Author Topic: EP332: Overclocking  (Read 11527 times)

eytanz

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on: February 18, 2012, 02:44:29 PM
EP332: Overclocking

By James L. Sutter

Read by Wilson Fowlie

First published in Apex Magazine in December, 2009

---

They’re waiting for him when he comes out of the tank.  Whether plainclothes or just another pair of clockers, he can’t quite tell, but the way they avoid looking in his direction tips him off in a heartbeat.  When Ari Marvel walks by, you _look_.

They start drifting idly in his direction, and that clinches things.  Reaching down into the lining of his pocket, Ari palms the whole batch and trails his hand over the edge of the bridge railing.  The brittle grey modsticks crumble with ease, and by the time the two have dropped their cover and made the sting he’s moved smoothly into position, hands against the brick and legs spread wide.  The pigs don’t even thank him for being so efficient.  The patdown’s rougher than necessary, but after a minute they throw their hoods back up and move off down the street.

Ari runs his hands through his faded blue-green spikes, then takes the stairs down to the tube.  A beginner might have lingered at the railing and thought about all the time and money now floating down the culvert, but Ari doesn’t look back.  Necessary expenditures.  Expected losses.

It’s just business, baby.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #1 on: February 20, 2012, 02:21:07 PM
Reprogrammed nanotech becomes drugs?
Interesting....

As a computer geek I have to say that that appeals to me very much, but the idea of "just anybody" SSHing into a company that specializes in programming little machines that run around inside your body doing stuff and managed to get FDAA approval seems pretty far fetched.
A company full of coders, and they have zero security? Nobody monitoring open ports? Ever hear of a firewall? Metadata tracking the use of files?
And this guy apparently does it over and over again!
And it's not like these drug things are not a problem. They have cops and vigilantes out patrolling for them! Clearly this is a known thing. In real life there would be so much public outcry about the fact that these nanosticks were being hacked into drugs that the company's stock would plummet, they'd foreclose and go bankrupt, but not before firing most of their upper echelons and hiring security experts.
Yes yes, I know it's science fiction and suspense of disbelief and all that.
But still, the point of science fiction is to mimic, mirror or otherwise distort current society. The author got that down pat with the drug abuse and illegal nanohacking. But the little things....
That's the difference between a good story and a great story, the details.

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Dem

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Reply #2 on: February 20, 2012, 02:37:01 PM
Those things crossed my mind too but I don't know enough for it to rankle too much, and I was rather taken by the message which wasn't delivered in 3D with a crash of cymbals to each ear. To me, this was a well crafted short story that packed in a lot of characterisation and delivered its payload. Well read, too, Mr Fowlie.

Science is what you do when the funding panel thinks you know what you're doing. Fiction is the same only without the funding.


Scattercat

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Reply #3 on: February 21, 2012, 03:44:52 AM
I liked this one for the quality of the writing.  The plot arc was a little bit obvious for my taste, but it was handled well enough that it felt justified at the end.  Honestly, my biggest complaint was the hand-waving that the *legal* mods all were temporary and the brain returned to normal, but the serotonin mods were physically addictive... because.  Y'know.  Just... because.  I'd certainly believe that there was a psychological addiction to it; for goodness sake, inhibiting serotonin uptake is how cocaine works and why crack is so wildly addictive.  You get REALLY high, REALLY fast, and it is literally (and I use that word quite purposely) too much fun.  Yes, the brain also adjusts so that you need continually larger doses of the drug to achieve the same effects, but just BEING that high can make everything else seem bland by comparison. 

Good story overall.  I just wish it hadn't hand-waved when there was a purposely usable explanation right there.  :-P



Chuk

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Reply #4 on: February 21, 2012, 05:07:09 PM
I enjoyed the setting/idea and the prose. I figured the computer intrusion part was just being handwaved away as something "not important for the story", rather than because that is actually how it would work. (Although I'm sure you could get in through a back door you knew was there -- there are all kinds of stories in the present of supposedly secure servers of companies who should know better getting hacked. Actually, I don't know why a company that made medical nanotech would even have those computers online at all...)

I am not sure about the ambiguity in this one -- is it just that despite his best intentions, Ari ended up being one of those cutters who make crappy dangerous nano? Or did the girlfriend get hold of something else that he was just selling?
And I'm not sure I liked the end -- what, he's going to jail as penance for letting his love die? Might look cool but it was kind of unsatisfactory.
(Hmm -- when I look at it out loud I have more complaints than positive comments for the story but I definitely did enjoy it. The positives were fairly large and the negatives were more just nitpicky.)

And excellent reading from Wilson.

--
chuk


Bill

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Reply #5 on: February 21, 2012, 05:07:41 PM
Side point- I don't have a comment on the actual story, still thinking about it, but I really like the new comment reader at the end. It seemed like a much more polished part of the podcast.



Wilson Fowlie

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Reply #6 on: February 21, 2012, 05:10:45 PM
So, was there an announcement I missed about Bill/Heradel leaving the Assistant Editor job?

Farewell, Bill. Thanks for all your hard work. It's not an easy - or well-appreciated - job.

