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Author Topic: EP166: The Something-Dreaming Game  (Read 18581 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: July 11, 2008, 05:29:19 AM »

EP166: The Something-Dreaming Game

By Elizabeth Bear.
Read by Mur Lafferty (of The Takeover and The Murverse).
First appeared in Fast Forward 1, ed. Lou Anders.

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First, there’s the pressure.

A special kind of pressure, high under Tara’s chin, that makes her feel heavy and light all at once. She kneels by the chair and leans across the edge, because if she faints, the chair will roll away and she won’t choke. She’s always careful.

After the pressure she gets dizzy, and her vision gets kind of… narrow, dark around the edges. It’s hard to breathe, and it feels like there’s something stuck in her throat. Prickles run up and down her back, down her arms where the pain used to be, and a warm fluid kind of feeling sloshes around inside her. She slides down, as things get dark, and then she starts to dream.

But not like night time dreams. These are special.


Rated R. Contains children engaging in extremely dangerous practices. Parental guidance STRONGLY recommended.


Referenced Sites:
Brave Men Run: A Novel of the Sovereign Era



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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« Reply #1 on: July 11, 2008, 06:51:16 AM »

Dude! I forgot it was Friday! Now I'm at work, and I need to do this the hard way...
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« Reply #2 on: July 11, 2008, 08:22:43 AM »

I really liked this one.   It reminded me of some other cool stuff in fantasy / sci-fi:  Pan's Labyrinth (are the girl's visions real or not?),   Robert Chas Wilson's "Blind Lake", and that STNG episode where Picard gets knocked out by a beam from something they find floating in space and Picard "lives" for a bit in the extinct civilization.  One of my fav STNG episodes.  Anyway, neat episode this week. I was a little unsure about it at first but when the quantum computer implant and aliens showed up I was hooked.   
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« Reply #3 on: July 11, 2008, 09:58:46 AM »

  This was a good story, and well read as always by Ms. Lafferty. While the experimental-medical-procedure-with-unexpected-side-effects is hardly a new theme, this story pulled it off in a fun and refreshing new way.

  I only have two criticisms, if they're even that:

  I initially had trouble pinning down Tara's age (I may have missed an early mention of her actual age). With the reference to her being too old for a baby seat, but too young to sit in the front seat I thought she was five or six, not ten. This may be because I'm not totally up on exactly how old kids have to be before they can stop needing baby seats (I know it's an obnoxiously old age now compared to when I was a kid).

  I did not understand the shift in POV during the cafeteria scene, why it suddenly changed from "Tara and I" to "Tara and Mom". I know there were some references in that scene that only Tara and an omnipotent 3rd person could know, but it still seemed somewhat jarring compared to the other POV shifts in the story which all seemed more necessary.

  Between here and Star Ship Sofa, I'm really beginning to like Bear's stories. I shall probably have to go get her book (and Playing for Keeps)
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« Reply #4 on: July 11, 2008, 10:02:29 AM »

The reading was good.  I like how Mur only slightly changes the characters' voices and you still know who she's talking about.

I also really liked the story.  As I'd said in the "Timeline" commentary, I'm not opposed to Elizabeth Bear, just hadn't liked that story.  Well, this one vindicates what I have said -- I like her writing.

I also like the writing because it vindicates my own style; I write similar to Bear in that I have a lot of stuff between pieces of dialogue.  I'm not saying I'm as good as her (because I'm not; at least, I wouldn't say so; YMMV) but the fact that she can sell stories written this way means that, hopefully, I'll be able to sell stories written like that.

However, those stories don't lend themselves to audio, because there's so much going between each piece of dialogue that sometimes I forget what I've heard.  But maybe that's just me.

Anyway, two thumbs up from me.
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« Reply #5 on: July 11, 2008, 02:09:44 PM »

I enjoyed this story although I hit a couple snags that I was wondering if anyone else experienced.

First of all, I loved "Tideline" ... it was my favorite of the Hugo Nominees played on "Escape Pod".

This story, however, lost me at two points:

#1.  Why did the experienced Psychiatrist of a mother suddenly seem to believe her child and make the decision to stop the doctor from performing the Heimlich maneuver?  That seems very out-of-character for a grown professional who, throughout the whole story, is completely rational about her daughter's experiences, not believing -for an instant- that she was really in contact with alien life.

#2.  We are constantly told how clever the daughter is (and I suppose this is to justify the utilization of the grape to suffocate herself once she was under constant care) but I don't think we were ever shown just how clever (or dedicated to her alien friend) she was.  I kept thinking, "Wow, that's trickery on a level most adults can't achieve; I wish I'd known she was capable of that kind of deception before she pulled it off..."

