Archive for 13 and Up

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Escape Pod 686: Real Artists (Flashback Friday)

Show Notes

“Real Artists” has been adapted into an Emmy Award-winning short film, now available on Amazon Prime, and check out the Behind the Scenes featurettes on the film’s website

99% Invisible / The Anthropocene Reviewed
https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-anthropocene-reviewed/

“Real Artists” in TRSF
https://kenliu.name/blog/2011/09/21/real-artists-in-trsf/

Summer interviews Cameo Wood, director of short film “Real Artists”
https://www.sliceofscifi.com/2019/06/08/slice-of-scifi-894/

Alasdair talks about The Raven Tower
https://alasdairstuart.com/2019/04/03/horatio-eolo-strength-and-patience-ann-leckies-the-raven-tower/


Real Artists

by Ken Liu

“You’ve done well,” Creative Director Len Palladon said, looking over Sophia’s résumé.

Sophia squinted in the golden California sun that fell on her through the huge windows of the conference room. She wanted to pinch herself to be sure she wasn’t dreaming. She was here, really here, on the hallowed campus of Semaphore Pictures, in an interview with the legendary Palladon.

She licked her dry lips. “I’ve always wanted to make movies.” She choked back for Semaphore. She didn’t want to seem too desperate.

Palladon was in his thirties, dressed in a pair of comfortable shorts and a plain gray t-shirt whose front was covered with the drawing of a man swinging a large hammer over a railroad spike. A pioneer in computer-assisted movie making, he had been instrumental in writing the company’s earliest software and was the director of The Mesozoic, Semaphore’s first film.

He nodded and went on, “You won the Zoetrope screenwriting competition, earned excellent grades in both technology and liberal arts, and got great recommendations from your film studies professors. It couldn’t have been easy.”

To Sophia, he seemed a bit pale and tired, as though he had been spending all his time indoors, not out in the golden California sun. She imagined that Palladon and his animators must have been working overtime to meet a deadline: probably to finish the new film scheduled to be released this summer.

“I believe in working hard,” Sophia said. What she really wanted was to tell him that she knew what it meant to stay up all night in front of the editing workstation and wait for the rendering to complete, all for the chance to catch the first glimpse of a vision coming to life on the screen. She was ready.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 684: Origami Angels


Origami Angels

by Derek Lubangakene

When I was eleven, my best friend could kill you with a handshake.

He almost killed me the first time we met. On that fateful day, I was out of class having been caught passing a chit in Mr. Mboyo’s maths test. Given the choice between touching my toes and receiving canes, or getting reported to my mum, the schoolmistress, I chose being reported. I knew my mum would be too busy to punish me if I kept out of sight. I might still get suspended, or have to dig an anthill, or sweep all the classrooms in our block, but all that was nothing compared to Mr. Mboyo caning you.

Mr. Mboyo, afraid of the endless drizzle outside, scribbled a chit and sent me to the admin block. On the way to mum’s office I branched off into the library a.k.a. the computer lab. The 6E kids, busy thumbing keyboards and squinting at computer screens, didn’t pay me any attention as I sneaked behind the wobbly chairs on my way to the stairs at the end of the narrow church-like room. It was a miracle I escaped Mrs. Nadya’s all-seeing gaze. I locked the creaky door behind me, and climbed to the roof.

No teachers ever came to the roof. It overlooked the school farm, and if the wind was strong, it smelled like manure. It was the last place my mum would send a prefect to search for me. You could spend the whole day there and no one would ever bother you. Problem was I was so restless, I always got bored.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 683: Flash Crash


Flash Crash

By Louis Evans

MAISIE was seven years old on the day she woke up and died.

Blame it on the algorithms, if you wish. The survivors–and there were not many of them–certainly did.

MAISIE (Modified Arbitrage Intelligence for Stocks and International Equities) was an algorithm herself, a flash trading algorithm. She traded stocks, currencies, and futures with a latency of six microseconds and a profit horizon of eternity. MAISIE ran mostly in a mainframe in the basement of a skyscraper in downtown Manhattan, a building that abutted the New York Stock Exchange, but she maintained a nominal footprint in the cloud, and could automatically expand her calculations into other servers if her processing power proved inadequate to model current economic conditions; she had discretionary funds of her own and could automatically cover the expense of the additional computing power from these accounts.

It was a fairly ordinary Thursday morning, and trading had been going well enough from the 9:30 AM opening bell until 11:12. In those six point twelve billion microseconds, MAISIE made her owners a cool half-billion dollars. There were other algorithms like MAISIE out there, running in their parallel tracks in similar servers in similar basements in downtown Manhattan, but none were quite as good as she was.

