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Author Topic: EP419: Expediter  (Read 14148 times)

Unblinking

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Reply #25 on: November 05, 2013, 06:12:15 PM

I thought the story about steel salvaging was particularly entertaining, salvaging farm implements for the primary purpose of building farm implements.  


You do know that actually happened during Mao's Great Leap Forward, right?

I did not!

…and it happens in the US every day right now.

http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2013/10/15/rose-parade-float-vandalized-in-copper-wiring-theft/

That's not really the same thing.  The reason that I found the steel salvage in the story amusing is that it's a major facepalm moment when you realize you're melting down your own items to make those same items for yourself again--the illusion of productive activity masks the reality of completely pointless and even counterproductive work. 

Copper thieves, on the other hand, I get their motivation even if I don't like them.  Before the transaction they did not have that copper, now they have that copper, which can be exchange for monies.  They understand exactly what they're doing and they have a clear motivation for doing it.



Cutter McKay

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Reply #26 on: November 05, 2013, 07:10:30 PM
I liked this story. Is it outdated? Yes. But does that make it any less interesting of a story? Not in my book. I think sometimes people get too caught up in finding "meaning" in a story, looking for allusion, allegory, whatever, to just sit back and enjoy and interesting and entertaining story. So what if Communism is long past debunked? Doesn't mean you can't use it as a backdrop for a story. It doesn't have to have any great Earth-shaking meaning behind it to make it "good". It entertained me, so I'm happy.

And to those who cry "Foul! Not sci-fi!" here, (and yes, I've been known to cry "foul" myself on more than one story, the latest EP episode being no exception) but this story was Mack Reynolds' exploration of the future. How can you get any more sci-fi than that? Sure, the story doesn't focus on any science other than a few gizmos dropped in for flavor, unless you count Political Science, so it's not a "hard" SF story, but speculating about the future is ABSOLUTELY science fiction down to its core. Look at Octavia Butler's Kindred. The only science fiction in that story is a completely unexplained occurrence that continually transports Dana through time. Is it Hard SF? Not even close. And yet it's one of the best science fiction novels of all time. As others have said, sci-fi, and speculative fiction, have pretty broad definitions. The sub-genres of spec-fic overlap all over the place. As long as the story is entertaining, just enjoy it for what it is and stop trying to pigeon-hole it into some predetermined definition.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go write another ranting post about why EP420: The Shunned Trailer isn't sci-fi and should have run on PseudoPod instead  :P

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matweller

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Reply #27 on: November 05, 2013, 08:32:05 PM
That's not really the same thing.
Well, it's the Capitalist version of the same thing happening to the Communists: products being recycled to make the same products, wasting a ton of energy in the process. The only difference is the reason, the folks in the story do it to appease the overlords; here we do it in the hopes of getting closer to the overlords. In that respect, it's a beautiful expression of the futile absurdity of both systems.



matweller

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Reply #28 on: November 05, 2013, 08:34:28 PM
...speculating about the future is ABSOLUTELY science fiction down to its core...
So Fantasy is just sci-fi ahead of it's time? :P



Cutter McKay

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Reply #29 on: November 05, 2013, 09:06:12 PM
...speculating about the future is ABSOLUTELY science fiction down to its core...
So Fantasy is just sci-fi ahead of it's time? :P
Everyone knows Sci-Fi is Future, Fantasy is Past.  ;D
The only reason Star Wars gets away with the whole "Long time ago..." crap is because it's both  ;)

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Unblinking

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Reply #30 on: November 05, 2013, 10:10:18 PM
That's not really the same thing.
Well, it's the Capitalist version of the same thing happening to the Communists: products being recycled to make the same products, wasting a ton of energy in the process. The only difference is the reason, the folks in the story do it to appease the overlords; here we do it in the hopes of getting closer to the overlords. In that respect, it's a beautiful expression of the futile absurdity of both systems.

I'd still say that it's not the same thing.  From the point of view of the copper thieves their actions a VERY productive activity--in exchange for small effort and moderate risk, they stand to profit greatly.  That's the reason thievery happens--it's a redistribution of wealth to those who are willing to take the risk and who aren't bothered by the morals of thieving.  

The steel salvage example, on the other hand, is literally robbing from your own resources and proclaiming it as a gain.  I don't think that's really specific to Communism, though the explicit blocking of communications is going to be required in states that use propoganda heavily.

But I don't think industrial manufacturing works well with tracking the value of a modern government, so might not be the best example.  The best modern example I can think of is playing games with money-shuffling ala Enron, reporting that you are making more money than you really are by moving it around.  In that case it could be very profitable for some people for a limited period of time, since outside investors were pumping money into the company, so even that's not a good example--it's a case of getting loads of cash from outside people by pretending you are making lots of money with investments.
« Last Edit: November 05, 2013, 10:14:13 PM by Unblinking »



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #31 on: November 06, 2013, 01:50:04 AM

I thought the story about steel salvaging was particularly entertaining, salvaging farm implements for the primary purpose of building farm implements.  


