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Author Topic: EP408: Immersion  (Read 8796 times)

eytanz

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on: August 10, 2013, 08:20:25 AM
EP408: Immersion

by Aliette de Bodard

Read by Amy Robinson

--

In the morning, you’re no longer quite sure who you are.

You stand in front of the mirror–it shifts and trembles, reflecting only what you want to see–eyes that feel too wide, skin that feels too pale, an odd, distant smell wafting from the compartment’s ambient system that is neither incense nor garlic, but something else, something elusive that you once knew.

You’re dressed, already–not on your skin, but outside, where it matters, your avatar sporting blue and black and gold, the stylish clothes of a well-traveled, well-connected woman. For a moment, as you turn away from the mirror, the glass shimmers out of focus; and another woman in a dull silk gown stares back at you: smaller, squatter and in every way diminished–a stranger, a distant memory that has ceased to have any meaning.
Quy was on the docks, watching the spaceships arrive. She could, of course, have been anywhere on Longevity Station, and requested the feed from the network to be patched to her router–and watched, superimposed on her field of vision, the slow dance of ships slipping into their pod cradles like births watched in reverse. But there was something about standing on the spaceport’s concourse–a feeling of closeness that she just couldn’t replicate by standing in Golden Carp Gardens or Azure Dragon Temple. Because here–here, separated by only a few measures of sheet metal from the cradle pods, she could feel herself teetering on the edge of the vacuum, submerged in cold and breathing in neither air nor oxygen. She could almost imagine herself rootless, finally returned to the source of everything.

Most ships those days were Galactic–you’d have thought Longevity’s ex-masters would have been unhappy about the station’s independence, but now that the war was over Longevity was a tidy source of profit. The ships came; and disgorged a steady stream of tourists–their eyes too round and straight, their jaws too square; their faces an unhealthy shade of pink, like undercooked meat left too long in the sun. They walked with the easy confidence of people with immersers: pausing to admire the suggested highlights for a second or so before moving on to the transport station, where they haggled in schoolbook Rong for a ride to their recommended hotels–a sickeningly familiar ballet Quy had been seeing most of her life, a unison of foreigners descending on the station like a plague of centipedes or leeches.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #1 on: August 11, 2013, 07:28:48 PM
Yay! I'm king under the mountain!

Not sure how I feel about this one.
The POV changes were confusing, and the narration was a tad bit too quick. Sometimes it was hard to tell when one character had finished speaking and another had begun.

I did like the speculative aspect of the story, much more than I enjoyed the story itself. Cheap travel made everywhere seem just like the place that we call home (there was a Douglas Adams quote about this, possibly including time travel, but it's very late at night in my own personal timezone). Eventually, even when we do travel to other places, we never actually get there. We just carry our own personal little "home space" with us.
I like themes that explore the journey vs. the destination aspect of life and thoughts along that vein, but this story did not explore that very well at all. I got too confused in who the Galactics were (at first I thought it was a company, like Virgin Galactic) and what exactly a Wrong Girl was.

So, great idea, not so great execution.

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flintknapper

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Reply #2 on: August 12, 2013, 01:31:48 AM
I just read Max's comments. I agree with him. Cool concept. it was a great way to explore acculturation. Execution felt a little flat though. I may have enjoyed it more if the customs were reversed. Say the Galactic customs shared more characteristics of eastern society and the outsiders shared similarities with western culture. It would have given it a bit more a blade runner feel.




Windup

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Reply #3 on: August 12, 2013, 03:52:01 AM
This story worked well for me.  I went through both the "Ooooo, cool!" and "Hey, wait a minute..." responses to the idea of immerser technology, which I guess was part of the point.  You know that if the pseudo-acculturation permitted by the immersers ever let it become that easy and cheap, only tiny handful of people would ever get to the point of genuinely experiencing another culture -- and they would be considered odd.

I also liked seeing the impact of a dominant culture on others, from the point of view of those others. It's a point of view that my real life makes it all to easy to ignore if I don't think about it, and stories like this make me think about it.

