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Author Topic: EP469: Inseparable  (Read 8416 times)

eytanz

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on: November 18, 2014, 02:47:29 PM
EP469: Inseparable

By Liz Heldmann

Read by Pamela Quevillion

This story has not been previously published
---

The disruptor net hit the ocean with an eruption of steam. Obscuring billows gouted up in columns of gray and white and the target was close enough that the aft hull immediately registered a thermic spike. The temperature shot from swampy greenhouse to hot-as-fucking-Hades. Technically speaking.

Around the quadrant, warships were deploying nets as weaponry. Best not to think about that. Science was the new war, according to Delia.

The weave generated out of the arse end of the ship was coarse, each node tuned two-dimensionally to its neighbors in a honeycomb lattice that formed a curved plane. A great big seine made of plasma, dragging a world ocean underneath a sun that filled the forward viewscreen as if trying to muscle out of the frame.

Both density and chemistry dials had been spun and today’s net split the surly bonds between hydrogen and oxygen wherever it encountered them in a medium of approximately one gram per cubic centimeter. Which meant that the net sliced through alien waters like gamma rays through goose shit and didn’t so much as muss the hair of any entities it scooped up in the process.

Forget ‘Take me to your leader’. We quit asking nicely a few planetary systems in.

Just about the day we got our first sentient ‘Thanks, but no thanks, and by the way, eat plasma’.

Hence the warships.

The thought of slammin’ and jammin’ in the spaces between worlds raised a bit of nostalgia in a girl.

“All right, Shar, bring her up!” Delia’s shout interrupted before I got all weepy.

The science vehicle, romantically named ScV-341, burped inertial brakes out of its titanium skin and gimbaled 45°. The net raveled in. A telltale with the image of a stepped-on snail floating above it went green, the deck vibrated and the ship pinged a saccharine little public service announcement. “Aft hold, secure.”

“Thank you, ship.” We’d been excessively polite to each other ever since Delia had told me it was beneath me to argue with a ship over operational procedure. What she’d told it, I don’t know.

Ping. “Inertial sink projecting.”

“Thank you, ship.”



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



bitfiend

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Reply #1 on: November 19, 2014, 09:13:27 AM
Narrator sounds blissed out on MDMA or something.
Ruined what would probably have been a good episode.  :-\



Zieborn

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Reply #2 on: November 19, 2014, 02:03:26 PM
Something about this episode bugged me so much I couldn't enjoy it at all.  First I very uncharitably thought I just hated it.  Then I thought maybe it was that horrid computer chime scratching at my ears.  However, looking back at the story itself and the interesting world described there, I realized I didn't really hate the story.

 I hated it being read.  Not the reader (she did a fine job with the reading and the voices).  However, this one isn't meant to be read out loud.  There are not nearly enough indications of who is talking, the prose often sounds silly when heard (in a way it would not on paper), and the science is too technical to be explained so quickly.  Sometimes I lost track of what character was saying what.  Sometimes I heard something about scanning or nets and didn't have time to process it.  Most all the time the swearing sounded silly when actually spoken.  I don't think any of this would matter in print.  In fact I know it wouldn't.  Reading the blurb posted on the site feels like reading an entirely different story.  A much better story. 



Dwango

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Reply #3 on: November 19, 2014, 08:55:20 PM
I had a hard time listening to this story too.  I just barely could follow it, as it jumped around a bi1, and I didn't realize they were in the ocean until midway through the story, as I missed it early on in the story.  I think, like Zieborn, that maybe this is best read, not read out.

I also didn't understand the part where Delia was pregnant and how it related to the story. It just seemed to be thrown in there, and then dropped.  I guess it related to the zygotes or whatever they were, but it seemed that it was just part of a Star Wars escape, only the baby aliens were the trash and Shar was Han Solo.  It just seemed all over the place and needed some more focus.  I wasn't sure about the ending either, as I couldn't figure out which water alien was which and it kind of finished without finishing, like something more should have happened to close it out.



carbonel

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Reply #4 on: November 19, 2014, 10:35:12 PM
I found this episode sufficiently annoying to finally create an account. It wasn't the voice artist; I was fine with that. It was the fact that this wasn't a complete story. It read like the first chapter of a novel.

