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Author Topic: EP419: Expediter  (Read 1761 times)
eytanz
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« on: October 28, 2013, 08:14:50 AM »

EP419: Expediter

by Mack Reynolds

Read by Corson Bremer

--

His assignment was to get things done;
he definitely did so.
Not quite the things intended, perhaps,
but definitely done.

*       *       *       *       *

The knock at the door came in the middle of the night, as Josip Pekic had always thought it would. He had been but four years of age when the knock had come that first time and the three large men had given his father a matter of only minutes to dress and accompany them. He could barely remember his father.

The days of the police state were over, so they told you. The cult of the personality was a thing of the past. The long series of five-year plans and seven-year plans were over and all the goals had been achieved. The new constitution guaranteed personal liberties. No longer were you subject to police brutality at the merest whim. So they told you.

But fears die hard, particularly when they are largely of the subconscious. And he had always, deep within, expected the knock.

He was not mistaken. The rap came again, abrupt, impatient. Josip Pekic allowed himself but one chill of apprehension, then rolled from his bed, squared slightly stooped shoulders, and made his way to the door. He flicked on the light and opened up, even as the burly, empty faced zombi there was preparing to pound still again.

There were two of them, not three as he had always dreamed. As three had come for his father, more than two decades before.

His father had been a rightist deviationist, so the papers had said, a follower of one of whom Josip had never heard in any other context other than his father’s trial and later execution. But he had not cracked under whatever pressures had been exerted upon him, and of that his son was proud.

He had not cracked, and in later years, when the cult of personality was a thing of the past, his name had been cleared and returned to the history books. And now it was an honor, rather than a disgrace, to be the son of Ljubo Pekic, who had posthumously been awarded the title Hero of the People’s Democratic Dictatorship.

But though his father was now a hero, Josip still expected that knock. However, he was rather bewildered at the timing, having no idea of why he was to be under arrest.

The first of the zombi twins said expressionlessly, “Comrade Josip Pekic?”


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #1 on: October 29, 2013, 07:34:27 AM »

Wow. This was a long one. Had to check and make sure I wasn't listening to Podcastle... But this is where the advantages of a public transportation commute make themselves evident. (So far it's the only advantage I've encountered).

First, let's get this out of the way. That was an absolutely superb reading. The voices, the accents, the inflection, the tone, the pacing... perfect in every way. Completely pulled me in by Alastair's lapels.

This was a very nice story, very golden-age-esque. A thought-provoking look at everything that is wrong with society and looking towards a brighter future. Pretty much what science fiction is all about. I did enjoy the "quaint" fiction aspects to the science. Electronic pencils and whatnot.
I am definitely going to look for more from Mack Reynolds.
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CorsonB
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« Reply #2 on: October 29, 2013, 06:06:30 PM »

Thanks Max e^{i pi},

This was a big challenge for me for many reasons (as an actor and as someone with a so-called "real life").  I'm glad you liked it.  (I'm a fan of Mack Reynolds, in any case.)

Corson
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Nobilis
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« Reply #3 on: October 29, 2013, 07:05:36 PM »

This was a masterful piece of narrating. A relatively large cast, each of whom needed a distinctive voice, but also an accent, very well done.

The story left a good deal to be desired. It spends an hour describing the ills of a political system which has been abandoned in very nearly all of the world (North Korea being the sole remaining exception) and then gives three minutes offering a speculative and idealistic description of a free-market anarchist system. I'm sure there are libertarians who will find this tremendously relevant to modern problems of economics. I, myself, found it too simplistic.

This author is tilting at a windmill that collapsed decades ago.

If he had a go at crony capitalism and regulatory capture, I'd have been all over it.

Perhaps it is my own personal bias in seeing people like Rupert Murdoch to be more of a problem than people like Kim Jong-un.

(And here is where I sigh to myself, and promise to come and comment on stories when I think they're awesome and insightful, as well as when they're irrelevant and naive.)
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CorsonB
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« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2013, 07:34:56 PM »

Nobilis,
Thanks for the comment on the narration/voice acting. It was "special" to bring to the Escape Pod listeners.

