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Author Topic: EP155: Tideline  (Read 45747 times)

Russell Nash

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on: April 24, 2008, 05:23:46 PM
EP155: Tideline

2008 Hugo Nominee!

By Elizabeth Bear.
Read by Stephen Eley
Closing Music: “The Fall” by Red Hunter.

They would have called her salvage, if there were anyone left to salvage her. But she was the last of the war machines, a three-legged oblate teardrop as big as a main battle tank, two big grabs and one fine manipulator folded like a spider’s palps beneath the turreted head that finished her pointed end, her polyceramic armor spiderwebbed like shatterproof glass. Unhelmed by her remote masters, she limped along the beach, dragging one fused limb. She was nearly derelict.

The beach was where she met Belvedere.


Rated PG. Contains implied violence and themes of death.


Referenced Sites:
2008 Hugo Awards
“And the Deep Blue Sea” by Elizabeth Bear (on Starship Sofa)
WisCon May 23-26, Madison, WI



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Ocicat

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Reply #1 on: April 24, 2008, 07:13:35 PM
That was really excellent.  Okay, so, Hugo nom - it's to be expected.  But still, very enjoyable.  I may have to seek out more of Elizabeth Bear's work.



Anarkey

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Reply #2 on: April 24, 2008, 08:54:20 PM
EP155: Tideline

2008 Hugo Nominee!

By Elizabeth Bear.


Squeeeeeee!  I haven't heard this yet, but I needed to get my squeeing out of the way.  I heart Elizabeth Bear, and I really enjoyed this when I read it a few months back.  I'm sure it will be awesome in the audio version.

Squeeeeeeee!
Gloriously anticipating hearing this.

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Heradel

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Reply #3 on: April 24, 2008, 09:50:39 PM
This is a really good story, though it fell into that stories-about-stories category that I always feel is a bit of a feedback loop to other writers and creatives. But it's nice to see a world where instead of welcoming our robotic overlords they end up fully AI. The war was vague, but the story was about the warriors and their deeds instead of the battle, so that was alright even if I did feel like I was missing something by not knowing what the fight was about. 

Still, pretty cool quest to give a ~13 year old.

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Darwinist

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Reply #4 on: April 25, 2008, 12:57:29 AM
Wow. Great story.  I'd love to have a friend with microwave pulse weapons.  Looking forward to the rest of the Hugo stories.   Great to hear "The Fall" again. 

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.    -  Carl Sagan


ChiliFan

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Reply #5 on: April 25, 2008, 03:07:57 AM
I'm not sure if this is Sci Fi apart from the main character being a robot. The story is about trying to make sure certain people are remembered. I'm sure this kind of story has been done before, but not as Sci Fi.



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Reply #6 on: April 25, 2008, 04:25:30 AM
I say it again:  Moby Dick without the boats and the whale would be a story about land.  Just because a particular story could be told without SF elements does not invalidate the telling at hand. 

Besides, I think a lot of the point was the disconnect of a robot, and one designed for a pretty specific purpose, engaging in the deeply human activity of rememberance.

Good story, though it didn't hold my attention at times (more my fault for doing too much crap while listening).
« Last Edit: April 25, 2008, 04:39:11 AM by bolddeceiver »



birdless

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Reply #7 on: April 25, 2008, 01:29:24 PM
I enjoyed it, and found it quite unexpectedly touching. The ending felt a bit rushed and abrupt to me, personally, but I still like the story. Don't think it's one I'll be keeping, though.

It was kinda cool how the story dropped the hints about who was involved and where the war took place. I wasn't expecting it to be Earthlings, and even less expecting it to be on Earth.

