Author Topic: EP407: Mono No Aware  (Read 15827 times)

eytanz

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on: August 06, 2013, 11:43:52 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, 07:34:37 AM by eytanz »



matweller

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Reply #1 on: August 07, 2013, 02:43:22 AM
MEANINGLESS TRIVIA: This is the second week in a row the story has ended with the word "beautiful."



Lambear

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Reply #2 on: August 07, 2013, 06:57:33 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).



OrbitHammer

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Reply #3 on: August 08, 2013, 06:50:43 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. ::)
« Last Edit: August 08, 2013, 06:54:07 AM by OrbitHammer »



ioscode

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Reply #4 on: August 08, 2013, 06:11:27 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.



ancawonka

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Reply #5 on: August 08, 2013, 06:17:15 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?



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #6 on: August 08, 2013, 06:47:25 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, 07:55:18 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



flintknapper

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Reply #8 on: August 08, 2013, 08:36:01 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.



kongstad

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Reply #9 on: August 08, 2013, 10:14:27 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)




Cutter McKay

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Reply #10 on: August 08, 2013, 11:32:20 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 09, 2013, 01:43:21 AM
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.



benjaminjb

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Reply #12 on: August 09, 2013, 03:16:04 AM
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.)



Windup

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Reply #13 on: August 09, 2013, 03:58:47 AM

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.

"My whole job is in the space between 'should be' and 'is.' It's a big space."


zenjamin

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Reply #14 on: August 09, 2013, 03:37:39 PM
Beautiful Story
I don’t usually tear up
Goodbye, Rising Son

-Zenjamin



Darwinist

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Reply #15 on: August 10, 2013, 12:22:41 AM
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! 

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.    -  Carl Sagan


Mouseneb

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Reply #16 on: August 10, 2013, 05:26:43 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!

Every day is an adventure.


Cheshire_Snark

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Reply #17 on: August 10, 2013, 03:43:58 PM
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, 03:55:14 PM by MissKriss »



Cynandre

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Reply #18 on: August 12, 2013, 04:31:17 AM
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, 11:40:46 AM
Night Bird Soaring, read by yours truly? ;)



PotatoKnight

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Reply #20 on: August 12, 2013, 08:49:13 PM
Not directly related to this story, but benjaminjb's invocation of "The Cold Equations" reminds me of (Escape Pod author) Shaenon Garity's paraphrase of an essay on The Cold Equations: "[it] represents the 1950s sci-fi attitude in a nutshell: a square-jawed scientist killing a sexy girl with math."



SonofSpermcube

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Reply #21 on: August 13, 2013, 02:31:52 PM
MO-NO NO AH-WAH-REH

If you need help with Japanese, Chinese or Korean pronunciation in the future, feel free to message me.

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.

What I found contrived was that he apparently died of tightly focused stupidity. 

I can buy the idea that he'd need to crawl out there on the struts rather than rocket out there and risk coming in close to it with too much momentum.  But he was able to push off of it at the end.  So why not have someone else rocket out to his rescue once he was done?  Someone comes and gets him carrying a shit ton of rocket fuel.  He pushes off when they get close, they rendezvous well behind the sail, no one dies (except from radiation exposure, which was my first thought for how the heroic sacrifice was going to play out), and no one tears the sail. 

Quote
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).



No one else could navigate them as quickly as he could. 



SonofSpermcube

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Reply #22 on: August 13, 2013, 02:38:56 PM


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.

He's got this intonation for Japanese words that kind of grates on me.  It seems like he knows enough about Japanese to know what the intonation should be like, and then goes and turns the differences from English up to 11.  It worked for the old man in Bunraku, but elsewhere I can't really get on board with it. 



evrgrn_monster

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Reply #23 on: August 14, 2013, 03:25:20 AM
I was initially not buying into this story, because as speculative fiction readers, I think I can safely say we've heard the tale of the asteroid crashing into Earth, oh my god we all need to get to the ships, and multi-generational space travelers at least a hundred times. (Hyperbole is the spice of life!)

That being said, I did end up crying at the end of this story. This is not the first Escape Artists story that has left me sobbing at my desk at work - I have a very understanding boss who brings me tissues and chocolate when this happens - , but Mono No Aware was particularly well written. Was the science off? Oh, yeah. Even non-techy Evergreen couldn't wrap her head around a great scientist not making repair-ability on his work. However, the human relationships and motivations were so poignant and heartbreaking, I found it quite easy to keep my disbelief suspended. The sequences where he is simultaneously playing go and repairing the sail, his final images as he kicked away; those were the scenes that made this worth the listen.

