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Author Topic: EP430: Heart of Joy  (Read 1913 times)
eytanz
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« on: January 12, 2014, 11:15:53 AM »

EP430: Heart of Joy

by Kate O’Connor

Read by Andrea Richardson

--

“How’s your ankle, Luci?” Feon Sen, High Chancellor of Carinae, leaned against the wall, watching intently as she braided her dark hair. Luscinia considered the question carefully, studying his reflection in the mirror. He was a man of many words, but his meaning was clearest in the surgically smoothed lines around his eyes and the rhythm his fingers absentmindedly tapped out on his arm. He was asking if she was up to the task he had for her tonight.

“Better, thank you.” She stood and danced a few quick steps to prove it. She was ready. The prism-glass walls sent the light they had collected from Carina’s dim sun scattering around the room in teardrops of scarlet and gold and sapphire. It was hard not to blame the cold and the hard crystal floors for the aches in her joints. Hot sun and soft ground were worlds away, but Feon was always ready with a good reason for her to stay whenever she mentioned returning to her home planet.

She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. Even after more than a year in his company, Luscinia still found how young he looked and how old his expressions were disconcerting. She hadn’t asked him about whatever medical miracles or cosmetic alterations he’d had done over the long decades he had been in control of the three hundred and forty-seven inhabited worlds of the nebula. It was how things were on Carina Prime, especially for those in the public eye. She hated the scrutiny that came with being his lover. More than one helpful soul had mentioned a few of the currently fashionable options for elongating her legs or slimming her curvy body. The idea turned her stomach.

“So you’ll be able to dance for the Alshain Ambassador and his assorted cronies this evening? He’s been after me almost without ceasing since they arrived.” Feon’s carefree grin made her stomach flutter for entirely different reasons. “You’re still the talk of the nebula. Half the city shows up to parties without footwear because you dance barefoot. Not to mention how everyone goes on about what each dance means. It doesn’t help that you keep changing them.”

“I’d get bored if the routines were always the same. You wouldn’t use the same words in every speech you gave, would you?” Luscinia smiled back, taking note of the slight crease at the corner of his mouth. “And stop worrying. I’ll settle your diplomats for you.” There was so much more to say that never seemed to make it past her lips… or his. He was far more eloquent than she, except when it came to speaking with her. Alshain was dangerous, more so because of the allies the ambassador was gathering. Feon was old and wily, but she saw him plagued with the worry that he was slowing down, that he would miss something vital. They didn’t talk about that.

“I know you will.” He touched her newly braided hair lightly and she caught his intense expression in the mirror. It warmed her. Too many people thought he could have done better than a backwater dancer, even if she was the artistic sensation of the year. Feon kissed her hair and headed for the door. He stopped with his hand on the doorframe. “Make it a good one tonight. The Ambassador says he has a gift for me. I hate it when the slimy bastard gets smug.” He lingered a minute, body swaying between feelings and words.

“It will be all right.” She repeated firmly, saving him the need to give voice to his fears.

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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FireTurtle
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« Reply #1 on: January 12, 2014, 08:47:44 PM »

I am the King...er.....Queen of the mountain! Hurrah? Where is everybody? This is weird. I'm usually the last one here. Hmmm. *peeks around corners for lurking early posters*

Well, okay then. I didn't hate this one, but, I didn't love it either. Perhaps I am just suffering from a excess of wronged/neglected women in my podcasts. This may be the downside of doing the 'casts binge style with three months of episodes consumed in a few days.

Anyway, it was an interesting retelling of the nightingale tale. (Thanks for putting that in the outro, I knew it was familiar but was busy negotiating freeways and could not devote extra brain space to Deep Thoughts.) Nonetheless, I was heartily tired of the neglected dancer by about halfway through. Phrase it is easier to relate to a neglected bird, or at least not blame a bird for no sense of self-efficacy or whatnot. But, seeing a female protagonist reduced to hand-wringing over a fella who is jones in for a robot and never seemed to understand her magic-gesture-dance in the first place? Seemed like every other ineffective female character in the history of male authorship. Yes, I am aware the author is a woman, but the sense of women being only happy/acknowledged/existing when being "seen" by a man remains. And, really, ugh.

