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Author Topic: EP112: The Giving Plague  (Read 40293 times)

Russell Nash

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on: June 28, 2007, 02:21:38 PM
EP112: The Giving Plague

By David Brin.
Read by Dr. Jonathon Sullivan.
First appeared in Interzone#23, 1988.
Now available at DavidBrin.com

Yeah, you viruses need vectors, don’t you. I mean, if you kill a guy, you’ve got to have a life raft, so you can desert the ship you’ve sunk, so you can cross over to some new hapless victim. Same applies if the host proves tough, and fights you off — gotta move on. Always movin’ on.

Hell, even if you’ve made peace with a human body, like Les suggested, you still want to spread, don’t you? Big-time colonizers, you tiny beasties.

Oh, I know. It’s just natural selection. Those bugs that accidentally find a good vector spread. Those that don’t, don’t. But it’s so eerie. Sometimes it sure feels purposeful….


Rated PG. Contains intended violence, epidemics, and deep technical dialogue.

Referenced Sites:
Geek Fu Action Grip
Heinlein Society Blood Drives


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Swamp

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Reply #1 on: June 28, 2007, 03:35:57 PM
I am not able to get the download, from iTunes or the EP website.  I also can't listen from the player.  Just thought I'd comment in case the problem wasn't just at my end.

Edit:  OK, it's working now
« Last Edit: June 28, 2007, 04:18:13 PM by kmmrlatham »

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eytanz

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Reply #2 on: June 28, 2007, 03:40:25 PM
I'm having the same problem. In fact, I can't download *any* EP episodes right now - I've tried from three different computers, in two different buildings.

I'm assuming the problem is on their end.

Edit: Got it now.
« Last Edit: June 28, 2007, 04:05:30 PM by eytanz »



raygunray

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Reply #3 on: June 28, 2007, 06:36:14 PM
I've read this story in print and I adored the premise. 

I'd love it if an alturism virus infected humanity. Other virus's I'd like to spread:

-A virus that makes people silence their screaming kids in public places like restaurants.

-A virus that keeps people from littering.

-A virus that makes my clients remember paying invoices on time.

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Stories about Winning at Losing and Failing Successfully.


Swamp

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Reply #4 on: June 28, 2007, 08:26:24 PM
Good story.  I love that it is told from the POV of someone who resents the altruism virus and yet he is the only one who knows about it.  He wants to be a bad guy, but he never gets a chance to be.  I like the fact that he is so stubborn about doing everything on his own terms, and he wants the virus to know that it is his decision to be infected.  I know people like that.  Very rich characterization.  This story would not have worked from a large scale view (like Eight Episodes).  It worked because of the POV voice.

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SFEley

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Reply #5 on: June 28, 2007, 09:48:27 PM
On the download problems people were having: yes, that was on our end.  Specifically, it was my Web host.  Apparently they're starting to get antsy about our Thursday peak usage, thought it'd be fun to put a throttle on my bandwidth, and then told me about it after the fact.

As a stopgap for today, I moved this week's file to a different domain outside the throttle.  Things seem to be working again.  By next week I'll try to have a more stable solution.  I'm sorry for the inconvenience to everyone who tried to download last night and this morning..

ESCAPE POD - The Science Fiction Podcast Magazine


oddpod

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Reply #6 on: June 29, 2007, 05:39:37 AM
no problem steave , its all good now

card carying dislexic and  gramatical revolushonery


eytanz

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Reply #7 on: June 29, 2007, 11:38:02 AM
Another great story - it's strange how a story can end up with the human race nearly annihilated by a really unpleasant plague but still feel optimistic. And Steve's comment about the unreliable narrator was spot-on.

The "donating blood" virus is a bit silly - donating blood is such a culture-specific, technology-dependent act that it's not really possible we'd have a biological imperative of any sort targeting it rather than a more basic behavior - I could see it if the virus would make people enjoy losing blood, but the consequences of that would not be nearly as benign. Far more likely would be a virus that's the reverse of how the ALAS worked: it would make people more altruistic in general - which is a biological imperative - and donating blood is part of that. I'm curious why Brin didn't choose to do it that way, as I'm pretty sure the thought must have occurred to him.

Oh well. While I probably suffer from a nitpicking virus (whose vector may well be internet forums, so beware), that in no way diminished my enjoyment of the story.



madjo

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Reply #8 on: June 29, 2007, 12:48:29 PM
Fitting story, given that I'm under the weather at the moment. :)
But it's not the altruistic virus (at least I don't think so), I'm very giving out of myself. Don't need a virus to do that. (But I have yet to donate blood)

I liked the premise, and wonder what would have happened if the protagonist was indeed infected by that virus.
Or perhaps he was already infected with a virus that would get killed by ALAS.



Josh

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Reply #9 on: June 29, 2007, 07:17:59 PM
Well, I think I found my favorite, being a man wanting to go into virology, this piece was perfect. At first, I didn't think I would like the way it was written, me, the reader, being the subject of the story, but it turns out that I like being talked to like a virus! I just loved everything about it, the difference in character of people in the same field of work, the way the viruses were personified, everything. If this story were a planet, it would definitely be Earth.



Dex

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Reply #10 on: June 29, 2007, 07:38:42 PM
This is my first post about a story; so a little background is in order.  I’m 52 and liked and read Science Fiction in the ‘60s and ‘70s until “Science” Fantasy became the rage. 

For me good SF is founded in the writer being knowledgeable in current science* (be it Astronomy, Quantum Physics, mechanical engineering, social sciences, etc.), being able to craft an interesting story based upon that science that shows the affects on society and/or an individual.  I like it when I can learn, be entertained and expand my mind.

I started listening again to SF when I subscribed to the Radio Nostalgia Network and also discovered Escape Pod.  I listen to a lot of Pod cast because I am retired and travel a great deal.  I highly recommend the Berkley Pod casts.  In the field of Astronomy I would recommend Astro 10.  I am currently listening to “Letters and Science 70B” about global warming.

After listening to Escape Pod I was thinking of dropping it because many of the stories do not meet the criteria for what interest me (above). For example, “The 43 Antaean Dynasties (http://www.escapepod.org/2007/04/12/ep101-the-43-antarean-dynasties/)  is an example of what is not SF in my mind.  It was a weak story.   Simon Painter’s comments echo mine; specifically: “The other major problem I had with it was that the SF element wasn't essential to the story, by changing just a few words the alien city could have been Cairo, Delhi or any number of other Third World cities.”

The current episode, “The Giving Plague” will keep me listening because it has the qualities of SF that interest me.

I think S. Eley is doing a lot of work for a genre of writing he loves.  He also has the power to influence writers for the simple fact he is paying them for their work and giving them exposure.  I would hope that Mr. Eley would pod cast more stories that have an emphisis on the science for two reasons.  First, the selfish reason that I like it.  Second and more importantly I think SF has the power to entertain, educate, inform, spark the imagination, and inspire the young.  But it will be none of those things if it is not based on good science first and we do not ask for it.  I am asking for it.

Thank you

*This is not an easy aspect to develop; it takes special qualities - e.g.  Curiosity; challenging oneself to explore new fields; understanding what is being said and their implication.
« Last Edit: June 29, 2007, 07:40:37 PM by Dex »



Mr. Tweedy

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Reply #11 on: June 29, 2007, 08:02:38 PM
Wow.  I think Jonathon Sullivan is my new favorite Escape Pod reader.  He not only read the story, he performed it.  I loved the accents and the subtle emotions in the character's voices.  Great job.

The story itself I thought started out very well.  Half way through I was thinking "Why isn't this a Hugo nominee?"  But by the end it had fallen, flat, I think, mostly through loss of focus.

The narrator primes us with talk about how viruses seem purposive, clever, devious, so that we have a foreboding feeling that ALAS is more than what it seems.  When it was revealed that ALAS controls the behavior of its hosts, I felt suspense, waiting to see just what the virus had in "mind" to do and what it would signify.  It seemed like there was this hidden power stalking humanity for some purpose, but what?  ALAS was set up to be almost a third character, which would have been fascinating.

But then the focus goes out the window.  We are introduced in short order to two new, far more serious viruses, while ALAS is relegated to being a motive for a murder the narrator never gets around to committing.  After it's strong introduction, ALAS turns out to be almost irrelevant, and the narrator never ends up doing anything other than exactly what was expected of him.

There is the subtle irony of the narrator's final choices: He ends up doing exactly what ALAS would have compelled him to do, even though he takes pains to avoid infection.  We're left with the nice riddle of whether ALAS really beat him or not, but that is scant satisfaction after the intrigue promised by the strong beginning.

