Escape Artists


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Congratulations to the winners of the Podcastle flash fiction contest!

Author Topic: EP514: Retroparty Freestyle  (Read 5220 times)


  • Palmer
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Reply #1 on: December 25, 2015, 04:50:11 AM
talk about social networking!  it's the endgame for basing a person's status and worth on superficial appearances.  when that's the only thing that matters, then why not use devices that let you fit in with every peer group you come across? I do like how the two guys are still friends at the end, though.  maybe there's still hope for the retro life.


  • Extern
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Reply #2 on: December 27, 2015, 01:39:24 PM
Okay, first post. Let's make it a good one.

Wow... just wow. I want to take this story and play it to all of my friends. I want to see how many of them like this. How many of them get this. Because this, for me, was just perfect. This story hits a lot of what I'm going through right now.

The world that's painted here is so believable. Consumerist culture is still in full swing, the products have just changed a little. This feels like an excellent extrapolation of how humans would act, with access to this kind of technology. And of *course* this is how people would use this kind of technology. It's a direct neural interface, which we can load up with sophisticated programs that modify our perceptions, observe what we observe, and augment our decision-making process. And we choose to use it primarily for social interaction. We use it to get into better parties, to stop from embarrassing ourselves, and above all, to try and get into bed with the attractive sentient being that we want.

I think the story captured that feeling that so many of us feel, especially at that age, when we're attracted to the *almost* unobtainable person. It's very certainly not love, but it's also more than lust. It's a longing to be accepted and approved of. To be good enough to get the girl, or the guy (or the protoplasmic being). To be wanted by the one that we want.

The story didn't romanticise the protagonist's desire for the girl at all. Because it didn't need to. Most of us can empathise with that need for acceptance, and that sad resignation when you let it slip away, because you have to do right by a friend.

And for those of us who didn't have the best social skills growing up, this sort of sorry can be immensely satisfying, because it acknowledges that social skills really are teachable, analysable skills. We've been told a lot that we "just have to be ourselves", but it's horseshit. Managing your relationships with other people, showing tact and charisma and being likeable, these are skills that can be honed and practiced. They can be taught just as much as singing or dancing or painting can be taught.

I like that the story doesn't seem to preach a moral. A lesser story would try to teach us that the socialiser software was evil or harmful. There would be a moral about how everyone should switch them off or throw them away. This story doesn't just avert that trope, it actively considers the trope, plays with it, and then calmly tosses it aside for the nonsense that it is. The socialisers don't make the world perfect, but throwing them away and naively trusting that you should be "yourself" isn't some sort of pancea either.

I've tried being just "myself"; living without any tact or self-editing. It doesn't go well for anyone involved.

The story also gets a lot of respect for how it handled the futurism. There are lots of little words and phrases introduced, that are just alien enough, and  used just often enough for us to notice them as being the new teen slang. It's enough to remind us that we're not in our own time, but it's also natural enough to feel normal. Sending little animations of your teacher picking his nose, subtly recording a classmate's embarrassing social faux pas, streaming your own lovemaking as suggestive shadow-projections, and sending live  flashes of your own intimate "selfies", are all very believable extrapolations from current trends. They basically are current trends, extrapolated onto better, more user friendly technology.

I loved the user friendly map of the house too, with the routes around the house all laid out like the 'lifelines' from Donnie Darko. The sort of helpful thing that's easy to do with this tech. That, and the glow-trees, and the seld-driving cars were enough to show us that the future was here, that the socialiser software wasn't the only change from modern technology. I'm guessing that the cars were electric too, or hydrogen powered. There might have been a lot of new innovations, but they aren't mentioned, they don't need to be. It never felt like the author was indulging in any exposition or world-building. He just told the protagonist's story, and everything spilled out naturally.

Okay.... yeah. I never was any good at brevity.

So uh... where do I get myself a copy of Maestro 2.1?


  • Lochage
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Reply #3 on: January 05, 2016, 06:41:45 PM
This topic has come up a couple of times in the last months and though I first was a bit annoyed, especially since I don't really care about teenager stories, I thought it was still rather interesting, because it's a realistic issue that may become relevant in real life, soon.

