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Author Topic: EP410: Nutshell  (Read 1361 times)
eytanz
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« on: August 23, 2013, 02:37:26 AM »

EP410: Nutshell

by Jeffrey Wikstrom

Read by Alasdair Stuart

--

Carpet ocean, stretching over miles; hills and valleys and ravines, all upholstered.  The green indoor-outdoor gives way to blue, as land gives way to sea, but the texture never changes.  When it rains, as it sometimes does, the drops pass through the carpet without making contact, as though they or it aren’t really there.  It’s there enough for me to walk on, at least, though spongy in some places and firm in others, as though it conceals hidden frames or foundations.  Out on the blue carpet-sea, it feels stretched, tight, as though I walk on a drumhead.  Maybe if I cracked it open I would find a vast dark expanse of water, lit by undersea jack-o-lanterns and holes that show the sky without breaking up the carpet-underside ceiling.

None of it is real, of course.  That probably goes without saying.

It’s funny; I wasn’t supposed to experience time at all.  When they loaded us into the ship, we were told that the travel would be instantaneous from our perspectives.  One minute lying down in the big white plastic tombs, the next freshly decanted and opening raw new eyes.  We would transition seamlessly from fluorescents and anesthesia to the light of some distant new sun.  Certainly I have no memory of consciousness during departure.  I wouldn’t have wanted to be aware, during that dreadful acceleration which pulped our bones, and wrecked our flesh.  By then they had already guided us from our old bodies into the safety of simulation and storage.

This curated world never bruises me or shows me sharp edges.  Trees are padded poles, slick vinyl trunks capped by rubbery green spheres fifteen, twenty feet up.  Stairsteps run up the hillsides, though even the steepest rises are shallow enough I don’t really need the footholds.  Fat plush toys, pink and green and blue, gambol across the plains and mimic living beasts grazing carpet-grass, or drinking from carpet-brooks.  They ignore me, even when I shove or punch them.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #1 on: August 23, 2013, 10:44:05 PM »

Well, I'll kick this one off like the upcoming NFL season opener...

I liked this one.

'Nuff said.
 Cool

Actually, though I found the ending rather abrupt, I also thought it was brilliant. What a way to end it. I very much enjoyed the exploration of the other crew members' madness, seeing what each of them came up with in their own twisted minds. I loved that Dylan's insanity displayed itself in a childlike regression, what with the footie PJs, pumpkins, and plush toys. I do wish we could have had some deeper exploration of the other crew members, but in reality it would have served little than to expand the word count for curiosity's sake while adding nothing to the plot. So I get it.

The "Captain" was a fun and interesting character who, maybe because of Alasdair's accent, reminded me of Weatley from Portal 2. Plus, the whole idea of him keeping the entire crew in stasis because they'd all gone mad is fantastic. Very original. To me anyway.

I found it interesting that Dylan felt relieved when he realized it would be his clone being sent planetside rather than him because he didn't want to leave. In reality, at that moment Dylan would be both leaving and staying as his conscious mind would be split. Sort of like Schrodinger's Cat clone-style. So rather than being relieved, he would have to be both relieved and terrified until the moment of separation. Then only one version of him would get to feel that relief.

Still, this was a fun story and highly enjoyable after the last three weeks of head scratching Hugo nominees. Good call, EP.
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Windup
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« Reply #2 on: August 24, 2013, 12:45:51 AM »

Well, that was fun!  After the last couple of weeks I thought there was going to be something Deeply Metaphorical about that "ocean carpet," but nope -- it was just delightfully weird.  Grin

I also thought it was a fitting revenge on a society that would coerce people into this "mission for the greater good" that most of the victims fell deeply into their own private worlds and seemed to forget there was a mission at all. Though you have to wonder just what sort of world the semi-sane colonists managed to construct out there.

