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Author Topic: EP433: That Other Sea  (Read 1799 times)
eytanz
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« on: January 31, 2014, 09:48:29 AM »

EP433: That Other Sea

by William Ledbetter

Read by Shaelyn Grey

--

From his position on the sandy slope, Catat couldn’t see the Visitor, but the eerie glow moving around beyond the jumbled rocks proved the device had survived its fall into the killing depths. Catat whipped his tail to move downward, but couldn’t generate enough thrust to overcome the water pressure pushing him into the sand. Only the brute force of side-to-side undulation gave him any forward momentum. He moved two body lengths and stopped to let his shell adjust.

As water weight compressed his internal organs further, the gland that produced shellbase went into hyperactive mode, flooding his system, filling the tiny pressure cracks and thickening his ring segments. The depths were changing him, maybe forever, but Catat believed retrieving the Visitor, or at least examining it, was worth the risk.

During the intense discussions that followed the Visitor’s arrival, Catat was the only one who believed it could be artificial. Others, including Catat’s main scientific rival, Racknik, maintained that it had to be some radiation mutated animal from an ice vent. But Catat had been the only one to see it up close. He’d watched the Visitor break through the ice ceiling and then struggle with the canopy kelp before starting its long swirling descent to the chasm floor.

The Visitor was twice Catat’s size and he probably could have done nothing to arrest its fall, but he’d also been frozen with terror and made no attempt to help. Then as it started downward, lights appeared. Not the dim luminescent bait offered by predator fish, but a brilliant, painful glare, brighter than white magma. At that instant, Catat’s fear dissolved in an overwhelming surge of curiosity and fascination. So know he was going after it.

A message from his warren came down the cable he dragged behind him, the electrical pulses converted to taps he could feel through the metal plate mounted between his tool arms and just above his digging arms. The signal was still strong, which worried him. If his shell had thickened enough to protect him against the extreme pressure, then the signal should have been faint.

“Can you still see it?” A prefix identified the sender as one of his research assistants.

“I see the glow from its lights,” Catat replied.

“You made your point. We believe you. Now come back up.” There had been no prefix to identify the second message’s sender, but Catat knew it had to be his friend and sometimes mate, Tipkurr.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Thunderscreech
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« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2014, 04:27:14 PM »

Was anyone else thinking of the story of the spaceship Tsien in the book 2010 by Arthur C. Clarke while reading this story?
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Asomatous
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« Reply #2 on: February 01, 2014, 12:04:42 AM »

My first thought was "The Little Mermaid" ('Under the Sea' is still playing in my mind) meets "Rocket Man" (the Elton John not William Shatner version).

The skillful weaving of exploration from the perspective of a cretaceous, sentient life form captured my attention. Catat's inner and physical struggle made for good story telling.  The singular desire to learn more rang true to me.

The retrieval portion of the story was by far the strongest part of the narrative. I admit the journey to the surface (and beyond??) seemed less vivid. I wondered what sort of massive tidal forces must be at work to rocket Catat so far above the surface. And if such forces caused his meteoric rise, would there not be planetary or satellite bodies dominating the sky of his planet rather than just a field of stars? What of the atmosphere? I am not an physicist but I wondered if Catat's "capsule" could give adequate protection for his journey.

Overall, an interesting insight into the drive to learn and explore.
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Seekerpilgrim
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« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2014, 02:03:28 AM »

I really liked this one. A lean tale, not an ounce of fat on it, and an interesting take on the First Contact theme, as well as the concept of the lone astronaut sacrificing themselves for the sake of science. Echoes of "Rocket Man", "Major Tom", and "Space Oddity". Well written, well narrated.
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skeletondragon
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« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2014, 06:36:34 PM »

This story gave me chills. As soon as Catat announced his plan to travel through the hole left by the Visitor, I realized what the title referred to. A race of creatures who live in an ocean under a ceiling first encountering outer space? A deadly, incomprehensible, beautiful other sea.

I wondered what sort of massive tidal forces must be at work to rocket Catat so far above the surface. And if such forces caused his meteoric rise, would there not be planetary or satellite bodies dominating the sky of his planet rather than just a field of stars? What of the atmosphere? I am not an physicist but I wondered if Catat's "capsule" could give adequate protection for his journey.