On the other hand, it was nice to see dance in a short story and I felt the author did a fairly good job of conveying the sense of dancing without resorting to silly metaphors.

Overall, I rate it as "passed the time but vaguely disatisfying due to female character being a tool of the non-mechanized variety".
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« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2014, 12:57:35 PM »

I didn't much care for this story. It's not that I don't appreciate the intellectual exercise of re-inventing fairy tales for science fiction settings, but in this case the change in settings didn't seem to anything of substance to the story. The same basic adage present in the mid 19th century version of this story is here, unchanged. And I guess I'm not terribly surprised by that. It is arguable that one quality that gives Hans Christian Andersen's tales their longevity (maybe all fairy tales) is the timelessness of their message. The point about appreciating the real over the artifice still holds meaning today. There is no need to dress it up as science fiction unless the point in doing so it to make the pill that carries this philosophical message easier to swallow.

What the author could have done, I suppose, is add complexity to the message. Can you get at an angle better with an android than with a mechanical nightingale? I don't know, but it wasn't done here.

Plus the story was about dance, and I just have a hard time appreciating that subject.
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chemistryguy
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« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2014, 02:06:26 PM »

It has been a long time since I'd heard the tale of the Nightingale, so I was glad Norm made it part of the outro.    I thoroughly enjoyed the description of how Luci communicated through her dance.  It sounded as if this is what someone who uses sign language would do to convey poetry. 

The ending was a bit too schmaltzy for my tastes, but it is a fairy tale after all.  I give it three and a half stars.

BTW: Introduction computer lady is malfunctioning.  It's no longer 2013 Smiley
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matweller
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« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2014, 04:58:32 PM »

It has been a long time since I'd heard the tale of the Nightingale, so I was glad Norm made it part of the outro.    I thoroughly enjoyed the description of how Luci communicated through her dance.  It sounded as if this is what someone who uses sign language would do to convey poetry. 

The ending was a bit too schmaltzy for my tastes, but it is a fairy tale after all.  I give it three and a half stars.

BTW: Introduction computer lady is malfunctioning.  It's no longer 2013 Smiley

I'll tell her, thanks.
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PotatoKnight
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« Reply #5 on: January 13, 2014, 08:53:16 PM »

Sad, and true, and excellent.
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danthelawyer
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« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2014, 08:58:16 PM »

Wow was that boring. I kept looking at my ipod, hoping that the story was almost over, and idly wondering if anything was ever going to happen. I though Feon was completely unbelievable, and thought throughout that he was just putting one over on Luci -- but no, he was just a jerk. Then, when it turned out he was dying, I thought maybe the automaton was some kind of hidden weapon, given to him by the Ashaians to slowly kill him. But no, nothing so interesting.
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stormothecentury
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« Reply #7 on: January 14, 2014, 09:15:46 AM »

See, I found this to be a terrific story about the conflict between art as a deeper personal expression and art as a primarily commercial venture.  Certainly its roots are in Andersen, but it sat in a different way for me than his story ever did.  That's probably a bit of projection, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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skeletondragon
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« Reply #8 on: January 15, 2014, 12:05:37 AM »

I guess I agree with most people, because I thought the story was enjoyable but not fantastic. The more I think about it, the less satisfying it gets. I don't have much of an appreciation for dance, but I can't imagine I'd enjoy it anymore if performed by a robot.

I thought maybe the automaton was some kind of hidden weapon, given to him by the Ashaians to slowly kill him. But no, nothing so interesting.

That would have been interesting! And it would have solved the other problem Jompier pointed out, that the story only makes sense as a retelling of a fairy tale and doesn't really add anything new to it.
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Varda
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« Reply #9 on: January 15, 2014, 09:34:14 AM »

I really liked this story! I missed the connection to the Clockwork Nightingale until Norm's outtro, but I think that was a good thing as it allowed me to draw my own conclusions before getting the additional layer of meaning brought by the fairy tale connection.

I think what really got me about the story was the exploration of Luci's objectification by literally being replaced with a dancing robot. What is Luci to Feon: his consort and lover, or the thing that performs the dances? It was obviously made very clear in the scene where Luci and the automaton dance side-by-side that Feon's relationship with Luci amounted to no more than her providing him with this single function, and one that he didn't even fully understand.

