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Author Topic: EP480: To the Knife-Cold Stars  (Read 9122 times)

eytanz

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on: February 08, 2015, 09:32:15 PM
EP480: To the Knife-Cold Stars

By A. Merc Rustad

Read by Mat Weller

---

When Grace opens his newly crafted eye, the first thing he sees is wire. Thick cords of braided wire snaking like old veins up the walls. It’s dim inside the surgical unit, but for all the black metal and mesh shelves, it _feels_ clean, even in the heat. The air still has the unfamiliar taste of crude oil. Sweat sticks the borrowed clothes to his skin. He blinks, a flicker of pain in his head as the left eyelid slides down over cool metal buried in the socket.

He’s awake and he’s alive.

The anesthetic hasn’t worn off. It’s sluggish in his blood, an unpleasant burn at the back of his throat. It blurs the edges of his thoughts like too much bad wine. But it doesn’t dull the deep-etched fear still unspooling through his gut. He survived the demon, survived his own execution. It’s a hard thing to accept, even days later. He wants to touch the new eye, this machine part of his body, the forever-reminder what happened. Doesn’t dare, yet.

“Back with us, eh?” says a raspy voice muffled by a respirator.

Grace turns his head, slow and careful. He dimly recalls the wire-tech mumbling about whiplash in his neck and the horrific bruising along his ribs and back where the welts are still healing. “Guess so.”

The tech is a small man dressed in heavy surgical leathers that are studded with metal sheeting. Old blood speckles the apron and gloves; the metal and rivets are spotless. Only the skin on his forehead is visible under thick embedded glasses and a breather covering nose and mouth. “Nearly died on us, you did. Venom went right into the blood.”

The demon’s venom. Grace doesn’t reach to touch his face where the sunspawn’s claws took out his eye and split flesh to bone. He doesn’t look down, either. A new shirt and worn jeans cover whatever scars the demon left on his belly and thighs. He shivers in the heat. He doesn’t know if he can ever look at himself again; what will Humility think–

Humility.

Grace trembles harder. Humility will never see him again.

_Don’t think._ Harder a self-command than it should be. _Don’t go back there._

“He’s tough.”

The second voice jerks Grace’s attention back to where he is. He turns his head again, wincing. He craves more anesthetic, and hates that he wants it. Numbness is just another way to hide.

Bishop stands near the narrow doorway, leaning against corded wire that bunches like supports along the wall. He’s tall, broad-shouldered, dressed in travel-worn leathers with a breather mask over the lower part of his face. His mechanical eyes gleam dull green in the surgical bay’s weak florescent glow.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Scattercat

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Reply #1 on: February 09, 2015, 11:54:05 AM
Moderator note: this comment, and the three comments following, are referring to a post that has since been deleted by its author - eytan

Well, let's do a recap.

Escape Pod: "We're looking for female science fiction authors, because we know there are more of them out there than show up in our unsolicited submissions!"

The World: "Cool!  What about people who don't identify as male, but also don't particularly identify as female either?"

Escape Pod: "They get overlooked unfairly too!  Everyone join in and let's show that there's more going on than people realize!"

At which point, what, you want us to say to the nonbinary people, "No, you can't join in.  Go sit in your corner again until called."  The goal here was to highlight traditionally under-represented sex/gender groups, not put anyone in a box.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2015, 02:57:03 PM by eytanz »

---
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Varda

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Reply #2 on: February 09, 2015, 01:14:31 PM
What Scattercat said. Going forward, let's keep this thread a place for discussing the story, and not debating which groups of people Escape Pod should or shouldn't have invited to submit to the special call. All of these authors were absolutely welcome and encouraged to submit under the guidelines, and I think the quality of the stories stand for themselves.

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Zelda

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Reply #3 on: February 09, 2015, 05:35:10 PM
You are both misrepresenting my comment. But the topic has been closed.



eytanz

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Reply #4 on: February 09, 2015, 06:15:44 PM
Zelda - it's been closed in this thread, because episode threads are for discussing individual episodes, not editorial policy. If you wish to discuss this further, you are welcome to create a thread in the "about escape pod" forum.