What would have been breathtaking, and where I thought the story was actually going, is if Tarp (the Mars virus) and ALAS had actually been related to each other.  The purpose of ALAS would have been to get people cooperating so that they could get to Mars, where they would pick up Tarp.  Thus, ALAS would actually have been a viral weapon, which would have been quite a nasty twist.

Hear my very very short story on The Drabblecast!


VBurn

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Reply #12 on: June 29, 2007, 08:34:21 PM
I liked the story.  I think the POV in the story did not work well for audio.  To me, the story was meant to be read as a letter written to the virus on the narrator's death bed, and this did not carry well to audio.  Although Sully did a great job in the reading, every time he said "you" it just felt wrong.

But this is not a perfect world and I really enjoyed this story; and doubt I would have ever read it on my own, so thanks for another great week of top notch SF.



schark

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Reply #13 on: June 30, 2007, 03:17:01 AM
I have to say that this story didn't work for me.  As opposed to Dex, I don't care so much about the science aspect as long as it's a really good story.  I guess my emphasis would be science fiction.  I almost tuned out after the first chapter of this one.  It seemed like just science speculation without any narrative drive, and I never felt like the story really kicked in.  It just kind of dragged along for too long and didn't really go anywhere.

It's odd, I suppose, that I loved last week's story "Mayfly", about which much of the same could be said, but for whatever reason, I was hooked by that character and that concept.  This one didn't work for me.  However, I thought the reading was done quite nicely, and by no means am I soured on Escape Pod.  I'm always happy for a new story.



slic

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Reply #14 on: July 01, 2007, 01:05:11 AM
Hey Dex, could to have you aboard - let's just hope Mike Resnick doesn't read other story's threads ;)

I liked the sciene part of the story, and the character was very interesting.  My problem with the story is a very much a personal one.  I have trouble enjoying stories where I wouldn't "get along" with the protagonist.  I found that I disliked the guy so much that I hoped he failed.  Same thing with Now +n, Now -n. 




jscorbett

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Reply #15 on: July 01, 2007, 03:49:05 AM
I too enjoyed the story, as well as the reader.  It didn't end up as I was expecting it.  I figured the main character was going to get into some accident and need a blood transfusion.  I liked the way the story really went and not what I was expecting.



goatkeeper

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Reply #16 on: July 01, 2007, 04:08:48 AM
This was a great freakin story- and narration.  Thank you Mr Brin, Mr. Sullivan and Escapepod!



7by12

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Reply #17 on: July 02, 2007, 05:56:36 AM
My first post.

Is the protagonist hero, anti-hero or unreliable narrator? I'm not sure how to say what I'm thinking...

So many things once called vice or immoral are now understood through evolutionary psychology. I'm not unfaithful, I'm following a biological imperative. I'm not a selfish capitalist, I'm insuring the success of my offspring. Modern man struggles to be free from obligation to superstition, religion, moral law, whatever you want to call it. And there is doubtless something to be considered in this.

A heard a theologin once reply, when asked about the problem of evil, that what challenged him more was the problem of good. The virus in this story reduces virtue, or at least world-changing virtue,  to a function of biology as well.

Is there no more room for good, if not for God? The protagonist did good of his own self will, while the sick were compelled to do good.

If the narrator is unreliable, then I find this story very depressing. I can't cheer for the virus that forces altruism and reduces man to automaton. I'd much rather struggle against "evil" in the world and my own heart and retain my humanity. Are we capable of nothing more than the sum of our biology?

I don't feel that the author is saying this. I think he either left the question open, or our protagonist is a true anti-hero, struggling to retain his humanity.

Having said all that, I loved this story and it challenged me enought to want to post here. Keep up the great fiction.
« Last Edit: July 02, 2007, 06:30:53 AM by 7by12 »



7by12

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Reply #18 on: July 02, 2007, 06:21:38 AM
Irony: The protagonist becomes altruistic while warding against a virus that would force altruism him.

Irony: ALAS induced altruism paves the way to a much more deadly plague.

Irony: Science frees mankind from virtue obligations to superstition, science fiction posits virtue obligations to biological puppeteers.

Irony: Dr. Jonathan Sullivan criticises Spiderman 3 for making evil something alien and external (rightly so), then narrates a fiction piece that (possibly) does the same for good.

Whew, had to get that out. Sorry for the double post.



eytanz

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Reply #19 on: July 02, 2007, 10:35:51 AM
I think what Steve meant when he called the narrator "unreliable" is not that the narrator is wrong, and really has ALAS. Rather, it's the narrator is wrong when he says "I'm a bad man".



Mr. Tweedy

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Reply #20 on: July 02, 2007, 03:15:36 PM
Isn't he a bad man?  He does good at first only to earn praise and fame for himself, and later out of a semi-rational craving for control.  His motives are never anything other than greed and the desire for power.

His good deeds were compelled by external forces.  Murder came from his own heart.

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Dex

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Reply #21 on: July 02, 2007, 03:46:07 PM
Isn't he a bad man?  He does good at first only to earn praise and fame for himself, and later out of a semi-rational craving for control.  His motives are never anything other than greed and the desire for power.

His good deeds were compelled by external forces.  Murder came from his own heart.

While an unexpressed thought (i.e. action or verbal) could be classified as good or bad; it is only the expression of that thought that can been seen and judged as good or bad.  If we didn't know th narrator's thoughts some of his actions might be judged as good and others just peculiar (not wanting blood transfusions).

This is an important aspect in today's media and image intensive world.  It is important to listen to what people say but more important to watch what they do.



Mr. Tweedy

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Reply #22 on: July 02, 2007, 04:43:33 PM
But we do know the narrator's thoughts.  If we only observed him from the outside, we would see only virtuous actions, but we get a privileged perspective and can see his mind.

This is an important aspect in today's media and image intensive world.  It is important to listen to what people say but more important to watch what they do.

Always!

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eytanz

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Reply #23 on: July 02, 2007, 04:58:03 PM
But we don't really know the narrator's thoughts. We know what the narrator, in hindsight, admits to thinking. That's not the same thing. I think that the narrator is a man ashamed of the good he's done, who would prefer to be condemned for the evil he thought, to the point where he exaggerates the latter and obscures the former. Re-read (or listen to) the last part. He's not gaining anything by helping people - even if that was his motivation starting out, he's moved long beyond it. He deeply cares about them. He's just too grumpy to admit it, because he feels that admitting it would lose his individuality.

As for the murder, I think it's telling that he had the means to perform the murder arranged but just happened to never get around to it. Sure, there were excuses, but I think the real reason is that he couldn't really go through with it.

What the narrator is is a proud man with an inferiority complex. He feels that he can't measure up as a doctor, but has to distinguish himself regardless. In a world where altruism and selflessness is the norm, the only way he can set himself apart is by insisting that he is selfish. Maybe he started out that way, back when there was no true crisis and the conflict between him and his partner was the real conflict. But when he became the person in charge, he rose to the occasion. As the story states quite blatently, he left his tower and went down to the streets, caring for the sick and wounded and ministering to them. The story is in that way a redemption arc, with the twist being that the redeemed man doesn't want to admit it.

This is also my response to the following point by 7by12:

Quote
Irony: Dr. Jonathan Sullivan criticises Spiderman 3 for making evil something alien and external (rightly so), then narrates a fiction piece that (possibly) does the same for good.

Yes, the piece externalizes good to some degree - but it also contrasts external good with internal good. To paraphrase Shakespeare, some men are born good, some men achieve goodness, and some have goodness thrust upon them. Les may have been of the first category, and most of humanity were of the third category, by means of ALAS. But the narrator was of the second category - a good man who did not start out that way, but at the end of the story (assuming that he indeed doesn't have ALAS) gives of himself, out of his own free will, and the good he does far exceeds the evil he planned.



7by12

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Reply #24 on: July 02, 2007, 05:07:05 PM
I admit I had to look up "unreliable narrator." I based my post on that definition. Of course, I may still look like I don't know what I'm talking about, something I often admit. Hopefully, my opinion in this case is not like my bellybutton.

And eytanz is right, there is clearly a distinction in the story between ALAS virtue and our anti-hero's virtue, leading to my opinion that our narrator is not unreliable. Him admitting he is a "bad man" and still able do good is one of the things that most endears him to me, but I have always has a soft spot for an unsympathetic character.
« Last Edit: July 02, 2007, 05:15:37 PM by 7by12 »



Mr. Tweedy

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Reply #25 on: July 02, 2007, 06:22:29 PM
But we don't really know the narrator's thoughts [...] The story is in that way a redemption arc, with the twist being that the redeemed man doesn't want to admit it.