It sounded like their planet was a watery moon of a gas giant outside the Goldilocks zone, like how some people think Europa might be. So the surface was a thick layer of frozen ice, but because of gravitational stress from the giant, geothermal forces heated the ocean underneath and allowed life to exist. It probably didn't have much atmosphere, and Catat's capsule wasn't adequate protection, which is probably why he died very soon after arriving at the surface.
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Kaa
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« Reply #5 on: February 04, 2014, 02:55:10 PM »

I really enjoyed this one. I caught on that it was Europa fairly early on, and kind of figured that it would end something like it did, but I had hoped the probe would try to communicate more obviously.

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Jompier
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« Reply #6 on: February 05, 2014, 11:12:18 AM »

In the brief time it took me to catch on to what this story was about, I thought that I was going to enjoy it: an oceanic civilization that developed in parallel to our own discovers that life may exist outside of their known universe. The parallels to our own space exploration are quite nice. Eventually, I ended up getting distracted by what I didn't like about the story, the characterization of Catat, a self-proclaimed scientist.

I get that there is a certain amount of reckless competition in some frontiers of science. Maybe it was more common in bygone years, but it is not completely absent today. So, I'm not dismissive of Catat's character trait. There is an element of truth to it. But what I don't get is why this civilization would have skipped doing elementary research on the world outside their own, had they truly had sufficient exploratory interest in it. For example, why should it come as a surprise that the ambient temperature outside of the ice cap is cold? Isn't that something measurable, some basic piece of information that one might attempt to gather? Make the parallel association to modern space programs. There's a reason why we send satellites and probes and rovers to places like Mars instead of sending astronauts straight away. Those tools are good at collecting useful information and despite the financial price, that approach is far less pricey from an ethical standpoint. So, why wouldn't the civilization in this story have made a similar choice? Either the civilization had no driving interest in exploring the outside world, making Catat's motivation dubious or the exploration wasn't about science at all.

In the end, I think the editorial commentary inadvertently corrected the comparison offered through the story, that Catat's drive and exploration was scientific, by comparing him to Felix Baumgartner. Baumgartner is not a scientist. He's a daredevil. And while I can appreciate that a certain amount of derring-do is required to make a story engaging, let's be careful not to replace the "science" in science fiction with chest-thumping recklessness. Most stories get it right. This one got it wrong.
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jaddle
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« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2014, 10:03:00 AM »

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/dec/12/science/la-sci-sn-water-geysers-europa-jupiter-icy-moon-life-agu-20131212 talks about just this (though not with little crypto-crustaceans in proto-spacesuits).
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skeletondragon
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« Reply #8 on: February 07, 2014, 09:45:38 PM »

I don't think their society was very advanced. The main technology we see is their long-distance communicator, which is basically a telegraph. So they might not have had the capabilities to create probes. They seemed to have a lot of superstition about both the ice above them and the deep ocean below, and Catat was much more inquisitive than the average member of his species.  So his lack of caution doesn't entirely surprise me. There have been plenty of scientists on Earth who committed suicidal actions in pursuit of discovery, which in hindsight we know how to protect against.
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slic
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« Reply #9 on: February 09, 2014, 02:13:09 PM »

I really enjoyed the story, and I agree with the after show notes that the physical mutation mirrored the changes you feel when exploring (be it a new continent or new house) - you can never unsee something.

Jompier - I think you might have given too much credit (or at least advancement) to the Crayfish People.  I saw them as Middle Ages types, still believing that the Earth was flat.  A Tall Ship is some serious technology when you compare it to cavemen, but it certainly isn't an Apollo capsule.  I recall one point where Catat was kinda surprised by sunlight coming through the hole in the ice.  I suspect they stuck around home quite a lot and didn't explore much at all.  These guys seemed more like Egyptians than Vikings.

My one beef was the ending  - it was so predictable.  I understand that it is more dramatic, but on the same token the character doesn't know they will live, so the sacrifice is still equally significant.  It just seems to me (maybe limited exposure) that unless it's a series main character (say Thor or Raylan Givens or Jack Reacher who we all know will never be killed) the hero never makes it back.  I'm not saying they should all be Apollo 13 endings, but writers out there, it's ok if the hero comes back.
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Windup
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« Reply #10 on: February 09, 2014, 05:59:49 PM »

I liked this one a lot.  I especially liked the mixed motives of the narrator -- various parts personal rivalry, driving curiosity, sunk-cost fallacy, desire to serve and primitive attraction.  While you can argue that it's not a particularly realistic view of an alien psychology, it was in interesting mix.

