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Author Topic: EP106: The House Beyond Your Sky  (Read 14801 times)
Bdoomed
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« on: May 17, 2007, 05:52:27 PM »

EP106: The House Beyond Your Sky

By Benjamin Rosenbaum.
Read by Paul Tevis (of Have Games Will Travel).

The simulations, while good, are not impenetrable even to their own inhabitants. Scientists teaching baboons to sort blocks may notice that all other baboons become instantly better at block-sorting, revealing a high-level caching mechanism. Or engineers building their own virtual worlds may find they cannot use certain tricks of optimization and compression—for Matthias has already used them. Only when the jig is up does Matthias reveal himself, asking each simulated soul: what now? Most accept Matthias’s offer to graduate beyond the confines of their simulation, and join the general society of Matthias’s house.

You may regard them as bright parakeets, living in wicker cages with open doors. The cages are hung from the ceiling of the priest’s clay hut. The parakeets flutter about the ceiling, visit each other, steal bread from the table, and comment on Matthias’s doings.


Rated R. Contains some profanity and child abuse. It’s probably too complex for young children as well.

Referenced Sites:
Diversity in SF Markets (blog post by Tobias S. Buckell)
Finis: A Book of Endings
Nina Kimberly the Merciless


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!

« Last Edit: May 21, 2007, 12:30:27 AM by Bdoomed » Logged

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dorri732
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« Reply #1 on: May 18, 2007, 05:03:40 AM »

This story immediately brought to mind John Walker's musings on the possibility that we are in an universe created by a "freckle faced 5th grader for a science project".

Quote
What would we expect to see if we inhabited a simulation? Well, there would probably be a discrete time step and granularity in position fixed by the time and position resolution of the simulation—check, and check: the Planck time and distance appear to behave this way in our universe. There would probably be an absolute speed limit to constrain the extent we could directly explore and impose a locality constraint on propagating updates throughout the simulation—check: speed of light. There would be a limit on the extent of the universe we could observe—check: the Hubble radius is an absolute horizon we cannot penetrate, and the last scattering surface of the cosmic background radiation limits electromagnetic observation to a still smaller radius. There would be a limit on the accuracy of physical measurements due to the finite precision of the computation in the simulation—check: Heisenberg uncertainty principle—and, as in games, randomness would be used as a fudge when precision limits were hit—check: quantum mechanics.

Here is the page that came from.  http://www.fourmilab.ch/fourmilog/archives/2006-03/000664.html

Dorri
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Jim
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« Reply #2 on: May 18, 2007, 07:39:08 AM »

I'm afraid I had the Towlie-from-South-Park response with this story, namely, "Oh, man, I have no idea what's goin' on."

But I was psyched to hear Paul Tevis reading it. Love that guy.
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Kurt Faler
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« Reply #3 on: May 18, 2007, 08:03:30 AM »

I'm afraid I had the Towlie-from-South-Park response with this story, namely, "Oh, man, I have no idea what's goin' on."


I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one with the "dude...wait, what?" reaction to this one. I'm going to try to listen to it again and see if it clears up. I like the way the story hints at the true nature of the setting but then parses it into a familiar setting, but at the same time I think that's what made it hard to follow.
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Jim
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« Reply #4 on: May 18, 2007, 08:47:31 AM »

I did a quick Google phrase search on the story title and appear to have found the text of the story here.

I have hope that reading it will help me to make sense of it.
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eytanz
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« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2007, 11:01:16 AM »

Yet another great story, and I found the reading excellent, making the switching between the different layers relatively effortless. I really liked the parallelism between the Sally's predicament and Matthias's one - the scale was very different but the basic story the same, to the abusive "father" and victim "mother". It could easily have come out cheesy and trite but it didn't, carried by the strength of the writing and narration.

I was a bit unsure about the reading of the last line - it was read as if it was a twist, but it seems to me that it was the culmination of everything that followed, and I was anticipating it for quite a while. Still, that didn't detract anything from the story, just a somewhat different take.
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SFEley
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« Reply #6 on: May 18, 2007, 12:05:42 PM »

I did a quick Google phrase search on the story title and appear to have found the text of the story here.

Yes, sorry for not including that in the podcast post yesterday.  That's been fixed.
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VBurn
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« Reply #7 on: May 18, 2007, 02:21:56 PM »

I think the story is really well told and quite amazing, but not meant for audio.  I think it needs to be digested in chunks that the written text provides.  It may be the sudden and frequent POV shifts.  Nothing against the reader, he did quite well. 
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Jim
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« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2007, 03:20:19 PM »

I read the story text in full and I understand it now. It is a difficult problem with the point-of-view, I agree.