That is a fascinating analysis.  Since you're right, we don't really know the narrator's thoughts, just what he wanted to have heard.

Hear my very very short story on The Drabblecast!


wherethewild

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Reply #26 on: July 02, 2007, 07:16:23 PM
I had to log in here just to see when it was written. I was wondering why SARS wasn´t mentioned, but 1988 explains that!

I liked it. I found the science was pretty good -sounded like someone knew about biology (unlike the bloody writers of Matrix "a single celled amino acid", puhlease!) and it didn´t read/sound like an author trying to show off that they´ve done a little bit of research and learnt some new vocab (certain Robin Cook stories spring to mind). I´m with Dex in that science fiction that has real fictionalised science in it is more interesting to me than "just" stuff on other worlds or the nanobot fairy dust (as someone else called it elsewhere on the forums).

I didn´t realise he was talking to me as the virus until halfway through, which was a bit jarring. I´m not sure if it was clarified earlier on, I was doing other stuff while listening so I might have missed it.

Anyway, I liked it a lot!

The Great N-sh whispers in my ear, and he's talking about you.


7by12

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Reply #27 on: July 02, 2007, 07:36:06 PM
I didn´t realise he was talking to me as the virus until halfway through, which was a bit jarring.

Wooah, did I miss something that huge? Guess I better go listen again. I, too, listen while doing other things. The narrator is the virus? Or did I misunderstand the post?



eytanz

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Reply #28 on: July 02, 2007, 07:46:09 PM
The narrator isn't the virus. He's narrating *to* the virus.



7by12

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Reply #29 on: July 02, 2007, 07:48:32 PM
Doh! One and a half years as a stay at home Dad and my cognitive abilities are slipping... maybe participating here will help.



Mr. Tweedy

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Reply #30 on: July 02, 2007, 07:59:28 PM
That's why I participate here.  I seriously feel smarter since I started posting a reading stuff on this forum.  Workplace conversation is insipid and mediocre.  "Did you see ____ on TV last night?"  Conversation here is a lot more substantive.

Hear my very very short story on The Drabblecast!


Simon

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Reply #31 on: July 03, 2007, 10:44:42 PM
Ok, I loved this...  But then that was a given really.

I've loved Brin's writing ever since I first read The Postman, and consider him pretty much my favourite SF writer of the eighties (River Of Time is stompingly good - on mention of which, if he ever offers EP rights to "Thor meets Captain America" please buy it.. Buy it right NOW!).   Card is fantastic, but Brin pips him on sanity grounds.

So when I first guessed that EP was going to get a Brin (I believe there was a hint way back in October that "A major 4 letter name eighties writer is on the cards") I've been looking forward to this.  And finally she comes.

I can immediately see why you bought it.  I mean, this story rocks and its got a good concept that works well.  But it isn't an easy audio experience either.  By EP standards this piece is LONG, and the chapter structure breaks up the arcing in a way that doesn't work too well in a one listen experience.  The exposition scene between the two main characters really drags in audio (on mention of which, as a man who considers The West End my second home and loved all that local regional geography thrown in, please pronounce Leicester Square as Lesster Square) but its fascinating and absolutely essential... Its just a lot of content for audio, where you expect the punch now, rather than a novella which can get away with really going in to some of its themes.  This isn't to say Sullydog didn't do a good job, he really did...  But exposition is so much harder to pull off in audio.


Anyway, enough about that because I think its strengths outweigh its audio weaknesses.  The plot is fantastic, and I spent the whole story trying to spot when he got infected, but I am still unsure whether he was, and I for one enjoyed the conclusion...  But yes, unless you read it as "his life after being deliberately infected by less" its a difficult one to maintain interest with.  I personally like a good anti-hero narrator so I can cope with the other reading too.

But yeah.. Fantastic..  I'll keep throwing enthusiasm at it...

More Brin!



Loz

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Reply #32 on: July 04, 2007, 06:12:46 PM
I enjoyed the story, but I think it's Sully's narration that does the trick for me, and his English accent wasn't too bad  ;)



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Reply #33 on: July 04, 2007, 07:59:47 PM
I enjoyed it.  I thought the execution was a tad repetitive (okay, okay, the virus is very subtle and sneaky and clever and we've heard that already so could we please move on?), but overall it worked for me.

And I did like how the protagonist seemed at times hell-bent on being a Bad Guy but circumstances kept forcing him to (successfully) play the hero.  He'll wear that white hat, but he doesn't have to like it, goddammitalltohell.   ;)



wakela

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Reply #34 on: July 04, 2007, 11:33:32 PM
Drat!  Too late to the discussion and not smart enough to come up with anything new.  Still I wanted to throw my vote of "awesome story" onto the heap.

Most of the story discussions on EP are:
 -this was / was not a good story
 -this was / was not real science fiction
 -the science of the story was / was not plausible believable

It's the mark of a good story that the discussion about "Giving Plague" has been about the motivations/state of mind, etc of the narrator.



BSWeichsel

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Reply #35 on: July 05, 2007, 03:03:01 PM
Not much to say as just finishing a course in anatomy as well as just interested about viruses I truly enjoyed the does of reality, and for the most part I think the science was correct.

But another thing I love was they got into the philosophy of science which i think to many people forget about.

Loved it One of the best for this year. I've already listened to it 4 times.

Since it began, who have you killed? You wouldn't be alive now if you hadn't killed somebody.


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Reply #36 on: July 06, 2007, 03:58:39 AM
I thought this was a great story on many different levels. I don't know of any other sci-fi story that takes on Dawkins' concept of "The Selfish Gene" as a philosophical debate on free will. To fight against the determinism of biology in order to be the master of ones own fate, even if you choose to be evil. Then to voluntarily choose to do good even if is against ones evil nature... If he is selfish and evil at heart but not in action, is he still evil and selfish? I was picturing Micheal Douglas in 'Wall Street' preaching "Ambition is good."

The science was also well done and this piece would be a fun introduction to the concept of viral and bacterial symbiosis. The stretch between being "full" of blood and altruism is a bit much (an STD that makes its host tend towards promiscuity is more realistic) and finding a Mars virus perfectly formed to exploit human biology is as far fetched as Jeff Goldbloom uploading a virus into an alien computer system using Windows XP, but I'm just picking his nits.

Actually, there already is a pathogen that alters humans' personality.  It is called Toxoplasmosis and its regular host is cats and rats. When the rodents are infected they become more active, less cautious and less afraid of cat odor, and therefore more likely to be eaten by a cat.  The disease is then passed on through the cats' feses which is then nibbled on by the rodents. Humans then get it from their close contact with their cats which makes woman http://human-infections.suite101.com/article.cfm/toxoplasma_gondii_and_behavior "seem to become more intelligent, outgoing, conscientious, sexually promiscuous, and kind" while having the opposite effect on men. (There's a good Pseudopod submission if I've ever seen one.  ;))

One last thought: I'd have to agree with Dex in that I enjoy the sci-fi that puts more emphasis on the sci. You can go to any other genre to get your character development, flowery descriptions and witty dialog. But only science fiction has the power to test the limits of ones understanding of the observable universe against the boundless reaches of ones imagination.



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Reply #37 on: July 06, 2007, 06:23:45 PM
My first post.


I thought the story was just OK, but I think 7by12's picture is hilariously disturbing.  I can't stop looking at it.   Meow! 



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Reply #38 on: July 07, 2007, 12:00:03 AM
One last thought: I'd have to agree with Dex in that I enjoy the sci-fi that puts more emphasis on the sci. You can go to any other genre to get your character development, flowery descriptions and witty dialog. But only science fiction has the power to test the limits of ones understanding of the observable universe against the boundless reaches of ones imagination.

First, good insights on the the story.
Second, if we don't ask for quality SF we will not get it.



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Reply #39 on: July 07, 2007, 09:29:44 AM
I did not enjoy this story.

I have to say that this story didn't work for me.  As opposed to Dex, I don't care so much about the science aspect as long as it's a really good story.  I guess my emphasis would be science fiction.  I almost tuned out after the first chapter of this one.  It seemed like just science speculation without any narrative drive, and I never felt like the story really kicked in.  It just kind of dragged along for too long and didn't really go anywhere.

Schark expressed my feelings best, both about "science fiction" and the direction of the story.

I appreciate the a lot of points made here already, particularly 7by12's point about irony  and Djerrid reminding me of just how twisted virally, bacterially pathogeny things really are - which is well reflected in the story.