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Reply #5 on: February 09, 2015, 06:54:35 PM
I enjoyed this story.
The characters were warm and alive with love and intention. The environment was quite the opposite, cold and hard. The contrast was lovely. I listened to this yesterday and will listen to it a second time today. This is such a wonderfully layered tale and I am convinced I'll get a second story with my second listen.

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Zelda

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Reply #6 on: February 09, 2015, 07:14:40 PM
The world of this story reminded me a little of the world of A Canticle for Leibowitz. I'm curious about the relationship between the towns, which are dominated by religion, and Wire City.



Windup

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Reply #7 on: February 10, 2015, 04:17:34 AM
I came very close to giving up on this one about one third of the way through, but I'm glad I didn't.

For me, the beginning was such a barrage of confusing images and ideas that rather than feeling immersed in the world, I felt like I was drowning. However, about the time Grace headed down the hatch, I had enough of a narrative line to grab on to that the pieces began to fall into place -- at least the ones I really needed. At that point, it began to work for me as a story, and I was moved by all the losses Grace experienced and the peace he began to make with them at the end.

There's still much about this world that is unexplained and confusing for me. Not in the sense of loose ends, but in the sense of vistas too wide to be crammed into the confines of this one piece. Now that I'm oriented, I'd like to see more.


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albionmoonlight

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Reply #8 on: February 10, 2015, 01:50:00 PM
I agree that the orientation was a bit more difficult than normal.  I wonder if this is a story that works a little better read than listened to.  Even simple things like adjectives being names (Grace, Harmony) took a second to understand.

All that said, this is definitely a story that rewards you once you are oriented.  This is not SF of the "our world, but with spaceships" variety.  This is a new and fundamentally different world that the author created.  I was glad to spend a little time there.



Father Beast

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Reply #9 on: February 10, 2015, 11:54:33 PM
Huh? this is the first story of the month? Did we somehow forget about the Octavia Butler story? Doesn't she count?

Anyway, I just couldn't get into this story for some reason. I did listen all the way through, but now I can't seem to recall what happened in it. I guess it isn't that memorable. Sorry.



bounceswoosh

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Reply #10 on: February 11, 2015, 02:02:44 PM
Yeah. I had trouble following the story. My favorite character was the AI.



Unblinking

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Reply #11 on: February 12, 2015, 03:01:10 PM
Well, let's do a recap.

Escape Pod: "We're looking for female science fiction authors, because we know there are more of them out there than show up in our unsolicited submissions!"

The World: "Cool!  What about people who don't identify as male, but also don't particularly identify as female either?"

Escape Pod: "They get overlooked unfairly too!  Everyone join in and let's show that there's more going on than people realize!"

At which point, what, you want us to say to the nonbinary people, "No, you can't join in.  Go sit in your corner again until called."  The goal here was to highlight traditionally under-represented sex/gender groups, not put anyone in a box.

What Scattercat said. Going forward, let's keep this thread a place for discussing the story, and not debating which groups of people Escape Pod should or shouldn't have invited to submit to the special call. All of these authors were absolutely welcome and encouraged to submit under the guidelines, and I think the quality of the stories stand for themselves.

At the moment the thread starts with these two comments that are apparently responding to a comment that has been deleted perhaps?  This makes it sound kind of like Scattercat is responding to the story itself somehow, which given the content of the comment I don't think he is.  Would it be possible to undelete the comment being responded to?  Or, barring that, consider moving or deleting or at least putting in a moderator's note along the lines of "This comment is in response to a comment that has been deleted by its author"?  Since it sounded like the original comment wasn't responding to the story itself but rather to the Artemis Rising parameters, could perhaps be moved to a new general thread like eytanz suggested.
« Last Edit: February 12, 2015, 03:03:24 PM by Unblinking »



Unblinking

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Reply #12 on: February 12, 2015, 03:05:06 PM
I had trouble sinking into the story for a while in the beginning, but I can probably chalk that up to having a very distracting all-over-the-place week in my personal life.  It sounds like I wasn't the only one.  I got into it about when Grace went down the hatch and was interested through the rest.  I thought it was cool that a memory of stars was the bargaining chip--not what I'd expect in such an environment, but gave the story a neat angle.