As to the love/hate relationship with tourists Norm discussed at the end, I once asked a Hawaiian friend what made the difference between good and bad tourist behavior.  He said, "Just keep in mind that we don't exist just so you can have a nice vacation."  Good advice, I think...

Like others, I was a little whipsawed by the first POV change, especially since I was listening while driving.  However, I caught it after that.  I wonder if the scene-change tone that's been used in other episodes might have helped?

« Last Edit: August 12, 2013, 03:55:19 AM by Windup »

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


matweller

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Reply #4 on: August 12, 2013, 11:46:45 AM
There is a low background sound in the scenes inside the addict's head that I kept lower than I might have otherwise because of complaints in recent episodes. Unfortunately for you it probably blended with road noise completely. It probably wouldn't have hurt to add a slight echo effect in there as well since those parts are all in her head. Sorry guys, I was a little gunshy on that one.

Also, folks may want to read the story for some better understanding.



Windup

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Reply #5 on: August 13, 2013, 02:00:59 AM
There is a low background sound in the scenes inside the addict's head that I kept lower than I might have otherwise because of complaints in recent episodes. Unfortunately for you it probably blended with road noise completely. It probably wouldn't have hurt to add a slight echo effect in there as well since those parts are all in her head. Sorry guys, I was a little gunshy on that one.

Yeah, I realized what you're up against the other day when I figured out that between us, my wife and I use eight different player/speaker combinations, and have access to several more that we just don't use.  Multiply that by the Escape Pod audience and it's kind of a miracle that anything works at all.   :o

I appreciate that you're constantly in there pitching, though...

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


Cheshire_Snark

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Reply #6 on: August 13, 2013, 09:14:13 AM
There is a low background sound in the scenes inside the addict's head that I kept lower than I might have otherwise because of complaints in recent episodes. Unfortunately for you it probably blended with road noise completely. It probably wouldn't have hurt to add a slight echo effect in there as well since those parts are all in her head. Sorry guys, I was a little gunshy on that one.

Also, folks may want to read the story for some better understanding.

Cool! I'll have to re-listen (I listen to podcasts while walking outdoors, and tend to keep the volume a bit low in order to keep an ear out for oncoming cyclings etc).

I probably need to re-read the story but just a quick question - the immersers change your appearance for people who AREN'T wearing immersers as well, is that right?



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #7 on: August 13, 2013, 10:37:30 AM
I probably need to re-read the story but just a quick question - the immersers change your appearance for people who AREN'T wearing immersers as well, is that right?

That's how I understood it, yes. An immerser creates a holographic image of what it thinks you want to look like to others, and maintains it around you. It also functions as a mental prompter, explaining things to you and telling you how to react to your environment.
Actually, an immerser does (as I understood it) the complete opposite of its name, it removes you entirely from the environment that you are in.
"I reject your reality and substitute my own."

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Cheshire_Snark

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Reply #8 on: August 13, 2013, 01:07:55 PM
I probably need to re-read the story but just a quick question - the immersers change your appearance for people who AREN'T wearing immersers as well, is that right?

That's how I understood it, yes. An immerser creates a holographic image of what it thinks you want to look like to others, and maintains it around you. It also functions as a mental prompter, explaining things to you and telling you how to react to your environment. Actually, an immerser does (as I understood it) the complete opposite of its name, it removes you entirely from the environment that you are in.
"I reject your reality and substitute my own."

Right, now things make more sense! I read it as an AR headset; I didn't quite follow that it would also augment reality for non-wearers. That's kinda cool and a nifty projection of the tech from where it is now :)



SonofSpermcube

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Reply #9 on: August 14, 2013, 11:04:35 AM
I didn't get what was going on in the story until it was explicitly explained at the end; and I didn't care regardless, because this wasn't a story about characters, or even the world which was clearly fleshed out in the author's head if not in the story itself, it was an obtuse discussion of a single technology in it.  It reminded me of Arthur C Clarke's waning years. 



Cutter McKay

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Reply #10 on: August 14, 2013, 03:07:21 PM
Yeah, I'm going to have to give this one a "Meh". It was well written, and had some interesting tech, but it never really gripped me. It was interesting without being intriguing, if that make sense.