I didn't enjoy the Dr. Jonathon Sullivan's narration; it seemed almost monotonous. My attention was drifting during the exposition of just how twisted the virally, bacterially pathogeny things really are, and - all apologies to David Brin - I just couldn't bring myself to care about the narrator. I didn't understand that the you in the story was the ALAS virus until the end of the story, but I am not sure that device added anything to the tale i.e. I don't particularly feel guilty that I personally make everyone act in a more altruistic fashion. :)

One more thing: the ALAS virus was all about affecting behaviour, while the narrator himself was acting in a most peculiar, directed (psychotic?) way. Ever since his announcement that the wanted to murder his colleague, I couldn't help thinking that the narrator must have been under the influence of some anti ALAS!

Rob
:)


Dex

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Reply #40 on: July 07, 2007, 09:05:46 PM
I don't where to post this so I'll put it here - Heinlein's birthday today.

I wonder what he would say about today' SF?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_A._Heinlein

Robert Anson Heinlein (July 7, 1907 – May 8, 1988) was one of the most popular, influential, and controversial authors of "hard" science fiction. He set a high standard for science and engineering plausibility, and helped to raise the genre's standards of literary quality.



slic

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Reply #41 on: July 07, 2007, 09:25:36 PM
Hey Dex - thanks for the info.  Usually for a new topic people just got to one of the sub forums and post a new topic.



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Reply #42 on: July 08, 2007, 03:40:14 AM
I really enjoyed this story. One of the big reasons is that it sort of mirrors my take on good deeds in the framework of organized religion. As a lapsed catholic, turned agnostic turned atheist one thing that always runs around in my head when I do good deeds or see others who do good deeds is "why am I or are they doing this?" When I followed the tenants of catholicism the question wasn't really all that important. After all god wants me to do good deeds and in doing them and feeling good about doing them I am going to get into the kingdom of heaven (yea yea yea there is a lot more to it but it was all window dressing, it hard to understand why I am not catholic anymore isn't it.)

Now as an atheist I still do good deeds, when my neighbor needs to get pushed out of a snow bank I still do it. When I find a lost pet I try to contact the owner. When I see an accident I stop to see what I can do to help. If I see someone who needs help I typically stop to help them. I donate to charities (some religious) and I give freely of my time and even my blood to my community. And I still wonder if I am more or less moral than those who are part of a religion which wants people to be good citizens. After all if you help your fellow man knowing each one you help gets you closer to the kingdom of heaven are you better or worse than if you help your fellow man because you feel it is the right thing to do with "extra" reward whatsoever.

Is the reason I help my fellow man even different than those of a follower of an organized religion? Do they perhaps like me do it just because it is the right thing to do? I honestly don't know. It might be that even though I profess no belief in god that deep down I still believe and do the "right" thing because I don't want to reduce my chances of entering heaven. It was nice to hear these thoughts explored by removing the question of religion from them. I did cheer at the end when the narrator told the virus he was doing the right thing because HE was doing the right thing, it really did crystallize my emotions about the topic quite nicely, a firm reliance in the belief that my actions are my actions alone regardless of how good or bad they are. They are my actions and that ultimately is more important to me than what kinds of actions they are.



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Reply #43 on: July 09, 2007, 08:35:45 PM
And I still wonder if I am more or less moral than those who are part of a religion which wants people to be good citizens. After all if you help your fellow man knowing each one you help gets you closer to the kingdom of heaven are you better or worse than if you help your fellow man because you feel it is the right thing to do with "extra" reward whatsoever.

Is the reason I help my fellow man even different than those of a follower of an organized religion? Do they perhaps like me do it just because it is the right thing to do?

I don't know much about Catholicism, but as a (this area intentionally left bare of qualifiers, denominational affiliations or names of theologians) Christian the idea of "extra" reward is alien.  Christians do what is right because it's what's right: We want to do what's right.  (Or at least we want to want it.)  Ironically, in moving from Catholicism to atheism, you've moved closer to my idea of morality.  Go figure.

I did cheer at the end when the narrator told the virus he was doing the right thing because HE was doing the right thing, it really did crystallize my emotions about the topic quite nicely, a firm reliance in the belief that my actions are my actions alone regardless of how good or bad they are. They are my actions and that ultimately is more important to me than what kinds of actions they are.

That's a good thought.  The narrator wants his actions to be meaningful, and they can only be meaningful if he chooses what to do.  ALAS would strip him of his agency by forcing him to be good, and then he would be just a puppet.

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slic

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Reply #44 on: July 09, 2007, 11:25:49 PM
Quote from: Mr. Tweedy
The narrator wants his actions to be meaningful, and they can only be meaningful if he chooses what to do.  ALAS would strip him of his agency by forcing him to be good, and then he would be just a puppet.
I'm not picking on Mr. Tweedy, he was just the last one to leave a comment of the vien I'm planning to argue.  Here goes:

ALAS isn't mind control, any more than the flu making you sneeze is mind control.  People still had to decide what to do.  Remember ALAS made people want to give blood, that made them feel good, and since giving blood was considered altruistic and they liked feeling good they simply made the (incorrect) connection that doing good made them feel that way.

Eating chocolate excites my pleasure centre - so my tastebuds control me?  They force me to eat chocolate (or other junk food)?



jahnke

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Reply #45 on: July 10, 2007, 03:09:12 AM
ALAS isn't mind control, any more than the flu making you sneeze is mind control.  People still had to decide what to do.  Remember ALAS made people want to give blood, that made them feel good, and since giving blood was considered altruistic and they liked feeling good they simply made the (incorrect) connection that doing good made them feel that way.

Eating chocolate excites my pleasure centre - so my tastebuds control me?  They force me to eat chocolate (or other junk food)?

Pavlov taught his dogs to expect food when the bell rang and when the food didn't come the dogs bodies still wanted food and I expect they were still hungry, there clearly is a strong link between the mind and body. Biological imperatives are important, after all the drive to mate and raise offspring is a biological urge and it seems unlikely that unless we got something from the process of creating AND raising kids that as a species we would not have survived. Soooo who knows, if having sex didn't feel so good, and if looking at your new born baby didn't spark something in us do you think we would "carry on" for the good of mankind? I dunno? Do you? And that to me was the point, he couldn't know unless he didn't have it.

Before he explained the "feels good to give blood" bit I wondered if it was like toxoplasmosis which makes rats suicidal and people fat. Mind control can be really really subtle, after all we are made of biology who can say where biology stops and what makes us "human" begins? It seems to me they didn't actually have time to figure out how ALAS worked, better safe than sorry because it clearly did affect people.



slic

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Reply #46 on: July 10, 2007, 11:59:30 AM
Biological imperatives are important, after all the drive to mate and raise offspring is a biological urge and it seems unlikely that unless we got something from the process of creating AND raising kids that as a species we would not have survived. ... And that to me was the point, he couldn't know unless he didn't have it.
Biological imperatives - exactly, not biological directives.  I see this arguement as supporting my point - as much as having offspring is a biological urge many, many people don't have children, or wait to do so.  Marathoners have their body screaming at them to stop running, soliders under fire instinctively want to get somewhere safe, and yet people control these strong imperatives. 
My point is along the lines that ALAS certainly was a contributing factor to people becoming more helpful to others, but it wasn't a mind-controlling virus making zombies of us all.  Imperatives can be ignored.



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Reply #47 on: July 10, 2007, 12:26:09 PM
Biological imperatives are important, after all the drive to mate and raise offspring is a biological urge and it seems unlikely that unless we got something from the process of creating AND raising kids that as a species we would not have survived. ... And that to me was the point, he couldn't know unless he didn't have it.
Biological imperatives - exactly, not biological directives.  I see this arguement as supporting my point - as much as having offspring is a biological urge many, many people don't have children, or wait to do so.  Marathoners have their body screaming at them to stop running, soliders under fire instinctively want to get somewhere safe, and yet people control these strong imperatives. 
My point is along the lines that ALAS certainly was a contributing factor to people becoming more helpful to others, but it wasn't a mind-controlling virus making zombies of us all.  Imperatives can be ignored.

Exactly. 

I'm going to use the chocolate as an example, because it was already brought up.  the ALAS effect is like that craving for the piece of chocolate when we're in a bad mood.  We don't lose control of our bodies until we get the chocolate.  We have this "voice" in our head whispering, "a piece of chocolate would be nice right about now."  After we have the piece pf chocolate we feel a little better or more relaxed.  It's a subtle push.

We all have that warm little feeling after we help someone.  ALAS makes people addicted to this feeling.  The story said giving blood was just one of the things people did.  They were also more likely to help little old ladies cross the street. 



eytanz

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Reply #48 on: July 10, 2007, 12:39:35 PM

We all have that warm little feeling after we help someone.  ALAS makes people addicted to this feeling.  The story said giving blood was just one of the things people did.  They were also more likely to help little old ladies cross the street. 