The inability to bore though the ceiling ice didn't bother me.  It seemed fairly clear that the task was beyond their technology, and that seemed reasonable.  Drilling through thick ice would require both blades and some sort of motor to drive them.  I think it would take a really, really long time for a submerged civilization to develop the motor, since neither combustion or electricity could be handled easily in their environment.   
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Jompier
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« Reply #11 on: February 10, 2014, 07:33:39 AM »

Jompier - I think you might have given too much credit (or at least advancement) to the Crayfish People.  I saw them as Middle Ages types, still believing that the Earth was flat.  A Tall Ship is some serious technology when you compare it to cavemen, but it certainly isn't an Apollo capsule.  I recall one point where Catat was kinda surprised by sunlight coming through the hole in the ice.  I suspect they stuck around home quite a lot and didn't explore much at all.  These guys seemed more like Egyptians than Vikings.

In retrospect, I see what you mean, and I agree. In terms of level of advancement, machine-based exploration was probably out of reach. Probes, satellites, etc. was probably not going to happen. I guess what bugs me is that Catat implicitly referred to himself as a scientist (at least by reference to his "scientific rival"). And it seems that by claiming the mantle of science one professes a commitment to measured exploration and data gathering. The way I see it is that the critters had the ability to get to the ice barrier and cut into it. At that point, how sophisticated do your tools need to be before you can gather some data about the world beyond the ice? I would hazard to guess that even less advanced human societies would have tested the properties of something like fire before jumping into a bonfire to learn through sacrifice.

Then again, we could also read the choice to leave Catat tethered to a telegraph/tow cable as evidence that the others in the society did not anticipate that venturing to the world beyond the ice would be a sacrifice at all.
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davidthygod
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« Reply #12 on: February 10, 2014, 11:42:06 AM »

As I understand this story, and my attention was partially diverted due to traffic, some guy cut an ice fishing hole, and a sentient underwater turtle decided to go see what was through the hole. 
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slic
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« Reply #13 on: February 10, 2014, 01:14:05 PM »

I would hazard to guess that even less advanced human societies would have tested the properties of something like fire before jumping into a bonfire to learn through sacrifice.
Haha good point, however, I bet if we could look deep enough into the distant past, we'd see that some guy probably tried to eat a flame.
We have a cat who burnt her nose sniffing a candle flame - twice!

I think sometimes the roles of explorer and scientist get mixed up together.  How much is measurement can you make without seeing it for yourself?
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slic
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« Reply #14 on: February 10, 2014, 01:16:49 PM »

As I understand this story, and my attention was partially diverted due to traffic, some guy cut an ice fishing hole, and a sentient underwater turtle decided to go see what was through the hole. 
You hit on the main plot point, but, in a similar vein, it's a bit like saying the story of Joan of Arc is about a woman who heard a voice and then got into a fight.
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« Reply #15 on: February 11, 2014, 09:33:41 AM »

I quite enjoyed this one, a race of aliens who were unaware of the world outside their ice crust until first contact reached them.  I think this was probably meant to be Europa specifically, which is cool, have read a few stories that speculate about underwater life on Europa.

My favorite part was the breaking through at the end and the realization that they were really just living in a tiny ice bubble in a great sea.

Interesting that because their experience of the world was so limited to just the fluid underdwelling, and not even familiar with the surface of their moon, that this limitation actually prepared them better for coping with the concept of outer space.  Because their only experience was an open fluid in which they could move freely, they could more easily adapt outer space to their understanding as a vast ocean.  Much more easily than, say, if you launched an ancient Greek scholar into space who has no concept of anything but a flat world where he is bound to a surface.

I didn't think that Catat's nature conflicted with his proclaimed science career at all.  He understood that they had a very limited window of opportunity while the ice was still penetrable and  his shell was still extra thick.  Science does not say that you can't take a dangerous leap and see what happens.  All that science says is that you should record what happens honestly and completely as you can, so that others can try to reproduce the conclusions.  No doubt the first deep sea explorers were taking major risks of getting the bends and the like, things which they didn't fully understand, but that doesn't mean they weren't scientists.  There are different ways to pursue science.  Thomas Edison, for instance, tended to be very methodical in comparison to Nikola Tesla who tended to make intuitive leaps and who professed a contempt for Edison's plodding pace.