I thought the term "glitch-hop" was a bit retro, since I have listened to similar music 10 years ago, but then I've always been a bit avant-garde.  ;D


  • Curmudgeonly Co-Editor of PseudoPod
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Reply #4 on: January 06, 2016, 01:55:19 PM
Cool story, bro.

No really.

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

Chairman Goodchild

  • Peltast
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Reply #5 on: January 08, 2016, 02:52:02 PM
I'm with CynicalOptimist on this one.  The more things change, the more things remain the same, even down to underage drinking parties in the cybernetic future, with beer pong... and Molson's?  That was truly a great touch.  As for the socialite software that lets teenagers change their personalities at the drop of a hat to try to impress the classmates they're with?  Perhaps there's some kind of allegory there. 

I really liked this one.  Near future hard sci-fi played out on a very personal scale.  And the ending especially, with the narrator and his friend Dill booting it out in front of a police officer and jumping over a fence to get away.  Reminds me of a story.  About a friend of mine. 


  • Sir Postsalot
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Reply #6 on: January 11, 2016, 03:42:30 PM
This one put in mind (not in a bad way) to the previous EP story "Everyone Will Want One".  The particulars were different, especially because in the other story the advisor AI is a clearly separate entity that is acting without your direct involvement, and in that case was a single prototype instead of being in widespread use.  But they touched on some similar themes and ideas (which is cool, fun to see different authors consider the same topic in different ways).

As with that story, I can absolutely see the appeal in it, it would be very addictive to have this kind of social augmentation available and I did find the extrapolations from current tech usage into higher tech very plausible.  

Sad that, even with all of this available, it really didn't end up changing that much.  Most people can only afford the "flying under the radar" mod, which is basically what many people try to do without augmentation anyway, just get through the slop pile that is high school and move on to other situations that aren't horrible.  I'm interested in how this might change the post-high-school life for people.  In my experience, most of that high school BS falls away once you are in a job and have more control over your own environment, but maybe with this tech that wouldn't happen, maybe all of life is like this all the time (ugh).  

Anyway, good stuff.

I did foresee the glitch simply because of the title.  The character made it clear early on that freestyling is not a thing that is to be done, but the title implies that it will happen.  Not saying this was a problem, mind you, just noting it. :)


  • Palmer
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Reply #7 on: January 13, 2016, 01:46:17 AM
This one was just super!  Nathaniel Lee does a great job narrating these nerd-kid stories, and this one was no exception. I could totally feel for the main character and his dorky, yet oddly courageous friend. I like that the story didn't end in a grim tragedy and that the social order really does function in this 20-minutes into the future-style story.

Well done!


  • Extern
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Reply #8 on: January 13, 2016, 06:48:12 AM
I really enjoyed this.  Simple, clean, warm; and who among us wouldn't love to be that bad-ass for even a little while.


  • Hipparch
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Reply #9 on: January 16, 2016, 09:52:59 PM
I too was reminded of "Everyone Will Want One." Actually, I think I prefer this story's take on the idea, though both are obviously excellent in their own rights. I like that this story's characters are more honest about their social engineering. It's still *required* to function in high school society, but at least everyone knows that everyone is doing it.

One super unfortunate by-product is that it's even more guaranteed that the richest kids will also be the coolest/most popular kids. It's hard enough for kids these days to have the "wrong" clothes (though Lord knows I certainly never had the "right" ones). Just imagine if a even naturally winning personality wasn't enough to get you through school! :o ::)


  • Extern
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Reply #10 on: July 22, 2016, 02:38:33 PM
I loved this story, just finished listening to it and immediately had to post about it, and I had to make a profile and register to do so (ugh! Making me do things!) Bravo Rich Larson. This was so good.

I've not skulked around any of the EA forums enough to know if this will be blasphemy but, I hated Ready Player One. I guess I can see why it has good reviews, why people liked it. Taps into a nostalgia and has a good base of a futuristic rags-to-riches type story. But I hated it. Retroparty Freestyle immediately reminded me of the book, illuminated the reasons I didn't like it, and really made me feel there was a fair comparison to the two stories, at least in world building terms.

