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Author Topic: EP457: A Struggle Between Rivals Ends Surprisingly  (Read 8036 times)

eytanz

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on: August 05, 2014, 11:23:38 AM
EP457: A Struggle Between Rivals Ends Surprisingly

By Oliver Buckram

Read by Laura Hobbs

---

While the harbormaster fidgeted at his desk, Treya checked her pipes. They were, of course, in perfect condition: the leather supple and the drones polished. She’d brought her double-chantered smallpipes today, in case the negotiations grew complex.

The harbormaster snapped shut his pocket watch. “That damned beetle is already ten minutes late.”

Treya walked to the window. On the street below, a fishmonger pushed his wheelbarrow through a group of green-skinned Cantharan peddlers while a Glanite hoverjar floated by. But there was no sign of the beetle. If he didn’t show up, Treya wouldn’t get paid.

She scrutinized the hoverjar as it wafted through an intersection. Inside its murky interior, there must be a Glanite. The squid-like creatures seldom visited Port Raskol. What was it doing here? Might it want to hire a translator?

At last Treya spotted the beetle’s top hat bobbing above the heads of other pedestrians. His fringed leather vest marked him as a servant of the beetle Baroness.

After a few moments, the beetle was ushered into the office. Treya and the harbormaster bowed and the beetle spread his stubby hindwings in greeting. After Treya piped a welcome, he responded with a cacophony of wails, whines, and groans from his spiracles.

She translated in a low voice. “He’s doing the Lamentation on Congestion…apologies for being late…greetings from the Baroness. He’s going off on a tangent. Could be an extended monologue. No…He’s back on track. We’re definitely doing the first scene of A Routine Mercantile Transaction. It’s a one-act, so this shouldn’t take long.”

When the beetle finished his lines, Treya glanced at the harbormaster.

“Ask him why the Baroness is behind on her docking fees,” he said. The Baroness owned a fleet of fishing vessels currently in the harbor.

Treya shook her head. “That will serve no purpose. At best, he’ll give us a discourse on unavoidable delays, and at worst, he’ll push us into a convoluted subplot. No, at this point in A Routine Mercantile Transaction, you need to state your demands.”

“I want those fees paid. Right now.” 


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Dwango

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Reply #1 on: August 05, 2014, 03:43:42 PM
Wow, the beginning was so fascinating and confusing.  It felt like a audio version of a Richard Scarry book, with all the different creatures moving through the streets in their different locomotives.  I had to hear it twice to follow it and really enjoyed being thrown right in the middle of this confusing and exotic world.

The concept of using plays to communicate is fascinating, and the strategies therein more complicated than I would think.  There really are so many kinds of stories and they could be used in this way was subtle and entertaining.  I'm just wondering if there are creatures that communicate through Operas, or through rapping, or through (I hope not), pantomime! :o



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Reply #2 on: August 06, 2014, 12:22:14 PM
It's basically "Darmok". Which isn't to say it wasn't good, because it was good. For the first 95 percent. But I had a problem with the ending -- specifically, that the story seemed to stop, not end. So Treya and Neb are married and on a fishing boat for the next six months.

The conceit of Treya being so learned in her field that she knows how a negotiation is going to go is a good one. I really enjoyed it. And the way the aliens communicated was almost Pratchett-ian in its complexity -- seeming simple on the surface but actually quite complex when you look below.

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SpareInch

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Reply #3 on: August 06, 2014, 05:20:16 PM
The concept of using plays to communicate is fascinating, and the strategies therein more complicated than I would think.  There really are so many kinds of stories and they could be used in this way was subtle and entertaining.  I'm just wondering if there are creatures that communicate through Operas, or through rapping, or through (I hope not), pantomime! :o

Well, I understand Honey Bees communicate by dancing. If we could only get them to understand a dance that means, "Keep away! Unclean Plague Bee!" we might be able to save them from extinction.

Anyhoo... The story...

I always have to do a lot of Disbelief Suspension when aliens have really weird ways of communicating. They always seem to have found some way that's more trouble than it's worth.

