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Author Topic: EP459: The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere  (Read 19991 times)

eytanz

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on: August 21, 2014, 07:12:04 PM
EP459: The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere

By John Chu

Read by John Chu

Winner of the 2014 Hugo for Best Short Story!

---

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Dwango

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Reply #1 on: August 21, 2014, 07:39:49 PM
Meant to post this in the forums, not comments:

This was an interesting one, not so much in the coming out story, but in who was upset with the main character. She appears to represent the traditional Chinese view of the purpose of marriage and family, thrashing the brother upon any deviation made by the brother. She also was an abuser who bullied the brother, especially after the admission he made of her violent ways at the end. He was very brave on standing up to the sister, as that can be a very difficult thing to do, but I think he really needs to get her out of his life. She is destructive and getting in the way of his relationship with his parents, and really disturbed me.

I don’t get the boyfriend though. He seemed too perfect in everything and more a caricature. He probably is the counterpoint to the sister’s traditionalist views, but it was hard for me to understand what he represented, other than a supportive and perfect significant other. It could be from the view of the narrator that he was so perfect, and I’m thinking he showed his flaw at the end? Not sure on that one.

Finally, yay for the parents and their acceptance, but they appeared to end up still trying to get the grandchildren they wanted. They mentioned using genetics to create a child from their genes, so they satisfy the want. But, what if he decides he doesn’t want children? while it appears they are the loving and accepting parents, they still are considering their own needs. This is great in this story as they are still not perfect, and they are willing to change their views and accept their son as he is. It’s great to have that double take on the parents, loving, but a little selfish too. They felt real and I hope the main character can get around his sister and build a loving, and frustrating :-), relationship with them.



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Reply #2 on: August 21, 2014, 08:26:31 PM
I wasn't really impressed with this story. The basic plot seemed cliche ("A gay man comes out to his family. Some are upset, but others are supportive."), and the SF element did little to make it fresh. The WTFOYFN didn't really do anything here that couldn't have been accomplished with a decent grasp of body language. (I think a better angle would have been to make the protagonist Autistic, so the WTFOYFN enabled him to navigate social situations he would have been lost in before).



skeletondragon

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Reply #3 on: August 21, 2014, 11:54:35 PM
I have mixed feelings. The concept wasn't really hard scifi, but I'm not a stickler for that. I felt like the universe where water's existence is intertwined with lying and truth was interesting enough, especially the way the narrator and his sister used omission, questions, multilingualism and cultural differences to lie anyway. However, there was definitely a part in the middle where I went, "wait a minute, didn't this story start out with water falling from nowhere? what happened to that?"

I think I would have enjoyed it more if it was a little shorter and/or less saccharine. Gus definitely didn't seem like a real person, especially when contrasted with the spot-on dysfunctional family dynamics. Ultimately, the family drama was really what kept me listening to the whole thing.



DKT

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Reply #4 on: August 22, 2014, 05:05:38 PM
Loved this story. Loved John's narration of it. Loved that it won the Hugo this year.

All in all, just a lot of love for this one. It was quiet, and personal, and intimate, and quirky. It made me laugh, and got me teary-eyed on the way to work this morning. So glad EP let John narrate it.

Thanks, John and Escape Pod!


lisavilisa

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Reply #5 on: August 23, 2014, 01:27:13 AM
It may sound flippant but...

A rule of thumb my mother and I have is that a mark of a good writer is that they can make you hungry by just mentioning food. It can be a full on food porn scene a la R.R. Martin, or as simple as mentioning a cheese sandwich the MC had for lunch.

I'm a vegetarian and the authors description of dishes involving ears and blood made me want to try  vegetarian chinese food. Albeit vegetarian versions, but still. I think it's a good sign.



Dem

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Reply #6 on: August 23, 2014, 06:15:28 PM
This was a halfway decent coming out story but seemed to me have very little to do with SF. I wonder, is there a sense in which gay themes somehow override other criteria because they are, as yet, relatively daring?

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


matweller

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Reply #7 on: August 24, 2014, 01:38:31 AM
No, as mentioned, Hugo noms override other criteria when we're running Hugo stories.



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #8 on: August 24, 2014, 02:51:59 AM
I loved it!

Water? No. Excellent!

Personally, the imagery of the main character (his name escapes me - if you read this in the episode comments, Nathan, please make me look smart by including the name instead of this humiliating parenthetical) saying "I love you," and it having the power to make him suddenly warm and dry, even alone in bed... ah, it warmed my shriveled little heart. But that's the point, isn't it? Love is one of the strongest forces in the human psyche. Even horrible, abusive monsters like [main character]'s sister act out of stunted and perverted love. It makes perfect sense to me that love is a truth on par with universal truths.

