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Author Topic: EP448: Paprika  (Read 1645 times)
eytanz
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« on: May 30, 2014, 12:28:42 PM »

EP448: Paprika

By Jason Sanford

Read by Heather Bowman-Tomlinson

Originally appeared in  Issue 249 of Interzone

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“Ah Paprika, you dance so well,” Satoshi exclaimed each bright-sun morning, his praise always pleasing no matter how many times Paprika heard it. And Paprika could dance, she really could. Not like some of the olds, who’d spent millennia shaping their locked-down bodies through graceful movements. But still she could dance. Ballet. The Twist. The Bhangra.

Sometimes she’d make herself as tiny as Satoshi’s hand and pirouette for hours on his workbench while he reformed nano into exciting, long-lost toys. Other times she’d dance full sized–child sized as Satoshi would say, although Paprika knew to never speak that depressing word to customers. Paprika would create a full-flowing lehengas skirt–always the brightest of greens–and she’d dance in the store window, spinning and spinning until she was so overcome with happiness she’d dance through the window into the outside world, leaping and spinning to imaginary partners, bowing and smiling to the boys and girls who never came, flying across the deserted streets and passing in and out of the empty but perfectly preserved buildings surrounding Satoshi’s shop.

But whenever any of the few olds left in the city visited, Paprika restrained herself by simply sitting at her table in the window display. Not that she was for sell–Satoshi always made that clear to any customer who mistook her for other than what she was. With her young girl’s body and innocent happiness, Paprika knew she helped Satoshi sell more than merely the bright toys which populated his store. She sold nostalgia. Happy memories of long-vanished childhoods.

And if nostalgia helped keep Satoshi alive, that was fine with Paprika.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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slic
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Stephen Lumini


« Reply #1 on: June 01, 2014, 09:37:21 PM »

I preface this post by saying that I don't mean any of these comments to be mean, but after a really good run of stories, this one just really didn't work for me.

I don't recall never finishing a story before, in part because I am usually doing chores, so I just let the story play until I'm done.  In this case, I stopped it at minute 27.  I couldn't listen to it anymore.  I started it up again while working on some extra chores, got about 10 minutes in and had to stop again.

My biggest problem was that the story didn't seem to go anywhere.  It flitted from one topic to the next with nothing that connected them for me.  She's a tiny hologram robot named after a spice, and also a time angel that stores memories and also can sift through those memories to tease out stuff you don't even remember yourself, and she can make herself or anything related to herself solid or intangible at will...

Also the narration didn't work for me.  When I was a little kid I asked my Mom to read me Go Dog Go at bed time like 40 days in a row.  By day 20, her enthusiasm had understandably waned, and by day 35 she had about the same intonation as the narrator did.  The line "...his train would run and run and run..."  reminded me of how my Mom read "Look at those dogs go.  Go Dogs go" on day 39.

The other problem I had was the time scale.  First off I didn't see the point.  The time unit was essentially irrelevant to the story, the author could have substituted decades for centuries or centuries for millennium.  We get it, nano stuff lasts a really long time.   It felt like he used huge numbers simply because he could.  And the general hugeness of them was so out of proportion to what I could relate to, it kept throwing me out of the story.
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albionmoonlight
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« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2014, 09:25:47 AM »

I, too, had a little trouble with this story.  I liked the overall world.  Speculative fiction is at its best when it addresses questions like how society would react to effective immortality.  And, even, how cool would it be if a toy train could run forever.  (As a parent who spends ~25% of my take-home pay every month on replacement batteries for Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends, I was actually really interested in the immortal train.)

But I had a bit of a problem with the flow of the story.  It sort of seemed ready to end when Satoshi died and she wandered the Earth.  But then it did not end.  And I liked the ending where the idea of fun and play and toys were encoded into the life of the planet.  But it did not seem to flow from the overall narrative; it was more kind of an addendum.

In short, I liked all of the pieces, but I didn't quite like how the pieces fit together.
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #3 on: June 02, 2014, 05:08:14 PM »

I have to agree with the consensus here. While I did finish the story, my attention wandered quite a bit throughout. It was just too slow. The writing was fine, and the narration wasn't bad, but it took way too long to pretty much go nowhere. I'm not saying all EP episodes need to be action packed, but this one was too far the other direction.

The other problem I had was the time scale.  First off I didn't see the point.  The time unit was essentially irrelevant to the story, the author could have substituted decades for centuries or centuries for millennium.  We get it, nano stuff lasts a really long time.   It felt like he used huge numbers simply because he could.  And the general hugeness of them was so out of proportion to what I could relate to, it kept throwing me out of the story.