Like others, I was thrown by the shifts to 2nd person POV. 2nd Person is tough to do to begin with because it's implying that the author knows what the reader will feel. When you add in the fact that the "You" in this isn't supposed to be the reader, as I definitely don't have a husband named Galen (my wife might have something to say about that  ;)) it makes it even more confusing and distancing. By the end we realize that it's not actually being told in 2nd person, but 1st person from the POV of Agnes who thinks of herself in a 2nd person inner monologue, which is interesting, but by this point, the damage is done and it doesn't make up for all the confusion created at the beginning of the story.

So yeah, not a terrible story, but not my thing.

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Dem

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Reply #11 on: August 16, 2013, 01:16:59 PM
I heard this first on Clarkesworld http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/debodard_06_12/ so I was already familiar with the content. I agree, it's confusing if you listen without seeing the text - Rong and wrong appear within a couple of words of each other at one point and the switches in PoV are not too easy to spot (I didn't hear any hummings, Matt. Or maybe I have overriding ones of my own!), but the story is a chilling vision of what is already on the horizon if you amalgamate avatar and AR technology to that level. This is what I said on the CW site:

The whole business of avatars - at present experienced as either immersive entities via head mounted displays or semi immersive on-screen images - goes quite deeply into our psychology in terms of identification and 'presence'. How much more so then if you could actually wear your chosen appearance in grounded rather than virtual reality? After a very short time here, I found myself thinking of 'China Girl' (Bowie) and the line 'I'll give you television, I'll give you eyes of blue', which then raises that whole question of the insidious nature of racism whereby ethnicity is denied by its own population in favour of an idealised other. We seem better able now to see beauty in shapes and colours that are not classically Caucasian but [Khaalidah] is right - it's still there, as is distorted idealism. Avatar development is becoming more sophisticated year on year. We need to be ready to challenge racist stereotypes. And Aliette - what a compliment to your writing that it is the issues you raise which form the conversation, and not a dissection of how you raised them!

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matweller

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Reply #12 on: August 16, 2013, 03:27:08 PM
SIDE TRACK --

This story reminded me of this, which I _HIGHLY_ recommend, even if it's not your usual thing.
http://panelsyndicate.com/

Plus, it's pay what you want, and not corporate owned -- it doesn't get any better!



Devoted135

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Reply #13 on: August 17, 2013, 05:30:00 PM
So I was thrown enough by the first POV transition that I re-started the story specifically to pay more attention to that transition. This paid off because I was able to quickly figure out that we had two narrators, one of whom is decidedly lost in her own head.

Having figured this out, I really enjoyed this story! I thought it was really interesting that in general the prevailing attitude of both cultures was that the immersers were only good for interacting with people of the other culture. They were for easing of uncomfortable/unaccustomed interactions and not really for every day use.



It probably wouldn't have hurt to add a slight echo effect in there as well since those parts are all in her head. Sorry guys, I was a little gunshy on that one.

I seem to be one of the more vocal posters in the "I like sound effects" camp, but this makes me a bit sad. I appreciate your efforts! :)



Jetse

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Reply #14 on: August 17, 2013, 08:40:15 PM
A general question that appeared to me after reading this thread: would it be possible to use *two* different narrators if the story has *two* different points-of-view? Two different voices would make it immediately clear to listeners that the story deals with two different PoVs.

Obviously, this would involve plenty of headaches regarding recording, mixing and production (and anything else I'm overlooking). Nevertheless, for the technical people of Escape Pod: would that be feasible?

I'm asking simply because this would make PoV-shifts (like 'em or not) absolutely clear in a *podcast* (as a reader I rarely have difficulties to see them on the written page).

Disclosure: I lifted one of Aliette de Bodard very early stories from the Interzone slush pile back in 2006 (or so), and after meeting her at an EasterCon around that time have been very good friends with her ever since, so I'm following her writing career with interest. But I do mean this inquiry in general: would this work for other stories with PoV-shifts (and yes: as a writer, I'm guilty as charged), and is it feasible?



