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Author Topic: EP536: Prophet to the Dogs  (Read 4477 times)

eytanz

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on: August 05, 2016, 01:35:18 PM
EP536: Prophet to the Dogs

By Bethany Edwards

read by George Hrab

---

A long time ago, in another life, when there were so many billions of us that 382 of them were small change, I worked in an office building. I was the graphic designer for a community arts magazine—circulation 382—on the top floor.

Across the street from this office building was a tiny, nameless park. It contained a few trees, some scraggly bushes, four benches, and just enough grass so that people thought they could hide their cigarette butts in it. I would always put my butts in the trashcan on the corner like a civilized person, but no one else ever took after my good example.

Despite being small, the park attracted a very diverse crowd. People in my building took their lunch break there, college students read or tapped away on their devices, teenage skateboarders attempted to skid across the backs of benches, moms let their young kids burn off some energy, and homeless people curled up with their dogs in the evening.

But by far the most interesting people in the park were the protestors. There were no huge corporate or political headquarters in that part of town, so we didn’t get organized protestors. We got lone Don Quixotes, tilting solo at the windmills of modern evils. They were usually spreading the message that the end was nigh if we didn’t stop global warming or come to Jesus. I got a big kick out of them when I first started my job, but over time they all faded into the background of my everyday life.

Until the day I noticed the “YOU ARE ALL F&@^%D” girl.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Father Beast

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Reply #1 on: August 06, 2016, 01:12:59 PM
Admittedly, A time travel story is an easy hook for me.

I spent most of this story thinking of things I would ask a professed time traveler, instead of the time wasting, "I'm asking this to pretend I'm interested when I'm really not" questions he was asking.

Trying to prevent the event seems like a complete and total waste of time, since it seems so catastrophic that, even if world leaders took the warning seriously, they probably couldn't do anything about it. Sort of like sending people back to Pompeii before the eruption of Vesuvius. Except that nobody can leave the city. Makes me wonder just how the hypothetical stopping of the alien invasion could be discussed, since I can conceive of no actual way to stop it.

Still, the interactions were enjoyable, and the fact that we, the audience, never learn his name makes sense, since we wouldn't know of its significance anyway. What could it be? John Connor?

It also makes sense that he refused to go with her into the future, since he could only survive within a zoo environment.

All in all, I liked it.



Frank Evans

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Reply #2 on: August 09, 2016, 01:01:43 PM
This was fun. I liked the idea of the aliens not necessarily coming as conquerors but as farmers. They weren't out to exterminate humanity, but they didn't really care if they wiped out a bunch of us either. I'm also curious about the hybrid society the traveler comes from; seems to me this is a great jumping off point for a fascinating universe. Hope the author does more.



Jethro's belt

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Reply #3 on: August 11, 2016, 08:51:08 PM
This was enjoyable, I thought the main character's anxieties over small things realistic and the way it played out not so predictable. Our prophet just going through the motions on a classroom exercise made me wonder if Thermodynamics class would have been any less profitable with that attitude. It was nice to have a pre-apocalyptic story with the post-A. market so glutted.



DerangedMind

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Reply #4 on: August 13, 2016, 08:57:33 PM
Count me in on the enjoyed the story camp.  It was an fun story about the end of the world.



Arachnophile

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Reply #5 on: August 14, 2016, 12:27:45 PM
I really enjoyed the story, and I thought the MC's reaction to the prophet was just about right. I did have a bit of trouble with the prophet's motivation, though. The analogy given during the story is to traveling back in time to prevent 9/11.  That's not it, though, is it? By the end, we realize that what she's doing is actually more like one of us traveling back 65 million years to prevent the extinction of the dinosaurs. If she succeeds (as is noted eventually) she and everyone she knows will cease to exist. Would any society that had invented time travel permit this kind of thing, even as a half-assed school project?



Father Beast

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Reply #6 on: August 14, 2016, 12:49:08 PM
I really enjoyed the story, and I thought the MC's reaction to the prophet was just about right. I did have a bit of trouble with the prophet's motivation, though. The analogy given during the story is to traveling back in time to prevent 9/11.  That's not it, though, is it? By the end, we realize that what she's doing is actually more like one of us traveling back 65 million years to prevent the extinction of the dinosaurs. If she succeeds (as is noted eventually) she and everyone she knows will cease to exist. Would any society that had invented time travel permit this kind of thing, even as a half-assed school project?

That was one of the points I was thinking of. It is exactly like sending someone back to prevent the extinction of the dinosaurs, if they could talk to the dinosaurs. There is no conceivable way that she could effect any change at all, since the inhabitants of earth at this point could not possibly change anything, even if they did believe her. Even if the right people in the highest places of power believed her and put all the effort at their disposal to changing it. The alienforming of earth could not be stopped any more than the dinosaurs could keep the asteroid from hitting.

