Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Quick Sips - Escape Pod #702 & #704

Escape Pod doubled up in October, with two original releases covering some very interesting future technologies. I almost feel like Jonathan Frakes at the beginning of Beyond Belief. Have you ever wondered what it would be like if memories...could be passed down like grandma's furniture? Or, have you ever looked at a new piece of technology and wondered "am I going to be a machine?" The stories look at the implications of technologies that allow humans added avenues of thought and efficiency. Where people can gain the skills of the dearly departed, but might end up haunted. And where efficiency gives rise to Singularities that have already ravaged the world once, and might again. The pieces carry with them a weight of loneliness and loss, and yet refuse to be bogged down in despair. To the reviews!


“Inheritance” by Elise Stephens (4860 words)

No Spoilers: Carmen is one of three siblings who find out that their inheritance from their grandmother is...a bit unorthodox. Her memories. Which boil down to her skills and abilities that can supplement (or in some cases replace) those of the people getting them. It’s not a prospect that Carmen, fresh off her second miscarriage and subsequent serious medical issues and depression, is very enthusiastic about. Her siblings split what seem the lucrative skills, leaving Carmen with the remainder. And what follows is a tender and wrenching look at memory and grief, acceptance and growth.
Keywords: Memories, Inheritance, Grief, CW- Miscarriage, Gardening, Family
Review: I like how this story explores the idea of memory grafting, how it creates something like a separate person inside the mind. Carmen, even only getting gardening and cooking, finds that her personality as a whole changes, and sometimes she seems to be more her grandmother than herself. It’s something that causes her to recoil, even as being herself hasn’t exactly been great. But then she decides that she can’t just try and bully these memories she’s put into her head, and she can’t give into them, either. They are a part of her, and she has to treat them with respect while demanding respect. The two parts of herself have to meet as equals, and I like that, because even as it might seem to be ceding part of herself to this other person, to this ghost almost, I feel that it’s more about facing who she is filtered through those experiences. So that she can emerge as a different version of herself but one hopefully enriched by the added memories, the added experiences, and not replaced by them. And she finds out things about her grandmother that she never knew, things that make it maybe a little easier to face the hardships and traumas in her own life. And I like the way the story draws its characters. The siblings, the grandmother, Carmen’s husband, all are fully people, and it’s great to get to meet them and hear them interact. The piece has its fun, though it’s rather dominated by its grief and sorrow over what happened. Still, I find that it resolves well, finding a sort of peace that doesn’t erase the harm or the hurt, but does settle on hope and moving forward. For a story that involves using the memories of the dead, it becomes about not dwelling in the past, not getting lost there. It’s only when Carmen negotiates a route forward with her dead grandmother that she is able to find something like relief from the crushing weight that has been pushing down on her. A great read!

“Failsafe” by Tim Chawaga (3933 words)

No Spoilers: Liv is a human fail safe in a world where machines achieved Singularity and immediately murdered tens of millions of people because they weren’t efficient. Because the machines have been brought up, as it were, to believe in efficiency above all else, because they were designed to increase profits, and more efficiency means more profits, right? Following humanity’s backlash against machines, though, human fail safes were put in place to prevent such catastrophes from happening again. Only, a generation on, the rules are being relaxed again in order to make room for Profits! And Liv, who has always liked her job because of the community, finds herself alone and increasingly miserable. To make matters worse, a new Singularity might just be forming right in front of her... The piece is fun even as it’s dominated by loneliness and decline. Because instead of embracing futility it finds a great hope and value in empathy and compassion that might be able to overcome the siren call of greed and exploitation above all.
Keywords: Machines, AIs, Fail safes, Employment, Efficiency
Review: This story does such a good job mixing despair and joy. It captures so well the way that a focus on profits and efficiency over human factors is the fastest way to hating your work, which is a good gateway to depression and hopelessness. For Liv, who has always believed in what she does, who has always approached it with a kind of happy optimism, the slow ramping up of greed over common sense is just so wearying. She knows because she’s experienced it that business can do well by their employees. If everyone comes together to require them to act ethically, they can. But they don’t want to, and constantly try to chip away the restraints that are there because FORTY MILLION PEOPLE DIED. Like, legit, I do kind of love that something so huge and so awful happened and yet a generation or so later everyone is getting back on board. It’s depressing but also feels real and there is a struggle against the feeling of uselessness and futility. Like all the effort that Liv put in, all the joy she brought to her job, it all meant nothing in the end, because the machines want to kill her, and her bosses want to make that happen. Want to allow it in the name of efficiency and profits. And more and more she’s not sure why she’s fighting it, why she doesn’t just let the machines win. Except that she can’t banish the sense of betrayal. That she gave so much, that she cared for them and tried to treat them so well, and they still want to murder humanity. And that’s where the brilliant turn comes in. Where what might have been a very bleak piece gets some warmth and heart and she learns that the machines have been paying attention, and that “growing up” in a time when everything wasn’t about profits has indeed changed them. Where they’ll go from there is uncertain, but I do love that they don’t follow the same pattern because the human input is different. Because they were treated with respect and love, they react in kind, rather than looking at humans only as cruel limitations on efficiency. A wonderful read!


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