For instance, when the action shifts from Matthias's house to the Sophia's bedroom, it's easy to confuse facts and come to think that the girl's room is in Matthias's house, when it's actually in a virtual sub-universe. The text ameliorates this problem by separating the Sophia storyline with a couple of horizontal lines, making it clear the action there is taking place elsewhere entirely.

Stories like this one that are lush with metaphor and imagery can be difficult to digest in an audio format, no matter how carefully the recording is read or produced, in my opinion.

I think we had the same problem with Cinderella Suicide. Reading it brought the sense of it home more than listening to it. And, actually, reading it while listening to it was pretty darn cool. Maybe I'll try that with this one.
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Josh
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« Reply #9 on: May 20, 2007, 05:19:20 PM »

GREAT STORY! I loved the insane description, though I don't think i have ever heard so many English words that I don't understand so close together, and not in a textbook.
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madjo
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« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2007, 07:20:00 AM »

Great story, yet a very confusing one.
Not so much the back-and-forth switching between Sophie's world and Matthias' world. But rather the message in the story got me confused.
I thought that Matthias was looking forward to the Pelgrim's visit, didn't he?
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Thaurismunths
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« Reply #11 on: May 21, 2007, 07:42:10 AM »

What a great and heady story!
I wish I knew a little more about computers. I just kind'a had to float along for the first few minutes until I got a grip on what the narrator was talking about... and I still don't quite get the teddy bear/little girl thing. I think it was a kind of parallel: Mathias suffered domestic abuse from his father, and the girl suffered abuse from her father, and they both sought comfort from each other.
But what are the keys?

Great story, yet a very confusing one.
Not so much the back-and-forth switching between Sophie's world and Matthias' world. But rather the message in the story got me confused.
I thought that Matthias was looking forward to the Pelgrim's visit, didn't he?
I think, for what it's worth, the Pilgrim is analogous to Matthias' father. So I get the impression that he wasn't so much looking forward to the visit as he was not willing to disrespect his father. Also he was so tired of the responsibility that he was hoping his father would come and take over control of the house, letting him off the hook when it came to making decisions.
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madjo
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« Reply #12 on: May 21, 2007, 10:00:26 AM »

What a great and heady story!
I wish I knew a little more about computers. I just kind'a had to float along for the first few minutes until I got a grip on what the narrator was talking about...
I know a lot about computers, but a lot of that went over my head too. Smiley

Quote
and I still don't quite get the teddy bear/little girl thing. I think it was a kind of parallel: Mathias suffered domestic abuse from his father, and the girl suffered abuse from her father, and they both sought comfort from each other.
But what are the keys?
I believe those were the keys to the 'library', where the other dimensions were stored.

Quote
Great story, yet a very confusing one.
Not so much the back-and-forth switching between Sophie's world and Matthias' world. But rather the message in the story got me confused.
I thought that Matthias was looking forward to the Pelgrim's visit, didn't he?
I think, for what it's worth, the Pilgrim is analogous to Matthias' father. So I get the impression that he wasn't so much looking forward to the visit as he was not willing to disrespect his father. Also he was so tired of the responsibility that he was hoping his father would come and take over control of the house, letting him off the hook when it came to making decisions.
That makes sense, thanks. I need to listen to it again I guess Wink
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Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #13 on: May 21, 2007, 11:21:11 AM »

To dredge up some lingo from high-school, that was hard-core!  This is my favorite Escape Pod that I have heard thus far!  I think this story is amazing because it manages to be huge in scope, deep in characterization, complex in concept and yet extremely concise and focussed, like absorbing a 1000 page Tad Williams novel in 30 minutes.  This is the first EP story that I might describe as "a rush" to listen to.

I thought the most striking aspect (and that most salient to the plot) is how Rosenbaum treated minds as souls within a matrix.  The soul of the Pilgrim, of Matthias, of all the characters, are defined as information, compilations of code, which require a processing space in which to execute.  He considers the body and brain of a person as just such a processing space: The brain is the matrix is which the spirit runs, in the same sense that my MiniMac is the matrix in which my web browser runs.  The characters in the story have learned to build bigger and better spaces for their spirits, "palaces of being," to replace their brains.  I love the idea of many spirits sharing one matrix and all the good and bad that such an arrangement could lead to.  These ideas ideas are just mind-blowing, and they are handled perfectly here.

The religious speculation that necessarily comes into such a scenario is fascinating.  You have a guy who creates and has power over universes full of intelligent beings, and yet is not God, and if fact recognizes God as a being infinitely more powerful and mysterious than himself.  At the same time you have the possibility of people in the universes Matthias creates simulating their own universes, in which there will be beings living in yet another ontological layer.  How should these people understand god?  Heady stuff.