SpareInch

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Reply #13 on: February 12, 2015, 04:05:29 PM
Hmm... I too found everything prior to Grace going down the hatch wafting past my ears without sinking in, but I thought that was just because it was playing in the living room while I was making my breakfast in the kitchen.

I have to admit to having a bit of a De-Ja-Vu moment with the part where Grace had to bargain with the AI for the kid's life, although I can't quite manage to name where I know that scenario from... Ah well...

The back story stuff was cool though. Like Grace's  home town where, apparently, homosexuality is illegal. Well, not the attitude of the folks there, but you know what I mean.

By the way, was I the only one around here who had to keep resetting my mental systems to cope with masculine characters who had what are usually feminine names?

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it did keep derailing me from time to time. Was that deliberate?

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matweller

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Reply #14 on: February 14, 2015, 05:19:14 AM
Huh? this is the first story of the month? Did we somehow forget about the Octavia Butler story? Doesn't she count?
Because of the way things fell, the Butler story was released in Feb, but it was not part of the solicitation and not meant to be part of the Artemis Rising event. If it helps, you can think of it as a bonus AR story or at least the perfect lead-in to AR & Black History month!

At the moment the thread starts with these two comments that are apparently responding to a comment that has been deleted perhaps?  This makes it sound kind of like Scattercat is responding to the story itself somehow, which given the content of the comment I don't think he is.  Would it be possible to undelete the comment being responded to?  Or, barring that, consider moving or deleting or at least putting in a moderator's note along the lines of "This comment is in response to a comment that has been deleted by its author"?  Since it sounded like the original comment wasn't responding to the story itself but rather to the Artemis Rising parameters, could perhaps be moved to a new general thread like eytanz suggested.

Knowing how the moderators operate, I would very much doubt it was them that deleted it, more likely the original author. In either case, it's not likely to return here.



Unblinking

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Reply #15 on: February 16, 2015, 05:04:54 PM
Knowing how the moderators operate, I would very much doubt it was them that deleted it, more likely the original author. In either case, it's not likely to return here.

That's fine.  I appreciate the moderator note that's been added to the first response post.  Otherwise it sounded like scattercat was making some rather baffling comments about the story itself.  That helps a great deal to make it clear that was a response to something we can no longer see rather than to the story itself.



AM Fish

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Reply #16 on: February 20, 2015, 04:03:07 PM
I have to admit to having a bit of a De-Ja-Vu moment with the part where Grace had to bargain with the AI for the kid's life, although I can't quite manage to name where I know that scenario from... Ah well...
Spoiler (click to show/hide)
I was expecting the AI to get a few wires pulled.  Instead, the author focused on Grace's experience with memory loss.  In my mind, that makes this an interesting variation on that scene.



Father Beast

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Reply #17 on: February 22, 2015, 02:25:02 PM
Moderator note: this comment, and the three comments following, are referring to a post that has since been deleted by its author - eytan

Well, let's do a recap.

Escape Pod: "We're looking for female science fiction authors, because we know there are more of them out there than show up in our unsolicited submissions!"

The World: "Cool!  What about people who don't identify as male, but also don't particularly identify as female either?"

Escape Pod: "They get overlooked unfairly too!  Everyone join in and let's show that there's more going on than people realize!"

At which point, what, you want us to say to the nonbinary people, "No, you can't join in.  Go sit in your corner again until called."  The goal here was to highlight traditionally under-represented sex/gender groups, not put anyone in a box.

Admittedly, in the introduction, My first thought was that the rules had been changed on me. Then I read Scattercat's comment (above) and said, "okay, whatever. not that big a deal after all." Then it occurred to me that since I'm a girl by some definitions, I could have submitted a story. Finally I realized that if my stuff is any good, I'll get it read somewhere anyway.

And that's the end of that side journey.



Fenrix

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Reply #18 on: February 22, 2015, 03:44:44 PM
Take my love.
Take my land.
Take me where I cannot stand.
I don't care,
I'm still free.
You can't take the sky from me.

