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Author Topic: EP491: Heaven’s Touch  (Read 6038 times)

eytanz

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on: May 01, 2015, 07:48:57 PM
EP491: Heaven’s Touch

By Jason Sanford

Read by Marguerite Kenner

The story was originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction and was named to the Locus 2012 Recommended Reading List.

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As the Tonatiuh arcs through the sparkling coma of Heaven’s Touch, Parda’s holographic proxy wraps herself around my spacesuit and kisses my visor. “Please let Sister Dusty live,” the proxy prays in fervent devotion, defying the actions of the real Parda, who at this moment is piloting our ship on a collision course with the comet.

But I’m too busy for either Parda or her proxy. After topping off my suit’s air, I crank open the exterior airlock door until whiteness swirls before me, my fatigue-addled mind turning the ice and dust to ghosts. Countless comet ghosts. Icy haunts begging me to embrace my destiny.

“If you jump now, you’re dead,” the proxy whispers seductively in my ear. “All the prayer in the universe won’t save you. Wait until we’re closer to the surface.”

I nod, almost forgetting this isn’t the real Parda. Instead, the autonomous AI program is a near-perfect imitation of my best friend–the proxy’s programmed intelligence infesting my spacesuit, my visor’s holographic projectors creating the illusion of her body. The proxy appears to wear a white dress as she stands barefoot before the open airlock door, as if Parda and I were once again in Florida running along white-sand beaches.

To my eyes, this is Parda.

As if knowing my thoughts, this simulated Parda suddenly pirouettes and, without a care on the lack of gravity, dances out the open airlock door into the coma. The proxy’s green eyes gaze at me as she shimmies and spins through the ice and dust, her slender brown hands clasped firmly together in prayer.

“Stop that!” the real Parda hisses over the radio, her voice mixing to the cockpit’s proximity alarms and computer warnings. I should have known Parda would be monitoring her proxy’s actions. Chagrined, the proxy appears to skulk back into the airlock, eyes downcast as if ashamed to express frivolity in such a serious moment.

“You should join me in prayer, Sister Dusty,” the real Parda broadcasts to me. Without waiting for my response, she begins: “Blessed be those who embrace their destiny, for they shall see heaven. Blessed be God’s one true destiny, for it carries humanity to paradise.”

Her words run ice through my spacesuit. That’s the martyr’s prayer, uttered by Seekers prepared to die in attainment of their destiny.

“She doesn’t mean it,” the proxy whispers. “She loves you, Dusty. Your death is merely an undesirable aspect of achieving her destiny.”


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



wintermute

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Reply #1 on: May 05, 2015, 12:33:50 AM
Pretty much until the end, I was expecting this to be a riff on The Cold Equations, with the protagonist having to choose between saving herself and saving the Earth.

I was a little surprised when she managed to do both.

Science means that not all dreams can come true


Thunderscreech

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Reply #2 on: May 05, 2015, 03:36:32 PM
> I was a little surprised when she managed to do both.

Ditto!  I was convinced the reactor was going to be the answer, her realizing that if it can work for adjusting the ice ship (which seemed like an elaborately non-structural 'hey I read about this thing last week, let's put it in a story' element) then it can be just hooked up to the comet itself to be a long-running rocket. 

Felt kinda like a cop-out, actually, but the rest of the story seemed well written and enjoyable to hear.



Unblinking

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Reply #3 on: May 07, 2015, 03:08:02 PM
I enjoyed it well enough, though I would like to see more fiction in general that has religion that is neither demonized nor preached in the story, and so "religion as antagonist" is a hard sell for me. Not that there's not a real life basis for religious zealotry causing death and other kinds of harm, but I feel that too much of science fiction has only seen violent zealotry and doesn't acknowledge any other aspect of religion. 

The imperfect AI copy of a person is an interesting element, it is basically it's own person that is the part of herself she felt willing to share with the company.  We are all more than one person in how we show ourselves to various audiences, but in this case the AI was literally the implementation of one of those personality facets.

I liked that she was able to save the comet, I thought that she was probably going to end up using the reactor as a big jet for it, but I'm not sure that would've worked with the AI watching over her shoulder the AI could sabotage such an obvious and large scale effort.




wintermute

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Reply #4 on: May 07, 2015, 07:17:29 PM
Quote
I would like to see more fiction in general that has religion that is neither demonized nor preached in the story, and so "religion as antagonist" is a hard sell for me. Not that there's not a real life basis for religious zealotry causing death and other kinds of harm, but I feel that too much of science fiction has only seen violent zealotry and doesn't acknowledge any other aspect of religion.

