Author Topic: EP463: Rockwork  (Read 10828 times)

eytanz

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 6109
EP463: Rockwork
« on: October 02, 2014, 09:48:34 AM »
EP463: Rockwork

By R. M. Graves

Read by Angi Shearstone

This story has not been previously published
---

Dog sat at her kit, in the cavernous dark at the back of the stage, with Meg’s kiss chilling on her lips. That hadn’t fixed her nerves at all. Now Dog’s chest shook worse than her hands, jacked up on the worry of letting her girlfriend down, again.

The crowd didn’t see or care. As Meg took her spot out front, they thrummed the darkness with their chanting, “Rock… Work! Rock… Work!”

Dog’s sticks were already slick in her palms as she snapped rubber bands around them. She shuffled in her seat, checked contacts, toggled switches and sensed Meg’s impatience, standing in the dark between the drums and hungry fans. Dog brushed trembling fingers over the kit and it twitched around her, jittery. It hated gigs.

“Come on, Rocky,” she whispered and cogs whirred back at her. She shook her head. “Purring? Seriously?”

The kit’s blind trust made Dog gulp an urge to up and run. No. This time. This time Meg would be proud of her. Proud of them. No screw-ups. No zoning out.

She took a deep breath and kicked a volley of hard thumps into the black. The audience hushed. Cannon-shot beats echoed, overlapped, and swelled like an approaching army. A machine-gun of rimshots and the lights, and the crowd, exploded.

Dog scowled into the glare of spotlights as the ‘Rockwork’ burst into life around her; a kit stretched beyond drums to form an entire robotic band. Butchered musical instruments twitched and writhed in a hellish chromed engine of noise. Cogs spun plectrums at wire. Hammers rapped on the broken teeth of piano keys. Thumbscrews wrenched raw electric scales out of strangled frets.

Dog set her features into maniacal control, sweat already trickling over her bald head, pooling in her eyebrows; her arms gleaming pistons at the snare and toms.

Meg swayed her hips to Dog’s driving cacophony; her playful nonchalance creating a tantalizing silhouette to the audience, but taunting Dog behind. Hinting at what she had to lose. The music press were in tonight, but there was more than the band at stake.

The Rockwork was autonomous to a point, but it relied on Dog to keep it in line. Left unchecked it would spin off on its own groove without regard to Meg. Or the audience. Dog pressed her lips, rolled an extravagant fill across the toms, thrashed out her anxiety in the splash and crash. Meg’s cue.

The fans bounced along with the opening bars. Meg tossed Dog a warning frown, the gobo’s lit her up, and her voice rang out. The crowd, already jumping, flung its hands in the air like antennae for more and howled in pleasure.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!

bounceswoosh

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 305
Re:
« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2014, 12:24:00 PM »
This story disappointed me. I hate that Dog goes back to her shitty terrible girlfriend.

ElectricPaladin

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1005
  • Holy Robot
    • Burning Zeppelin Experience
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2014, 01:29:41 PM »
I have a super detailed angry post coming up, but the short of it is… bouncy is on the ball.
Captain of the Burning Zeppelin Experience.

Help my kids get the educational supplies they need at my Donor's Choose page.

ElectricPaladin

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1005
  • Holy Robot
    • Burning Zeppelin Experience
EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2014, 01:29:47 PM »
D-d-d-doublepost!
Captain of the Burning Zeppelin Experience.

Help my kids get the educational supplies they need at my Donor's Choose page.

Father Beast

  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 516
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2014, 05:50:32 PM »
Thoughts while listening:

#1. Interesting that the drummer is called Dog, while Rocky is the one that's more doglike.

#2. reminded of that bumper sticker: "My wife said either I get rid of the dog or she's leaving me. I'm sure going to miss my wife!"

#3. "Dog!", "Rocky!", "Meg!", "Bill!", "Dr. Scott!", "Unh".

