EP106: The House Beyond Your Sky

2007 Hugo Nominee!

By Benjamin Rosenbaum.
Read by Paul Tevis (of Have Games Will Travel).
First appeared in Strange Horizons, September 2006.

The simulations, while good, are not impenetrable even to their own inhabitants. Scientists teaching baboons to sort blocks may notice that all other baboons become instantly better at block-sorting, revealing a high-level caching mechanism. Or engineers building their own virtual worlds may find they cannot use certain tricks of optimization and compression‚Äîfor Matthias has already used them. Only when the jig is up does Matthias reveal himself, asking each simulated soul: what now? Most accept Matthias’s offer to graduate beyond the confines of their simulation, and join the general society of Matthias’s house.

You may regard them as bright parakeets, living in wicker cages with open doors. The cages are hung from the ceiling of the priest’s clay hut. The parakeets flutter about the ceiling, visit each other, steal bread from the table, and comment on Matthias’s doings.

Rated R. Contains some profanity and child abuse. It’s probably too complex for young children as well.

Referenced Sites:
Diversity in SF Markets (blog post by Tobias S. Buckell)
Finis: A Book of Endings
Nina Kimberly the Merciless
SciFi Smackdown

Comments (27)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. I just read this story two days ago! How freaky that it’s now on EP!

  2. Elizabeth GM says:

    That story was absolutely beautiful. It really puts the listener/reader off-center in a way that only the very best SF can do. Thanks, as always, for making it so easy and enjoyable to keep up with F&SF.

  3. ComputerKing says:

    I think it was the off-center feeling that turned me off of this story. I’m only making a short statement because I stopped playing the episode pretty early on. The concept was interesting, the dialogue believable.

    I didn’t like the overpowering use of metaphor. Everything was something else. The simulated people were parakeets, the priest’s home was a small hut, somehow able to hold dozens of simulations and whatever else was necessary to interact with the simulations. I understood what was going on, but I found it difficult to picture the strange circumstances in which the scene was being described.

    Maybe I’ll try again later. This is just my first impression.

  4. snackboy says:

    Wow, this story was really great. My brain got sore trying to follow it! I am going to track this one down so I can read it myself. I think it would be easier to follow in text as opposed to audio.

    Keep up the good work.

  5. I found it easier to understand the story after I had listened to it rather than reading. But that may have just been because I read it on a computer screen and that can be distracting at times.
    But, then again I did think reading it was also easier because I could go back and re read when I didn’t get bits.
    Then again, it may have been easier to listen because I had only just read it…

  6. I found the writing style of this story off putting. I felt the same when I read it on SH. It has the same problem a lot of the fiction on SH has, too much narration, not enough dialogue. The view point is too distanced, it would be much stronger with more of Mathias internal monologue instead of relying on external desciption. It reads like a sysnopsis. There are some nice ideas in there but the writing style made them hard work to engage with.

  7. Nobilis says:

    The story is a chicken. I am being asked to eat it, but I do not have a fire, and I do not have time to build one before the chicken has gone.

  8. Susanna says:

    Honestly? This story very nearly put me to sleep. I’m sure it’s interesting, I’m sure it’s well built, I’m sure it has loads of redeeming features, but what it comes down to, is that it didn’t tickle my imagination. You could project the ending very, very early, and the prose… Honestly? Pretentious.

    Great as a sleeping pill, but otherways… Nah. Not for me.

  9. Wez says:

    Understanding the depth behind creating an artificial being tingled me when the parakeets fought back, choosing to do so out of their own free will. The idea of creating a world within a world sent shivers down my spine, especially in the end when you realize that our world is the indirect result of Matthias’s simulacra. I think stories that portray an alternate theory of creation appeals to most people, probably because each theory is as plausible as the next, and it’s fun to imagine where it all began.

  10. hapes says:

    Wait, Matthias is the Flying Spaghetti Monster?!

  11. Artifex says:

    That had to my favorite Escape Pod story so far. As someone who reads sci-fi mostly for the ideas and speculation, I’ve read a lot of far-future hard sf, and I have to say- that story was some of the best I’ve seen anywhere- really top-notch. There are enough ideas in there for a good full-length novel (the ‘memetic’ weapons, Mathia’s theology, all excellent, original stuff) My only disappointment was when I learned that Rosenbaum hasn’t actually written any novels yet.

  12. Scott says:

    I am not sure I fully understood this one. Some of it felt poetic rather than narrative.
    Neither of those points are intended as criticism though. Although I am a great consumer of space opera, I am very keen to broaden.