You do know that actually happened during Mao's Great Leap Forward, right?

I did not!

…and it happens in the US every day right now.

http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2013/10/15/rose-parade-float-vandalized-in-copper-wiring-theft/

Eh, sorry, Mat, I'm with Unblinking on this one. Not the same.

The key difference is that people stealing copper wire are turning a profit. Illegal, but they're getting paid.

In the Great Leap Forward, people starved (LOTS of people) because they'd ruined their farm implements and spent so much time tending their backyard furnaces that they didn't actually farm.



matweller

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Reply #32 on: November 06, 2013, 04:18:14 AM
I see your point, and I agree. I guess I was thinking in terms of the story, and in terms of the failure of the system, not in the individual parts.

The story used the incident to illustrate the futility of the lame & corrupt system: the workers pull apart useful things so that they can recycle them into the same things to make their bosses happy to claim they are being more productive. The workers profit because the bosses don't get more tyrannical, the bosses profit because their bosses favor them, the top level bosses brag to the world that they are the most productive on earth, but in the end all that really happens is that the system wastes a lot of energy to not accomplish anything.

Similarly, the thieves profit, the companies that buy and sell the copper profit, but in the end the system is a failure because of all the lost money and productivity just to break even.

There are thieves in both cases and in both cases the system loses because of people acting in their own self interests.



Jen

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Reply #33 on: November 06, 2013, 09:57:37 AM
I finished the story today on the way to work. I keep thinking about it and I think the main reason I didn't like it is that I was expecting more SF. In another context I might have focused more on the author's skill of getting Communism right despite (I think) not having lived through it, or I would have bitterly laughed about the eyebrow pencil shortages. In this context though... it didn't work for me.



chemistryguy

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Reply #34 on: November 06, 2013, 05:33:26 PM
In Soviet Russia, Government expedite YOU!


matweller

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Reply #35 on: November 06, 2013, 06:15:57 PM
In Soviet Russia, Government expedite YOU!



Prophet

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Reply #36 on: November 07, 2013, 12:55:36 AM
I really liked this story. I wasn't sure at first. It took quite a bit of time to get some traction for me. But once it got moving, I had a lot of fun. Reminded me of my college days, studying Soviet history. So many scenes in this story played out as I daydreamed them. Thank you Escape Pod for the 1-hour time travel. :)


I thought the story about steel salvaging was particularly entertaining, salvaging farm implements for the primary purpose of building farm implements. 


You do know that actually happened during Mao's Great Leap Forward, right?

Ah okay. That may partly explain why that was my favorite scene. The actions described were so close to actual historical events. Man, this story could so easily have worked as an Alternate History piece.

"I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates who said, 'I drank what?'"
- Chris Knight, Real Genius


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Reply #37 on: November 12, 2013, 04:13:53 AM
I totally enjoyed this wonderful retro piece, despite its idealism that engineers can fix everything, and wouldn't get mired in politics.  Thank you for running this one.

Hmm


El Barto

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Reply #38 on: November 15, 2013, 01:01:23 PM
I did not enjoy this one at all, other than the great narration.  It's wasn't science fiction at all in my book, and I don't buy the arguments that any most any book that explores the future is science fiction. 

Books that explore the future generally are just fiction novels, and they can be great, but they aren't science fiction and I wish that Escape Pod could find at least one great science fiction story for each podcast because that is why I listen.  There are plenty of other ways to read and listen to great short stories generally but precious few dedicated to SF.



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Reply #39 on: November 15, 2013, 02:58:21 PM
This one has grown on me after a second listen. What I liked about the story was the play with the idea that big changes arise from small changes and that something as silly and trivial as eyebrow pencils is connected, in aggregate, to forces of power that keep governments in power or topple them from power. In this context, the role of an expediter is powerful for one with foresight to see the snowballing effects of one's minuscule changes. Pursuant to a topic I raised yesterday http://forum.escapeartists.net/index.php?topic=7686.0, I thought this piece was a really excellent story about the science of socio-economic systems and the ways that resolving variance in the system results in a homeostatic state that may resemble what it was before or not. Conceptually, this was very interesting although some of the plot conventions were a little predictable.



Devoted135

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Reply #40 on: November 19, 2013, 05:59:24 AM
I liked this one, helped along quite a bit by the fantastic narration. And now that I know it is so old, I think I like it even more! Was its age mentioned in the intro? If so, I missed it.

I too was fully expecting the expediter to take the escape hatch sooner or later. Honestly, I was pretty surprised that it took him as long as it did! I happened to know about the backyard steel mills in communist China, and that added greatly to the texture. Great story!


