Posts Tagged ‘Mary Robinette Kowal’

EP390: Cerbo un Vitra ujo


By Mary Robinette Kowal
Read by Veronica Giguere

Discuss on our forums. 

Cerbo un Vitra ujo
By Mary Robinette Kowal

Grete snipped a diseased branch off her Sunset-Glory rosebush like she was a body harvester looking for the perfect part. Behind the drone of the garden’s humidifiers, she caught a woosh-snick as the airlock door opened. Her boyfriend barreled around Mom’s prize Emperor artichoke.

Something was wrong.

The whites showed around Kaj’s remarkable eyes, a blue-green so iridescent they seemed to dull all the plants around them. “Mom and Dad got me a Pass to a down-planet school!”

The blood congealed in her veins. Kaj would leave her. Grete forced a smile. “That’s the outer limit!”

“I didn’t even know they’d applied. Fairview Academy—game design.” His perfect teeth flashed like sunshine against the ink of space.

“It’s wacking crazed. Should’ve been you, you’re a better hack than me.”

“I’m already entitled to school.” Grete winced as the words left her mouth. Like he didn’t know that. He was the middle of five children, way past the Banwith Station family allowance. She picked up the pruning sheers to hide the shake in her hands. How would she live without Kaj? “So, I guess you got packing to do and stuff.”

“They provide uniforms. All I’m taking is my pod with music and books. Zero else.” Kaj slid his arm around her waist and laced his long, delicate fingers through hers. “And I want to spend every moment till launch with you.”

She loved him so much, it hurt. Grete leaned her head against him, burning the feel of his body into her memory. She breathed in the musky smell of his sweat and kissed his neck, sampling the salt on his skin.

After a moment, Kaj hung a chain around her neck. The metal tags hanging from it were still warm from his body.

“What?”

“Dogtags, like they used in the oldwars. I put all my bios on there so you’d remember me.”

“Kaj Lorensen, don’t think I could forget you.”

But if he was away at school, he might forget her. She studied her rosebush and freed the most perfect rose with her sheers. She held it out to him, suddenly shy.

He kissed the rose and then her palm. Grete sank into his gaze, lost in the blue-green of his eyes. (Continue Reading…)

Science Future: Harking Hugos


Science fiction inspires the world around us. It inspires our future. To discover these influences, we look to the future of science, to Science Future. The Science Future series presents the bleeding edge of scientific discovery and links it back to science fiction in order to discuss these influences and speculate on the future of science fiction.

Harking Hugos

Each year the Noble Prizes are given out to people who have achieved great things in their life. They is given out to people who have furthered the advancement of the fields of science and the humanities and represent great personal achievements for both the recipients and society. Like science, science fiction has its own award called the Hugo Awards, given yearly to the best science fiction stories. As regular listeners may know, Escape Pod has a tradition of presenting the short stories nominated for the Hugo Awards and keeping in theme with the celebration of the Hugo Awards, Science Future is going to present scientific breakthroughs that relate to the Hugo nominated short stories and novellas presented here on Escape Pod.

Artificial Intelligence is something science fiction has dreamed about since the first computer was built. The story Want of a Nail By Mary Robinette Kowal introduces us to an artificial intelligence that lives as a guardian of the memories of a human family traveling the stars. This artificial intelligence acts the family’s historian, both selecting and storing important events for the family to remember. Modern computers couldn’t hope to perform such a complex task, at least not without a major breakthrough, which it may have created at the University of Exeter. Researchers have created a processor which copies how the human brain processes information. The human brain doesn’t differentiate between processing and collecting information like current computer processors and but this new one  uses phase-changing materials that allows it to both process and store data at the same time.

It is not certain, however, that we’ll ever create a true artificial being but science fiction has presented us with other options for our electronic creations such as implanting them in their own bodies. In the story Plus or Minus By James Patrick Kelly deep space explorers have augmentations which allow them to communicate with simple thought alone. Today we are limited to using external devices such as cellphones to communicate with people beyond the range of our physical presence but the University of Michigan has taken steps to fix that with the BioBolt. The BioBolt is a minimally invasive brain implant which is placed on the skull and is connected to a small film of microcircuits that rests on the brain and listens to neurons. Since the entire device is under the skin with nothing sticking out, the chances of infection are greatly reduced. In order to communicate it uses the electrical field produced by skin to transmit to any other device touching the skin, creating a simple way for the brain to be listened to without wires sticking out of the skin.

An entirely new and wondrous place will open up to us the day we can think at each other and be heard. This world will be full of exciting possibilities like direct knowledge transference, language-less communication, and body hacking! Oh wait, we already have that last one. A joint effort by the University of Tokyo, Japan, and Sony Computer Science Laboratories have created the PossessedHand project which has produced a device which lets someone hijack another person’s hand movements. It does this by directly lightly shocking the muscles in the arm allowing people to program a sequence of specific finger movements. The device doesn’t work perfectly yet it does successfully control the fingers of another human being, which is hauntingly familiar to one of Hugo nominees, The Things by By Peter Watts. In The Things creatures find it easy to control the bodies of the humans they find but like the controllers of the PossessedHand project, they can not fathom their prey’s minds.

