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EP181: Resistance

By Tobias S. Buckell.
Read by Stephen Eley.

First appeared in Seeds of Change, ed. John Joseph Adams

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The man opened the pack all the way to reveal a small arsenal of guns, grenades, explosives, and — oddly — knives. Very large knives. He looked up at Stanuel. “I am the attack. I’ve been asked to shut Pan down.”

“But you’re not a programmer…”

“I can do all things through explosives, who destroy for me.” The man began moving the contents of the pack inside the pockets and straps of the trenchcoat, clipped more to his belt and thigh, as well as to holsters under each arm, and then added pieces to his ankles.

He was now a walking arsenal.

But only half the pack had been emptied. The mysterious mercenary tossed it at Stanuel. “Besides, you’re going to help.”

Rated PG. Contains violence and political revolution.

Comments (51)

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  1. Ken_K says:

    A very challenging story. It sure made me think about what I would do if I were in that position.

  2. “I can do all things through explosives, who destroy for me.”

    That is oddly reminiscent of Saint Paul who anciently wrote “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Letter to the Philippians 4:13).

    I’m just at the beginning of the story, so we’ll see if it was more than a fluke of language.

  3. phignewton says:

    yes, get out an vote, dont hand your power over to avatars!

  4. sarah says:

    Staniel? I mean…really. What an annoying name.

  5. Traveler says:

    That was a purposeful biblical quote.

    SPOILER AHEAD! Do not read the following paragraphs until you have listened to the episode.

    I guess any dictator who had to mock up a fake resistance movement so that he could then instruct it to hire an out-system mercenary, who would then infiltrate the dictator’s sanctum so the dictator could verbally convince said mercenary to hand over the EMP to a befuddled, under-informed engineer and give said engineer sole discretionary power for toppling the dictator’s government–when the dictator could simply have built an EMP and made it available to the public–is probably not the best ruler for Haven after all.

    I thought Pan was the good guy in this story. But being the amalgamation of all the short-sighted, fuzzy-thinking Staniels in the colony, he never really stood a chance.

  6. Hamilton says:

    Damn good story. It’s good to see a mercenary who’s taken Political Science 598: Special topics in Social Contract theory and non-directional electromagnetic weaponry. I’d argue that one guy with an “End society” button isn’t a very good check or balance, though.

    I would, also, put forward that this story could only occur in a system where all citizens are forced to participate in the political system, and the story itself provides an excellent counter-example to Steve’s get out the vote spiel. In effect the people who didn’t care in this system ceded their franchise to AI constructs that also didn’t care. In our system, people who don’t care enough to vote on the 4th cede their franchise to the ones who do care. In the US, participation in the presidential elections are usually just slightly above half, the midterm election voter turnout is almost always heartrendingly pathetic, and the vast majority of local elected positions are unopposed. It’s yet to result in the end of democracy. We zealots know the policies. Zealots are informed voters. Zealots know their own arguments. Zealots know their opponents’ arguments. In a bar, zealots will happily argue the whitepapers deep into insobriety at night even though they already know where the argument will end. Zealots are in comfortable territory with each other. The middle is terrifying, though. The most terrifying thing to a zealot is the very existence of the post-convention bounce in polls, and the implications thereof.

  7. Dethklok says:

    Was the author’s intent to encourage people to vote? He shows that neither direct democracy nor representative democracy works. So the choice is between a dictatorship and pushing a button to make government disappear.

    BTW, I’m not voting this November. My state’s electoral votes are a lock for one of the candidates.

  8. norm says:

    Good story. Much better than last weeks. It took a while to really to get into the meat of the story, but I liked the idea. Reminds me of Heinlein’s “Moon is a harsh mistress”.

  9. Steph says:

    Heavy. Handed.

    This story made me involuntarily roll my eyes, the same way I did as a teenager when getting a lecture from my parents…

  10. […] S. Buckell’s story “Resistance” is now available as a free podcast from Escape Pod. This story features Buckell’s dreadlocked superhuman badass character Pepper (pictured […]

  11. Audita Sum says:

    Any story that utilizes evolutionary psychology should be alright with me, but the ending of this one pissed me off. I wanted Pan to win, though I knew that would be impossible, because as ‘red-blooded Americans’ we can’t bear to think about any other government except the faulty sort of democracy we have now. The only reason Staniel killed Pan in the end was out of selfishness– because he wanted a bigger share of power– not because he was thinking about what was good for Haven.

    It’s propaganda.