Have you looked at Kameron Hurley's Bel Dame trilogy? Future Islam is a ubiquitous backdrop to the setting, driving protagonists and antagonists alike. There are a few others I can think of, but that's the one I've been reading most recently.

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Reply #5 on: May 08, 2015, 02:04:13 PM
Quote
I would like to see more fiction in general that has religion that is neither demonized nor preached in the story, and so "religion as antagonist" is a hard sell for me. Not that there's not a real life basis for religious zealotry causing death and other kinds of harm, but I feel that too much of science fiction has only seen violent zealotry and doesn't acknowledge any other aspect of religion.

Have you looked at Kameron Hurley's Bel Dame trilogy? Future Islam is a ubiquitous backdrop to the setting, driving protagonists and antagonists alike. There are a few others I can think of, but that's the one I've been reading most recently.

I have not read that.  Thank you for the recommendation!  I do know of a few examples, but they are more rare than I'd like.



SpareInch

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Reply #6 on: May 10, 2015, 01:24:17 PM
I was wondering here... Why would NASA plant a bomb on the comet in the first place? If a giant sun shade works so much better, wouldn't that have been at least as easy to arrange? Especially since there was a commercial mission on its way there anyway.

Otherwise, it was a nice story, with a cool spaceship (No pun intended) which reminded me of one of history's whackier moments. Project Habakkuk.
« Last Edit: May 10, 2015, 01:26:10 PM by SpareInch »

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Reply #7 on: May 11, 2015, 04:56:23 PM
I was wondering here... Why would NASA plant a bomb on the comet in the first place? If a giant sun shade works so much better, wouldn't that have been at least as easy to arrange? Especially since there was a commercial mission on its way there anyway.

Otherwise, it was a nice story, with a cool spaceship (No pun intended) which reminded me of one of history's whackier moments. Project Habakkuk.

I'm not sure that the solar sail works better, necessarily.  Maybe a bomb would be more effective or less expensive to deploy in throwaway fashion.  At the point where the solar sail plan is revealed, there doesn't need to be a comparative analysis--it only needs to work better than taking no action at all.   Or maybe no one else thought of the sail idea when they were brainstorming, since the most obvious route of explosive force would work okay.



Dwango

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Reply #8 on: May 11, 2015, 08:21:37 PM
What's interesting about this piece is the unreliable AI who seems to do what was not necessarily intended.  She apparently convinces her progenitor to save her former love and later helps her escape the planet.  If this is true, then the AI is Dusty's savior, but Dusty ends up lying to the AI about her intentions, quickly disregarding its help and leaving it behind.  The people are liars, they lie to each other and to the AI, they keep their intentions bottled up and hide the truth.  The AI can't appear to lie, and it tells Dusty everything and stays true to it's programming, trying to have everything.  Stay true to Parda and be a righteous destroyer; keep up her love for Dusty; all at once, a trick Parda could not do and didn't try.  So, in the end, the AI copy is imperfect as it can't choose or deceive, like a child who can't conceive lying, but can't learn.  Yet, there is something to the AI that seems a bit purer in that, something we discard when we lie or make life's decisions, good or bad.  Maybe we don't have to fear the AIs destroying us or outstripping us, maybe we need to fear what we can become when we have them to play our better selves and suffer our actions for us.



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Reply #9 on: May 12, 2015, 02:43:12 PM
What's interesting about this piece is the unreliable AI who seems to do what was not necessarily intended.  She apparently convinces her progenitor to save her former love and later helps her escape the planet.  If this is true, then the AI is Dusty's savior, but Dusty ends up lying to the AI about her intentions, quickly disregarding its help and leaving it behind.  The people are liars, they lie to each other and to the AI, they keep their intentions bottled up and hide the truth.  The AI can't appear to lie, and it tells Dusty everything and stays true to it's programming, trying to have everything.  Stay true to Parda and be a righteous destroyer; keep up her love for Dusty; all at once, a trick Parda could not do and didn't try.  So, in the end, the AI copy is imperfect as it can't choose or deceive, like a child who can't conceive lying, but can't learn.  Yet, there is something to the AI that seems a bit purer in that, something we discard when we lie or make life's decisions, good or bad.  Maybe we don't have to fear the AIs destroying us or outstripping us, maybe we need to fear what we can become when we have them to play our better selves and suffer our actions for us.

Interesting thoughts!  I think that the fact that the AI's actions are going to make humanity extinct kind of balance out any lying done to it in order to shift that fate.



