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Escape Pod 688: A Most Elegant Solution


A Most Elegant Solution

by M. Darusha Wehm

I always said I wanted to be one of the first to die on Mars. I never wanted to be the last. But here I am.

I can’t even tell the others apart now. I know that inside those vaguely undulating metal cocoons are the bodies of the rest of my team—Marshall, Cherie, Gem and Abdul. Which squirming ovoid contains whom—there’s no way to tell.

And I’m about to join them. The swarm has already engulfed my legs. I can’t feel anything below the knee, which is a kind of relief. Devoured by my own creations is a terrible enough way to die—at least it probably won’t hurt.

I know I should be mourning the others, or desperately trying to save myself, but I don’t feel anything like that now. Maybe this is a side effect of the paralysis, maybe it’s not just a physical but an emotional anesthesia. Because all I can think about is how I got here. How we all got to be here, lying on the floor of our brand new habitation buildings, smothered by tiny robots.

(Continue Reading…)

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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 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 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 676: Ulissa

Show Notes

Dream Foundry’s Kickstarter is open and underway!

Dream Foundry 2019The Dream Foundry is a registered nonprofit focused on creating a community and shared culture for all creators working in the speculative arts. We have a special focus on nurturing beginners in the field, giving them access to the information, tools, and people they need to learn, grow, and succeed in their work.

Kickstarter link: Dream Foundry 2019: Hatching


Ulissa

by Craig DeLancey

The old woman they called Ulissa pointed south. “There’s the ship.”

Edoardo raised the binoculars. “Mio dio, it’s huge,” he said.

“It is grande,” Ulissa said, nodding at the giant on the horizon that plowed Westward. The stacked containers on its deck looked like a city of pastel buildings that walled off the horizon. The waves seemed but a pale line along the ship’s towering hull. “Do you see the superstructure? It’s right on the bow.”

Edoardo raised the binoculars again. Ulissa watched him closely. All morning the boy had complained that they wasted their time, and he had come reluctantly, barely obedient to his father’s command. Now, the hulking ship before them made him swallow and stare.

“Yes. I see it.”

“The door to the bridge will be there. And near it, the door to the engine room. Just as I showed you with the diagrams.”

The boy nodded, making a brave face. “Simple,” he said.

Their boat—an open motorboat just five meters long with a single engine hanging off the back—jumped a wave and slapped against the next whitecap. The old woman and the boy bent their knees reflexively, riding the bounce.

Edoardo’s father, Enriche, sat in the back of the motorboat, one hand on the engine tiller, the other on the gunwale. He spoke now for the first time since they’d left the shore, “Storm is coming fast.”

The old woman looked west to where black clouds bore down on a dark sea.

“It’s best so,” she said. “They won’t try to get a drone through that.”

“You’re sure no one is on that ship?” Edoardo asked.

“It’s not a ghost ship,” Ulissa said. “Not even the dead will ride her.”

The boat jumped and the engine bit only air for a moment, shrieking. They hit the water and spray doused them all.

“Ma, mio dio, it’s huge,” Edoardo repeated.

(Continue Reading…)

Artemis Rising 5

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Escape Pod 673: Optimizing the Verified Good (Artemis Rising)


Optimizing the Verified Good

by Effie Seiberg

The little cleanerbot whirrs as it crisscrosses the arena, sucking up the robot dust with the vacuum chute on its right and picking up strewn robot parts with the multi-hinged arm on its front. The arm is strong – it can pick up parts that are larger than the entire cleanerbot, and fling them up into the little cart that trundles behind it.

The cleanerbot is officially named SpeedyKleen v1.5, though it doesn’t think of itself that way. Its only goal is of low-order complexity: clean the arena, with no speed specified. (A clean arena is Verified Good, and as all it can do is clean, it is an optimized solution.) It doesn’t mind the work – doesn’t stop to think about gurgling up the remains of its brethren. The dust is made of flecks of titanium and carbon fiber and plastic ground off in battle by the sawbots, ash from the flamethrowers of the firebots, and pulverized chunks of electronics bashed off by the wedgebots and hammerbots. The dust gets dumped into a buildbot, where it gets cleaned and reconstituted into lightweight amalgams perfect for printing new bot pieces. Any larger pieces that can be salvaged go to a repairbot to be hammered or flattened or re-soldered.

When it’s out of the arena the cleanerbot drops off its cart with the repairbot (a Fixer8300C), dumps out its vacuum container into the buildbot receptacle (a Build-A-Bot Arkitekt Pro), then parks in its chargeport, waiting in anticipation for its next scheduled arena cleaning. There’s nothing else for it to do that’s Verified Good.

(Continue Reading…)

Artemis Rising 5

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Escape Pod 671: Octonet (Artemis Rising)

Show Notes

Keyan Bowes would like to thank  Dr. Jennifer Mather, author of “Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate” for being kind enough to read and comment on this story. She recommends Dr. Mather’s book, Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate, which was an important source document for “Octonet.”

Other links for this episode:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/inside-the-grand-and-sometimes-slimy-plan-to-turn-octopuses-into-lab-animals/2019/03/01/c6ce3fe0-3930-11e9-b786-d6abcbcd212a_story.html

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/timpratt/miracles-and-marvels-stories


Octonet

By Keyan Bowes

Sometimes at night when my mind is calm, I think I hear the octopuses. Around the world, the great network of molluscan philosophers.


I had many reasons for moving to the Pacific Northwest –  weather, closeness to potential clients and my big brother Rav, distance from a very ex ex. Slimy cephalopods definitely didn’t make the list.

But then Rav needed someone to fix their new IT system. And that’s how I met the octopuses.

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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…)

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Escape Pod 666: This Wine-Dark Feeling That Isn’t The Blues


This Wine-Dark Feeling That Isn’t The Blues

by José Pablo Iriarte

The Odyssey contains over three hundred mentions of color. Black. White. Red. Not a single blue though. Even the ocean is not described as blue, but as “wine-dark.” Likewise with the Koran and ancient Hebrew scripture: no blues, anywhere.

This is what I focus on during Savannah’s funeral. Otherwise, if I don’t keep my mind busy, I will think instead about how she didn’t keep her promise to me. And how I’m free of my promise to her.

If you can’t trust promises made by two girls in a psych ward, what can you trust?
I read somewhere that Elon Musk thinks we’re living in a simulation. Neil deGrasse Tyson too. It would explain impossible shit like Donald Trump getting elected president—just a bug in the code somewhere.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 663: Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus


Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus

By Bogi Takács

So let’s do it this way. I’ll show you whatever I want and you’ll believe me, because I’m an octopus. I might as well get some benefit out of it, not that we ever had much – especially not since you left. Humans, huh?

Humans. (Continue Reading…)