The creatures in The Things embodied the idea of self-preservation not by fight or flight but with breeding. The ability to breed is also one of the main themes of the story Amaryllis by Carrie Vaughn. In Amaryllis a woman is born to a society where food is strictly rationed and therefore the act of breeding is also tightly controlled. The ability to give birth to a child is something perhaps too undervalued in the modern day except by doctors at the University of Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska Hospital in Sweden. There doctors are preparing to attempt to complete the first successful transplant of a human womb. Among the subjects under review include a fifty six year old woman who is donating her womb to her twenty five year old daughter.

The miracles and breakthroughs envisioned and brought to us by science  and science fiction all deserve our appreciation regardless of any awards given. Congratulations to all the Hugo Award nominees.

Literature that keeps employing new linguistic and formal modes of expression to draft a panorama of society as a whole while at the same time exposing it, tearing the masks from its face – for me that would be deserving of an award. – Elfriede Jelinek

EP296: For Want of a Nail


By Mary Robinette Kowal
Read by: Mur Lafferty
Originally appearing in Asimov’s
Discuss on our forums.
All stories by Mary Robinette Kowal
All stories read by Mur Lafferty
Nominated for the Hugo Award for Short Story, 2011

Rated appropriate for teens and up for language.

For Want of a Nail
By Mary Robinette Kowal

With one hand, Rava adjusted the VR interface glasses where they bit into the bridge of her nose, while she kept her other hand buried in Cordelia’s innards. There was scant room to get the flexible shaft of a mono-lens and her hand through the access hatch in the AI’s chassis. From the next compartment, drums and laughter bled through the plastic walls of the ship, indicating her sister’s conception party was still in full swing.

With only a single camera attached, the interface glasses didn’t give Rava depth perception as she struggled to replug the transmitter cable. The chassis had not been designed to need repair. At all. It had been designed to last hundreds of years without an upgrade.

If Rava couldn’t get the cable plugged in and working, Cordelia wouldn’t be able to download backups of herself to her long-term memory. She couldn’t store more than a week at a time in active memory. It would be the same as a slow death sentence.

The square head of the cable slipped out of Rava’s fingers. Again. “Dammit!” She slammed her heel against the ship’s floor in frustration.

“If you can’t do it, let someone else try.” Her older brother, Ludoviko, had insisted on following her out of the party as if he could help.

“You know, this would go a lot faster if you weren’t breathing down my neck.”

“You know, you wouldn’t be doing this at all if you hadn’t dropped her.”

(Continue Reading…)

EP285: Jaiden’s Weaver


By Mary Robinette Kowal
Read by: Kij Johnson
Originally published in Diamonds in the Sky
Discuss on our forums.
All stories by Mary Robinette Kowal
All stories read by Kij Johnson
Rated G: Teddy bear spiders!

Show Notes:

  • Feedback for Episode 277
  • Next week… Coin collecting SF. I’m serious.

Jaiden’s Weaver
by Mary Robinette Kowal

I was never one of those girls who fell in love with horses. For one thing, on our part of New Oregon they were largely impractical animals. Most of the countryside consisted of forests attached to sheer hills and you wanted to ride something with a little more clinging ability. So from the time I was, well, from the time I can remember I wanted a teddy bear spider more than I wanted to breathe.

The problem is that teddy bear spiders were not cheap, especially not for a pioneer family trying to make a go of it.

Mom and Dad had moved us out of Landington in the first wave of expansion, to take advantage of the homesteading act. Our new place was way out on the eastern side of the Olson mountains where Dad had found this natural level patch about halfway up a forested ridge, so we got sunshine all year round, except for the weeks in spring and autumn when the shadow of our planet’s rings passed over us. Our simple extruded concrete house had nothing going for it except a view of the valley, which faced due south to where the rings were like a giant arch in the sky. Even as a twelve-year-old, angry at being taken away from our livewalls in town to this dead structure, I fell in love with the wild beauty of the trees clinging to the sheer faces of the valley walls.

The only thing that would have made it better was a teddy bear spider so I could go exploring on my own. I felt trapped by the walls of the house and the valley. I had this dream that, if I had a spider, that I’d be able to sell its weavings for enough to install livewalls in my room. That’s not as crazy as it sounds; teddy-bear spider weavings are collected all over the colonies and sell for insane amounts of money.

I had a search setup so anytime there was news of a teddy bear spider or a new tube surfaced, I’d be right there, watching those adorable long-legged beasts. I loved their plump furry faces and wanted to run my fingers through their silky russet fur.

I wonder what goes through a survey team’s mind when they name things. I mean a teddy bear spider isn’t a bear and it isn’t a spider, but it looks like both those things. On the other hand, a fartycat looks nothing like a cat. They do stink, though.

Not quite a year after we’d moved, one of my city friends had forwarded an ad from a local board which set my heart to racing.

Teddy bear spider eggs: 75NOD shipped direct.

Read More…
(Continue Reading…)

EP196: Evil Robot Monkey


By Mary Robinette Kowal
Read by Stephen Eley

First appeared in the Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, vol. 2 edited by George Mann.

Special closing monkey music by George Hrab

Sliding his hands over the clay, Sly relished the moisture oozing around his fingers. The clay matted down the hair on the back of his hands making them look almost human. He turned the potter’s wheel with his prehensile feet as he shaped the vase. Pinching the clay between his fingers he lifted the wall of the vase, spinning it higher.

Someone banged on the window of his pen. Sly jumped and then screamed as the vase collapsed under its own weight. He spun and hurled it at the picture window like feces. The clay spattered against the Plexiglas, sliding down the window.

Rated PG. Contains one angry chimp with a potty mouth. Sort of.