I normally like this narrator, and I think he did a good job, but I think his singing is not as good as his reading.


Cynandre

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Reply #24 on: August 15, 2013, 12:28:54 PM
Night Bird Soaring, read by yours truly? ;)

Thank you. :)

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matweller

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Reply #25 on: August 15, 2013, 12:34:30 PM
Not a problem. I really liked that one too, and not just because of my involvement.



Djinndustries

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Reply #26 on: August 16, 2013, 01:46:25 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).

I find John Chu's readings really difficult to enjoy. His straight narration is fine, though I find his character voices trying. There's a certain strident quality to his old man voices coupled with a halting cadence that just ends up making me feel tired after the reading. And, as Lambear says, it's hard for me to see the father character in this story as particularly different from, well, most of the characters in the puppet story.

I find Kate Baker reading foreign stories (or emotive stories) to be somewhat similar. She gets so breathless over the foreign words in an effort to emphasize them that I just feel exhausted. I've had to give up listening to Clarkesworld a few times because of this.



Devoted135

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Reply #27 on: August 17, 2013, 05:15:14 PM
I see all of your plot holes and science flaws and such, and to them I say: pffft! This was a beautiful story wonderfully narrated and I'm so glad I heard it. :)



Gamercow

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Reply #28 on: August 21, 2013, 03:30:09 PM
1) The micrometeorite thing bothered me until there was a quick mention of the ion shield which normally destroys micrometeorites, apparently.

2) The lead-up to launch flashback with the evacuations and "trust the prime minister" were VERY reminiscent of Fukushima Daiichi to me. 

3) Being a sumo fan has taught me one thing about spoken Japanese: every vowel is pronounced.  Most words sort themselves out more or less.

4) Surely the solar sail would be segmented so if there WAS a tear that was unrepairable(I would think repair robots could be used), it would only affect a small portion of the sail.  Additionally, if part of the sail did get torn, they could pretty easily vector themselves so that they're still pointing in the same direction, much like if you've ever seen a plane land/fly in a strong crosswind.  There may be a problem braking at the other end, but again, vectoring should help/fix that.

5) I didn't need to know about Mars/Moon being destroyed.  They're mostly dead rocks that would be very difficult to inhabit without a lot of preparation.  Given a choice between a 300 year trip to a distant habitable planet and a 2 week or  2 year trip to the moon or Mars respectively, I'd pick the long trip I think, given the fact that there are further resources to be gathered from Earth.

6) The sacrifice at the end BUGGED me.  Firstly, he was the last Japanese person in existence, and he just throws that away?  That's like putting your go stone directly in the middle of your opponent's main group.  I know that's not legal or possible, but you know what I mean.  Here's why the sacrifice was so stupid:

Solar sails accelerate VERY SLOWLY.  Especially if they were so far away that the sun was "just another star".  Just letting go of the sail or pushing himself back towards the main craft would have gotten him close enough for someone to rescue him pretty quickly.  His relative speed to the craft was zero, so even just a 5 km/hr(5 ft/s) push would have gotten him back in 20 hours.  If he had any fuel left at all, he could be back in MUCH less time than that.  A good squirt of acceleration, and then drifting for a couple of hours. EVA navigation is tricky, and "catching" someone is difficult, but not impossible. 

I may fire up Kerbal Space Program and see if I can EVA a Kerbal back to his ship from 100 KM away with just a jet pack.

The cow says "Mooooooooo"


Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #29 on: August 21, 2013, 05:06:04 PM

6) The sacrifice at the end BUGGED me.  Firstly, he was the last Japanese person in existence, and he just throws that away?  That's like putting your go stone directly in the middle of your opponent's main group.  I know that's not legal or possible, but you know what I mean.  Here's why the sacrifice was so stupid:

Solar sails accelerate VERY SLOWLY.  Especially if they were so far away that the sun was "just another star".  Just letting go of the sail or pushing himself back towards the main craft would have gotten him close enough for someone to rescue him pretty quickly.  His relative speed to the craft was zero, so even just a 5 km/hr(5 ft/s) push would have gotten him back in 20 hours.  If he had any fuel left at all, he could be back in MUCH less time than that.  A good squirt of acceleration, and then drifting for a couple of hours. EVA navigation is tricky, and "catching" someone is difficult, but not impossible. 

I may fire up Kerbal Space Program and see if I can EVA a Kerbal back to his ship from 100 KM away with just a jet pack.