Devoted135

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Reply #15 on: August 17, 2013, 10:08:56 PM
A general question that appeared to me after reading this thread: would it be possible to use *two* different narrators if the story has *two* different points-of-view? Two different voices would make it immediately clear to listeners that the story deals with two different PoVs.

Obviously, this would involve plenty of headaches regarding recording, mixing and production (and anything else I'm overlooking). Nevertheless, for the technical people of Escape Pod: would that be feasible?

I'm asking simply because this would make PoV-shifts (like 'em or not) absolutely clear in a *podcast* (as a reader I rarely have difficulties to see them on the written page).

Disclosure: I lifted one of Aliette de Bodard very early stories from the Interzone slush pile back in 2006 (or so), and after meeting her at an EasterCon around that time have been very good friends with her ever since, so I'm following her writing career with interest. But I do mean this inquiry in general: would this work for other stories with PoV-shifts (and yes: as a writer, I'm guilty as charged), and is it feasible?

It's definitely feasible and there are several podcasts (many of which I listen to) that do this. However, it's a question of story-telling philosophy. To demonstrate the dichotomy:
Escape Pod has traditionally focused on a single narrator, stripped-down (minimal voices/sound effects) style of story telling.
The Drabblecast traditionally tends toward having a single narrator plus some voices/sound effects.
The Dunesteef goes "all out" with a different reader for each character, full sound effects, and background music.
Every added level of production of course adds to the amount of work that the readers and producers have to go through during production.

So, it's less a matter of feasibility and more a matter of preference. As I alluded to in my post above, the majority of responders on the forum here seem to prefer that Escape Pod stick to its roots and have a minimalistic approach to story telling.



matweller

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Reply #16 on: August 18, 2013, 03:09:10 PM
Agreed. It can certainly be done, it's a matter of preference. EP has always taken a "live reading" approach, which is to say: as if the narrator were on a stool in front of you. It's why I generally use sound effects very sparingly and a full cast reading or audio drama is a special event here.

It's not to say we couldn't do it more often, just that it's at the editor's discretion, it's a bit more involved and certainly requires some foresight.



evrgrn_monster

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Reply #17 on: August 21, 2013, 03:31:01 AM
Gonna go against the general flow of the thread and talk about how much I enjoyed this story. I'll agree, the POV switch had the potential to be confusing, as I wasn't quite sure if it was Qi talking or not, but the second the lightbulb lit, which was fairly quickly into the story, I was fully sucked into this story. I didn't have a problem hearing the sound shift, either, but I am alone in my echo-y office room most of the day, so sound quality is generally not an issue for me.

I really enjoy sci-fi stories that take on a social issue from our current time and amplify it to an almost absurd amount, to show us the extreme so we can recognize the subtle in our own lives. This one did that. For me, it was less a commentary on tourism and how it can shape a community and a culture, but of individuals trying to bend themselves into a culture that isn't asking them to change at all. The obvious example of this is the woman, but the uncle too follows this theme. Galen just wants him to show his wife a taste of home, but the uncle is afraid to even mention more traditional dishes, wanting to appear more Galactic in front of a Galactic man, when that isn't what Galen wants at all.

This speaks to me on a personal level. I come from two backgrounds (Korean and American) and I feel that if my mother had done what many of her friends did, try to fully assimilate themselves to this new culture they married into, instead of embracing the way they were raised and the many unique things that a different culture can offer in a new land, I would've missed out on a lot. I've seen the woman stuck in the Immersion unit, in a much more real world sense, and it's heartbreaking, not just for friends, but for the family that brought her, a Korean woman, home to love, not this American woman she believed she needed to be.

On that note, much thanks for the author for the happy ending. It was perfect.


Mouseneb

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Reply #18 on: August 21, 2013, 10:05:55 AM
Love the cultural assimilation theme. As an expat working in tourism I found it really interesting to consider what tourists want and get vs. what locals do. There's a power dynamic there, too.

I found the two sides in the story a bit interesting too. Both seemed Asian, it mentioned the Mandarin exam as having been failed, but the locals seemed much more traditionally Asian. I'd have loved to know more about the cultures on both sides.

