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Author Topic: EP483: Boris’s Bar  (Read 5513 times)

eytanz

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on: March 02, 2015, 02:20:53 PM
EP483: Boris’s Bar

By Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

read by Kaitie Radel

---

“Orani, tell Boris what is wrong.”   

I told Boris about Enoch and our shared dreams, about how he abandoned me.

“He said I was frigid,” I confided, my head on Boris’s shoulder, his hand stroking my back.

Boris nodded, “What else?”

“He said that for all the credits in the system, I would never learn how to love.”

I’d been drowning in loneliness when I contracted Boris to help me recover from losing Enoch. After two years of long distance communication, Enoch had traveled from Earth to be with me, only to later decide it was a mistake. “You’re not the human being I thought you were,” he said, which was rich because he wasn’t a human being at all.

When I was spent of energy and tears, Boris lifted me into his arms, like steel support beams, and carried me to the bathroom. He undressed and washed me. He kissed my tearful eyes. He rubbed my skin with oil. With Boris I finally felt warm and safe.

“Orani, you are worthy and lovable. I want you to know this,” he murmured to me as he carried me back to bed. “I want you to feel like a little baby.”

“I don’t remember what that’s like,” I told him.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Father Beast

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Reply #1 on: March 03, 2015, 10:54:56 AM
It was apparent to me fairly early on that the person in the story was experiencing an addiction. What people experience with Boris isn't wanted because they have an actual relationship, but because of how they feel when with him. It's like early falling in love experiences, when it's not so much about the person you are infatuated with, but you just want to experience the feeling you have when you are around them. Of course, this artificiality is sold as if it's something pure, as advertisers have always done.

Partway through the story, I was listening to her program her companion bot and transform it into a copy of Boris, and was kind of creeped out about it (You know, like in Vertigo, when James Stewart was making a woman he met into a copy of his vision of some other woman), and then I realized: Boris himself is probably a construct designed to be what they want it to be, since it makes so much money. After all, is what Boris gives was something fundamental, then he would teach other people to do it, and be able to spread the feeling. But of course they don't do that, because making Boris a limited resource allows them to make lots of money.

Anyway, it was an OK story, but probably not one to recommend to others.



JauntyAngle

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Reply #2 on: March 04, 2015, 06:40:26 PM
There have been a lot of bad stories about sex robots, so I went into this one prepared to dislike it. However, it turned out to be a thoughtful vignette about alienation in a high-tech society. Also, the guest hosts's comments on love were very insightful. Overall a very good episode!



albionmoonlight

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Reply #3 on: March 05, 2015, 01:19:01 PM
Io is not Jupiter's largest moon.  It is also the most volcanicly active world in the Solar System.  So a strange place to build an outpost.  If the story replaced the word "Io" with "Ganymede," it would lose nothing thematic or emotional and gain accuracy.  Sorry to be Pedantic.

I enjoyed the fact that our human need for love and companionship was treated as a horrible addiction because it interfered with good commerce.  We think of human love as one of the greatest things about being human.  But as soon as human love starts to get in way of profit, it is pathologized, and psychiatrists are employed to break people of their harmful affection addictions.  It makes you questions what current behaviors and desires are pathologized, not because they are inherently harmful, but because they get in the way of our function as cogs in the machine.

Finally, I liked the use of the bots as a sort of mirror for what was happening to the humans.  The humans were being treated as bots, too.  Just more troublesome bots that needed a bit more attention paid to their reprogramming.



Thunderscreech

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Reply #4 on: March 05, 2015, 08:46:26 PM
Absolutely agree w/ albionmoonlight's analysis with a tiny bit of advocacy for the devil: Re: the suitability of Io, as I recall the eruptions are mostly sulfur which is something Wikipedia sez is important for fertilizer.  Maybe that and other elements found in the eruptions make an economic case for hooking a big space hose up to some of those volcanoes.

Also, could be an orbital outpost that handles/refines stuff shipped up from downstairs.

Just a thought...



Chairman Goodchild

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Reply #5 on: March 07, 2015, 12:09:30 PM
Io is not Jupiter's largest moon.  It is also the most volcanicly active world in the Solar System.  So a strange place to build an outpost.  If the story replaced the word "Io" with "Ganymede," it would lose nothing thematic or emotional and gain accuracy.  Sorry to be Pedantic.

And since you brought it up, the story repeatedly refers to the time it takes to travel between Mars and Jupiter as three months, as if the distance between the planets were fixed and not constantly changing by huge amounts.  

