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Voting has started for the Podcastle Flash Fiction contest. Anyone who has made at least one post should be able to see the stories down in the Arcade.

New groups are posted every two days through the end of April.

Author Topic: PC274: Far As You Can Go  (Read 5972 times)

Talia

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on: August 20, 2013, 02:07:11 PM
PodCastle 274: Far as You Can Go

by Greg van Eekhout

Read by Dave Thompson

Originally published in Flytrap. (Which has just opened up again. Yay!)

I didn’t go to school because I was allergic to the neuroboosters, but that didn’t mean I was stupid. It just meant I had a lot of time on my hands. Mostly, I hung out with Beeman, scrap-combing all over Ex-Town and trading metal and electronic bits and whatever for food and goods and services. We were good businessmen.

Beeman was a robot, only it didn’t matter so much to me because all the skin on his face was torn away so you could see his plastic cheeks and hear the whiz-whirr of his eyes when they moved. This made him okay, because he wasn’t pretending to be a person or anything else he wasn’t. He wasn’t trying to be fake.

We were going over our day’s take the afternoon that I first smelled the Far-away. The grey outlines of the downtown towers faded into the sky like sick ghosts, and over our heads, police stingers whined, invisible in the haze. Beeman and I sat with our backs against a crumbled section of concrete wall. At my feet was a can of split-pea soup, not too far out of date, a couple of nine volt batteries, a coil of O-net cable, and two stainless steel rods that were maybe chopsticks.

“Good trade,” Beeman said, his words beginning and ending with a little click that I wished would go away. The click hadn’t always been there in his speech, but I figured his voicebox was a little broken.

“Except for the soup,” I said. “I’ll bring that home to my mom.”

“Your mom is fat and eats too much.”

“Shut your grill.” I banged the soup can against his head, but not hard enough to dent either. Beeman wasn’t trying to be mean. He just had some bad lines of code.


Rated R: Contains Robots and F-Bombs

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: September 12, 2013, 12:34:14 PM by Talia »



smithmikeg

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Reply #1 on: August 20, 2013, 03:46:44 PM
"The bullet cannot choose its trajectory" perfectly describes being a mid-career professional.  I aimed and fired back in college, and now my role is to fly as best I can, no matter what I think of the target now.

quia ego sic dico


flintknapper

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Reply #2 on: August 21, 2013, 04:14:56 PM
I liked it and while Dave admits it is probably a science fiction tale, I think you can make the argument that this is sci-fantasy on the logic that it is a fantasy tale done in a science fiction setting. A futuristic version of something like the Odyssey if you will. Much of the symbolism in the story echoes of a great Greek epic.

As for the story, it was solid. With Dave reading it, it reminded me another robot/human buddy story Resnick wrote (which I think Dave also read) on escaped a year or more ago. In both stories, the narrator finds more humanity in his robot accomplice than he does in others of his own species.

I think what did it for me was the setting. It was well crafted. While nothing new, the world the story took place in felt complete without the author having to explicitly explain anything. There is also an underlying sorrow in this future. While the matter at hand is resolved at the end of the story, I feel like their adventure is just beginning. Other hardships will come, but they will find strength in each other and carry on.



Leishalynn

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Reply #3 on: August 21, 2013, 06:05:37 PM
Well-written and well-read, I agree, but because the story's trajectory was so obvious (after Beeman pulled out his heart, which was shocking), I felt the dystopic world coulda-shoulda been more sharply drawn. However, as I considered examples to back up my criticism, I realized how very dense Mr. van Eekhout's prose is, and how he made me feel his story with so few words, and my true feeling is not that he fell short, but that he left me wanting more.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2013, 06:07:12 PM by Leishalynn »



Cutter McKay

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Reply #4 on: August 21, 2013, 10:44:37 PM
I'm a big fan of the "Buddy Tale". Woody and Buzz, Riggs and Murtaugh, Frodo and Smeagol  ;)

I liked this one for the most part. As Dave suspected, I was left scratching my head about the fantasy element, but he covered my concerns, or glossed them over well enough, in the outro. It had allusions to dragons, knights, and witches... good 'nuff.

Like Flintknapper, I was reminded of Resnik's "Soulmates" which ran on Escape Pod last year. I enjoy tales of friendship between humans and robots or AI, and I thought this one did a good job with the trope.