And welcome Nathan. Best wishes in the position. See above. :)

Honestly, my biggest complaint was the hand-waving that the *legal* mods all were temporary and the brain returned to normal, but the serotonin mods were physically addictive... because.  Y'know.  Just... because.  I'd certainly believe that there was a psychological addiction to it ... just BEING that high can make everything else seem bland by comparison. 

That's actually what I think the author was trying to convey, though it may have been too subtle to succeed (especially in audio rather than on paper).

Like all modsticks, bliss hacks were a temporary fix ... once the program ran its course, half a million years of cell memory took over again and things went back to normal.

So, not something that creates a physical addiction, at least not at first. However,

Use often enough, and your body forgets exactly where it left your natural set point

I believe the idea is that that's the case with any modstick; it's just that no one uses the anti-cancer sticks or the athletic performance upgrades over and over and over, like they do the (psychologically addicting) bliss sticks.

It might have been worthwhile for the author to make that more explicit, if that is, indeed, what he meant.

"People commonly use the word 'procrastination' to describe what they do on the Internet. It seems to me too mild to describe what's happening as merely not-doing-work. We don't call it procrastination when someone gets drunk instead of working." - Paul Graham


Scattercat

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Reply #7 on: February 21, 2012, 05:16:38 PM
Yeah, I guess that's reasonable.  It just felt weird to me.

And I dunno what's up as far as announcements.  There hasn't been one that I've seen/heard.  I think eytanz is going to make a thread about it at some point...



zerotkatama

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Reply #8 on: February 22, 2012, 04:15:13 AM
I am not sure about the ambiguity in this one -- is it just that despite his best intentions, Ari ended up being one of those cutters who make crappy dangerous nano? Or did the girlfriend get hold of something else that he was just selling?
 

I read it as she hacked her own mods, personally, but that might be a stretch/me reading too much into it.



Devoted135

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Reply #9 on: February 22, 2012, 03:32:42 PM
I thought that Ari was a really interesting character. On the one hand, he's a cutter who is perfectly fine with creating and supplying illegal drugs, is immensely practiced at avoiding being noticed by less savory dealers, and knows exactly how to avoid getting caught by the cops. At the same time, when he breaks his own moral code, Ari ensures that he gets caught and thus is punished for that particular crime. In this case, I took it that Ari felt guilty because he couldn't save the girl from herself and her addiction, but I didn't read it to mean that he had supplied the drugs that killed her.

An excellent reading by Wilson Fowlie, as usual. :)



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Reply #10 on: February 23, 2012, 02:31:04 PM
I found the speculative idea at the root of this story very interesting.  I'm a software engineer by day, so the idea of being able to hack into the brain's wetware is a very interesting (and dangerous) one.  Especially considering that no software system of non-trivial size or complexity is bug-free.  The human brain is certainly complex and non-trivial (in equivalent code size), so there has to be bugs in there.

So the idea at the core was really awesome.  The story itself, not really spectacular.  It didn't really do much for me and it kind of ended with an ellipsis as he got arrested...



Unblinking

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Reply #11 on: February 23, 2012, 02:33:36 PM
Oh yeah, and Hey, good to see hear Scattercat on the episode, and as Associate Editor.  I've been really impressed with how he's whipped the Drabblecast slush into shape, and I've already seen a big improvement in Escape Pod responses as well.  Good work!



Anarquistador

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Reply #12 on: February 23, 2012, 03:35:37 PM
This story didn't really grab my attention. I liked the underlying premise - being able to hack your own brain is an awesome concept - but having it framed as a drug addiction metaphor just didn't work for me. It kind of shunted the sci-fi element away in favor of a story we've seen done a hundred times before. I found myself waiting for the twist, and it never came.

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Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #13 on: February 23, 2012, 09:04:17 PM
Oh yeah, and Hey, good to see hear Scattercat on the episode, and as Associate Editor.  I've been really impressed with how he's whipped the Drabblecast slush into shape, and I've already seen a big improvement in Escape Pod responses as well.  Good work!
Oh, is that who it is? I was wondering... He just said "This is Nathan". I know several Nathans, but surely none of them are this Nathan.
It would have helped if he'd said: "Greetings and salutations, Escapists. This is Nathan speaking to you for first time in my new capacity as Escape Pod's Assistant Editor. Many of you know me from the forums as Scattercat, and I'm here to bring you feedback from episode 326, The Flash Fiction Special...."

Also, Scattercat, in the EscapeArtists universe, Max e^{i pi} is pronounced "Max", rhymes with flax.  ;)

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Scattercat

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Reply #14 on: February 24, 2012, 02:58:15 AM
Eh, I figured it wasn't really about me, per se.  I tried to keep it low-key.  (Also, I thought that someone else would be explaining things before that went live; I didn't record that intending it to BE the announcement of my new status, else I'd have been a little clearer.)

I like saying "Max ee to the eye pie," personally.  I record those several weeks in advance, though, so you're gonna have to wait awhile to see any changes in pronunciation.  :-P



Unblinking

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Reply #15 on: February 24, 2012, 02:56:40 PM
Eh, I figured it wasn't really about me, per se.  I tried to keep it low-key.  (Also, I thought that someone else would be explaining things before that went live; I didn't record that intending it to BE the announcement of my new status, else I'd have been a little clearer.)