Quote
There was a time when I didn’t mind doing the solitary three month runs to Jupiter’s largest moon.
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“The only thing more beautiful than Mars is the cold black of space. I actually miss the runs to Io, three months speeding through the void.”

And then there's Capital Station:

Quote
I agreed to take the run to Capital Station, which marked the halfway point between Mars and Jupiter.

That's incredibly problematic.  I'm not sure for how much of that orbit it could maintain a halfway point between the planets, because the distance between the planets is either accelerating or decelerating constantly, and the space station would have to do likewise, which would be a gargantuan expenditure of energy. 

Assuming that it could, why even build a station halfway between Mars and Jupiter?  It would take a huge amount of energy to slow down to match orbits and dock and an equal amount of energy to accelerate away from it.  I can't see any reason for a space station like that to exist in a dead zone of interplanetary space.  

On the level of science fiction that the story is written in, it doesn't pass muster.  
« Last Edit: March 07, 2015, 12:13:30 PM by Chairman Goodchild »



Chairman Goodchild

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Reply #6 on: March 07, 2015, 12:23:21 PM
« Last Edit: March 07, 2015, 12:25:45 PM by Chairman Goodchild »



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #7 on: March 08, 2015, 12:55:49 PM
Io is not Jupiter's largest moon.  It is also the most volcanicly active world in the Solar System.  So a strange place to build an outpost.  If the story replaced the word "Io" with "Ganymede," it would lose nothing thematic or emotional and gain accuracy.  Sorry to be Pedantic.

And since you brought it up, the story repeatedly refers to the time it takes to travel between Mars and Jupiter as three months, as if the distance between the planets were fixed and not constantly changing by huge amounts. 
I thought that maybe the station isn't on Io, that would be dumb, but in orbit around Io. Specifically, if you were to place a station in one of the Jupiter-Io Lagrangian points, that would be quite clever. See, Io is the most volcanically active body in the solar system because of the magnetic flux around Jupiter1. And if the future of humanity have somehow found a way to harness that magnetic energy to, say, power a space station, that would be awesome. And clever. Because it would cost close to zero fuel and energy to keep a station in a Lagrangian point.
The travel time also bothered me, but then I thought "What if they only send supplies when the trip is the shortest." Granted it's every few years, but when a trip takes 6 months anyway, that's a scale we can work with.

Quote
There was a time when I didn’t mind doing the solitary three month runs to Jupiter’s largest moon.
Quote
“The only thing more beautiful than Mars is the cold black of space. I actually miss the runs to Io, three months speeding through the void.”

And then there's Capital Station:

Quote
I agreed to take the run to Capital Station, which marked the halfway point between Mars and Jupiter.

That's incredibly problematic.  I'm not sure for how much of that orbit it could maintain a halfway point between the planets, because the distance between the planets is either accelerating or decelerating constantly, and the space station would have to do likewise, which would be a gargantuan expenditure of energy. 

Assuming that it could, why even build a station halfway between Mars and Jupiter?  It would take a huge amount of energy to slow down to match orbits and dock and an equal amount of energy to accelerate away from it.  I can't see any reason for a space station like that to exist in a dead zone of interplanetary space. 

On the level of science fiction that the story is written in, it doesn't pass muster. 

What if "halfway between Mars and Jupiter" is in the asteroid belt? It's more or less halfway between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and building a station near (or on) an asteroid makes a lot of sense. Protection from radiation, raw materials, less building effort, already stable orbit...

What bothered me more about the science part of the science fiction in this story was the fact that she's on a 14 week flight, and her engines are running the whole time.
Really? You're carrying enough fuel to accelerate for 3.5 weeks, flip around and decelerate for 3.5 weeks, while still having enough tonnage to carry supplies? If I were to design space freighters, they would be launched from as far away from a gravity well as feasible, they would be accelerated once at home base, probably by some version of a rail-gun, and they would utilize as many gravity assist flyby maneuvers as possible. Deceleration at the destination will once again be a combination of gravity assists and magnetic grapple-thingies. I'd waste as little tonnage as possible on fuel. Hell, if I have programmable cuddle-bots and psychologists, I'd also have robotic freighters, so no space wasted on living space and precious supplies for a human pilot.

But I really didn't want to go full-on pedant about this story.
I was actually curious about what people thought about the feels and prospects presented in this story, but being pedantic was more fun :)

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Reply #8 on: March 09, 2015, 02:22:23 PM
Great worldbuilding, with tons of little "telling" details--my particular favorite minor detail was the meter on the bowl of nuts in the bar.  Everything has been monetized, even such minor things as bar nuts.