The thing I both loved and despised was the ending point. We knew, of course, as soon as the boy hid Beeman's body that he would find/trade for/purchase a new power supply and go back, and I was not disappointed in this. (Though I was surprised van Eekhout went for the, "Look what I found!" approach rather than making the boy purchase or steal one from a shop. The chances of finding a functional power supply in a trash heap nearly pushed me past my suspension of disbelief.) What I loved is that the boy didn't find Paradise and then go back for Beeman. He found the beach, but, like the rest of the world, it was literally a dump. But he also saw the gleaming city in the ocean and we're left with the hope that it will end up being the paradise they're looking for. Of course, he has to go get Beeman first... the end.

This is also what I hated about this story because it felt like it ended in the middle of the tale. Did he find Beeman undisturbed? Or did the witches find him first? Did the power cell actually work? And did they eventually make it out to the floating city, and what trouble did they run into trying to cross the water? I get the idea of leaving your readers wanting more, and I absolutely do want more, but almost to the point that it became a let down. It's not that I want more about these characters in the future; I want more about them now. I feel like I was denied the real end of the story. Like reaching the end of Halo 2, and the Master Chief is riding the forerunner ship back to Earth to stop the Covenant, and then it ends. And we all went... "Wait, what?! That's it?"

In all, I did enjoy the story. I just wish it had been completed.

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Moritz

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Reply #5 on: August 22, 2013, 02:04:02 PM
It's a story that didn't leave a big impression, but then I don't like robots, buddy movies, or postapocalyptic settings. This is what I'd call a medium story, standard quality but nothing I get excited about.

The fantasy element was explicitly pointed out at by Dave in the outro and I'd agree with him that it reflects a hero's journey - but then a hero's journey is nothing specific to fantasy, is it?



Procyon

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Reply #6 on: August 22, 2013, 02:08:13 PM
I enjoyed this story.  Though I have to second Cutter's opinion that it felt more like a prelude than a fully fledged tale.  The fact that the author used it as the basis for a novel is not surprising at all, after hearing it.

I have to say, I imagined Beeman looking a lot like the robots from this episode of Star Trek Voyager.  Basically a human-shaped metal mold around a computer.  And I dunno if this is what the author had in mind, but I also though the idea of a robot that "sees" by taking a series of pictures, rather than the more cinematic constant video stream, to be cool and robotically efficient.  

We can all mostly relate, I think, to having a more adventurous friend.  Having this friend also be a possibly malfunctioning robot who's also willing to lay down his life for you?  Definitely takes it to another level.



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #7 on: August 23, 2013, 06:12:33 AM
I know exactly what the fantasy element was for me (and, yeah, at the end I was wondering where it was) - the three witches. Not just a mythic device, but seeming possessing powers our boy cannot comprehend.

Or maybe they just disappeared when he wasn't looking. I could be wrong, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.



chemistryguy

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Reply #8 on: August 23, 2013, 05:24:33 PM
Predictable? Somewhat.

Enjoyable? Very.

Fantasy? I'll buy it.

Favorite verb? Schlorpped.

Dave Narrating?  Yea, baby!


Note:  Though I could have understood if the boy decided to move on without Beeman, I sat poised on my seat, ready to scream at him if he didn't go back.


Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #9 on: August 25, 2013, 08:38:25 AM
Rated R: contains robots and F bombs.

I haven't listened to the story yet, but Robots and the F Bomb would be a totally awesome name for a rock band.
Also, I want to read a book called The Robot and the F Bombs all about how a single solitary robot refuses to succumb to social pressure and use cuss words.
And finally, I want to watch a movie called Robots and F Bombs about how an advance task force of robots is sent to terraform a new planet for us, but first they need to exterminate the indigenous life forms. But they encounter them and have a few heart-to-hearts and learn and grow and become human and decide not to terraform the planet and live with the aliens happily ever after until they rust because the aliens are not technologically advanced and vegetable oil just won't cut it. But only after fighting off a wave of human soldiers sent to find out what's taking so long.
« Last Edit: August 25, 2013, 08:41:22 AM by Max e^{i pi} »

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Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #10 on: August 26, 2013, 05:22:13 PM
OK, now I listened to it.

Pretty cool. At first I thought that the fantasy element was that Beeman would lead the boy out to sea, and then on a path tangent to the sea and they would sail off to the west bearing the glowing toxic waste of a Silmaril. And when they arrive a small faun will tell them about a shortcut in a closet.
But then the Weird Sisters showed up and I was "Oh, that's alright then".