And it made me think both sides lost. I figured if there was a war machine left, it would have pursued the enemy until either they or it was completely destroyed. Maybe it just couldn't cross the ocean, but, I dunno... just seemed like total annihilation to me.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2008, 01:34:02 PM by birdless »



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Reply #8 on: April 25, 2008, 01:52:38 PM
I really liked this story. I disagree with Chilifan; the fact that the main character was a robot was not incidental at all. I listened to this story shortly after listening to "The Big Guy" from a few weeks ago. They both cover quite a lot of the same territory (a robot member of a mostly human team, struggling with the concept of camaraderie), but this story is a lot more subtle about it, and it starts a lot later in the robot's emotional development. That makes it, in my opinion, a lot more interesting.



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Reply #9 on: April 25, 2008, 03:27:52 PM
I did feel like I was missing something by not knowing what the fight was about. 


Me too.  Also, there was no attention given to the whole "intelligent battle robot that can pretty much reason for itself" angle.  The author kind of left the science behind.

I didn't like the story, but I thought it was very good.

The dog thing was a tad cliched, I think, but it helped bring hope to the idea that Belvedere would be able to complete his quest because now he has a companion.  The robot "dying" and leaving Belvedere to quest alone would've made the story much less uplifting toward the end.

As for the reading... no major complaints, except that the robot's voice seemed to need a little amplification in post-production and Belvedere at times sounded like Jar-Jar Binks.

I would not be averse to reading more Elizabeth Bear stories.  Just not this one.

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Reply #10 on: April 25, 2008, 04:54:27 PM
I found "Tideline" to present the listener with a very simple relationship overlaid upon a complex personality.  That this personality belonged to an artificial lifeform made it all the more compelling.  We are used to seeing humans cope with loss and failure but here we get to see a composite intellect -the culmination of human coding and history- doing the same thing.  The reader gets to view the mind of an AI war marchine -long after her war has ended- trying to find a purpose within the context of her programming.  In the wake of the death of soldiers, of her battalion, she focuses on creating a memoriam and sets about that task in a logical, systematic -but nonetheless emotional- fashion.

The introduction of Belvedere provided not only a foil for Chalcedony to react to, but also to provide a context for her actions.  Without saying it, here we see the ideal behind a soldier's sacrifice for those who do not or cannot fight.  It isn't preachy but, rather, elegantly demonstrated.

As for ChiliFan's comments,
I'm not sure if this is Sci Fi apart from the main character being a robot. The story is about trying to make sure certain people are remembered. I'm sure this kind of story has been done before, but not as Sci Fi.

I found this very much Science Fiction in the purest sense of the term.

In how I think of it, Science Fiction tells us a story that science makes possible.  It explores the human condition, the universal environment, or even philosophical questions by presenting us with an outgrowth of technology and research.

True, it is a story that has been done without war marchines and the apocalypse before (although I can't think of a specific example) but I think that's to be expected of literature in general.  That the story was configured in a unique way -and told with such compelling characters- make it distinct.  Could the story have been written about a war-scarred beach-comber, trying to cobble together mementos of her deceased battalion?  Sure.  But it wasn't.  What other stories accomplish, or could have accomplished, should not have any bearing on this story.  On its own merits, it is an excellent story.

...But that's just my .02...

I very much look forward to hearing the other Hugo Nominees and will try to seek out the fifth so I can read it before the voting takes place in Denver!

Yours,
Sylvan



Disquisition

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Reply #11 on: April 25, 2008, 06:18:49 PM

via BoingBoing Gadgets

Sorry, couldn't help it  ;D

Anyway, I loved this story. Yeah, a lot of the details about the conflict were left out, but the war wasn't the point of the story anyway, and if that's what you were thinking about, I'm sorry to break it to you but you didn't get it.



Anarkey

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Reply #12 on: April 25, 2008, 06:52:03 PM
I would not be averse to reading more Elizabeth Bear stories.  Just not this one.

And what am I if not obliging! 

Happy to proselytize, too, I love Bear's fiction.

Here's some to try:

"Ice" a sort of steampunk meets norse mythology story with lots of gore and worldbuilding and good writing. 

"The Devil You Don't" another one in the same world of steampunky norse myth only this time it's mixed with old west. 