Did I miss something? As I understand things, the story ended with our intrepid heroines at the bottom of an ocean with limited reserves, having unwittingly killed off a bunch of alien babies, and are now being pursued to the death by the alien babies' cousins. And the big resolution, the end of the story, is that the viewpoint character might, just might, have talked the ship's AI into cooperating just a bit.

WUT?



Thunderscreech

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Reply #5 on: November 19, 2014, 10:59:55 PM
I'm not sure, but I think they hijacked one of the baby-eggs to get a ride to the surface and then their 'ride' out also crashed into the ocean or something.



Zelda

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Reply #6 on: November 21, 2014, 07:53:38 AM
I couldn't follow this story. They were in space? Then they were in an ocean? The big friendly ship was gone and a hostile one was chasing them? The terminology was too unfamiliar. The pregnancy seemed totally irrelevant to the rest of the story. The main character was upset about failing a test but where did that fit in? Maybe if I was seeing it in writing I would have been able to figure it out. I couldn't tell who was saying what. I have no idea what happened at the end. I don't know what the significance of the title is. In my opinion this story isn't suitable for audio.



Zieborn

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Reply #7 on: November 21, 2014, 01:41:40 PM
In my opinion this story isn't suitable for audio.
That is becoming the theme is the comments here.  I would reccomend reading the blurb at the top.  It is much easier to follow (I didn't understand that bit about the sun, the thing about thermal spikes, the thing about plasma nets, or where they are to begin the story until I read it).  I would love if there was a text version of this one I could get.  I know how the dialog would look there.  There are lots of writers who don't do "Bob said... Sue said... exclaimed Joe" hit by hit stuff.  In text, the breaks can make it clear who is saying what.  Even with good voice work for two characters, that doesn't play as well over headphones.  

I hope if Liz Heldmann is reading this, she doesn't think I think it was a bad story.  I think if we could read it, maybe we'd all understand it better, and would like it more.  What's not to like with sentient sea creatures, plasma nets, talking ships, and science wars?  I just couldn't follow any of that here.  

An example of where reading it in text would be much clearer is here:
"A great big seine made of plasma, dragging a world ocean underneath a sun that filled the forward viewscreen..."

I thought the world ocean was being physically dragged (read: carried) under the sun when I heard it, because there was so much data to process, and because all the prose is complex.  Also, I didn't understand that they weren't in space, so I didn't get that dragging here was "trawling." 
« Last Edit: November 21, 2014, 01:49:16 PM by Zieborn »



Varda

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Reply #8 on: November 21, 2014, 01:46:18 PM
I would love if there was a text version of this one I could get.

Sure, you can read the full text here (and this is true of just about every Escape Pod episode these days, if you ever have trouble following it in audio or just prefer the text).

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Zieborn

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Reply #9 on: November 21, 2014, 01:50:27 PM
I would love if there was a text version of this one I could get.

Sure, you can read the full text here (and this is true of just about every Escape Pod episode these days, if you ever have trouble following it in audio or just prefer the text).
Thank you very much!  I only found the Escape Artists network of podcasts about a month ago, so I'm still very unfamiliar with the place. 



Varda

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Reply #10 on: November 21, 2014, 02:01:19 PM
Thank you very much!  I only found the Escape Artists network of podcasts about a month ago, so I'm still very unfamiliar with the place. 

Hey, no problem at all! :) Not everyone knows about the full text on the main site--it was a good question. And a hearty welcome to the neighborhood. :)

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albionmoonlight

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Reply #11 on: November 21, 2014, 02:07:06 PM
Is having a personality a necessary outcome of a very intelligent AI?  Or is personality just a side-effect that we will be able to avoid in our AIs?

In Star Trek, the ship's computer was very smart inasmuch as it could understand commands in colloquial English and give intelligent responses.  But it had no personality.

But I wonder if that is really possible.  Is there a point where the level of intelligence and human understanding required to interact seamlessly with humans necessarily involves having something that humans will perceive as a personality?  That's what the ship's AI got me thinking here.