Because of this, the half assed school project is in no danger of changing anything, and so they let it go on.



DerangedMind

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Reply #7 on: August 14, 2016, 01:53:06 PM
Quote
Because of this, the half assed school project is in no danger of changing anything, and so they let it go on.

I'm thinking this must be a relatively low level class.  Trying to save the world a week before it happens would be essentially impossible.

What they would have needed to do (to have a chance) would have shown up a few years earlier, while the aliens were still travelling, and  helped astronomers / SETI detect them before they arrived, so that we would have had a chance to try to prepare / contact / make a defense.  Still probably limited chance things could have been saved before the terraforming began, but maybe we could have been prepared a bit so that some of humanity could have survived.

It was also telling that the aliens never thought about going back and changing their own destiny and trying to redirect their path or trying to get them to work with humans instead of exterminating them.



Unblinking

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Reply #8 on: August 23, 2016, 02:34:33 PM
I thought this story was quite good.  I had similar thoughts to Father Beast and DerangedMind in that the odds of actually affecting any kind of noticeable change are SO incredibly remote that it seems like they just send these students back to encourage them to learn about the culture by immersing in it, and stick them with a futile task to give them something to strive for and maybe have a lesson about futility.

I liked the turnaround when she took the dog metaphor to heart and decided that she would try to bring him forward, and I liked that he made his own choice to avoid that (the quest for turkey was a fitting final note)




ElectricPaladin

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Reply #9 on: August 24, 2016, 09:46:15 PM
I know I missed the "get your comment on the podcast" window, but I've got to come in and be a sourpuss, because this story really hit a pet peeve of mine. That is to say, stories about time travel that assume an anthropocentric cosmos without actually dealing with the consequences of that assumption.

Let me try to explain: you are particles. Your particles have location, energy, and arrangement, and that is why you are you and not, say, a rock, or a guitar, or a slowly expanding cloud of Hydrogen gas, or whatever. As you go around in the universe, you interact with other particles, which is what causes things to happen to you.

From the perspective of the universe - assuming a mechanistic, rationalistic, scientific universe - none of these particles are particularly important. It doesn't really matter if a particle is in you, or in a rock, or in a guitar, or in Jimmy Hoffa, or in Adolph Hitler. It's a particle. It moves around, bounces off of things, interacts with other particles... whatever.

Once you travel through time, you are going to interact with a HUGE number of particles. If you are in the past, with every step you take, you are going to send particles bouncing in every goddamn direction. This is often called the Butterfly Effect, the idea that the tiniest action can have far-reaching consequences.

At the same time, remember... the universe doesn't care. Miley Cyrus's particles aren't more important than my particles just because she's famous. Even though her actions have the ability to impact many more people - and all the particles they're made of - that impact is still orders of magnitude smaller than the impact she has by just walking around and having a body, to the point that on a universal scale, it's negligible.

In other words, if the universe isn't fundamentally human-centric, there is no reason for any sort of self-correcting phenomenon in time. The time stream or whatever isn't going to care more that I went back in time to kill Adolph Hitler than it does if I went back in time to kill some guy named Joe, or a cow, or shot a bullet at a rock. Give or take a (relatively) few tiny blips of matter, all of those actions are going to have the exact same impact. So, in a scientific universe, either time travel is possible and anything goes, or it isn't possible at all. There shouldn't be any half-measures, and there certainly shouldn't be any sort of "self correcting" around "important" events.

Or...

Maybe this isn't an entirely rational universe. Maybe this is a universe in which there IS a sentience that is in charge of the time stream that is willing to allow a few particles to be knocked around here and there, but has decided that certain human-scale events are just way to important to allow them to be changed, so it is constantly reaching in and redirecting the particles to make sure that nothing big changes. That's fine, I don't care, it's your story, write what you like.

But...

If you DO write your story that way, you are basically providing your world with scientific proof of God, or something very much like God. And in this story, God decided that our civilization has to be destroyed, our planet warped into an alien ecosystem, and our genes mingled with said aliens to produce a new species.

Which is fine... but it just bothers me that the story never goes there. If the alien girl had said "we can't change it because God won't let us, but at the same time I can come back and observe you because God will clean up all the little messes my presence causes," that would be fine. That would hold together. But the story as it is just leaves an enormous logic gap that I can't get past.

I'm sorry... I really envy all of you who were able to enjoy this story, because it was interesting and well written... but I just can't get it to work in my head.

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MooG

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Reply #10 on: August 25, 2016, 12:31:35 PM
I liked this one. Funnily enough I can't pin it down to why, I just did.