I don't recall ever seeing a story based around "love bots" as opposed to "sex bots"--sex and love are so often equated and confused that it's a really interesting idea but one that totally makes sense.  Addiction to sex is a condition with support groups and treatment, but addiction to love is not something I have heard talked about in the same way--if I had to guess why I'd say it's because many of our classic narrative focus around love of either the romantic or familial kind.  It's not seen as a negative thing, even when it drives a person to hit rock bottom--you love the wrong kind person and it can destroy you financially emotionally and physically, but when we talk about that we don't talk about the LOVE being the problem we talk about the PERSON being the problem.  It seems that this society has decided in the other direction--if love can destroy you or make you feel complete, then it's just another source of addiction and would be best purged entirely, and instead be replaced with the feeble cuddlebots that are like methadone clinics.  I can see how a line of thinking would lead you that way, but unlike other kinds of addiction (except perhaps sex) the human brain is just wired specifically for it to be healthy--humans are social creatures and that kind of love is important for development.  So this story seems both plausible and very very sad.

The scenes with Boris were pretty creepy (in a good way) because in many ways they had a feeling of a sex scene but with parent-child language involved.  I get where that's coming from, but still was super creepy in a way that made them very memorable.

Boris is the ultimate in saleable products, because the brain is wired to want more.

And regarding the science pedanticism--I think you're right that it probably doesn't add up.  But I didn't care.  Didn't bother me in-story and doesn't bother me now.



Zelda

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Reply #9 on: March 09, 2015, 09:19:27 PM

I don't recall ever seeing a story based around "love bots" as opposed to "sex bots"--sex and love are so often equated and confused that it's a really interesting idea but one that totally makes sense.  Addiction to sex is a condition with support groups and treatment, but addiction to love is not something I have heard talked about in the same way--if I had to guess why I'd say it's because many of our classic narrative focus around love of either the romantic or familial kind.  It's not seen as a negative thing, even when it drives a person to hit rock bottom--you love the wrong kind person and it can destroy you financially emotionally and physically, but when we talk about that we don't talk about the LOVE being the problem we talk about the PERSON being the problem. 

I haven't heard love addiction mentioned nearly as many times as sex addiction in the media but Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous is a twelve step program for anyone who is addicted to (or has an addictive compulsion to avoid) either. http://www.slaafws.org/slaaforme

The main character's obsession with Boris was intense but I couldn't quite accept it as a full blown addiction. I'd love to know more about the messed-up society she lives in though.



Fenrix

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Reply #10 on: March 10, 2015, 03:19:20 PM
I got the impression that a percentage of the population was vat-grown, skipping the unprofitable adolescence and leaving many emotionally stunted. Isolation in space has so much great potential for tragedy and horror. I liked the exploration of it here.

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


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Reply #11 on: March 10, 2015, 04:49:38 PM
I haven't heard love addiction mentioned nearly as many times as sex addiction in the media but Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous is a twelve step program for anyone who is addicted to (or has an addictive compulsion to avoid) either. http://www.slaafws.org/slaaforme

I did not know that.  I'd heard of sex addiction, but not love addiction.  Probably hard to advertise to the mainstream on that one while simultaneously selling children's movies about princesses seeking their true love.



matweller

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Reply #12 on: March 11, 2015, 02:34:39 AM
I haven't heard love addiction mentioned nearly as many times as sex addiction in the media but Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous is a twelve step program for anyone who is addicted to (or has an addictive compulsion to avoid) either. http://www.slaafws.org/slaaforme

I did not know that.  I'd heard of sex addiction, but not love addiction.  Probably hard to advertise to the mainstream on that one while simultaneously selling children's movies about princesses seeking their true love.


I get the impression that the sex angle gets played in the media because it's (forgive me) sexy and because it's the disorder du jour for celebs that don't want to take responsibility for their infidelity or who want a mental disorder to be in their favor in divorce proceedings. But I get the impression that in the real world the two are classified similarly because they are different expressions of the same root problem: issues of deep personal insignificance that lead people to act out in ways that sate the perceived deficiency.