Still, once I've done that, it's generally worth it. I enjoyed the way the Humans were so certain that only having, what was it? A few hundred plots, meant that the Bugs could be easily understood.

We only have 26 letters in the English alphabet, and no accenting, but it's still a complicated language, right?

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empathy44

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Reply #4 on: August 07, 2014, 01:54:12 AM
I enjoyed this story. I like stories that immerse you in a world and leave you to figure out what is going on. Problem is, I was way more interested in the story of the beetles, not the main characters. That worked (along with the radical change in environment) with the characters waking up at sea because it reinforced the feeling of them being banished or marooned from the action. I felt banished also. I LOVED the concept of Darmok ("Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra") but it was a puzzle too easily solved. This seemed more organic and on the level of learning to play a difficult musical piece.

It was nice she that she was competent and had a good opinion of herself. I am really tired of the trend/trope of the depressed, downtrodden Earther stranded on some difficult backwater planet where uncomfortable-to-be-around-aliens are superior and in control. Maybe because it's too much like the present economy with aliens taking the role of one percent-ers.

As for the ending, I'm thinking it fits with the idea that the difference between a happy ending and a tragedy is where you start and stop the story
« Last Edit: August 07, 2014, 01:59:17 AM by empathy44 »



adrianh

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Reply #5 on: August 07, 2014, 07:37:26 AM
But I had a problem with the ending -- specifically, that the story seemed to stop, not end. So Treya and Neb are married and on a fishing boat for the next six months

I had that initially too… but then I remembered the title of the story and realised that I was looking at the wrong conflict. We're set up to focus on the conflict between Treya and her Neb, but the real conflict is between the Baroness and Treya & Neb's clients.

And in the end the Baroness manages to send her rivals main advantages — two excellent translators (yes two, despite what Treya tells us) — off for a six month "honeymoon". Leaving their clients high and dry.

Bravo Baroness. Well played.



skeletondragon

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Reply #6 on: August 11, 2014, 08:32:31 PM
Everyone's focusing on the aliens' reliance on drama and ignoring the fact that all their extended negotiating soliloquies sound like BAGPIPE SOLOS. I couldn't help smiling at that idea.

I also liked how this story managed to do a great deal of immersive world-building without too much tedious exposition. The parts that were relevant to the story were explained well, and the background was present but not distracting.



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #7 on: August 11, 2014, 11:29:40 PM
See, I didn't think of this as about plays in our sense, but as ritualistic behavior (common among insects). And it's interesting and depressing to note how much ritualistic behavior seems to have taken root in our politics.

In late Qing dynasty writing, almost everything written to and from the Imperial court was very ritualistic and formal. It didn't end well for the Qing, either.



bounceswoosh

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Reply #8 on: August 12, 2014, 01:56:52 AM
But I had a problem with the ending -- specifically, that the story seemed to stop, not end. So Treya and Neb are married and on a fishing boat for the next six months

I had that initially too… but then I remembered the title of the story and realised that I was looking at the wrong conflict. We're set up to focus on the conflict between Treya and her Neb, but the real conflict is between the Baroness and Treya & Neb's clients.

And in the end the Baroness manages to send her rivals main advantages — two excellent translators (yes two, despite what Treya tells us) — off for a six month "honeymoon". Leaving their clients high and dry.

Bravo Baroness. Well played.

Your comment took this story from "meh" to "neat!"



albionmoonlight

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Reply #9 on: August 12, 2014, 01:35:13 PM
The humans are underestimating the beetles.  As others have noted, the Baroness managed to play this perfectly--sending away her rivals' main negotiators by getting them really drunk and sending them off to sea.

Also, the beetles have somehow managed to convince the humans to conduct negotiation in the beetle language/form.  This is not a story in which the beetles are having to learn how to do business our way.  Instead, we have humans majoring in beetle studies just so other humans can do business with them.  Clearly, they have more of what we need than the other way around.