"Two Dreams on Trains" a story about growing up in drowned New Orleans.  This was one I re-read when it came out in a Year's Best and got even more out of the second time around.  Love stories that give you more when you read them again.

"This Tragic Glass" a very subtly and intricately done story, which I liked a lot.  Though, if you don't love Marlowe, like I don't, fair warning that he crops up ALL THE TIME in Bear's fiction and is one of my major hurdles in her faerie stories.  But I leap it, because, you know, other interesting stuff going on in that world.  But I get sidetracked, this is SF not fantasy, and it's good and worth reading and it's a particularly nice trick of how it all comes together at the end.  Follow link today!

"Lucifugous" a mystery with zeppelins and vampires in an alternate history.  I love the New Amsterdam stories.  They may even be my favorites.

"Abjure the Realm" alternate history in less of the high adventure vein than the New Amsterdam stories, very understated and 'day in the life' but still good.  I credit Bear with showing me I don't hate alternate history after all, I just hate how it's usually done.

"Orm the Beautiful" this isn't one of my favorites because it goes a little over into sentimental land for me, and I don't care for stories with dragons in them, but some of the descriptions in this piece are so lovingly crafted and so stunning that it's worth reading.  The glitter of the writing reproduces Orm's beauty, which is a level of word by word mastery that I don't often see.

"Follow Me Light"  I don't remember much about this one, but I liked it when I read it.  I think it's about sea critters.  I remember it being layered and kind of hard to understand.

"Long Cold Day" Another of my favorites, this one features a pair of awesome villianesses and the best use of a baby blanket ever.

One of my very favorite Bear stories appears to have vanished off the intarwebs.  It was a fairy tale called "Old Leatherwings" and it was totally the bomb.  Hmmm, maybe I should go over to the Podcastle area and ask Rachel track it down.  It would be awesome on Podcastle.

"Black is the Color" featuring everyone's favorite carnivorous pony.  Not sure I would have liked this one as much if I hadn't already had the backstory, so it might not work for you.

"Sounding" The sea again, and this is one of those in which I missed what was supposed to be speculative about it.  Still, nicely written, especially on the setting details.

This is not an exhaustive list, I'm sure there's a couple of other Bear stories out there I haven't read.  There's also the Shadow Unit stuff, which I hear good things about but haven't read because I'm still not over the frame in which the universe is presented (as a fake TV show with episodes, trailers and seasons).  TV bores me, even pretend TV.  I expect I'll get over this enough to give it a go at some point, but that point has not yet arrived.

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DKT

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Reply #13 on: April 25, 2008, 08:45:43 PM
Now that I think about it, I'm actually surprised this is the first Bear piece EP's ran.  I hope we get more in the future.


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Reply #14 on: April 25, 2008, 10:30:49 PM
I'm not sure if this is Sci Fi apart from the main character being a robot. The story is about trying to make sure certain people are remembered. I'm sure this kind of story has been done before, but not as Sci Fi.

  I think too much time is spent debating about what is sci-fi. I've heard it argued that Star Wars is not sci-fi, but fantasy. ExtraLife Radio did an episode not long ago where they were arguing about whether The X-Files is science fiction or not. A lot of fiction blurs the line between different genres.
  Is "Hitchhiker's Guide" not Sci-fi because it is funny? Is it not comedy because it takes place in outer space?
  What about stories like "Metamor City" or "Shadowrun" which take heavily from both Sci-fi and fantasy? Aren't they really both?

  I do not mean this as any sort of personal attack at you, ChiliFan, it's just something that's always seemed very nitpicky to me. Tideline was a touching story of a robot and her boy, and to me that's enough to make it science fiction and a good story

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Heradel

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Reply #15 on: April 25, 2008, 10:42:22 PM
I'm not sure if this is Sci Fi apart from the main character being a robot. The story is about trying to make sure certain people are remembered. I'm sure this kind of story has been done before, but not as Sci Fi.

