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Author Topic: EP407: Mono No Aware  (Read 2824 times)
eytanz
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« on: August 06, 2013, 06:43:52 AM »

EP407: Mono No Aware

by Ken Liu

Read by John Chu

--

The world is shaped like the kanji for _umbrella_, only written so poorly, like my handwriting, that all the parts are out of proportion.

My father would be greatly ashamed at the childish way I still form my characters. Indeed, I can barely write many of them anymore. My formal schooling back in Japan ceased when I was only eight.

Yet for present purposes, this badly drawn character will do.

The canopy up there is the solar sail. Even that distorted kanji can only give you a hint of its vast size. A hundred times thinner than rice paper, the spinning disc fans out a thousand kilometers into space like a giant kite intent on catching every passing photon. It literally blocks out the sky.

Beneath it dangles a long cable of carbon nanotubes a hundred kilometers long: strong, light, and flexible. At the end of the cable hangs the heart of the _Hopeful_, the habitat module, a five-hundred-meter-tall cylinder into which all the 1,021 inhabitants of the world are packed.

The light from the sun pushes against the sail, propelling us on an ever widening, ever accelerating, spiraling orbit away from it. The acceleration pins all of us against the decks, gives everything weight.

Our trajectory takes us toward a star called 61 Virginis. You can’t see it now because it is behind the canopy of the solar sail. The _Hopeful_ will get there in about three hundred years, more or less. With luck, my great-great-great-I calculated how many “greats” I needed once, but I don’t remember now-grandchildren will see it.

There are no windows in the habitat module, no casual view of the stars streaming past. Most people don’t care, having grown bored of seeing the stars long ago. But I like looking through the cameras mounted on the bottom of the ship so that I can gaze at this view of the receding, reddish glow of our sun, our past.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: August 23, 2013, 02:34:37 AM by eytanz » Logged
matweller
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« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2013, 09:43:22 PM »

MEANINGLESS TRIVIA: This is the second week in a row the story has ended with the word "beautiful."
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Lambear
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« Reply #2 on: August 07, 2013, 01:57:33 PM »

I sincerely enjoyed this one and felt it was masterfully woven.
The way the author tied in so many aspects of Japanese culture (games, poetry, origami, writing, language, etc) into the story, especially regarding main character's thoughts and actions was, for lack of a better word, beautiful.

Some parts of the narration threw me off a bit, but I think it's a silly thing to complain about, so I won't go on. One thing I find amusing is every time we have this narrator I imagine the protagonist to be the same person. Not sure why this one in particular is harder for me to make the distinction from story to story, especially considering how very different each of the stories are (with the exception of them all having some kind of Asian theme).
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OrbitHammer
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« Reply #3 on: August 08, 2013, 01:50:43 AM »

All and all, digged Mono No Aware. I live in Japan and enjoyed all the
cultural references. However, the Japan that Liu writes about has
already disappeared. It didn't take an apocalyptic event to do so
either, only the shifting sands of cultural change. Big robots?
Americans make big robot movies. Japanese kids read pirate comics.
Trusting the Prime Minister? Not since the last generation, certainly
not since Fukushima. Even the word 'aware' is of a bygone age. But
maybe Liu did this on purpose, like an expatriate pining for a
homeland they can't return to.

And Norm, it's pronounced ah-wa-reh. Roll Eyes
« Last Edit: August 08, 2013, 01:54:07 AM by OrbitHammer » Logged
ioscode
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« Reply #4 on: August 08, 2013, 01:11:27 PM »

I have enjoyed all of Ken's stories here, and probably this one the most.  I liked the way that in this story each country was on their own trying to figure out a plan for earth evacuation.  In less well thought out asteroid apocalypse stories, everything is simplified to cover an unlikely singular effort.  Also, the analogy with the game of go with his dad and patching the solar sail at the end was great.
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ancawonka
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« Reply #5 on: August 08, 2013, 01:17:15 PM »

I liked this one, especially the portrayal of the different cultures and how they dealt with the evacuation efforts.  Everybody got screwed by greed or foolishness.

The orderly approach to evacuation, taken by the Japanese, made me think of the people in "Rescue Party" (episode 400). What a difference 50 years makes in terms of describing humanity.

I wonder though, why the solar sail was so flimsy.  You'd think that they'd anticipate some space debris in a 300-year journey?
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #6 on: August 08, 2013, 01:47:25 PM »

When I saw the title I thought "Man does not know".
Pretty close.