Those two points said, I enjoyed this story.  Autoerotic Asphyxiation is definitely not a topic I'd ever expect to be put forth in a story about children and teens, although that may say more about my insular nature than anything else.  It was a great strength of the story that while this idea was creepy to me, it engaged me in a way that had me concerned and caring about all involved.  It never seemed unrealistic (in terms of the act, itself) and, rather, pulled me in to wish I could intercede and help get this child help.

The best part about the story, however, was how terrifying it was for the mother.  Can you imagine a child you are responsible for -ANY child- having that kind of personal power and willfullness to do something potentially lethal?  If that were me, I'd be on pins and needles for YEARS praying that when I wasn't looking the kid wouldn't accidentally hurt him or herself.  That was terrifying and deeply personal.  My congratulations to the author on that point; it drove home the personal humanity of the story.

Yours,
Sylvan (Dave)
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« Reply #6 on: July 11, 2008, 02:22:19 PM »

I'm new here.  Hi everybody.

First, I thought this was a great story.  The various elements were brought together into a beautiful, seamless whole.

Second, I noticed we have here a bright, precocious girl joining a giant catapillar in a tunnel--oh, and the size of a doorway is noteworthy:  it's reminiscent of Alice In Wonderland.  I wonder if that was conscious or subconscious.

Finally, I wonder if there is any real reason to suppose this asphyxiation is erotic.  I can remember a fainting game being popular with my friends very briefly in 4th grade.  A kid would hyperventilate, then hold his breath.  Passing out and weird dreams were the result.  It was a thrill that got old soon, and it sure had nothing to do with anything sexual.  (And no, I also don't recommend anyone give it a try!)


« Last Edit: July 11, 2008, 02:39:00 PM by Fredosphere » Logged
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« Reply #7 on: July 11, 2008, 04:42:44 PM »

I think Steve has been waiting for 166 episodes to say "Don't try this at home!"
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« Reply #8 on: July 11, 2008, 06:16:51 PM »

First off, welcome Fredoshphere!

#1.  Why did the experienced Psychiatrist of a mother suddenly seem to believe her child and make the decision to stop the doctor from performing the Heimlich maneuver?  That seems very out-of-character for a grown professional who, throughout the whole story, is completely rational about her daughter's experiences, not believing -for an instant- that she was really in contact with alien life.

I didn't think the mother believed her daughter was really speaking with an alien at this point - she did know, however, that her daughter was going to keep on trying to keep herself "under" longer and longer, and made the decision that it was better to let it happen while she was there to help than some other way. At least that was my interpretation. And kudos for Elizabeth Bear on this scene. It kept me on the edge of my seat, even as I though 'there's no way I could have stopped the doctor from clearing my child's airway.' But if any parent could, this one could, as is made clear throughout the story.

Enjoyed this one, another winner from this author as far as I am concerned. Even if I didn't quite get how it all was supposed to work exactly.
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« Reply #9 on: July 11, 2008, 06:41:34 PM »

It reminded me of...that STNG episode where Picard gets knocked out by a beam from something they find floating in space and Picard "lives" for a bit in the extinct civilization.  One of my fav STNG episodes.

That is exactly what flashed into my mind as soon as "Albert" revealed its intentions.  Yes, a great ST:TNG episode.

Why did the experienced Psychiatrist of a mother suddenly seem to believe her child and make the decision to stop the doctor from performing the Heimlich maneuver?  That seems very out-of-character for a grown professional who, throughout the whole story, is completely rational about her daughter's experiences, not believing -for an instant- that she was really in contact with alien life.

Both the mother and the doctor waited to dislodge the grape and let Tara breathe.  I cringed when I heard the words: "Please, let Tara talk to Albert".  It ruined the credibility that had been developed for the mother and the doctor.  It would have been better to have let Tara's plan have worked despite all of their efforts to revive her.  The impact would have been more powerful; instead it was kind of sappy.

This just in:  (while I was writing)
I didn't think the mother believed her daughter was really speaking with an alien at this point - she did know, however, that her daughter was going to keep on trying to keep herself "under" longer and longer, and made the decision that it was better to let it happen while she was there to help than some other way. At least that was my interpretation. And kudos for Elizabeth Bear on this scene. It kept me on the edge of my seat, even as I though 'there's no way I could have stopped the doctor from clearing my child's airway.' But if any parent could, this one could, as is made clear throughout the story.

Okay, I could go with that, but, if that was truly the motivation, it should have been clearly laid out that way, and the "let her talk to Albert" line should have been removed.

Anyway, I do want to make it clear that I liked the story as a whole.  Ms. Bear pulled obscure elements together to craft an intriquing tale.