All in all a nice story, but nothing in it stood out. I don't think that it will remain with me for long, but while I listened to it I thoroughly enjoyed it.
« Last Edit: August 27, 2013, 02:41:39 PM by Max e^{i pi} »

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Devoted135

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Reply #11 on: August 27, 2013, 11:03:21 PM
Yeah... weird sisters plus hero's journey, yeah... ::)

I quite enjoyed this story and really hope that the power source brings Beeman back to life. When they first set off for the beach I was worried that it would all just be a toxic dump so I'm glad that it was at least still liveable. I also couldn't help but laugh every time he talked about "removing fish from their native environment." That was priceless. :)

My biggest complaint is the title. Only a week later and every time I open this thread I have to read a couple comments just to remember what story we're talking about. The title does nothing to jog my memory.



Cutter McKay

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Reply #12 on: August 28, 2013, 03:21:05 AM
I also couldn't help but laugh every time he talked about "removing fish from their native environment." That was priceless. :)

I liked this, too, but expected it to play a bigger role later on. It's such an odd phrase, and it cropped up more than once, so I expected there to be some tie in at the end, when they arrive in paradise and are compared to fish removed from their native environment or something. I was actually surprised it didn't come back up that way. Not disappointed, I really liked it as just a funny phrase, but surprised.

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Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #13 on: August 28, 2013, 07:33:49 AM
I also couldn't help but laugh every time he talked about "removing fish from their native environment." That was priceless. :)

I liked this, too, but expected it to play a bigger role later on. It's such an odd phrase, and it cropped up more than once, so I expected there to be some tie in at the end, when they arrive in paradise and are compared to fish removed from their native environment or something. I was actually surprised it didn't come back up that way. Not disappointed, I really liked it as just a funny phrase, but surprised.
Well, that metaphor did come about. He never actually did remove a fish from its native environment to eat it, because he could identify. He and Beeman were removed (albeit by their own volition) from their environment, and it was quite unpleasant. So therefore he feels that he can't really do that to a fish. But the crabs...

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Whiskerwing

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Reply #14 on: August 28, 2013, 04:39:19 PM
Lots of fun with this one -- really enjoyed both the sci fi elements AND the fantasy elements (you can't tell me there wasn't SOMETHING going on with those witches, no?) Good, satisfying story with a lovely hook leaving me wanting more at the end.

I loved the little details, like the description of the pea soup, and the clicking when Beeman talked. I also liked that the "your mom is fat" was actually used later in the story instead of it just being shock value at the beginning.


Cantor

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Reply #15 on: August 29, 2013, 02:10:38 PM
It may be hard to see the fantasy in this one, but that didn't make it hard to love. It would be easy to think of Beeman as a robot, or a golem, or a construct, and it wouldn't change the story.



evrgrn_monster

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Reply #16 on: August 30, 2013, 02:49:44 AM
Man, I am a sucker for buddy stories and this was a solid example of one. I'll echo the room and say that although it was certainly nothing new, it was quite full and well written, which is really all I can ask of a story.

I'm way with Cutter, though. I would've much preferred a story where we weren't left hanging. For a stories like this, kinda like Lord of the Rings, where there story is mostly in the journey and the miles and miles of walking with random tussles with monsters and meanies, I feel it is important to have a closed ending. With this, I felt like I walked all this way with our plucky hero, and raised my hand for a high five at the shore, and then he just left me hanging.

This also reminded me of A Boy and His Dog. Not the same tale, for sure, but a lot of similar elements.

All in all, good story, though. Not fantasy, for sure, and I feel like there has got to be some pretty great actual science fantasy that may have been able to take over for this piece on this particular podcast, but I had fun, so I don't really mind.


Zorknot

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Reply #17 on: August 31, 2013, 06:10:35 AM
I liked the mechanical dragon and how it was the robot rather than the human who was seeing fantasy in all the tech, but Beeman having to die seemed like a diabolus ex machina. He's a robot. Just get a new power supply. Reassemble, Stephanie.

The three sisters didn't seem to fit either. Everything else had a technological explanation but the crazy ladies seemed to be pure fantasy. I was okay with that when I though that the protagonist was crossing over into a fantasy realm, but instead he ends up salvaging spare parts on the shore of the same sci-fi dystopia he started out in.

The main issue I had, though, was that the protagonist apparently abandoned his mother. Up until the point where Beeman "dies" it seemed like the protagonist was going to go out to the beach, catch some fish, look around a bit, have an adventure or two, and then come back to help out his mom. But after Beeman's sacrifice, which I didn't understand the necessity or the mechanics of*, the protagonist goes on to spend a period of days or weeks learning about the beach and how to get along there. Then he goes off to see if there is anything interesting out at sea. All that time I'm wondering how he's going to help his mom get out of the hell hole she's living in. I could understand if his mother was dead or so far gone that she was as good as dead, but that didn't seem to be the case. If he was planning on making more money or something before coming back home, that would make sense too, but after the "bullet trajectory" speech she isn't even mentioned. And while the bullet analogy works for getting the protagonist to the beach, it doesn't work for him staying there...

