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Author Topic: EP484: That Tear Problem  (Read 6706 times)

eytanz

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on: March 03, 2015, 07:24:40 PM
EP484: That Tear Problem

By Natalia Thodoridou

Read by Hugo Jackson

---

“Now flex your arm,” the controller said. Her voice sounded dry and mechanical through the speakers.

“The real one or the other one?” I asked and immediately received a neuro-ping: You are real.

“Both your arms are real, soldier,” she said.

I always thought of her as a woman, but really it was just a voice. There was no way to tell gender.

Focus.

“Right. Which one do you want me to flex?”

“The left one.”

I flexed my left arm. It’s one of the limbs they rebuilt after the accident. The Neuropage pinged me again, just in case: You are real. All this is real. I wondered if they figured out I had found the glitch. Was that what prompted this ping? But it couldn’t be; the pager was supposed to be entirely incorporated into the nervous system. No outside access available.

Unless that was a lie, too.

“Now the other one,” the voice said.

“How much longer is this going to take?” I asked, flexing my right arm. I could feel my legs getting fidgety. They always did that when I was strapped down for long chunks of time. Ever since the accident. Fidget fidget fidget. Even while I slept, the legs fidgeted. I would much rather sleep floating around, but that set off the security alarm. I had found that out the hard way, on my second day at the space station.

“The muscle-tone examination is complete,” the controller said. “Now on to the neural routine.”

“The neural routine. Of course.”

If she caught the irony in my voice, she didn’t show it.

“Attach the red electrode to your left arm. Good. Now let me know if you experience any pain.”

A moment passed, but nothing happened. “I don’t feel anything,” I said.

“OK. How about now?”

I waited. My eyes started to tear up. I felt the moisture form into little beads around my eyeballs.

“I don’t feel anything in my arm, but my eyes sting like hell. It’s that tear problem again,” I said.

Tears, apparently, don’t flow in microgravity. The little fuckers just stick to your eyes like liquid balls, refusing to let go before they get to be the size of small nuts. Bottom line is, you can’t cry in space. They always get that one wrong in the movies. Who would have known?

“You are reacting to an imaginary stimulus,” the voice said. “Your brain thinks you should be hurting, so your eyes tear up. Hold still. You can wipe them in a minute.”

Maybe the controller was a man, after all. Maybe it wasn’t a person at all at the other end, just a machine.

I waited for a ping, but got nothing.

“All done. You can unstrap yourself, soldier,” the voice said. “Same time tomorrow. Do not be late.”

“The Neuropage will make sure of that,” I muttered, but she had already signed off. She, it, whatever.

The first thing I did was dry my eyes. Then I freed my legs and stretched.

Time to eat, the Neuropage said. One of the scheduled pings. I ignored it and propelled myself towards my compartment. It would ping me again every few minutes. I knew it would get on my nerves–a pun? really?–and I’d have to eat, eventually, but it felt good to ignore it for a while. It was my small fuck you very much to the system. Harry would have tut-tutted at my attempt to play the rebel, he always did, but I think he secretly liked it.

Harry. Right.

I had to do this. I had to test the glitch.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



albionmoonlight

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Reply #1 on: March 05, 2015, 03:13:20 PM
I liked it.  I liked that it kept things ambiguous.  I am glad that we did not have the clarifying voiceover at the end (from, like, the people who put him up there) that would have explained everything to us.  Much more engaging to keep us with the narrator's sense of uncertainty, even after the story ends.

I listened to this back-to-back with Boris's Bar.  Lot of similar themes going on.  Are we sure that Escape Pod does not need a hug?  Are you guys feeling a bit lonely?

People who liked this story should check out the movie Moon.  It came out a few years ago.  This story reminds me a lot of that movie.



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #2 on: March 09, 2015, 05:01:25 AM
For me, the title points to the unreliability of the narration.



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #3 on: March 09, 2015, 01:17:05 PM
People who liked this story should check out the movie Moon.  It came out a few years ago.  This story reminds me a lot of that movie.