This was further highlighted by the dances themselves. I'm with ChemistryGuy in that I connected the dances with sign languages. For Luci, to be seen is the exact same thing as to be heard. If Feon doesn't watch her dance, she can't communicate with him, and the relationship dies. The automaton is therefore the perfect trap for an enemy to give Feon because it's so flashy it prevents him from even looking in Luci's direction. And it's so beautiful, and seems so inherently good and unobjectionable, that no one but Luci will ever figure out why it could have been given with bad intent. Luci's last words to Feon at the end highlight the dance-as-communication: she "just wanted to be seen", which means she just wanted him to listen to her.

Nonetheless, I was heartily tired of the neglected dancer by about halfway through. Phrase it is easier to relate to a neglected bird, or at least not blame a bird for no sense of self-efficacy or whatnot. But, seeing a female protagonist reduced to hand-wringing over a fella who is jones in for a robot and never seemed to understand her magic-gesture-dance in the first place? Seemed like every other ineffective female character in the history of male authorship. Yes, I am aware the author is a woman, but the sense of women being only happy/acknowledged/existing when being "seen" by a man remains. And, really, ugh.

I can see this problem in retrospect, especially your point about how this type of female character is done to death historically-speaking, which strengthens that reading. I think the element that made a difference for me was the power imbalance between Feon and Luci. When you're dating the dictator (I think the High Chancellor thingie was some sort of dictator or emperor or whatsit), you derive tremendous power from that position while simultaneously becoming tremendously dependent on the dictator's whims and affections. The relationship is not a two-way street, even if both people really do love each other. Usually in this kind of story, you get the old lover competing against a new lover or interloper vying for the dictator's eye. In this story, you get a woman competing against a parody of herself. For me at least, it made for a fresh angle and brought something to the story that we don't get with the nightingale.

Perhaps I am just suffering from a excess of wronged/neglected women in my podcasts. This may be the downside of doing the 'casts binge style with three months of episodes consumed in a few days.

Y'know, now that you mention it, there really have been a bunch of those recently! Now resisting the urge to compare this story to "Scry" on Podcastle. Smiley
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« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2014, 10:13:36 AM »

This story was okay.  I thought that the way that her dancing attempted to communicate feelings and ideas was interesting, put to mind sign language.  But that was also the part that bugged me the most, because it seemed entirely clear that she was the only one who understood the language and then she got upset with people for not understanding the language they didn't realize was a language.  Her requirement that mistakes should be incorporated as part of the chasing of the three rats song makes sense, but only if you know what the song is about, and I didn't get the sense that anyone but experts was necessarily aware of that.  She put all of her anger and sense of betrayal and everything into the dance and then got upset when he didn't seem to divine her meaning.  They thought of her dancing as an entertainment, which I don't think is an unreasonable interpretation given their history, and she thought of it as a very broad communication medium which I also don't think is unreasonable given her experience.  But I don't think it's very reasonable to use it as a communication medium toward people looking for it as an entertainment and expect it to do anything other than entertain.  Even in the end, it didn't seem that he really realized even on his deathbed that it was supposed to be communication--he just realized that the automaton's entertainments were repetitive and had become dull.

In that way it's different than sign language, I guess, because sign language is more obviously a language. One does not pay entertainers to make gestures with their hands--if someone is doing that, then they are speaking sign language.  But embedding a communication in a medium which most people look to for entertainment, it's like using the entertainment as a carrier wave but without telling anyone how to decode the language, or even that there is a language.

So, while I understood her frustration, I had trouble feeling much for her because while he started the situation by taking the automaton, she didn't really make much effort to do anything about it either, at least not in a medium that he would understand. 

I found the ending frustrating, too, I think because the story made it seem that it was all about her feeling better about their relationship and seemed that she was in a happier place because of it, even though he's freaking dead now (oh but that's okay because he died watching her dance *raspberry noise*).  She even thought specifically that this wasn't the place to air old grievances, and really it's not.  It seemed too selfish for his deathbed scene to be all about her.  And it seemed like she thought he magically understood her dance-language at the end and that was why she was happy, but I really don't think he did.  He liked watching dancing, his automaton was busted, he had minutes to live, and she was available and willing to dance.  I don't see how that's supposed to make her feel better.


