Drabblecast 150 - Morris and the Machine

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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by ROU Killing Time » Fri Feb 12, 2010 7:19 pm

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After the story of Morris, I'm a bit wary, however.

Thanks for the heads-up, Mr. Pratt.
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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by Mr. Tweedy » Fri Feb 12, 2010 7:22 pm

The story was brilliantly written and produced, and the concept is gold, but, man, the protagonist is perhaps the most selfish and self-absorbed bastard ever to appear on a Drabblecast. I hate him as much as I have ever hated any character in fiction. He creates poverty and pain for his supposed love (and perhaps more than one version of her) so that he can indulge his own ego.

His wife is dying inside, and it's all his fault. He has detached himself emotionally from her, consumed all the resources of support for her, is continually lying to her, and he's doing this so that he can cheat on her with a woman who his powers allow him to gain an unfair advantage over.

What he does with the younger Pennies–telling them stories of a happy future that may or may not end up being true while withholding from them the truth about his own relationship with his own Penny–is awfully damn close to rape. He is deceiving them. They would not sleep with him if they knew the details the reader knows, if they knew about the sad and shrunken Penny waiting at the kitchen table for the narrator to return; they would be appalled. They would spit in his face, and rightly so.

It is pure self-serving delusion on the narrator's part to think he is doing any good for anyone by his little trips anyway. All he has done for the Pennies and their Morrises is saddle their relationship with unreasonable expectations. He's set the Pennies up to expect that their husband will all have brilliant careers, and that their Morrises will love them intensely. But he has no idea if that will actually happen: He has never seen the timelines where Penny gets rich off stock. He is making promises to her that have no basis, and she will surely be crushed if his predictions do not come true. And what does he suppose the other Morrises will do with themselves after their sugar momma Pennies set them up? If the narrator is any guide, they'd be selfish bastards with a creepy taste for much younger women. How many of them will invent their own time machines just so they can go back and sweet talk 17-year-old Pennies into sleeping with them?

For that matter, how does the narrator know he isn't getting Penny pregnant every time he goes back and thus spoiling her future marriage to her own Morris? The fact is, he has NO IDEA what impact his actions in the past will have. NONE. And a man as smart as him would know that if he thought about it honestly for 60 seconds.

The narrator is pathetic, sick, despicable, and all the worse because he has deluded himself into thinking that his actions are noble.

That said, I think this story is a really interesting take on the idea of the supervillain. I love those stories that take superhero tropes and tone them down to the level where they seem plausible, where the characters have subtle powers and motives you can really relate too. I love the new Batman movies for their restraint and seriousness, and I love movies like "Unbreakable" and "Frailty" for their characters who are just barely superpowered. Morris is a supervillain for contemporary suburbia: He has a superpower, and he uses it for evil, but his motivation is small and petty (not a raging megalomania), and his actions are subtle enough that his face would never show up in a news report because of them.

If supervillains were real, they'd be like Morris. As a study of evil, this story is really great. But, simply because it is a study of evil, I can't say I enjoyed it much.
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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by ROU Killing Time » Fri Feb 12, 2010 7:38 pm

Pathetic? Certainly.

Evil though? I don't see it that way. Can't see the approach to rape, anymore than you could call it rape to represent yourself in a bar as an investment banker when you really work in the mail room. For me, rape really does require a) lack of consent, or b) statutory considerations. Option b might be a factor however, depending on the age of consent laws, i don't recall if her age was specifically referenced, but she was still living with her parents. The age 17 does seem to ring a bell.

Certainly a pregnancy could have resulted, however paternity tests would have shown his younger self to be the father, and it was made clear that they were already sexually active at that point in the relationship.

I'm also not sure that you can place the blame for where the relationship ended up entirely on the protagonist. It's easy to side with one side or the other, but personal experience has shown that when a relationship fails it is often not the fault of one or the other, but a failure of both people to strive to remain close and grow closer.

