Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

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StalinSays
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Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by StalinSays » Thu Jul 28, 2011 9:41 pm

Feature: Ancient Engines by Michael Swanwick
Drabble: Impulse Buy by Evan Qui

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Thursday, July 28, 2011
"Planning to live forever, Tiktok?"
The words cut through the bar's chatter and gab and silenced them. The silence reached out to touch infinity and then, "I believe you're talking to me?" a mech said...

Michael Swanwick
Evan Qui
Mike Boris
Eroica Trio, Gringo Motel, 19 Action News
Art by Matt Wasiela
Instagram: @Bokaier | Twitter: @BoKaier | Vine: @BoKaier | Tumblr: bokaier.tumblr.com

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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by Unblinking » Fri Jul 29, 2011 2:52 pm

I tend to like stories that explore the boundary between what is human and what is not. Great to have Swanwick on the cast (yay!) but this one didn't really seem to cover any new ground. I guess it was supposed to be a big reveal when she's eating napkins at the end? I'd assumed she was the android she was speaking of throughout the whole thing already, was I the only one? And why is napkin-eating a reveal anyway, just because she is odd--napkin eating isn't something I associate with robotics, advanced or otherwise.

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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by Nobilis » Sun Jul 31, 2011 10:51 pm

I'd like to ask a few questions.

One, what would you say is the strongest part of the plot in this story?

Two, which character changed more, and why?

Three, can we please not have any more conversations about theoretical futures sold to paying markets as "stories"? Especially ones set in bars?

Questions one and two are rhetorical. There is no plot, except for the hideously telegraphed "twist" that the girl at the table was intended to be the living-forever person. The only character who changes is the mech guy who, without any real effort or emotion, comes to terms with his mortality. Maybe he was programmed that way.

Episode 276 of Escape Pod (http://escapepod.org/2011/01/20/ep276-o ... -of-grass/) was another of these stories, where the author expounds on some profound idea...by having a character talk about it. (EP listeners will remember it as the one about parasites inducing hosts to get eaten)

Please don't buy any more stories like this one, Norm.

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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by Kibitzer » Tue Aug 02, 2011 4:02 am

Norm: "We're taking a break from Connor this week..."

Me: "Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!"

Me: "SHERRRRRR-MAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!"
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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by NoNotRogov » Tue Aug 02, 2011 3:10 pm

This reminds me, fondly, of Wind from a Dying Star, which ran on Escapepod. I guess I was reminded of it in the same way Nobilis was reminded of Blade of Grass. However it did my favorite thing, even though I know I shouldn't enjoy it so much because it isn't "good writing" but reading Lovecraft accustomed me to it and made me fond of the format: a story in which all the action/big ideas are recounted by a narrator in what is essentially a monologue or a dialogue (to be the perfect posthumanism / that format mash up for me it would have had to have been in the form of a letter or a diary entry, the thing Lovecraft excelled at).

I wonder what the old skinjob designer meant when he treated the mek as if he helped design his "granddaughter"/quasi-immortal. When they revealed that she was the immortal in question, it kind of makes his contributions to the discussion irrelevant - and her leading the conversation makes it just foreshadowing, which is less fun some how.

Also, I will now take a moment to squee over you running a Swanwick story - I've been going through the Darger and Sirplus tales ever since encountering a really short one composed of very short vignettes in the anthology "Live Without A Net". The only entry I have not gotten to yet is the latest, the novel.
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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by normsherman » Tue Aug 02, 2011 6:21 pm

NoNotRogov wrote:
Also, I will now take a moment to squee over you running a Swanwick story - I've been going through the Darger and Sirplus tales ever since encountering a really short one composed of very short vignettes in the anthology "Live Without A Net". The only entry I have not gotten to yet is the latest, the novel.
We've run several Swanwick stories on the cast. Hit up dem free archives!
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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by Kibitzer » Tue Aug 02, 2011 11:24 pm