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Moon_Goddess
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« Reply #11 on: January 15, 2014, 03:45:33 PM »

I took this as being Luci's point of view, and see her as a unreliable narrator, which makes the story identifiable and enjoyable.

Phrase it is easier to relate to a neglected bird, or at least not blame a bird for no sense of self-efficacy or whatnot. But, seeing a female protagonist reduced to hand-wringing over a fella who is jones in for a robot and never seemed to understand her magic-gesture-dance in the first place? Seemed like every other ineffective female character in the history of male authorship. Yes, I am aware the author is a woman, but the sense of women being only happy/acknowledged/existing when being "seen" by a man remains. And, really, ugh.

I get the annoyance at her lack of agency, but honestly, I identified a lot with this woman.   
And yeah that's likely showing character flaws I have, but the truth is, people have character flaws and so should characters.   

Wow was that boring. I kept looking at my ipod, hoping that the story was almost over, and idly wondering if anything was ever going to happen. I though Feon was completely unbelievable, and thought throughout that he was just putting one over on Luci -- but no, he was just a jerk. Then, when it turned out he was dying, I thought maybe the automaton was some kind of hidden weapon, given to him by the Ashaians to slowly kill him. But no, nothing so interesting.

I can't agree with boring, but I do have to agree with the rest of your post as things that made it interesting to me.   I kept wondering what was up with Feon, why he changed, those same thoughts would be the things keeping me around if I was in Luci's place, wondering how it can't be real he's acting like this something has to be happening, things will get back to normal.  Honestly even know I still feel the automaton was some sort of weapon, whether to break up his relationship or something actually poisoning, we don't know since we see things from Luci's point of view and she never suspected such.

In that way it's different than sign language, I guess, because sign language is more obviously a language. One does not pay entertainers to make gestures with their hands--if someone is doing that, then they are speaking sign language.  But embedding a communication in a medium which most people look to for entertainment, it's like using the entertainment as a carrier wave but without telling anyone how to decode the language, or even that there is a language.

So, while I understood her frustration, I had trouble feeling much for her because while he started the situation by taking the automaton, she didn't really make much effort to do anything about it either, at least not in a medium that he would understand. 

See but that's very cultural.  Dance has been a language of communication for much longer than it's been a thing to be watch for entertainment.   It's as if you are blaming Gregorian chant for not passing you a message when you didn't look up that Latin is a language.    Or if you take something geographically local to me, you watch a native american pow wow dance without seeing the message contained.   

It's a dual problem here, Feon picked up a dancer from culture he didn't understand and never asked, and Luci was introduced into a culture that didn't understand her culture, and she never translated.

I found the ending frustrating, too, I think because the story made it seem that it was all about her feeling better about their relationship and seemed that she was in a happier place because of it, even though he's freaking dead now (oh but that's okay because he died watching her dance *raspberry noise*).  She even thought specifically that this wasn't the place to air old grievances, and really it's not.  It seemed too selfish for his deathbed scene to be all about her.  And it seemed like she thought he magically understood her dance-language at the end and that was why she was happy, but I really don't think he did.  He liked watching dancing, his automaton was busted, he had minutes to live, and she was available and willing to dance.  I don't see how that's supposed to make her feel better.

See, I can agree with you hear but don't find it flustrating, it's tragic.   I agree, she felt like she finally got thru to him, and he felt like he got to see her dance.   They still never understood each other and now never will.   It's sad and tragic, and she doesn't even know it's sad and tragic.   And that.. that's believable.
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« Reply #12 on: January 15, 2014, 04:05:33 PM »

One does not pay entertainers to make gestures with their hands--if someone is doing that, then they are speaking sign language.  But embedding a communication in a medium which most people look to for entertainment, it's like using the entertainment as a carrier wave but without telling anyone how to decode the language, or even that there is a language.