Not exactly - the story said quite explicitly that ALAS only made people addicted to giving blood, and that the other helpful things were done as a secondary effect; people didn't understand why they started craving blood donations and mistook it for a general desire to be helpful.

As I think I already said, I found this to be the weakest aspect of the story - it would work a whole lot better if the relationship was reversed, i.e. if there was a general increase in altruistic urges and that blood donations increased as a result of that. The effect would be the same, but it would be more plausible (and here, when it's possible to be more plausible without harming the plot, is the one case where I think plausibility should be taken as a factor). I wonder why Brin chose to do it the way he did - it's a shame he's not on these forums, I'd love to be able to ask him.



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Reply #49 on: July 10, 2007, 01:12:56 PM
But (and here my understanding might be weak) the blood itself was the vector.  The person didn't feel "right" until they gave blood.  I suspect that even just being bled a la old school barbers/leeches would have provided the same relief.  After all ALAS doesn't know what the carrier is doing.  So it wouldn't work IMO for ALAS to cause people to be generous as the primary mover.  Viruses aren't clever or intelligent regardless of what the narrator believes.  Maybe this is the way in which he isn't reliable? 

I think that it would have also been a stretch to make ALAS a mind control virus.  The narrator understands/believes that people aren't being controlled per se, but they still (like Pavlov's dogs) are trained by the way they feel immediately after doing something they perceive as altruistic.  If I recall my psychology classes correctly positive reinforcement on a variable schedule (which to a degree the virus would be) is more potent in shaping behavior.  So when they do something altruistic that is not giving blood it still feels good.  Not as good as giving blood does, but still good.  Then after a few weeks they give blood and it's even better and so on.

Overall I really enjoyed this story, especially the narration.  It did run a touch long, but the payoff in what to me was an unexpected ending made it all worth it.



Mr. Tweedy

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Reply #50 on: July 10, 2007, 03:20:38 PM
Eating chocolate excites my pleasure centre - so my tastebuds control me?  They force me to eat chocolate (or other junk food)?

If you really did feel like chocolate was controlling you, would you still want it?

I'm a caffeine addict.  I'm generally at work, where coffee plentiful, and at home I make myself yummy cappuccinos, but sometimes when we're out for the day, I don't get any coffee, and then a headache starts.  But then I get this weird stubbornness: I know that downing a big cup of joe will fix my headache, but I don't want any.  In fact, I will likely refuse to drink coffee and just live with the headache.  Why?  Because I don't want to feel controlled by coffee.  I want to drink coffee because I like it (which I do), and if I get to the place where I feel like I need it satisfy a craving, then the coffee isn't fun anymore.  I don't want that stupid bean to control me; I want to be the master!

If you feel like you are compelled to do something, then the pleasure in doing it suddenly diminishes, and you might even feel resentful.  People aren't happy unless they (at least feel like they) are acting of their own free will.  We can't stand being dominated.

Hear my very very short story on The Drabblecast!


ClintMemo

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Reply #51 on: July 10, 2007, 03:45:45 PM
Eating chocolate excites my pleasure centre - so my tastebuds control me?  They force me to eat chocolate (or other junk food)?
  Because I don't want to feel controlled by coffee.  I want to drink coffee because I like it (which I do), and if I get to the place where I feel like I need it satisfy a craving, then the coffee isn't fun anymore.  I don't want that stupid bean to control me; I want to be the master!

...but in a sense, isn't the the caffeine still controlling you?
It is limiting you to a choice between more caffeine and having a headache.
What you describe is exactly the way the beginning of drug addiction feels as described to me in my psych class from 25 years ago - you start out taking the drug because it makes you feel good, but later you take the drug because it stops making you feel bad.

Life is a multiple choice test. Unfortunately, the answers are not provided.  You have to go and find them before picking the best one.


slic

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Reply #52 on: July 10, 2007, 03:51:16 PM
But then I get this weird stubbornness: I know that downing a big cup of joe will fix my headache, but I don't want any.  In fact, I will likely refuse to drink coffee and just live with the headache.  Why?  Because I don't want to feel controlled by coffee.  I want to drink coffee because I like it (which I do), and if I get to the place where I feel like I need it satisfy a craving, then the coffee isn't fun anymore.  I don't want that stupid bean to control me; I want to be the master!
Maybe it's just me, but that seems really weird.  If you like something and it hurts not doing it then it seems to be foolish not to do it.  I can understand wanting to avoid the addictive qualites of caffeine , however that's not exactly what you are doing, you enjoy drinking coffee.

If you feel like you are compelled to do something, then the pleasure in doing it suddenly diminishes, and you might even feel resentful.  People aren't happy unless they (at least feel like they) are acting of their own free will.  We can't stand being dominated.
I'm "forced" to play soccer when it's game time (this Thursday at 6pm).  I can't play on Wednesday morning or Thursday at 7:22pm.  And yet, I still really enjoy the game.
Same thing with a tournament,  I might have to play 3 games, and I may be feeling a bit sore and not be as excited by the third game, but I still enjoy it.

I do understand your gist in regards of the knee jerk reaction of people to suddenly not want to do something because someone or something else wishes/compels it.  But I see that as spite, and frankly, it's silly.



ClintMemo

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Reply #53 on: July 10, 2007, 04:01:28 PM
It may seem like a flaw that a virus could develop that would give people a compulsion to give blood and had I thought about it, I might have considered it a flaw. But, a few months ago, I saw a bit on the "Animal Planet" channel about an organism  that causes ants to act like zombies for a while and then climb out on to the end of a blade of grass and hang onto to it with their mandibles until they die.  The behavior enables to organism to reproduce but it is part of a cycle where it has to travel through two or three separate creatures to do this.

very weird

Life is a multiple choice test. Unfortunately, the answers are not provided.  You have to go and find them before picking the best one.


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Reply #54 on: July 10, 2007, 04:44:24 PM
I'm "forced" to play soccer when it's game time (this Thursday at 6pm).  I can't play on Wednesday morning or Thursday at 7:22pm.  And yet, I still really enjoy the game.
Same thing with a tournament,  I might have to play 3 games, and I may be feeling a bit sore and not be as excited by the third game, but I still enjoy it.

You are not forced to play soccer.  If you were, if there were men with guns who would shoot you for not playing, you would be a slave, and you would doubtless resent your condition.

You are in the league voluntarily and you play at certain times because it is necessary for the game you enjoy.  If you were compelled to play, you wouldn't want to anymore.

When there is no headache, I drink coffee for the pleasure it brings me, but when there is a headache, then I feel forced and so there is no longer any pleasure.

Hear my very very short story on The Drabblecast!


Russell Nash

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Reply #55 on: July 10, 2007, 06:14:32 PM

We all have that warm little feeling after we help someone.  ALAS makes people addicted to this feeling.  The story said giving blood was just one of the things people did.  They were also more likely to help little old ladies cross the street. 

Not exactly - the story said quite explicitly that ALAS only made people addicted to giving blood, and that the other helpful things were done as a secondary effect;

::grumble grumble::  I went to his website and reread that part.  My bad.

The thick blood idea isn't a bad one though.  Lots of viruses have strange side effects.  Sometimes it helps the virus to spread and sometimes it doesn't.  Something that kills the host too quickly would be a non-helper.



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Reply #56 on: July 10, 2007, 07:18:28 PM
This was a great story.  Like Steve, I love an unreliable narrator, and found this to be a great example of the device.  My take on this story was, like some of the other posters, that the causation of general altruism from the desire to be bled or donate blood was a weakness.  However, that doesn't have to be the story's weakness, it could be an analytical error by Les which the narrator fails to correct. 

So, the narrator believes that ALAS causes people to act in an altruistic manner, and this belief causes him to take all kinds of actions to prevent a possible blood transfusion.  What a wonderful irony if that belief is unfounded and he ends up doing all these things for no reason.  He ends up controlled, at least indirectly, by ALAS after all.



eytanz

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Reply #57 on: July 10, 2007, 07:58:50 PM
It may seem like a flaw that a virus could develop that would give people a compulsion to give blood and had I thought about it, I might have considered it a flaw. But, a few months ago, I saw a bit on the "Animal Planet" channel about an organism  that causes ants to act like zombies for a while and then climb out on to the end of a blade of grass and hang onto to it with their mandibles until they die.  The behavior enables to organism to reproduce but it is part of a cycle where it has to travel through two or three separate creatures to do this.

very weird

Interesting. But is that behavior really unrelated to anything the ants ever do naturally? Or is it just taking a regular behavior out of context? I don't know, but I'll assume it's the latter. Say, that the ants usually grab grass as a way of bringing food to the nest, and the organism screws up with their ability to figure out that the grass can't be moved before it is cut.