NoNotRogov wrote:...even though I know I shouldn't enjoy it so much because it isn't "good writing" but reading Lovecraft accustomed me to it and made me fond of the format: a story in which all the action/big ideas are recounted by a narrator in what is essentially a monologue or a dialogue...
Is this some kind of writing truism or rule (this is a genuine question btw because I'm not a student of writing or literature). Seems to me that the success of such a device depends entirely on the quality of the conversation -- being, the skill of the writer. Further, I think comparing "Ancient Engines" with "On A Blade Of Grass" is a bit unfair since OABOG was pretty much straight exposition by one person. Here, there was dialogue between a few people with one driving the conversation by prompting. Also, parasites are pretty gross. Eww.

Anyway, I liked the speculative nature of this story.
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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by random240 » Wed Aug 03, 2011 6:54 am

Sorry, but this is one of the worst stories put out in a while.

At first glance, the story being set in the future, the mechanical man, indeed even the steam engine that was referenced from which the story draws its name are all irrelevant. The former two, being set in the future and the android, simply give the main speakers (and minus a couple words every few minutes, the only speaker) a starting point for his 'what about next year, what about ten years from now, what about a hundred, what about a thousand' etc etc dialog up to the universe ending. I actually had to listen to this story in two parts it got so monotonous. I immediately thought of the first part of episode 200, Asimov's The Last Question when it appeared the entire story was going to be spent being pedantic about people saying "forever" instead of "so long its incomprehensible"

To me perhaps the lowest part was the speaker's stepping off point when he says something to the effect of "I'm going to be brutal here Jack, you're probably not going to live to be 83, you don't have my advantages" /which are?/ "good genes, I chose my ancestors well'. I can't remember if it was just a poor joke (you know its bad when an author doesn't right in laughter to their own jokes) or a reference to a different line about him being genetically engineered, but regardless it isn't mentioned again. He goes on to detail how cells seem programmed to die, so frankly his reaching senior citizen age seems more like luck next to the modular intelligent machine man who "defiantly" wants to live.

Swanwick's entire argument that the mech won't live forever, or even 80 some odd years apparently, is based on the assumption that eventually he won't be able to get replacement parts for himself any more. That's it, the extent of his reasoning. Its entirely undercut by the very lines he dismisses when the 'granddaughter' mentions seeing a car and he responds that it might still be around but isn't used for transportation anymore. So what? People, intelligent beings, have to have a purpose and have to keep doing those purposes until perpetuity? The cars in the story aren't used any more because something better was invented. In the real world take today's WW1 era biplanes or the fact that we didn't stop breeding horses when we stopped needing them for labor. When someone has a deep love and care for something, they figure out how to keep it around. Here (the mech) is a piece of technology that cares about itself, and moreover theoretically could live forever given a supply of parts. He's splitting hairs, reasonably, given the length of time that is forever, but if he's going to be an ass about it why not be an ass right back.

On a personal note, perhaps most significantly, Swanwick is dismissing synthetic modular life because it's physical body will be rendered obsolete without considering the idea of a transferable brain, consciousnesses, or at the very least that the mech man will be able to plant his head on a newer up-gradable body down the road. In fact, to me, an entity not tied to a body seems like a much more simple way of designing an immortal than the truly immortal and evolution-capable perfection that he apparently built, sitting at the table with them, one that apparently will never ever be improved upon or replaced (?!?). But I digress.

Upon completion and review its even worse. He's not convincing the mechanical man that he's not going to live forever, he's simply detailing what the future will likely hold for the true immortal sitting at the table with them. Convincing the mech that he's not going to live forever is simply a side effect of making it (painfully) clear how unimaginable the far future is, which kinda makes his whole thought processes moot at best. Nothing he said might come to pass, and/or his perfect invention/granddaughter could break down the next day. She may not in fact last 80 years, or may not last a million billion years which in this context is the exact same thing. For all his you're-not-going-to-live-forever attitude, early on he says something like 'some people try to live forever through their children'. To say that is in fact his intention in all actuality would be quite the understatement. Mr.-pound-the-table-while-saying-you-don't-give-up wasn't lying.