Anyway, the point is that I thought this story was a splendid little allegory that went on for exactly as long as it had to and hit all the right points. Kudos to the author for the nomination!

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Dem

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Reply #9 on: August 24, 2014, 09:40:30 AM
No, as mentioned, Hugo noms override other criteria when we're running Hugo stories.

I understand the inclusion here on the grounds of its nomination but now I'm confused about the Hugos. This is from the Hugo awards rules: 'While the World Science Fiction Society sponsors the Hugos, they are not limited to sf. Works of fantasy or horror are eligible if the members of the Worldcon think they are eligible.' I'm still not seeing much here that qualifies.
http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-categories/

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


eytanz

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Reply #10 on: August 24, 2014, 10:26:10 AM
No, as mentioned, Hugo noms override other criteria when we're running Hugo stories.

I understand the inclusion here on the grounds of its nomination but now I'm confused about the Hugos. This is from the Hugo awards rules: 'While the World Science Fiction Society sponsors the Hugos, they are not limited to sf. Works of fantasy or horror are eligible if the members of the Worldcon think they are eligible.' I'm still not seeing much here that qualifies.
http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-categories/

So you think that the ability to summon water by telling lies is not fantasy?



lisavilisa

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Reply #11 on: August 24, 2014, 02:35:18 PM
Even horrible, abusive monsters like [main character]'s sister act out of stunted and perverted love. It makes perfect sense to me that love is a truth on par with universal truths.


The narrator told us the mother once said his sister did all this because she loved him. I wonder if the mother has said this since the water appeared?



Dem

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Reply #12 on: August 24, 2014, 03:25:14 PM
No, as mentioned, Hugo noms override other criteria when we're running Hugo stories.

I understand the inclusion here on the grounds of its nomination but now I'm confused about the Hugos. This is from the Hugo awards rules: 'While the World Science Fiction Society sponsors the Hugos, they are not limited to sf. Works of fantasy or horror are eligible if the members of the Worldcon think they are eligible.' I'm still not seeing much here that qualifies.
http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-categories/

So you think that the ability to summon water by telling lies is not fantasy?

It's such a very minor part of the story and it's never addressed in any substantial way or given any sort of meaning. The whole story could happen just as it does without that element and that's what makes it somewhat unsatisfactory for me.

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


adrianh

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Reply #13 on: August 24, 2014, 03:41:55 PM
I understand the inclusion here on the grounds of its nomination but now I'm confused about the Hugos. This is from the Hugo awards rules: 'While the World Science Fiction Society sponsors the Hugos, they are not limited to sf. Works of fantasy or horror are eligible if the members of the Worldcon think they are eligible.' I'm still not seeing much here that qualifies.
http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-categories/

Basically the genre of Hugo nominations is "receiving enough votes to be nominated for a Hugo" ;-) I don't think there's ever been an instance of a story being voted in and rejected on genre grounds. And in this instance it falls flat in the fantasy genre — I mean… water falling from nowhere if you lie? How is that not fantasy!

It also has the strongest part of why I like SF. A great "what if". In this instance — what if you could tell 100% whether somebody was telling the truth or not. How would that affect people's lives? What conventions would it bring up? We already see in this story the way that folk language-lawyer their way out of "real" truth, how it can have costs and benefits, etc.

For me that "what if" is the core of the story. You could swap the fantasy mechanic for an SF one and the core story would be the same (say a society that has networked implants that detect truthful intent and distributes it to those surrounding them as feelings of heat/cold, or an alien species which has 100% visual "tell" on whether it's being truthful).

I loved it. True love conquers all. What's not to like!

As for Gus being too perfect. The story is told from Matt's POV. At this point he is madly, deeply in love with Gus. So a pretty darn unreliable narrator when it comes to Gus's imperfections ;-)



adrianh

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Reply #14 on: August 24, 2014, 04:03:36 PM
It's such a very minor part of the story

Is it?

Without the water:

  • Would Matt have believed that Gus really loved him?
  • Would Gus really have believed Matt?
  • Would Matt have told Gus that he hadn't come out to his family?
  • Would Matt have known that his sister was lying about thinking Gus would leave him?
  • Would Matt and Gus know that Matt's parents really accepted them?
  • ... and so on...
.

For me the inability to lie — to yourself and to others — drove the whole story. It made the implicit damage that lies can produce explicit. Losing that element would change the tale completely for me.



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #15 on: August 24, 2014, 04:07:15 PM
Also, Gus isn't perfect. He has poor boundaries and is terrible at self-care when it comes to helping his lover deal with his abusive family. All of that is going to bite him in the ass someday. But, in the meantime, it makes him a good partner for Matt, who is as has been pointed out, the POV character.