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albionmoonlight
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« Reply #16 on: February 11, 2014, 11:25:47 AM »

This reminded me of a Golden Age story (whose name I cannot recall) about humans having seeded life into a puddle on another world.  Then, generations later, an explorer comes out of the puddle and into another puddle.  "Outer space" for them was the surface of the world.

I agree with SeekerPilgrim that this was a nice, tight story.  Even though the ending was somewhat telegraphed, I did not mind that at all.  This was much more about the journey and the character than the destination.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #17 on: February 12, 2014, 04:36:33 PM »

Am I the only one who seriously thought this story was set in the Antarctic until they read the comments here? Europa certainly makes more sense, but I like my interpretation too. Cheesy

This was a fun story and I couldn't help but laugh at wondering what the people watching the probe's camera feed must have been thinking. What a discovery that would be! I thought the snail people were a really cool invention, even if they didn't really seem very "alien."

Really interesting discussion about the scientific merits of Catat's methods. I think of Catat as more of a Shackleton figure than a Baumgartner figure, willing to take big risks but for the sake of actual scientific discovery rather than bragging rights.



My one beef was the ending  - it was so predictable.  I understand that it is more dramatic, but on the same token the character doesn't know they will live, so the sacrifice is still equally significant.  It just seems to me (maybe limited exposure) that unless it's a series main character (say Thor or Raylan Givens or Jack Reacher who we all know will never be killed) the hero never makes it back.  I'm not saying they should all be Apollo 13 endings, but writers out there, it's ok if the hero comes back.

Thank you. Smiley The world needs more Justified references!
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Windup
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« Reply #18 on: February 13, 2014, 12:00:16 AM »

The way I see it is that the critters had the ability to get to the ice barrier and cut into it. At that point, how sophisticated do your tools need to be before you can gather some data about the world beyond the ice? I would hazard to guess that even less advanced human societies would have tested the properties of something like fire before jumping into a bonfire to learn through sacrifice.

Then again, we could also read the choice to leave Catat tethered to a telegraph/tow cable as evidence that the others in the society did not anticipate that venturing to the world beyond the ice would be a sacrifice at all.

I didn't see them as having the ability to penetrate the ice barrier at will. To get very far in hard ice that was continually re-freezing, I would think they'd need some sort of motorized blade; as I said earlier, I think it would take a long time for submerged society to develop motors.  They clearly knew a little, because they were talking about "tidal forces," but that knowledge seemed to come from natural fissures in the ice. 

So, I think they were seizing a rare opportunity to get through a hole in the ice barrier before it was sealed, and before whatever sent the probe left.  I think it was a perfectly understandable gamble.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #19 on: February 13, 2014, 09:48:25 AM »

The way I see it is that the critters had the ability to get to the ice barrier and cut into it. At that point, how sophisticated do your tools need to be before you can gather some data about the world beyond the ice? I would hazard to guess that even less advanced human societies would have tested the properties of something like fire before jumping into a bonfire to learn through sacrifice.

Then again, we could also read the choice to leave Catat tethered to a telegraph/tow cable as evidence that the others in the society did not anticipate that venturing to the world beyond the ice would be a sacrifice at all.

I didn't see them as having the ability to penetrate the ice barrier at will. To get very far in hard ice that was continually re-freezing, I would think they'd need some sort of motorized blade; as I said earlier, I think it would take a long time for submerged society to develop motors.  They clearly knew a little, because they were talking about "tidal forces," but that knowledge seemed to come from natural fissures in the ice. 

So, I think they were seizing a rare opportunity to get through a hole in the ice barrier before it was sealed, and before whatever sent the probe left.  I think it was a perfectly understandable gamble.

I think Windup is right.  And in addition, I think that in their understanding of the world the ice barrier is literally the boundary of the world.  When they mention sunlight coming through the hole that's a new revelation.  Human beings had the benefit of being able to SEE celestial objects like the sun and the stars and the planets and the moon to make us philosophize about them. This species developed under an ice ceiling, so the top of the world is the top of the world and that is that.  Until the probe comes through and the probe must've come from somewhere.
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