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Author Topic: EP446: The Way of the Needle  (Read 2345 times)
eytanz
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« on: May 12, 2014, 03:52:46 AM »

EP446: The Way of the Needle

By Derek Künsken

Read by Shaelyn Grey

Originally appeared in the March, 2012 issue of Asimov’s

---

I

The ancient pulsar’s lighthouse beam of microwaves and radio waves spun twice per second. Within the bloom of its magnetic field orbited the single planet that had survived the long-ago supernova, at the cost of its crust and mantle. An atmosphere of carbon dioxide had congealed around the little metallic world, producing oceans of iron and nickel carbonyl, dotted with thickets of steel needles that fanned to catch the microwaves. On the largest islands, the growth of the needles had been coaxed into towers, pedestals, and martial walls. Prickly metal creatures held together by strong magnetic fields scuttled in these towns and forts, on eight articulated legs of steel spines. Their fine quills caught the flashing microwaves, generating the electricity for their quick, agile movements.

One of them, whose fame would not be made for many years yet, was uncomfortable in a disguise. Mok was a Follower of the Needle, an order of martial priests. Whereas other Followers and fighters-at-arms bore large metal claws high on their forelegs, Mok now scurried with only small, shameful servant claws. No one recognized him and no one complimented him. Nor would he earn any compliments from this mission; he’d been sent by Master Hac not as a warrior to fight under the full shine of the pulsar, but as an assassin.

Mok tried to fan his steel quills wider, but the road was too crowded. Fussing builders swung long rods culled from faraway orchards, patching the palisaded walls that lined the streets. Shabby, short-needled monks stood where the upturned points of the streets were overlaid with rusted garbage and sniped at each other with pinching claws and philosophical recriminations. Mok paused at a stall where a thinly needled elder showed off processed snow paste.

Mok hadn’t stopped for the snow paste. He wasn’t hungry. He’d stopped for the view of the Ban estate. The Ban family had consolidated an immense estate on the south road during the clan wars. Its high noble gate showed sprouting buildings and growing towers within the palisade. Slow mercenaries controlled the gate. To the side, at a narrow opening, flowed the swarmers, servants and merchants, short-needled and small-clawed.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Thunderscreech
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« Reply #1 on: May 12, 2014, 09:04:13 AM »

I'm having a difficult time listening to this because the audio sounds as if it's a severely bandwidth constrained stream that has had a sharpness filter operation run against it. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to reprocess the audio?  I don't mean to be persnickety and it might be that I'm one of those adults who still hears the high-pitch sounds everyone else has managed to grow out of (like that teenager-repelling sound or CRT transformers), but if anyone else is having the same problem maybe we can figure out a workaround.  Now to see if my podcast app can adjust levels....
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hansv
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« Reply #2 on: May 13, 2014, 12:42:30 AM »

Indeed, the audio quality, especially when listened to in a noisy environment (commute by car) was bad. Had to turn up the volume real loud an then be deafened by the bass tones and the sharp Sses of the narrator. Completely turning down the bass and high notes helped some.
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hansv
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« Reply #3 on: May 13, 2014, 12:45:11 AM »

I liked the story though. It took a while to get into it ( a lot of completely strange descriptions of the setting, not helped by difficulty to understand the audio, nearly made me skip the story in the first 2 minutes. I am glad I persevered. I liked it. Exactly enough resolution in the ending.
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TheFunkeyGibbon
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« Reply #4 on: May 13, 2014, 07:45:16 AM »

This story took me a while to get into but once I did, the world came alive. It was a brilliant tale that I thoroughly enjoyed.
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bounceswoosh
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Re:
« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2014, 08:40:35 AM »

I was so invested in this story that I was talking to the MC, telling him he was abusing his friend. I felt genuine panic at the thought that Rag might be left to die. That's a good story right there.

It took me a while to understand the setting - honestly, I'm still not sure I fully get it - but that's not a bug, it's a feature. The world building was top notch.