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Dem

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Reply #16 on: August 24, 2014, 05:54:54 PM
It's such a very minor part of the story

Is it?

Without the water:

  • Would Matt have believed that Gus really loved him?
  • Would Gus really have believed Matt?
  • Would Matt have told Gus that he hadn't come out to his family?
  • Would Matt have known that his sister was lying about thinking Gus would leave him?
  • Would Matt and Gus know that Matt's parents really accepted them?
  • ... and so on...
.

For me the inability to lie — to yourself and to others — drove the whole story. It made the implicit damage that lies can produce explicit. Losing that element would change the tale completely for me.

It could just as easily, and for me rather more convincingly, been a psychologically driven story, and without the water may have (I'm avoiding 'plumbed' here) found greater depth (ok, I'll give you that one). Believing in being unable to lie; believing in water drenching you if you did - those internal constructs would, for me, have made a far more eloquent and profoundly affecting story than the one that has resulted from the inclusion of a fantasy element.

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


matweller

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Reply #17 on: August 24, 2014, 07:41:43 PM
No, as mentioned, Hugo noms override other criteria when we're running Hugo stories.

I understand the inclusion here on the grounds of its nomination but now I'm confused about the Hugos. This is from the Hugo awards rules: 'While the World Science Fiction Society sponsors the Hugos, they are not limited to sf. Works of fantasy or horror are eligible if the members of the Worldcon think they are eligible.' I'm still not seeing much here that qualifies.
http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-categories/

So you think that the ability to summon water by telling lies is not fantasy?

It's such a very minor part of the story and it's never addressed in any substantial way or given any sort of meaning. The whole story could happen just as it does without that element and that's what makes it somewhat unsatisfactory for me.
I feel the same way about Star Wars. Trade boats for star ships = no scifi. Useless. They might as well call it Pirates of the Caribbean.



adrianh

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Reply #18 on: August 24, 2014, 07:42:23 PM
It could just as easily, and for me rather more convincingly, been a psychologically driven story, and without the water may have (I'm avoiding 'plumbed' here) found greater depth (ok, I'll give you that one). Believing in being unable to lie; believing in water drenching you if you did - those internal constructs would, for me, have made a far more eloquent and profoundly affecting story than the one that has resulted from the inclusion of a fantasy element.

Hmmm… for me that would have been quite a different story (maybe a good one, but a different one ;-)

I find making the internal state externally visible quite a powerful statement. For me making falsehood "real" does something interesting to the world that just believing it was real doesn't.

Also, everybody would have to have the same model of truth and falsehood for the story as it stands to work. The water doesn't just reveal things to the protagonist about himself, it reveals the "real" internal state of others. Matt's sister getting soaks reveals the falsehood to Matt and his sister. Without a shared understanding of the existence of the falsehood that doesn't work.




Dem

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Reply #19 on: August 24, 2014, 10:11:37 PM
It could just as easily, and for me rather more convincingly, been a psychologically driven story, and without the water may have (I'm avoiding 'plumbed' here) found greater depth (ok, I'll give you that one). Believing in being unable to lie; believing in water drenching you if you did - those internal constructs would, for me, have made a far more eloquent and profoundly affecting story than the one that has resulted from the inclusion of a fantasy element.

Hmmm… for me that would have been quite a different story (maybe a good one, but a different one ;-)

I find making the internal state externally visible quite a powerful statement. For me making falsehood "real" does something interesting to the world that just believing it was real doesn't.

Also, everybody would have to have the same model of truth and falsehood for the story as it stands to work. The water doesn't just reveal things to the protagonist about himself, it reveals the "real" internal state of others. Matt's sister getting soaks reveals the falsehood to Matt and his sister. Without a shared understanding of the existence of the falsehood that doesn't work.



Yes it would have been a different story - and it was, to me, but not as well developed as it could have been. I see what you're saying about the manifestation of the issue but that's actually where it fell down in my view because it just looked like a device for bringing the internal out into the open. A metaphor maybe, but not a very well interwoven one.

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


lisavilisa

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Reply #20 on: August 24, 2014, 10:58:42 PM
It's such a very minor part of the story

Is it?

Without the water:

  • Would Matt have known that his sister was lying about thinking Gus would leave him?

.

For me the inability to lie — to yourself and to others — drove the whole story. It made the implicit damage that lies can produce explicit. Losing that element would change the tale completely for me.

Matt immediately removed the hot pan from his sister when she started the sentence because he knew it was a lie and he didn't want her to get a steam burn. To me that meant he knew Gus wouldn't leave him. However, he may never had admitted it to himself if his sisters safety hadn't forced it out of him.



adrianh

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Reply #21 on: August 25, 2014, 08:24:35 AM
Yes it would have been a different story - and it was, to me, but not as well developed as it could have been. I see what you're saying about the manifestation of the issue but that's actually where it fell down in my view because it just looked like a device for bringing the internal out into the open. A metaphor maybe, but not a very well interwoven one.

