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Author Topic: EP412: Thirty Seconds From Now  (Read 15316 times)

eytanz

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on: September 06, 2013, 11:33:21 AM
EP412: Thirty Seconds From Now

by John Chu

Read by Joel Kenyon

--

One second from now, the bean bag will thunk into Scott’s left palm. From reflex, his fingers will wrap around it before he’ll toss it back up again. The trick of juggling lies not in the catch but in the toss. The bean bag will arc up from his right hand, but Scott sees his left hand blur now. Phantom left hands at the few places his left hand may be one second from now overlap with each other, and with his real left hand about a foot above the cold tile floor he’s sitting on. The same holds for the phantom bean bags. They overlap each other and the result looks nearly as cubic, red, and solid in the air, stark against the dorm room’s blank walls, as the bean bag does right now resting in Scott’s right hand.

He’s making a good toss. This catch will be easy. His three bean bag cascade looks to him the way he imagines it must look to anyone else, well, if they were near-sighted and missing their glasses.

When he makes a bad toss, translucent Scotts scatter across the room. They reach for the beds on either side of him, lunge for his or his roommate’s desk, and dive over his bed for the closet. They all stretch for the myriad translucent bean bags raining from the stucco ceiling. The bean bags threaten to knock over the desk lamps, bury themselves in the acting textbooks that line his closet shelf and smack against the window blinds. A desperate enough toss and a phantom bean bag may fly through the doorway into the hall.

He does not need his time-skewed senses to know he will eventually make a bad toss. As hard as he tries to keep his sight solid, to make his life predictable, he will drop a bean bag. That’s why he’s sitting on the floor. It’s easier to pick up dropped bean bags that way.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Djinndustries

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Reply #1 on: September 06, 2013, 04:10:11 PM
I really liked this story, I thought it reflected the tricky nature of the whole many worlds/branching choices idea.

I also really liked that homosexuality wasn't a gimmick here, it was just part of the story. Too often speculative writers seem to pull it out to parade around their ideologies and it seems...forced (Mieville, Barker, I'm looking at you). I'm really curious what hetero relationships in fiction read like to a homosexual reader, do they seem forced by certain writers (Twilight?).




Melsana

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Reply #2 on: September 06, 2013, 04:38:27 PM
I felt the same way.  I'm not usually a fan of Homosexuality in stories, mostly cause it does feel forced or there mostly for the shock value, or just over used, like in stories where the characters sexuality has no bearing on the story at all.  But this is one of the first stories that I felt it really fit, and that if it had been a heterosexual relationship it just wouldn't have worked as well.  (and not just cause of the roommate stuff)



l33tminion

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Reply #3 on: September 06, 2013, 09:57:54 PM
I also really liked that homosexuality wasn't a gimmick here, it was just part of the story.

I agree, but I do think the author intended that detail to allude to certain thematic parallels about "being in the closet" or trying to appear the way society wants you to appear (though the way the main character is trying to fit in is not by hiding their sexual identity).  I think that worked well for the overall tone of this story.



Windup

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Reply #4 on: September 07, 2013, 03:00:36 PM
I really liked this story.  The intertwining of fantastical elements with the mundane reality of college life -- messy roommates, institutional food, sex, etc. worked really, really well.  I also thought it was a great depiction of how "second sight" would actually work in the real world.  That's one of the things I admire most in stories -- the ability to really see reality from a character's point of view, especially when the character is very different from the audience.

I also agree with those who appreciated the "normalness" of the gay relationship.  While I agree that there was some thematic resonance, it was treated in basically the way a heterosexual romance would have been treated -- part of the story and part of the character's life.  I think maybe this is what social progress looks like. Though I suppose real progress will have come when we stop noticing it completely.

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Yoimistu

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Reply #5 on: September 07, 2013, 08:32:27 PM
This story was a pleasant change of pace from what I've been reading/listing too,

It was just about two guys and what they are going to do (I guess) it was a fun story and I agree with Djinndustries that the fact homosexuality wasn't a gimmick here shows this story was unique I look forward too stories like this and nutshell (nutshell was good).



flintknapper

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Reply #6 on: September 08, 2013, 02:35:06 PM
I agree with everyone in that the homosexuality was not a gimmick, but I felt like the future tense of the story was. I get that being able to see in the future was the hook, but I hard time connecting with it. I found the wording in future tense a bit distracting.