If he just lets go of the sail he'd continue to drift at the same speed as the craft, since he is still carrying his inertia from the craft. To get back he would need to push himself, and to aim very very carefully.

Good luck with that Kerbal. I tried something like that once and he totally drifted away. Then I tried aiming them at Kerbol, but I gave up. It's a big target and all, but the Kerbals start so far away that being just a tiny bit off means they miss entirely.
But then, I am the first to admit that I'm not the best at this game, so good luck!

Cogito ergo surf - I think therefore I network

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #30 on: August 25, 2013, 07:30:30 PM
I have to admit that I have extremely mixed feelings about this one.

On the one hand, I really don't like stories that can be summed up as "hey guys, look at how great my awesome ancient culture is with all its benefits compared to all your stupid cultures with all their dumb flaws!" I don't like it when it's any of the many - many - Anglos-are-better-than-whoever tropes that we have to grapple with, and I don't like it here.

On the other hand, every other single freaking thing about this story was perfect. I loved the pacing, I loved the craft, I loved the way the story evoked all the other human stories that had come before it, and I loved the self-sacrifice at the end. Hell, I always love self-sacrifice at the end. It's the only thing I like as much as I like happy endings.

Oh, and the other problem was that the ship's designer had to carry the stupid ball. I mean, seriously, who designs a space ship that's supposed to travel for three hundred years and doesn't include some way to fix the most important component? Really?

So... ultimately, I don't know how I feel about this one. Some ups, some downs. I'll give it three zeppelins.

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TheFunkeyGibbon

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Reply #31 on: August 26, 2013, 11:41:50 PM
I liked this story, even if it felt a little safe. The things about him playing Go felt quit predictable and common to this kind of story where a little lesson plays out to a much bigger consequence. I'm not sure I buy the Japanese having no working ships. not enough maybe but none? Not believable especially as *yawn* the USA does have a ship, one of these days somebody will write a story where the universe doesn't begin and end with the Stars and Stripes. But on the whole is was an enjoyable story.

Shame then that the narration was flat out awful and possibly the worst reading I have heard on and podcastle story in a very long time. The character voices were jarring, especially that of the father and the mother. Somebody should have stepped in and said "Just read it because you can't do voices."

Such a shame. All I can say is that it speaks well of the story that I put up with that reading and got to the (predictable) end.



matweller

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Reply #32 on: August 27, 2013, 02:20:22 PM
This isn't Podcastle.

While there are some folks that don't adore John Chu's narration, I dare say "awful" is far from being the majority opinion. He's always done very solid work for us, and his ability to give a higher level of authenticity to Asian stories is priceless. I'm not saying he's above critique, but he's well beyond weak derision, so I would ask that you keep your opinions constructive and save the insults for the playground.



Joshua A.C. Newman

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Reply #33 on: August 27, 2013, 08:46:28 PM
Long time listener, first time poster!

While I found the "ancient culture is so great" theme just a little trying, it is a short story, and so I'm OK with some simplification. Likewise, I can accept that there wasn't a better way to do repairs and that the control scheme was crap. After all, this ship was not designed and built under the best circumstances.

Sure, Cold Equation is a parallel that's easy to draw here, and it suffers some of the same flaws: if this was so important, the system they'd devised would be better. But, like Cold Equation, once you accept the premise, you can appreciate the melancholy beauty of the situation, and that's the core of the story.



Windup

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Reply #34 on: August 28, 2013, 12:52:00 AM

I see all of your plot holes and science flaws and such, and to them I say: pffft! This was a beautiful story wonderfully narrated and I'm so glad I heard it. :)


Yeah, I have a rather severe "tic" for plausibility; strain my credulity a couple of times and the whole "willing suspension of disbelief" collapses, then the story ceases to be fun for me.  Judging from the fact this story was nominated for a Hugo, my quirk is not widely shared.  At least not at that level of sensitivity.   :(

"My whole job is in the space between 'should be' and 'is.' It's a big space."


TheArchivist

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Reply #35 on: August 28, 2013, 12:44:02 PM
I'm with the naysayers on this one, I'm afraid. Not for the terrible science (of which there was lots) nor the "isn't my culture great" (which I can overlook) nor even the widespread stupidity. My problem was that it added nothing to the breadth of the genre. The plot devices were all utterly stock, the outcome was predictable, and the emotional manipulation of the ending has been done to death. Even the "it's new and different because of the Japanese cultural references" argument simply doesn't hold water any longer.