The Captain was also a delightfully weird touch. The AI sounded like it had gotten caught completely out of its depth by the situation and tried to cram by reading the entire leadership and pop psych section of its library. The result was something that sounded like Tom Peters as written by Lewis Carroll on an opium binge. 

 
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Dem
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« Reply #3 on: August 24, 2013, 01:06:59 PM »

What an incredibly human story! Despite its virtuality and displacement into somewhere that didn't really exist (and who hasn't wandered round Second Life bumping into vinyl trees?), the situation was so fundamentally personal. I think Alasdair's reading of it added hugely to that (and to quite a bit of the text, at times!) - he really brought out the dreadful nonsense and humour of the situation that ends with a 'shrug-your-shoulders, why-ever-not?' conclusion. I don't know how British this was to start with, but it was well British by the end!
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flintknapper
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« Reply #4 on: August 24, 2013, 02:08:33 PM »

The story kept me smiling all the way home from work. While I am an American... so probably a poor judge... this read to me as British comedy. It was like some weird love child of monty python and douglas adams.

It also strangely kept me thinking throughout. It was light-hearted and yet pretty deep and thought provoking at the same time. The visuals of the hero's consciousness and the passage of time were handled excellently. I do not know if I would accept my fate as easily as our hero here does, but I admire his want to go out with a bang! Yes!

Also the use of Alasdair was fun. Normally when I think funny, I think Norm or Nathan. However, Alasdair's accent added to the whole british comedy feel.
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #5 on: August 25, 2013, 09:26:57 AM »

I'm not sure whether it was the incongruity of the opening or Alasdair's accent, but I was put in the mind of that scene in the original Hitchhiker's Guide radio plays where Ford and Arthur are saved by the Heart of Gold.
It was probably a combination of the two.

Anyway, that seemed to set the mood.
It was a pretty fun story.

I found it interesting that Dylan felt relieved when he realized it would be his clone being sent planetside rather than him because he didn't want to leave. In reality, at that moment Dylan would be both leaving and staying as his conscious mind would be split. Sort of like Schrodinger's Cat clone-style. So rather than being relieved, he would have to be both relieved and terrified until the moment of separation. Then only one version of him would get to feel that relief.

Remember, it's the him that got left behind telling us the story, so he's the one who felt relief.

I wonder what a colony of hundreds of clones of myself and a handful of others would be like...
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olivaw
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« Reply #6 on: August 25, 2013, 03:05:56 PM »

Very nice.
This was a very Red Dwarf kind of story, so I really liked the Norman Lovett style inflection that Alastair gave the captain.
Always fun to ask what 'sanity' is, too. Is it someone who faces their imminent annihilation with equanimity? I guess if you're the AI that has to decide, that may well be a reasonable choice.
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kingannoy
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« Reply #7 on: August 27, 2013, 12:26:45 PM »

Just registered to comment on this story.

I loved it!

In the beginning I had some trouble understanding the AI but I believe this was intentional since Dylan didn't seem to understand him either.

But like others have said before me, this story was funny in the way of THHGTTG or Red Dwarf but I found it to be more plausible (or at least easier on the suspension of disbelief) than both of those stories.

Overall this story gets a big:
Yes... yes I would like to screw.
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #8 on: August 27, 2013, 02:00:56 PM »


I found it interesting that Dylan felt relieved when he realized it would be his clone being sent planetside rather than him because he didn't want to leave. In reality, at that moment Dylan would be both leaving and staying as his conscious mind would be split. Sort of like Schrodinger's Cat clone-style. So rather than being relieved, he would have to be both relieved and terrified until the moment of separation. Then only one version of him would get to feel that relief.

Remember, it's the him that got left behind telling us the story, so he's the one who felt relief.

Yes, but in the story it says this:
Quote from: Jeffrey Wikstrom
“I feel better, actually,” I say.  ”It removes the uncertainty.” Knowing I’m not going anywhere, even if some poor xox sap with my memories is doomed to life and death in a body… it gives me a little security.