Yeah, but sign languages tend to break this barrier in ways you don't get with speech because of the way they make use of space, facial expression, and actions to create meaning. This means even if you've never studied a sign language, you can often get a hazy idea of what's being discussed if you pay close attention, and this is even more true if the signer is performing for entertainment. For a really great example, check out this American Sign Language performance of "Sleepy Hollow." Remember that this is not an arbitrary interpretive dance--these are words with definite meanings for ASL signers. [/pedantic]

I think in "Heart of Joy" I'm not willing to let Feon entirely off the hook for his lack of understanding because the story tells us at the beginning that Feon always asked Luci what her performances meant, and she always explained them afterward. So he can't be entirely ignorant of what the dance means. I think Dream6601 also makes an excellent point about cross-cultural ignorance at play on both sides.
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« Reply #13 on: January 15, 2014, 04:46:00 PM »

But embedding a communication in a medium which most people look to for entertainment, it's like using the entertainment as a carrier wave but without telling anyone how to decode the language, or even that there is a language.
You mean like getting the news from The Daily Show?
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evrgrn_monster
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« Reply #14 on: January 15, 2014, 09:05:36 PM »

I'm going to jump into the camp of not enjoying this story. I, too, found myself actually getting bored, simply because I couldn't find anything particularly special about this piece. Listening was a bit like eating saltine crackers. Sure, they aren't bad, but bland isn't good either. I felt like this story had the potential to go some interesting places, but then decided to not go there. For example, what was the point of the dancing machine? Was there some reason it was gift? If it was just to get Luci out of the picture, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I would think having a pretty, fashionable doll would be much more politically advantageous then she ever was, and I don't see what other motivation any political rivals would have in the gift.

I hated the ending. It was cheesy, but not in a heart-warming, Pixar way. More like Tuesday evening Hallmark movie cheesy. His death seemed convenient as a plot device, but otherwise, it just confused me. He seemed perfect healthy a few weeks ago; why the sudden turn?

 
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #15 on: January 16, 2014, 10:25:19 AM »

But embedding a communication in a medium which most people look to for entertainment, it's like using the entertainment as a carrier wave but without telling anyone how to decode the language, or even that there is a language.
You mean like getting the news from The Daily Show?

Not really, no.  The Daily Show, although it takes a humorous tone, is still clearly communicating in my expected language of English.  It would be more like getting your news from watching a Pink Floyd laser show.  There is stimulus there, but the stimulus is not clearly meant to be language, and even if we agree that it's language I don't know that we'd agree on its meaning.

See but that's very cultural.  Dance has been a language of communication for much longer than it's been a thing to be watch for entertainment.   It's as if you are blaming Gregorian chant for not passing you a message when you didn't look up that Latin is a language.    Or if you take something geographically local to me, you watch a native american pow wow dance without seeing the message contained.   

It is very cultural, indeed.  And that culture of the watcher matters as much as the culture of the dancer.  My complaint wasn't that she wasn't communicating, but rather that she was choosing a medium that she could've anticipated would not be perceived accurately by Feon.

It's a dual problem here, Feon picked up a dancer from culture he didn't understand and never asked, and Luci was introduced into a culture that didn't understand her culture, and she never translated.

Oh, I'm not saying that everything was her fault.  I would say it was more Feon's fault than hers.  But it seemed to me like the story was implying that she was faultless in the relationship problem.  But if the relationship really meant something to her she could've done something about it by saying in a common language some of the things she only said in dance.  It's possible that that was meant to never be conveyed because it's from her point of view and she isn't aware of it.  But that made it harder for me to relate to her, is all.

See, I can agree with you hear but don't find it flustrating, it's tragic.   I agree, she felt like she finally got thru to him, and he felt like he got to see her dance.   They still never understood each other and now never will.   It's sad and tragic, and she doesn't even know it's sad and tragic.   And that.. that's believable.

Sad and tragic and believable, no argument there.

I think in "Heart of Joy" I'm not willing to let Feon entirely off the hook for his lack of understanding because the story tells us at the beginning that Feon always asked Luci what her performances meant, and she always explained them afterward.

I'm not letting Feon off the hook, I'm just saying that I also won't let Luci off the hook.  Communication is a two-way street.

So he can't be entirely ignorant of what the dance means.