The story implies that humans feel superior to and smarter than the beetles because we can figure out their silly plays.  But, as the outro noted, what the Beetles is anything but silly and simple.  And it is all the more dangerous for being underestimated.



albionmoonlight

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Reply #10 on: August 12, 2014, 01:44:06 PM
And it's interesting and depressing to note how much ritualistic behavior seems to have taken root in our politics.

I think that there is a place for it.  I am a lawyer, and there is certainly a LOT of formal and ritualized language used in court--especially for more mundane proceedings.  Having to "All Rise" when the judge comes in, to having to formally be "in recess" when it ends, to having to ask permission to approach the bench, etc. etc.

These trappings, to me, help to remind us of when we are in a different sphere--in my example, when we need to be showing extra care and deference to the law.

Church ritual is another great example.

I agree that such ritual can be easily fetishized and become an end to itself.  And, in those cases, we have a problem.  There should always be substance behind the ritual, or else it becomes a type of self-parody.

To take this thought back to the story--the humans here understand the ritual, but even our protagonist is missing the substance of what is happening, much to her detriment.



l33tminion

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Reply #11 on: August 15, 2014, 02:58:50 AM
I really liked the setting in this one, and the ending was great.  Fun to see genre savvy characters undone by a tricky opponent.



Balu

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Reply #12 on: August 17, 2014, 10:47:56 PM
Wow, the beginning was so fascinating and confusing.  It felt like a audio version of a Richard Scarry book, with all the different creatures moving through the streets in their different locomotives.  I had to hear it twice to follow it and really enjoyed being thrown right in the middle of this confusing and exotic world.

The concept of using plays to communicate is fascinating, and the strategies therein more complicated than I would think.  There really are so many kinds of stories and they could be used in this way was subtle and entertaining.  I'm just wondering if there are creatures that communicate through Operas, or through rapping, or through (I hope not), pantomime! :o

I'm glad I read this comment before posting. I was going to say that I was annoyed by the exoticism in that it got in the way of the story. On reflection, I think that's just down to me not having any time rather than a valid criticism of the story itself.

What I really want is a story that can be tied up in six bullet points including a conclusion.

Flash contest of 100 words anyone :)




Devoted135

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Reply #13 on: August 18, 2014, 05:12:42 PM
I thought this was a really cool story, and the idea of an alien species communicating through plays is so fun! On the surface, that makes the aliens seem backward and unsophisticated, but in reality it requires a level of intelligence and nuance that is easy to underestimate.

I like the parallel that much like the flashbacks were a red herring for the reader, the Baroness used the bidding war as a red herring to hide the true rivalry -- herself and the potential buyers. She definitely won this round!



chaoservices

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Reply #14 on: August 18, 2014, 09:37:06 PM
I LOVED the concept of Darmok ("Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra") but it was a puzzle too easily solved.
Interesting to consider the two situations.

One, a step after discovering you can both count your various digits, is: "Let's not be strangers so help me kill it before it kills us" and the other is, well, what you just heard. This story suggests, to me, that the puzzle gets harder the longer the relationship last and the more intertwined the two cultures. I suppose good thing to consider as your friends/parents/spouse grows older and your kids grow up.

Yet it's so much more clear without the limitations or bias toward humanoid actors! Enterprise's "Vox Sola" gets around that with CGI but it seems to pull it's punches in other ways.
« Last Edit: August 18, 2014, 09:45:30 PM by chaoservices »



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Reply #15 on: August 20, 2014, 03:13:23 PM
I enjoyed it.  At the beginning I thought the beetles were kind of amusing for their simplicity of interaction.  But as the story went on, and as they showed that they were perfectly capable of tricky negotiations and complexity, it occurred to me that we're not really any different.  The beetles had, what, like 3000 plays to perform?  Are humans really any different, apart from the fact that the Beetles have enumerated their kinds of interaction?  The enumeration allows them to settle into familiar social routines very easily and also to lull outsiders into a false sense of security so you can whammy them with a surprise scene change, but with no less diversity of interaction than we experience. 