And since everyone else is mentioning it, I'd like to say that I didn't have a problem with the POV change although I'm in a noisy environment with crappy headphones. And that I really appreciate HAVING these stories to listen to in that environment. Keeps me a little more Zen in what can be a frustrating cross-cultural situation.

Thanks guys!

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SF.Fangirl

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Reply #19 on: August 22, 2013, 01:45:16 AM
I listened to this a week or so back so I do not recall the details of the sounds effects, but I had no trouble with POV shifts so for me (listening in a car through the car's speakers probably) the effects were perfect.  In general I prefer a straight reading of a story just with the addition of sound effects to help me through the parts like POV shifts that don't translate well from written to word.

I most enjoyed the idea and technology in the story.  The characters and their plight did grab me as much until the end.  I really felt something when Galen lost his temper and the girl realized that he hadn't pushed his wife to change - she had done it to herself.  I did kept waiting for a reveal that the immersed woman was actually a lost family member.

But evrgrn_monster I'm not entirely sure that the story has a happy ending.  I think it's hopeful, but I am not sure the wife can be saved.



evrgrn_monster

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Reply #20 on: August 23, 2013, 03:09:21 AM
But evrgrn_monster I'm not entirely sure that the story has a happy ending.  I think it's hopeful, but I am not sure the wife can be saved.

I thought that the main problem was that the woman was so deep into the immersion that she could not separate herself from it. Since she recognized it in the end, I'm just assuming that means she's going to be okay. I figured she was going to stay in as long as it took to help the two others figure out the device, then have them help her get on out.


pseudonyme

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Reply #21 on: August 23, 2013, 09:09:47 AM
Hi everybody, I'm new here so it's my first comment. I'm french (do not hesitate to correct me if I'm writing in frenglish) and listen to Escape pod since February 2011 and episode 299 thanks to the iTunes archives.

I am "glad" not to be the only one who had problems with the changing of points of view, since I rarely have issues with understanding Escape pod/Pseudopod/Drabblecast episodes. I don't really know if it's the execution or the way the story was written that made this one so confusing. I did not even fully understood how the immerser worked nor the ending.
So I can't tell I really enjoyed the story.

Maybe after I read it on the blog.
« Last Edit: August 23, 2013, 09:15:57 AM by pseudonyme »



Gamercow

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Reply #22 on: August 23, 2013, 03:09:16 PM
Not quite sure why this got a Hugo nomination.  For me, it was a bit forgettable, predictable, and repetitive.  I did like the descriptions of the sights and sounds of the world, but for me the story itself was a bit lacking.  Also, I really didn't like the second person perspective bit, and I think the story would have been better without it. 

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Joshua A.C. Newman

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Reply #23 on: August 27, 2013, 09:03:35 PM
Beautiful and painful! Loved the uncommon themes of human interculturality and assimilation burying the person herself.

I particularly loved the muliple, varied female viewpoints and the normalization of a non-Western culture. It felt really human and the author kept us abreast of what was normal and what was odd with enough subtlety that the protagonist's family felt normal — even annoying in that way that only family can be — while the Galactics felt alien, odd, and oppressive without ever becoming villains. They were the beneficiaries of an imperialist process that made them blind to the harm that was done in their name. Galen is even limping along in his crippled marriage with a wife who can only distantly fake personhood. He obviously feels a responsibility to Agnes, since he's tried to help her kick the immerser before, so he comes off as sad, rather than evil. Which is rough, because what he's doing is evil.

It's hard to maintain one's humanity in the face of asymmetrical power systems, whether intercultural or intergender. This story draws those parallels really gracefully.



TheArchivist

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Reply #24 on: August 29, 2013, 03:17:02 PM
Not quite sure why this got a Hugo nomination.  For me, it was a bit forgettable, predictable, and repetitive. 
About three minutes in I found myself thinking "Oh, yes, I've read this one already. Can't remember anything about it." So it would appear I found it forgettable too. Not sure about predictable - I didn't keep thinking "saw that coming" but I did keep waiting for a twist I'd forgotten, which never arrived.

As to the narration, I found the PoV shifts a bit confusing, and only noticed the background sound right at the end, when it started to get intermittent. But then I was listening on cheap equipment during a lunch-time walk.