OK, I really like the idea of homemade garagetech taking on a personality, and I think that's totally plausible. Home customized things tend to take on personality traits of their makers. But I couldn't get into the drug scene and the terrible abusive set of relationships going on.

Final thought. Great ideas, not so hot on the execution.

ElectricPaladin

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1005
  • Holy Robot
    • Burning Zeppelin Experience
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2014, 07:14:53 PM »
So, let me get this straight: if your girlfriend is abusive (destroying a partner’s property is both abuse and a freaking crime), cheats on you to get revenge for the fact that you are insufficiently talented to support her rise to fame, and does so with the same asshole she enlisted to destroy your brilliant, irreplaceable life’s work, the correct solution is to save her career, forgive her, and take her back? Oh, yeah, and let’s not forget that the thing that gives you the freedom and creativity save your ex’s pitiful artificial replacement of you and stop your robo-band from losing the plot and screwing up the set is ODing on drugs?

SCREW. THAT. NOISE!

I was really annoyed at the ending of this story, so much so that I spent the entire second half of the story cursing at the radio, and then the first half of date night angrily describing the story to my (long-suffering) wife. What the hell?

I wanted Meg to fail, badly. She didn’t deserve Dog or Rocky - she deserved her dealer and her soulless plastic Rocky-facsimile and total humiliating defeat. I wanted Dog to start her own band, with people who appreciated her and her wonderful creation. I wanted Dog to figure out how to ride the wave and keep Rocky in the zone thanks to her own talent and confidence, not by relying on a chemical crutch.

This story started off well. It started of brilliant. I loved everything about Rocky, Dog, and their relationship. I even found Meg compelling as a sort of a pathetic anti-villain, someone Dog needed to move past in order to reach her full potential (and hopefully find a non-abusive girlfriend). Ok, that’s not entirely fair. Up until the point where Meg freaking tried to kill Dog’s revolutionary AI and then banged their awful creepy manager, I thought there might be hope for their relationship.

And then at about the 50% mark, everything started to come apart at the seams. By the end, it went into a tailspin and crashed badly. When I want to listen to stories about people getting trapped in terrible abusive situations, abandoning their own strengths in favor of false chemical talent, and generally putting their feet on a path to failure, I’ll listen to Pseudopod. I certainly have no patience for stories that mistake this kind of thing for romance.
Captain of the Burning Zeppelin Experience.

Help my kids get the educational supplies they need at my Donor's Choose page.

Warren

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 18
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2014, 07:49:52 PM »
I pretty much hate-listened to this one. At the end, after the twists that might have surprised someone who'd never encountered short fiction before (Rocky was alive on the Net! The key was Chekhov's Gun the key! Meg would see the light if only they could jam together!), the only question I still had was whether the tremendously self-indulgent writing style was a deliberate gesture towards the nature of the characters or was just the natural style of someone who'd decide to write that sort of character.

Also: somehow Dog was a supergenius, talented up the wazoo, locally famous, able to inspire a roomful of music fans to go shoeless into a grimy pit of spilt drinks and god knows what - but she has no friends, not even a stranger is inclined to take the slightest pity on her? And as everyone above has noted, we're supposed to celebrate Dog (possibly temporarily) recapturing the attention of Meg, even though Meg is possibly the worst human being in the bunch? And even though it's unclear whether Dog has done so through transcendent artistry or through flamboyant self-destruction, a terrible thing to encourage?
« Last Edit: October 02, 2014, 07:56:18 PM by Warren »

The_Hol-Man

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 8
    • The Hol Story
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #7 on: October 03, 2014, 08:13:59 AM »
I've been listening to EP forever, and this is the story that finally got me to comment!  Guess that's because I sort of wanted to work out my thoughts about it.

(And I do remember Nathan's commentary a couple episodes ago that it's not cool to join up just to bash a story, so hopefully this will come out sounding thoughtful instead of bashy!)

