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Author Topic: EP144: Friction  (Read 25850 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: February 08, 2008, 09:09:02 AM »

EP144: Friction

By Will McIntosh.
Read by Stephen Eley
First appeared in Albedo One, #30.
Closing music: “Blue Genes” by George Hrab.

Gruen was on the sixty-first master, and while his wisdom had grown steadily, he had worn very little. He was incredibly well-preserved–the palms of his three-fingered hands still sported the deep, swirling ridges that had worn to nothing in most people before they’d lived thirty years. Indeed, all of the myriad folds and ridges in his thick maroon skin were for the most part intact. His eyes were still housed in tight sockets, surrounded by thickly-ridged cheeks. Besides the feet, the eyes were the greatest point of weakness for those who aspired to read the works of the masters. Ceaseless up-and-down eye movement caused the sockets to wear out, and eventually the reader’s eyes fell out. At that point they were forced to trace the carved words with their fingers. Friction quickly took its toll on the hands; readers rarely made it through one master’s teachings this way before their hands were ground to the wrist, and they were finished.

Rated PG.


Referenced Sites:
Nawashi, a podcast novel by Graydancer



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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eytanz
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« Reply #1 on: February 08, 2008, 09:57:43 AM »

Wow, I really, really loved this one. Just wonderful world-building, and a beautiful, gentle story which has quite a lot to say.

I really loved the two alien races. And the ending was incredible.

Anyway, I always feel less comfortable heaping praise on a story than nitpicking, and I don't have a single nitpick this week, so I'll end here.
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Oliver
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« Reply #2 on: February 08, 2008, 10:33:13 AM »

Four word summary: "Time wounds all heels"

Favorite EP so far!
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bolddeceiver
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Plunging like stones from a slingshot on mars...


« Reply #3 on: February 08, 2008, 12:18:41 PM »

This did have me wondering why these creatures are so very fragile.  At first it had me wondering if this was some Cyberiada-type universe, populated by non-self-repairing robots.  When it became clear this wasn't the case, or at least wasn't necessary, it has me wondering about the conditions that would lead to the evolution of a non-self-repairing complex creature, espescially a sentient one.

Very cool, all the same.  It takes a real expertise to tell a completely alien story, without any human reference point -- I'm brought to mind of EP66, The King's Tail, except I think this story did it even better.  It's easy enough (which is to say still very hard) to get an audience to sympathize with human problems, but to invent an entire new race of creatures and then give them problems that the reader has no experience of, except by metaphor (friction anxiety::mortality anxiety), and yet can be sympathetic to, is mastery.
« Last Edit: February 08, 2008, 12:41:07 PM by bolddeceiver » Logged
Nobilis
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« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2008, 02:36:17 PM »

It takes a real expertise to tell a completely alien story, without any human reference point...

Indeed.  Well done.  Not my absolute favorite (Burning Bush still has that honor) but certainly the best EP that didn't make me laugh.

I think I would have been in the right mindset from the start if it had been billed as a fantasy.  Then I wouldn't be worrying (as some others have) about what kind of strange ecosystem could produce these creatures.  Fantasy doesn't generally worry about such things.

Then, it's not really fantasy, either.

Not really speculative.

I don't care what genre it is, I like it.

It certainly makes me more optimistic about scholarship as a profession...

But it's important to note that the great wisdom that he found, did not come from the Wall.
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Kurt Faler
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« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2008, 04:53:57 PM »

Four word summary: "Time wounds all heels"

Favorite EP so far!

HA! I was going to say "Like sands through an hourglass, so are the Days of Our Lives..."

Oh, and this story should have been tagged NSFT. Not safe for treadmills. I could hear my knees grinding as I ran and listened. Then at the end as I'm grunting out the last half mile I get to listen to the song verse reminding me that even though I'm running, I'm still fat! (well, not fat, just working off that mid thirties beer gut heh)
« Last Edit: February 08, 2008, 04:57:31 PM by Kurt Faler » Logged
deflective
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« Reply #6 on: February 08, 2008, 08:20:05 PM »

good story. ep has been very consistent.

the short intro (intentional or not) did a good job to frame the story's minimalist theme.
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CammoBlammo
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« Reply #7 on: February 09, 2008, 03:07:48 AM »

Wow. This story has shot to the upper echelons of my EP favourites. The pacing of the story was great, and the author managed to get the 'show vs tell' thing just about perfect. We were told just what we needed to know, and the rest was left to our imaginations. There will be the standard questions about genre, but stories this good don't really need to fit into them. It had aliens, so it's sci-fi enough for me (and more importantly, Steve!)

Well done Will.

Also, Steve's reading was great, although I got the impression his voice struggled a bit. So if you've been unwell Steve, I hope you get better soon! Your reading is getting better with every episode I hear you read. Keep it up!

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ajames
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« Reply #8 on: February 09, 2008, 05:21:24 AM »


Western set upon his journey
pulling Evening through the sky.
Her dead eyes shone upon us
carving up the night.

I raised my hand and stroked your face
heedless of the pain.
The bit of life I lost in loving you
was in truth the life I gained.

***********************

Amazing story.
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RKG
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« Reply #9 on: February 09, 2008, 10:19:27 AM »

Yes!    Simple, beautiful, engaging, and well crafted.

Another solid addition to my new favorite genre: "Stories Steve Likes"

More please.

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Anarkey
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...depends a good deal on where you want to get to


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« Reply #10 on: February 09, 2008, 01:16:42 PM »

Wow, I really, really loved this one. Just wonderful world-building, and a beautiful, gentle story which has quite a lot to say.

I really loved the two alien races. And the ending was incredible.

Anyway, I always feel less comfortable heaping praise on a story than nitpicking, and I don't have a single nitpick this week, so I'll end here.