Like djinndustries I don't see why everyone thinks John Chu is so great, either. His character voices all feel forced, and not very distinct, to my ears. And the halting cadence bugs me too. Not that he's worse than most, but I don't find him a stand-out.

And I think that's the bottom line here. Neither the story nor the narration were terrible, but neither were they remarkably excellent. Just a bit, well, "meh". Which would be OK, except that this is a Hugo nominee, and I can't help wondering why.



adrianh

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Reply #36 on: August 28, 2013, 01:13:10 PM
Like many others here the engineering side of this story broke my suspension of disbelief a few too many times for enjoyment. Why didn't the ship designers have contingency plans? Why weren't there robotic/automated repair systems? Why wasn't there automatic reporting of when the failure was detected? Why couldn't he push himself in the general direction of the central pod and get picked up by a third party? etc. etc.

Narration was okay for me. I've found John Chu's previous outings a bit grating to listen to - but this one was fine as far as I was concerned.

Oddly - I really didn't get the "look at how great my awesome ancient culture is" vibe that others saw in the story. I didn't read the author as implying that the Japanese culture was superior, just different - and worth saving.

For me the thrust of the story was loss - of culture, of family, of love, of life.

Thematically I loved the story - but I just kept being dragged out of the story by the various WTF moments with the engineering/science.





Devoted135

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Reply #37 on: August 28, 2013, 02:39:20 PM

I see all of your plot holes and science flaws and such, and to them I say: pffft! This was a beautiful story wonderfully narrated and I'm so glad I heard it. :)


Yeah, I have a rather severe "tic" for plausibility; strain my credulity a couple of times and the whole "willing suspension of disbelief" collapses, then the story ceases to be fun for me.  Judging from the fact this story was nominated for a Hugo, my quirk is not widely shared.  At least not at that level of sensitivity.   :(

At least you're consistent? :P Sometimes these sorts of issues really bother me as well, and sometimes I just like the story enough to look past them. There's no rhyme or reason to it, just whether or not the story or the plot holes struck me harder while I was listening.



TheFunkeyGibbon

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Reply #38 on: September 05, 2013, 10:39:07 PM
This isn't Podcastle.

While there are some folks that don't adore John Chu's narration, I dare say "awful" is far from being the majority opinion. He's always done very solid work for us, and his ability to give a higher level of authenticity to Asian stories is priceless. I'm not saying he's above critique, but he's well beyond weak derision, so I would ask that you keep your opinions constructive and save the insults for the playground.

I might not be the majority opinion but since was that a qualification for being wrong?

I wasn't insulting I was providing an opinion and my opinion was that it was a flat out bad reading. Sugar-coating things because you don't want to hurt people's feelings is what we do for children because they don't have the emotional maturity to deal with criticism. I thought as an adult John is more than capable of rolling with the punches as well as soaking up any praise. That's life. If you wanted to know more of my opinion, for me to justify it, why not ask rather than be so dismissive? It's easy for me to provide more depth. The accent of the father and mother characters didn't sound 'authentically Asian' to me but rather a western caricature of the robotic delivery you might associate with an American impersonating a Japanese person. The girlfriend character was supposedly a native Spanish speaker (American-Latino?) but I couldn't have placed that accent at all, it certainly had nothing Spanish about it. The whole reading was distracting and felt flat. Maybe that was deliberate given the subject, like it was supposed to have a 'numbness' about it, but I found myself noticing it and unless a reading is particularly amazing then I shouldn't notice it at all. It's like seeing the actor not the character they are portraying. As soon as you feel like you are watching Tom Cruise then you don't believe he is Jack Reacher.

Just because you don't like my opinion it doesn't invalidate it.

I dare say that there are things you feel strongly enough to call them as you see, hear or feel them, at least I hope there are. I would gladly be as strongly opinionated again both positively and negatively, it's what debate is about.

If everybody in a room cannot find something to disagree about, there is only one thing you can say for certain, somebody is lying.



eytanz

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Reply #39 on: September 06, 2013, 11:44:51 AM
Ok, stepping in here as a moderator.

TheFunkeyGibbon - I didn't comment on your original post because Mat did, but while you are certainly justified to your opinion, your way of presenting it was insulting. Specifically, the problem is the bolded sentence:

Quote
Shame then that the narration was flat out awful and possibly the worst reading I have heard on and podcastle story in a very long time. The character voices were jarring, especially that of the father and the mother. Somebody should have stepped in and said "Just read it because you can't do voices."