I fully agree with this. I spent much of the story wondering what the purpose was of having such a massive, almost incomprehensible time scale. When each story segment would jump by eons, I couldn't help but wonder how these last surviving human beings didn't go mad with the isolation. I mean, there's barely any interaction at all between them. Even Paprika and Satoshi would go centuries without speaking to each other. That is SO LONG to be alone, I don't care how advanced a being you are. Paprika can speed up her time awareness, but Satoshi can't. My mind kept railing against the idea that he can just go on for a few hundred years without any interaction or purpose. What does he do all day? All millennium?

I did enjoy the ending, as albionmoonlight mentioned, how fun and play were embedded in the fabric of the new world, and I like the idea that the squirrels are going to be the next sentient race. But the build up to that end was way too much for too little a payoff.  Undecided
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skeletondragon
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« Reply #4 on: June 02, 2014, 10:44:30 PM »

I'm not sure this story knew what it wanted to be. I thought it would focus on how the immortal but aging population managed to keep living, or how they decided to die. But then the story changed when the time angels sabotaged all the rejuvenation machines. I thought this was kind of interesting - intelligent robots created to preserve the minds of dead humans get impatient and force the last few people to die. However, I didn't like it in this story. It took away any opportunity to learn Anya's mindset, and made the time angels villains because of what they did beyond their core programming, rather than for the moral idea that their main purpose might be pointless and obsolete.  Then the story shifted to Paprika's pyramid-building and squirrel gene-meddling, which sounded like the origin story for a one-dimensional race of Star Trek aliens.

The "pocket universes" couldn't help but remind me of Kumara - only in this case, I guess the idea was that you need massive power to preserve human minds and they're STILL not as good as Real Life for some reason.
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Scattercat
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« Reply #5 on: June 03, 2014, 02:36:50 AM »

What does he do all day? All millennium?

You have clearly never played Minecraft.
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Thunderscreech
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« Reply #6 on: June 03, 2014, 09:15:27 AM »

I loved it.  Some of the themes here were fascinating; a humanity that has run out of challenges and things to do and spends all of its time lotus eating and ends up dying out of boredom?  The timescales made sense to me because it showed how stagnant everything was until things started to go wrong.  Paprika doesn't grow until there's an adversary, and the more pitched the fight, the faster she grows. 

The moral of the story seems to be that like a shark, to stop moving is to die and only conflict or adversity can keep you going.  How many times do we see this in our lives?  Every time an idle rich teenager self-destructs in the media looking for 'something', every time someone fights their way out of a bad situation to grow as a person, these are current-day examples and while not as many of our growth opportunities involve city-blasting super mega universe bombs, they're still recognizable.

One thing perplexed me about the lotus eaters of tomorrow...  where were the spaceships?  Is this the post-diaspora Earth populated by the Old Ones who were Satisfied with things?  Has everyone with the drive to grow left, and if so, isn't it odd none of them have returned during fastsleep? 
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #7 on: June 03, 2014, 09:25:03 AM »

What does he do all day? All millennium?

You have clearly never played Minecraft.

Now there's a story for you. Mankind develops eternal life and stops breeding because there just aren't enough hours in a life to play Minecraft. Undecided
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« Reply #8 on: June 04, 2014, 09:00:59 AM »

Hey, did you guys (all but Thunderscreech) steal my Grumpy Hat?  Aren't I supposed to be the one that spends the thread grumping about a story while everyone else loves it?

Well I enjoyed it.  I thought the way the question of whether you are really immortal if a copy of you lives on was an interesting one.  I thought the conflict between Paprika and the other time angels was an interesting one, and I thought the resolution of the long-term effect of her tweaking the whisper willows was pretty cool.

Unlike others, I found the long time scale not only NOT pointless, but I found it a large and intriguing part of the story.  Sure, I can't comprehend it exactly, but that's kind of the point--if you can exactly understand everything in a posthuman story, then it's not a very good posthuman story.  The only reason that centuries of isolation is terrible to us is because we live on a timescale where that is lifetimes.

In fact, I thought the treatment of the long timescale was interesting enough that I had to stop listening to the story in the middle because a story idea popped into my head while I was listening and doing dishes and I had to stop to follow that story thread until it became something fully fledged that I can write into a story.  I don't get ideas that pop into my head with my strength very often, so I'm especially glad I listened to this story to give the opportunity.

The one thing that I did find a little bit annoying was the talk of her resisting her programming.  If you are an AI that can resist your programming, then it's not really your programming, is it?  It's more suggestions that apparently you can ignore.  And it confused me greatly when there was talk of how the other time angel couldn't have destroyed the rejuvenator because that would be harming a human and harming humans is against a time angel's programming.  The story justified this by explaining that harming the rejuvenator is not exactly the same thing as harming a human, but what I wanted it to say at that point is "You mean the same programming that Paprika is habitually ignoring?  Well, obviously a time angel's programming is only optional guidelines, otherwise Paprika wouldn't be able to be such a heretic."
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Warren
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« Reply #9 on: June 04, 2014, 12:48:26 PM »

I really wanted to like it. It was a strange, deeply conceived world, and it had a happy life-affirming message even as it portrayed the ultimate bankruptcy of more deliberate attempts to dictate the importance of life.