Zieborn

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Reply #12 on: November 21, 2014, 03:30:11 PM
Is having a personality a necessary outcome of a very intelligent AI?  Or is personality just a side-effect that we will be able to avoid in our AIs?

In Star Trek, the ship's computer was very smart inasmuch as it could understand commands in colloquial English and give intelligent responses.  But it had no personality.

But I wonder if that is really possible.  Is there a point where the level of intelligence and human understanding required to interact seamlessly with humans necessarily involves having something that humans will perceive as a personality?  That's what the ship's AI got me thinking here.


Very interesting idea.  Did Star Trek ever do an episode where they "met" the computer in the holodeck?  Clearly, the holodeck proves the computer even has an "imagination" of sorts.  This has often resulted in the very strange holodeck goings on in some episodes (sometimes my favourite and sometimes my least favourite episodes).  I'd like to find out there was an episode where it personified itself there.  That'd be pretty cool. 

I like how in this story the captain says the ship likely bullied other captains into leaving.  The idea of a ship with a personality so acerbic people can't work with it is fantastic. 

Update: I read the whole thing back on the main page.  It really does read much, much better.  Now I'd like to know more about this war between humans and sentient cutttlefish.  It seems especially interesting as it looks like we're the bad guy in this one.  We stopped asking permission to harvest water because sometimes a planet's inhabitants said "no" and responded aggresively?  We disected the prince or king of that cuttlefish species because we weren't careful enough to realize he was sentient first?  We're using science as a weapon that was originally intended to be used for harvesting energy or resources?  Not the idealized version of just and fair humans we usually get, that's for sure.   



Arachnophile

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Reply #13 on: November 21, 2014, 05:59:22 PM
I liked a lot about this piece.  I think the main issue I had with it (echoing others here) was difficulty in following.  I don't think that was so much a matter of audio vs. text, though.  After both reading and listening, I've come away with the strong suspicion that this is in fact an excerpt from a novel, either complete or in progress. There are too many loose ends left dangling (the pregnancy, the war, the failed test, what exactly they were doing there in the first place) that I would think wouldn't have been raised in the first place in a stand-alone story. Nothing wrong with selling a novel excerpt, of course, but I would be curious to know if that's what this is.



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #14 on: November 21, 2014, 07:18:06 PM
This one did bug me a little bit, in two particular ways.

Firstly, I think that the technobabble got a little dense at times. Don't get me wrong - I think that a little technobabble (or arcanobabble, if you're writing a fantasy story) can add a lot of flavor to a tale - but you've got to keep the volume down. Even the most patient reader only has the patience for so many pages straight of random gobbledy-gook that he or she doesn't really understand.

Second, the narrator annoyed me. Who the hell decides to get pregnant without making this a part of her conversation with her partner? If this hadn't been an all-female universe, this was more or less the equivalent of putting holes in a condom, except that it requires way more planning and forethought, making the main character almost sociopathic in her lack of respect for peoples' boundaries. You just don't do that! If my partner told me that she had decided to become pregnant without making it part of a conversation, that would be an enormous fight. That's an apocalyptic, we'll talk about it but probably when the conversation is over I'll leave you level offense.

The easiest fix would have been to have the other character be male, because then the pregnancy could be accidental-but-wanted, or the author could have worked in that the narrator sort of accidentally-but-on-purpose screwed up whatever they use for birth control in the future.

Which is not to say that I'm complaining about this being an all-female universe. Goodness knows, the science fiction canon includes enough stories that are in de facto all-male universes (ie. all the characters are male, so it may as well be) that we could use a little of the alternative.

But... I don't know. The main emotional story fell flat because it painted the narrator as such an awful person, and the story didn't seem to see that, which I thought was weird. I could see how her conflicted emotions could have led her to make some kind of accidentally on purpose stupid mistake if she had had a male partner, capable of accidentally impregnating her, but... the premeditation involved in becoming pregnant in this world, in her situation, just made her into a terrible person.