There were some little things that didn't gel for me, but that could have just been me nitpicking.  For example, I think some of the slang would have sounded much more natural if spoken with a British accent.  I also wasn't 100% clear on what Dog and the bots were doing, exactly, during the shows.  It seems like Dog was drumming, and that was supposed to control the music Rocky produced?  Yet the story said that it was more like Rocky controlled her, right?  Or did I make that up?  And another time the story said that Rocky normally obscured Dog during shows, so it made me wonder if Rocky was some kind of robot suit that Dog wore during the show...?  Maybe I just missed it, but it made it hard for me to picture what was going on during the concert scenes, and why at all Meg would consider Dog to have any control over whether or not Rocky "wigs out."

But I think the big thing that didn't really work for me (and a glance at the comments tells me I'm not alone), was the relationship between Dog and Meg.  Granted, we only see a very small cross-section of their lives, but what we do see did not make me root for Dog to win Meg back.  It didn't seem healthy to me that Meg would withhold affection based on how good a drummer Dog was.  We see her dump Dog, immediately hook up with someone who'd bullied Dog in her presence, and then only got back together with her after seeing that she couldn't make it as a rock star on her own.  I just didn't end up seeing their reconciliation as a happy ending, and can't imagine it lasting.  Maybe it would have worked better for me if the story had included Dog reflecting at the end something like, "Hey, maybe it won't last this time either, but it'll be nice for a while," or "I love you, but you'll need to earn back my trust, Meg."

Eager to see what everyone else thought!

 -Andy

albionmoonlight

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 213
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #8 on: October 03, 2014, 08:58:12 AM »
Having a talented punk duo center around romantic attachment for an enigmatic and annoying woman named Meg makes me think of the White Stripes.

I will join the chorus saying that I was disappointed that Dog ended up back with Meg because Dog seems way too good for Meg.  Of course, trying to look at it from the story's point of view, perhaps the author is trying to show that Dog is a pretty flawed character.  She's the protagonist, and we feel for her.  But she immediately turns to the bottle when Meg leaves her.  Then she downs a night's worth of pills in one swallow.  Not really healthy or self-assured behavior.  I am NOT anything like an expert on abusive relationships, but I think that Dog has some significant psychological issues that keep her coming back to Meg.  And Meg is a typical emotional abuser who will keep Dog on the hook by promising to Love her and give her "one more chance."

Hell, the whole dynamic is pretty fucked up from the beginning.  I'd like to think that my wife is not deciding whether to stay or leave me based on whether I can provide good enough backup to her talents.  The fact that Dog even accepts that as legitimate shows some real problems right from the start.

So, I did not enjoy listening to this story.  But it is not because it was a bad story.  It's because it's a story about something really bad and sad (an emotionally abusive relationship) that accurately portrays the frustration I would feel with these characters in real life.  The story did not have the cathartic happy ending that I really wanted.  But, honestly, how many of these stories in real life have the happy ending that we all want.  Emotional abuse and dependency suck.

On a lighter note, I liked how the author was able to make me feel real emotion for the destruction of a robotic drum set.  I don't know what it says about me that the two most moving moments I've had on Escape Pod this year both involved non-organic life being attacked (this and The Way of The Needle).

ElectricPaladin

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1005
  • Holy Robot
    • Burning Zeppelin Experience
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #9 on: October 03, 2014, 09:48:38 AM »
So, I did not enjoy listening to this story.  But it is not because it was a bad story.  It's because it's a story about something really bad and sad (an emotionally abusive relationship) that accurately portrays the frustration I would feel with these characters in real life.  The story did not have the cathartic happy ending that I really wanted.  But, honestly, how many of these stories in real life have the happy ending that we all want.  Emotional abuse and dependency suck.

At the risk of having another awkward experience that will keep me off the forums for another year... yes, I think this does make the story deeply flawed.

