EP075: Nano Comes to Clifford Falls

By Nancy Kress.
Read by Martha Holloway (of the ADD Cast and Podiobooks Pro)

“I like the taste of home-grown tomatoes,” I tell him. “Ones at the Safeway taste like wallpaper.”

“But nano won’t make tomatoes that taste processed,” he says in that way that men like to correct women. “That machinery will make the best tomatoes this town ever tasted.”

“Well, I hope you’re right.” Then Will and Kimee spilled their fight out through the screen door into the back yard, and Jackie started whimpering on his blanket, and I didn’t have no time for any nanomachinery.

Rated R. Contains violence, brief sexual violence, and minor profanity.

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Referenced sites:
“The Coming Technological Singularity,” by Vernor Vinge

Comments (45)

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  1. Skought says:

    This story was gripping in every way imaginable. Awesome work. Nancy Kress is obviously talented, as is Martha Holloway. A perfect voice for this story. I was truly fearful when the intruders arrived. As far as the debate on if this is pessimistic or optimistic. If you throw out Rodenberry’s ideas as too idealistic, then this would seem to fall more in the more realistic. I choose optimistic. Society can not handle technical change. Consider the inevitable riots caused by blackouts, as just one example. As much as we’d like to think it, we are teeter-tottering on the shoulders of giants, not firmly planted there.

  2. Les says:

    Great story! I had heard Vernor Vinge speak about the technological singularity before on IT Conversations (http://www.itconversations.com/shows/detail711.html). It was great to see some of those possibilities of what a technology singularity could really mean explored in this story.

  3. Joe says:

    I’ve really enjoyed Nancy’s books so far and this short story is right in there also. Optimistic? Pessimistic? Again, it depends on which side of the singularity you end up on. I personally see it as an optimistic view of the future. Some of us actually enjoy the fruit of our own labor and know a little sweat just adds to the flavor of life.

  4. Doug Dante says:

    I really enjoyed this story, but it was filled with misandry. Men beat and raped women, abandoned their families, drank to excess, acted selfishly or recklessly, and ignored their children.

    The only men worth a damn were an old farmer and a couple of gay, cross dressing actors. It was like the author said, “Well, I have to have a few decent guys in this story, so I’m going to stick the most inoffensive and feminized men that I can.” I don’t buy it.

    The story should have been prefaced with: “Warning: Blatant Male Stereotyping Pervades this Piece”

    But it’s hard to be angry, because the story was otherwise so compelling and well read. It’s like reading “Rights of Man” and watching Thomas Paine lavish praise on America as a land of liberty while never once mentioning slavery. You really enjoy it, but there’s this painful and glaring flaw right there!

  5. I guess I’m in the minority here, but I have to be honest and say I really didn’t care for this story, for multiple reasons.

    First, the message: humans will become lazy and complacent when technology provides everything for them. This has to be one of the oldest, most rehashed themes in science fiction.

    Furthermore, from about 3:00 onward, I could see everything coming. It mystifies me that people see this tale as compelling, because the story is so hum-dum predictable that I felt almost like I was hearing an audiobook of an episode of “Scooby Doo”, just waiting for the author to pull the cover off Big Gray and find the metaphorical equivalent of a crook saying “I would have ruined human society, if it hadn’t been for you darned single mothers!”

    Since Doug mentioned stereotypes, I have to express how irritating it is to hear yet another twangish, Antebellum impersonation of someone from either the breadbasket or the deep south. We’re not all corn stalks and corn cob pipes. I’m not knocking the quality of the narrator — she did a very good job staying in character; I just thought the author’s prose and some of the narrator’s inflections were over the top. I grew up in a railroad town like the one in this story, and we weren’t all that hokey. Well, okay, some of us. But not all of us.

    To answer your question, Steve, I’d cast the story as pessimistic. Our heroine’s commune will survive, but it will witness a world in a second Dark Age. Since the outcome in the larger scope is pessimistic, that’s my vote.

  6. Loz says:

    Hmmm, I think I’d go for a pessimistic story that ends with cautious optimism for the future, that society will get to grips with nano and sort itself out. Maybe. I liked this story because it didn’t go for the traditional ‘Science will destroy us all!!!1!’ approach or ‘Science will end all our problems!!!’ either, but tried to steer a line between the two.