As far as the story goes, don't forget that this is an old one.  Mack Reynolds died in 1983 and the story was published in "Analog" in 1963, not long after the Cuban missile crisis, and before the fall of the Berlin wall and when the Cold War was still a very grim reality.  Yes, it is dated, but many people, especially in the US, are questioning the sincerity, honesty, and connection with the people of their representatives in government today.  That gives this story some validity in our epoch and makes us wonder about the idea that "what goes around, comes around" ... and of course, "Who is working for whom?".  I find the ecological references, and their realities today, very scary, given the date Mack wrote this.

Just my take on this after having read it 20 times (4 in front of a microphone) in the last 2 weeks. (   Wink  ) 
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adrianh
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« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2013, 07:49:52 PM »

Loved it.

Great narration. As others have said it was a fair sized cast of characters and they all had their own voice.

Also loved the story itself. To those who think that the role of an expediter is only necessary in a communistic regime have never worked in a large company or governmental organisation Wink
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #6 on: October 30, 2013, 01:16:56 AM »

To those who think that the role of an expediter is only necessary in a communistic regime have never worked in a large company or governmental organisation Wink
That's actually my brother's goal in life. He was inspired by the dad in Cheaper By The Dozen (the print version, not Steve Martin).
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Moritz
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« Reply #7 on: October 30, 2013, 11:01:26 AM »

Hm, I have very mixed feeling about this one.

To start of, I have studies Eastern European cultures, socialism (including reading Marx in the original German), I know some Slavonic languages, traveled the Balkans extensively and live at the border between two former communist countries in Central Europe. So that makes me really biased, I guess. Also, this is the first of the current Escape Pod episodes I ever listened to (I am going through the backcatalogue actually, now at about episode 90).

So in general, for the 1960s the story was OK. It would have been more interesting, if it had been written in a former socialist country at the time, and would probably have included more in jokes. There is actually quite a number of "utopian" novels from behind the Iron Curtain. From today's view, I was rather annoyed by the story. Also, this mix of "Ruritania" and actual place names like Macedonia or Slovenia was a bit confusing.

The narration was in general good, though I did think the accent sounded more Russian than Balkan, which would be a bit less "drunk" and more "hard" sounding than Russian I guess.
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PotatoKnight
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« Reply #8 on: October 30, 2013, 06:15:41 PM »

This piece does have some charm that is easier to appreciate knowing its vintage. It also reminds me why I like the kind of fiction published in vintage Analogs in moderate doses. It's hard to escape the conclusion that Analog and co were in the business if publishing fiction for engineers with the recurring moral that gosh darn it, if only people listened to the engineers, we'd solve all the darn problems! It's not just naive, it's more than a bit condescending. It's also only really works as a happy fantasy if you are in the technocratic in-group.
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lisavilisa
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« Reply #9 on: October 31, 2013, 06:26:45 AM »

if only people listened to the engineers, we'd solve all the darn problems! It's not just naive, it's more than a bit condescending. It's also only really works as a happy fantasy if you are in the technocratic in-group.

As a resident to North Carolina, this year I am really considering if our state would be better if scientist/engineers were in charge and politicians weren't running the state.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/north-carolina-bans-latest-science-rising-sea-level/story?id=16913782
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nem0fazer
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« Reply #10 on: October 31, 2013, 10:41:11 AM »

Oh how I hate to be this person, I really do, but... why is this SF? Aside from the occasional hover car and video phones I don't see it and I'm not even sure why the author bothered with those details. Am I missing something? I may have done, I listen while driving and sometimes a tricky intersection or unlit cyclist in the dark will take my mind away from fiction and onto not killing folks accidentally. Yes the narration was great but I was distracted by my own thoughts of "ok, any moment now something SF will happen and lift it into the fiction I've come here to listen to".
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #11 on: October 31, 2013, 11:08:36 AM »

@nem0fazer: another term for science fiction is speculative fiction. That's really what the golden age of science fiction was about. And that is the major theme of this story.
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albionmoonlight
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« Reply #12 on: October 31, 2013, 12:13:41 PM »

Reading a story that provides a glimpse into the social/political/economic issues that people considered Very Important fifty years ago makes me wonder how our contemporary stories will read fifty years from now.

If, for example, we manage to pull ourselves back from the brink of environmental disaster through some combination of scientific advancements and political will, then all of the contemporary stories of today set in a dystopian ecological wasteland will seem strangely quaint and outdated.
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knigget
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« Reply #13 on: October 31, 2013, 02:13:03 PM »

Well, that's a monumental story, brilliantly narrated.