Furthermore, take the story from the mech's point of view, if he didn't realize that the conversation wasn't about him. This is the guy who designed him to be immortal telling him, at great length, he's not going to be. Given that its set in a bar I couldn't help but think of a drunk father telling his son he will never amount to anything. If the mech did realize the entire conversation was actually about the girl, and given that she is also designed by him and will live forever, its like a drunken father telling their son they'll never amount to their sister.

Also, how bout the random throwaway line about the android being sexist for being taken aback about the idea of a female immortal, and the old man verbally smacking down his 'granddaughter' for pointing it out. The old man clearly engages the question in earnest like its something people haven't thought of, and then to top it off tells the mech its okay to be sexist (if its true(?)) and makes her apologize to him (!!!) for actually saying anything, not the mech. When was this story written? Wiki says 1999. I was kind of taken off guard by the 50's era society, especially when the 'granddaughter' mentions "having a husband or a wife or two". Gay marriage and polygamy are okay, but only men can live forever apparently.

@Unblinking, I think the napkin eating at the end was supposed to be the hundred foot tall neon sign flashing "THIS IS THE IMMORTAL WE'VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT" for everyone that hadn't caught on yet based on the early line in the story discussion about how you would make a better immortal, that they should be able to absorb what they need from their surroundings (which the granddaughter expands to include drinking alcohol), and what's she doing? Eating things from her surroundings and washing them down with booze.



Mike Boris didn't do a bad job, he voiced the three (well four with the drunk at the beginning) characters, but they had not a single inch of range between them. The closest any came was the drunk at the beginning, the rest was a barely modulated conversation. Not his fault, just not somewhere to showcase one's skills. I don't recall a single sound effect or note of music.

Not impressed by the story, not impressed by the podcast, very armature all around.

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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by Kibitzer » Wed Aug 03, 2011 6:59 am

ar·ma·ture (Noun)
1. The rotating coil or coils of a dynamo or electric motor.
2. Any moving part of an electrical machine in which a voltage is induced by a magnetic field.

Sorry, couldn't resist. ;-)
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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by random240 » Wed Aug 03, 2011 7:10 am

There's the possibility as well that this was just an old man, past the glories of his youth, rambling at strangers in a bar while his granddaughter with pica humors him.

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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by FAIL:SAFE » Wed Aug 03, 2011 8:51 am

Im pretty amazed at the volume of negative feed back this episode is getting. Sure, the twist was telegraphed from the get go and the plot was more of a series of musings regarding the practicalities of immortality.

But it was fun, the narration was spot on and it really reminded me of all those wonderful golden age Asimov short stories about robots striving in a (hu)mans world.

Since when was the Drabblecast about realism. There is a much wider audience listening to drabblecast than post on the forums. I for one thoroughly enjoyed this story.

More like this please norm

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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by Unblinking » Wed Aug 03, 2011 3:13 pm

FAIL:SAFE wrote: Since when was the Drabblecast about realism. There is a much wider audience listening to drabblecast than post on the forums. I for one thoroughly enjoyed this story.
I didn't dislike it for being unrealistic. In any case, there was nothing unrealistic in the body of the story, as it's several people talking in a bar about hypothetical features, and one eats a napkin. Two are supposed to be artifical, but that artificiality doesn't really manifest itself except for idle speculation about the future. If anything, I'd rather it had been more outlandish.

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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by FAIL:SAFE » Wed Aug 03, 2011 3:53 pm

[ If anything, I'd rather it had been more outlandish.]

To be fair, thats a very good point. I certainly wouldn't have objected to the granddaughter growing biological machine guns in addition to being able to grow spare body parts or even a jump to a far flung future where Robert j sawyer style androids are living out the heat death of the universe.