Interesting comment from EP, pretty much all of which I agree with; but I don't see that it applies to *this* story. The invasion doesn't need any  magic protection - it's a big event and, as the narrator (and other commenters here) said, the people from the future aren't making any real effort to stop it.



Unblinking

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Reply #11 on: August 25, 2016, 01:44:47 PM
I liked this one. Funnily enough I can't pin it down to why, I just did.

Interesting comment from EP, pretty much all of which I agree with; but I don't see that it applies to *this* story. The invasion doesn't need any  magic protection - it's a big event and, as the narrator (and other commenters here) said, the people from the future aren't making any real effort to stop it.

That was my thought too, was that the rant is very applicable to many time travel stories, but I didn't feel like it was applicable to THIS time travel story.  It seemed pretty clear to me by the end of the story that the people from the future were only giving half-ass attempts to change the past.  Send some college students to a week before an event without forging any special political connections with the governments of the time to give them any boost in the scenario, and it's just a learning experience for the student and a chance for college credit, but not much more.  If they really wanted to change something then they could go back further and try to do something useful--i.e. fund research to detect the alien ship as early as possible, to give some kind of time for people to react, or push much harder much earlier to create a Mars colony so that there is some bastion of humanity somewhere in the solar system.  It didn't sound like they'd really tried anything of useful scale (although we don't get a detailed description of past attempts that was the impression I got).

I've heard people say that it would be too risky to go back and prevent WWII because a lot of our present depends on it.  This event would be EVEN MORE SO because every single human-alien-hybrid in the future would not exist if the alien invasion didn't go the way it did.  If you are absolutely certain that making this change to the past would unmake you and would unmake everyone you've ever known and would unmake everyone you will ever know, to save an abstract group of people that you might meet while time traveling but who are more characters in a historic drama than people to you... it's not too surprising that the effort has been half-assed at best. 

So why does she say early in the story that people have tried before?  Because there have been token efforts, and because people are really good at convincing themselves of things to assuage their own guilt.  "I don't have to feel bad about all those people who died because we TRIED to save them, we really did, I even tried myself and all of my attempts with a sandwich board with profanity written on it were not enough to stop the alien invasion so I guess it can't be done.  So it's sad, but history is immutable and whatever so I guess we may as well just try to heal and go forward with the lessons we've learned and stuff."  It's bullshit.  Deep down I think most people in the future know it's bullshit, but it's one of those lies you keep telling yourself because mounting a serious effort to prevent the invasion is tantamount to suicide of the entire population of the world as you know it. 



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #12 on: August 25, 2016, 03:14:28 PM
That's fine... but the fact that the logic was present was really irritating. If there'd been more of an indication that time travel could change things, but were insisting they couldn't because they didn't really want to, that would have been interesting.

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Unblinking

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Reply #13 on: August 26, 2016, 02:32:36 PM
That's fine... but the fact that the logic was present was really irritating. If there'd been more of an indication that time travel could change things, but were insisting they couldn't because they didn't really want to, that would have been interesting.

*shrug* 
I thought that the denial of responsibility made it more interesting and felt truer.  Because if there's anything that the general public is incredibly talented at, as a whole, it's justifying lack of change.  If time travel were possible, I find it very plausible that most people would just shout "The timeline is immutable!" as a ward against personal responsibility for the horrors of the past. 



davidthygod

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Reply #14 on: September 15, 2016, 04:47:05 PM
The narrator's cynicism and sarcasm was great.  It had a William Holden feel to it.  This was my favorite story on EA in quite awhile. 

The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad.


Devoted135

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Reply #15 on: October 15, 2016, 02:35:29 AM
This was engagingly written and I wanted to like it more than I actually did. It spent a lot of time on mundane, pointless conversations. Why did he keep going back to talk to her anyway? It's not like he enjoyed or even was intrigued by their first interaction. I know that mundanity was probably the point, but it just didn't really work for me.

I did get a very strong feeling that she knew no one had ever put in a real effort toward changing the past for all the reasons mentioned above. No one else had really tried, and she wasn't going to give it a real shot either.



CryptoMe

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Reply #16 on: November 27, 2017, 08:34:10 PM
I really, really enjoyed this story. I didn't have any of the issues that Electric Paladin pointed out. I thought they addressed these points quite well in the story. Nothing could be changed about the past because big events were so big that changing any small thing wouldn't be enough to change the outcome. Also, the Ferick's Hypothesis comes in to play, where after about a generation, people are too far removed from the horrors of the past event to gain any benefits from changing it. I thought those two things address Electric Paladin's points quite well.

The thing that I kept thinking towards the end, which no-one else has mentioned, was that the time traveller was actually trying to change the past by removing the MC from the timeline, possibly because he does do something to thwart or slow the alien incursion, and she doesn't want that because her world depends on the alien incursion succeeding. Anyone else get that feeling?