Ah just a moment, my brain is informing me that if a sacrifice was required to get the boy to the beach, one would be required for him to return, so that might be why he was stuck. Still don't understand the mechanics of that though. I would think there'd be other ways to go.

The story had a definite arc, with a three-dimensional character, an intriguing world and some funny, thought-provoking dialogue. The boy in the story was like a lot of young men, I suppose, leaving their family and friends behind to pursue their dreams. I guess I just wish he sent his mom a postcard or something.
« Last Edit: August 31, 2013, 06:16:35 AM by Zorknot »

The world is full of mistake.


chemistryguy

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Reply #18 on: September 05, 2013, 02:29:48 PM
The three sisters didn't seem to fit either. Everything else had a technological explanation but the crazy ladies seemed to be pure fantasy. I was okay with that when I though that the protagonist was crossing over into a fantasy realm, but instead he ends up salvaging spare parts on the shore of the same sci-fi dystopia he started out in.

There was a truly horrible made-for-tv movie called Mazes and Monsters starring Tom Hanks back in '82.  In short, Tom's character loses his ability to judge between reality and fantasy and spends part of the film wandering the streets of NY, convinced he's on a quest.  This story gave me this kind of a vibe.

It was already made clear that Beeman had a few screws rattling loose in head.  I chose to see everything that came after battling the "dragon" as a distortion of reality.  I'm not sure what part of the real world the witches could be representing, but they don't make any sense in this story otherwise.


Zorknot

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Reply #19 on: September 08, 2013, 05:07:57 AM
Quote
  I chose to see everything that came after battling the "dragon" as a distortion of reality.  I'm not sure what part of the real world the witches could be representing, but they don't make any sense in this story otherwise.

But we're in the boy's perspective, aren't we? Did the witches exist at all? Did Beeman just rip his power supply out for no reason? Who took the power supply if there weren't any witches? Why, if the boy is hallucinating the witches, is he completely knurd afterward?

Maybe there was something I missed when I was listening.

The world is full of mistake.


chemistryguy

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Reply #20 on: September 10, 2013, 10:31:48 AM
Quote
 I chose to see everything that came after battling the "dragon" as a distortion of reality.  I'm not sure what part of the real world the witches could be representing, but they don't make any sense in this story otherwise.

But we're in the boy's perspective, aren't we? Did the witches exist at all? Did Beeman just rip his power supply out for no reason? Who took the power supply if there weren't any witches? Why, if the boy is hallucinating the witches, is he completely knurd afterward?

Maybe there was something I missed when I was listening.

I don't think you missed anything.  This again is just my interpretation, but all, if any, hallucinations are being experienced by both.  I Googled and Wiki'd and this explanation fits best:

Folie à deux (/fɒˈli ə ˈduː/; French for "a madness shared by two"), or shared psychosis, is a psychiatric syndrome in which symptoms of a delusional belief are transmitted from one individual to another. This syndrome is most commonly diagnosed when the two or more individuals concerned live in proximity and may be socially or physically isolated and have little interaction with other people.

So the "witches" might have just been a trio of bag ladies, begging for loose change down in the tunnel.  Beeman and the boy are in full-bore adventure mode and could have interpreted this as "none shall pass without a sacrifice".


Unblinking

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Reply #21 on: October 17, 2013, 09:09:27 PM
I enjoyed this reasonably well.  I liked the idea of a glitchy robot as a quest companion, sending you off on quests which may or may not bear any resemblance to reality.  And the moment when he pulls out his own battery did send me for a loop. 



Gary

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Reply #22 on: October 30, 2013, 10:19:22 PM
All in all I really liked this one.

The world was a little thin in places but interestingly meaty in others. I would really rather have had a few more bonding type adventures between the two but I guess every story can't be a "Giant". :)

As you might be able to tell from my sudden splurge of comments, I have a backlog of Podcastles I am listening to and well, I hope there are more like this.



Unblinking

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Reply #23 on: October 31, 2013, 01:50:14 PM
As you might be able to tell from my sudden splurge of comments, I have a backlog of Podcastles I am listening to and well, I hope there are more like this.

Woot for comment splurge!  It's fun to see old episodes rise to the surface, to remind me of all the stories I've heard here.