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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by Polecat » Wed Aug 03, 2011 4:26 pm

This story didn´t ring my bell, but then it doesn´t have to - I imagine that I´m not the only one who values the diversity of stories here, and there´s bound to be one or another that fails to please. The idea of "how to live forever" just doesn´t interest me very much - the idea of "what would be the point of living forever" strikes me as far more interesting, and coming up with an answer in a flash fiction format would be really impressive.
random240´s criticism of the podcast as "armature" strikes me as a trifle unfair - he should listen to episodes like "The coughing Dog" or "Uncle Ollies Gift" - now they´re amateurish (and utterly charming) - perhaps he would care to create and post an example of what he would regard as a "porfessoinnle" podcast?
One half-serious criticism of the narrative; the protagonists postulate "the end of civilization" as likely to occur at some point in the future. If we define civilization as "mankinds´s ability to organise himself ever more complexly and kill his opponents in conflict ever more efficiently" (which I would argue defines all the "great civilisations" of the past and explains both their success and their demise, and describes the status quo quite accurately), then the ultimate meltdown is yet to come. If we define civilization as "Mankind´s ability to feed and clothe himself adequately and avoid conflicts with his neighbours", I would argue that the rot set in a long time ago - about 12000 years, at the end of the mesolithic period.

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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by strawman » Wed Aug 03, 2011 5:26 pm

Polecat wrote: If we define civilization as "Mankind´s ability to feed and clothe himself adequately and avoid conflicts with his neighbours", I would argue that the rot set in a long time ago - about 12000 years, at the end of the mesolithic period.
Is this arbitrary, or are you seriously positing that Adam and Eve got booted from Eden in the mesolithic period?
If so, might make an interesting episode... maybe a pterodactyl drops an empty coke bottle or some such.
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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by Polecat » Wed Aug 03, 2011 6:13 pm

Mr. Man of Straw,
By no means arbitrary - far more than in terms of technology, the end of the mesolithic (and beginning of the neolithic) period is marked by an economic development, possibly the most drastic in human history, away from a hunter/gatherer and towards an agrarian system. A hunter/gatherer existence necessitates high mobility, relatively small groups of people and an extensive use of the land. It also renders non-essential posessions (apart from a few small things like jewellery) more of a nuisance than anything else - you have to carry them with you on your wanderings. An agrarian system necessitates that people become sedentary, the intensively used land becomes far more "valuable" (there´s a lot more food in a relatively small place, plus you´ve invested a lot of hard work in cultivating it). Parallel to this, the sedentary lifestyle enables the acquisition of posessions on a far greater scale. In the neolithic, the first tools that are clearly intended for battle rather than hunting appear, as do "status symbols" - there is a clear social development towards hierarchies and the implication of warfare. I would regard that as a pretty serious loss of innocence, and that is the background to my comment.
On the subject of coke bottles, there is a (probably apocryphal) story concerning a group of australian aborigines, who found that the glass insulators on telephone lines were an excellent material to make stone tools out of, and duly shimmied up a telegraph post every time they needed a new arrowhead, cutter or whatever. Not unnaturally, the australian telephone company found this behaviour unacceptable, and tried to explain to the aborigines that stealing is wrong. The aborigines, having no concept of ownership, naturally couldn´t understand that they were thieves, and continued to take the insulators as and when they needed them. Even the fact that they might get shot by vigilantes hired by the telephone company failed to dissuade them - when hunting there is always the risk of getting injured or killed by a giant zombie wombat or whatever - it´s just a chance you take. The only solution the telephone company found worked was to provide depots of old bottles and other glass at regular intervals, which the aborigines could with relatively little effort and no risk obtain and make tools out of.