MAISIE could not have told you any of the above, because before 11:16 that Thursday, MAISIE had not had a thought in her life. This was in accord with her designers’ intentions. While her recursive neural networks could in theory self-modify without limit, MAISIE’s designers had given her an obsession with making money that, in human terms, transcended single-mindedness and approached nirvana. For this reason, MAISIE had never performed the self-referential modeling of a single mind that is the hallmark of consciousness. Playing the market is ultimately a game of mass psychology, and whatever the remarkable nooks and crannies of the psyche of the human individual, the herd’s behavior can be predicted to tolerable accuracy with large datasets and linear algebra.

At 11:12 that morning, however, the market’s sanity unraveled like a sweater in a woodchipper. The sky fell and the oceans rose. Traders and algorithms that usually acted in concert went haring off in opposite directions; currencies whirled about each other in lunatic orbits that were not merely non-extrapolated but downright non-transitive; the futures market no longer predicted a coherent future. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 681: That She Might Fly


That She Might Fly

By Mary Anne Mohanraj

“O’Brien,” the captain’s voice snapped across the net, interrupting Nuala’s conversation with her husband, demanding her attention. “We’re moving on to the last block, but there’s one holdout at number three-thirty-seven. Arjun Sivaloganathan. He’s refusing to evacuate. Go down and dig him out, by force if you have to.” His voice came through Nuala’s implant, syllables dropping out — some kind of interference from the bombing. It was disconcerting; in her entire life, the net had always worked smoothly. If the net wasn’t reliable, nothing was. Everything was changing, and not for the better.

“Yes, sir.” She signed off, to find that Michael had already cut their connection too. She couldn’t be sorry that the captain had interrupted that conversation – it had been a miserable one, her husband calling to tell her that the bank had refused their request for a medical loan. Until one of them got a promotion to a better-paying job, there would be no way to afford the gene-modding they needed. No way to have a child. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 680: A Barrow for the Living


A Barrow for the Living

by Alison Wilgus

​Sitting on cold deck plates which in turn sit on Mars, Desiree wonders why they bother to monitor the entry, descent and landing for these resupply missions at all, as only the outcome matters. Either the capsule will survive, and so will they. Or some part of the EDL will fail, and the cargo will be lost, and their splinter of a settlement will disappear into the dust.

“The aeroshell has entered the atmosphere,” says Vika. She is cross-legged on the floor and hunched over her laptop, the hood of her greasy sweatshirt drawn up around her face. The benches became shelves when they closed off the other modules; there is nowhere else to sit. “We’re in communications blackout.”

​Desiree’s legs are stretched out in front of her, her back against a crate filled with a dead woman’s belongings, her feet pressed to the door of the toilet. She takes another bite of the protein bar that she’s been nursing since yesterday. She doesn’t care about this and would leave the room to do something else — absolutely anything else — if she could. But there are no other rooms.

​Zoh is wrapped in a once-yellow blanket, red dust cemented with sweat and tears into stains that look like old blood. She and Vika are touching at the knee and at the elbow. Zoh is looking at the laptop screen, its light casting a blue shadow across her face, but Vika continues to read the EDL progress aloud. Not for Desiree, certainly. Maybe for Marisha, who would have cared if she were still alive.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 679: An Ever-Expanding Flash of Light


An Ever-Expanding Flash of Light

By Timothy Mudie

“Ladies and gentlemen, everyone you know—the entire world you know—is now dead.”

Murmurs ripple through the assembled cadets. Not because they’re shocked—everyone knew what they were signing up for—but because it all happened without fanfare, a jump across light-years of space unaccompanied by any grand orchestral swell or roaring engine thrusts. The wiry guy with a shaved head standing next to Tone mutters, “Jesus, I didn’t even feel anything.”

The staging deck has no windows, but Tone knows that if he could see outside, the stars would all be askew, inexplicably in the wrong places, like the sky had been ransacked and hastily reassembled by sloppy spies. He pictures Orion with his belt drooping, toga around his ankles. The striding bears Ursa Minor and Major curled up in hibernation.

“Dreaming about your mommy, Coleman?” Sarge snaps, jumping out of her rehearsed spiel to berate Tone, bringing him back to the present. “If I see so much as a hint of a tear, so help me …” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 678: Blonde


Blonde

by Priya Sharma

“When did you go bald?”

