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Author Topic: EP512: The Semaphore Society  (Read 2316 times)
eytanz
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« on: December 04, 2015, 05:28:18 PM »

EP512: The Semaphore Society

By Kate Heartfield

Read by Christiana Ellis

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Gia blinks twice to drop the keyboard-display down. She doesn’t want to talk to her mom anymore and that’s the quickest – and, if she’s honest, the most satisfyingly annoying – way to make that clear.

“If you won’t let me help –” her mom says. Her fingers grip the back of Gia’s wheelchair so hard that it shudders, and the monitor screen mounted to one arm of the chair shakes.

Her mother never stops trying to make it all better. Gia is so goddamn sick of it. And she’s itching to log in to the Semaphore Society. Maybe Manon will be back today; she left so abruptly last night. Any conversation that isn’t about therapy or the power of positive thinking would be a relief.

The screen reflects her mom’s slight frown. Her face always looks like that when she worries about her daughter, which is most of the time. She must have worried before, when Gia was a kid, but Gia can’t remember seeing that precise expression before the day she collapsed on her high school’s stage halfway through the opening performance of Pippin.

The first time Gia can remember seeing that expression was later, when Gia woke up in the hospital, when her dad explained that they had found a tumour, that they were going to treat it, but that the bleeding in her brain –

The blinking pattern that pulls up her eye-tracking software is a lot like the blinking that stops tears.

Up it pops, Gia’s blank slate. Her mom hates this flickering-snow screen; it gives her migraines. But she can’t argue against it. It is so much easier on Gia than the keyboard-to-voice interface, with Gia staring at each letter, blinking in frustration to make choices when the eyetracker doesn’t catch her pupil dilation. (A QWERTY keyboard, for God’s sake. It’s not like her finger positions matter. Hands on home row! Her Grade 7 typing class won’t help her now.)


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Hatton
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« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2015, 08:57:35 AM »

This was a "wait for it" story that was well worth it!  Not only does it capture the insecurity of a teenage girl but it shows that communicating does not have to be tied to sounds or letters exclusively.  This story brought me to tears at the end, not just because of the strength and ingenuity that Gia shows in helping her friend, but also because at that moment the technology became less obstacle and more conduit.  We see Gia connect with her mother in a way that is truly needed to bring the story to resolution.

I almost switched off during the early inner dialogue but am really glad that I didn't.
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albionmoonlight
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« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2015, 06:02:16 PM »

I love this story too much to write a coherent take. So I'll just give you my thoughts in semi-coherent clumps.

The Reading:  Simply amazing. The ability to somehow capture the fear in the narrator was completely realistic and totally amazing.  This was, in some ways, one of the scarier stories on escape pod because the fear that you felt--of rejection and of not fitting in--was so realistic. The narration completely and totally captured that.

The Mother:  I loved the mother character. Even though she did not show up much, she was drawn incredibly realistically. I love when stories don't simply make people "good guys" or "bad guys."  She was a loving and wonderful mother, but she was still not quite the mother that her daughter needed at that time. But that was not her fault. She was sincerely and honestly doing her best. And so was her daughter. It was complicated; it was messy; and it was wonderful.

The fact that we got to see a language/pidgin being born:  Amazing.

The tension at the end:  some serious cut-it-with-a-knife stuff.

The verdict:  5.5 stars out of 5.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #3 on: December 08, 2015, 11:39:22 AM »

Oh my gosh this story was so good.

I get really annoyed when I hear people harping on the everyday "wisdom" that social media is ruining social interactions. I can see where that basis comes from, I have seen some uses of social media that make only the most fleeting of connections, but to make that as a blanket statement is to ignore so much of the wonderful potential of technology to connect us, and no more so than for the disabled who may have difficulty with mobility and communication in person but with the help of technology they can interact on a much deeper level and with other people they relate closely too than has ever been possible before.

I love that this story focuses on the positive aspect for this group of people, and this person in particular fledgling to this new group.  It does really well at showing the anxiety that any of us, but especially teenagers who are often still trying to figure out how they can fit in with their peers, feels when trying to interact with a new community.  I love that it hashes out some of the customs and norms of the group without infodumping and while conveying the core of the story it needs to tell.

I love how it handles the relationship with her mother.  Like albionmoonlight said, there is conflict there because the mother is not the mother she needs at that moment but she is not a bad person, she is trying to be the best mother she knows how to be and maybe that doesn't match up with the daughter's needs right now, and the daughter understands her mother is trying to help even as she's frustrated with it.  In the end, when it's really important, there is no hesitation to believe her daughter and to take the action that her daughter asks her to take to hopefully save her friends life.    I hope that moment will act as a bridging point for building a relationship they can both be more comfortable with, and it gives me warm fuzzies that despite their frustrations in the moment of crisis they worked together and helped.

Wonderful reading by Christiana Ellis.  Especially, IMO, when she is dithering over other people's reaction to her.  I really believed that uncertainty and anxiety and it came across well.  And also especially during the revelation of her friend in danger and when she understood what was happening and was able to glyph "understand" and then her friends followed suit and this newbie to the group was able to transform a big confusing mess of misunderstanding into the help that her friend needed.


I haven't read a lot of Kate's work, but what I have read I looove and this is probably my favorite of hers that I've read so far.
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Chairman Goodchild
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« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2015, 03:59:23 AM »

Insecure teenaged girl tries to fit in on an internet site.  Story goes on at great length as she details her insecurities in response to minutae and also a very long and detailed infodump as to how the internet site she's using works.  And then she goes on to save a friend in a manufactured conflict at the story's end to provide closure and character development.   