    I’m not sure I agree with Doug. While the male characters weren’t worth much, neither were the few women characters, other than the narrator. Almost everyone became greedy and relentlessly acquisitional.

  7. Sarah says:

    I read this story on tape in july in asimov’s as I am visually impaired and that’s how I get some of my mags. To hear it for a second time was great! Now was the story positive or negative? the answer is both. What can happen if humans let the maches do all of ther work can be a sceen like in this story, but then again some were using nano for there work. I am a new listener to escape pod and can’t wait for next week.

  8. deflective says:

    Technophobic stories irritate me more than they should. Misandrist are at least as bad.

    This was like sitting through a Thelma & Loise / The Net double feature. I’m typing this as it plays, probably wouldn’t get through it if I actually listened to it. It’s important to hear other point of views so I play it through, but still, stories where a single technology destroys society just by being introduction are sophomoric. People are people. The steam engine didn’t crush the working class, the nuclear bomb didn’t bath the world in hellfire, the internet isn’t producing a totalitarian state. The technology won’t do it, or prevent it for that matter. It’s people.

    The root of this story is that the only thing holding our society together is poverty. Without poverty men lose their morals. So, yeah. Big vote for pessimistic.

  9. Simon says:

    Hated it… Voting with deflective here, luddite stories about wonderous backbone of single mothers heroically struggling against the odds (the rape scene that allowed her to show her heroism without actually having to experience any suffering was a pathetic literary device) really dont do it for me.

    I respect you for running it, I think this sort of thing should be on escape pod, and it’s certainly science fiction. But I hated it.

  10. Nancy Kress says:

    I’d like to make a few points here, which I do with enormous trepidation because one of the first thng a writer learns is “Don’t argue with critics.” Nonetheless, I’m going to humbly offer a few clarifications.
    Society is not “destroyed” by nanotech. It does undergo a period of terrific upheaval. But the story clearly states that humanity is muddling on, as it tends to do, and that even in the cities things are, by the end, regaining some, if altered, equilibrium.
    Second, the people in this story are themselves, not emblematic of all men, all single mothers, or of any other class. That’s why they are so different from each other: among the women, Carol and Emma and Amelia have little in common, and among the men, Hal and Jack and Bob similarly react differently to situations. I’m not interested in the kind f polemic that narrows an entire class of human being to a single response to anythng, which is why everyone I just mentioned has different reactins to nanotechnology.
    Thank you all for at least listening — to bt my story and this post

  11. Mike says:

    This story was optimistic and pessimistic. Looking at historythat is what happens to humanity over time. As our skill needs change it can leave whole generations useless; using younger people who can easily adapt to the new worlds needs. Just look at the number of people in the last 100 years that no longer living in farming or produce who;s families used to.

    When large groups of people stop working they tend to rebel and become restless; and there is a period of upheval. This happened in Rome after Carthage was destroyed and they took the people as cheap labour for Rome ( they worked the land and people became unemployed). The unrest that carried on led to the whole system of government changing and it took 100 years for the empire to get back on track and recover from this event. Though in Rome a single man took control and caused a lot of that by having the peoples vote…

  12. Lar says:

    This is my favorite fantasy Escape Pod story. Why classify this story as fantasy? The story is too fantastic to actually happen.

    The nano machines would never be given away freely the way they were. A technical marvel like the nano machine has too much profit potential for corporate America to just give it away, or even to see it as a consumer product. They are the natural evolution of robotic automation in manufacturing. Because of this, the company holding the patent for the nano machine would position the it as a device for reducing the cost of making products that consumers buy, not as a product itself. They can make much more money licensing the reproduction of goods that can be resold rather than selling the nanos themselves.

    Listener deflective makes the point that the society is held together by poverty. I’d modify this a bit. From where I sit, it is the economy as a whole that holds society together. Not just poverty, but the need for money, at every level, drives a healthy economy. Ask Bill Gates if he is still driven to earn more money. He certainly doesn’t need it, but I’d bet he‚Äôd say yes.

    Keep stories like this one coming, if for no other reason than to generate such great comments in the blog. There are some great fiction podcasts out there, but I feel Escape Pod is unique in the quality of its post-mortem analysis. I get much more out of each story when I combine my reactions with all of yours. Thanks to everyone who posts.