Aha!  At last I have the opportunity to hold a view that differs from eytanz'.  I did like this story, and thought it had some lovely prose and captivating imagery, but it's nowhere near a love for me, and I doubt I'd ever listen to it again.

I had trouble (as others have described) coming up with the scenario in which these creatures could have evolved (especially what their evolutionary use for nerve endings and pain was).  I also thought Gruen was particularly slow and stupid when he didn't figure out for decades wtf Western was talking about with the sand.  It seemed so obvious and we're supposed to believe this guy is a deep thinker? 

The scene at the black whirlpool was the bomb.  In general, I loved the setting.  Most of my nitpicks are character-based.

For example, while I agree with bolddeceiver about the perplexing nature of these creatures and how they might have come about, I disagree on how well the 'alienness' of the aliens was depicted.  Everyone seemed quite human in their motivations, feelings and actions.  Maybe there was some time dilation or compression involved, but all the impulses I took from the story were basic human ones which were easy to identify with.  I like my aliens a little less anthropomorphized (or a bit more, with no pretense of really alienizing them).

I  also wondered about bathroom breaks.  Is that just me?  There was so much description of the physical body and Gruen's eating/sleeping/movement process.  I just wanted to know if he had an alien style colostomy bag or what.    Maybe elimination wasn't poetic enough to be included in the story, though pre-chewed food isn't exactly lovely either.
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RNDG33K
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« Reply #11 on: February 09, 2008, 01:27:25 PM »

A brilliantly profound episode, one of my favorite episodes ever. What is worth sacrificing in our pursuit of knowledge? What is a worthy reason to put aside our goals and help others?

One thing I kept noticing was the way the Wall was like a Trail. Both are records of the history of their respective races: both provide some sort of immortality.

All in all, a wonderfully crafted story.
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Kurt Faler
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« Reply #12 on: February 09, 2008, 01:46:33 PM »



I  also wondered about bathroom breaks.  Is that just me?  There was so much description of the physical body and Gruen's eating/sleeping/movement process.  I just wanted to know if he had an alien style colostomy bag or what.    Maybe elimination wasn't poetic enough to be included in the story, though pre-chewed food isn't exactly lovely either.

The world was his litter box.


Thanks, I'll be here all week.
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Darwinist
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« Reply #13 on: February 09, 2008, 02:29:59 PM »

Excellent story.  I was riveted from the beginning.   Easily in my top 10 episodes. 
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For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.    -  Carl Sagan
the_wombat
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« Reply #14 on: February 09, 2008, 11:29:21 PM »

Wow...just WOW. This was so amazingly similar to my other all time favorite escape pod story "Impossible Dreams", in that a myopic character who has lost his connection to his (larger) world has love thrust upon him and is thus reunited with the entire universe, truly seeing it for the first time.

"You got your Bohdidharma in my Leary"
"You got your Leary in my Bodhidharma"
"MMMMMM, two great tastes that taste great together!"

P.S.- this episode was so popular with my coworkers that I lost possession of my iPod for hours while they all took turns listening.
Excellent Selection
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CGFxColONeill
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« Reply #15 on: February 10, 2008, 12:16:50 AM »


I had trouble (as others have described) coming up with the scenario in which these creatures could have evolved (especially what their evolutionary use for nerve endings and pain was).  I also thought Gruen was particularly slow and stupid when he didn't figure out for decades wtf Western was talking about with the sand.  It seemed so obvious and we're supposed to believe this guy is a deep thinker? 


it is just a matter of focus, it does seem hard to believe at first but then when you realize that he was so totally focused on the wall that nothing else mattered.  I mean the guy ( used loosely ) could not even be troubled to chew his own food... and so he was not really paying attention to someone that he thought was so far below him intellectually.  ( profs will do this sometimes w/ students )

good story but not my favorite ( EP 100 was the best for me so far)
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« Reply #16 on: February 10, 2008, 05:19:43 PM »

What a wonderful story. I was gripped from beginning to end. Although I take the point made about the gaps in the world building, for me this story wasn't about that. It was about conveying a mood, almost in the way some Eastern poetry does. It left me feeling very Zen, anyway. Wink
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goatkeeper
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« Reply #17 on: February 10, 2008, 05:58:33 PM »

Fav EP so far...one of the best stories I've ever encountered.
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Tango Alpha Delta
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Drawn to the forum...


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« Reply #18 on: February 11, 2008, 06:46:08 AM »

Judging by the feedback so far, this is as close to a Universal W00t as one could get.

As far as the questions about Gruen's physiology, I had a couple of working theories that sustained my Suspension of Disbelief:

1) Gruen's race could be something aking to post-humans; consciousnesses contained within android bodies made up of highly dynamic populations of nanites.  Thinking of our own cells, and how, after a while, they stop replacing themselves.  I think those who felt Gruen and his folk were fragile were not taking into account the scale of time necessary to wear them out.

2) They were some kind of animate stone.  Okay, hyper-hyper-animate stone.  But if they leave behind sand...   And at one point, I was thinking of the nerve endings as a kind of symbiotic vegetation; a stone body would need some kind of flexible connective tissue in order to move.

And I'm with Kurt Faler... after hearing this fine, fine tale, I was dismayed to hear my knees as I came up the stairs.   Could all that dirt we keep cleaning away from the door actually be my own silt?Huh
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gelee
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« Reply #19 on: February 11, 2008, 08:00:48 AM »

Not much to add.  I loved this story.
As to the "fragility" of the creatures involved, I gathered that they could live more or less indefinately if they could reduce their "friction" sufficiently.  From what I could tell, the narrator was at least a few centuries old by the end of the story.
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