It's one thing to say "I'm going to write a story that takes on an awful situation, but I'm going to do it in an emotionally real way that takes in and deals with all the awfulness, acknowledging how awful and screwed up it all is."

It's something else to say "here's this situation - I think it's great and not awful at all," when actually the situation is terrible.

The former makes for an intense and challenging story; the latter leaves your audience cold, angry, and wondering what the hell is wrong with you.

Now, to be entirely fair, I don't know for sure if this story is actually in the latter category, because I can't actually see inside the author's mind. Maybe there was a failure of craft somewhere along the line that has left us all with some mistaken impression about the story. Was the end supposed to imply that Dog isn't actually getting back together with Meg, or is going to get back together with her but now maintain healthier boundaries? Was Meg supposed to seem like less of an awful person than we are all interpreting her? There are a number of places that narrative communication could have broken down that would have left some readers with unintended ideas about the story.

Anyway, the best example I have of this effect is Twilight (which yes, I did read). Is there anything wrong with telling a story about the sexual tension that grows between a lonely and alienated teen girl and the vampire who is stalking her? Absolutely not! That would be a pretty cool story, actually. What makes Twilight awful is that the author seems to think that she is telling the a sad and sweet story about a love that defies its circumstances, rather than the incredibly creepy horror story about a several-hundred-year-old predator stalking a naive, inexperienced, and lonely teenager and then eventually seducing her into joining his codependent vampire "family."

There's also this fantasy novel I tried to read once where the author thought that the main character was the good guy because of his special destiny, while the main villain was the bad guy because he cut down trees, even though he had, by far, the more sympathetic and pitiful backstory and his struggle to be a good and honorable man (by the customs of his people) was way more interesting (to me), but that example is much more personal, subjective, and less widely known.

So yeah... I don't know if I want to go out on a limb and say that it was a "bad story." However, the overwhelming reaction of "oh God, Meg was such a bad person, what the hell is wrong with this story!?" shows that the story is definitely flawed. Something went wrong somewhere along the line such that we either see Meg, or the relationship, as more awful than the author intended. If you look at the comments on a Pseudopod story that uses an abusive relationship as the central metaphor, you don't (usually) see the commenters dwelling on how much they disliked the story because of the awful relationship, but that's because those stories know what they are doing.

This one? It didn't seem to.
Captain of the Burning Zeppelin Experience.

Help my kids get the educational supplies they need at my Donor's Choose page.

Scattercat

  • Caution:
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 4880
  • Amateur wordsmith
    • Mirrorshards
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #10 on: October 03, 2014, 11:43:19 PM »
What's interesting to me is that I didn't get Meg and Dog together from the ending at all.  Meg is talking to Dog and calling her "darling," but Dog is listening not to Meg, but to the song in her head, the song Rockworks made out of static and sang to her when it called her on the phone, and Dog keeps just humming it to herself despite Meg trying to shush her and keep her quiet. 

Perhaps it was too short of a bit to be clear in audio, but it read to me like she'd made her choice and had gone with Rocky, at least in her heart.  That last concert saved Meg, true, but it wasn't for Meg, at least not the way I read it.  I finished the story feeling like the next thing that was going to happen was going to be Dog leaving Meg and finally going off with Rocky and her real career.
---
Mirrorshards: Very Short Stories
100 Words.  No more.  No fewer.  Every day.
Splinters of Silver and Glass - The Mirrorshards Book

ElectricPaladin

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1005
  • Holy Robot
    • Burning Zeppelin Experience
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #11 on: October 04, 2014, 12:08:51 AM »
What's interesting to me is that I didn't get Meg and Dog together from the ending at all.  Meg is talking to Dog and calling her "darling," but Dog is listening not to Meg, but to the song in her head, the song Rockworks made out of static and sang to her when it called her on the phone, and Dog keeps just humming it to herself despite Meg trying to shush her and keep her quiet. 