Personally, I believe we human animals are all compelled toward addiction. We only label it as negative when illegal substances or socially unacceptable behaviors are involved, but I think we all yearn to dedicate ourselves to something. I would go so far as to say that we only feel truly fulfilled when we find something to dedicate ourselves to -- work, drugs, religion, hobbies, PTA, being an aficionado of something, education, Amway, arguing online, soccer momming, public service, family, sugar, charity, spectator sports -- and we only stay fulfilled for as long as that thing holds out without bringing the rest of our lives into turmoil. Think about it: the number one suggestion for recovering addicts (and the only one i know of that really works) is behavior replacement. Ever notice how ex-smokers or food addicts often become avid gym members? They're not just patrons, they treat exercise like it's now the only thing in the world worth doing. They're often fanatic jerks that are just as repulsive about exercise as they were about X before. They're still addicts. And the powers that be know this. What are the first buildings founded in any town? Churches, bars, bordellos and places to gamble. Vice dumps.

It's why this story has companion bots, sex bots and Boris. The companies that work out there put him in place. He served his purpose better than expected, better than could be controlled, and now they're scrambling to find another vice that isn't location-locked since that's unacceptable. But finding a replacement vice for love is tricky because it's so basic (and to some extent necessary) -- one might argue that it's the root vice from which most or all of the others are bred, and how do you talk someone into giving up the root for a branch of the same tree where the sap is not nearly as sweet?

By the way, I don't fully agree with Johann Hari in this piece. I think he's either come to some false conclusions or he knows better but is exploiting the conclusions to support a related but different argument, but either way this is some very interesting food for thought on the topic of addiction: http://www.democracynow.org/2015/2/4/johann_hari_everything_we_know_about



Chairman Goodchild

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Reply #13 on: March 11, 2015, 12:15:15 PM
One thing I wanted to point out about the last line of the episode:


Quote
I slipped the disk into the slot at my feet and waited for the small black screen to rise from the alcove. I clapped the lights off.
“Tell Boris what is wrong.”

This really threw me in the audio broadcast.  Since italics really can't be read out loud as such, I thought that either the protagonist had fallen off the wagon and returned to Boris, or renamed her own love-bot Borris.  When I saw the words written in italics at the end of the story as it was posted online, it became clear (to me) that the last line is just the protagonist remembering what Boris used to say.  Anyway, it changes the meaning of the story, I think, from the audio version. 


And I want to add, I did like this story.  A meditation on isolation, loss and obsession. 



hardware

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Reply #14 on: March 11, 2015, 12:38:53 PM
Yes please, a solid story about marketizing human needs, about addiction and about needing love in an unhealthy way. I listened to it twice, and am happy I did. Agree with previous commenter about the last line by the way. One thing: I can understand the kick of watching people having sex, but would really the equivalent of watching someone be loved and comforted really work the same way. Just seems to point out your own isolation. But I guess there is always a market ....



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Reply #15 on: March 11, 2015, 02:23:27 PM
I get the impression that the sex angle gets played in the media because it's (forgive me) sexy and because it's the disorder du jour for celebs that don't want to take responsibility for their infidelity or who want a mental disorder to be in their favor in divorce proceedings. But I get the impression that in the real world the two are classified similarly because they are different expressions of the same root problem: issues of deep personal insignificance that lead people to act out in ways that sate the perceived deficiency.

I'm sure that's true to a large extent--the sex addiction getting played up for its sexiness in the media.  But I do think that if you TRIED to play up love addiction in to the general population it would generally fail to gain a lot of people who felt it was actually a thing.  The most common kind of story, I think, is the love story, hard to enjoy those in the same way if you think of love as an addiction rather than a valid desire.  I mean, many addictions are based in valid and reasonable desires that have blown way out of proportion so that they become disorders, but I just don't think that acceptance for the concept of love addiction would get a lot of traction for a population that eats up love stories like it eats up potato chips. 

I can see how it could be, though, I've probably met one or two people who have that particular problem. 


Quote
Ever notice how ex-smokers or food addicts often become avid gym members?

I haven't noticed that particular one, but I've been to a lot of AA meetings, and at least when I was younger those existed in an ever-present haze of cigarette smoke.

Quote
They're often fanatic jerks that are just as repulsive about exercise as they were about X before. They're still addicts.

Repulsiveness is not the defining point of addiction--it's inability to manage the desire/activity with the rest of your life.  If a person is content to spend countless hours at the gym, maybe I won't be interested in hanging out with them because I don't want to spend that kind of time at the gym, but if that's how they really want to spend their lives day in and day out, then who am I to decide they're wrong?  On the other hand, if they really do want to do other things with their lives but they can't make themselves leave, or their personal relationships are suffering and they are unhappy about it, or it's driving them to poverty, then that's a different thing entirely.

Quote
But finding a replacement vice for love is tricky because it's so basic (and to some extent necessary) -- one might argue that it's the root vice from which most or all of the others are bred, and how do you talk someone into giving up the root for a branch of the same tree where the sap is not nearly as sweet?