I usually love near-future hard sci-fi stories on Escape Pod, but this one did nothing for me.  The protagonist's tone was just too grating and wore on me.  It sounds like I'm in the minority opinion here, so I'll wait till next week.

This story seems similar to one that ran back in the Steve Eley days, about an AI that had to protect its master during a hurricane.  Can't remember what that one was called.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #5 on: December 09, 2015, 10:20:01 AM »

This story seems similar to one that ran back in the Steve Eley days, about an AI that had to protect its master during a hurricane.  Can't remember what that one was called.

What was similar about it, in your mind?  From the one-sentence description I wouldn't have guessed they were at all similar.
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Witchlander
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« Reply #6 on: December 09, 2015, 11:37:41 PM »

This story seems similar to one that ran back in the Steve Eley days, about an AI that had to protect its master during a hurricane.  Can't remember what that one was called.

What was similar about it, in your mind?  From the one-sentence description I wouldn't have guessed they were at all similar.

Yes, yes. The AI's creator was a disabled woman who needed help, and the AI had to go beyond its programming somehow--possibly making multiple copies of itself?-- in order to contact her online friends during a hurricane. That's going to drive me crazy now.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #7 on: December 10, 2015, 09:19:14 AM »

This story seems similar to one that ran back in the Steve Eley days, about an AI that had to protect its master during a hurricane.  Can't remember what that one was called.

What was similar about it, in your mind?  From the one-sentence description I wouldn't have guessed they were at all similar.

Yes, yes. The AI's creator was a disabled woman who needed help, and the AI had to go beyond its programming somehow--possibly making multiple copies of itself?-- in order to contact her online friends during a hurricane. That's going to drive me crazy now.

Is it "Saving Alan Idle"?  http://escapepod.org/2013/07/05/ep403-saving-alan-idle/
Maybe? 
Except that was from after Steve Eley's days here, and I'd still be curious what is similar about the two.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #8 on: December 10, 2015, 12:21:09 PM »

Love, love, love, LOVE.

This story was soooo good. The relationship with her mother, the anxiety of joining a new online/social community and hoping to be accepted, the tension when she figured out her friend was in trouble but then had to communicate that quickly and effectively... Not to mention the fascinating linguistic development on the forum, and the perfect reading.

One part that really struck me was the mother's reaction when Gia calls her up to her room. Gia was so worried that her mom would be in complete freakout mode due to having been called, and therefore not able to focus long enough to understand what Gia was saying. In essence that her mom wouldn't be able to view her as a thinking, communicating person for long enough to allow the message to get across. But, instead not only does her mom take the time to listen, but she immediately believes Gia's message and acts on it without question. That's a lot of love and validation right there. Smiley

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Devoted135
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« Reply #9 on: December 10, 2015, 12:22:52 PM »

This story seems similar to one that ran back in the Steve Eley days, about an AI that had to protect its master during a hurricane.  Can't remember what that one was called.

What was similar about it, in your mind?  From the one-sentence description I wouldn't have guessed they were at all similar.

Yes, yes. The AI's creator was a disabled woman who needed help, and the AI had to go beyond its programming somehow--possibly making multiple copies of itself?-- in order to contact her online friends during a hurricane. That's going to drive me crazy now.

Is it "Saving Alan Idle"?  http://escapepod.org/2013/07/05/ep403-saving-alan-idle/
Maybe? 
Except that was from after Steve Eley's days here, and I'd still be curious what is similar about the two.

I remember that story! It was a good one. Smiley True, that story also featured characters who were way more comfortable interacting online than in person, and featured a real world crisis that necessitated in-person actions. However, I'd say the similarities stop there.
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Chairman Goodchild
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« Reply #10 on: December 11, 2015, 06:04:15 AM »

Quote
  Except that was from after Steve Eley's days here, and I'd still be curious what is similar about the two.

I misremembered then.  As for the similarities, what Devoted135 said.
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TheVoicesOfBrian
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« Reply #11 on: December 22, 2015, 05:13:41 PM »

I had forgotten about "Saving Alan Idle," but yes strong similarities.

Either way, loved this one. Extremely well-written. I'm going to recommend it to people looking for advice on "writing the other."

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Moritz
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« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2016, 06:31:02 AM »

My problem with the story was self-inflicted. I listened to it in separate chunks and had forgotten the protagonist's background, so in the latter half it sounded a lot like "annoying insecure teenager" to me.
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adeodatus
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« Reply #13 on: January 31, 2016, 11:29:29 PM »

I just signed up to comment on this one. The main character is so authentic, the relationship with the mother is true to life as well, I actually laughed at the "power of positive thinking" rant made me laugh. I've posted those types of rants before. Thanks it made me feel better on a really crudy day   Smiley
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matweller
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« Reply #14 on: February 01, 2016, 07:48:25 AM »

Great comment! Thanks for stopping by to leave it!
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Piet
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« Reply #15 on: October 30, 2016, 12:47:57 AM »

Some tags for this story:

Handicaps
Communication Technology for the Handicapped
Family Relationships
Underappreciated Parent
Difficulties of Youth
Social Media
Evolution of Language
Support by Community

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CryptoMe
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« Reply #16 on: November 10, 2017, 11:08:58 AM »

I absolutely loved this story, for all the reasons everybody already stated. My only complaint is that I felt it ended too soon. I would have liked to see a denouement where the MC's accomplishment here gives them more confidence in future interactions with this community.
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