  12. Ben Ivey says:

    Great story! Just in time for the November elections :-)

  13. Interesting ideas, but damn, couldn’t the author have thought up some other ending than “okay, now I’m using cheap narrative tricks to tell you who’s right”? I think I might have enjoyed it if there had been richer interactions between the characters and a real plot, one that didn’t boil down to “okay, give the POV character a momentous decision to make.”

  14. Julio says:

    @dethklok
    You ceded your voting power to poll takers; Who have on some historical occasions been wrong and not less in this election in which there are many unpredictable elements: young people without land lines (as opposed to cell phones) aren’t well accounted for in statistical models, where there is the so called bradley effect or even the reverse bradley effect, where voter turnout might turnout out to be different that 2004 (again, on which many statistical models are based).
    I think that the option to vote is an important consideration. In my country voting is not an option (Brazil), but in fact, I have begun seeing it in a new light reflecting on the US election. What is obligatory is showing up to vote, because once there you can vote nill or blank. When showing up isn’t obligatory you could force people not to vote, like not giving the day off or some other subtle coercion, or you could disallow people to vote because they didn’t get the correct form. That’s anti-democratic.

  15. Adam DeVeega says:

    An interesting opportunity to get government right, with a built in system to affect change when opinions change.

  16. Erenna says:

    Over all I didn’t really get caught up in the story or the characters. I did really like the concept of the ultimate benevolent dictator. (although they never did explain why the curfews and armed drones so maybe Pan wasn’t as benevolent as he/it claimed).

    What really bothered me was that Staniel’s only argument was that “men [sic] should be free.” This seems to me (a Canadian) a very American point of view (stereotype I apologize but that’s the impression I get from up here). The idea of freedom for freedom’s sake scares me. We can not all be free to do as we like when we like. Our freedoms must be limited so that they can be shared. If Staniel had argued that some specific freedom had been impinged, mentioned some instance of Pan abusing the power he had been given then he might have been a little more sympathetic. And don’t get me started on “watering the tree of liberty with blood.” Do people really think that?!

    I think this story demonstrates the scariest form of tyranny: that of some random guy with a bomb who thinks he knows what is best for everyone else.

    Ps: I did vote, if you don’t vote you have no right to complain about the government you get, so vote so you can whine later.

  17. Hypeiron says:

    I enjoyed the story, although it was so “message oriented” that it felt like an after school special. Because of this, characterization suffered, so much so that Pan was the only distinct personality, even though he/she/it was by definition an amalgam of thousands (millions?) of people, and should have been harder to pin down.

    Nonetheless, I was interested all the way through. I have been fascinated by Jeremy Bentham for years, so hearing his Panopticon concept in story was neat. I can’t say it translated very well, as the Panopticon idea deals more with subtle coercion because we know we are always (at least potentially) being watched. However, any reference to Jeremy Bentham has to be a good thing, if only to get other people interested.

    Not to get pedantic, but on a civics note, we really don’t have a Democracy here in America. We have a Republic, or at best a Democratic Republic. We actually do elect people, and then trust those people to make the decisions. Our power (as the People), comes into play in whether or not we elect them again, based on how they voted.

    The point of the story is still well taken (voter apathy and all), but kind of ironic. If you throw in “Electors,” Pan is the very model of how this country was set up to operate.

    Then again, maybe THAT’S the point.

  18. FlyLikeDaedalus says:

    Kudos to any dystopia-themed story that manages to sow such doubt in the reader’s mind as to whether or not to hate the keepers of the status quo.

    My only complaint is that it ended about 2 minutes too late.

    [Minor SPOILER alert]
    My listening was interrupted just when the mercenary — whose colorful name escapes me at the moment — left the station and when I picked it up almost a day later, I was disappointed with just about everything that followed.

    [MAJOR SPOILER ALERT]
    All that said about my sympathies being evoked, I should point out that if it were possible to create an avatar that embodied the ‘will of the people,’ it would most likely not be a very good ruler. People are fickle, can’t be expected to fully inform themselves on every issue, and frequently what they want is not, actually, what’s in their own best interests.

    Democracy is not practiced because it is an efficient form of governance, but rather because it’s the best idea anyone’s come up with for a system which helps to reduce the ability of powerful few to bully a powerless many. Just try not to become a member of a powerless few.

    “Democracy must be more than two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner.”
    -Thomas Jefferson

  19. scatterbrain says:

    A nice and rather creative “men must be free” libertyish/anarchic tale, if slightly routine. The kind of thing that makes you want to go out and bomb a police car.