My problem with the story isn't with the "desire to donate blood", it's with the causality - desire to donate leads to altruism. If it was the reverse - say, that ALAS made people more altruistic (by, say, invoking social instincts normally restricted to close relationships), and also made blood feel thicker if there wasn't occasional bloodletting. Each of these on its own is possible, and the result would be more blood donation. However, that switches the causality of what was implied in the story.

If you just had people who felt uncomfortable without the occasional bloodloss, you'd end up with more blood donations, but also more self-cutting and people with leech addictions and the like. The story didn't mention these at all - and if it was the case, then it couldn't work in the way the story described it, since "altruism arises as a rationalization for blood donation" won't work if the blood donors figure out that they share symptoms with self-mutilators.

My main gripe here, though, is not "this is implausible". I don't mind implausibility. It's that I figure that the story would work just as well if the causal relationship between altruism and blood donation were reversed, so the implausibility feels, to me, rather gratuitous. Which is annoying on its own, and even moreso because it makes me suspect that there's a motivation which I'm just missing, and I'd hate that to be the case.

(Note that for all the nitpicking I still feel this is a great story.)



7by12

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Reply #58 on: July 10, 2007, 08:48:03 PM
My problem with the story isn't with the "desire to donate blood", it's with the causality - desire to donate leads to altruism. If it was the reverse - say, that ALAS made people more altruistic (by, say, invoking social instincts normally restricted to close relationships), and also made blood feel thicker if there wasn't occasional bloodletting. Each of these on its own is possible, and the result would be more blood donation. However, that switches the causality of what was implied in the story.

My main gripe here, though, is not "this is implausible". I don't mind implausibility. It's that I figure that the story would work just as well if the causal relationship between altruism and blood donation were reversed, so the implausibility feels, to me, rather gratuitous. Which is annoying on its own, and even moreso because it makes me suspect that there's a motivation which I'm just missing, and I'd hate that to be the case.

(Note that for all the nitpicking I still feel this is a great story.)

I agree. I've decided, by way of my "reader's prerogative" that the virus did activate more than just a desire to give blood, and the narrator was unreliable at least in this respect. Being that he was aware of the virus and its vector, that's all that he saw. I don't buy at all that a compulsion to give blood (and I think we have to call it a compulsion because of the case study of the elderly man that was willing to break the law and lie in order to keep giving blood, something I wouldn't be willing to do for caffeine (thought don't ask me about nicotine)) would "naturally" lead to further altruism. If this were a natural law, someone responding to a local natural disaster would then expand their scope or altruism to the nation and beyond, and eventually there would be no nonprofit relief organization wanting for funds and volunteers.

It's fiction, and I like it, and I want to like it, so by personal fiat, the virus compelled all sorts of altruism, but our antihero was blind to the wider effect of ALAS. It can certainly be argued that he suffered from narcissistic tendencies in other areas. At least this helps me suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the story. Anyone else willing to accept this theory? With it, you can still go either way on whether or not the protagonist is unreliable in other areas, or antihero.



slic

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Reply #59 on: July 11, 2007, 02:23:03 AM
You are not forced to play soccer. ... If you were compelled to play, you wouldn't want to anymore.
Not true.  I have a sense of responsibility to my team. I may not really want to play that third game in the tourney, but I do want the team to advance.
That sense of responsibility can also be overridden, by other more immediate or important things - too much rain/lightning or the need to take my children to some other activity.



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Reply #60 on: July 11, 2007, 04:52:23 AM
My point is along the lines that ALAS certainly was a contributing factor to people becoming more helpful to others, but it wasn't a mind-controlling virus making zombies of us all.  Imperatives can be ignored.

I think you are glossing over how subtle biology is. In the latest issue of National Geographic here is a great article on Swarm Behavior go read it... I can wait http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0707/feature5/.

Ok... See what I mean, there is an entire body of study called emergent behavior that says lots of things doing really simple things can give rise to really complex behavior. So it is very simple to extrapolate that something simple can subtly affect how you behave, just think about the biology of thought, how does it really work anyway? The point is at once you are infected how does one know if you are doing something because a virus is encouraging ou or because you want to do it. The only way to know for sure is to not have ALAS. The other bit that was glossed over but should resonate here is it is likely that there are carriers that are immune to the effects of ALAS. So they got transfusions and then went back to their depraved lives of rain forest thinin and baby seal clubbin. Just like real viruses there are folks who are immune to AIDs once they have HIV, or just like people who do not have addictive personalities who think that addicts should just "get over it already."

I did not see in my head that everyone that got ALAS became good, nor did I see that the virus was making them do good things. BUT the change was enough to encourage them to do good. And at that point what roles does free will play? I think you assume we would know we are being manipulated. But  we are made of biology, so when it breaks how do we know? I have met people who had dementia, their brains were broke and no amount of talking to them or insisting that it was not 1977 was going to make them think see that they were really living in 2007. They know it is 1977 just as I know it is 2007, and just as you cannot convince me it is really 1977 and you can't convinced them it isn't 1977. We are that dependent upon our biology and once is affected we really don't know it has happened.



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Reply #61 on: July 11, 2007, 11:28:05 AM
It may seem like a flaw that a virus could develop that would give people a compulsion to give blood and had I thought about it, I might have considered it a flaw. But, a few months ago, I saw a bit on the "Animal Planet" channel about an organism  that causes ants to act like zombies for a while and then climb out on to the end of a blade of grass and hang onto to it with their mandibles until they die.  The behavior enables to organism to reproduce but it is part of a cycle where it has to travel through two or three separate creatures to do this.

very weird

Interesting. But is that behavior really unrelated to anything the ants ever do naturally? Or is it just taking a regular behavior out of context? I don't know, but I'll assume it's the latter. Say, that the ants usually grab grass as a way of bringing food to the nest, and the organism screws up with their ability to figure out that the grass can't be moved before it is cut.


I distinctly remember the little CGI they had of the ant on the blade of grass. It hung out there like a piece of fruit on the end of a branch - it's body hanging down while it's mandibles clung to the end of the blade of grass which was bent over from the weight.   IIRC, some larger herbivore came along and ate it along with the grass, then the organism ended up in the big animals digestive system, which it needed to pass through in order to reproduce (don't remember why), then it ended up in herbivore dung where some thing else took it that later got eaten by ants....

Life is a multiple choice test. Unfortunately, the answers are not provided.  You have to go and find them before picking the best one.


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Reply #62 on: July 11, 2007, 12:01:31 PM
Thanks for the link, jahnke.  The idea that a large set of very small, clear instructions can result in complex behaviour itself isn't new.  I had read about Craig Reynolds "boids" back in University, lo these many years.

Quote from: janhke
I think you assume we would know we are being manipulated.
No, I don't.  Where my desire/enjoyment to play soccer comes from, I haven't clue (most likely it's the result of many small contibuting factors - oh there it is again).  My point was my very real ability to not go play.  Addictive behaviour is a different beast and I'm not going to tackle that here. 

As we already have a Predestination and Free Will thread, I'll wait for you to read through that and I'll reply to any posts you make there.



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Reply #63 on: July 11, 2007, 01:34:00 PM
It may seem like a flaw that a virus could develop that would give people a compulsion to give blood and had I thought about it, I might have considered it a flaw. But, a few months ago, I saw a bit on the "Animal Planet" channel about an organism  that causes ants to act like zombies for a while and then climb out on to the end of a blade of grass and hang onto to it with their mandibles until they die.  The behavior enables to organism to reproduce but it is part of a cycle where it has to travel through two or three separate creatures to do this.

very weird

Interesting. But is that behavior really unrelated to anything the ants ever do naturally? Or is it just taking a regular behavior out of context? I don't know, but I'll assume it's the latter. Say, that the ants usually grab grass as a way of bringing food to the nest, and the organism screws up with their ability to figure out that the grass can't be moved before it is cut.


I distinctly remember the little CGI they had of the ant on the blade of grass. It hung out there like a piece of fruit on the end of a branch - it's body hanging down while it's mandibles clung to the end of the blade of grass which was bent over from the weight.   IIRC, some larger herbivore came along and ate it along with the grass, then the organism ended up in the big animals digestive system, which it needed to pass through in order to reproduce (don't remember why), then it ended up in herbivore dung where some thing else took it that later got eaten by ants....