Perhaps it was too short of a bit to be clear in audio, but it read to me like she'd made her choice and had gone with Rocky, at least in her heart.  That last concert saved Meg, true, but it wasn't for Meg, at least not the way I read it.  I finished the story feeling like the next thing that was going to happen was going to be Dog leaving Meg and finally going off with Rocky and her real career.

Yeah... I thought about that. I'm not too sure. I definitely think that the ending wasn't really clear enough.
Captain of the Burning Zeppelin Experience.

Help my kids get the educational supplies they need at my Donor's Choose page.

skeletondragon

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 62
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #12 on: October 04, 2014, 04:44:26 PM »
I heard this story very differently from everyone else - I thought that Meg leaving the key for Dog, knowing that it was the password to the I-OfTheTiger, showed that she was playing some kind of desperate game in an attempt to escape from Bill's influence. They were two very messed-up kids trying to make it in a hostile, technologically-advanced society, which is exactly how I like my cyberpunk.  I didn't get the sense at all that the author mean to portray this as a healthy relationship.

Redhead

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 3
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #13 on: October 04, 2014, 05:32:23 PM »
Am I the only one who liked this story?  In fact, I loved this story. I was listening to it while driving and the writing style sucked me in so much it was dangerous for me to be driving. I could see the club, hear the crowd and feel the music as Dog and Rocky triumphed at the end.

I saw this a story of personal redemption and triumph for both Dog and Meg.

Meg isn't an abusive girlfriend, she a Diva who felt betrayed at the very moment when she was ready to give everything of herself to Dog, which is not something a Diva would do lightly. Seems to me that she was just as hurt by Dog's failures as Dog was. After all, even after the destruction of their relationship, Meg left Dog the key to saving everything - literally.

In the end though, it was Rocky who saves them both from themselves. Rocky is the kind of A.I. I want in the world: innocent, playful, loyal, loving.

Bravo Mr. Graves, well done!

I also want to congratulate Ms. Shearstone on a masterful reading. Thanks for bringing this wonderful story alive for us.

SpareInch

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1387
  • Will there be sugar after the rebellion?
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #14 on: October 05, 2014, 07:48:07 AM »
I'm another one who had my Angry Buttons pushed by this one. But I held off commenting for a day or two so I didn't fixate on that.

Like Scattercat, I didn't necessarily see Dog and Meg back together again at the end. I think Dog really was getting over Meg by that point. I did, however, find myself literally shouting out, "What the F**K has Dog done to need Meg's forgiveness?"

Well OK, not quite literally. I didn't pronounce the asterisks. ;)

Trust me though, Meg is emotionally abusive and manipulative. She reminded me of my grandmother in that regard. I did think of the idea of an elaborate practical joke aimed at getting Dog so wound up that she would put in the performance of her life, but it just doesn't make any sense that way.

And the key wasn't really left for Dog to find. It was going to be, but only if she finished the gig. In the event, it just got forgotten.

I did enjoy the ride the story took me on though. Not every tale has to have a happy ending.

And I love the idea of Dog and Rocky going their own way and being bigger than Meg could ever manage. I'd love to hear that story. :)

Come up and see me
Make me smi-e-i-ile...
Fresh slush - Shot this morning in the Vale of COW

Devoted135

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1252
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #15 on: October 05, 2014, 08:55:39 PM »
This story lost me when Meg's letter accused Dog of not loving her enough because she wouldn't make Rocky work better. Well, the letter said the opposite, but that's the implication of it. No one should ever have to do something to "prove" they love someone. Very uncool. :( I seriously hope that Scattercat is right and Dog isn't actually going back to Meg at the end of the story.

Listener

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 3187
  • I place things in locations which later elude me.
    • Various and Sundry Items of Interest
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #16 on: October 06, 2014, 07:32:55 AM »
I echo what many have said already -- liked Rocky, liked Dog's relationship with Rocky, thought the ending (ODing) was a bit contrived...