I am not sure I found the explanation for the mission plausible. There is no hint of this sort of counter-culture movement until the end.
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2014, 08:52:56 PM »

So overall I really enjoyed this one. The worldbuilding is pretty awesome and very creative. I never knew I wanted to know what kind of life would evolve under a pulsar. Smiley I did struggle to picture how everything worked on this planet; what the creatures actually looked like, the size differences, how they can just yank quills free and jam them back into each other at random, what the snow paste was and how they created it/transferred it and all that. But I'm very glad Künsken didn't take time to explain everything. Just give it to me as-is and I'll figure it out eventually.

I like the story for the most part, Mok's acceptance of what his role must be in order to accomplish his goal, and his slow understanding of friendship truly means, and how that adds to honor rather than detracts from it. It was all very well done. However, I also had a problem with this because Künsken spends so much time developing this beautifully alien world full of creatures completely foreign to human beings... and then he gives them all human desires and human concepts and human goals. Now I get that, if they're made to be completely alien to us then we probably wouldn't understand them and there would be no story. But here we basically get, I am a chitinous-like creature with many legs and long quills that soak up microwaves from the pulsar overhead and I've earned these massive claws... for being a great assassin who's full of honor. Suddenly we've gone from alien to kung-fu.

And I don't think the concepts necessarily need to be changed, but, for example, there are many different words and different notions of "honor" in the many societies of Earth. Could Künsken not have just made up his own term for "honor" and then displayed the basic concepts of it and we would get the idea? I just feel like everything else was so deliciously alien, couldn't the basic concepts and goals be a little foreign, too?

Still, the story was good, I have no beefs with it, and I loved the world, so like I said, overall I really liked this one.

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ancawonka
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« Reply #7 on: May 18, 2014, 01:24:31 AM »

After the last couple of very slow stories, this was a welcome change. The world building was neat and intricate. I imagined the creatures as sea urchins with 6 legs, but shiny. I enjoyed the material arts moves and how they were named. While I thought the plot was a bit transparent,I was riveted with trying to imagine the actual mechanics. Great story.
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matspalding
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« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2014, 05:31:25 AM »

I thought this was of the best stories that's been released for months. The setting and characters were amazing and toward the end of the story I found myself really hoping Mok and Rag made it back.
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albionmoonlight
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« Reply #9 on: May 19, 2014, 09:43:34 AM »

I was so invested in this story that I was talking to the MC, telling him he was abusing his friend. I felt genuine panic at the thought that Rag might be left to die. That's a good story right there.

Yes, yes, yes!  Kudos to both the writing and the reading.  Rag begging for his life was one of the more moving moments I've had with Escape Pod.  I actually felt a little sick to my stomach.  That's fiction doing what fiction does.  Great job by all.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2014, 11:25:06 AM by eytanz » Logged
PlanckWalker
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« Reply #10 on: May 19, 2014, 10:33:53 PM »

I didn't get into this story until at least halfway through because of the terrible audio quality. Especially when listening while cruising on the highway, showering, etc. I hung in there, though, and it was good enough that I went back and started listening from the beginning to pick up on whatever I missed the first time around! (BTW, if anyone would care to share a remixed version of this story with better audio, I would love to have it.)

The world and its creatures were absolutely fascinating and I would be interested in seeing some fanart attempts at figuring out what these creatures looked like. The story wasn't unpredictable, yet I was invested enough in Mok, his mission and his growth as a character to keep me enthralled. I would love to get some more stories set in this world. It's extremely rare for me to listen to a story twice, but this one merited it (as did the recent Eater of Bone, interestingly enough).
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matweller
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« Reply #11 on: May 20, 2014, 09:06:21 AM »

(BTW, if anyone would care to share a remixed version of this story with better audio, I would love to have it.)
Assuming you have the version with the female narrator, delete it and re-download from our feed. I re-recorded and re-released it. If you have the version with me narrating and still can't hear it, you're SOL.
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danthelawyer
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« Reply #12 on: May 20, 2014, 04:01:50 PM »

I really, really enjoyed this story for all the reasons folks have given -- especially the worldbuilding and the "human" contact between Rag and Mok. Metal crabs FTW!
Sadly, I listened to the original recording, which is too bad both because of its poor audio quality and because that meant I missed hearing Mat Weller narrate.
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #13 on: May 20, 2014, 05:20:25 PM »

(BTW, if anyone would care to share a remixed version of this story with better audio, I would love to have it.)
Assuming you have the version with the female narrator, delete it and re-download from our feed. I re-recorded and re-released it. If you have the version with me narrating and still can't hear it, you're SOL.