  20. Stephen Eley says:

    Dethklok:
    BTW, I’m not voting this November. My state’s electoral votes are a lock for one of the candidates.

    And that would be why.

    The electoral college system sucks horribly, it’s about 150 years past its usefulness, but in this case I stand by “Your excuses aren’t good enough.” Also, it’s 100% likely you have a House rep to decide on and 66% likely you have a Senator. Not to mention state and local stuff which, yes, does matter. I voted early already and raised sales taxes on myself. Go me.

  21. Erenna: “Ps: I did vote, if you don’t vote you have no right to complain about the government you get, so vote so you can whine later.”

    On the contrary, as George Carlin wisely said, if you vote you have no right to complain. The system is broken. You’re responsible for all the evil things your candidate will inevitably do once he gets into power, I’m not.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efKguI0NFek

  22. DrCrisp says:

    Ancient Greece and Rome both had a system in place that allowed them to elect a Tyrant or Dictator, respectively, for a limited period of time. Usually, it was for a military crises which, when completed, ended the term of the Leader. Where Rome got in trouble, of course, is when they started voting in Dictators-for-Life. Lest we forget our not to distant history, Hitler was an elected leader. The German people elected him in a tight and legally controversial election, but they did legally elect him.

  23. DrCrisp says:

    Steve: Not to follow a rabbit, but while I’m in a historical mood. The Electoral College solved a problem at the time that these United States had in electing an Executive that is similar to what the European Union has today. Back then, we were separate States with separate currencies and even unique ethnic backgrounds to some degree. The Electoral College recognized the power of each individual state to come together to elect an executive, not a king, to “rule” over each state insofar as the Federal government had jurisdiction. Its an obvious and direct recognition of the sovereignty of each individual state relative to the Federal government. The European Union, much as it would irk our French friends, have the exact same American problem; states unwilling to give up their sovereignty. Even how the Senate and House are composed indicate how this struggle of power between the individual states was comprimised; the Senate giving power to each state equally as Europe does now, but the House subverting state sovereignty by allocating votes on population. This solution would work for Europe but they are, in this instance, too stubborn to admit that an American idea may actually be usable for them, in my opinion. Give them time, we didn’t have this Federal/State system in place at first either, we had the Articles of Confederation, a document that resembles in a lot of ways the current EU document. And as our number of states expanded, just like the EU, the weaknesses of a confederation exposed itself. And as another useless bit of triva, that is where the South got the “name” Confederates, in case anyone ever wondered.

    Lord, I sound like a history teacher. If this website starts making me hand out English assignments, I’m going to go dangle myself on a diphthong.

  24. Dethklok says:

    It’s statistically far more likely that I’ll get killed in a car crash on my way to the polls than my vote determining the outcome of an election. Besides, if it did come down to a single vote, recent history shows the courts will make the final decision.
    Instead I’ll do something meaningful. I’ll reread the Declaration of Independence.

  25. Milo says:

    This is what I think of as classy sci-fi. A portrait of the future and hypothetical technology used as an outlet for examining the human condition. While the philosophical argument got a little overly explicit at times, the questions it raises are intriguing and have no easy solutions. The ending, in particular, is an excellent example of the human readiness to do something not entirely logical – destroy a digital ruler incapable of error or corruption – out of things like pride and dogma. There comes a point where we can see how much sense the opposing argument makes, and how it is the safest plan for all concerned, but we’ll still want to do things our own less-than-logical way, even if we burn our hands in the process.

  26. DrCrisp says:

    Dethklok: Florida 2000. 517 votes

  27. peter says:

    I’ve seen higher plot/preaching ratios in late night infomercials.

    Don’t get me wrong – I liked what plot and action there was. But it was buried in too much preaching.

  28. Alice says:

    A wonderful story!
    I like that it recognized that humans are flawed, but we must make our decisions out of that lens, scary as it is.
    I’m writing an essay about instituting a national primary instead of our state-by-state hubbub. (USA) It’s optimistic to believe that every American will do his/her research on the canidates, but it would be more “democratic” and less dependent on whoever has the most money in Iowa.
    Hmm…Steve, would you mind if I quote/cited you? How might I do that properly?

  29. Rughat says:

    Huh. My message I got from this was different from “Get out and Vote!” My message was “Outside forces can’t impose change on societies from outside.” Military forces shouldn’t come in and overthrow the chosen leader of a society. Even if some people don’t like how the leader was chosen. In short, regime change must start at home. Perhaps this says more about me than about the story.