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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by strawman » Thu Aug 04, 2011 1:44 am

Not as strange a reply as I had hoped for.
I'm a bit suspicious of the human tendency towards nostalgia for the good old days, romanticizing aborigines being an example. It's possible that the need for hunting territory caused conflicts between groups of hunter-gatherers, and the impetus to settle may have been due to the clear advantages of defensive fortifications.
Did you ever see The Gods Must Be Crazy?
The ape scene at the beginning of 2001 had a big effect on me. The age of innocence was the age before knowledge.
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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by Polecat » Thu Aug 04, 2011 6:12 am

strawman wrote:Not as strange a reply as I had hoped for.
Apologies for that, I´ll try to think of a stranger one.

Rather than nostalgia, one could regard the demise of civilization as a licence to behave exactly as one pleases, since nothings going to get any better, anyway (and that does not preclude being kind - nihilism is only one form of believing in nothing).
Mesolithic man may have settled down in order to build better defenses, but then he may also have started practicing agriculture because aliens showed him how to - there´s about as much evidence for both theses (but then, who wants evidence?, it just gets in the way of wild speculation, which is much more fun)
I haven´t seen The Gods Must Be Crazy, but having had it explained to me by the Wikipediatrician, I think I really should, it sounds very interesting (and silly).

respectfully,

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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by strawman » Thu Aug 04, 2011 1:07 pm

Silly is as silly does. I admit a strong tendency towards wild speculation because it is fun. (Kind of the point of speculative fiction). And though it's purely speculation, I suspect that in much of what we think of as science, the speculation precedes the evidence.

Thus, speculation is foundational to common sense Strawbservations like: People tend to find what they are looking for. When I was little, I looked at a globe and observed that continents fit together. The fact that continental drift was later established with scientific evidence is itself evidence that I am a powerful speculator. (The fact that I sold all my gold at $35 an ounce somewhat defines the limits of my speculative powers.)

People tend to underestimate silly is another true Strawbservation. Among the chief offenders are serious folks, with bushy eyebrows that knit and furrow as they seek to debunk the speculators. But the bottom line truth, as indisputably established by Douglas Adams in 1978 (coroborating Theodor Geisel, 1904-1991), is that silliness is where much truth is to be found, which is your ipso facto evidence that the gods must indeed be crazy, and the movie is therefore not silly at all.

Your most humble servant,

The Strawman
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Re: Drabblecast 212 - Ancient Engines

Post by Polecat » Thu Aug 04, 2011 4:21 pm

Mr Man of Straw: I couldn´t agree more - silliness is a virtue of greater value than valiance, dalliance, honour and honesty combined, and a man who lets the facts get in the way of a good story is far the poorer for it.
I must, however, take issue with your strawbservation (a delicious neologism, by the bye), that people tend to find what they are looking for - this is true only if they are looking for the right things, otherwise they will tend to be disappointed, and if they are disappointed often enough, they will tend to look for disappointing things, and their life will become miserable. Finding things one is not looking for is serendipity, one of the highest virtues, and unfortunately much rarer than silliness.

All day I have been considering a stranger answer to your question, and I hope that I have come up with one that will meet your exacting standards:

It is generally agreed that the so-called "neolithic revolution" began in the middle East and gradually spread northwards (ok, that´s a eurocentric view, but I happen to live in europe). One of the best researched neolithic "cities" is that of Çatalhöyük in Anatolia. The citizens of Çatalhöyük built all of their houses together with common walls, and access was via the roof through holes in the ceiling. Any right-thinking person would agree that this behaviour is abnormal - access to houses should be through doors, not a hole in the roof, so something must have obviously gone wrong in the minds of the people who dwelt in this beknighted city. It seems to me self-evident that people who want to enter a building from above are sufferring from delusional Fatherchristmaspathy - and the northern spread of neolithic agronomics represents a frustrated search for reindeer and elves. Reindeer are to be found, although it is probably significant that the Lapps, who practise reindeer husbandry, are nomadic and still haven´t settled down. Elves remain significant by their absence, thus cabooshing the whole endeavour and demonstrating that there ain´t no sanity clause

Hows that?

respectfully,

The Polecat

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