It was that aspect which made the story science fiction. I guess I can look past it, but I had a harder time getting into the story because of it.

Solid writing and narration outside of that. The relationship and circumstances were believable and approachable. You do not have to be gay to understand and relate to the interactions of the characters.

One thing I was a little surprised at was the fact that the narrator mentioned in high school he had to worry about singled out because of his homosexuality. Now I am a ways removed from highschool, but I thought most kids were accepting of alternative lifestyles now days.... I guess not or obviously not at our hero's school. That is sad.



Windup

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Reply #7 on: September 08, 2013, 03:33:12 PM

One thing I was a little surprised at was the fact that the narrator mentioned in high school he had to worry about singled out because of his homosexuality. Now I am a ways removed from highschool, but I thought most kids were accepting of alternative lifestyles now days.... I guess not or obviously not at our hero's school. That is sad.


I'm quite a way from high school myself, but my daughter is a more recent graduate.  While there was certainly more acceptance of gay people at her suburban high school than there was at the rural school where I grew up, kids can still be pretty vicious, and they can still pick up on sexual orientation as a reason to single someone out. 

While many -- maybe even most -- schools have made progress in combating bullying on an institutional level, I don't think individual actions are going to stop anytime soon.  Especially when there are influential organizations giving religious sanction to the persecution of gay and lesbian people. 

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


chemistryguy

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Reply #8 on: September 09, 2013, 11:25:14 AM
I must admit, the Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge moment took me off guard.  It added to the feelings of temporal confusion that Scott must be encountering all the time.

And yet the vision of his future relationship are clear up to the moment where he may be physically beaten or not.  Where everything else in his life including the trajectory of his juggling bean bags is out of focus, he has already decided to follow through with Tony.  Starting from a glimpse of a few seconds ahead to several months, he learns who Tony is, observes as the relationship slowly turns sour and eventually end in heartbreak, regardless of whether Tony becomes violent or not.  And he goes through with it anyway.

This story and one of my favorite movies, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, stand out in my mind as perfect examples of how destiny does not require the cogs of the universe to force the inevitable.  Sometimes the will of the human mind is sufficient.   



Yoimistu

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Reply #9 on: September 09, 2013, 08:48:54 PM
I don' know if its me over-thinking or under-thinking this but the end phrase lead me to believe he had seen this possible out come and now had to relive it,but the title "Thirty seconds from now" made me think all of this took place in the place in the space of thirty seconds despite the many time phrases.

Oh,
Hi Assistant Editor Nathan.



Jade Praerie

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Reply #10 on: September 10, 2013, 03:07:33 AM
Chilling.



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #11 on: September 10, 2013, 05:46:46 AM
The thing I liked best about this story is that it succeeded in making me forget our narrators limitations vis-a-vis prognostication. So we realize at the end that he's seeing the entire six months all at one go, even while experiencing the branch points that he sees during that time.

Which of course raises a logical problem, now that I think about it, the problem of infinite wishes. Or rather, an almost Zeno-like paradox. If Scott can see as far as six months into the future -or futures- why can't he see himself seeing farther into the futures? That's to say, why can't see himself seeing forward six months three months from now?

I thought the story meshed together well, the reasons for his anti-social behavior and fear of the outside or that which he cannot control fitting in well with fear of persecution (though I can't see into the future and I'd still lock the damn door, Tony). I don't think I'd really want this power as described here.

The characters were also well--drawn and believable.



TheFunkeyGibbon

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Reply #12 on: September 10, 2013, 05:28:40 PM
I liked this. It was an interesting story and I felt that with a slight push in a different direction it could have been a Pseudopod story...