  13. grommit says:

    This was my least favorite episode so far. No real reason that I can come up with, except it just wasn’t that good.

  14. Bazooka Joe says:

    What a coincidence, I was just wondering when Escape Pod might feature one of Nancy’s stories! Now if we could just get one of Kage Baker’s Company stories my life would be complete. Oh, and a story by Bruce Steling. And one by Greg Egan, and…

    Steve mentioned Vernor Vinge and his paper on the singularity during this episode and for those of you who are interested, I have two interviews with Vernor.

    One interview is an overview of Vernor’s writing which includes a conversation about his thoughts on the singularity. The other interview we talk about Vernor’s most recent book, Rainbows End, which hints at a malevolent AI and how eduction might be in the future.


  15. Jay says:

    Well where to start. After reading everyone’s posts i’ve found that i’m in the minority. I really enjoyed this story. It touched on the darker aspects of humanity that everyone usually likes to ignore. People are not as nice as they seem to be and I believe this story shows that quite well. The author has my respect for the way she touched on these dark aspects without turning the entire story into a cliche. I don’t think it is either pessimistic or optimistic, it is realistic of how humans may react to a society changing experience. Keep the great stories coming.

  16. niblick says:

    nano’ issa fun story to listen to but does sorta cause annoyance when its done and one relises what the ultimatte message in it is… first off it isnt the nano thats bad, we see eventually it does good things, its that the larger human society, evidently everybody in the world except for this small band of rightous ‘non nano’ users, is deeply flawed and held together with nothing but the need to aquire consumer items. Thats pretty heavy stuff, i mean ALL of human society, owtch. Second the solution thats put foward to this problem is to put some sort of fascist communal control in place to arbitralily limit peoples freedom to use this new technology, double outch…

  17. slic says:

    I enjoyed the story.

    This was neither pessimistic or optomistic. It was philisophical.
    What would you do if every basic need, food, shelter, material goods, was met? Would you finish that novel you had been working on every evening? Play soccer with your buddies? Sit around and drink beer with friends?
    I believe the world is made up of Doers and Sleepers. People who will create, produce, enrich lives regardless of what they have, and others who would happily sleep ’til noon every day and then watch TV or the equivalent. Which are you? I think I know which kind Steve Eley is (sorry to bring you into the arguement, Steve).

    deflective wrote”…the nuclear bomb didn’t bath (sic) the world in hellfire…”
    It did if your whole world was Hiroshima or Nagasaki. This story was from a single point of view, not a societal one. World History glosses over the effect to the individual.
    This story did not propose the only solution, niblick, just one that worked for the heroine.

  18. Dr Andy Collins says:

    I liked this story alot. I work in nanotech and it’s refreshing to hear the technology being defined as good or evil by the people wielding it. Not, as every third rate hack, hacker or sci-fi conspiracy theorist seems to think, by the “grey goo” or “infectious techno-virus mutant horror” scenarios. I’ve heard those angles too much. Certainly we must always try, wherever possible, to think about how research or developments will impact on our lives. Too often it seems that the public is given false or exagerated information and though this is part of what media is all about (The far out stuff makes good reading – just like sci-fi)it creates false understanding and perspective with regards to technology. If you are reading fiction you can put it down – in real life you are forced to asses how new science will interact with your existence. This was a good story about that process of assesment and not a hype story like Micheal Critons “Prey”. Steve and all the Escape pod crew a big thanks from me for putting out quality stuff!

  19. Dr Andy Collins says:

    I’ve just seen a load of spelling mistakes in my last comment. Damn you windows spell checker! It’s too late for me now. I’m already dependant on my technology.