  I think too much time is spent debating about what is sci-fi. I've heard it argued that Star Wars is not sci-fi, but fantasy. ExtraLife Radio did an episode not long ago where they were arguing about whether The X-Files is science fiction or not. A lot of fiction blurs the line between different genres.
  Is "Hitchhiker's Guide" not Sci-fi because it is funny? Is it not comedy because it takes place in outer space?
  What about stories like "Metamor City" or "Shadowrun" which take heavily from both Sci-fi and fantasy? Aren't they really both?

  I do not mean this as any sort of personal attack at you, ChiliFan, it's just something that's always seemed very nitpicky to me. Tideline was a touching story of a robot and her boy, and to me that's enough to make it science fiction and a good story

Acting as institutional memory for a bit here (though anyone who knew me would laugh at the 'memory' bit), we've spoken about the lines between the genres here and touched on here in a discussion of Alternative History.

It's a good discussion to have, and a very hard one to come to some sort of agreement on. Speculative fiction serves as a nice umbrella, but I've always found it a little too erudite a phrase for something that comes out of pulp. Not saying the genres can't get dressed up, but forcing them to be always has felt to me it robs them of their power.

Disquisition — that is such a great image.

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Reply #16 on: April 25, 2008, 11:06:07 PM
I liked this story.  I didn't find the robot terribly realistic but I found it surprisingly touching as a character.

I will make a bead necklace to remember Chalcedony.



ChiliFan

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Reply #17 on: April 26, 2008, 01:20:56 AM
OK, I think I understand now. The robot is trying to deal with the death of all her squad in a similar way to how Lt Commander Data of Star Trek:TNG might try and deal with it. Not fully understanding, but trying to understand human customs. Therefore, I agree it's Sci Fi.

As for what is and what isn't Sci Fi, it's debatable and lots of people will have different ideas about it. Some series are classified by various information services connected with different TV channels as "Sci Fi", but often I've disagreed with their classification. The X-Files was Sci Fi because it featured aliens, but some X-Files stories had no aliens at all, so were these non Sci Fi stories just to make up a certain number of episodes per season? The latest version of Doctor Who has been described by the Producer as more drama/horror than Sci Fi, but obviously it's still largely or mainly Sci Fi.



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Reply #18 on: April 26, 2008, 02:32:02 AM
Personally the first thing that came to my mind for this story was one word:

BOLO!

AI driven battle tanks that make up the Dinochrome Brigade... damnit, now I'm going to have to go find those books again!  The robot/child relationship that the story tells is one that I've read in the compilation books and it played well there too.  If you haven't read about them and like this story, I'll recommend them.  Heck, if you like stories about sentient tanks that carry 110 cm plasma cannons as main batteries and can shoot ships out of space, I recommend them.

The memory necklace does touch the same concepts as Windtalkers, that WWII movie with Nicholas Cage.


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Reply #19 on: April 26, 2008, 02:48:53 AM

Wow. Second time I've teared up over the "death" of a machine in an Escape Pod story. (Edward Bear being the first.)

The fact it was military probably had some effect -- I've always found the death and rememberance rituals of the armed services strangely compelling.   Even as an ROTC cadet on a civilian campus, I'd sometimes go to Gold Star Hall, where the college displayed the names of the war dead, and just read them. The idea that an AI could decode our rituals and embrace them was even more fascinating, though I'm not sure why. Anyway, yeah, Tideline touched a nerve.

As for the "this is how religions get started" comment in the outro, I think Steve is right.  It's certainly a way.  Judiasim and Christianity have, at their center, deeply compelling stories -- as a sometime Biblical storyteller (telling those stories, learned by heart) I'm repeatedly amazed at just how powerful they are when we get out of the way.    I imagine the same is true for many other faiths as well.