Anyway, I got thrown out of the story with "Dad had explained to me that fragments that had broken off of the Hammer were headed for Mars and the Moon, so the ships would have to take us further, into deep space, to be safe."
I could believe killer asteroid. I could believe that civilization degenerated into squabbling. I can believe that countries shot down each others' space ships. I could believe that lying, cheating, thieving scoundrels will take a government's money and not build escape pods ships.
I cannot believe that a rogue asteroid heading for Earth (astronomical odds) will then break apart and send fragments to the Moon and to Mars. That kind of cosmic billiards just does not happen, and can't happen. I could not suspend my disbelief. I suspended it easily for the huge solar sail, generation ship, nano-mechanics and ion shielding. But you just can't mess with math.
Sorry.
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matweller
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« Reply #7 on: August 08, 2013, 02:55:18 PM »

What if "The Hammer" were a rogue planetoid big enough to fragment the Earth in a way that would scatter big enough chunks around far enough to be a danger to...aw forget it, you're right, it's stupid.

But I can reconcile it with...
  • there could be scenarios where evacuating to the moon or Mars may not be practical -- I can't think of any, but I can kinda imagine a world where they exist
  • in a catastrophic situation a lot of weird theories and ideas would be floating around a place that was crazy with crisis fervor
  • many of these crazy ideas could easily come from a government known for lying to its people
  • a man, not really knowledgeable about probabilities and astrophysics or just not wanting to spend a ton of time explaining complex things to a young boy might share these crazy stories with said boy
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flintknapper
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« Reply #8 on: August 08, 2013, 03:36:01 PM »

Loved it. I have loved every story I have heard and read from this author. I feel like in a couple years from now his stuff will be fodder for movies, tv, and other media. His writing is excellent and his stories are heart felt. He can take a culture I do not know much about and through his words make it understandable to me. It is beautiful and exposes me to perspectives that I do not feel are as self-evident in western culture. In this case, the perspective of heroism and the heroics of multiple people culminating in the good of the whole.

Great reading too! Overall, the story was just awesome. No complaints.
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kongstad
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« Reply #9 on: August 08, 2013, 05:14:27 PM »

Great - I listened to this just before I fetched my daughter from kindergarden.

At first I was a little annoyed. I felt it went a little overboard with the unique Japanes culture. But somehow along the way - even with the ending being signalled in advance - When the kitten licked his heart for the second time - well - lets just say my daughters words when I picked her up was "Why Daddy trying?" (she is not good with K sounds yet) (actually it was "Far ted af det?", but the English translation will reach a wider audience)

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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #10 on: August 08, 2013, 06:32:20 PM »

I enjoyed this story. Like flintknapper said, Ken Liu has a knack for exposing his readers to cultures that may be foreign to them, but in such a way that it feels natural and clear. I agree that the ending was telegraphed, and when I realized it I was annoyed because I thought Liu was going for cheap tears by *spoiler alert* making me care for someone and then just killing him. But when I got to that point I was so moved by the message Liu was sharing with Hiroto's death, about heroes and sacrifice, that I forgot to be bothered by it. Very well done.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #11 on: August 08, 2013, 08:43:21 PM »

I'm afraid I'm going to be in the minority on this one.

I like Ken Liu's stories. But this just seemed, well, contrived. Specifically, contrived to tell a story about tragic Japanese self-sacrifice over American can-do optimism.

That's not my issue with the story. It's that it falls apart on basic science grounds. And when someone without a even a BS can see that, you've got a problem.

First, not only is the idea of a hat-trick killer asteroid beyond improbable, it strikes me as unlikely that a society that could build reasonably viable interstellar spacecraft couldn't deflect that rock. Because, really, *that's* easier. We have things now - rockets, nuclear weapons (No, not to blow it up, just nudge it), etc - that could do the job.

Second, I have trouble buying a tear in a solar sail small enough to be barely noticed and still be repairable, and yet still being able to affect the navigation of the ship. You can't really have both.

Third, - really, NO ONE else could navigate the struts? Because I know what I'd start training on Day 2 of the journey - repair crews. Because you're going to need them.

Lastly, because it was a Ken Liu story, I knew the second there was a tear in the sail where this was headed. Of course he'd have to sacrifice his fuel and hence his life - handy, that fuel - in saving the ship. Because he left the ship without a belaying line (frankly, I'd have less trouble believing he'd run out of air than have to use the fuel to recharge the torch).

Sorry.
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benjaminjb
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« Reply #12 on: August 08, 2013, 10:16:04 PM »

InfiniteMonkey, I may or may not agree with your individual points about the contrivances, but I'm not sure I can agree with the overall idea that this story is "contrived to tell a story about tragic Japanese self-sacrifice over American can-do optimism."

Especially because of that word "over."