I think that, really, a system like that would prepare young beetles to handle a variety of situations (from negotiations, armed conflict, seeking of mates, any number of other things) much more smoothly than human children do.  It's like the beetles are playing the game of life with a huge deck of Magic-game cards--there's an appropriate card for every situation, and they can swap out the card as required.  An individual beetle might need some experience to be able to choose the best card, but that best card is definitely in the deck and it's only a matter of practice and study to be able to sort it out. 

The humans, on the other hand, are coming to the game with no cards. They can play any card in the deck, but they don't have the deck in their hands--they only know about the cards that they've personally played or had played against them in the past, and each human is going to have knowledge of a different subset--no single person would know every card.

At the point of this story, humans have some knowledge of the deck, but they mistakenly think that the deck is limited and that a free-thinking human can make a strategy that the beetles won't have a card to counter.  In this story, at least, that does not happen.  And I suspect will never happen, because the beetles are prepared.

Until a point when a human or group of humans can learn to fully respect every aspect of the beetles' language, to the extent that they can enter the game with the full deck of cards... until that point, humans are going to come out behind in every interaction.
 



RDNinja

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Reply #16 on: August 21, 2014, 08:28:54 PM
But I had a problem with the ending -- specifically, that the story seemed to stop, not end. So Treya and Neb are married and on a fishing boat for the next six months

I had that initially too… but then I remembered the title of the story and realised that I was looking at the wrong conflict. We're set up to focus on the conflict between Treya and her Neb, but the real conflict is between the Baroness and Treya & Neb's clients.

And in the end the Baroness manages to send her rivals main advantages — two excellent translators (yes two, despite what Treya tells us) — off for a six month "honeymoon". Leaving their clients high and dry.

Bravo Baroness. Well played.
I was also confused, and didn't even realize how clever the ending was until the outro pointed out how the beetles had bested the translators. Overall a really fun story!
« Last Edit: August 21, 2014, 08:41:30 PM by eytanz »



Fenrix

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Reply #17 on: September 21, 2014, 02:50:19 PM
Great stuff! Loved the layers in this one.

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


hardware

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Reply #18 on: October 03, 2014, 01:47:24 PM
Let me join the praise! This story was fun and clever in exactly the way I tend to like, allowing the aliens to be alien in a pretty unexpected (and refreshingly nonviolent) way, and in the end, winning the day. Many times, people try to excuse dumb and generic stories with them being "fun", but this shows that fun, originality and intelligence are and should be best friends...



davidthygod

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Reply #19 on: October 07, 2014, 05:26:12 PM
Also joining praise wagon.

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UnfulredJohnson

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Reply #20 on: October 12, 2014, 05:36:21 PM
I like this one. Made me wonder how many narratives we have to pick from ourselves. I know we like to humanity a little more complex than those poor predictable beatles or whatever, but really I'd say we're probably about par. We just don't label our narratives the way they do. Also, love the title.  And thus closes the reader enjoys story scene.



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Reply #21 on: October 13, 2014, 02:45:50 PM
And thus closes the reader enjoys story scene.

 :D  I love it.  

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CryptoMe

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Reply #22 on: March 30, 2015, 05:07:25 AM
I thought the translators (both of them) were taking a very great risk to gamble on getting a "wedding gift" when they had no control over what it might be, and I for one was highly entertained by their come-uppance. :)



jjtraw

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Reply #23 on: May 04, 2015, 12:40:40 AM
Catching up on old episodes, and so very late to comment. Between the unreliability of the narrator, the satisfying conclusion to the attempt to take advantage of the "simple" aliens, and the fascinating idea of, essentially, communicating entirely through pop culture references.

It did make me wonder, though. If the aliens' language consists of references to plays, then what language are the plays performed in? Is the dialogue all made up of references to earlier plays? If so, what language are the earliest plays in? Or is there a separate language just for performance that is not used in everyday communication?



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Reply #24 on: May 04, 2015, 03:38:09 PM
It did make me wonder, though. If the aliens' language consists of references to plays, then what language are the plays performed in? Is the dialogue all made up of references to earlier plays? If so, what language are the earliest plays in? Or is there a separate language just for performance that is not used in everyday communication?

Great question!  I have no idea what the answer is, that would probably be a story in itself!