Brilliantly narrated - that's obvious.

Monumental - because it totally nailed in 1963 what was going to happen by 1991. The social equivalent of Clarke's comsats.

Think of Mack Reynolds as the boy who cried, "The Emperor has no clothes!" 30 years before the Emperor Porn Collection went on sale.
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nem0fazer
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« Reply #14 on: November 01, 2013, 12:12:37 AM »

@Max e^{i pi} I really still can't believe I'm continuing to be that person, but, and trust me, I do hate me for saying this... surely SF is one subset of speculative fiction? Oh hell. I guess it doesn't really matter, I was just surprised it felt like political fiction with an couple hover car and skype. Not so much speculating as just changing place names.

Funny thing is back in the day before Pseudopod and Podcastle I really didn't care if stories wandered away from SF the way many did.
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adrianh
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« Reply #15 on: November 01, 2013, 10:51:04 AM »

Oh how I hate to be this person, I really do, but... why is this SF? Aside from the occasional hover car and video phones I don't see it and I'm not even sure why the author bothered with those details. Am I missing something? I may have done, I listen while driving and sometimes a tricky intersection or unlit cyclist in the dark will take my mind away from fiction and onto not killing folks accidentally. Yes the narration was great but I was distracted by my own thoughts of "ok, any moment now something SF will happen and lift it into the fiction I've come here to listen to".

Not that I actually care... ;-)

There's a long tradition of exploring politics in SF - the future of society. 1984, Handmaid's Tale, Brave New World, etc. What makes them SF - them being nominally set in the future, or the what-if behind the ideas they explore about government, oppression, etc.

Remember this was set in was 1963. Less than fifty years after the October revolution. The idea of a centralised planned government was still pretty new then. How is taking that forward a little and looking at how it comes out any less SF than stories about bases on the moon? ;-)

And let's face it - what lays behind the protagonists recommendations is evidence. He found a problem, made a hypothesis about the underlying cause based on evidence, and recommended a course of action. Having any kind of evidence based political policy is pretty much science fiction now - let alone fifty years ago!
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evrgrn_monster
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« Reply #16 on: November 01, 2013, 12:39:22 PM »

I adored this story. The nervous, yet effective "everyman" was very endearing. It was nice to read a story about an individual who did not let power corrupt him. I admit, as a government employee myself, and as someone who could get paid a lot more in the private sector, it was really nice to hear this tale about a man who is doing what I believe most of the people in my office and our entire department are actually about; serving the public and trying to make life in our country better. The fact that he was continually nervous and not at all pleased with his work made him feel real to me, as well. It is actually really hard to go up to someone and say, "Hey, I know you have the best intentions, but your ideas aren't working, so we're going to do something different." The angry fat #1 was quite the cliche, but man, is it fun to hate on him, or what? Great job to the narrator as well. He is a talent!

For once, I am going to whole heartedly disagree with Alasdair's outro. I don't think that this story does not apply in the real world at all. You just have to look at the American congress to see that the exact problem in this story, politicians trying to regulate and control industries that they have no idea about, is still going on. Women's Health, environmental reform, basic economics; these are all things that politicians today, right now, are passing laws and either cutting or spending too much money on, and they don't know enough about these fields to really be effective. I could see where this story is antiquated in relation to Communism, but in the way of politics, I sadly think that this story is still quite relevant.

In addition, I didn't see this story as just one man making the difference. Without all the other workers, engineers, farmers, and the other regular people, he would've been a dud. He was just gathering the voices of the people, a powerful speakerphone for the community. I think that's inspiring, and again, still relevant to today's political world. If enough people stand up and make their opinions known, we sure as hell can make a difference. We don't have to be brave or smart or rich. This story's message, from what I understood, was that all you need to do is listen, especially if you are lucky enough to be in a position where you can actually do something about it.

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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #17 on: November 01, 2013, 09:22:02 PM »

I actually didn't have strong feelings one way or the other. Certainly it was read well, and fairly well written (if a bit lengthy).

Hey, Soviet-style Communism doesn't work! Yeah, kinda knew that already. Yeah, I know this might have been a little more edgy at the time, but now... well, it's just... quaint.