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JoeFitz

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Reply #20 on: April 26, 2008, 03:17:02 AM
This one left me cold, utterly. The robot's care and attention for memory seemed completely misplaced, the "archives" in its memory banks too convenient and cliche. To me, the AI, seemed demented. Why kill several people for no other reason than because Belvedere (who was obviously a thief) was being attacked. I wondered whether the machine had, in fact, killed its platoon. More than anything made me want to _read_ Iron Giant (not see the movie) - or maybe Bell Jar.

On the production side, the AI's voice was nearly inaudible.




cuddlebug

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Reply #21 on: April 26, 2008, 12:48:19 PM
I really loved this story, especially the way the relationship between the robot and Belvedere was developed so gently and how “she” took on so many roles at the same time. She almost acted like a mother, teacher, friend and protector, depending on what was needed. So I have to agree with birdless, the story was pretty touching, in a metallic, rusty sort of way. (Would be interesting to look a bit closer at how exactly the robot would be capable of performing such at times almost emotional involvement with a human ….)

SO, yeah, I loved the story, but the stoy also left me slightly unsatisfied. Normally, I like stories that make me fill in the holes myself and develop the backstory in my head, but with this one it seemed like some information was missing, that I wanted to be provided rather than having to imagine everything. Like ‘how exactly did the city get destroyed’, ‘what was that war about’, ‘how do humans live in a post-war society’ and ‘what about Belvedere, what is his story’ ???. Maybe I missed that when listening, but it was frustrating to only get such a tiny insight into that world. (This is my first Elizabeth Bear story, BTW, not sure if I need to read certain other stories to get the missing links.)

Actually, I just listened to Elizabeth Bear and The Deep Blue Sea and really enjoyed that one as well but not half as much as Tideline. Would love to hear more from her on EP.
Certainly deserves the Hugo nomination.



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Reply #22 on: April 26, 2008, 01:55:17 PM
Actually, I just listened to Elizabeth Bear and The Deep Blue Sea ...


I just read that as "Edward Bear and the Deep Blue Sea"  :D

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deflective

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Reply #23 on: April 26, 2008, 04:15:16 PM
To me, the AI, seemed demented. Why kill several people for no other reason than because Belvedere (who was obviously a thief) was being attacked. I wondered whether the machine had, in fact, killed its platoon.
I just read that as "Edward Bear and the Deep Blue Sea"  :D

i wonder if there's some crossover in people's opinion between this and Edward Bear. the complaint that a battlebot's mind is cold or that a child's toy is simplistic seems to be rather the point; ai struggling with parameters to exceed their programming.

Belvedere was defined as ally when he was attacked. as a tool of war, the battlebot would react with extreme prejudice to eliminate anything that's defined as an enemy combatant. the interesting bits is when the ai has to handle unexpected circumstances.



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Reply #24 on: April 26, 2008, 06:29:28 PM
This week I will be wearing mostly.....yoghurt!

Sorry, needed to get that of my chest. Now to the story. I found it quite compelling. In way it reminded me of Adam and Eve. Only Eve is a robot and they are the progenitors not of a race, but of a myth. And they don't have sex. Ehm...on second thought, maybe not (damn you, stream-of-conciousness-writing...).

Did anyone else feel that Belvedere sure grew up fast? At the beginning of the story he's just a little boy. But by the end of the story (which I took to last just one summer), he's described as having the beginnings of a beard and the build of a soldier.

Darn, puberty is hard enough without having to go through it so fast (and with only a robot and a dog to guide you). He's gonna have some real relationship issues later on in life. I can see it now: "Honey, how ' bout tonight you wrap yourself in tin foil and speak only in a monotone voice?"

One thing I did think was missing: a backstory for the boy. I can buy leaving it vague for the robot. But wouldn't a little boy at least mention what happened to his parents, for instance? To me, this felt like a rather forced way to disconnect all the characters from what went before, just for the sake of atmosphere.

But then, I wear yoghurt (mostly), so what do I know....
« Last Edit: April 26, 2008, 06:32:26 PM by Yossarian's grandson »