But the science was dreadful. Some examples:

1) The time scale was, as others have mentioned, arbitrary and inconsistent. Clearly it was necessary for Paprika to blink and miss eons, or you couldn't get to that last scene, but the author just winds up throwing units of time around with abandon, such that Paprika unnecessarily leaves Satoshi alone without stimulation for a century without rejuvenation at one point, and regularly disappears for years at a stretch, even though it's supposedly her companionship that's keeping him alive.

2) More than that, time is backwards:
Paprika sped up her time sense so the train became a burning ring of red, going lightspeed fast. Other times she slowed her senses down so the train paused between one beat of its crystal heart and the next, its wheels forever hoping for the next move down those stiff unending tracks.
No! You speed up your senses, and the world appears to slow, not to race!

3) I am so heartily sick of post-transcendence stories in which Humanity universally commits voluntarily and without exception to ceasing to exist, out of boredom or out of the belief they've found something better. This is a lazy and fantastic literary device, far less realistic than all the gee-whiz technology in the story. Sure, you might get 99.99% of people - but there will be fringe elements, the Amish and Mennonites of their day. And people will want kids, and people will want to explore the universe rather than disappear up their digitally copied (and non-networked?!) navels.

4) The evolution-to-a-world-of-play idea was in keeping with the author's message, but it's just terrible biology.

I thought the narrator did a fantastic job for about the first half, but then appeared to get tired and began stumbling a bit. An hour is a long time! I'd hope you'd encourage readers to take breaks, and stitch it together digitally.
« Last Edit: June 04, 2014, 02:03:46 PM by Warren » Logged
Richard Babley
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« Reply #10 on: June 04, 2014, 01:18:45 PM »

I am Debby downer this week,

I have to agree with what Warren said.  Plus i have to add, people stop reproducing because they live longer?  That made absolutely no sense to me.

I also wanted the throttle the fictional geneticists that spent their time inventing giggle grass, whisper willow and chatter squirrels instead of finding a way to get people to screw.  Why not clone some children?
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skeletondragon
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« Reply #11 on: June 04, 2014, 08:48:57 PM »

I am Debby downer this week,

I have to agree with what Warren said.  Plus i have to add, people stop reproducing because they live longer?  That made absolutely no sense to me.

I also wanted the throttle the fictional geneticists that spent their time inventing giggle grass, whisper willow and chatter squirrels instead of finding a way to get people to screw.  Why not clone some children?


Well, think about the reasons people have children. To have someone to take care of them when they're old? To pass on their family name and, more biologically, their genetics? These become meaningless if you can live forever in nano-bot-provided comfort. Also, as standards of living and education improve, people tend to have fewer children, to the point where in Japan and many countries in Europe the birth rate no longer keeps pace with the death rate, and populations are tending to age.  This part of the story seemed very believable to me - in a world-wide post-scarcity economy with access to immortality, extrapolating these trends would lead to essentially this situation.

I could accept the giggle grass etc. once I realized that this story was just really, almost sickeningly, whimsical. Actually, that might be the most interesting part of the story. What will be humanity's lasting legacy once we are gone? A lot of stories assume things like war or destruction or sacrifice or exploration or nothing at all. But what if our legacy were whimsy, fun, and weird genetic tampering? There are worse things.
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bounceswoosh
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Re:
« Reply #12 on: June 04, 2014, 10:21:43 PM »

I liked it, for reasons explained better by others before me. Rarely is a non-human character so well drawn.
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Captain (none given)
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« Reply #13 on: June 05, 2014, 06:14:29 PM »

So you guys posted this because its graduation season, right? Not cool man. Not cool.

I do have to jump on the "not the best" bandwagon for reason all stated previously. But also wouldn't after all those eons, the sun and major geology have started changing? I thought that would have been interesting to have played into the story. Eventually the story has to end anyways when Sol finally gives out.


And now for something completely different:
Suggestions for the donation button. I think you should call it THE BIG RED BUTTON.
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ArbysMom
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« Reply #14 on: June 10, 2014, 06:10:37 PM »

The narration didn't work for me so I read the text version. I liked this story a lot maybe because of -- not in spite of -- the various time scales. To me, it was similar to what happens in The Time Macine. As for the comment from Warren that speeding up your time senses is backwards, I would disagree. She didn't speed up time, she sped up her SENSE of it. Maybe I see it differently than Warren but it made more sense (no pun intended) to me the way the author wrote it. I think in a story like this, picking it apart means it didn't satisfy you enough to just accept the whimsy and enjoy it.
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« Reply #15 on: June 11, 2014, 07:58:58 AM »

As for the comment from Warren that speeding up your time senses is backwards, I would disagree. She didn't speed up time, she sped up her SENSE of it. Maybe I see it differently than Warren but it made more sense (no pun intended) to me the way the author wrote it. I think in a story like this, picking it apart means it didn't satisfy you enough to just accept the whimsy and enjoy it.