  20. I really enjoyed this story! It was one of the more thought provoking stories for me on this podcast, and I think that it has a high level of quality that sets it as one of the better Escape Pod stories. I would say that it’s not so much pessimistic or optimistic as it is inquisitive. If I had to say one or the other, I’d say pessimistic, but that it’s not all out pessimistic because there isn’t a sense of inevitable doom – that society will inevitablly slide down this path with this new technology – but that this is one way that it could happen, and what if it did happen this way? To my mind, too, it’s not so much an examination of technology as it is an examination of humanity and human nature. The nanotechnology isn’t the antagonist in the story – the antagonist is the society itself, after it’s been changed by nanotech. Kind of like the slogan “guns don’t kill people – people kill people.” As such, I disagree with deflective’s assessment that this story is “technophobic.” And I would rephrase his statement “the only thing holding together our society is poverty” to say “when self-interest is the primary motivating factor among human beings, needs and wants are the most influential variables in determining what our society looks like.” And that’s completely true, whether it’s pessimistic or not. I think it can go either way, because humanity is a mix of builders and destroyers. That’s the crux of this story – the conflict between builders and destroyers. The conclusion is that society is not entirely one way or the other, but a mix of both. That is a message of hope as well as a message of soberness. As for stereotyping, I didn’t feel that it was too bad in this story. Yes, there were some pretty sick, violent men, but not all the men fit the beer belly wife beater stereotype. And yes, the main character was a heroic single mother, but I didn’t feel that the author was somehow saying that single mothers are better than other human beings. By keeping the main character as a relatively simple hero figure, it freed her up to use the rest of the very limited story space to examine the other issues. And that’s what the story was really about – not about how men are wife-beaters, or how single mothers have the moral high ground in the world. IMO, if that’s what you’re upset about, you really closed yourself off to a great story.

    So, count me among those who think that this story represents Escape Pod at its best!

  21. JClark says:

    It’s interesting to see so many “it wasn’t really about the tech, but rather the people” posts here, since that’s what all quality sci-fi does. The tech is merely there to facilitate the drama of the story in a way that the mosrd world can not, allowing sci-fi to ask questions that straight fiction can’t.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed this story. I had a few problems with it, but overall the mood and progression of events was creepy and thought provoking. The impression I got wasn’t that society completely collapsed, just that enough of it did that things had to change, and there were some major upheavals and shifts in the process.

    I did have one problem with the story, a technical one actually, and one that should help to insure that this sort of thing never happens. Where did all of the raw materials come from? You can’t build something out of nothing, so where did the raw meterials to build cars and clothes and food and all of that come from? When the scene with the trash cans came up, I thought this point had finally caught up with the town and they were out of garbage and anything else they were willing to part with to feed the machine. I was slightly disappointed that I was wrong, though the actual point made in the story was a good one.

    Well, one other point bothered me slightly, the idea that because things could be gotten for free there was no need to work any more. That doesn’t seem quite right, since so many things we require money for aren’t objects that could be built by a machine of that sort. For example health care, education, electricity, property (due to taxes), gasoline and other fuels, etc.

    I figure every story gets one “gimmie”, so those two points (which really add up to one and a half in my mind, the second is a minor quibble really) didn’t sour things too much, and I ended up enjoying the story.

  22. Joe says:

    “Where did all of the raw materials come from? You can‚Äôt build something out of nothing . . . ”

    One might assume that it was pulled right out of the atmosphere (H,C,O,N are easy pickings from our air, you can get a good deal of sulpher[S?] and, until recently, Pb out of air in urban environments). Trace elements could come from recycling trash as feed stock, or from soil, or from delivered supplies of feed stocks for the machines. If the telling of how the machines work does not add to the story then I see no harm left in leaving out details, but that’s just me.

    “Well, one other point bothered me slightly, the idea that because things could be gotten for free there was no need to work any more.”

    Go google “WELFARE STATE” and see what you can find on the subject. Alot (not the majority) of people seem to be perfectly willing to subsist on goods and funds supplied by others and do little or no work(in terms of wage-earning, not housework or child-rearing work.) Before we go political I am not saying all who receive public assistance are happy, or even comfortable, to be in that position.

    As far as people going on in their jobs after they get everything they need or want at little cost . . . some people love their work. Some people get great satisfaction from their jobs. Some would still do that work even if all their need would be met should they stop doing any work at all. Others would stop working, and go nuts (and the story shows some aspects of that.)

    Personally I would no longer do the work I do (I drive for a living) and would spend much more time with my children (playing and teaching) more time learning (reading and experiencing) than I do now. I would spend more time traveling for pleasure [on a nano-made train that runs on renewable energy sources perhaps?] and more time with making art and writing.

