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Author Topic: EP465: The Sky is Blue, and Bright, and Filled with Stars  (Read 8495 times)

eytanz

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EP465: The Sky is Blue, and Bright, and Filled with Stars

By Edward Ashton

Read by Andrea Richardson

---

Dot reaches the summit of Mary’s Rock just after six, maybe an hour before sunset. It’s a clear, cool September day, with a scattering of tiny white clouds in a royal blue sky, and a soft, steady breeze from the west that brings the faint smell of burning things up from the ruins of Luray. She drops her pack at the top of the trail, pulls out a water bottle, and scrambles up the last thirty meters of broken granite to the high point. The trees on the north side of Thornton Gap a half-kilometer below are just showing the first hints of color, tiny flecks of red and gold mixed into a sea of dark green. Off to the west she can see the smoke now, rising from what looks like a brush fire far down the valley. She sits down, leans back against a waist-high block of stone, and drains half of her water in one long, lukewarm pull.

She’s been here once before, when she was years younger and there were still a few people raising goats and vegetables down in the valley. It was winter then, and she spent a crystal-clear, bitterly cold night out on the overlook, bundled into her mummy bag, sleeping in hour-long snatches, waking each time to a different dazzling pattern of stars and station-lights. The beauty was almost overwhelming, and she vowed then to come back some day, to see what it was like to spend a night on the summit when she didn’t have to worry about hypothermia.

As the sun begins to redden and dip toward the horizon, Dot climbs to her feet and makes her way back down to the overlook, a flat half-circle of stone maybe forty meters across, hanging out over four hundred meters of empty space. A hawk rides the breeze, floating almost stationary out over the drop. It looks at her, dips one wing, and falls like a stone, chasing something down below. Dot retrieves her pack, pulls out her food sack and her alcohol stove. She’s low on fuel. Four more days, maybe five, and she’ll be cooking over an open fire until she can find some more. As she measures out her supper, she realizes that she only has a few days worth of beans and noodles left. No point in cooking when you’ve got nothing to cook, and she’s at least a week’s walk from the nearest resupply. She sighs, and pours a third of what she’d taken back into the sack.


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InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #1 on: October 17, 2014, 07:59:32 PM
I really enjoyed this one, esp. the almost Douglas Adams feel of the humorous parts (couldn't just build a telescope, could you?). It managed the trick of balancing funny and dead (no pun intended) serious, since we are after all talking about the end of all "original" human life here.

If I have complaint, it's that, while beautiful, the story title kind of gives away the game.

I have no idea if I would make the same choice Dot makes.



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Reply #2 on: October 17, 2014, 11:44:44 PM
It didn't occur to me until later, but I quite like the symmetry of the robots sent out to perform a prescribed and limited task, instead evolving into a freewheeling adventurous society committed to exploration and the expansion of a romanticized version of (biological) humanity ... while unbeknownst to them humanity has almost completely transformed into a patient, conservative society of post-biological entities coldly calculating the need and ability to lie fallow for a few millennia at a time. The robots attempt to serve humanity and become almost human, the humans meanwhile become almost robotic.



SpareInch

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Reply #3 on: October 20, 2014, 03:59:03 PM
I thought the uploaded post-humans were VERY human.

I mean, when someone says the surface of the Earth is about to become totally uninhabitable for the next few millennia, their only response is to cancel their holiday plans. Now be honest, isn't that what we do now when we learn of wars or natural disasters overseas?

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Swamp

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Reply #4 on: October 20, 2014, 05:21:29 PM
This was a great science fiction story--full of intriguing big ideas that are captured into a concise short story with a main character that we could identify with and care about.  I like how the evolved nanite robot and its society still have a sense of adventure and wonder about space that the society on Earth, where it came from, has pretty much abandoned.  From it point of view, it is so obvious that humanity would have a mighty galactic army by now.

The story was both sad and hopeful, but also quite humorous in parts.  Good stuff.

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #5 on: October 21, 2014, 05:49:21 AM
I had mixed feelings about this story.

