Escape Pod August 2010

For a while this fall I stopped listening to podcasts. That’s partially because my exercise routine last year was to walk around Green Lake, but as it got colder and darker I stopped. Also, my Droid has a problem with its headphone jack. If I jostle the cord at all, even look at it funny, the sound cuts out on the left side, and it happens with all my headphones. I really need to get myself a Bluetooth headphone set so that won’t be a problem.

I drove to San Francisco and back for FOGcon. 16 hours of driving each way seemed like a great opportunity to catch up on podcasts. And because I like to write about my literature consumption, here you go. Sure it’s half a year later, but it’s not like the podcasts expire. Also, this way I don’t really have to care if I’m spoiling a story.

Episode 251: Unexpected Outcomes

Tom Rockwell reads Tim Pratt‘s story, Unexpected Outcomes. At the moment of the 9/11 attacks, our world is revealed to be a giant computer simulation, ostensibly to study the human reaction to terrorism. Now the simulation is over and is being partially shut down. I thought the premise for the ending was clever, though it doesn’t quite hang together as well if I think about it deeply. It’s a problem with unreliable narrator stories. Telling the reader, this is all a lie (a.k.a. simulation) breaks the contract if it goes too far. The reader is left wondering is this real life?

Also, I don’t want to categorically rule it out, but escaping from a simulation is a troublesome trope. I point you at Virtuosity. Pratt does a smart thing by using buggy video games as a model for how it’s done in the story. Sandboxing ain’t perfect, but any computer simulation good enough to fake a universe is gonna have pretty solid walls between experiment and anything else. So where does using cracks in a simulation get the simulated? Not very far. I’m left wondering if the simulators in the story would even care. Or why the simulated care that they are in a simulation?

That’s a pretty good existential question and I don’t agree with the conclusions of Pratt’s characters. There, they decide to fight against the man just to send a message. I hope that makes them feel better. Here’s something: I don’t believe in freedom for freedom’s sake. Rather, I believe in freedom because it is the best known method of organizing for happiness. Shaking my fist at the man doesn’t make me happy on it’s own. Perhaps it does for the characters, but damn if it makes sense to me.

Episode 252: Billion Dollar View

John Cmar narrates Ray Tabler‘s story, Billion Dollar View. I really feel like I’ve read this story before, even though I haven’t. This was so predictable. Synopsis: scavenger miners in space need to save stranded kids but they don’t have enough fuel to do so unless they do it as a suicide mission. I love John Cmar’s narration though.

Episode 253: Eugene

Tim Crist reads Jacob Sager Weinstein‘s story, Eugene. Just an awesome story. Eugene is a talking police dog in the near future. That’s all I’m going to say about it. Go listen to it. I know I put a link there to read the story at Popcorn Fiction, but skip that. It’s much better to hear this.

Episode 254: A Talent for Vanessa

Dave Thompson reads A Talent for Vanessa by David W. Goldman. I love the idea of an agent for a profession trying to talk someone out of joining. In this case, the agent manages savants, and there’s an operation that can turn a person into a savant. It would be kind of cool to replay a piece of music exactly on hearing it once, for instance, but would that really be useful? An all right story, though it didn’t really grab me.

Episode 255: Variations on a Theme

Zachary Ricks reads William Meikle‘s story, Variations on a Theme. I don’t know how much more of a retread this one could have been. Alien beings are taking over people’s bodies, and most people aren’t noticing. Except one perceptive teacher, who more or less does nothing right away. If you’ve seen Signs, or read War of the Worlds, you already know that aliens have a simple Achilles heel. About the only thing original here is that the main character is a teacher.

My plan is to do a review of podcasts every Friday. We’ll see how well I stick to that. Remember, I promised to get this web site up and running for about 14 months before it actually happened.