Especially when including familial love in the mix, yes, lest we all end up like the monkeys who grew up in the pit of despair.



Devoted135

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Reply #16 on: March 13, 2015, 11:58:05 PM
I really liked this one. It's so depressing yet all too plausible to imagine a society where love itself has been so removed that this sort of creepy parent/baby substitution would strike such a deep chord in so many adults. It was definitely weird to hear this particular story exactly now, as I'm currently cuddling and bonding with my own 5 week old son. :) Boris isn't entirely wrong about what people (babies) need, but there's a reason why we need to get that particular form of love as infants, not as emotionally stunted adults.


One thing I wanted to point out about the last line of the episode:


Quote
I slipped the disk into the slot at my feet and waited for the small black screen to rise from the alcove. I clapped the lights off.
“Tell Boris what is wrong.”

This really threw me in the audio broadcast.  Since italics really can't be read out loud as such, I thought that either the protagonist had fallen off the wagon and returned to Boris, or renamed her own love-bot Borris.  When I saw the words written in italics at the end of the story as it was posted online, it became clear (to me) that the last line is just the protagonist remembering what Boris used to say.  Anyway, it changes the meaning of the story, I think, from the audio version. 


And I want to add, I did like this story.  A meditation on isolation, loss and obsession. 

Huh. I had also concluded that she had gone all the way in turning her cuddlebot into her own, personal Boris. That does change the ending significantly.



Father Beast

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Reply #17 on: March 14, 2015, 12:22:17 AM


One thing I wanted to point out about the last line of the episode:


Quote
I slipped the disk into the slot at my feet and waited for the small black screen to rise from the alcove. I clapped the lights off.
“Tell Boris what is wrong.”

This really threw me in the audio broadcast.  Since italics really can't be read out loud as such, I thought that either the protagonist had fallen off the wagon and returned to Boris, or renamed her own love-bot Borris.  When I saw the words written in italics at the end of the story as it was posted online, it became clear (to me) that the last line is just the protagonist remembering what Boris used to say.  Anyway, it changes the meaning of the story, I think, from the audio version. 


And I want to add, I did like this story.  A meditation on isolation, loss and obsession. 

Huh. I had also concluded that she had gone all the way in turning her cuddlebot into her own, personal Boris. That does change the ending significantly.

I had also assumed that she had turned her cuddlebot into a copy of Boris, since she had been steadily working on that very thing for most of the story. That was when I realized that Boris himself was likely a cuddlebot also. His owners obviously want to make sure they can get lots of money by making Boris a limited commodity. If they were really serious about people needing love, then the only sane thing to do would be to have Boris train others (If he's a living being), or copy his program onto other bots (if he's a cuddlebot, as I suspect). That they charge outrageous prices just to watch him just underlines the commercial aspect.
Ah, well. Boris' exclusive days are numbered anyway, until the time that the protagonist gives a desperate friend a copy of the changes she's done to her bot. Then it will make its way around the net, or whatever will pass for it.

and then Boris' Original owners will sue her for copyright infringement.



Zelda

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Reply #18 on: March 14, 2015, 02:46:47 AM
I thought that at the end of the story she was watching something equivalent to a DVD.


Quote
I pulled the orange iridescent coin-sized disk from beneath my pillow and fingered its ridges. It was a gift from Calva before my departure.

She was leaving Dr. Miskal’s office just as I was arriving for my last visit. She was as beautiful as ever, but very much changed. She sobbed in my ear when we embraced, “I shall die without Boris.”

The loving nomad had already closed his bar and had left for Io a week earlier. I was shocked not to have heard the news. “He said he has yet more love to give, but what about me?”

For a moment, longer than a moment, in fact, even now, I find myself thinking the same thing.

What about me?

I asked for the run to Central Station. I will continue to ask for that run. And when they start building the station on Saturn’s Enceladus, I will be the first to volunteer for that run. But not Io. Not ever.

I slipped the disk into the slot at my feet and waited for the small black screen to rise from the alcove. I clapped the lights off.

“Tell Boris what is wrong.”




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Reply #19 on: March 27, 2015, 02:25:09 AM
I did NOT understand what was going on at the end of the story until Zelda and Father Beast's explanation.  Thank you both.

Overall I liked this story, as it dealt well with the emotional needs of people, and the reasons some people do what they do.  There were quite a few instances of "Wait, is that person a human or bot?"  Which was a good thing, I think.

I was a little bothered by the science, but only a very little, as that was not the focus of the story. 

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