Made sense to me too, though I didn't pick apart the exact syntax that closely.  It was clear that she could speed up or slow down her experience of time at will, but if our understanding of those two concepts are reversed, her abilities are still the same in the end.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #16 on: June 11, 2014, 12:50:06 PM »

*Borrows Unblinking's Grumpy Hat* (what, he's not using it!)


There were plenty of snippets that I really enjoyed, such as first meeting Anya, and Paprika's conversation with Satoshi about his decision to not have her copy his memories. However, I didn't feel any connection to an over-arching narrative and as a result I felt like this story was coming at me from a very long distance.


As for the comment from Warren that speeding up your time senses is backwards, I would disagree. She didn't speed up time, she sped up her SENSE of it. Maybe I see it differently than Warren but it made more sense (no pun intended) to me the way the author wrote it. I think in a story like this, picking it apart means it didn't satisfy you enough to just accept the whimsy and enjoy it.

Made sense to me too, though I didn't pick apart the exact syntax that closely.  It was clear that she could speed up or slow down her experience of time at will, but if our understanding of those two concepts are reversed, her abilities are still the same in the end.

If you're going by the generally accepted definition of speeding up and slowing down time sense, the author got it backwards. It's a very easy mistake to make, but I'm going with Oliver Sacks on this one. Another good example is Quicksilver, whose time sense is sped up so everyone else seems super slow to him. Tongue
http://www.radiolab.org/story/91584-time/
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #17 on: June 12, 2014, 04:22:10 PM »

I have a twofold problem with this story.

First, as a subgenre, I usually find the "post-human creations surviving humanity's extinction" depressing. This one certainly was, until the very last few lines.

Second, this suffers from the "unexplained transformation" problem that all too many SF stories suffer from. Not as bad as some, but it's there.
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InfiniteMonkey
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Clearly, I need more typewriters....


« Reply #18 on: June 13, 2014, 01:01:59 AM »

OK, upon further reflection, I realized another problem I had involved the uniformity of the humans in this piece. I just don't buy it. I can't see all of humanity - and that's pretty much what's presented here - all marching down the same path that leads to long life, virtual preservation, and death. There's simply too much a divide between haves and have-nots in this world.

(and don't get me started about the notion of post-scarcity society - I think we'll have warp drive first)

Humanity would still evolve, but I think there would several different branches. 
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #19 on: June 18, 2014, 02:55:12 PM »

Well, I'm conflicted on this one.
Listening to the story the first thing that bothered me were the geological time spans. I mean, not all time spans in the story are geological, but from start to finish the story goes on for so long that the Sun's output will change its spectrum and probably kill all of life on Earth that didn't evolve. The continents will have shifted to new positions and the Moon will have drifted farther away causing all sorts of problems. (For starters, less tides means less oxygenation of the oceans means less life and you can follow that thread yourself. Second, the farther the Moon us from the Earth, the less of an effect its gravity has on the core of our planet (inverse square rule). That means that the core will have become less active, radioactivity in the crust will have gone down and the planet might cool down quite a bit. On the other hand, the Sun would be heating up and that might even things out a bit. Or not. Nobody (to my knowledge) has done the math on this, but it's an interesting study. Another problem would be Earth's axis tilt. Scientists (I'm not sure which ones. Astronomers? Geologists? Astrophysicists?) are pretty sure that the Moon is helping to keep Earth's axis tilted at a pretty sedate angle. Without it, the Earth would wobble like a top, with the poles and the equator constantly changing which one is aligned in the planetary plane. That would cause all sorts of extreme weather, and the changes would be too fast for anything (except nanobots!) to adapt to.)

Once I got past that little problem (magic nanobots!) I enjoyed the story more.
I particularly liked how all of the Time Angels, and humanity for that matter, got it all wrong. You live forever while people remember you. And this is an old idea, there are numerous examples across thousands of years of written history. One that I particularly like, roughly translated, is: "He whose teachings are still being taught, his lips whisper in the grave." That sounds a bit creepy, but upon introspection it means that a part of you lives on, forever, as long as you, your life, your values, your ideas, your progeny live on to remember you by.

I completely disagree with everything that Humanity has become in the pocket universe of this story, but I love the message that Paprika brings home to us. And that is what speculative fiction is all about.

I could have done without the genetically modified shrubbery though.
« Last Edit: June 18, 2014, 03:00:12 PM by Max e^{i pi} » Logged

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