    Money and things to not bring happiness once you are at the point where you are secure in being able to provide food, shelter, clothing, education, security, and health for yourself and those you love.

    “‚Ķ first off it isn’t the nano thats bad, we see eventually it does good things, its that the larger human society, evidently everybody in the world except for this small band of rightous ‚Äònon nano‚Äô users, is deeply flawed and held together with nothing but the need to aquire consumer items.”

    I think you missed something. The farm was not made up for the “rightous” who spurned nano. Nano was a tool they used. Nano did not feed them though, the soil and their labors fed them.

    “Second the solution thats put foward to this problem is to put some sort of fascist communal control in place to arbitralily limit peoples freedom to use this new technology, double outch‚Ķ”

    The solution that worked for a small group of people fits them. If their solution did not prevent others from finding and implementing their own solutions then good on them. If someone wants to be communist, by all means, go find a workers paradise and enjoy. You prefer anarchy? I think Solmolia is very lax on their immigration; you should not have a problem crossing their borders. Capitalism in any of it’s varieties? Pick and choose one of many nations available. You like a fascist state? Go find one, move in, be happy if that’s your thing.

    “Technophobic stories irritate me more than they should.”

    This isn’ t a technophobic story. It’s a story about change. When things change populations need to adjust. Sometimes the period of adjustment is painful.

    For example, today the world is getting flatter. A person in a far off country was once just an abstract figure, today that person might replace you at work.

    Today the world is fed by machines run by a relatively small number of men(as in mankind.) Once men farmed the land with the strength of their backs. Today machines allow far fewer to feed so many more.

    Unemployed persons (be they “victims” of outsourcing or the mechanization of farming [or perhaps nano-manufacturing]) and the society they live in adjust.

    Great piece of work in both writing and presentation. I completely enjoyed the story except where it was meant to be quite uncomfortable; The near-rape scene chilled my blood. It is a welcome change in the sci-fi world where the technology (especially nano) is not cast as the source of evil but rather as a tool to be used by people, be they good, evil, or just apathetic.

    By the way, nano is already here, and has been here for a while.

  23. Joe says:

    I’m not talking about “ground up” engineering of products from the moleculear level but rather a “top down” approach.

    Nano as in the use and manipulation of the extremely small. DNA science is a fine example of nano.

    Nano is not grey goo.

  24. JClark says:

    My point about people still having to work wasn’t very clear, so I’ll try another approach.

    The people in the town tooks turns getting one thing at a time from the machine (aside from the food machine). How on earth does that supply all needs? For example, the couple who got the house, in what way does having a pre-fab house take away the need for money? Where were they going to put it? How were they going to heat/cool it? Etc.

    I’m not saying that that part of the story was totally wrong, only that it was oversimplified in my opinion.

    As for welfare states, that doesn’t really apply here. These are people who had good paying jobs and chose to leave them because they figured they could do just as well getting everything from the machines. As I’ve already said, you can’t possibly get everything you need from those machines. It was only consumer goods and basic food that could be gotten, and there’s a whole lot more that you need to survive.

    My question wasn’t about peoples’ willingness to live off the machines, merely the feasability. Which is also why I questioned where the raw materials were coming from. I let it slide because it was integral to the set up, but in reality things simply wouldn’t work like that.

  25. I think that that was the point of the story. When scarcity is eliminated, our economy and society is completely transformed. The problem wasn’t on the demand end, it was on the supply end. Sure, there was still demand for services that the nanotech couldn’t provide, but the suppliers were no longer accepting money when their wealth ceased to be limited by the amount of money they could acquire. The individuals working for the producers felt that they could make it on their own, because they no longer had to work to acquire material wealth. Perhaps a more realistic alternative would be where money ceased representing goods and services, and instead came to represent services only. Perhaps the transition would have been less violent and abrubt than that represented in the story, but it would still be the same forces at work, and a similar conflict.

    What about this: are we, as a society, moving in this direction? Towards a system in which human beings no longer have to work? Technoligical advances shifted our economies from agriculture to industry in the first half of the 20th century, and from industry to services in the last half of the 20th century. When services are replaced, what will happen then? This is a side of the singularity that I think is much more of an immediate issue than that of uploading consciousnesses and swapping bodies, IMO (though I think that those make good stories too!). We’re probably going to see our service economy replaced by technology before we start having wars with AI or digitalize the human soul.