Saying that the reading was awful is strong, but it's a statement of opinion. Saying someone should step in and intervene is an insult. Especially since it's clear from this thread that not everyone shares your opinion.

Also, if you are asked, politely, by a moderator or staff member to be mindful of your tone, then as an adult, we expect you to roll with the punches and take the criticism, rather than launch into a tirade justifying it. No one is saying you have to be positive, we are saying you have to be respectful. That's a very different thing, and you (and everyone else) is expected to understand that distinction.

If you disagree with my assessment of the situation, feel free to PM me and we can continue this discussion in private. I ask that no one responds to this post in this thread; let's keep the discussion here on the topic of the story.



Windup

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Reply #40 on: September 07, 2013, 01:14:02 AM

I see all of your plot holes and science flaws and such, and to them I say: pffft! This was a beautiful story wonderfully narrated and I'm so glad I heard it. :)


Yeah, I have a rather severe "tic" for plausibility; strain my credulity a couple of times and the whole "willing suspension of disbelief" collapses, then the story ceases to be fun for me.  Judging from the fact this story was nominated for a Hugo, my quirk is not widely shared.  At least not at that level of sensitivity.   :(

At least you're consistent? :P Sometimes these sorts of issues really bother me as well, and sometimes I just like the story enough to look past them. There's no rhyme or reason to it, just whether or not the story or the plot holes struck me harder while I was listening.

Well, what I'm most sensitive to is the behavior of characters.  I can handle large amounts of handwavium -- either "scientific" or magic -- but the people have to behave in ways that make sense to me, or they have to be given a good reason not to.  In the case of this story, it's mostly the decisions of the starship commander/designer I'm reacting to -- failing to consider micro-meteor damage, sending out one person when there is no reason not to send the entire crew, etc. 

"My whole job is in the space between 'should be' and 'is.' It's a big space."


TheFunkeyGibbon

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Reply #41 on: September 10, 2013, 06:32:56 AM
Ok, stepping in here as a moderator.

TheFunkeyGibbon - I didn't comment on your original post because Mat did, but while you are certainly justified to your opinion, your way of presenting it was insulting.

If you disagree with my assessment of the situation, feel free to PM me and we can continue this discussion in private. I ask that no one responds to this post in this thread; let's keep the discussion here on the topic of the story.

I having messages both of you I wanted to make a simple and public apology.

It was never my intention to insult anybody but only to share my feelings about something. Clearly something I thought was okay, wasn't and I apologise unreservedly to John Chu and all at Escape Artists, including any forum members who were upset by my comments.



Unblinking

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Reply #42 on: November 06, 2013, 02:49:59 PM
Copying my review from my Hugo Short Story reviews of this year:
Hiroto is one of the survivors of the end of the world, riding on a solar sail away from the earth that has been rendered unlivable by a meteor.  The story is written as a recollection of interactions with his father who was not one of the survivors, who taught him many lessons about life and what it is to be Japanese.

I’m rather torn on my opinion for this story.  I wanted to like it, there were characters, there was good basis for emotion and a plot, a definite speculative element.  For me it walked the line between effective emotional writing and being a wee bit sentimental.  I like a story that makes me feel, but there’s a fine line that separates that from being able to see the author pulling the strings.


I didn't go into more detail there, but I'll also add that the engineering flubs in this bugged me to a large degree, which I think only added to the feeling of being able to see the emotional manipulations.  I found it implausible the failings of the ship's design, as well as the failure of the ship's crew to recognize and try to compensate for the failings in the ship's design.  The only plausible explanation I can think of for why these things happened the way they did was so that the ending could be tragic, which isn't a reason I care for.  Tragic endings are all well and good but if the story or characters have to make implausible adjustments to make them happen, I don't care for that.

For the Hugo Short Story I voted for:
1.  Immersion
2.  Mono No Aware
3.  No Award



Unblinking

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Reply #43 on: November 06, 2013, 02:52:03 PM
Also, I'd like to add that I continue to love the tradition of Escape Pod seeking out as many of the Short Story nominees as they can get.  I decided to register supporting membership for WorldCon this year (and probably for future years in the near future) because I love to get the Hugo packet with it's giant pack of fiction for one low low price.  But Escape Pod was providing these before the Hugo Packet was a thing, and I love that--I still listen to the stories here even though I've read them because sometimes audio can make all the difference.



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Reply #44 on: November 25, 2013, 09:40:42 AM
This isn't Podcastle.