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #13 on: September 11, 2013, 09:30:08 AM
Add me to the list of people who liked this story, for most of the above-mentioned reasons.
Another thing that I liked was the simplicity of it: he can see the future, he knows what's going to happen, he knows it's going to hurt... but he does it anyway. Life is pain, and Scott finally decides to start living.
But it's more than that: who among us hasn't been hurt, often by those who love us the most? (Those who are closest to us have the potential to cause the most pain) And at some point we all think "If I would have known that this was going to happen I never would have..."
But Scot knows.
And he does it anyway. Because sometimes it's worth the pain.

Which of course raises a logical problem, now that I think about it, the problem of infinite wishes. Or rather, an almost Zeno-like paradox. If Scott can see as far as six months into the future -or futures- why can't he see himself seeing farther into the futures? That's to say, why can't see himself seeing forward six months three months from now?
Because he can only see futures that are happening around him, where he happens to be.
All the future scenes he sees take place in his dorm room, nowhere else.
Being in the same building as lots of people doesn't bother him, only being in the same room as all of them.
He even mentions it himself, at some point.

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Dem

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Reply #14 on: September 11, 2013, 01:04:12 PM
"He’s seen the movie of his life. Now, he’ll live the whole thing." Well, good luck with that!
I suppose, if I'm being objective, Scott's wimpish behaviour didn't endear him to me and Tony I didn't know well enough to care about. I also found the premise rather thin, logistically - with that much interference, so much of what appears to be a fairly normal life progression would not seem feasible.
If I'm being subjective - I was bored by a story that had too many holes in it and took too long to get to its payoff.
Right, now I'll go look at what everyone else said :)

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InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #15 on: September 12, 2013, 05:49:40 AM
Scott's wimpish behaviour

I wouldn't characterize his behavior as "wimpish" but cautious and informed. A wimp is afraid of being hurt. Scott is well aware of the hurt, and it in fact the hurt stays with him, making him cautious in avoiding situations where he's already experienced how he could be hurt.

In a curious sort of way, this story plays like an inverse of EP411, "Loss, with Chalk Diagrams" - in that story the primary tension was between someone who accepted the pain of grief and someone who decided (and then regretted) to nullify it.
Here, we have someone seeks to avoid pain he's already experienced, whether or not it "happened". Or will.



adrianh

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Reply #16 on: September 12, 2013, 08:13:53 AM
Scott's wimpish behaviour didn't endear him to me

Oddly I took exactly the opposite opinion of Scott away from the story. This is somebody who has, until this point, deliberately chosen to live a very isolated life. Both because of his special abilities and, I assume, his sexuality. At the end of the story he's taken it upon himself to change that - despite knowing that it's going to bring him pain. Possibly physical, definitely emotional. Because it's worth it.

Doesn't sound very wimpish to me ;-)

What I liked about the story was the way it took what everybody does when they embark on a relationship and made it "real". Who hasn't thought through some best/worst cases when they first go up to somebody they like? Who hasn't walked away from somebody at some point without saying hello because the possibility of rejection was too much to deal with?

Despite that I agree that the story took too long to get to the pay off for my liking. The arc of the relationship seemed fairly inevitable to me given Scott's powers and what would make an interesting story. So while the parallel world probability-fight was a nice way to mark the turning point in the relationship, I was metaphorically tapping my foot waiting for it to arrive.



mb

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Reply #17 on: September 12, 2013, 07:37:15 PM
liked the story
not sure I would qualify it as SciFi, but that doesn't really matter...
I specifically liked the description of the male gay relationship: often such descriptions are either awkard or very gay-in-your face, as if pushing an agenda. here it was done in a way that it didnt really matter whether it was gay or hetero, just another relationship choice.
very well done!



rlzack

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Reply #18 on: September 18, 2013, 11:57:07 PM
I loved this story. The living of the future in a way that some of us relive the past (ie instantaneously) was of course the whole point. But the growth shown by Scott during the story (which technically takes place in an instant) really hit me. It is more growth than some characters in other stories make during months of storytime.

I was not thinking about where this was going as I was listening, I was just enjoying the story. And the ending was superb.

Kudos to John Chu for an excellent piece.

