-their-native-works heroines. I was a little sad to see that in written form it is Robot!Ophelia because I just love it as a first name/last name. "My name is Ms. Ophelia. Ms. Robot Ophelia"

I also just plain like the story. I didn't think of this as a robots-become-human story, really, since the more interesting themes to me were wrapped up in our relationship to celebrity and to culture. The story also bursts with bits of cleverness. FACFans, the tacky entertainment capital of the solar system being Vega, etc. I like all the little jokes and observations and the maybe-jokes-maybe-observations.

And Robot Ophelia is just straight-up a compelling character. It helps that becoming human--whatever that means--is not a goal of hers at all really. It isn't that story. The driving fact for Robot Ophelia is that Ophelia gets the shaft--the line that reveals her tragic demise doesn't even mention her name! Even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern don't suffer that indignity. Robot Ophelia is a woman who's been pushed into a restrictive role and she pushes back. That's one of my favorite kinds of characters.

With regard to this being a love story, let me just say: Everyone knows Zebulon and Robot Ophelia end up together.

[and parenthetically to avoid stepping on my sweet exit line, I will also note that Zebulon is strongly hinted to be primarily though not exclusively interested in men and that I imagine Ophelia's much-repeated desire to never again die for love suggests she may hesitate to fall in love, whatever her new-discovered feelings may be]

[Edited to fix Zebulons name]
« Last Edit: July 16, 2013, 04:11:29 PM by PotatoKnight »


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Reply #9 on: July 16, 2013, 12:48:09 PM

That's true!  That hadn't crossed my mind, and I like the story better now that you point it out.

This story was enjoyable .  I always did think that Ophelia got the bum deal--which is saying something in a play where everybody dies.  I liked how she escape and was led back but had changed enough that her next escape would be easier.

When I finished listening I thought it shouldn't have ended on a budding romance, but PotatoKnight makes me think that it didn't:

I will also note that Zebulon is strongly hinted to be primarily though not exclusively interested in men and that I imagine Ophelia's much-repeated desire to never again die for love suggests she may hesitate to fall in love, whatever her new-discovered feelings may be

 and I like the story better for it.


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Reply #10 on: July 16, 2013, 04:45:32 PM
Hmm. Just looked at the end of the story again and they DO kiss, which I managed to perhaps on some level deliberately forget. That weakens any no-romance theory, to say the least. Well, I still like the story but would probably like it better if the romance aspect was a bit more ambiguous.


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Reply #11 on: July 16, 2013, 07:50:23 PM
I was a bit distracted when I listened to this one and am not a Shakespeare fan. That being said, it was hard for me to get into this story. I get what Potato is saying. Like Unblinking, I wish it was a little more ambiguous, but I do think it was supposed to end with love.

As for the robots becoming human trope... it is a fun trope. So the fact that we have gotten a lot of that recently doesn't really bother me.


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Reply #12 on: July 18, 2013, 11:39:09 AM
Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare, and I thought this was a lot of fun. I loved Robot! Ophelia's repeated declaration that she would not die for love and I agree with PotatoKnight: "Robot! Ophelia" is a grin-inducing name. I didn't know anything about Zebulon Vance so I'm not sure if knowing who he was beforehand would have made this story even more interesting, but he has a very fun name as well. I've since looked him up. Fun story AND an opportunity to learn something new!

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Reply #13 on: July 18, 2013, 04:14:43 PM
My wife - a huge Shakespear nut - would have loved this one. I - a smaller Shakespear legume - was merely amused. I thought the conceit that pretending to be human in such a complex context as Hamlet can eventually lead a machine to cross the Turing gap was particularly entertaining, and I will surely file it away for later theft. The story itself was well-written, well-paced, and well-read. Good job!

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Reply #14 on: July 27, 2013, 04:17:34 PM
I genuinely enjoyed this story. It was sweet, simple, and well told. Much like PotatoKnight, I enjoyed watching the evolution of Robot!Opehlia, as well as her robotic observations concerning the strangeness of humanity. The only complaint I had was that I wished it had been Robot!Ophelia that had actually saved herself, not Zebulon Vance. There's been a fairly long string of stories, this, Saving Alan Idle, and the Golden Eagle, which all have a female character who must be saved by the complicated machinations of male characters, and it would've been nice for this to take a break from that particular trope.

That being said, there was a lot of little details in this story that made it quite enjoyable. I liked the idea of people paying to play a part in a story, such as Hamlet, and that that idea stretches so far as to even be able to pick the exact style and performance level of their co-stars. That was a good touch. I also didn't mind too much that it was a love story, but the love side of things seemed a bit forced to me. It felt like he feel in love with her just because, and that doesn't really do it for me.

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Reply #15 on: July 27, 2013, 05:34:05 PM
I didn't enjoy this one much because of the glossing over of the whole issue of free will versus programming.  Was she supposed to be the first robot to develop real sentience?  I generally like that genre but here it just didn't work for me because I would expect there to be all sorts of more protection against robots wandering off their jobs.


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Reply #16 on: July 28, 2013, 05:21:50 PM
I enjoyed this one quite a bit! I love that the breaking point for Robot!Ophelia wasn't having to do the same play over and over, but rather having to die (offstage, practically forgotten) for love over and over. I'm not really sure how Zebulon Vance is related, unless maybe I'm finding the wrong historical figure on google? At any rate, I'm glad that he helped her and that I didn't notice any strong romance angle while I was listening. :)


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Reply #17 on: August 02, 2013, 04:25:39 PM
This is one of those stories that had me utterly confused at first... but then delighted once I finally figured out what was going on.

What could be more fun than a robotic acting troupe? Especially one that, as far as I can tell, puts on shows that meet the client's every whim. Do you want to see a naked presentation of A Midsummer Night's Dream? We can oblige. Would you like to see Romeo And Juliet and play Romeo yourself? No problem. After all, these are the 31'st Century version of Real Dolls. Whatever happens in the Robot Shakespeare Theater stays in the Robot Shakespeare Theater.

The fact that the robots can simulate emotions makes perfect sense; after all, they are actors, and they need to be able to play the part. But the genuine feeling of emotions has to be inevitable in some units. As I read and listen to various actors talking about their craft, I hear the same thing over and over again: that the actor must use his imagination to get into the character's head. He has to not only know what the character is feeling right now, but he has to make up a life and a story for that character outside of the script. This requires imagination: without imagination, a robot would be unable to improve its performance or to improvise. It wouldn't be an actor... it would simply be a machine.

And so of all the professions a robot could undertake, I can imagine that the life of an actor is the one that would most likely cause a robot to eventually decide that it's better not to die for love just one more time...


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Reply #19 on: November 03, 2013, 07:51:10 AM
I liked it. But, like Devoted135, I didn't really get the feeling these two were in love when I listened to it. To me, it seemed like two interesting characters drawn to each other out of fascination. I would have preferred to go on thinking that. I just might, despite what I have read on these here forums.  :P


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Reply #20 on: January 24, 2014, 12:52:55 PM
Like most people I liked it without being blown away by it or anything. Like some, I don't think that love story is actually a love story, at least from Ophelias side, and possibly not from Zebulons either. Freedom, not love, is what seems at stake here.


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Reply #21 on: January 24, 2014, 02:52:17 PM
Thinking back on this story I find it interesting that this story about Robot Ophelia finally taking the lead role in her life instead of being an afterthought character IS NOT THE TITULAR CHARACTER OF HER OWN STORY.