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Zelda

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Reply #15 on: November 23, 2014, 12:43:02 AM


Second, the narrator annoyed me. Who the hell decides to get pregnant without making this a part of her conversation with her partner? If this hadn't been an all-female universe, this was more or less the equivalent of putting holes in a condom, except that it requires way more planning and forethought, making the main character almost sociopathic in her lack of respect for peoples' boundaries. You just don't do that! If my partner told me that she had decided to become pregnant without making it part of a conversation, that would be an enormous fight. That's an apocalyptic, we'll talk about it but probably when the conversation is over I'll leave you level offense.

The easiest fix would have been to have the other character be male, because then the pregnancy could be accidental-but-wanted, or the author could have worked in that the narrator sort of accidentally-but-on-purpose screwed up whatever they use for birth control in the future.

Which is not to say that I'm complaining about this being an all-female universe. Goodness knows, the science fiction canon includes enough stories that are in de facto all-male universes (ie. all the characters are male, so it may as well be) that we could use a little of the alternative.

But... I don't know. The main emotional story fell flat because it painted the narrator as such an awful person, and the story didn't seem to see that, which I thought was weird. I could see how her conflicted emotions could have led her to make some kind of accidentally on purpose stupid mistake if she had had a male partner, capable of accidentally impregnating her, but... the premeditation involved in becoming pregnant in this world, in her situation, just made her into a terrible person.

She might be even worse. I find myself wondering if the narrator got pregnant the old-fashioned way and is lying to her girlfriend about it:

Quote
“Shut up, ship.” I hit the switch, screwed the bitch and let the shuttle scratch my itch. To fly. An itch I shared with legions of mostly younger up-and-comers. One of whom had up and come right into my zero-g couch on Gossamer while I was in-system indulging a different itch.


Why mention her escapade otherwise?

I was wrong about this story. I couldn't follow it when I read it either. I mean, I could follow some of the actions but I didn't understand the significance of anything.



SpareInch

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Reply #16 on: November 23, 2014, 01:56:43 PM
The main character was upset about failing a test but where did that fit in?

I think I would have wondered about that too, except that I have a brother who was a Territorial (Reservist) in the British Army for over a decade and who was always fretting about passing his annual Combat Fitness Test. Fail it, and you get left behind if your unit is mobilised. (In theory, anyway.) I just assumed that this failed test was something like that, and it's sole relevance was that it put a combat pilot on a non combat ship.

I can't decide if the failure was a result of the pregnancy though, or just a contributing factor in her decision.

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SpareInch

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Reply #17 on: November 23, 2014, 01:58:57 PM
Or maybe she flunked the test on purpose so she could be on the same ship with her girlfriend?

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #18 on: November 23, 2014, 05:10:07 PM
I thought that the failure contributed to the pregnancy. She was like "well, if I can't be a BAMF anymore, I'll be a mom instead." It seems like the kind of thing someone might do if forced to redefine herself.

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Chairman Goodchild

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Reply #19 on: November 25, 2014, 01:14:50 PM
This story rubbed me the wrong way.  I'm all for the in media res approach to storytelling, but if the author gets too carried away with his work, the story becomes impenetrable and bounces off the reader, or listener, in this case.  I kept waiting for the jumping-on point, but it never arrived.  

And this story suffers from too much technobabble and too little actual application of standard science, like an episode of Star Trek.  So, there's all of this weird science going on, but the ship starts running out of oxygen a few hours after submerging in an ocean?  This is something that's not only been solved with spaceflight today, but something that's been solved for decades.  The Soviet Salyut 1 space station was occupied for nearly a month in 1971, and there were no problems with oxygen generation there.  Or with any other space station ever.  This is centuries in the future, and this spaceship has no oxygen scrubbers and no emergency oxygen supply, and yet the ship has 4140 terajoules of energy.  Which is enough to run cities off of for years, but not to scrub away carbon dioxide from the ship's air supply even for a day.



Zieborn

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Reply #20 on: November 25, 2014, 03:37:06 PM
Or maybe she flunked the test on purpose so she could be on the same ship with her girlfriend?
She specifically says she didn't flunk it.  She says "not flunked, but not aced."  I took it to mean she was used to beating everyone and only ended up doing okay this time. 