----------------------------------------
Sideline:
With the reference to her being too old for a baby seat, but too young to sit in the front seat I thought she was five or six, not ten. This may be because I'm not totally up on exactly how old kids have to be before they can stop needing baby seats (I know it's an obnoxiously old age now compared to when I was a kid).

Although I understand the concern and I want my kids to be safe, the child seat laws can be frustrating.  Depending on where you live, the laws can be based on age, weight, height, or any conmbination of those. 

On the other side of the spectrum, I remember seeing an old Popular Mechanics magazine from the '50's where they had plans to build a cushioned platform that would fit on the backseat floor of a station wagon so that when you applied your brakes, your kids wouldn't topple to the floor, but merely roll onto the cushion.  Ha Ha.  What Fun.  I guess we've come a long way since then.
« Last Edit: July 11, 2008, 06:45:04 PM by Swamp » Logged

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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #10 on: July 12, 2008, 09:28:15 AM »

On the other side of the spectrum, I remember seeing an old Popular Mechanics magazine from the '50's where they had plans to build a cushioned platform that would fit on the backseat floor of a station wagon so that when you applied your brakes, your kids wouldn't topple to the floor, but merely roll onto the cushion.  Ha Ha.  What Fun.  I guess we've come a long way since then.

Wasn't that also about the same time they developed the notion that hiding under your desk was a good strategy for surviving a nuclear strike?
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« Reply #11 on: July 12, 2008, 02:33:50 PM »

imaginary friend week on escape artists!
tiny, tall or chitinous; only one person sees them and we can only wonder at their motives (unless you're listening to the horror podcast. that's pretty much all the foreshadowing you need).


the extra bit of scientific rigour in this story was much appreciated. it hasn't been escape pod's thing but i'd like to see more of it.
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« Reply #12 on: July 12, 2008, 09:33:02 PM »

I certainly don't subscribe to the mundane sci-fi school of thought that Steve skewered a year or so ago, but I'm not sure if you can really make the "rigor" case for this story.  The physicians seemed a little too eager to accept that the daughter really was receiving transmissions from aliens.  More to the point, even if the brain is capable of processing large amounts of data quickly as they posit, you still run into the problem that Tara is interacting with the transmissions from the aliens.  If she was just receiving the transmissions that would be one thing, but she's teaching Albert her language and holding down a conversation with him.  Assuming the aliens aren't hanging out on Mars, that conversation would take centuries at best.  I'm not saying its impossible that the Aliens have found some way to beat the limitation that in physics we like to call "c," but if they have it kind of makes the whole implant element of the story a little silly.  If it's picking up waves of radiation of any sort, those waves had to originate somewhere and then travel at a constant speed that obeys the laws of physics.

And that's all fine.  Like Steve said before, if science fiction has to abide by the known tenets of science that would seriously impoverish the genre.  But I think that a special sort of praise should be reserved for science fiction that has the ambition to try.  This piece could have tried to explain how interstellar conversations could happen in real time, but that would probably have detracted from the pace and tone.  It's hard to make hard science compelling in fictive form and "The Something-Dreaming Game," though a solid piece of story-telling, doesn't really aspire to meet that challenge.
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« Reply #13 on: July 12, 2008, 11:41:11 PM »

Schreiber - google "quantum entanglement" and "quantum teleportation" - those are the bits of real science Bear is using to support her story (and why we kept hearing that the device in Tara's head was a "quantum computer."  (And, yeah, we don't think that they work quite like that - but it's IMO closer to being realistic than, say, hyperspace).

I am, of course, perfectly happy to read stories with hyperspace in it - but given that there's not much evidence that that's possible, it is nice to see stories that: (1) don't use hyperspace or similar mechanisms; but (2) still provide for a means of alien contact.

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« Reply #14 on: July 12, 2008, 11:43:25 PM »

maybe rigor isn't quite the right word. the stories we get on escape pod very rarely dip into anything that would be called hard sf, usually they just establish what a tech does without giving any page space to how. and this is fine; i wouldn't want any huge changes made but it's nice to get that 'ah, neat!' moment now and again. right now i can't think of another episode that's given me that moment.

the psychiatrist's discussion of quantum entanglement was brief but sufficient. it established that the chip's processor could have a connection to remote particles without any sort of electromagnetic radiation. this combined with the two-way communication between the processor and Tara's nervous system very neatly created sufficient circumstances for a type of telepathy. i thought of the chip as an antenna and Tara interpreting the signal. this way the information dump could go directly into the chip, it didn't have to go through Tara at all.

edit: i wrote it, gonna post it. even if its already been said. =)
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« Reply #15 on: July 13, 2008, 01:24:57 PM »