On the one hand, I really enjoyed the setting it established: an immortal, completely transhuman humanity consumed with alien needs and ambitions, but a few biological humans clinging to life on the surface of the planet facing the existential question of biological obsolescence. I mean, I'd have taken it in a totally different direction - I would totally use that as the premise for an awesome over-the-top (or at least hovering near the top) Clark's Law fantasy - but hey, we can't all be me. I thought the characters were all interesting and compelling, and the way they grappled with their fates was interesting.

That does, on the other hand, lead me to my problem with the story. NOTHING FREAKING HAPPENED. I like stories where characters grapple with their fates. They strive, struggle, rise to challenges or fall and fail because of their foibles. What I love about fiction is how extreme circumstances can become an extreme test of interesting characters - what I love about speculative fiction is that it increases the breadth of the spectrum of extreme circumstances and interesting characters. In this story, there was no test and no challenge. It was pretty much:

"Nice to meet you, would you like some explication?"

"Explication! I love that stuff."

"Oh, hey, by the way, a bad thing's gonna happen."

"A bad thing? What are we gonna do?"

"It turns out, nothing."

"That sucks."

And then rocks fall and everyone dies.

I get that not every story can be about plucky heroes rising to the occasion to save the day, or flawed heroes rising to the occasion, or plucky and/or flawed heroes rising and/or falling to save and/or doom the day. But... I don't know. I don't really see the appeal of a story about relatively normal people (albeit, in this case, in interesting circumstances) simply failing... to do... anything.

So, I'd call this one kind of a loss for me. Interesting opening, but no story materialized.

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albionmoonlight

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Reply #6 on: October 21, 2014, 01:02:47 PM
What if the world ended and nobody cared?

It is easy to miss that this story is about the end of the world.  The humorous tone, as well as the fact that all of the characters seem almost bored by their fates makes it a different kind of apocalypse tale.

I have read a decent number of stories that tried to pull off the humorous tone and that failed miserably and that kind of made you just groan at the bad jokes.  This story managed to do it very well.  It was light and funny, but the jokes did not seem forced.

I think that Warren and ElectricPaladin both make good points.  This story definitely has more layers and complexity going on than it would seem at first blush.  It asks a lot of questions about what it means to be alive and what it means to be human.  At the same time, there was certainly a bit of "Oh, nothing's really going to happen . . . OK" as I was listening.

Overall, I like the story because I think that the lack of action is kind of the point.  Overall, humanity and the Earth and the world and life itself just seems . . . tired by the year 3000.  It's all been done before.  It's all been said already.  Nothing happened in the story because there is literally nothing left to happen.  You watch the sunrise.  You eat your beans.  You walk somewhere.  You go to sleep.  You watch the sunrise.

Or, if you are part of the choir immortal, you sleep for several hundred years.  You find something to entertain yourself.  You go walk about on the surface every 10,000 years or so to stretch your legs.  Content, bored, tired.



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #7 on: October 21, 2014, 03:17:36 PM

"A bad thing? What are we gonna do?"

"It turns out, nothing."

"That sucks."

And then rocks fall and everyone dies.

I didn't really hear it that way. Two of the characters did do something - retreat - and the main character decided she'd rather die than do what they did. It may appear passive, but it was still a choice.

I assume by "doing nothing", you mean "not fighting the invaders"?



Varda

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Reply #8 on: October 21, 2014, 03:25:05 PM
I really enjoyed this story as an SF riff on the Wizard of Oz ("Dot", a cowardly posthuman lion named "Gerald", the tin man, the scarecrow, the "wizards"). For me, that pulled the meandering framing device together nicely. It's all about displacement--in Oz, Dorothy is in another world, but in this story, Dot is out of place in time, in a sense. I also appreciated how the Oz pastiche went juuust so far, but not *too* far - you don't get Dot waking up at the end thinking it was all a dream, and instead the story takes her to a new and different place (better detailed by Albionmoonlight, so I'll just say: ditto to that).

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Reply #9 on: October 21, 2014, 05:08:45 PM

I didn't really hear it that way. Two of the characters did do something - retreat - and the main character decided she'd rather die than do what they did. It may appear passive, but it was still a choice.