YES! THAT! I was listening to this and kept thinking "What was the name of that movie...?"

I also love how, for the protagonist at least, there is some form of resolution to the story, but not for us, the readers. I kept going through all the possibilities in my mind. Is he an AI? Is Henry an AI? Was Henry ever a real person? Is Henry dead and now resides in the neural pager? Is it a simulation? Are they testing the neural pager or some new AI? Is it real?
I don't know, and never will. But the protagonist got the answers he needed.

Cogito ergo surf - I think therefore I network

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Unblinking

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Reply #4 on: March 09, 2015, 02:16:34 PM
For most of the story I really dug it, reminded me of some of the more paranoid Phillip K. Dick works, which I mean as a high compliment.  I thought the stock-answer friend simulation was creepy and just wrong enough--I've been contacted by chatbots in the guise of friend's chat accounts before and this kind of reminded me of that but ramped up more. A few years ago I got a chat message from one of my college roommates who I hadn't been in contact with for 7 or 8 years, and initially I took his general bland uninterestingness was just him being cautious at reopening this old relationship.  But at some point it became clear that he was really just a bot in disguise--this story was all the creepier for

Anyway, so I was really digging the speculation, but in the end I didn't feel like the story really wrapped up.  I'm fine with ambiguity but it has to resolve in some way, I didn't feel like it did.



matweller

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Reply #5 on: March 10, 2015, 11:42:50 AM
Anyway, so I was really digging the speculation, but in the end I didn't feel like the story really wrapped up.  I'm fine with ambiguity but it has to resolve in some way, I didn't feel like it did.

"...He drifted his suit ran out of power. He died."

Better?

:)

I'm always happy to help!



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Reply #6 on: March 10, 2015, 04:50:17 PM
Anyway, so I was really digging the speculation, but in the end I didn't feel like the story really wrapped up.  I'm fine with ambiguity but it has to resolve in some way, I didn't feel like it did.

"...He drifted his suit ran out of power. He died."

Better?

:)

I'm always happy to help!

Haha, I meant more about resolving some of the questions about the situation.



albionmoonlight

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Reply #7 on: March 11, 2015, 01:06:13 AM
For me, the title points to the unreliability of the narration.

How so?  I feel I am missing something obvious.



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #8 on: March 11, 2015, 03:37:57 AM
For me, the title points to the unreliability of the narration.

How so?  I feel I am missing something obvious.

Well, that might be a little too broad. I mean the unreliability of the narrator's experiences; that it's *all* a simulation.



hardware

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Reply #9 on: March 11, 2015, 12:43:47 PM
This was OK and kept my interest for it's run, but the whole 'what-is-real' angle needs to go to the penalty box for a decade now I think. 



TheFunkeyGibbon

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Reply #10 on: March 11, 2015, 11:39:49 PM
I liked it. For my money the ending is like the spinning top in Inception, it's left ambiguous so the readerlistener can bring their own interpretation to the mix and so the story has life beyond the written words.

Normally I dislike stories without definitive endings as they often feel like the author hasn't worked out how to end the story so they come up with a hanging question of an ending that defers the responsibility of completing the story to the reader. I find this to be annoying and insulting, like the author hasn't been bothered to complete what they started. This is not the case here and I felt the ambiguity and reliability of the narration was a through-line in the narrative from beginning to end.

My personal interpretation is that the 'tear problem' is the same as the glitch, it's a bug in the simulation that exists because it is variable to which a solution was not created because it was unknown. It points, in my view to this being a simulation rather than reality.

Having said that, I can see the beauty in the alternative interpretations too and that's what makes this story great.



Fenrix

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Reply #11 on: March 12, 2015, 12:04:41 AM
I found the tear problem the confirmation that his final experience was real. If they can't program the Henry-bot to have compelling dialogue, I have a hard time accepting that they can program the visual distortion from zero-G tears.

One of the mental rabbit holes I went down while listening to this was the potential for disassociation from cybernetic limbs. If he doesn't have a thoroughly grounded sense of self, this would contribute to problems extending into the rest of reality. He identified as being a quadriplegic, not a cyborg. How much farther is it for his brain to consider being either a brain in a jar or an uploaded identity in a simulation?