  26. Spork says:

    Farmers will save the world, huh?

    Same old boring shit, just a different podcast.

  27. Gordon says:

    Loved the story – gripping, good character, and so refreshing to see some Singularity tech treated as neither saviour nor devil.

    Regarding Steve’s comment about other people getting the tech first. It is scary. Two groups that really worry me: government – likely to have access to the really expensive stuff, but too bureaucratic and ethical (or something) to fully use it, and criminals – motivated the wrong way. We are in for interesting times!

    Finally, regarding Esape Pod’s charter. You’re doing great, charter be damned. Do you really need a charter anymore?

  28. normalabnormal says:

    I have a couple of random observations from the peanut gallery. I got a “Star Trek TNG” feel from some aspects of the story. Replicators/nanotech providing things for people and the elimination of a money based economy, I don’t see that happening. It doesn‚Äôt affect the telling of the story just because I don‚Äôt agree with it. That some people relied on the new tech to their determent I could buy. That some looked upon it as an opportunity to do what they always wanted to do was also very something I could buy since it is I wanted to do myself if I didn’t have to do all that work for survival. Nice point.

    I also see some parallels to this story and John Ringo’s series about the collapse of a high tech society following a “civil war”. Some excelled to the challenge others degenerated. Some of the same themes brought up here. Let‚Äôs also acknowledge that misogyny and man bashing are really fairly common in SciFi . I really didn‚Äôt see that in this story myself though.

    Nitpick though, the diamond earring would have burned up in the fire, its only carbon after all and the do burn nicely.

    I liked the story myself.

  29. Bruce says:

    I agree with some of the negative comments about predictability and the trite single mom stereotypes. On the other hand, there were some salient points about the direction that society takes as we become more dependent on technology and consumerism run amok.

    It isn’t hard to see the roots of this in current society, where we chose cheap prices at Walmart over manufacturing jobs.

  30. ABSOLUTE best story I’ve heard in a long, long time.

    This was a seriously intense story, and was well handled; not over the top, not too heavy, but poignant and just real enough to scare you.

  31. Bruce said…

    “agree with some of the negative comments about predictability and the trite single mom stereotypes. ”

    Good commentary, but I think that was used to invite people to associate with the characters. I was fine with it in that I didn’t have to spend any energy trying to find characters to identify with, and I was left free to see and feel the underlying story. This isn’t a character-based story, so getting the characters out of the way with familiarity was the right choice.

  32. Science Nerd says:

    “Nitpick though, the diamond earring would have burned up in the fire, its only carbon after all and the do burn nicely.”

    Science nerd reply:
    I know for a fact that “artifical” diamonds (true diamons, just man-made) are formed at over 1400 degrees f. So I know that a 1400 degree diamond won’t go bursting into flames. So the assumption [note to self: google this] is that the ignition point of a diamon would have be to over 1400 degrees.

    That would have to be one hell of a house fire to get that hot (not just in a few “hot spots” either.)

    Post google note:
    Shows you what I know… 1500 deg C for artifical diamond production, at over 60k atmospheres of pressure. Thats ALOT more heat than I thought.

    In a 100% O2 enviroment diamonds combust at 1320 deg F.

    The real world is 20% or so O2, so one would assume you need more heat than that.

    “In a typical structure fire, the gas layer at the ceiling can quickly reach temperatures of 1500 degrees Fahrenheit.” So, if you store your diamons at ceiling level they can get hot enough to burn, but the gas that collects under ceilings in the typical fire is depleted of O2, so no combustion can happen at all.

    This is the reason there is a “flash over” [or “backdraft” if you watched the movie] effect when a door, window, or some other opening is cleared in a fashion where O2 can come into the high temperature enviroment and support [rapid!] combusion of the hot gasses.

    end science nerd repy

  33. JClark says:

    onelowerlight said:
    “I think that that was the point of the story. When scarcity is eliminated, our economy and society is completely transformed. The problem wasn‚Äôt on the demand end, it was on the supply end.”

    That’s a good point. I didn’t mean to imply that I didn’t like the story, I did, I was just commenting on the plausability. Probably as much to reassure myself that this wouldn’t happen as anything.