Did she become distant and cold because he lost himself in his work, or did he lose himself in his work because she had become distant and cold?

I have no answer for that, and I don't think the story does either.

For a real study of evil I think you just need to go back to the previous episode of drabblecast. For me, this story was a study in human failings, and love left untended, by both parties.
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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by tbaker2500 » Fri Feb 12, 2010 7:46 pm

Tweedy and I are pretty close on this one. While I don't think he made any conscious choice to be evil, he certainly is a self-centered bastard. Morris, not Mr. Tweedy.
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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by swamp » Fri Feb 12, 2010 7:56 pm

ROU Killing Time wrote:Can't see the approach to rape, anymore than you could call it rape to represent yourself in a bar as an investment banker when you really work in the mail room. For me, rape really does require a) lack of consent, or b) statutory considerations. Option b might be a factor however, depending on the age of consent laws, i don't recall if her age was specifically referenced, but she was still living with her parents. The age 17 does seem to ring a bell.
Rape is a popular topic this week. The latest Escape Pod story, Roadside Rescue, has it up for debate also.

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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by Talia » Fri Feb 12, 2010 8:03 pm

First of all, *screams and rips out hair* the forums keep making me log back in and it just deleted my whole typed up response.
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Mr. Tweedy wrote:
What he does with the younger Pennies–telling them stories of a happy future that may or may not end up being true while withholding from them the truth about his own relationship with his own Penny–is awfully damn close to rape. ..
No offense, but no. Not even remotely. If lying by omission = “damn close to rape” there’s a hell of a lot of quasi-rapists out there.

Regarding Penny, he didn’t magically make her an alcoholic nor make her smoke. These are choices she made. He didn’t ruin things all by his lonesome.

I guess I just got a completely different vibe from the story.Nothing about the story struck me as “evil” at all. Just tragic and hopeless. I felt bad for him.

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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by strawman » Fri Feb 12, 2010 8:03 pm

O Mr. Tweedy! This is so well stated. But Morris is not a supervillain. He is a pretty banal human being. And the case you have built is the very case that has been made by The Adversary against banal human beings everywhere. For this reason, we need to rediscover the virtue of compunction.

The same blind selfishness that takes over Morris' choices works in every human heart to shape their choices and produce universal misery, no? And so the story is growing on me as I realize that as much as you are right that Morris is mortally evil, the story is transcendent, because Morris is Mankind.

ROU, I think you're representing the legalistic defense side here: Depends on what one's definition of is is. Morris' evil is that he doesn't consider moral aspects. Why would he assume that Penny's problem was all about money? Penny was right: Morris was actually seeing another woman.

And this raises another interesting issue for me, as I am, as my wife would say, 'inordinately nostalgic' for the romance phase of our youthful relationship. With the benefit of compunction, I am able to recognize that this nostalgia is very similar to Morris' infidelity.

Such thoughts are of greater value than whether or not they are enjoyable. Way to go, Tim.
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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by Mr. Tweedy » Fri Feb 12, 2010 8:07 pm

It isn't technically rape, but it's damn close. The difference in power is simply so great. The narrator and the Pennies are not in any way equal. The narrator has gotten to practice his act thousands of times, to learn exactly what to do to get in her pants. He has it down to such a science that he has it broken up into stages with odds of success calculated for each. He's cold and clinical, methodic. He does not force himself on her physically, but his superior knowledge is so great that he doesn't need to: He's already worked out a solution to get around each of her defenses. If a con man is able to convince you to cough up your savings through clever words, has he stolen? Not technically. What the protagonist does to the Pennies is to rape as fraud is to robbery.

If the protagonist had actually lost himself in his work, that would a completely different matter. But he admits that he hasn't made any progress on the machine in years, and also that the machine could make him rich in its current state. The machine has eaten up all the family's resources and produced nothing, yet he spend all his effort working on it instead of doing work that would make money, work of which we know he is quite capable. He chooses to make Penny poor for the sake of the machine. And what does the machine do for him? Moreover, is he succeeds in perfecting it so that he can get into his own past, what will that do for him? Layers.