I would peg the average time for modern solitary cabin fever at two days. During the last major snow event, I observed that it was about that point where people started taking dumb risks due largely to boredom.

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Zelda

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Reply #12 on: March 14, 2015, 01:52:06 AM

One of the mental rabbit holes I went down while listening to this was the potential for disassociation from cybernetic limbs. If he doesn't have a thoroughly grounded sense of self, this would contribute to problems extending into the rest of reality. He identified as being a quadriplegic, not a cyborg. How much farther is it for his brain to consider being either a brain in a jar or an uploaded identity in a simulation?


This sense of being alienated from replacement limbs has cropped up a few times recently and my sympathy for these discontented characters has been exhausted. Due to an accident my father lost the use of his right arm and hand a few years ago. I've since learned that a huge number of the things we do every day require two hands. A character like Steve, who grumbles about his fully functional artificial arm, has to look elsewhere to find a reader who empathizes with his plight.



Devoted135

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Reply #13 on: March 24, 2015, 06:57:42 PM
I was also strongly reminded of the movie Moon when I was listening to this. I would love to have this story be more fleshed out so that we can more conclusively "figure it out" but this more ambiguous version also works for me. I do lean toward a Moon-esque interpretation.



Ariadnes-thread

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Reply #14 on: April 05, 2015, 11:14:24 PM
I really liked this. I liked the ambiguity of it, both the ambiguity of the ending and the fact that it was never revealed exactly what the relationship was between the narrator and Harry; he could have been a brother or other relative, a boyfriend/husband, or just a close friend. Personally I read it as a romantic relationship but I like that it wasn't specified, because with the situation they're both in, their exact relationship doesn't really matter anymore as much as the fact that they clearly love(d) each other a lot.

The name of his ship, the Philoctetes, was also a nice mythological touch that really added to the story's themes about disability and abandonment and loneliness, for me. For those of you who aren't familiar with the myth, Philoctetes was part of the Greek army who went to fight in the Trojan War, but on the way to Troy he was bitten by a snake and ended up with a massive, painful festering wound on his foot. The Greek army, annoyed with his constant screams and how badly his wound smelled, abandoned him on an island before they got to Troy, and left him there until there was a prophesy at the end of the war that only Philoctetes could end the war, at which point they went back to the island and basically had to trick him into coming back and fighting. Every time the ship's name was mentioned I started thinking of Philoctetes as a counterpoint to the narrator, who is also alone and abandoned with a debilitating injury.



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Reply #15 on: April 08, 2015, 01:28:24 PM
If you liked this story, check out the video game "Verde Station".  It is a first person story game set on a space station with a solitary passenger, the player.  Very unsettling stuff that looks at the same ideas as this story.

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CryptoMe

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Reply #16 on: February 11, 2016, 08:33:26 PM
I really, really dislike stories that are too ambiguous. At least with Moon you knew at the end what was what. Here, I'm still not clear, and that bugs me.



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Reply #17 on: February 11, 2016, 10:57:42 PM
Only a bit related to the story but I saw a video a couple weeks ago of an astronaut demonstrating tears in zero-g (using water rather than tears because he couldn't cry on command).  Because there was no gravity it just collect as a big bubble of globby fluid around the eye held together by its own cohesion.  He was in the ISS and so he just has to grab a towel to absorb it, but man it would really suck to have to deal with that while in a spacesuit.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P36xhtpw0Lg



CryptoMe

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Reply #18 on: September 10, 2016, 04:37:08 AM
Only a bit related to the story but I saw a video a couple weeks ago of an astronaut demonstrating tears in zero-g (using water rather than tears because he couldn't cry on command).  Because there was no gravity it just collect as a big bubble of globby fluid around the eye held together by its own cohesion.  He was in the ISS and so he just has to grab a towel to absorb it, but man it would really suck to have to deal with that while in a spacesuit.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P36xhtpw0Lg

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