That's what I heard to.

Indeed I'd actually say it was the more active choice. The "expected" path in her world would be to join the post-human society. It's not even a retreat per se. That's "normal" life. Most of society doesn't care because it just doesn't affect them. It's not a retreat from an apocalypse. It's staying inside until the rain stops.

I quite liked it. Cute with a dark streak.

I'd have liked to have known a bit more about why Dot feels the way she does about the post-human society, but even without that knowledge watching her make that choice was more than entertaining enough for me.



matweller

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Reply #10 on: October 21, 2014, 08:45:40 PM
I quite liked it. Cute with a dark streak.

+sigh+

I'm supposed to be old/mature enough to not have an underwear joke come screaming into my mind when I read that.






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Reply #11 on: October 21, 2014, 10:02:18 PM
Enjoyed this story so much that I registered.

Loved the dead pan dark humor approach to the end of the original humans; the Wizard of Oz parallels that are nicely played to give perspective on the characters without being prescriptive; that it ended when it did as it gave hope that the aliens might engage before blasting - although a space-faring intelligence with nukes is so disjointed as to imply that they blast first then ask questions. :-). (Although, thinking about it, maybe they are a peaceful species and so never went beyond nuclear weapons.)

Although there is little or no action (see ElectricPaladin above), it is fast paced and engaging.




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Reply #12 on: October 22, 2014, 04:22:51 AM
But there is action! The entire world is destroyed! :-)

I really enjoyed the portrayal of post-humans here. It's pretty clear the Choir could have defended the planet if they chose to -- they apparently have knowledge of super-weapons that make planet-wide nuclear assault seem tame. I got the sense that great wheels are turning, and while the Choir sticks with its slightly kooky wizard-of-oz messenger to our heroes, there's a very direct and emphatic decision process going on somewhere below ground. It's just that it's proceeding way faster than unaccelerated human scale, and decides that hey, if the robots brought on a few millenia of surface doom, that's fully survivable, and perhaps the honorable thing to do in this case, after a lot of debate, is just to suffer the consequences.



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #13 on: October 22, 2014, 05:50:39 AM
Yeah... I dunno, guys. I guess that as a teacher - and only as of this August a teacher in a district that is doing better than "abject poverty, misery, and trauma" - I see too many situations with hopeless cases and people I feel are insufficiently struggling against their onrushing fate for me to enjoy that kind of story. I'm all like "get up! Strive! Struggle! Throw yourself into the teeth of death with a wild grin and a battle cry. Never give up. Fight to the last drop of blood BECAUSE THAT'S HOW SOMEONE LIKE YOU DIES!" I always have been... but I think teaching in Oakland has made me more so.

I mean, it's only a couple of months ago that I finally admitted that "God, grant me the strength to change what I can, the stubbornness to continue trying to change the things I can't, and the inability to tell the difference" is probably a pretty stupid prayer.

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bounceswoosh

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Reply #14 on: October 22, 2014, 12:42:52 PM
She struggled against her fare plenty. She spent years wandering the world without human contact so that she wouldn't do what everyone else does. From the start it is obvious that she doesn't see Roger as human, so getting digitized or whatever isn't survival, to her.



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Reply #15 on: October 22, 2014, 12:43:27 PM
Fare = fate. Phone.



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Reply #16 on: October 22, 2014, 02:03:07 PM
I quite enjoyed it!  I love a good silly conversation and story based around it, puts me in mind of Douglas Adams or Lewis Carroll, two of my all-time favorites in comedy.  I like the nonchalance that much of the conversation was taken with.  Like when Dot brings up again the galactic fleet and the robot guy is like "What now?" as if he's kind of forgotten about the topic of the imminent destruction of everything Earth has ever wrought. 

And while I did have the thought that nothing happened, I enjoyed the conversation enough that I didn't so much care.  And also, it's not that the characters failed to act, rather they choose not to act.  I don't have to agree with their choice, but it is a choice.



