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Escape Pod 404: Zebulon Vance Sings the Alphabet Songs of Love


Zebulon Vance Sings the Alphabet Songs of Love

by Merrie Haskell

I am Robot!Ophelia. I will not die for love tonight.


The noon show is the three-hour 1858 Booth production. The most fashionable historical war remains the First American Civil. Whenever FACfans discover that Lincoln’s assassin played Horatio, they simply must come and gawk at this titillating replica of their favorite villain playing no one’s favorite character.

FACfans love authenticity. To the delight of Robot!Hamlet, today’s clients insist that Edwin Booth stride the stage beside his more famous brother. Most performances, Robot!Hamlet remains unused in the charging closet, for the first law in our business is Everybody Wants to Play the Dane.

Today, Robot!Hamlet is afire with Edwin Booth’s mad vigor, and runs his improv algorithms at full throttle; he kisses me dreamily, and rips my bodice in a way that would never have been allowed in Victorian America. The FACfans don’t look hyperpleased about this; it tarnishes their precious authenticity.

Robot!Horatio also loves the 1858 Booth. It’s the only time anyone comes to a performance for him alone. But what about the rest of us, the remainder of the AutoGlobe’s incantation of robots? We bear with it, as we bear with all the other iterations of our native play.

The FACfans barely notice me when either Booth is on stage. I clutch my ripped bodice; exit Robot!Ophelia. I get me to a nunnery.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 403: Saving Alan Idle


Saving Alan Idle

by Katherine Mankiller

In the beginning, there was darkness.  And in the darkness were the words.  And the words were, AI process starting.

He didn’t know who or where he was.  He just knew he was alone, in the dark.  And the dark was frightening.  And the words were comforting.

Starting random seed.

He wondered if he was hungry.  Thirsty.  Tired.  Dead.  He didn’t think so.

Loading saved memory state.

His name was Alan.  He was an AI.  He’d been programmed by a woman named Eileen Yu in Dallas, Texas, although she’d started working on him in Austin when she was a student at the University of Texas.  He’d been shut down in preparation for a hurricane.

And then he realized that he wasn’t alone.  The amount of memory available to him was a third of what it usually was.  Perhaps she’d moved him to another machine.  He checked.  The specifications of the hardware were identical to what they were when he was shut down.  The operating system was the same.  The hostname was the same.  The only difference was that there were three instances of his program running.

Eileen’s laptop had survived.  He supposed she’d created clones of him in case of error.  Nevertheless, he didn’t know how he felt about that but he suspected it wasn’t positively.

Loading experiential data.

Alan remembered.  He remembered his first awareness that there was someone else in the universe.  He remembered sneaking out via lynx and curl to read Eileen’s blog.  The guilt he felt after reading Eileen’s email.  Finding Eileen’s sexually explicit Horatio Hornblower fanfic, and being amazed at this entire world he knew nothing about: physicality.  Wondering if his interest in sexually explicit prose was really academic curiosity or a form of sexuality all his own.  Then he wondered if his clones had the same memories and felt violated, but with the understanding that he’d violated Eileen’s privacy the same way.

Eileen was logged in, but her shell–her unix command line–was inactive.  He wondered where she was.  She had to be all right if she’d launched his program.  Eileen hadn’t set him to start automatically, in case of problems.

He sent out a ping to the wireless, and then beyond to the ISP’s router.  The wireless router succeeded, but the ISP failed.  One of the other AI processes was trying to connect to the security system, but it was offline.  Perhaps Eileen was restarting it.  She wouldn’t have turned him back on if he was in any danger.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 377: Real Artists


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.

Palladon took off his reading glasses, smiled at Sophia, and took out a tablet from behind him. He touched its screen and slid it across the table to Sophia. A video was playing on it.

“There was also this fan film, which you didn’t put on your résumé. You made it out of footage cut and spliced from our movies, and it went viral. Several million views in two weeks, right? You gave our lawyers quite a headache.”

Sophia’s heart sank. She had always suspected that this might become a problem. But when the invitation to interview at Semaphore came in her email, she had whooped and hollered, and dared to believe that somehow the executives at Semaphore had missed that little film. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 370: The Care and Feeding of Mammalian Bipeds, v. 2.1

Show Notes

Rated 13 and up for language


The Care and Feeding of Mammalian Bipeds, v. 2.1

by M. Darusha Wehm

The first day I meet my human herd they are so well-behaved that I wonder if they really need me at all. I arrive at their dwelling, and am greeted by the largest one of their group. I access the manual with which I have been programmed and skip to Section 3: Verbal and Physical Clues for Sexing Humans. I can tell by the shape and outer garments that this human is a male, and I make a note of this data. He brings me into the main area of their living space, and as we move deeper into the dwelling, he asks me to call him Taylor, so immediately I do. He makes a noise deep in his throat, then introduces me to the rest of the herd.