Dwango

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Reply #21 on: December 02, 2014, 08:51:53 PM
I don't think in Star Trek the computer ever has a personality, but this theme is done in Doctor Who where the TARDIS is brought out as with an actor playing the part.  I believe this was the story written by Neil Gaiman.  The TARDIS has a lot of character and was very quirky, but this was obvious as it was before being personalized.  It really didn't need an actor to play this out.

Another story with the computer being represented as alive was in the video game Mass Effect where the ship's AI creates a body for itself so it can go on away missions.  While interesting, it was really just a way to give one of the side characters a romance, so it really didn't get into the living AI subject deeply other than "Third Rock From the Sun" like observations on humanity from a machine's view.

Is having a personality a necessary outcome of a very intelligent AI?  Or is personality just a side-effect that we will be able to avoid in our AIs?

In Star Trek, the ship's computer was very smart inasmuch as it could understand commands in colloquial English and give intelligent responses.  But it had no personality.

But I wonder if that is really possible.  Is there a point where the level of intelligence and human understanding required to interact seamlessly with humans necessarily involves having something that humans will perceive as a personality?  That's what the ship's AI got me thinking here.


Very interesting idea.  Did Star Trek ever do an episode where they "met" the computer in the holodeck?  Clearly, the holodeck proves the computer even has an "imagination" of sorts.  This has often resulted in the very strange holodeck goings on in some episodes (sometimes my favourite and sometimes my least favourite episodes).  I'd like to find out there was an episode where it personified itself there.  That'd be pretty cool. 

I like how in this story the captain says the ship likely bullied other captains into leaving.  The idea of a ship with a personality so acerbic people can't work with it is fantastic. 

Update: I read the whole thing back on the main page.  It really does read much, much better.  Now I'd like to know more about this war between humans and sentient cutttlefish.  It seems especially interesting as it looks like we're the bad guy in this one.  We stopped asking permission to harvest water because sometimes a planet's inhabitants said "no" and responded aggresively?  We disected the prince or king of that cuttlefish species because we weren't careful enough to realize he was sentient first?  We're using science as a weapon that was originally intended to be used for harvesting energy or resources?  Not the idealized version of just and fair humans we usually get, that's for sure.   



Hpridham

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Reply #22 on: December 04, 2014, 05:05:23 PM
I found this episode sufficiently annoying to finally create an account.


I had the same reaction! I had to make an account to call out how bad I thought this story was, as well as the incorrect interpretation of it by Merl. In my attempt to salvage something from this heap I conclude that it has nothing to do with an uppity or incomprehensive AI. Rather, it seems that the human characters were the ones doing both. The pilot is raging against everyone and everything because of her own inadequacies as a pilot, the science officer as a reluctant “parent”  (weakest plot point ever by the way) and incompetent interpreter of the alien ecosystem, and the human race in its slash and burn approach to space exploration.

Really though, I have no  idea what the author was trying to do with this story. It’s a messy amalgam of tired plot points. Too little time was played to any single one in order for me to give a fart about the whole lot of it. Hats off to the narrator though, her performance was the one thing that kept me listening.



Devoted135

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Reply #23 on: December 05, 2014, 08:07:47 PM
Quote
Both density and chemistry dials had been spun and today’s net split the surly bonds between hydrogen and oxygen wherever it encountered them in a medium of approximately one gram per cubic centimeter. Which meant that the net sliced through alien waters like gamma rays through goose shit and didn’t so much as muss the hair of any entities it scooped up in the process.

I agree that this story is simply not very suited for audio. Paragraphs like the one above are too frequent for easy parsing. This one also has the dubious advantage of pointing out one of the major plot holes (anyone who can split water that easily CANNOT run out of oxygen while on an aqueous planet. Having such a jerk for a narrator also didn't help...



hardware

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Reply #24 on: December 08, 2014, 01:43:21 PM
Yeah, I will agree with most that the level of casual technobabble made it a quiet challenging listening experience. But the world building and alien reproduction stuff was pretty fascinating once you got into it.