I really enjoyed this story as an SF riff on the Wizard of Oz ("Dot", a cowardly posthuman lion named "Gerald", the tin man, the scarecrow, the "wizards"). For me, that pulled the meandering framing device together nicely. It's all about displacement--in Oz, Dorothy is in another world, but in this story, Dot is out of place in time, in a sense. I also appreciated how the Oz pastiche went juuust so far, but not *too* far - you don't get Dot waking up at the end thinking it was all a dream, and instead the story takes her to a new and different place (better detailed by Albionmoonlight, so I'll just say: ditto to that).

OH MY GOD, HOW DID I MISS THAT REFERENCE?  Okay, looking at it now the Dorothy, Lion, Tin Man, Wizard references are all clear.  Come to think of it, I did think of the Wizard when there was mention of the giant head shrinking down to normal size going out of presentation mode, but my mind for once didn't follow the tangent and think about the rest of the characters in similar light.  But where was the scarecrow?  Or was there a clear reference there that I missed?  Is it some kind of "straw man" argument or something?  Or is there a character I forgot about?

Quote
You don't get Dot waking up at the end thinking it was all a dream, and instead the story takes her to a new and different place

Well, if it used the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a reference, in the book she does not wake up and realize it's a dream.  In the book the slippers act as something like seven-league boots to let Dorothy walk home.  The slippers fall off as she's walking and she ends up back on the farm.  One of the many changes the moviemakers put in, though the movie is much more familiar to people now than the book.




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Reply #17 on: October 22, 2014, 07:55:36 PM
I love the results of the unintended consequences of humanity's actions.  Building nano bots to build a telescope, but the reproduction being busted.  So, leave the robots on their own and start universal war.  Sounds about right.  Meanwhile, back on earth, most humans became furries :-).

I'm just wondering how the computer knew so much about what the enemy would need to destroy the earth to its core.  Indicates the human populate was more advanced than we could surmise, and still they preferred to nest in the earth than explore the universe.  Well, I guess they would have to explore somehow as they would not have that information.  Maybe many people are out in space, but just settled where they were.   The ending would have been better had the aliens come, and it was us, invading our own home world.  The ending given was the obvious one as you knew a human who wandered the earth without checking in would stay to watch the destruction.



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Reply #18 on: October 22, 2014, 08:00:35 PM
OH MY GOD, HOW DID I MISS THAT REFERENCE?  Okay, looking at it now the Dorothy, Lion, Tin Man, Wizard references are all clear.  Come to think of it, I did think of the Wizard when there was mention of the giant head shrinking down to normal size going out of presentation mode, but my mind for once didn't follow the tangent and think about the rest of the characters in similar light.  But where was the scarecrow?  Or was there a clear reference there that I missed?  Is it some kind of "straw man" argument or something?  Or is there a character I forgot about?

I saw that too and was wondering about the scarecrow too.  I was thinking it could be the aliens, if they were scared of humans, but they have to be the wicked witch.  Maybe the earth is the straw man, to burn up under the rain of fire.  But there was nothing to fear if you were in the center of the earth.  Hmmmm. 



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Reply #19 on: October 22, 2014, 09:00:01 PM
OH MY GOD, HOW DID I MISS THAT REFERENCE?  Okay, looking at it now the Dorothy, Lion, Tin Man, Wizard references are all clear.  Come to think of it, I did think of the Wizard when there was mention of the giant head shrinking down to normal size going out of presentation mode, but my mind for once didn't follow the tangent and think about the rest of the characters in similar light.  But where was the scarecrow?  Or was there a clear reference there that I missed?  Is it some kind of "straw man" argument or something?  Or is there a character I forgot about?

I saw that too and was wondering about the scarecrow too.  I was thinking it could be the aliens, if they were scared of humans, but they have to be the wicked witch.  Maybe the earth is the straw man, to burn up under the rain of fire.  But there was nothing to fear if you were in the center of the earth.  Hmmmm. 

Maybe the straw man is the Tin Man's argument that "well, you guys totally should've made a universal galactic fleet by now, so it's totally your fault that we're all doomed".  Hard to support that argument, after Tin Man started an interstellar war, so could be a straw man argument.

