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EP078: The Shoulders of Giants

By Robert J. Sawyer.
Read by Stephen Eley.

The Pioneer Spirit was a colonization ship; it wasn’t intended as a diplomatic vessel. When it had left Earth, it had seemed important to get at least some humans off the mother world. Two small-scale nuclear wars‚ÄîNuke I and Nuke II, as the media had dubbed them‚Äîhad already been fought, one in southern Asia, the other in South America. It appeared to be only a matter of time before Nuke III, and that one might be the big one.

SETI had detected nothing from Tau Ceti, at least not by 2051. But Earth itself had only been broadcasting for a century and a half at that point; Tau Ceti might have had a thriving civilization then that hadn’t yet started using radio. But now it was twelve hundred years later. Who knew how advanced the Tau Cetians might be?

Rated PG. Contains minor profanity, and very tame references to populating new worlds. Hey, someone’s got to.

Comments (55)

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  1. izzardfan says:

    I started listening in June 2007, but have downloaded episodes from these pages because they’re no longer on iTunes, back to August 2006. Once I catch up, I’ll go back and grab another few months worth. My point in telling you this is to put my comment in perspective in case I’ve missed something similar elsewhere.

    First, let me say that I haven’t been disappointed yet with a story I’ve heard. Some were better than others, but none were deserving of a negative review, for me at least.

    In his November comment above, Earl Newton wrote: The story is superficially similar to a story by Robert L. Forward called “Dragon’s Egg”, where humankind passes a neutron star and discovers primitive life living there: on the star itself. But due to several factors, the life cycle for the creatures is only a minute fraction of ours. By the time the human ship comes close enough to examine, the alien creatures have already lived hundreds of generations, and have advanced beyond our technology.

    There’s an episode of Star Trek: Voyager that examines this, where Voyager is in one place in the planet’s sky so long that it becomes part of the culture’s myths and legends.

    Steve’s closing quote mentioned the dinosaurs becoming extint due to a lack of a space program. Another episode of Star Trek: Voyager (“Distant Origin”) “refutes” this with the premise that saurians DID have a space program, and that they left Earth and colonized another world in a different quadrant of the galaxy.

    Thanks for all the great stories, and all the hours of aural enjoyment!

  2. [...] #078: The Shoulder of Giants [...]

  3. Yonderboy says:

    I really feel like I am in the minority here, but I have to voice one thing about the story that really made me uncomfortable, the self pity and hubris of the lead characters. The story sets up the reason for leaving Earth as the desire to preserve the human race. But it turns out that the real reason is the selfish desire to have a planet of their own. I could not enjoy the story since I found the main characters despicable and pedantic. When the co captains of the ship find out the planet they are aiming for is inhabited, they immediately become resentful and decide to head out into space for parts unknown. Rather than being happy that the problems they fled Earth to escape, nuclear annihilation specifically mentioned, were overcome, they can only think of themselves and how they have been robbed of being the new Adam and Eve. So they decide to drag the rest of the colonists out into space, without waking them up to inform them of the situation. So the selfish desires of the two in charge, who the others had placed their full trust in, becomes the unchosen fate of all.

    • Working my way through old Escape Pods (Delightful! Thanks Steve!) so forgive the belated comment on this story -

    The whole time I was listening to this story, I kept thinking, “I’ve already read this, and it wasn’t by Robert J. Sawyer. The story was by A.E. van Vogt.” Pulling down a van Vogt collection called “Destination: Universe!” from my shelf, I found the story again – it’s called “Far Centaurus,” and it was originally published in the January 1944 edition of “Astounding Science Fiction.” And sure enough, the premise – and to some extent the resolution – are entirely the same as Sawyer’s story.

    I have to say, this bothered me. Has Sawyer read this story before? Was this meant as an homage to van Vogt? I didn’t hear anything in his piece that was a particular tribute to van Vogt’s story, as in, “I know I’m rewriting a masterwork, and here’s my nod to it.”

    Interestingly, van Vogt’s story goes further than Sawyer’s, and tackles a lot of what listener noyb says is missing from Sawyer’s future – that a hundred generations from now human civilization will look and feel very different than our own. In the van Vogt story, future humans even SMELL different, and one man in the future has been training his whole life to handle the archaic language, affectations – and smells! – of the sleepers. The extrapolation in van Vogt’s story is a fantastic bit of futurism, IMHO, even if his end descends into a bit more melodrama and gratuitous action than does Sawyers. Even so, the resolutions are essentially the same.

    I’d be interested in hearing from others who’ve read both stories to see how they feel about it. Are the two stories too similar? Or are there really no new ideas – just, to recycle Steve’s words, “The same old words in a different order?”

    For my part, the whole time I was listening to the Sawyer story I couldn’t help but think, “Standing on the shoulders of giants indeed.”

  4. scatterbrain says:

    Goddamit! Sawyer stole my idea!

    But that was one hell of a story!