Along those lines, I also see a parallelism between the way Rosenbaum describes his characters and the sort of language used in the Bible to describe Heavenly beings.  In both cases, the language is highly symbolic.  Jeffry the parakeet becomes a hawk with bombs in his mouth.  Matthias flees from skeletal hands through labyrinthine corridors.  We have concepts that are ontologically beyond human comprehension described poetically, through metaphor, so that 4-dimensional minds can get some idea of what is going on.  This is really the only way a human writer could describe super-human persons and events, and Rosenbaums use of this language creates a beautiful sense of wonder and dread at the vast scope and implication of the story's events.

But despite this bigness, the characters in the story remain real and sympathetic.  As bizarre as the situation sounds, I can understand Matthias' grief in dissecting the dead Pilgrim to find the remains of his mother inside.

Although I confess that I was somewhat confused as to what exactly the "keys" are and what they do, the thought of them being embedded in a little girl's teddy bear is very cool.  The story ends with an object of vast cosmic significance being tucked away in the most innocuous and unlikely of places, just waiting for someone, someday to find it and figure out what it does

I also loved the use of "big" philosophical and mathematical words (even though I had to look up some of them).  "Ontic bomb."  Sweet!

I guess I'll quit gushing now.  If case anyone hasn't figured it out by now, I thought this story was GREAT.  This is BIG in a "2001" sort of way.  Five stars.  I'm glad there is interest in and a market for ideas like these.
« Last Edit: May 21, 2007, 03:13:09 PM by Mr. Tweedy » Logged

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jimscreechy
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« Reply #14 on: May 21, 2007, 01:27:46 PM »

Although I found the theme to this story insightful, interesting and really quite quirky, the prose was far too rambling, uninspired and unfortunately boring to retain my attention.  I gave it about fifteen minutes, which I think is a fair shot, before my disinterest forced me to resort to the radio button on my car stereo. 

I find this even more unfortunate because I didn’t particularly like this author's other piece ‘Start the Clock’ that aired (not sure if this is the right term for podcasts) previously on Escapepod, and I don’t like the idea that I may be so ‘confined’ as to find myself disliking the works of any particular author. 

Having said all that and given a little more thought to the situation, I think it may just be that this story didn’t perhaps work as well in podcast format as it would have in written form where I would have perhaps given it more latitude and enjoyed it much more.  I know Ed always emphasizes that a story has to ‘work’ before it can be considered for purchase, but for me this one was a question mark that I think should ultimately have been avoided… just my opinion.
« Last Edit: May 21, 2007, 03:43:28 PM by jimscreechy » Logged
FNH
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« Reply #15 on: May 21, 2007, 02:17:37 PM »

Paul's reading of this story was a dream.  How he handled the language and change of POV was also dreamlike.  I hope we get Paul reading more stories in future.  Chocolate for the ears.

... I forgot something...

Oh yes, the story.  It reminded me of that Jabberwocky nonsense, lots of obtuse words coalescing slowly  into a story line.  It was a hard listen and that's why I will only rate it 1/10.  As others suggest, as a book in your hand it might work better, but audio wise I thought it sucked.
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Kurt Faler
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« Reply #16 on: May 21, 2007, 02:29:13 PM »

Just as a note, I believe the main reason this story was aired is that it is a Hugo nominee. So weather it was audio appropriate or not, I think it deserved to be given a shot.
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SFEley
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« Reply #17 on: May 21, 2007, 03:14:47 PM »

Just as a note, I believe the main reason this story was aired is that it is a Hugo nominee. So weather it was audio appropriate or not, I think it deserved to be given a shot.

We have committed to making offers on all the Hugo nominees.  (Right now we've locked down 4 out of 5.)  It would of course be inappropriate for me to say whether we would have made an offer on any given story otherwise.

I can say, however, that this is the third Ben Rosenbaum story we've run.  You can draw your own conclusion about whether I like his work.  I can also express my opinion that I've really liked all five stories this year.  "Steve likes it" and "Steve would buy it for Escape Pod" are different values, but in terms of writing quality, I think this is a very good year for the Hugos.
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Kurt Faler
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« Reply #18 on: May 21, 2007, 03:31:13 PM »

After reading what I wrote again and the response, let me clarify that I didn't mean to imply that the only reason this was aired was that as a Hugo nominee it got a special dispensation. I thought it was common knowledge on this forum that EP was trying to air all the Hugo nominees, so this story should be included as its part of the set. My post was meant to just be a reminder of that.
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SFEley
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« Reply #19 on: May 21, 2007, 03:37:25 PM »

I thought it was common knowledge on this forum that EP was trying to air all the Hugo nominees, so this story should be included as its part of the set. My post was meant to just be a reminder of that.

Right.  I got that; I didn't sense any negativity from your post.  I was just agreeing with you in detail.  >8->
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