It's present tense, so the story isn't told as him remembering it, but as him experiencing it. Therefore, dual apprehension/relief is called for. Now, I'm not saying it was written wrong, or that Wikstrom should change it. I'm merely commenting on how interesting it is that Dylan felt relief that he wasn't going when in reality, he was.
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« Reply #9 on: August 27, 2013, 04:08:39 PM »

Really happy to see comedy like this on Escape Pod. I love the confusion, the uneven time flow, and the Captain. You can really see why such a trip would be considered punishment, but you can also understand why someone would want to stick around. You might think that nothing in this simulation can change, but something does.

Yes.
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kingannoy
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« Reply #10 on: August 28, 2013, 11:13:30 AM »

It's present tense, so the story isn't told as him remembering it, but as him experiencing it. Therefore, dual apprehension/relief is called for. Now, I'm not saying it was written wrong, or that Wikstrom should change it. I'm merely commenting on how interesting it is that Dylan felt relief that he wasn't going when in reality, he was.

I don't agree.

I don't think he should be afraid of going outside since he isn't split but rather copied

From Dylan's perspective nothing changes, he probably doesn't even notice it when the copy is made.

The perspective of the poor sap however is totally different, he will feel like he was taken out of the simulation (but since he's a copy can you even say he was  even in there the whole time?) and will go outside.

The poor saps feelings however do not influence the Dylan in the simulation.
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patriciomas
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« Reply #11 on: August 28, 2013, 11:57:27 AM »

Things I liked:

The story. It was pretty fun.

Things I loved:

References to my favorite game ever, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri.

Alasdair's reading. It's always nice to listen to Alasdair narrate a story, but his reading here (of the Captain in particular) was fantastic.
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #12 on: August 28, 2013, 01:18:37 PM »

It's present tense, so the story isn't told as him remembering it, but as him experiencing it. Therefore, dual apprehension/relief is called for. Now, I'm not saying it was written wrong, or that Wikstrom should change it. I'm merely commenting on how interesting it is that Dylan felt relief that he wasn't going when in reality, he was.

I don't agree.

I don't think he should be afraid of going outside since he isn't split but rather copied

From Dylan's perspective nothing changes, he probably doesn't even notice it when the copy is made.

What's the difference between being split and being copied? Either way, his exact consciousness at that moment goes in two directions, one to the planet and one staying on the ship. So his relief in that moment is premature because one version of himself is about to discover that he is the version being sent planetside and that is going to suck.
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« Reply #13 on: August 28, 2013, 04:09:34 PM »

     This was my favourite Escape Pod episode in a long time. It was nice to have a fun story, especially after having just listened to "Mantis Wives" yesterday.

     As has been mentioned, and maybe this is due to Alisdair's accent, this made me think of both Hitchhiker's Guide and Red Dwarf.

     Dylan is the Arthur Dent: the everyman: completely out of his depth, but doing his best to roll with the circumstances anyway. He's not particularly good at anything, but he is at least one of the least screwed up people around. I think a lot of people can relate to that, and I think it is what makes characters like Arthur Dent or Richard Mayhew stay with me long after I have finished their stories. I think Dylan may stay with me for awhile too.

    Captain felt to me like a combination of Holly and Xaphod Beeblebrox. He is clearly competent to run the ship, hence its continued existence, but comes across as a bit of a fool all the same, and you can never quite be sure if he is being genuinely foolish or merely playing at it for Dylan's benefit.

     One thing that occured to me while listening, is a possible attempt at a solution to the mental instability of the would-be colonists. Were I Captain, I would start shrinking all of the individual instances together to force the personalities to interact. In time I am sure many of them would be able to re-adapt to being around other people, and the ones who could not would simply be re-isolated.