...although I do see how a person like Dog could feel that she is the one at fault when everything is going wrong in the relationship. As someone who has been in Dog's position, albeit not in a rock music duo but in another dyadic relationship, it is entirely possible that the person who is doing all the work still feels like s/he is failing and needs to gain the other person's forgiveness, and is willing to harm him/herself to do it.

Come up and see me
Make me smi-e-i-ile...

Thank you for reminding me of Threesome, one of my favorite non-genre 90s films.
"Farts are a hug you can smell." -Wil Wheaton

Blog || Quote Blog ||  Written and Audio Work || Twitter: @listener42

albionmoonlight

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 213
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #17 on: October 06, 2014, 08:25:22 AM »
ElectricPaladin has gotten me thinking.

I still like this story because I think that it accurately portrays an emotionally abusive relationship and how hard it can be to escape one.  And it would have been unrealistic to have Dog, as she was drawn, have her epiphany by the end of this story.  There was just too much damage there that had to be unwound.  Maybe after a few years.

But, upon reflection, I agree that the story could have or should have done a little something more to let us know that it was that sort of story.  Somehow (and I can't put my finger on how), the story read like a story that was setting us up for Dog's triumph over Meg and Bill.  There should have been . . . something there to set us up tone-wise for what was happening.

Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8657
    • Diabolical Plots
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #18 on: October 06, 2014, 12:15:53 PM »
Count me with those that was bothered by the physically and emotionally abusive relationship being portrayed in what I felt was a positive light--that is, to me the ending made it seem they were getting back together and the way it was told seemed to imply that was somehow a good thing instead of a horrible horrible thing.

I hadn't loved Meg even before the death of Rocky  considering she was upset about Dog not showering her with attention and instead focusing on Dog AFTER she had basically given Dog an ultimatum to make Rocky work properly--it's nuts to give an ultimatum and then get upset at the person trying to meet your ultimatum.

I admit I got very upset at the death of Rocky and my view of Meg at that point changed from diva to psychopath.  To me Rocky was very dog-like in almost every way, like a trained showdog who's also a pet of one of the people in the show.  So to me it was kind of like:
--Meg is upset that their showdog stops performing halfway through the show and starts pooping and leg-humping instead, gives Dog an ultimatum.
--Dog works very hard at training.
--Meg gets very upset at being ignored in favor of focusing on training, and so she convinces her new boyfriend to kill the dog, but she'd been training a new dog on her own to give to Dog as a replacement for Rocky who she pictured as being gone anyway, so it's totally okay! 
(obviously the dog metaphor breaks down with the access key and Rocky getting in Dog's head).


Was there no one else who found the presence of Rocky in Dog's head and the co-opting of her voice a sinister note?  To me it seemed that Rocky was now in control of her brain via earworm (maybe in the brain of other spectators of the concert too?).  And while she seems basically in control of her body, it seems that Rocky might have rendered her mute by taking over her voice.

ElectricPaladin

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1005
  • Holy Robot
    • Burning Zeppelin Experience
Re: EP463: Rockwork
« Reply #19 on: October 06, 2014, 09:10:19 PM »
Can I also go out on a limb and say that being a ~.Diva.~ is no excuse to behave like a terrible human being? I know that most of the culture these days is obsessed with the idea that strong talented beautiful women have some kind of Emperor-given right to tromp around treading on other people, but I call bullshit. I understand that the inverse is true - that there's been far too much of women being declared "bossy" or even "bitchy" if they assert themselves at all - but I don't think that excuses plain old shitty behavior. And honestly, I'm not a big fan of aggressive selfish type-A men, either.

So no, I don't think that Meg gets a free pass because she's Diva. She's a miserable abusive human being, an out-of-control drug addict, a cheater, and a user. Maybe the author intended for her to be something else, or something more, but that's what the story showed me.
Captain of the Burning Zeppelin Experience.

Help my kids get the educational supplies they need at my Donor's Choose page.