I know just enough about Balkan geography that I knew the cities he was referring to after changing the names. Which in some ways made the story stranger.

But it was an enjoyable story otherwise; I found it amusing despite being somewhat predicable.
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Myst
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« Reply #18 on: November 02, 2013, 10:43:14 PM »

I kind of disagree with the premise that Politicians can't make effective laws to govern industry.
/puts down soapbox/
I think the true problem is that the politicians don't usually take the time to become a expert on a subject before passing laws. The lack of even a nod at researching something yourself is inexcusable. There is a amazing resource at their beck and call http://www.loc.gov/crsinfo/ that will bring them any information day or night on any subject. But I suspect that many of the members of our current congress want to see bad laws in place, so that their friends in business can make another few billion. If I was god emperor of the world one of the mandates would be in order to vote on a law you would have to pass a test showing you understood the basics of what that law was about. These tests would be put together by 9th grade English teachers, to ensure they would be fiendish enough to trip up any congressman who went out and bought the cliff's notes on the subject.
/picks up soapbox/
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Unblinking
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« Reply #19 on: November 04, 2013, 10:07:24 AM »

Oh, look: a long political episode.  Can you guess what my reaction will be??

Well, you're wrong.  I am bucking pretty much all of my past trends to say that I like this one.

Stereotypical?  Yes, there are all kinds of stereotypes here.  But I, at least, never got the impression that he meant these stereotypical to be taken seriously as real  flesh-and-blood people.  To me the final resignation phone call from Switzerland made it clear that he wasn't just talking about Soviet government, only using Soviet government as the focal point because it was a convenient one from his time period.  And because other forms of government wouldn't work for this particular focus of satire.  If it were a monarchy then it wouldn't have the propoganda and the claims that the government is for the people.  If it were a typical democracy than there would be no system in place for a random person to be elevated to the rank of #3 in the country with absolute authority over everyone else.  I found the story hilarious in many ways, and the reasons for that is because the government of this country which publicly claims to value efficiency through authoritarianism but which in practice really does not, manages to undermine its own foundations by using its authoritarianism to appoint an efficiency expert who against their expectations does EXACTLY what they ask him to do.  Which is doubly funny because their complaint about the general populace was that the common man does not take ownership of their work, and this is supposed to be the absolute representative of the common man.

Is it dated?  In a way.  Obviously criticisms of Russian communism from the 1960s era are not particularly relevant.  The problems in the system are not exactly a secret.  So that aspect is not exactly new ground.  But in the final conversation from Switzerland, it seemed to be made clear to me that this was not meant as a criticism of Soviet government, or I should say not a criticism of Soviet government ALONE.  As I suggested above, I think that the Soviet government is a convenient one to make this particular plot because it wouldn't have worked in a monarchy or a democracy.  It also would've been certain to make the story more popular at the time during the Space Race era.  The average reader would've found it entertaining as a criticism of their rivals, but I don't think that was Reynold's primary intent.  I think that it is just as much a criticism of American government, but at the time that kind of overt criticism wouldn't have gone over so well.  I can see the faults he's pointing out in our government--politicians are only good at politics, and many of the decisions they make they government every citizens every day lives and sometimes deaths are, by the very system they exist in, politically motivated.  They are done, above all other reasons, for political purposes.  These purposes may occasionally coincide with your average citizen's interests, but even when that's the case there are always extra things tacked onto those things for public benefit.  

I thought the story about steel salvaging was particularly entertaining, salvaging farm implements for the primary purpose of building farm implements.  Stupidity on a scale that reminded me of both state (here in Minnesota) and federal government shutdowns.  The ones where politicians take some paid time off of work as a result of not filling their basic function of making decisions while so many others lose their incomes they need to support their families,  shut down even those things related to the government that bring in income, slap something makeshift together just before their lack of compromise results in larger consequences, and in the end no one has learned anything from the whole affair and just blames the other side 100%--the fact that they refer to another side is the root of the problem for me.  We're all on the same damned side, and we're all going to be stuck with the consequences of these lack of decisions after the fact.  And no doubt they'll vote themselves a raise as well.  If I were to pull any BS like that at  my job, I would get fired, and rightly so.  
« Last Edit: November 04, 2013, 10:09:27 AM by Unblinking » Logged

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