Goofy but relevant link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Las_Plagas.  This particular parasite is fictitious, of course, but there are links to articles on a couple of real parasites about 2/3 of the way down the page.

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Reply #64 on: July 11, 2007, 05:19:48 PM

Goofy but relevant link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Las_Plagas.  This particular parasite is fictitious, of course, but there are links to articles on a couple of real parasites about 2/3 of the way down the page.


Way Cool!
I'm almost positive that the first of the real organisms is the one I saw on Animal Planet:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dicrocoelium_dendriticum

Life is a multiple choice test. Unfortunately, the answers are not provided.  You have to go and find them before picking the best one.


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Reply #65 on: July 11, 2007, 05:44:50 PM

Goofy but relevant link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Las_Plagas.  This particular parasite is fictitious, of course, but there are links to articles on a couple of real parasites about 2/3 of the way down the page.


Way Cool!
I'm almost positive that the first of the real organisms is the one I saw on Animal Planet:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dicrocoelium_dendriticum


Oh, wow, that was interesting.

It's worth pointing out, though, that this parasite is a far more complex organism than a virus, and that the means of manipulating the ants are very different than anything a virus could do. While certainly a wonderful example of the complexity of parasite/host behavior, it is not evidence that a virus like ALAS could exist.



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Reply #66 on: July 11, 2007, 08:46:12 PM
For a story without Spaceships and Aliens, this was darn good!

« Last Edit: July 12, 2007, 06:14:54 PM by FNH »



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Reply #67 on: July 12, 2007, 03:11:46 AM
Thanks for the link, jahnke.  The idea that a large set of very small, clear instructions can result in complex behaviour itself isn't new.  I had read about Craig Reynolds "boids" back in University, lo these many years.

Quote from: janhke
I think you assume we would know we are being manipulated.
No, I don't.  Where my desire/enjoyment to play soccer comes from, I haven't clue (most likely it's the result of many small contibuting factors - oh there it is again).  My point was my very real ability to not go play.  Addictive behaviour is a different beast and I'm not going to tackle that here. 

I think the problem is that your comparison is flawed. It isn't being altruistic vs playing soccer it is being altrusitic vs being physically active.



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Reply #68 on: July 13, 2007, 05:14:33 PM
I'm late to the party, but I'll post anyway.

First off, I loved this story as much or more than The Watching People and How Lonesome a Life Without Nerve Gas - meaning, I loved it a lot.  In regards to the whole determinism/free will thing, as it relates to the story; Slic said that hating the feeling of being controlled by coffee was both spiteful and silly.  I think that's a very good description of the narrator's "relationship" with ALAS.  At the end of the story, he acts altruistically, as ALAS would have directed him to.  But!  He also essentially chooses to die, by refusing treatment for the Mars virus.  He decides to be a good person, while also giving the metaphorical finger to ALAS and viruses in general.  The irrational, and in my opinion, very human, stand for individuality really made me love the main character.

Waaay back on page 1, 7by12 made some comments about good vs. evil and free will that I'd like to respond to.  I think part of the message of this story is that people do have a choice - the narrator was altruistic despite being uninfected by ALAS.  Which is a reassuringly positive message (though I personally don't believe in "good vs. evil").



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Reply #69 on: July 14, 2007, 01:36:20 AM
also late, but i just listened to this today and wanted to comment...

The very day this episode was posted I started getting sick, actually winding up on antibiotics. I'm still getting over it (and might need to go back to the doctor.. stubborn thing) :P

I required no blood transfusions however and feel no more altrustic than normal.. ;)

In regards to the story itself, I found the first half pretty dry, but it got better when the narrator started his murderous scheming. I donno. Not big on science-heavy sci-fi, personally - not a science person - so that first half didn't do much for me. I'm sure its wonderfully well-written for what it is. But what it is isn't really my genre.



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Reply #70 on: July 14, 2007, 02:59:02 AM
Waaay back on page 1, 7by12 made some comments about good vs. evil and free will that I'd like to respond to.  I think part of the message of this story is that people do have a choice - the narrator was altruistic despite being uninfected by ALAS.  Which is a reassuringly positive message (though I personally don't believe in "good vs. evil").

That was actually what I was trying to say. In an effort to not offend our excellent publisher, and in an effort not to appear too daft, my posts ended up a little convoluted. The way I took the "unreliable narrator" comment was that he didn't realize that an altruism virus was a good thing. Maybe I misunderstood that comment. My point was that this unsympathetic character fighting to maintain self will made him an anti-hero, or an unsympathetic hero, if we pick nits. I also thought his fight for autonomy "a reassuringly positive message." I don believe in "good vs. evil" either, at least not as two diametrically opposed forces. It was useful at the time for the point I was trying to figure out.

Anyway, I try (sometimes too hard) to make sure I'm not misunderstood. Please disagree with me if you want, but please don't misunderstand me.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2007, 03:01:28 AM by 7by12 »



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Reply #71 on: July 16, 2007, 05:56:02 AM
"That was actually what I was trying to say."

Oh.

Isn't human communication wonderful?  I wish I could pull it off more often.

I'm glad we agree.



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Reply #72 on: July 17, 2007, 10:26:31 AM
I liked the story very much. Character-based and hard-science-based at the same time. Lovely.

I was somewhat irritated by the lack of research the author did on the UK Blood Service and Health Service, though. I kept being knocked out of the story by the errors of fact.

You can't give blood within 12 weeks of your last donation. Existing donors can give until age 70. You'd have to be extremely foolish in the UK to get into debt due to medical costs.

And the big one - if you get a blood transfusion, you can't give blood.

I wish the story had been set somewhere that these nitpicking objections don't apply, for it was a good proposition, using blood donation as the vector, and altruism as the result. The cranky, amoral protagonist added another dimension.

Nice one, more like it please, (perhaps better researched).

Ally



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Reply #73 on: July 17, 2007, 10:58:35 AM
Interesting points (and sort of useful for me to know, given that I'm a blood donor who's moving to the UK in a couple of months).

That said, I should point out that the possibility of medical debt was only brought up by the American narrator, and Les, the British doctor, quickly pointed out that that's implausible. All your other nitpicks seem to hold, though.

Oh, and I really doubt that there's anywhere in the Western world that allows someone who got a transfusion to donate blood, so that might have been a deliberate blurring or reality.
« Last Edit: July 17, 2007, 11:02:53 AM by eytanz »



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Reply #74 on: July 18, 2007, 04:56:24 AM
"Oh, and I really doubt that there's anywhere in the Western world that allows someone who got a transfusion to donate blood..."

But this is not so. People who have received blood in West Africa or the UK are not permitted to donate blood in the US, but the Red Cross permits donations from patients who receive blood after 12 months:

http://www.redcross.org/services/biomed/0,1082,0_557_,00.html#blotra



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Reply #75 on: July 18, 2007, 05:08:51 AM
Really? I must be misremembering, or maybe the New York Blood Center has stricter policies or something - I'm pretty sure they always ask me if I ever had a transfusion. Of course, since I haven't, I always answer no, so it might be that if you answer yes then they ask further questions about how long ago and where which determine whether you actually get to donate.



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Reply #76 on: July 18, 2007, 02:46:44 PM
I came late to the game and listened to the Giving Plague only last night. I, too, am a fan of Brin, and was totally excited to see a story by him on Escape Pod - of course, I've also loved all the new authors EP has brought me, so keep up the mixing!

I enjoyed Giving Plague on a story level - Sullivan's narration really helped the story along for me, because he made the lead character even more unlikeable (in a good way, if that's possible) than he would have appeared on paper. There's something about hearing a murder being planned out loud that is just more sinister than if you simply read about it.

However, at the end of the story, I did have some problems with the blood to blood thing - basically, how would a mere virus "know" that the blood letting would induce the transfer of the virus from one person to another? In addition, I'm with someome upthread (I'm sorry I forgot your name already - I've only had one cup of coffee today) who mentioned that the story would have made more sense if the virus would have encouraged altruism as a whole with blood donation as a side effect. However, I'm no scientist and dont' claim to be, but my common sense antenae twitched a little at that bit.

Overlooking that, and suspending that small portion of my brain holding up the disbelief sign, I very much enjoyed it.



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Reply #77 on: July 18, 2007, 08:04:12 PM
Quote from: pralala
basically, how would a mere virus "know" that the blood letting would induce the transfer of the virus from one person to another? In addition, I'm with someome upthread (I'm sorry I forgot your name already - I've only had one cup of coffee today) who mentioned that the story would have made more sense if the virus would have encouraged altruism as a whole with blood donation as a side effect. However, I'm no scientist and dont' claim to be, but my common sense antenae twitched a little at that bit.
This is the thing about evolution.  The virus doesn't "know" anything and never will.  It's not sentient, it doesn't really work through any trial and error plan.  It's a simple matter of luck, really.