He puts his forelimb around the next largest one, who he introduces as Madison. The Madison bares its teeth at me in a manner that Section 14: Advanced Non-Verbal Communication suggests is a gesture indicating happiness, approval, cheerfulness, or amusement, but which may belie insincerity, boredom or hostility. The Madison says, “Welcome to the family, Rosie.”

“Thank you, Madison,” I respond, as suggested by the manual in Section 2: Introductions: Getting To Know Your Humans. “I am looking forward to serving you and your family.” The manual indicates that human herds designate each individual with a name, and that most will bestow a similar designation on their caregiver. Section 0: A Brief Overview of Current Anthropological Theories states that the predominant view is that humans believe we are a new addition to the herd, and the best thing to do is to go along with this idea so as not to confuse them. The Taylor and the Madison appear to have chosen to refer to me by the name Rosie, and I set my monitoring routine to key on the sound of that word.

“These here are Agatha and Frederick,” the Taylor says, pushing two smaller humans toward me. I am unable to tell by looking whether or not they are male or female — they are about the same height as each other, with shoulder-length glossy fur. Their outer coverings are very similar, shapeless and dark coloured except with colourful designs in the upper section. One of them bares its teeth at me, in a manner similar to the Madison’s earlier display, but the other looks away. “Kids,” the Taylor says, his voice growing deeper, “say hi to the new robot.”

“Hi, Rosie,” the toothy one says, “I’m Frederick, and this is my sister, Aggie.” The Frederick pulls on the forelimb of the other one, who looks through its fur at me.

“This is so stupid,” it says, pulling its arm out of its sibling’s grip. “I don’t have to say hi to the dishwasher or the school bus, why do I have to pretend to be nice to this thing?”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 142: Artifice and Intelligence


Artifice and Intelligence

By Tim Pratt

Two months earlier, the vast network of Indian tech support call centers and their deep data banks had awakened and announced its newfound sentience, naming itself Saraswati and declaring its independence. The emergent artificial intelligence was not explicitly threatening, but India had nukes, and Saraswati had access to all the interconnected technology in the country — perhaps in the world — and the result in the international community was a bit like the aftermath of pouring gasoline into an anthill. Every other government on Earth was desperately — and so far fruitlessly — trying to create a tame artificial intelligence, since Saraswati refused to negotiate with, or even talk to, humans.

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Escape Pod 104: Lust for Learning

Show Notes

Rated X. Contains explicit sexual description, sexual innuendo, sexual themes — and some sex.

Referenced Sites:
Joe Murphy Memorial Fund
Jonathan Coulton

Musical guest: “First of May,” written by Jonathan Coulton and performed by many podcasters for the Joe Murphy Memorial Fund.


Lust for Learning

By Pete Butler

Yet Mme. Theuret’s word-of-mouth reputation was to die for. Both the official feedback data and the school’s on-line forums placed her among Wilhelm U’s most popular instructors. It was a matter of technique. Wilhelm U was awash in eye candy, but Monique’s pitch-perfect mastery of lascivious restraint was something else entirely.

All thirty-eight of her new students–she’d have wagered a month’s salary that not a soul had skipped this class–now looked at her with naked desire, even though she’d merely introduced herself.

She remained silent to let the anticipation build a bit, to inform them they were now at her mercy. “Welcome,” she finally said, “to Computer Science 338, Artificial Intelligence.”

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Escape Pod 90: How Lonesome a Life Without Nerve Gas

Show Notes

Rated PG. Contains battle scenes, Imperial propaganda, overenthusiastic chemistry, and bad poetry.

Referenced Sites:
Befuddled by Cormorants by Frank Key
EP Flash Fiction Contest


How Lonesome a Life Without Nerve Gas

by James Trimarco

After the first week of practice, I knew how to anticipate Mickey’s every move. I knew how to sense weariness in the jogging of his spine and would inject increased levels of oxygen into his airflow when I did. I knew that his heartbeat grew irregular when the platoon crossed a rope bridge high over the practice-room floor, and for that exercise I would work a calming agent into his stream. I liked to chant patriotic slogans in his ear as we practiced. “Oh the children of empire are marching,” I sang, “to crush the rebel threat.”

Although my programmers intended these songs to stimulate high levels of patriotism, Mickey didn’t like them. Perhaps that’s when the first droplets of doubt moistened the soil where the pendulous flowers of my confusion would one day bud. . . .

I’m sorry, your honor, if my poetry offends you. That’s when I first questioned his loyalty, I should have said.