Reading a story that provides a glimpse into the social/political/economic issues that people considered Very Important fifty years ago makes me wonder how our contemporary stories will read fifty years from now.

If, for example, we manage to pull ourselves back from the brink of environmental disaster through some combination of scientific advancements and political will, then all of the contemporary stories of today set in a dystopian ecological wasteland will seem strangely quaint and outdated.

May it be so!



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Reply #41 on: November 20, 2013, 07:47:17 PM
A story satirizing the eastern block advocating a worker revolution to establish corporicracy (industry run by "industrialists" with minor consumer input is decidedly not any kind of free market), how deliciously ironic. Somehow I'm not surprised that the protagonist blaming the closure of factories during downturns was missed in favor of people arguing that the motivations of window breakers somehow negates the broken window fallacy.



DerangedMind

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Reply #42 on: December 02, 2013, 07:10:42 PM
I enjoyed this story - but then, I'm someone who loves a good Golden Age story.  The narration, as so many people have said, was fantastic.

I would have loved if there had been more examples of Josef's expediting in the story.  Watching a mild mannered 'average' person dealing with the different personality types could have been interesting and humorous.



benjaminjb

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Reply #43 on: December 05, 2013, 05:44:31 PM
A fun reading, but a story that seemed by turns dated and trenchant. I have to point out that Mack Reynolds was born in 1917, so he would have hit puberty and the Great Depression around the same time, so it's no wonder that he's interested in socio-economics.

Also, though we tend to think of the 1930s as the decade of tension between fascism (either German "leader first" or Soviet "people's fascism") and democracy, there was also a movement in America for technocracy: the replacement of politicians by engineers. If you want to read more, the key historical figure here is probably Howard Scott, who was chief engineer of Technocracy, Inc.

Which doesn't tell us whether or not technocracy is a good idea or how you feel about it, which probably owes a lot to whether you played Mage: The Ascension.



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Reply #44 on: December 06, 2013, 01:52:21 AM
Actually, even if you tried to play Mage: The Ascension, it was hard to escape the nagging sensation that the Technocracy was only "evil" because of their cartoonishly villainous plots and methods.  Philosophically, the mages were all whiny entitled brats complaining that their "right" to hurl fireballs at their enemies and rule over the non-magical peons was being curtailed by all this democratic science crap.  :-/



benjaminjb

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Reply #45 on: December 06, 2013, 02:59:46 AM
Actually, even if you tried to play Mage: The Ascension, it was hard to escape the nagging sensation that the Technocracy was only "evil" because of their cartoonishly villainous plots and methods.  Philosophically, the mages were all whiny entitled brats complaining that their "right" to hurl fireballs at their enemies and rule over the non-magical peons was being curtailed by all this democratic science crap.  :-/
True--when you have a void to engineer, you're not going to call the Cult of Ecstasy.

But I think my favorite part of your comment is "tried to play." Ouch.



Scattercat

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Reply #46 on: December 07, 2013, 01:08:09 AM
I said it and I meant it.  :-P

And I've played and run games of Nobilis 2nd Edition.



olivaw

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Reply #47 on: December 13, 2013, 03:04:15 AM
I didn't really get this one.
How was Josef's averageness important to the story? How did it make him a good candidate for Numbers 1 & 2 and their plans?
Was it his averageness which led to the particular choices that he made? Is that averageness meant to somehow magically reflect the consensus of the population, either represented as market forces or as a voting mass?

(I wondered at first whether it was a kind of parody or rebuttal to Asimov's Franchise, wherein a single average man is used by the computer Multivac as a statistical seed for predicting the voting choices of the entire US.)

Also, in what way was this guy not a politician? He was making political decisions, based not on his own technical expertise but that of his advisers, wielding massive power invested in him by the dictatorship.


Oh, and both Mage and Nobilis are great fun.



matweller

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Reply #48 on: December 13, 2013, 03:30:24 AM
I, too, appreciated the idea of being "notably average." It's like being a "nothing celebrity."



Unblinking

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Reply #49 on: December 13, 2013, 03:38:01 PM
How was Josef's averageness important to the story? How did it make him a good candidate for Numbers 1 & 2 and their plans?
Was it his averageness which led to the particular choices that he made? Is that averageness meant to somehow magically reflect the consensus of the population, either represented as market forces or as a voting mass?

I found that kind of confusing too.  I waved it off in my head by justifying that the guys choosing Josef are not exactly portrayed as intelligent people.

More confusing than your questions was:  Why did they choose the son of a former  famous revolutionary?  Unless most people are sons of famous revolutionaries, that should be enough to make him an obvious bad choice for a representative 1 person sample they seemed to be aiming for.