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Reply #10 on: June 02, 2015, 09:26:27 PM
I wasn't entirely sold at the beginning of the story. Too much technology/information too quickly had me catching up with the world before I could commit to caring about the characters. It may have been because of that, but by the end of the story I wanted to know more about the technology than the people - in-helmet peudo-human AI, construction spiders, solar sails, toroidal ice spaceships made from comets! Give me more on the Luddites Seekers and neo-NASA and space contractors of the future.



hardware

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Reply #11 on: June 03, 2015, 09:47:03 AM
I was entertained enough by this story, but it felt as if the author tried to cram in a little too many themes and didn't have the space for letting the characters come out or even go anywhere unexpected with any of those themes.



Chairman Goodchild

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Reply #12 on: June 08, 2015, 08:46:04 AM
Quote
I grin and reach for Parda’s hand, forgetting for the millionth time I can’t touch her.

It certainly seemed that way, listening to the episode.  Every time the protagonist forgot Parda wasn't real, she'd keep a running commentary on it.  I ended up groaning out loud after the sixth or seventh time that the narrator informed the audience of that fact.  The narrator should mention it to the audience a few times to avoid confusion, then show, don't tell.  It would have added much more poignancy if the above quote were changed into

Quote
I grin and reach for Parda’s hand then quickly withdraw it, my smile vanishing.

Something like that.  

I also wonder where the air came from for the donut ship after we're explicitly told the protagonist is almost out of air, certainly oxygen can be extracted from ice, but the audience is never informed of this.  The breathable oxygen seems to appear out of nowhere.  

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By the time the ship has a breathable atmosphere, I have less than an hour of air left in my suit.

Considering how much of the story is given over to our protagonist running out of air, this is important information the audience never receives.  




Quote
Thanks to anti-tech religions like the Seekers, NASA barely has the funding for a single blipper.

If a giant comet were to appear and threaten to destroy humanity, I wouldn't be surprised if a few Doomsday cults sprung up, but anti-technology religions so powerful that they're de-funding NASA so that Earth gets smacked by a dinosaur-killing-sized comet?  I have huge issues with this.  The story needs to go into more depth about this, or not bring it up to begin with.  And really, the thing to do is not mention because it's not needed.


And, considering that a killer comet is on the way to Earth, one would think that Roscosmos, the ESA, the Indian Space Research Organization, JAXA or the Chinese National Space Agency would be interested.  We never hear about any other space agency than NASA.  

It was a good attempt on behalf of the author, but the story had issues and I feel it should have gone thru another draft.
« Last Edit: June 08, 2015, 09:05:54 AM by Chairman Goodchild »



Devoted135

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Reply #13 on: June 13, 2015, 01:23:15 AM
Interesting attempt to portray a battle of wits against an off-the-rocker AI, but I too wish that fewer authors would go for the "religion as crazy zealotry" route. I think the ideas of Parda only allowing NASA to see part of her and the repercussions that would have on the AI version of Parda are interesting enough without putting religion into the mix.



TrishEM

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Reply #14 on: June 29, 2015, 01:21:56 AM
I was a little perturbed at how ANGRY I was at Parda even though I felt I was being manipulated into that. Probably transference from how actual zealots are hurting things that I care about in the real world (education, science policy, historic relics, people's lives, etc.). I understand what some have said about wanting to see religion portrayed in a not-negative light, and it is refreshing and occasionally inspiring when that's seen, but at the same time, it didn't feel all that inconceivably exaggerated to me here.



CryptoMe

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Reply #15 on: July 29, 2016, 04:51:06 PM
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Thanks to anti-tech religions like the Seekers, NASA barely has the funding for a single blipper.

If a giant comet were to appear and threaten to destroy humanity, I wouldn't be surprised if a few Doomsday cults sprung up, but anti-technology religions so powerful that they're de-funding NASA so that Earth gets smacked by a dinosaur-killing-sized comet?  I have huge issues with this.  The story needs to go into more depth about this, or not bring it up to begin with.  And really, the thing to do is not mention because it's not needed.

If I recall correctly, the Seekers didn't appear when the comet arrived, but were around already and just interpreted the comet the way they wanted when it did arrive.
Also, NASA is currently feeling big budget crunches due to groups who feel that space is a waste of money, so adding anti-tech religions in the mix is not a big stretch for me.

And, considering that a killer comet is on the way to Earth, one would think that Roscosmos, the ESA, the Indian Space Research Organization, JAXA or the Chinese National Space Agency would be interested.  We never hear about any other space agency than NASA.  

This is a *very* good point. Add to this the fact that commercial space-faring companies are also in the picture, and there should be no end of organizations capable of doing something about the comet.

Overall, though, I did enjoy this story. Especially because the ending was not what was expected.
« Last Edit: October 27, 2016, 10:04:38 PM by CryptoMe »



stephensmith

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Reply #16 on: October 20, 2016, 12:09:29 PM
Hey, hii guyess, i also wanna be the part of haven touch thanks.