The reason I disliked Ready Player One is that, to me, Ernest Cline does not know how to write dialogue for younger people of a future generation. I'm not talking about the first person narration, or even the narration that was inner monologue or talking to the reader, that was fine, more than fine, more than competent. But every single piece of dialogue of the characters, especially the younger and main characters, had the exact same voice. It's like he has no idea how to write dialogue or give characters different voices. And man, does that take a weight off my shoulders now because not one of my friends has read it yet so I've never had a chance to give that criticism, that's been building to a boiling point ever since the movie was announced. I guess I could have told them anyway, but for the most part I don't like to influence my friend's (or anyone's) opinions before they get a chance to form their own, and I figured at least a few of them would read it eventually.

It got to the point where, I was about 7/8ths of the way through and just gave up. Couldn't stand it anymore, it had become boring and that lack of difference in the characters, lack of difference in their voices, took me completely out of the suspension of disbelief and I just couldn't continue. Well, it was mostly that. 95% that. The other 5% was realizing I was reading Hunger Games for the 30 year old nostalgia worshiping crowd and felt like I was being pandered to. Maybe not quite the level of patronizing of that of Big Bang Theory, but enough to put me off for sure.

Rich Larson's story got everything spot on. I understand the "sameness" of each character in Ready Player One may have been on purpose. A commentary on our time, integrated into a story about our future. Even if that's the case, it still doesn't make me like it and I'd still tell you it was an unsuccessful attempt at a statement. Yes, I also understand RPO takes place much further in the future than Retroparty Freestyle, but it doesn't make my criticisms any less valid to me.

Retroparty Freestyle gets this SO right. Everyone has these programs that would give them a sameness. The story does have a statement about our culture, as speculated above about RPO. Regardless every character still retained their own voice, their own personality and character - and that is a tightrope because we are talking about young people just learning how to be adults, so of course they have to emulate their peers lest they be cast out among the weirdos, nerds, geeks, or "freestyles".

Larson still nails it. In that short story he gets that across while at the same time we get a defined first person protagonist, and other defined characters in his world. The use of slang I found to be amazing, and easily relatable and understandable, while still being a unique and different language than that of our current slang. The slang was a huge part of the story, so obviously this was important, and Larson sticks a 10.0 landing on it to me, standing in stark contrast to the clunky, seemingly not-that-thought-out future slang in RPO.

The story itself, other than just the extremely competent SciFi writing, I guess you could call sort of a slice-of-life piece. It was fun, easy to listen to (as long as you don't mind swearing and find the slang easily decipherable like I did) and carried with it both a valid social commentary, and a very nice ending, leaving you with an affirming feeling that technology will never actually kill the human spirit, and things like sympathy, empathy and friendship. It's really refreshing to hear this kind of Science Fiction short story, because it is surrounded by dark, dystopian worlds and visions of the future where technology erases, or changes the definition of, what it means to be human.

I found so many reasons to like this story, and a big thank you to Mr. Larson since one of those things allowed me to finally get a little weight off my shoulders. Looking forward to reading and listening to more of your stuff, Rich Larson. Maybe consider getting in touch with Ernest Cline at let him read your story, and tell him "See, this is how we do."
« Last Edit: July 25, 2016, 07:48:58 AM by MementoHero »


  • Palmer
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Reply #11 on: August 04, 2016, 08:50:52 AM
This story made me uncomfortable because it the world it took place in seemes to be one where opportunities for sexual exploitation and sexual manipulation significantly surpass those available today. The characters in the story don't use those opportunities but to me there seemed to be a strong current of darkness underneath the story. I don't know if the author intended that or if it is a reflection of my opinions and concerns.


  • Hipparch
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Reply #12 on: November 11, 2017, 03:48:56 AM
I really liked this story. Really liked it!
Even more, I really liked the two (count 'em two!) long thoughtful critiques of this story by newbies to the forum, who liked this story so much they signed up to say their piece.... And then never/almost never came back!! Come back, oh eloquent and loquacious newbie posters!! I want to hear more from you....

I also saw a strong relationship between this story and EP#498 Everyone will Want One. I felt this story (EP514) was almost a sequel to EP498, sort of a logical evolution of the technology we saw there.