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Author Topic: PC318: The MSG Golem  (Read 4018 times)
Talia
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« on: July 03, 2014, 12:07:01 PM »

PodCastle 318: The MSG Golem

by Ken Liu

Read by Anaea Lay (of the Strange Horizons podcast)

Originally published in Unidentified Funny Objects 2, edited by Alex Shvartsman.

On the second day after the spaceship _Princess of the Nebulae_ left Earth, God spoke to Rebecca.

“Rebecca Lau, listen to me. I need you.”

The ten-year-old girl took off her headphones. The cabin was silent save for the faint rumble of the spaceship’s engines. “Dad, did you say something?”

“It’s me, God.”

“Right.” Rebecca climbed onto a chair to examine the speakers in the ceiling. The voice did not seem to be coming out of them.

She climbed down and peered closely at her computer. “If I find out you had anything to do with this, Bobby Lee …” she muttered darkly. Bobby had been jealous when he heard that her family was going on this cruise to the vacation colony on New Haifa for winter break. It was entirely possible that he decided to play a trick on her by programming her computer.

“Bobby has nothing to do with this,” God said, slightly miffed.


Rated PG. Contains God, a Golem, and a Spaceship.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: July 23, 2014, 02:46:58 PM by Talia » Logged
Motivist
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« Reply #1 on: July 04, 2014, 12:22:32 AM »

This was good fun, only missing an image of 148 ratsicles floating from the airlock.
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benjaminjb
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« Reply #2 on: July 04, 2014, 11:14:57 AM »

A fun story. I've long wanted to use the Kaifeng Jews in a story, but now that Ken Liu has done so better than I could, I'll have to abandon that and use the Cochin Jews.

As for the relation between God and his people (argumentative), this story gives me the opportunity to tell one of my favorite jokes on that issue:
Quote
Moses is going through the Torah with God and comes to the command, "Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.” (Deut 14:21)
"Huh," says Moses. "What does that mean?"
And God says, "Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
"Ah," says Moses, "you mean we should not eat meat and milk dishes at the same time.”
And God says, "Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
"Hmm," says Moses, "you mean we should wait six hours after meat before we can eat milk?”
And God says, "Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
"So," says Moses, "you mean we should have separate dishes for meat and milk."
And God says, "Fine, have it your way.”

I've actually got about three other favorites in that vein, but for that you'll have to subscribe to my podcast, Benjaminjb's House of Talmudic Anecdotes.

As for the story, one of my favorite parts was the way Ken used one of the classic versions of the golem story--clay man goes berserk, must be stopped by changing the writing on his forehead from emet (truth) to met (death)--and adapted it for these characters and situation.
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slic
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« Reply #3 on: July 07, 2014, 01:22:56 PM »

I'll admit first off I've not been a fan of Ken Liu's work so far.  Clearly I'm in the minority, but that happens from time to time.
The reading by Anaea Lay was quite good :-)

For this story, still not a big fan, but I did enjoy some if it.  I listened to it while doing the dishes, and, as it turns out, my son (17), ended up overhearing most of it as he was sitting in the dining room.  I found out he was listening when, after God said, "What I have to work with...", my son piped up "Is God racist?"  Which I'll admit was the same thought I had.  Frankly, it was what saved the story for me.

I'm not certain if it's blasphemous or not, but I oscillated between shock and school-girl giggles as God acted like the father in $#*! My Dad Says.

The best part for me was that throughout the story, something notable would happen, and my son or I would pause the story and debate whether or not that something was worthy of God or Rebecca.  We also discussed what this implied to our version of God (we aren't religious, but we are opinionated Wink) how much we agreed with the idea or how He behaved.  The longest debate we had was if Rebecca should have called God by the Hebrew term Yahweh or not.  I was in the Not camp as I felt that while Rebecca was Jewish, she didn't study Hebrew so she went with the term most familiar.  My son felt she lacked devotion.  We ended with neither agreeing with the other.  Working out shabbat was the second longest debate (we paused it as Rebecca and God started working it out, so we could come up with our own answers first) God and I agreed and my son was shocked that it took God so long to work out the math Wink

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Marsman1
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« Reply #4 on: July 07, 2014, 08:33:59 PM »

The Idea of the MSG Golem was great, I just disapprove of the way God is portrayed. He isn't some stupid being, he is the creator of the universe. I'm sorry, I know this story is all in fun, but really when someone doesn't take religous thought seriously it jepordizes the story.
Sorry about my rant, just wasn't a fan of the way God was portrayed. Oh and the girl in the story was really annoying.  Keep up the good work though.