    As for the question of whether or not we’re moving to a point that no one will have to work any more… Does anyone remember how computers were supposed to give us three day work weeks and eliminate the need for paper?

    I work more than full time, using a computer, and I never fail to be surrounded by reams of paper.

    Not that it couldn’t happen, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

  34. “…Does anyone remember how computers were supposed to give us three day work weeks and eliminate the need for paper?”

    Funny thing, I thought of that the day after I posted that comment. So, perhaps we aren’t so much in danger of becoming idle if/when the service economy is replaced by technology. I wonder, though, how things would change in that scenario. Computers and the internet changed and are changing a LOT, with the biggest effects probably being that we perpetually have too much information and have a need to learn to sift through it all, and increased specialization in career and education fields. So, basically, in today’s society, you need to be a lot smarter and a quicker thinker to be able to survive and live well. That’s probably why a lot of sci-fi writers write about the singularity as a point where something changes in the human mind.

    I dunno; it’s interesting to think about. It’s good also to know what’s hot in the sci-fi world.

  35. George says:


    “It mystifies me that people see this tale as compelling, because the story is so hum-dum predictable that I almost felt like I was hearing an audiobook of an episode of ‘Scoby Doo’…”

    Good fiction, like good marketing, has both a good package and a good product. Nancy’s story had great writing — excellent presentation. Very few people seem to disagree.

    What most people don’t like is the product — the plot itself. It seems to me that most consumers of genre fiction become jaded very quickly because they read a lot of bad stories (say discount brands, with crappy packaging and substandard products).

    Once jaded, you pay less attention to the packaging and compare the product to every other product you can remember. Once jaded, it’s difficult to take a story on its own merits. We overlook virtues and pick at perceived shortcomings.

    I think this story succeeded in terms of both packaging and product. You can, with very little effort, reduce the plot to “subject verb object,” but you can do that with any good plot. Good packaging can make any plot, any product, shine like new. Good work.

  36. I want to say I didn’t see the black and white depiction of men in this story until I read the comments here, and now that I have, I think it is a valid issue. The fact that the male characters are either predatory or functionally neutered is emblematic of poor writing. Which is jarring, seeing how this is not a poorly written story.

    But that’s not the what made me uncomfortable.

    First off, I find it hard to believe this level of technology just plops down in a community unexpectedly. Even in rural areas there’s WiFi and thousands of cable channels; technology is far more invasive in the country than it seems the author believes. If nano is possible, then it follows that the people of Clifford Falls would also be familiar with its precedents, like 3-D printers and other “create on demand” machines, not to mention robots that are larger than microscopic. The reactions of the townsfolk to nano are impulsive and childish, which would make sense if they had never seen such technology before. But how could that be, in the future of a world where even Masai tribesmen carry cellphones?

    It reeks slightly of classism, that these country bumbkins cannot handle technology. And it’s not the only thing in the story that does.

    I was also off-put by the rural teachers and policemen quickly leaving their jobs. Unless those teachers and cops in Clifford Falls get paid alot more than they did in the farm country I grew up in, I find it hard to believe all it takes are free food and fast cars to get them to leave their posts. All blue-collar workers seem to fall prey to this, and while I can’t fault factory workers for quitting, the fact that they don’t seem to do anything instead seems to run contrary to human nature. Does no one in this hamlet have any hobbies or dreams? I’m surprised rape and pillage comes before finishing that hot-rod in the garage, or finally learning how to water-ski.

    The cap all the whole issue is the ending, where the community is saved by scientists, writers, inventors, inventors, a “real” teacher (obviously not in it for the money), sculptors, organic(!) farmers, a chess champ and Hal, who more than once is referred to as being smarter than his neighbors. These are only a fraction of the 87 in the farm commune, but these are the ones who are singled out. Society is only saved when these college-educated few go back to the life their blue-collar cousins abandoned, in favor of more animalistic behavior.

    The story’s moral seems to be that there are those who work and those who don’t. Good thing the white collar workers of the world were able to swoop down and show their country cousins how to live.

    That said, Martha did an amazing reading, and should read more stories here on Escape Pod.