And why won't he let Penny see it? His statement about keeping the basement locked for Penny's protection is pathetically lame. Protect her from what, exactly? Is the machine dangerous? We have no indication that it is. The door is locked to protect him, because he knows that what he is doing is shameful, and he wants to conceal it.

Strawman: A supervillain is marked by his superpowers. The narrator is a supervillain because he uses a superhuman ability to carry out his acts, not because his acts are unique. (I guess it's a not a settled matter as to what makes a hero or villain "super." Must one have powers or is charisma alone sufficient? Whether or not a villain has charisma, though, I think anyone who uses a unique personal ability for good or evil can be fairly given the "super" title.)
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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by Talia » Fri Feb 12, 2010 8:20 pm

So he's lying to himself as much as he is to her. He yearns for the past because his present has become so miserable that he can't deal with it. He knows he can be very briefly happy and back with the one he loves for a very short time and is to desperate, too needy for those moments of happiness to jerk himself back to his own miserable reality on a permanent basis.

He's not "choosing" to make Penny poor, he's so miserable he's blinded to what his behavior is doing.

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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by Mr. Tweedy » Fri Feb 12, 2010 8:28 pm

Is that really a relevant distinction?
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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by tbaker2500 » Fri Feb 12, 2010 8:32 pm

Mr. Tweedy wrote:And why won't he let Penny see it? His statement about keeping the basement locked for Penny's protection is pathetically lame. Protect her from what, exactly? Is the machine dangerous? We have no indication that it is. The door is locked to protect him, because he knows that what he is doing is shameful, and he wants to conceal it.
In fact, it is clearly stated that he put in enough dummy switches that it wouldn't work for anybody else.

Every time he chose to go back to 17-yr old Penny, he was choosing to NOT fix today. Every effort spent on fixing the unfixable past should have been spent fixing the present.

I'm afraid I don't see this story as romantic nostalgia, but as willfully harming his real wife.

Side note: If this was on TV, they both would have gone back and had a threesome. Ratings, baby!
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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by Talia » Fri Feb 12, 2010 8:40 pm

Mr. Tweedy wrote:Is that really a relevant distinction?
Absolutely. Because it suggests the things he's doing wrong are because of some degree of mental illness and/or psychological problems, not because he's just a big fat jerk. It makes him a more sympathetic character to me, personally.

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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by ROU Killing Time » Fri Feb 12, 2010 8:50 pm

tbaker2500 wrote: I'm afraid I don't see this story as romantic nostalgia, but as willfully harming his real wife.

Side note: If this was on TV, they both would have gone back and had a threesome. Ratings, baby!
haha on the side note.

I don't think that the romantic nostalgia is absent, but I don't disagree that he is willfully harming his real wife. I just can't place the blame entirely on Morris. She has also willfully been harming him and seems to have left him for cigarettes, booze, and emasculating and degrading him, stubbing her cigarettes out in an award he won for being the inventor that she had fallen in love with in her youth.

Maybe it's my own personal experience that leads me to feel this story is a tragedy of two lovers who fell apart from one another through a combination of each of their foibles and a loss of sight of what they once saw in one another. I hope you never have the chance to gain that perspective yourself. Keep the fires burning and the home hearth warmed. Still, until you have walked a mile in his moccasins, don't be too quick to leap to judgment.

As far as him being guilty of infidelity. The story seems to conclude with the idea that Morris would not be able to make a defense against that accusation himself.
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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by strawman » Fri Feb 12, 2010 8:58 pm

Wow, 33 posts in 18 hours is a story forum record. Is EVERYONE weatherbound?
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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by ROU Killing Time » Fri Feb 12, 2010 9:00 pm

strawman wrote:Wow, 33 posts in 18 hours is a story forum record. Is EVERYONE weatherbound?
You beat me to the punch on noticing that, Strawman. I personally think it's more a testament that Mr.Pratt has written a very thought-provoking story here, however you perceive it.