Randy from Iowa
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Richard Babley
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« Reply #5 on: July 08, 2014, 02:45:11 AM »

I, like Slic, haven't been a fan of anything from Ken Liu so far...
Neither have I been a fan of any of the humor here.

But, this story defied my expectation.

It felt like an homage to Bill Cosby's "Noah" sketch, especially in the beginning "Noah, this is God" "Riiigggghhhhttt, who is this really?," or

"I want you to build an Ark" -God
"Right! Whats an Ark?" -Noah
"Get some wood build it 300 cubits by 80 cubits by 40 cubits" -God
"Right! Whats a cubit?" -Noah
"Lets see a cubit...I used to know what a cubit was" -God
-Bill Cosby

but then moved on to a story of it's own.  The humor wasn't laugh out loud funny, but it wasn't simple slapstick internet-meme humor (which I hate most of the time).  It made points and did it well.

As for the treatment of God, I had no qualms with it.  I find humor in serious situations much more funny if it is treated well with respect (i.e. in the end God brought the family together, I would see that as a good message for God.  Maybe he was just playing stupid to achieve that miracle...)
« Last Edit: July 08, 2014, 02:47:07 AM by Richard Babley » Logged
Varda
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« Reply #6 on: July 08, 2014, 07:29:27 AM »

The Idea of the MSG Golem was great, I just disapprove of the way God is portrayed. He isn't some stupid being, he is the creator of the universe. I'm sorry, I know this story is all in fun, but really when someone doesn't take religous thought seriously it jepordizes the story.

Funny thing about words like "God" is that they can mean very different things to different people. As Benjaminjb pointed out, the context for the characterization of God here is rabbinic jokes and Jewish folklore where it's entirely appropriate to portray God this way. I hardly think it's fair to say this isn't taking religion seriously just because it falls outside of your own religious traditions and experiences, but I'm certain you didn't mean to write off people of other faiths and were probably just unfamiliar with the greater context of the story.

I'm going to agree with Benjaminjb that this story was a lot of fun, and really clever. I loved watching Rebecca's completely sincere attempts to excel at being Jewish to the point where God is silently facepalming while he tries to work around the enthusiastic road blocks she's constructing. You get that nice dance between God influencing people to carry out his will, and how people in turn use the fact God needs them to act to make God act in return. I'm especially glad the rats got a happy ending, and I liked the sense of a larger parallel between God/humans and humans/rats--even though they annoy you and meddle with your plans, you're obligated to them anyway, and in the end a little compassion pays off.

Lovely little story all around. Smiley
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benjaminjb
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« Reply #7 on: July 08, 2014, 09:14:02 AM »

The old joke/truth about Jewish thought is that if you ask five rabbis a question about Torah you'll get six answers. So there's plenty of opinions and disagreements about God and commandments, especially as situations change. (The joking version of that is the Onion's article "Jewish Elders Lift 6000-Year Ham Ban"; the slightly more serious version is the work that's going on right now to figure out how Brain-Computer Interfaces might be compatible with Jewish teachings.)

That said, in my Hebrew school studies, we found many times when God would act stupidly (in both sense of being stupid and of putting on a show of stupidity to achieve some other goal). I put that joke about "do not boil a kid/young goat in its mother's milk" because it seemed to fit with Ken's story and Rebecca nearly tying herself up with Jewish law. (Possibly one reason why she's named "Rebecca," since the root form of that name has to do with "tying up" or "tying together.")

But for a more "oy vey God" example, we could look at the Exodus story and God's choice of Moses: on one hand, what a beautiful story--let's take someone who has lived the good (i.e., rich, Egyptian) life and show him realizing that he has to work against the oppression that makes that easy life possible; on the other hand, why would God look over his options and say, "I need a spokesman--let's choose the guy with the stutter, I'm sure he's great at public speaking."

Which is a long way of saying here what I said to Ken Liu on Twitter, that this story nicely fits in with a Judaic tradition of God stories.
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kibitzer
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« Reply #8 on: July 08, 2014, 05:23:36 PM »

I can't believe noone's mentioned the really important thing here -- the missing long "O". Wink

Anyway, great story. I particularly liked that Rebecca essentially can't write because she has no need to. That's where we're going, folks!
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Orual
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« Reply #9 on: July 08, 2014, 06:09:58 PM »

I enjoyed the story. At some point, I'm going to have to pick up a copy of Unidentified Funny Objects, because genuinely funny sci-fi is thin on the ground. This is the first Ken Liu story I've heard/read.