  30. Dethklok says:

    @DrCrisp – Exactly. The closest election in US history, and my vote wouldn’t have mattered one bit. 516, 517, or 518, it went up to the SCOTUS, and they said, “stop counting the votes.”
    These are just the practical reasons to not vote. I haven’t gone near the principled reasons to stay home.

  31. Julio says:

    Maybe this will help settle it. The odds that one vote will make a difference depending on the closest battleground states this year is: 1 in 10000000

    http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2008/10/1-in-10000000.html

    Nevertheless, even for selfish motivations it makes sense to vote:

    http://www.stat.columbia.edu/%7Egelman/research/published/rational_final6.pdf

  32. SF Fangirl says:

    I didn’t care for this story. It was heavy-handed and message heavy; although, I wasn’t really into the story even before it became that way. The story stopped being interesting to me once they left the storage room at the beginning of the story which was no more than 5 minutes into it. Pepper and Stanial were both kind of annoying.

  33. Stevehello says:

    Too bad Pan hadn’t been running our government for the last 8 years instead of those greedy idiots that we’ve been stuck with. Maybe then we wouldn’t be having to give our hard earned money to pay for an unnecessary war or the crooked loan companies and the fools that bought the houses that they couldn’t afford. Of course, the Pan in the story could not really exist in our world because it would have been created by programmers that were illegally influenced by the powerful money hungry people that are screwing up our world today. It was a nice fantasy though, to think that such an entity could exist (assuming that their population could stay focused on positive long term peaceful goals for their future.

  34. Seraph says:

    Dull dull dull dull dull dull DULL ! I just couldn’t get into it. Protagonist was wimpy, the antagonist was annoying and the merc seemed like a bit of a berk. More things needed to explode ! Or die screaming in a rain of plasma fire ! Or something !

  35. Calculating... says:

    i agree with seraph COMPLETELY!!!
    sooooo boring i forced myself to listen to it

    i nearly fell asleep it was sooooo boring.

    i really could not get into it at all, the characters had no soul, and pan was predictable.

    lame choice.

  36. DrCrisp says:

    Stevehello and Dethklok: Well, for good or ill, we just re-elected most all of the “greedy idiots” that were overseeing the financial institutions and all to 2 and 6 year terms. Maybe Dethklok is right. Plato’s Republic is a great read on different methods of how a government should be run. And my favorite political commentator, Heinlein, in Starship Troopers only gave the vote to veterans. No service, no vote. It was the implied stuff in that book that makes it better the 10th or 20th time you read it. In our country, voting started off being only land-owning males. Arguments can be made that universal suffrage leads to universal destruction, not that I would make them.

    The story really does a good job of contrasting a pure Democracy to a pure Republic. It was a pure Democracy that moved itself into a single-person Republic, where one “entity” Represents all the people. Bet you could sell this story to any American Government class as required reading, it really covers the gambit.

  37. Blaine Boy says:

    Isn’t it an interesting thought that deep down we really don’t want to vote? That we want some “enlightened despot” to rule over us? Why do you think then that we glorify the President over the Senator or the Congressman?

    I thought it was damn important that we hear this sort of story during the election week. We need to remember that we have the power to vote for a reason. I didn’t read any of the prior comments. Sorry about that; normally I like to build off other commenters so things don’t get repetitive and that ideas progress, but, quite frankly, I just don’t have enough time. I know I’m not bringing much to the table, but thanks for letting me blather anyways.

    See you on the last Escape Pod off the Ship of Reality.

    Yours faithfully,
    the Blaine Boy

  38. valjean24601 says:

    Not a bad story. The way the people chose to be ruled by one person reminded me of Asimov’s writing.

  39. DrCrisp says:

    valjean24601: Well, Asimov with his Robot “arc” had the Machines which were bodiless positronic brains that directed Man but without us knowing about it directly. They eventually phased themeselves out too. And later, Daneel who learns Law of Robotics Zero and mental control from Giskard, lives almost forever and develops psychohistory as a way to replace himself as Man’s guiding force. Just like Pan; they realize that they must be checked and balanced.

  40. Blaine Boy says:

    I’m not Taoist but I do feel this needs to be said: everything should be balanced. Power on each side must be equal or you get a vicious cycle going. Electors and elected, branches of governments. Even all of your everyday habits. Having or doing anything in excess is unhealthy.

    Even in emotions, ALL emotions, must be balanced. Happiness needs to be balanced, but the way things work, you don’t need to and should not seek out unhappiness. Unfortunately, these things will come to you. Anger, frustration, even despair, if balanced properly, can help you to lead a smarter, healthier, more fulfilling life.