I find it fascinating when different people take such different views away from a story. I can't really imagine the tale without it ;-)



Dem

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Reply #22 on: August 25, 2014, 12:42:24 PM
Yes it would have been a different story - and it was, to me, but not as well developed as it could have been. I see what you're saying about the manifestation of the issue but that's actually where it fell down in my view because it just looked like a device for bringing the internal out into the open. A metaphor maybe, but not a very well interwoven one.

I find it fascinating when different people take such different views away from a story. I can't really imagine the tale without it ;-)

Steven Pinker, in The Language Instinct, calls writing a form of communication that 'translates mentalese into words and vice versa ... in order to make images in the minds of others' and I think he's right. The tricky part is that there's no one-to-one mapping and the images the reader comes up with are influenced by their own window on the world. That's what's so good about it and also why we are rarely without disagreement :)

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


Unblinking

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Reply #23 on: August 26, 2014, 03:54:52 PM
What I said about it in my review of the category:
Quote
A few years ago, the world inexplicably changed so that any lie you utter would be met with a downpour of cold water that falls from nowhere combined with a feeling of angst, both proportional to the audacity of your lie.  These effects can only be counteracted by saying something unequivocal.  You can avoid saying the truth and you can mislead as long as you don’t utter something that can’t be untrue.  The protagonist Matt is gay and has managed to avoid coming out to his traditional-minded Chinese parents for years.  Now Matt and his boyfriend Gus have decided they want to get married, and Matt needs to break the news to his parents, over his sister’s objections.

At first I thought the speculative element of the water was more than a bit corny.  But the story doesn’t make a joke of this concept and runs with it.  As with the best speculative fiction, it’s not about the speculative element.  It’s about how that element allows us to look at the real world through the lens of the speculative.  This story did an excellent job of that.  It’s a great story, well told, and I highly recommend it.  Easy choice in this category.


I liked it.  I can see what people are saying about Gus seeming too perfect, but I think that might be because we're seeing the story through Matt's eyes. 

I like John Chu's voice, but sometimes his particular character voices can be distracting--in this case I thought Gus sounded kind of like Scooby Doo and it was hard to remember he's quite smart. 

One quibble I had is that the story seemed to set a particular set of ground rules for how the lie detection works, and then changed the rules later.  At the beginning it seemed to be based entirely on whether the person who was saying it was aware of their own untruth--hence the mention of "we're going to be married" made no water because that was the best he knew at the time anyway, even though he can't see the future.  But he seemed to be cheating the system when he used sarcasm while also being aware that his sister might not read the sarcasm properly--that was right out cheating, IMO, and he should've gotten wet.  Also, he seemed surprised that Gus's calling of the parents as "husband's father" and "husband's mother" would've produced water if it hadn't somehow been true but, for one thing, they weren't married yet, for another thing, Gus didn't know the meaning of the words at the time he said them--you can't lie in a language you don't speak.

Regarding Hugo genre:
The determination of genre for the Hugo awards is entirely at the discretion of the voters, so there's not really anyone to complain to if you don't like the choice.  43 people cast nominations for Short Story nominated this particular one, enough to get it on the final ballot.  There were 2684 valid votes cast for the final vote for this category, which is more votes than have ever been tallied for this category in history (in large part because the overall voting numbers were much higher than usual this year because Wheel of Time and because controversies around other categories).  So, if you don't like the choice, its the voting portion of fandom that's responsible for it.  If you want to have your own affect on the voting, all it takes is a supporting membership the year of the awards--this is year it cost $40 and you get most of the fiction in a free electronic bundle.

That doesn't mean that voting-fandom can't make bad choices from time to time, like nominating a Hugo acceptance speech where the guy basically had an emotional breakdown as a dramatic short form category was ludicrous, but it was still on the final ballot.  But to me, this particular story was a great choice.

That being said, I don't see how this story couldn't qualify as fantasy.  Water falling from nowhere.  That doesn't happen when I lie at least.  Whether you think it's an integral part of the story or not, it is a part of the story, and it is provably something that doesn't happen in real life.  So I don't see how this isn't fantasy--maybe not the kind of fantasy a particular person likes, but most definitely fantasy without a doubt.



bounceswoosh

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Reply #24 on: August 26, 2014, 06:30:25 PM

I like John Chu's voice, but sometimes his particular character voices can be distracting--in this case I thought Gus sounded kind of like Scooby Doo and it was hard to remember he's quite smart. 


I found the Gus voice distracting, too. Reading your comment, it occurs to me how strange it is that we could associate a voice with any particular level of intelligence.