While there are some folks that don't adore John Chu's narration, I dare say "awful" is far from being the majority opinion. He's always done very solid work for us, and his ability to give a higher level of authenticity to Asian stories is priceless. I'm not saying he's above critique, but he's well beyond weak derision, so I would ask that you keep your opinions constructive and save the insults for the playground.
jumping in really really late to this debate on a side note:
i have no opinion one way or another about john chu's narration skills. however, as an asian woman, i feel that it is kind of racist to say that chu's narration lends "a higher level of authenticity to Asian stories," and here's why: saying so is a vocalization of a commonly held western imperialist view that all asian cultures, voices, accents, etc are homogenous.  it would be one thing to say that because of x background he knows how to do a, b, and c specific things. but to put it under the umbrella term "asian" is erasure of the many and varied cultures within asia, most of which i would venture to say have not been experienced by this narrator.
it's a little thing, really, but microaggressions via vague language are still hurtful. just try to be more specific and less homogenizing in the future! thanks.



CryptoMe

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Reply #45 on: January 03, 2014, 03:46:04 AM
Catching up slowly on my EP backlog...

I didn't much care for this story either. I have to agree with Unblinking. The tragedy in this story seemed forced and stupid to me, because there seemed so many ways it could have been avoided. I, personally, find nothing beautiful in tragedy and self-sacrifice for stupid reasons. But that is just my humble opinion.

As to the narration, I have no complaints about it. But, I have been listening to stuff from LibriVox, where the narration can be a mixed bag, including very amateur readings, a range of international accents, and even different readers from one chapter to the next. So, I may have developed a high tolerance for such variety.



matweller

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Reply #46 on: January 03, 2014, 02:12:40 PM
This isn't Podcastle.

While there are some folks that don't adore John Chu's narration, I dare say "awful" is far from being the majority opinion. He's always done very solid work for us, and his ability to give a higher level of authenticity to Asian stories is priceless. I'm not saying he's above critique, but he's well beyond weak derision, so I would ask that you keep your opinions constructive and save the insults for the playground.
jumping in really really late to this debate on a side note:
i have no opinion one way or another about john chu's narration skills. however, as an asian woman, i feel that it is kind of racist to say that chu's narration lends "a higher level of authenticity to Asian stories," and here's why: saying so is a vocalization of a commonly held western imperialist view that all asian cultures, voices, accents, etc are homogenous.  it would be one thing to say that because of x background he knows how to do a, b, and c specific things. but to put it under the umbrella term "asian" is erasure of the many and varied cultures within asia, most of which i would venture to say have not been experienced by this narrator.
it's a little thing, really, but microaggressions via vague language are still hurtful. just try to be more specific and less homogenizing in the future! thanks.

Well, I'm naming myself the decider of all such things and you're wrong, it's not racist. It is fully valid -- in my opinion -- that, simply by merit of proximity  and his native tongue, his approximation of the differences in Asian languages would be significantly better than mine. I can hear the difference between Korean and Chinese and Malasian languages, but I can't reproduce the sounds well, much less the accents. Similarly, I guarantee you I can do Mexican or Canadian or English or 10 dialects of American better than 90% of Slavic narrators simply because of the similarities in romance languages and my significantly increased likelihood of regularly being in the presence of native speakers.

I also happen to know, but didn't originally think it was necessary to waste time saying, that Ken Liu has always been very happy with Chu's work and has even requested him to narrate at Escape Pod and, if I'm not mistaken, other shows as well.

You can be offended about that if you like. I think I'll be offended that you assumed my statements were racist without asking for a more thorough explanation before passing judgement. So let's call it a push.

I have SO many opinions that would make so many more people angry, let's not waste time on this one.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2014, 02:16:07 PM by matweller »



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Reply #47 on: January 20, 2014, 06:36:48 PM
Thanks y'all for working to get as many Hugo stories as possible. I wouldn't read them for years (if ever) without your dedicated effort. This one's made of good stuff. It's no Paper Menagerie, but very little is.

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


hardware

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Reply #48 on: February 05, 2014, 09:13:08 AM
I must directly say this is not my favorite Ken Liu story. Just as someone already pointed out, it feels somewhat safe and a bit too straightforward, compared to what we got recently in "Good Hunting" for example. As usual the meeting of cultures is in the center, and is well captured, but neither the science-fiction element nor the characters felt like they had been very carefullly thought out, and though well written the end didn't have a particularly strong impact on me. Well, I will still expect great things from Liu in the future, only funny that this comparatively weak story is what got him the hugo nomination.