What I thought was best with this story was the characterization of the child.  I work with kids that age, and even if the circumstances were fantastic, her behavior and dialogue and reactions felt really real.
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« Reply #16 on: July 13, 2008, 02:58:04 PM »

Schreiber - google "quantum entanglement" and "quantum teleportation" - those are the bits of real science Bear is using to support her story (and why we kept hearing that the device in Tara's head was a "quantum computer."  (And, yeah, we don't think that they work quite like that - but it's IMO closer to being realistic than, say, hyperspace).
So far as I was aware, the doctor was saying that these experiences were occurring because Tara's implant was quantumly entangled with the other implants. That Albert was using a computer that had been made from the same Bose-Einstein condensate as Tara's implant seems unlikely at best.

However, all of this was in a conversation between two people who didn't have advanced physics degrees, and didn't have any real idea as to how quantum computers actually function, so I don't imagine it was intended to be taken as a real explanation. Especially as it's an explanation for how Albert isn't actually real, and it's strongly implied that he is.
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« Reply #17 on: July 13, 2008, 03:17:11 PM »

I liked it.  Strange.  But I liked it.

As for the way Albert was talking to her... we don't know the theory put forward was correct; that it was connected to the condinsate, its just what they came up with.  So it is enough for us to get to grips with, but we don't know its the truth.  I can't explain the doctor, but the mother seemed to be grasping at straws, and she knew it.

As for the mother stopping the doctor helping her daughter; this didn't break character for me.  She desperatly wanted to believe that her daughter was not crazy, no matter how crazy some actions seemed.  She wanted to believe in her daughter beyond everything rational that she knew.  It was a gut instinct move.  Almost an act of passion.
Her instincual mind was in 2 totally different places and it took a while for them to resolve into helping the daughter breathe with the help of logic.

The only part that messed with me was how easily the doctor accepted the mothers explanations.  I've seen scrubs, I know that doctors know doctors make the worst parents because they know the bad stuff that can happen.  Also they know kids lie, fib and many other ways of hiding stuff or distorting the truth; so I don't see why they accepted what the kid said as true.

As for...
Quote
It reminded me of...that STNG episode where Picard gets knocked out by a beam from something they find floating in space and Picard "lives" for a bit in the extinct civilization.  One of my fav STNG episodes.

It is one of the best eps... but its Patrick Stewart acting everyone else off the screen, showing the normal crew he is actually a serious actor, and can prove it.
but the story was very similar to that...

I realise what it felt like though... an X files episode.  But the end of it where they show you everything, and it all comes together...
I could see this story make to be another hour longer with the FBI investigating the strange things this girl can do and create.  And what others on the trial may be able to do...  <_< but then you know... people may have to be presecuted for you know... letting the kid choke...

I don't know.  I listened to it at work... I was in a strange mood... maybe it's just me
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« Reply #18 on: July 13, 2008, 03:31:59 PM »

I loved this one, especially the characterization was spot on. And the reading was very good as usual.

But as I read through previous posts I was wondering why nobody seemed to really pick up on the creepyness of CHILDREN STRANGLING THEMSELVES. Is it just me and my (unfortunately unfulfilled or rather 'lacking-an-outlet-and-therefore-being-oversensitive-at-the-moment') mothering instinct that found it extremely *cringeworthy*. It made me incredibly uncomfortable to hear about the children's autoerotic asphyxiation, not the fact that children display autoerotic behaviors, we know it is a major part of a child's development and how parents and other people react can shape the child's attitude towards sex etc. etc. (makes me wonder how parents actually deal with it, but that is a different discussion) ... what I really struggled with is that in this case the game is so NOT a game... one that leads to children loosing control and end up dying.

Creepy. .... but good. (We do love a bit of creepyness in our stories, don't we.)
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« Reply #19 on: July 13, 2008, 05:07:44 PM »

The only part that messed with me was how easily the doctor accepted the mothers explanations.  I've seen scrubs, I know that doctors know doctors make the worst parents because they know the bad stuff that can happen.  Also they know kids lie, fib and many other ways of hiding stuff or distorting the truth; so I don't see why they accepted what the kid said as true.
I think that was covered by the doctor's line about 'Something might be wrong with the implants, or right.' Then she goes on to theorize about the functional telepathy. Who wouldn't want to be the discoverer of a device that can functionally link minds? Also, she's a doctor so she knows it takes 3-4 minutes with out oxygen for brain damage to occur, and they were only talking about a matter of seconds.

Quote
I realise what it felt like though... an X files episode.
Know why else it felt like an x-files episode?
Because Agent Mulder is supposed to die from autoerotic asphyxiation.
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