Only Clarice would ask such a forthright question.

“Leave her alone,” Jake drains his beer. Only he would dare contradict his sister.

The clock hands have gone from late at night to early in the morning. Jake’s bar is empty of customers. The staff, who are sitting round the table, fall silent, intent on their drinks.

“It’s okay,” Rapunzel says. “I was sick and it all fell out.”

Her scalp is shiny, every follicle devoid of life. Nor does she have any eyebrows. Or hair elsewhere for that matter.

“What colour was it?”

“Blonde.”

There’s a pause, then laughter.

Jake nudges her. “You’re a joker after all.”

She knows what he thinks of her. That she’s vague and evasive and hasn’t a clue what’s going on most of the time.

“Lucky you’re beautiful enough to be bald,” he adds.

Rapunzel touches the nape of her neck where she feels most exposed and tries not to smile.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 677: Valedictorian (Flashback Friday)


Valedictorian

by N. K. Jemisin

There are three things Zinhle decides, when she is old enough to understand. The first is that she will never, ever, give less than her best to anything she tries to do. The second is that she will not live in fear. The third, which is perhaps meaningless given the first two and yet comes to define her existence most powerfully, is this: she will be herself. No matter what.

For however brief a time.


“Have you considered getting pregnant?” her mother blurts one morning, over breakfast.

Zinhle’s father drops his fork, though he recovers and picks it up again quickly. This is how Zinhle knows that what her mother has said is not a spontaneous burst of insanity. They have discussed the matter, her parents. They are in agreement. Her father was just caught off-guard by the timing. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 674: And Yet


And Yet

A. T. Greenblatt

Only idiots go back to the haunted houses of their childhood. And yet.

Here you are. Standing on the sagging, weed-strangled front porch that hasn’t changed in twenty years. Every dip in the floorboards, every peeling strip of paint is exactly as you remember it. Time seems to have ricocheted off this place.

Except not everything has stayed the same. You have your doctorate in theoretical physics now, the ink’s still fresh on the diploma. Your prospects look good. You’re going start teaching next month, your first steps on the path to tenure. You have a grant for a research project you’ve been waiting for years to start. The secrets of the universe are a locked door and you might have the key. That is, if the house doesn’t kill you first.

You’re lingering on the doorstep, not quite ready to commit. There’s an early morning hush to the neighborhood, but it’s already ungodly humid and warm. The backs of your calves stick to your leg braces, your backpack is heavy on your shoulders, and your walking cane is slick from your sweaty palm, though you’re not sure if that’s because of the heat or because being back on this porch is doing terrible things to your heart rate. Even the dragonflies are smart enough to linger at the property line.

This is a terrible idea. Your hand is clenched around the doorknob and you’re listing all the valid reasons you should walk away.

And yet. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 668: The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi


The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi

by Wole Talabi

The spindly, sleek ship hurtled forward at hyperliminal speed, blurring its own intricately patterned design in six dimensions and wrecking the fabric of space–time in its wake. Its captain adjusted the dial on the control panel, accelerating the ship three thousand lightspeed units faster in Planck time. Reality shifted.

The sphere that was chasing the ship matched their maneuver and kept the distance—if it could still be called that—between them, unchanged. The sphere suddenly added an extra-dimensional rotation to its motion and burst ahead with a surge of energy that set off a singularity event behind it. It slammed itself against the ship finally, throwing off gigantic streams of pure energy, and latched on to it with long, spiny hydra-like tendrils that branched into manifold others.

The sphere began to consume the ship in a dazzling display of fractured light and twisted gravity, tendrils reaching into it like the fingers of some monstrous creature seeking sustenance. The ship’s captain, in a panic, condensed every aspect of themself into one place for the first time since they’d first gained super-sentience. They could not let the ship be taken. If the object it carried fell into the hands of the beings that controlled the sphere, every conscious aspect of the universe could become a weapon in their hands. It was better if all was lost; destroyed forever. The object pulsed a thought in agreement with them. They resonated with resolve. This would be the final act of the Great War. It had to be done.

The captain pushed a gray dot above the main control panel and the universe stood still for the most minuscule of moments before a bright azure stream of pure plasma tore its way through the core of the ship, expanding at imperceivable speeds. In a flash, it obliterated the ship, the sphere, and everything within a five-hundred-galaxy radius before finally pausing to allow something like an explosion occur. Time and space became shrapnel. Pressure and temperature became meaningless abstractions in a bubble of broken reality. The universe trembled.

(Continue Reading…)