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


Fenrix

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Reply #19 on: February 23, 2015, 08:37:12 PM
I've been reading a lot of Dying Earth fiction recently, so it may be that I'm seeing it everywhere. I'd like to think I'm just recognizing the themes better.

One of the recurring themes of Dying Earth fiction is the regression of humanity and returning technology to shamanism and magic. This story balances that line effectively. I just finished the GRR Martin Dying of the Light, which had similar mythology that demonized the alien races that subjugated the seed colonists. I hadn't thought about similar resonances with Trigun as well.

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #20 on: February 24, 2015, 08:14:12 PM
This story was an odd one for me. I had a hard time getting into it. I think it's because the author didn't do a great job of the whole "imply the larger setting without getting into it" thing. I don't know exactly how, but the balance was off.

That said, it was a pretty weird, cool, and evocative far future setting, and I enjoyed a little cyborg ass-kicking. The story overall just didn't really gel for me.

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Dwango

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Reply #21 on: February 27, 2015, 08:14:23 PM
I loved the cyberpunk aspects of the story.  The creepy AI and it's need for memories.  The demons on the edge of civilization.  The descriptions of the oily feel of things reminded me of a H G Geiger art made a story, with the wires grasping at the protagonist.  It was somewhat hard to follow at times, but it was worth a second listen to get the feel of this remarkable world.



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #22 on: March 01, 2015, 03:01:40 PM
I felt like this was the last episode before the mid-season hiatus, and I had somehow missed the first 8 episodes.
There was an incredibly rich and well-formed world that somehow managed to convey itself in short-story length, which is awesome. The downside is that I was floundering.
I eventually settled in on a world of one-shot city-states. Our protagonist comes from a fundamental monotheist city-state and somehow ends up in the technomancer's city-state. Both places might seem worlds apart, but as Varda said in the outro, they fundamentally face the same conflict. And by some miraculous happenstance, Grace manages to resolve the conflict both times.
But he still has some internal demons to battle, so that's alright.
Not sure how I feel about it. In general, I don't like the hero-swoops-in-and-saves-everybody-whether-they-needed-it-or-not trope. But Grace certainly wasn't acting like a hero. More of an antihero. Or (thank you Fenrix), like Mal (for those of you not in the Verse: someone who does things according to his own, rather twisted and sweet, version of what's right and what's wrong).
I can't decide whether Grace saved the boy because he is a genuinely good person, or because he feels that he needs to pay some sort of debt for saving his life. Whether the society he grew up in conditioned him to "do the right thing", or to "always pay your debts".
I want to believe that it's the former, but fear it's the latter.
Either way, that was some rich storytelling, and I'm left wondering about the future (and past) adventures of Bishop and Grace.

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Devoted135

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Reply #23 on: March 03, 2015, 02:47:00 AM
I also found it fairly difficult to find my bearings in this world, and it didn't really solidify for me until Grace was being told that the boy had gone down the hatch. This brought the narrative from a more generalized "backstory interspersed with present-time conversation between people I don't know talking about events to which I wasn't privy" to a tightly focused narrative with a clear goal. I love the concept of Grace bargaining his memory of the stars and then mourning its loss, that was really poignant to me.


I can't decide whether Grace saved the boy because he is a genuinely good person, or because he feels that he needs to pay some sort of debt for saving his life. Whether the society he grew up in conditioned him to "do the right thing", or to "always pay your debts".
I want to believe that it's the former, but fear it's the latter.

My impression was that Grace loves or otherwise has extreme affection for the boy's father, but this can never be anything more than the casual friendship they currently have. So, he rescued his son as a sort of love letter. I could be wrong though.



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #24 on: March 03, 2015, 06:41:16 AM
I can't decide whether Grace saved the boy because he is a genuinely good person, or because he feels that he needs to pay some sort of debt for saving his life. Whether the society he grew up in conditioned him to "do the right thing", or to "always pay your debts".
I want to believe that it's the former, but fear it's the latter.

My impression was that Grace loves or otherwise has extreme affection for the boy's father, but this can never be anything more than the casual friendship they currently have. So, he rescued his son as a sort of love letter. I could be wrong though.

The way I understood it, the boy's father was the guy who patched Grace up and that was the first time they met.

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