Maybe?



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Reply #20 on: October 22, 2014, 10:58:47 PM
Truth? I couldn't figure out a way to work in the scarecrow (or Toto, for that matter) that would be organic to the story, and I didn't want to whack anybody over the head with the whole Wizard of Oz thing.  The basic outline of the story had been rattling around in my head for a couple of years.  The Oz bit came in at the end, mostly because I'd just seen Wicked when I finally sat down to write.



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Reply #21 on: October 23, 2014, 01:05:51 AM
Wow, I really liked this one! I loved the humor, all the nonchalantness of the conversations, and for some reason the name "Gerald" was simply hilarious to me. :D I agree that Dot chose the better part of valor, sticking to her priorities even to the point of obliteration. She didn't lose her integrity and agree to an existence that her entire life had been oriented against. Post-apocalypse stories are so abundant nowadays that it was sort of refreshing to see the last of humanity go out with a whimper instead of a bang.



Truth? I couldn't figure out a way to work in the scarecrow (or Toto, for that matter) that would be organic to the story, and I didn't want to whack anybody over the head with the whole Wizard of Oz thing.  The basic outline of the story had been rattling around in my head for a couple of years.  The Oz bit came in at the end, mostly because I'd just seen Wicked when I finally sat down to write.

LOL, sometimes the answer is way simpler than we try to make it. ;D



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Reply #22 on: October 23, 2014, 12:30:53 PM
I love the results of the unintended consequences of humanity's actions.  Building nano bots to build a telescope, but the reproduction being busted.  So, leave the robots on their own and start universal war.  Sounds about right.  Meanwhile, back on earth, most humans became furries :-).

I'm just wondering how the computer knew so much about what the enemy would need to destroy the earth to its core.  Indicates the human populate was more advanced than we could surmise, and still they preferred to nest in the earth than explore the universe.  Well, I guess they would have to explore somehow as they would not have that information.  Maybe many people are out in space, but just settled where they were.   The ending would have been better had the aliens come, and it was us, invading our own home world.  The ending given was the obvious one as you knew a human who wandered the earth without checking in would stay to watch the destruction.
But...the "computer" WAS humanity! And surely they kept exploring the universe the same way we do today - we have telescopes in space, robots on and around the inner planets, and observatories all over Earth.

At least, I count that as exploration. And hopefully, by 1,000 years in the future (since we've obviously solved a lot of technical problems related to storage, processing, and rendering an entire virtual population) we'll be able to interpret a lot more of our 13 Billion year view than can be done today!


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Reply #23 on: October 23, 2014, 01:40:11 PM
Truth? I couldn't figure out a way to work in the scarecrow (or Toto, for that matter) that would be organic to the story, and I didn't want to whack anybody over the head with the whole Wizard of Oz thing.  The basic outline of the story had been rattling around in my head for a couple of years.  The Oz bit came in at the end, mostly because I'd just seen Wicked when I finally sat down to write.

Makes sense--wouldn't want to add unnecessary parts to the story just to make the reference complete.  :)  I still like the idea of the straw man argument, though. 



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Reply #24 on: October 28, 2014, 12:32:11 PM
Quote from: Varda
I really enjoyed this story as an SF riff on the Wizard of Oz ("Dot", a cowardly posthuman lion named "Gerald", the tin man, the scarecrow, the "wizards"). For me, that pulled the meandering framing device together nicely. It's all about displacement--in Oz, Dorothy is in another world, but in this story, Dot is out of place in time, in a sense.

I didn't notice the Wizard of Oz references, other than the Wizard, who was very blatant.  Now that you've pointed that out the Oz references to me, they seem shoehorned in.  I get it, it's a pastiche, but why bother?  The references seem really pasted-on and forced, when the story should have stood on its own without being derivative. 

I also want to say that I enjoyed listening to the podcast.  It was fun, and I thought it was a good story, all in all. 
« Last Edit: October 28, 2014, 12:36:33 PM by Chairman Goodchild »