     Plenty of people have antisocial tendencies, I know I certainly do, but for most of us it is simply impossible to adopt a hikikomori lifestyle. The desire to have food and shelter overrules our desire to not have to interact with other people;  we force ourselves to do things we do not find pleasant or attractive to avoid things that we find even less pleasant. I suspect that, if forced, the colonists could be re-trained to do the same thing.

     The solution employed in the story is not a bad one though, and it is almost certainly what I would try if my first idea failed.

     The only other thing I would do different is offer Dylan the chance to be decanted for good instead of just being copied like he had been before. I'm not sure what the difference would actually be since the POV Dylan is really just a copy of the original flesh and blood Dylan anyway, and destroying his file(s) would be the same as what is eventually going to happen to him anyway, but it seems more humane to me to at least give him the illusion of a choice.

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« Reply #14 on: August 28, 2013, 06:44:55 PM »

Yeah, I think that's the same, except that they'd turn off the current one. He didn't want to kill his slow-time, pajamaed, virtual self.

I'd love to see them interact on occasion, watching his meaty selves evolve in fast motion as people while he stayed in his nursery, screwing Captain.
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adrianh
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« Reply #15 on: August 29, 2013, 04:13:02 AM »

Loved it. Nuff said.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #16 on: September 04, 2013, 08:59:00 PM »

I enjoyed this one quite a bit, and Alasdair's narration was really the icing on the cake for me. I love the concept of an AI in way over its head and trying to find feasible, sane options amongst the craziness.


It's present tense, so the story isn't told as him remembering it, but as him experiencing it. Therefore, dual apprehension/relief is called for. Now, I'm not saying it was written wrong, or that Wikstrom should change it. I'm merely commenting on how interesting it is that Dylan felt relief that he wasn't going when in reality, he was.

I don't agree.

I don't think he should be afraid of going outside since he isn't split but rather copied

From Dylan's perspective nothing changes, he probably doesn't even notice it when the copy is made.
What's the difference between being split and being copied? Either way, his exact consciousness at that moment goes in two directions, one to the planet and one staying on the ship. So his relief in that moment is premature because one version of himself is about to discover that he is the version being sent planetside and that is going to suck.

I'm with Cutter on this one, he should definitely feel anxious because a version of him will be heading to the planet. Reminds me strongly of Hugh Jackman's character in The Prestige
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SF.Fangirl
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« Reply #17 on: September 06, 2013, 08:02:47 PM »

Meh.  Interesting idea that left me kind of cold.  I couldn't work up any caring for any of the characters - like Episode 408 but zero feelings at all.  But then again, Red Dwarf never appealed to me - too silly,
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evrgrn_monster
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« Reply #18 on: September 09, 2013, 08:10:51 PM »

Here is me, hear me echo the opinions of my fellow forum members:

Loved this story!

Well, allow me to backtrack. At first, I did not love this story. In fact, I was just getting an odd feel from it, like this was just a weird Philip K Dick/Inception-style dream weaving story that was going to get far too complicated.

Instead, this was an honest, hilarious look at a different side of a familiar SF story that took me completely by surprise. The author has an excellent handle on the pacing of this story; I felt lost in time, but yet completely at ease, just like the main character. I liked the long, languid descriptions of the various dreamscapes, coupled with the terse, utterly hilarious interactions with The Captain; it was a smart mix. The ending was different; not hopeful, really, what with the crazy minds of disembodied travelers being shunted out into space to finally begin the whole dying process, but I think it was poetic, in a way. Also, hands down one of my favorite final lines in an EscapePod story.
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ProperPunctuation
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« Reply #19 on: September 09, 2013, 09:27:03 PM »

The thing that struck me about this story is that Captain tests stuff, waits around for some time, and then comes back to Dylan asking for help. Personally I love AI's, and the combination of a simulated world, copies of people, space madness, and colonies is brilliant enough, but then there is a TACTLESS AI. I love SF, but this story doesn't feel like a lot of SF-it doesn't have to try to insert fake science and technology to remind you that it's a science fiction story, instead it just is.
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