  37. This was a truly great story. I was enthralled by the natural feel of it. I am looking forward to other stories like this one. I really enjoyed it. Here in Japan, new technologies are always encrouching into every aspect of daily life and the same people who adopt it fully also keep and conserve the traditional culture of the country. its a cool duality. respect for the ancient and traditional, embracing the new and cutting edge.

  38. Nancy Kress says:

    I would like to say something about the comments that there are “no good men” in my story. The smartest, most compassionate, and most far-seeing person in this story, Hal Bellingham, is male. Are you overlooking him because he’s not young? He has small grand-children, so he’s probably in his late fifties or early sixties. That’s hardly “effectively neutered”, as one of you said — good grief!
    As for not including “blue collar” people — both Hal and Carol herself definitely are that.
    I know it’s a mistake to answer critics. But really…

  39. This story was very nice read. Unfortunately, I was unable to follow the story, perhaps due to the fact that English isn’t my first language. And it’s late at night. 🙂

  40. Nicholas Barry says:

    Terrific! Loved it.

    It reminded me of The Stars, My Destination. This novel begins with the premise that people have learned how to teleport themselves, without the aid of technology. Immediately afterward there is a long war all throughout all of human civilization. Actually, it isn’t so much war as it is societal breakdown. The concept of property is devalued immediately when anyone who wants to can teleport into your house, the bank, the museum, or whatever to steal what they want. Traditional jails, of course, are useless. Private property means a lot less when fences can no longer keep people out. Locked doors are not too helpful. Eventually, though, society settles back down again. It is certainly changed when it reconstitutes, but it does get back on its feet.

    This is what happened in Nano. The nano machines altered society in a really fundamental way, and everything went chaotic for a while. At the end of the story you see people settling down and figuring things out in their own way. We only got a good look at the people in the commune, but I imagine that there were people living in cities, figuring things out in their own ways.

    There must have been people living in less back-to-the-earth ways. Jonathan Gillespie commented that the world was entering another Dark Age, and based only on our commune, I could see that – there were very few trained teachers, only a small library of books, no computers, very limited use of the nano machines…they’ve lost so much of the world’s knowledge! But other groups were surely more like the researcher we met earlier in the story, who used the nano machines to pursue research. And there must have been people who were willing to use the nano machines to replicate books. I think it was a pity that our commune refused to use the nanos to make books, but others wouldn’t make such a decision. I think it’s hasty to conclude that society has collapsed entirely or permanently and that a Dark Age is setting in.

    Finally, there was an interesting distinction drawn between two “different types” of people. One post mentions “sleepers vs. doers;” another mentions “builders vs. destroyers.” The story itself mentions that nano has separated those who work because they have to from those who work because it’s what they do. Personally, I think that people love to create dichotomies and categories. I like to do it myself. But I think we should resist when doing so makes it appear that these two categories are truly separate, or that they consist of two different KINDS of people. Of course it is a continuum. But a more important criticism I have of this distinction is that it makes it appear that the characteristic is exogenous – as if you are just born with a certain amount of desire to work. In reality, how much you want to work has a lot to do with how you are brought up. Parents will have to be really careful bringing up their kids in the nano-dominated world, lest the kids learn that there isn’t any need to work for anything. Despite the trouble of farming for food when all the food you could ever want is available through the nanos, it certainly instills a work ethic in your kids. I think there’s a lot of value in that. In such a situation, I would definitely set some limits for myself, and while I would be very willing to order books from the nano, I would want to make sure the meaning of my life wasn’t reduced to nothing through atrophy.

  41. From a summer residence I go to 7 o’clock in the morning on a bicycle for work. In the beginning of the house has put into itself the order, has a little had a rest, pressure 120-140 on 70-80. Whether a question it is possible to work in the after WBR LeoP

  42. scatterbrain says:

    A prothetic vision that just might come true.

    Both awe-filled and terrifying.

  43. […] So I was thrilled to get an email from him yesterday saying that his article featuring our interview had gone live. He writes a column for Asimov’s called On The Net and this month’s (and, I think, next month’s too!) features interviews with me, Tee Morris and JC Hutchins about the direction of podcast novels. Check out Jim’s column, and if you haven’t picked up the latest Asimov’s, you should, as it has a new Nancy Kress story. […]