    Of course, sometimes people become so polarized they are unable to work towards that balance. Then you just need to find some people who are oppositely polarized and, hopefully, it’ll balance itself out.

    Another additional point I must make about this is that, there can be balance even in balance. Going to an extreme every once in a while is okay, just as long as it not a normality.

    You may call this serene balance whatever you want, but it is something to work towards.

    That’s enough talk from me for one day. I’ll see you all later then.

    Yours faithfully,
    The Blaine Boy

  41. Nice. I liked this one a lot. Pepper reminded me of the Rastafarian pilot in Neuromancer, people of African descent so rarely figure into science-fiction literature that it’s nice to “see” them just for a change of pace, all racial equality issues aside. I am in the process of starting several wiki-based nomics, which, among other things, are expressions of the combined will of their members, so even without the sociopolitical undercurrents of the story, it was still evocative for me. Good choice, Steve!

  42. FlyLikeDaedalus said ““Democracy must be more than two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner.” -Thomas Jefferson”

    The quote I remember from Ben Franklin is slightly different: “Democracy is two lions and a lamb deciding what will be for dinner. Liberty is a well-armed lamb.”

    I’d say that sums this story up pretty well.

  43. The Devil's Advocate says:

    I actually really liked this story. I think it was a really fascinating principle, and the only part i didn’t like was the very end.

    So the amalgamation decided the people should have the choice, so he gave the emp device to one, single trainee? how does that equal out?

  44. Will says:

    I really enjoyed this story.

    I think a big part of that though was due to it being good old space SF. We don’t get enough of that these days.

    That said I’ve been spoilt, what with Navy Brat (Generation Ships) and Resistance (Clarke Station Rings) one after the other.

    I like stories which comment on society and make you think. A very similar scenario (on a much wider scale) is explored in a book I recently read called “The Prefect” (http://tinyurl.com/A-Reynolds) which I highly recommend.

    To be fair in the case of this episode the social commentary should really have been more subtle – but I still enjoyed the story and have my fingers crossed for more space SF.

  45. trinityseven says:

    Interesting story!

  46. Scott Sigler says:

    I’d rather just get this content as a straight-up lecture. This is my first Tobias experience, and it turned out to be “Scifi With A Very Important Message.” An AI dictator, making a honeypot resistance, hiring a mercenary to bring and EMP, then talking said mercenary out of using said EMP? — all trapping to try and put a little drama on a lecture. How about the all-powerful AI just place an order and have the EMP shipped?

    My point is that if I want a lecture, I go to places where people offer lectures. I don’t come to an entertainment podcast expecting to be told someone else’s opinion of what is right and wrong. If you have to use an analogy to make your point, than how strong is your point that it won’t stand on its own?

  47. Paranatural says:

    I love the song but can’t find a link to the song’s lyrics or the songwriter anywhere.

  48. Daniel Cotton says:

    The message I got from this was ‘If you’re not going to put any thought into your voting, you might as well not be voting.’ But maybe this is just my Australian perspective coming out – we have compulsory voting here and many people just vote because they have to. I kept thinking about the last person to turn over their vote to the AI and how annoyed they must have been that they were putting in all that effort to make the right choice, while everyone else was just clicking continue. I sometimes feel like the situation here is similar, we have an excellent voting system (the instant run-off system) but 3/4 of the electorate don’t know how it works and so all the benefits are lost. They just vote like it’s first past the post. Similarly, I research policy, think about what’s going to make a difference, others just go with whoever is first on the voting card. To them it’s a job to be gotten out of the way, a bit like the jaded citizenry in this story.

    Scott: I agree it’s rather preachy, but sometimes a story is the best way to present an argument, where it will get an audience and be remembered. Think of Galileo’s A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems: it was written in the language of the people, rather than the church, and was written as a play; if it had been otherwise only the aristocracy would have read (and summarily ignored) it. Similarly if we write an essay, or opinion piece today it doesn’t get as wide an audience. Maybe that’s annoying for those of us who like to think about our fiction a little more ourselves, but it is understandable for someone with a message to want to present it this way.

  49. Staniel says:

    @sarah: that’s really insensitive of you.

  50. Dacey says:

    Do you guys have a recommendation section, i’d like to suggest some stuff

  51. […] can be found in his three novels, Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose and the short story Resistance. It’s a first contact story and it’s a great introduction to his style, the mixture of […]