He can be, and that's how I interpreted it.  He is obviously skilled at public politics, but I got the impression that he never learned how to interact with individual people, let alone having a real relationship.  I think that he's been attracted to her in large part because he bloody well doesn't understand her and he knows it, and he's used to understanding people well enough to maneuver them into doing what is in his own best interest.  She is a puzzle, but one which he has proven himself to be terrible at solving.  He asks her what the dances mean to give him more information about the puzzle, and he understands what she tells him in a limited sense, but has found himself incapable of understanding how it works in the general case.  I think part of this is that he occupies most of his time with his politics, and also that the language barrier is present here--like trying to learn how to speak perfect French when learning as an adult, he is focused on each detail trying to interpret its meaning but loses the overall sense of a phrase or tone of speaking in his attempt.  If pressed, I think that if he were asked what a dance was about he would have no clear idea, perhaps only being able to say "she's happy" or "she's not happy" but not being able to figure out anything beyond that.  Judging by the way he was talking about the way that his court was frustrated by her unwillingness to repeat routines, I think that he thought of her variations as conscious attempts to be enigmatic and inexplicable.  That's why the automaton was so appealing--now THIS I can understand, he would say to himself.

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« Reply #16 on: January 16, 2014, 11:49:32 AM »

See but that's very cultural.  Dance has been a language of communication for much longer than it's been a thing to be watch for entertainment.   It's as if you are blaming Gregorian chant for not passing you a message when you didn't look up that Latin is a language.    Or if you take something geographically local to me, you watch a native american pow wow dance without seeing the message contained.   

It is very cultural, indeed.  And that culture of the watcher matters as much as the culture of the dancer.  My complaint wasn't that she wasn't communicating, but rather that she was choosing a medium that she could've anticipated would not be perceived accurately by Feon.

Maybe I misunderstood, but I got the impression the whole reason she had chosen to be with Feon was that he did understand the language and did hold her precious. That's why him appreciating the automaton so much was so heartbreaking for her and ultimately why she had to leave. They had shared that communicative bond and now he was neglecting that for the new toy. Ask your closest XBox Widow how that works… Tongue
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« Reply #17 on: January 17, 2014, 08:55:08 AM »

I found myself getting frustrated with both principal characters for their mutual failure of communication.  I think a big fraction of standard soap opera storylines would evaporate if each party just sat down and explained how they were feeling and why they were feeling that way.

I almost found myself shouting (on a crowded train) for them to say *something* to each other.  Luci seemed to expect her every gesture be interpreted and understood by Feon.  Feon seemed incapable of actually trying to engage with her. 

It is an overused stereotype for a female to be frustrated with her male partner's inability to read their mood, body language and effectively their mind.  However, what added to my discomfort was the growing separation due to their mutual communication breakdown reminded me of some good friends that have just announced their divorce in similar circumstances.  Apart from the fact that neither of them ruled a nebula and, as far as I know, there were no dancing automata involved.
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« Reply #18 on: January 17, 2014, 10:09:16 AM »

Maybe I misunderstood, but I got the impression the whole reason she had chosen to be with Feon was that he did understand the language and did hold her precious.

I think that's what SHE thought, and since the story is from her POV it makes sense for that to be implied.  But his later behavior made me think otherwise.
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« Reply #19 on: January 17, 2014, 10:12:34 AM »

I found myself getting frustrated with both principal characters for their mutual failure of communication.  I think a big fraction of standard soap opera storylines would evaporate if each party just sat down and explained how they were feeling and why they were feeling that way.

I almost found myself shouting (on a crowded train) for them to say *something* to each other.  Luci seemed to expect her every gesture be interpreted and understood by Feon.  Feon seemed incapable of actually trying to engage with her. 

It is an overused stereotype for a female to be frustrated with her male partner's inability to read their mood, body language and effectively their mind.  However, what added to my discomfort was the growing separation due to their mutual communication breakdown reminded me of some good friends that have just announced their divorce in similar circumstances.  Apart from the fact that neither of them ruled a nebula and, as far as I know, there were no dancing automata involved.
So, in other words, you liked the story okay but were uncomfortable about how realistic it was? I daresay 90% of all problems in human existence could be solved with less than 4 hours of real communication. For the rest, you still need communication, but also tacos.
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