I wondered if something like this happened. I started listening to the story with the female narrator on my drive to work, but got interrupted by a phone call. When I started it again the next day, Mat was reading it. This change in narrator didn't occur to me until about 3/4 through when I thought, Wait, wasn't this a female narrator when I started it? When did Mat show up?

Smooth transition.  Wink
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matweller
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« Reply #14 on: May 20, 2014, 08:46:05 PM »

I didn't want to make a big deal of it. Shaelyn did a great job narrating, but she recorded with her mic volume so low that I couldn't amplify it without damaging it. What some folks heard of her was the best result of a lot of tricks that just didn't pan out. I didn't want to hog the feed again so soon after doing Eater of Bone but I think we all agree that a new recording was needed and I couldn't ask her to do it all over again on a super quick turn around.

On the plus side, I think this is my favorite narration in a long time, both because I think I did it well and because the story was so cool. I don't pretend to understand it all, but I think that makes it some of the most perfect sic-fi: as human as a Clavell novel; as alien as non-organic life; the science is there, but not overbearing and vague enough to be pretty inarguable. Well, I'd listen to any argument an exobiologist might have, but it still wouldn't change my enjoyment of the story. Beautiful. Probably my new favorite of the year.*


*Of course, as I said that, I looked back through the titles that will be in the running for "Best of 2014" so far, and I think I'm going to have a hard time picking three next year.
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Unblinking
Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #15 on: May 22, 2014, 09:09:22 AM »

I was a little slow to download so I heard the Mat Weller version, no sound problems with that one.

I found the start of the story a bit dense, trying to just get a basic grasp of the situation.  Once I really got a grasp on that, oddly I felt like it was a bit simple since these alien crabs that live under a pulsar seem almost entirely human in their thinking and social patterns--what Cutter said about going from alien to kung-fu. 

Not a bad story, but not one of my favorites by any means.
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Iamthelaw1979
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« Reply #16 on: May 22, 2014, 09:25:47 AM »

Freaking amazing story! I was almost in tears at the end, which doesn't happen often. Great emotion and melodrama, and a wonderful fable about respect, honor, and friendship. I was thoroughly engaged throughout. Awesome!
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Tango Alpha Delta
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« Reply #17 on: May 22, 2014, 08:40:47 PM »

Reminiscent of Vinge's "Deepness in the Sky" - I love stories that go for the all-out alien culture.

As someone else pointed out, there are points that could have been "more alien," but you need something familiar enough to relate to!
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #18 on: May 22, 2014, 08:58:29 PM »

As someone else pointed out, there are points that could have been "more alien," but you need something familiar enough to relate to!

And I get that. But I think there were several aspects of the story that could be related to without directly referring to human culture. Like my example earlier, Honor is one of those notions that can be portrayed through actions and attitude, but could still be given some alien terminology to maintain the otherworldly feel of the story.
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"Remember: You have not yet written your best work." -Tracy Hickman
Tango Alpha Delta
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« Reply #19 on: May 23, 2014, 05:46:42 PM »

As someone else pointed out, there are points that could have been "more alien," but you need something familiar enough to relate to!

And I get that. But I think there were several aspects of the story that could be related to without directly referring to human culture. Like my example earlier, Honor is one of those notions that can be portrayed through actions and attitude, but could still be given some alien terminology to maintain the otherworldly feel of the story.

That could be interesting, if handled right. I sometimes see writers try to do it, and then get accused of being needlessly confusing.

With a concept like honor, which is something humans don't always see the same way, I could personally go either way.
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