(And hello, Escapodians. This is my first post, but hopefully won't be my last. I've been enjoying Escape Pod for many years, but tend not to interact.)



evrgrn_monster

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Reply #19 on: September 19, 2013, 03:58:27 AM
Man, was this story satisfying. Seriously, there are some stories that, with the last line, make me feel the same satisfaction I feel after a super great meal. Thirty Seconds From Now is one of those stories. Time manipulation is a tricky beast to tame, and this was a good example of how to tackle the idea. Even while describing the way Scott's odd power works, the author was still telling a beautiful, completely identifiable story, which impressed me.

More than Eternal Sunshine, this story reminded me of the section of the Watchmen comic where Dr Manhattan first gets to Mars and is describing his perception of time and the people he has loved and lost. It is still my absolute favorite graphic novel segments of all time, and this is one of the first written word pieces I've seen come close to matching the masterful wielding of the all-seeing man who wants more than anything to just love and be loved in return.


jpv

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Reply #20 on: September 19, 2013, 08:21:59 PM
Was there ever a solid reason given for why Tony's future didn't really change much? It was a neat idea and I can definitely see the appeal to someone living in a constant state of sense-flux, but who is really that stable / deterministic in their life choices?

On the flip side, why exactly were things like the bean bags bouncing around the room so random? There's something to be said for chaotic systems, but at that scale, I don't think that you'd see much change in behavior. More of the Matrix sort of idea that you aren't there to make the choice (in this case, how exactly to throw the beanbag) because you've already made it. Something to think about.

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matweller

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Reply #21 on: September 20, 2013, 02:02:09 AM
I struggled for a minute about what the author was trying to say with Tony being constant, and I guess I reconciled it as the future influencing the past. As if the future knew the choice Scott would make to walk through, and therefore there was no need for multiples. I think it's significant too that he blurs during their confrontation, as if to say there is a brief moment there where Scott's potential reaction calls the future into question.



Djinndustries

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Reply #22 on: September 20, 2013, 03:03:27 AM
Was there ever a solid reason given for why Tony's future didn't really change much? It was a neat idea and I can definitely see the appeal to someone living in a constant state of sense-flux, but who is really that stable / deterministic in their life choices?

I think this was just a way to articulate that their interaction was fated, as if there were no alternative futures and he was 'the one'....at least in the time range he was looking. God knows I've had relationships with escape velocities more than I could have mustered at the time.



jpv

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Reply #23 on: September 20, 2013, 03:45:38 AM
I struggled for a minute about what the author was trying to say with Tony being constant, and I guess I reconciled it as the future influencing the past. As if the future knew the choice Scott would make to walk through, and therefore there was no need for multiples. I think it's significant too that he blurs during their confrontation, as if to say there is a brief moment there where Scott's potential reaction calls the future into question.
I get that from Scott's end that when he sees Tony being constant, his own decisions become far more constant. That makes sense most of the time, that so long as he has some time to prepare, he should be able to make a rather static decision.

But it's still strange that Tony is static in the first place. It almost seems like he knows why though, the one time that he branches out. If I remember correctly, it seems like Tony actually caused that to happen...

I think this was just a way to articulate that their interaction was fated, as if there were no alternative futures and he was 'the one'....at least in the time range he was looking. God knows I've had relationships with escape velocities more than I could have mustered at the time.
Hmm. Not sure what I think about the idea of 'fate' in this context. Scott more than anyone sees just how chaotic the world is.

Now I wonder if there are others like Tony. Who / where are they? This could be a interesting larger universe if Scott were to run into someone else like himself. How would the futures interact?

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chemistryguy

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Reply #24 on: September 20, 2013, 02:33:26 PM


I think this was just a way to articulate that their interaction was fated, as if there were no alternative futures and he was 'the one'....at least in the time range he was looking. God knows I've had relationships with escape velocities more than I could have mustered at the time.
Hmm. Not sure what I think about the idea of 'fate' in this context.

I wouldn't label it as fate, but determinism is at play here.  The latest RadioLab podcast examines the question of human responsibility and one of the guests makes an excellent point about why we can't escape our own biological makeup.  When time comes to make a decision about anything, it's resolved by that 1400g lump in our head.  There is no stepping outside of our own brain to make a choice based on some other sense of self.  The brain is us, and we are it.  Why else do some people keep seeking out destructive relationships that are bound to fail?