And no, I'm in Massachusetts where the weathermen are currently wiping egg off their faces for not delivering the blizzard that they had promised, with no small amount of glee and anticipation.
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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by strawman » Fri Feb 12, 2010 9:20 pm

"You can say that again", Strawman noted, with anticipation, to the NFH.
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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by dreamrock » Fri Feb 12, 2010 9:39 pm

strawman wrote:Wow, 33 posts in 18 hours is a story forum record. Is EVERYONE weatherbound?
Nah, not in my case. At least not yet. Dun DUN Duuuuuuun.

I usually save my weekly Christmas for the daylight hours where I need it the most, but I was trying to get that list of links up in the People's Choice thread when the new episode came in and I was too tempted by the title and had to listen to it. Mostly because the title made it sound like it was about some dude and a robot. :lol:

Even though I liked the story, I largely agree with Mr. Tweedy ... in a way that will require clarification later on tonight assuming I don't get distracted by trying to finish my VD2009 project before VD2010 strikes.
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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by tbaker2500 » Fri Feb 12, 2010 9:46 pm

ROU Killing Time wrote:I don't think that the romantic nostalgia is absent, but I don't disagree that he is willfully harming his real wife. I just can't place the blame entirely on Morris. She has also willfully been harming him and seems to have left him for cigarettes, booze, and emasculating and degrading him, stubbing her cigarettes out in an award he won for being the inventor that she had fallen in love with in her youth.

Maybe it's my own personal experience that leads me to feel this story is a tragedy of two lovers who fell apart from one another through a combination of each of their foibles and a loss of sight of what they once saw in one another. I hope you never have the chance to gain that perspective yourself. Keep the fires burning and the home hearth warmed. Still, until you have walked a mile in his moccasins, don't be too quick to leap to judgment.
I appreciate that, and I'm sorry you have walked a mile in those moccasins. And I appreciate your point about it rarely being the fault of a single party.

I feel the point that Tweedy was making, or at least how I interpreted it, is this was a story where Morris is the focus. He has the power to, at any time, tell her he is working on a time machine. He has the power to take fairly simple and direct steps in this story to alleviate pressures, to take steps start fixing the present. If the present can't be fixed, at least he tried. But the story didn't even address these options. It forced the conclusion of love lost, which can never be found again. I don't associate sweet sadness with such an ending, just sadness.
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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by ROU Killing Time » Fri Feb 12, 2010 9:55 pm

I'd call it bittersweet of a very bitter quality. Also agree he is being a self-centered bastard and to the same degree she's a selfish emasculating bitch.

The tragedy here is the way he keeps revisiting the magical early romance, rather than, as you pointed out, deciding to fix the present.

When I called the story beautiful, it was in reference to how masterfully the author presented this tragedy which leads to the final confrontation between them.

We'll never know if this final scene leads to divorce or rapprochement for the two failed lovers. We only know the story that leads up to it.

It wasn't just the door to the basement that was locked. Both of them had locked the doors of their hearts to one another somewhere along the way.

Perhaps the two of them found a way back, after she finally mentioned the gorilla in the room at the end.
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Re: Drabblecast 150- Morris and the Machine by Tim Pratt

Post by strawman » Fri Feb 12, 2010 10:10 pm

Congratulations are in any case due to Tim Pratt on his 5th Drabblecast feature, making him the most prolific of the DC authors. Either he's Norm's favorite or he gives kickbacks. But of the five (Fallen/Muse; Annabelle's Alphabet; Bone Sigh; Cassie; Morris, this has garnered 40 comments in the first 24 hours. Annabelle got 41 TOTAL.The record is 56. No matter how you measure, this story is a record for provocative.

Now what we need is for Tim to come on and tell us why we're all wrong.
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