  13. Anne Corwin says:

    I think I’m going to have to try reading this one in print — my impression while listening was that it was probably a good, imaginative, high-quality story, but one that was too difficult to keep track of through the auditory channel.

    There was a lot of great imagery, but the narrative structure was too loose and dreamlike for my taste. I don’t mind that sort of thing when reading print, but when I am listening to something I need the prose to be a bit “tighter” — otherwise the plot tends to elude me.

  14. zen says:

    Wow simply amazing story I really loved it being myself quite a film fanatic it really tickled my imagination.
    Not sure if my positive reaction is for the fact that I could identify myself in the actions of the protagonist, since I am reading all these negative thoughts. Anyways I loved it…….

  15. zen says:

    oops I posted on the wrong story sorry……. 🙁

  16. JustaJ0e says:

    I found this one pretty inaccessible.
    It wasn’t the poetic style that was so much off-putting but the amount of knowledge I was assumed to already know about coding or writing programs or something.

    Given all that, I would say that this story still comes in above EP091.

  17. Chris Q. says:

    Complicated, hard to follow all the details.

  18. I didn’t get this at all. Maybe because I’m in bed with some bug my daughter brought home from daycare. I found it all too abstract, not well suited for audio narration: if I had read it eyewise I’d had to read it twice and maybe still not grokked it.

  19. Mike says:

    I didn’t “get” this one either. I will try to read it on paper, at my own leisure, and see if that helps. I did, however, really enjoy the narration. I probably would have given up on the story if not for the fact that Mr. Tevis seemed to be enjoying it. I kept asking myself “What is he seeing in this that I’m not?” That kept me entertained when I couldn’t understand the story itself.

    You know what would be nice? If we could search EP episodes based on who narrated them. I’m sure I’ve heard other stories narrated by Mr. Tevis, but I can’t remember which ones.

  20. Ryan says:

    I’m believe I understand some of the gripes voiced above, but the story was more than the d√©nouement of Mathias, though sometimes it didn’t appear to be. The pretense that beings such as those populating the story would represent themselves in the ways they did within this infospace separated the craftsmanship of this story from some harder SF, but, to my mind, this is a benefit to the narrative, and no criticism. The convention also brought to mind the whimsy and sadness of setting that I’ve felt before reading certain Michael Moorcock stories, which I miss in most hard(er)-SF. The impending dissolution of Mathias’ ability to manage his multiverse was portrayed with sympathy, ellipticality and metaphor, which I thought was appropriate, if challenging. The shifting plot action, its leaps between frames, the moves from ontotropes to bloody feathers, the ethereal ideas with fleetingly discernible motivations, I ate it up, every sentence.

    Some of the remarks above are directed at the opacity of the characters and, perhaps also, at the plot itself. But I would defend the choices made by the author. Yes, they leave his readership (the healthy portion that doesn’t nod off to sleep 🙂 ) with chronological myopia. Grand, idea-driven SF set in far future contexts should give us this myopia, but it should also make us aware that we are afflicted and that we cannot inductively project our constants to those distant points in time. Too often SF authors make a worse mistake: they want to leash the imaginations of their readers, seemingly oblivious to the fact that our selfish pleasures often lie in using the story–to roam.

    Of the millions of words of SF stories, this is it: thanks, Steve, for bringing me my new favorite.

  21. Dave (aka Nev the Deranged) says:

    As a long time fan of Paul’s HGWT ‘cast, it was a treat (and a surprise) to hear him on EP. I liked this story pretty well, even with my limited grasp of the technical concepts… I know juuuust enough about information theory, virtuality, layered realities & etc. to follow this one, but it was a challenge.

    Strangely, the whole thing with the little “girl” was the part I felt least interested in. I could see where it was going, and it offered no surprises, and didn’t really fit with the rest of the story anyway.

    I liked the parakeet character, though.

  22. […] se, but likely the single piece of fiction that did the most to rearrange my brainpan this year. Audio here. Text […]

  23. Norm says:

    Maybe I’m slow, but I totally didn’t get it. Too abstract an idea for this mere human to digest.

  24. […] need to engage the text by reading it yourself to understand the story. And then you can go to Escape Pod and hear […]

  25. oscidwill says:

    thank you, brother

  26. […] book. I first encountered Rosenbaum on EscapePod and highly recommend listening to Start the Clock, The House Beyond Your Sky, The Death Trap of Dr. Nefario (not in this collection) and of course The Ant King: A California […]

  27. Kyoritsu says:

    This story is lovely in it’s complexity and depth of thought. Plus it’s cool to hear Memetics terminology.