At times, the voice cast in my head overrides the actual narration. In this case, God sounded a lot like Billy Crystal as Miracle Max from The Princess Bride. "Again, with the blaming?" And the scene in the kitchen made me picture something from Pixar's Ratatouille.

Loved that the parents stuck up for Rebecca in the end. As a mom of a tween and a teen, I'm continually frustrated when parents are always either absent, incompetent, or evil in books and media aimed where the protagonist is a kid.
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albionmoonlight
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« Reply #10 on: July 10, 2014, 11:55:08 AM »

This was a really fun story.  And, when you have a really good author like Liu, you are always going to have some substance there.  Even in a humor story, he manages to throw in some real meat and substance regarding family dynamics and expectations.  Really really liked this one.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #11 on: July 14, 2014, 04:13:50 PM »

Wow, a lighthearted story featuring smart-ass rats and a finicky God from Ken Liu.

I guess anything really IS possible.  Wink
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« Reply #12 on: July 15, 2014, 09:47:49 AM »

I thought this story was great fun.  Rebecca was well fleshed out and the creation of the Golem was certainly more fantastic than sci-fi, although personally I pronounce it with a long "o" to differentiate it from that guy Andy Serkis always yells at.  I didn't mind the way God was portrayed; there was a good line about how everyone expects God to get everything right the first time.  I think Ken Liu portrays an appropriate Judeo-Christian God that uses all those pesky humans to bring about his will.
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« Reply #13 on: July 15, 2014, 10:14:57 AM »

Loved it.  I wasn't crying tears of laughter as Dave suggested, but I was consistently interested throughout it and I did laugh aloud here and there, particularly when God was listing the steps in creating a golem and Rebecca was pointing out each one wasn't allowed on shabbat.

I love golems, I love a story that can involve God irreverently (just because a story has a sense of humor about religion doesn't by any means mean it's anti-religion or disrespecting religion), golems hunting rats on a spaceship is a great idea for a plot.  Very cool that her family stuck up for her in the end.  I mean, even if they didn't, the spaceship captain would still have to somehow explain how one teenager snuck 146 rats onto the ship with no one noticing so it would've still been his problem, but rather than just letting it fall back on there her parents took the offensive in her name.

Great stuff.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #14 on: July 22, 2014, 03:54:35 PM »

There was some good stuff here, like the parents actually being good parents who stick up for their kid. I just couldn't get behind the humor in this story. Oh well, that's just how humor works, not everybody finds everything funny.
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ytsi
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« Reply #15 on: July 22, 2014, 11:58:01 PM »

Slic, to clear up one of your arguments with your son: A religious Jew would never use the word Yahweh. The tetragrammaton YHWH is never actually spoken aloud, and hasn't been in so long that its proper pronunciation was lost a long time ago. If I was at all religious, I'd probably refuse to even type it. The taboo is very strong - I still flinch a bit at seeing the word in print, even though I've been an atheist all my life.

I really enjoyed this story. But then, I've liked everything I've read or listened to of Ken Liu's work. I admire his ability to channel cultures other than his own in a respectful way. I feel like this one really got some essence of Jewishness across - mostly the "arguing with God" bit.
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« Reply #16 on: July 23, 2014, 09:02:08 AM »

Slic, to clear up one of your arguments with your son: A religious Jew would never use the word Yahweh. The tetragrammaton YHWH is never actually spoken aloud, and hasn't been in so long that its proper pronunciation was lost a long time ago. If I was at all religious, I'd probably refuse to even type it. The taboo is very strong - I still flinch a bit at seeing the word in print, even though I've been an atheist all my life.

If it's not to be spoken, and there's a taboo against writing it... how does anyone know about it at all?
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ytsi
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« Reply #17 on: July 23, 2014, 01:05:16 PM »

If it's not to be spoken, and there's a taboo against writing it... how does anyone know about it at all?

It's only supposed to be written in very very religious contexts. It appears in the Torah and prayer books and so on. Some religious Jews extend this prohibition to all names of God, so you'll see them writing "G-d" instead.
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« Reply #18 on: July 23, 2014, 02:35:24 PM »

If it's not to be spoken, and there's a taboo against writing it... how does anyone know about it at all?

It's only supposed to be written in very very religious contexts. It appears in the Torah and prayer books and so on. Some religious Jews extend this prohibition to all names of God, so you'll see them writing "G-d" instead.

Got it. Thanks!
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« Reply #19 on: July 24, 2014, 09:52:54 PM »

It's spelled "G-d", but I think it's pronounced "ghoti", right? 
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