I like saying "Max ee to the eye pie," personally.  I record those several weeks in advance, though, so you're gonna have to wait awhile to see any changes in pronunciation.  :-P

I thought it was fine to keep it low key.  Scattercat's secret identity isn't terribly secret, and I knew that he'd taken the role of Assistant Editor, so I figured I wouldn't be outing anything by mentioning him by forumname here.  :)

I also like to say "Max ee to the eye pie", it has a fun ring to it, a geeky flavor, and it is more specific than just saying "Max".  :)



Gamercow

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Reply #16 on: February 24, 2012, 03:42:28 PM
I liked this one, overall, but I don't think it will leave a lasting impression on me.  The story was nothing that new, but it was put together in a way that made it interesting, and the characters were good enough that they were more than just vehicles for a message. 

And of course, excellent reading by Wilson Fowlie. And good feedback review from Potato...Scattercat.

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InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #17 on: February 24, 2012, 06:06:38 PM
I find myself growing bored with stories that, seeking to add gritty realism, dive straight into drug/junkie territory (for one thing, it tends to devolve into the kind of pathos this story does)

That said, I thought the author's description of how this "drug" works to be plausible and comprehensible.



Fenrix

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Reply #18 on: February 25, 2012, 05:39:52 AM
Didn't care much for the story. Norm's bookends were awesomely hilarious, and made the whole thing worthwhile. Please excuse me, as I'm off to wallow in my tub of nutella.

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Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #19 on: February 25, 2012, 06:40:29 PM
I like saying "Max ee to the eye pie," personally.  I record those several weeks in advance, though, so you're gonna have to wait awhile to see any changes in pronunciation.  :-P
I also like to say "Max ee to the eye pie", it has a fun ring to it, a geeky flavor, and it is more specific than just saying "Max".  :)
I agree with both sentiments, but sadly "Max ee to the eye pie" does not exactly roll of the tongue. However, if you are the one doing the saying and it brings you joy to say it like that, who am I to get between a man and his geeky pleasures?

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childoftyranny

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Reply #20 on: February 29, 2012, 06:39:59 PM
An interesting element to this story, for me, was how little we perceive drugs and their surrounding culture to change. The limiting factor for these nano-drugs was the machines that could write code to them, and a need to keep upgrading as the drug companies would change them. I wonder if that is caused by constant changes in the actual bots or if its attempt at security. As its terribly obvious that anyone with a machine can write to these things, if not do it well.

Because he just would buy random sticks and then change the coding we must assume that each stick contains the same bots, so they've perfected or something close to the method of accessing the underlying genetics which makes me wonder why the dealer is still buying them. If hes buying enough of them to supply a large population to support him then I'd think the purchases would be notable, if on the other hand the junkies bought sticks and he'd set up a mobile writing station that would seem far less traceable and could quite possibly keep him from actually having anything illegal on his person...but perhaps I'm just thinking too deep in how code-drug trafficking might work..

Oh yes, and wonderful reading, the perfect cadence for the laid back attitude of Ari.



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Reply #21 on: March 02, 2012, 04:34:33 PM
Really good story, loved the characterisation. Interesting concept and nice ending. The science and probably of any of it happening, zero. I wonder how the people did the drugs, is like matrix style port in the back of the head or is there a USB port on their body so where, perhaps it's eaten. The ending surprised me, in a good way, getting caught after spending the whole story saying how skilled the protagonist was, interesting. Maybe the author was trying to suggest nothing stays in perfect for every, hence the death of his "girlfriend". Metaphor for oil consumption? Doubt it. Ignoring the all the interpretations of the story's moral, fantastic language, believable characters.



SF.Fangirl

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Reply #22 on: March 02, 2012, 07:33:54 PM
I am not sure about the ambiguity in this one -- is it just that despite his best intentions, Ari ended up being one of those cutters who make crappy dangerous nano? Or did the girlfriend get hold of something else that he was just selling?
 

I read it as she hacked her own mods, personally, but that might be a stretch/me reading too much into it.

That's how I read it too.  He hid/took his mods with him, but she used his equipment to create her own which were deadly because se didn't know what she was doing.



SF.Fangirl

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Reply #23 on: March 02, 2012, 07:41:46 PM
This was pretty good until the ending.  I can only assume he choose to be arrested as some sort of pennance, but it came from out of the blue.  The guy was supposed to be a  drug cooker.  No matter how he may try to pretty it up that with doing it for the beauty of the code, he didn't give a damn about other junkies so why is he overcome with enough remorse to purposefully get arrested when it wasn't even his own product that killed her.  Didn't make sense and that kind of ruined it for me.



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Reply #24 on: March 06, 2012, 04:32:17 PM
I really enjoyed this one, loved the lead character. Interesting way of exploring drug dealing and how it affects peoples lives. I was disappointed by the other characters, and the ending, but this is only because I tend to compare things with the cream of what I read. Another great story