Every day lots and lots of viruses mutate, those that change something and fail (use ear wax as a vector, for example) die out, ones that luck into something that causes them to propagate better or survive longer spread out more - that's it.

The ALAS virus mutated from some other one and it made people want to donate blood (whatever trigger in the brain that is) and because it mutated and infected someone who lived in a country where that happens and that person was able to donate (e.g wasn't too old or sick, etc). it got passed along - was able to reproduce and so on and so on.

This mutation may have occurred 2000 years ago, but since people didn't exchange blood then, it would have died out.



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Reply #78 on: July 19, 2007, 12:54:39 PM
I loved the narration and thought the story was great.  But this thread is unbelievable.  I love it.  More threads like this please!

To chime in on one of the points discussed here, I think it is interesting to consider that we don't really know how the virus works.  All we know is what the narrator told us, and what he told us was the supposition of another character formed when there was very little known about the virus.  Initial hypotheses are usually incomplete at best, and sometimes downright wrong.  Perhaps the virus does directly compel most infected people to act altruistically.  Most people, thinking themselves basically good, easily rationalize this change in themselves.  Our narrator, if he was indeed infected, rebels against this compulsion, and only gives in when he can convince himself that it was his idea, and also not because he was a good person.  Here the virus comes into its own, controlling us like puppets on a string. 

I also like the thought that perhaps the altruistic scientist [not nearly as naive as our narrator portrays him to be] purposefully infected our narrator without his knowledge, although that is going very far out on a limb on my part.

I also like that it is equally plausible that the narrator was not infected, as there are certainly many other ways to explain his apparantly altruistic behavior at the end of the story that don't rely upon him being infected.

Lots to think about in this story, and I loved reading everyone's views.



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Reply #79 on: July 20, 2007, 09:46:37 PM
This is the thing about evolution.  The virus doesn't "know" anything and never will.  It's not sentient, it doesn't really work through any trial and error plan.  It's a simple matter of luck, really.

Every day lots and lots of viruses mutate, those that change something and fail (use ear wax as a vector, for example) die out, ones that luck into something that causes them to propagate better or survive longer spread out more - that's it.

That makes much more sense (also: I don't ever want to know how ear wax would transmit anything. Yik!). I think that since the narrator was talking about ALAS as almost having sentient qualities, it got me thinking as the virus in the mode of having sentient qualities.



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Reply #80 on: July 21, 2007, 08:54:21 AM
This is the thing about evolution.  The virus doesn't "know" anything and never will.  It's not sentient, it doesn't really work through any trial and error plan.  It's a simple matter of luck, really.

Every day lots and lots of viruses mutate, those that change something and fail (use ear wax as a vector, for example) die out, ones that luck into something that causes them to propagate better or survive longer spread out more - that's it.

That makes much more sense (also: I don't ever want to know how ear wax would transmit anything. Yik!). I think that since the narrator was talking about ALAS as almost having sentient qualities, it got me thinking as the virus in the mode of having sentient qualities.

The narrator gave it sentient qualities the same way you give sentient qualities to plumbing when you're having trouble fixing a pipe.  "Come on you bastard fit.  You just don't want to help me…"  You just can't think of your adversary as unsentient(sp?).



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Reply #81 on: July 24, 2007, 02:30:20 AM
That was a good one, but the ending... the last few seconds... kinda let me down. Otherwise, very good.

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Reply #82 on: July 25, 2007, 12:15:24 PM
My computer crashed the Sunday before this story was released, so I just now finished listening to it.

If this story falls down anywhere (to me, as a lay-reader with only lay knowledge of blood donation and pathology), it's toward the end.  I kept hearing good places where the story should stop, and it kept on going.  Of course, it kept going so we could get to the part where the narrator chooses to be altruistic (a great payoff to his general misanthropy toward altruistic people), but toward the end I kept thinking "oh, come on, MORE?"  (I've made similar mistakes in some of my short-stories.)

The fact that, at heart, the narrator wasn't a good person is what helped make this story work for me.  I find evil people more honest than good ones -- except when they're lying -- because if an evil person is giving you a deathbed confession, and the evil person has admitted to being evil, why lie now?  What would it serve?  I believed the narrator because he admitted, right out, that he was not a nice person and was really only in it for fame.

I had a feeling that ALAS would turn out to be a gateway plague.  Though Brin did not explicitly state it, I think ALAS was an alien lifeform or weapon of some kind, engineered to kill off humanity by bringing it closer together and then mutating.  TARP was from Mars -- but was it left there by the creators of ALAS?  I don't think ALAS was intelligent as we measure intelligence; I think it was programmed.

There's a line in a Star Trek TNG novel where Worf praises the inventor of the neutron bomb, which kills people but leaves cities inhabitable.  I'm guessing the creators of ALAS are using it as some sort of similar device/weapon -- they'll send in a crew to get rid of the bodies and then take over our cities and such.  I know the narrator said 15% of the population might survive, but 15% of the population is easily subjugated by a more powerful alien race.

The choice of the narrator as a scientist from Texas is an amusing bit of mental culture clash (can't think of the perfect term here).  I'm not saying people with that particular accent can't be extremely intelligent scientists, but it's not something often addressed in writing.  I think that choice kept the narrator interesting as well, along with his misanthropy.

The reading was good.  I like how Sullivan kept it low-key, even when the narrator or other characters were getting worked up, like all this stuff can happen and he's still not going to lose his mind.  If it fell down anywhere, it was the end, where the narrator asks ALAS, point-blank, if it knew this was happening.  If I had been reading it, I might have interpreted the last sentence ("Did you?") as a simple, resigned statement, infusing it with disappointment and exhaustion.  The fact that the narrator got worked up at the very end, just for that last bit, broke it for me slightly.

Overall, I enjoyed the story.

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Reply #83 on: July 25, 2007, 01:20:03 PM
I had a feeling that ALAS would turn out to be a gateway plague.  Though Brin did not explicitly state it, I think ALAS was an alien lifeform or weapon of some kind, engineered to kill off humanity by bringing it closer together and then mutating.  TARP was from Mars -- but was it left there by the creators of ALAS?  I don't think ALAS was intelligent as we measure intelligence; I think it was programmed.

That's an interestin view, but not really one I think is justified by the story - as far as I can tell, ALAS led to TARP because without ALAS, humanity would still be too embroiled in wars and inefficient uses of resources to ever get to Mars. I can see TARP be a weapon left there in case humans manage to survive, but I can't see how ALAS could be part of it, at least not if the aliens aren't some really cheesy B-movie villians (Though this is by David Brin, who wrote Earth, which has exactly this as a plot, so who knows).

Mostly though, the story (through the mouth of Les) makes a big point of arguing how viruses like ALAS are part of the natural cycle of life on Earth. Having it be some sort of alien virus would undermine much of the narrative and since there's no evidence at all that that is what it is, I personally think it should be taken at face value.



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Reply #84 on: September 06, 2007, 03:44:22 PM
This is in my top 5 of escape pod stories.

Even though the story gets bogged down in typical Brin-esque "Here's some science you should know about" exposition in several spots, I am an absolute sucker for the twisty ending (O. Henry rocks), and this delivered in a very satisfying way.



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Reply #85 on: September 09, 2007, 05:03:43 AM
Brilliant.

Although I think there are easier ways to wealth and fame than molecular biology, this story is a profound exploration of the idea that, whatever our ideas about good and evil and how good or bad we want to be, biology trumps all of that. Even a self-conscious villain still believes in free will.



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Reply #86 on: September 25, 2009, 10:06:29 PM
I just read this story and loved it.    The other commenters covered most of the reasons but I felt like I owed it to the author and to Steve to drop this quick note and say how much I enjoyed and appreciated the story.   Great concepts, well-executed, nicely unpredictable.   

It was a nice twist on the old literary saw about how if you bring out a gun in the first act of a play it had better go off by the third.   



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Reply #87 on: February 23, 2010, 06:27:01 PM
I find evil people more honest than good ones -- except when they're lying

This line made me LOL.  :)



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Reply #88 on: February 23, 2010, 06:29:46 PM
I didn't get all the way through this one--it was just so exposition heavy!  The blood-donation virus was an interesting concept, but it took forever to get to the point of that.  I listened about halfway through and it was still getting to the description of a blood-donation virus via a very roundabout way as if I hadn't already figured it out more than 10 minutes before that.  I kept waiting for some new information and kept not getting it and eventually just hit the Skip button.