I'd specifically like to point to the end of the story, where our narrator notes that his self-sacrifice isn't a single and tragic act of self-sacrifice, but one chain in a series of heroic moves: American Dr. Hamilton's building of the ship (which is pretty can-do and optimistic) is part of what's necessary, as is Hiroto's father teaching him of the necessity of sacrifice, as is Mindy's singing, as is... and so on. Without the American can-do optimism of building a ship, there's no Japanese self-sacrifice that means anything in this story.

In fact, having just listened to Godwin's "Cold Equations," which has a tragic note of self-sacrifice, I keep thinking of this as a response: we have the same self-sacrifice, the same utilitarianism that says that one person should die so that others should live, the same isolation in space. But whereas "Cold Equations" is a somber piece about the tragedy of living in a universe that doesn't care about us, Liu's story has a tone that hits the flip-side: Hiroto's sacrifice isn't tragic, but "beautiful."

(As matweller pointed out, that's the last word of the story. Or put it this way: as a kid he wanted a window seat to see the stars and gosh darn it, that's what he got at the end.)
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Windup
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« Reply #13 on: August 08, 2013, 10:58:47 PM »


I started out really liking this story.  I loved the depiction of Japanese culture, and the contrast with the Americans, and the theme of individual sacrifice for greater good. I loved the contrast between go and chess, and how the author wove that in.  Unhappily, I was blown out of the story by strained credulity. 

Where I had trouble was in the final run to fix the tear.  In rapid succession:
  • You're monitoring the health of your solar sail by having a human stare at an array for blinking lights?  After a couple hours, you could turn the whole thing purple all at once, and the kid would never notice.  People are terrible at those sorts of tasks.
  • You're planning a 300-year interstellar voyage with a solar sail at a significant percentage of lightspeed and you didn't plan on micrometeor damage?  I can believe some things would get overlooked in the rush but, seriously, the idea of particle collision never crossed the designer's mind?
  • With the survival of the entire species hanging in the balance, you send out one guy to solve the problem?  Sure, maybe he's the fastest, so you definitely send him, but back him up with every person you can cram into a space suit, distribute any remotely useful tools or supplies throughout the group and swarm that thing. What else have you got to do today?

I'm not saying I couldn't have been sold on any or all of those things, but throw me a bone -- he's studying the sail structure for some other reason, the solar sail was supposed to be impervious, but somebody cut corners on the construction, there isn't enough fuel for other suits because we just had a pancake feed and the synthesizer hasn't recycled it all yet.  I dunno.  I'm not asking for much, but I needed something.

Well, at least Infinite Monkey doesn't have to be a minority of one.
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zenjamin
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« Reply #14 on: August 09, 2013, 10:37:39 AM »

Beautiful Story
I don’t usually tear up
Goodbye, Rising Son

-Zenjamin
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Darwinist
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« Reply #15 on: August 09, 2013, 07:22:41 PM »

I loved this story.  There were a few science-y things I questioned as it went on but I was really wrapped in to the characters and story and let them go.  Like Norm said, the killer asteroid tale has been done over and over but this one to me seemed more personal and it really connected with me. 

Looking forward to hearing the rest of the Hugo noms! 
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Mouseneb
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« Reply #16 on: August 10, 2013, 12:26:43 AM »

Went and looked up the japanese kanji for umbrella: 傘

Only slightly different than the one I was picturing, but of course I only know the simplified Chinese version: 伞

Forget all the science that may or may not have worked, I enjoyed this one for the visual linguistics!
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Cheshire_Snark
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« Reply #17 on: August 10, 2013, 10:43:58 AM »

Some parts of the narration threw me off a bit, but I think it's a silly thing to complain about, so I won't go on. One thing I find amusing is every time we have this narrator I imagine the protagonist to be the same person. Not sure why this one in particular is harder for me to make the distinction from story to story, especially considering how very different each of the stories are (with the exception of them all having some kind of Asian theme).

I think John Chu narrated a story on Pseudopod as well... (something about a creepy bunraku puppet love triangle...?). I think it's because he has a really distinctive way of doing the extra voices within the story. (Oh yeah, and Lion Dance, which I rather liked.)

I enjoyed the kanji reference as well.
« Last Edit: August 10, 2013, 10:55:14 AM by MissKriss » Logged
Cynandre
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« Reply #18 on: August 11, 2013, 11:31:17 PM »

I really enjoyed this Story. It reminded me of another that I heard that dealt with Mayan or Aztecs being in Space. I can not recall fully what the name was or where I had heard it.
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matweller
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« Reply #19 on: August 12, 2013, 06:40:46 AM »

Night Bird Soaring, read by yours truly? Wink
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