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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…)

Genres:

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…)

Genres:

Escape Pod 358: Like a Hawk in its Gyre

Show Notes

Rated 15 and up for language


Like a Hawk in Its Gyre

By Philip Brewer

The bicycle noticed someone was following before Kurt did. Watching for a tail was a habit he’d finally broken himself of, but not before the bicycle’s impressionable brain had picked it up. Its low warning hum sent a thrill of adrenaline through him, giving power to the part of his brain that wanted him to sprint away.

Kurt glanced back down the single track. The trees were already beginning to turn fall colors around the edges of the forest, but here along the narrow trail the foliage was green and thick. Resisting the urge to pick up the pace, he continued on, looking back when he could take his eyes off the trail, and after a few moments caught sight of what the bicycle had seen.

“It’s just another cyclist,” Kurt said, reaching down to pat the bicycle’s yellow-and-black, hornet-striped frame. The bicycle didn’t understand–its brain was small and lacked the regions for understanding speech–but Kurt’s tone of voice calmed it and the warning hum grew softer and less anxious.

The end of the trail, a scenic overlook above the Vermillion River, was not far ahead, but the overtaking bicyclist was approaching even faster. The polite thing to do would be to find a place to pull off the trail and let the cyclist past. But there were no surveillance devices in the forest, and Kurt couldn’t face meeting someone out of sight of some sort of watching eyes. At just the thought of it, his adrenaline surged again.

Letting his brain chemistry have its way with him, Kurt leaned low over his handlebars and pedaled hard.
(Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Escape Pod 296: For Want of a Nail

Show Notes

Nominated for the Hugo Award for Short Story, 2011


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…)

Genres:

Escape Pod 280: Endosymbiont

Show Notes

Show Notes:

  • Feedback for Episode 272
  • Next week… Horticulture, dermatology, and love

Endosymbiont

By Blake Charlton

“Do you know what day it is? What year?”

“It’s like mid August, 2017?” her voice squeaked. Jesus, had she really lost her mind?

“That’s right.” She smiled. “Don’t be scared. I just wanted to be sure.”

“What do you mean don’t be scared?” she blurted. “Sure about what? Jesus! How long have I been here? How many times have you seen me before?”

Jani held up her hand. “Slow down; it’s okay…I’m not an oncologist, but I’m following your case. The cancer responded well to the treatment. And our research suggests that the side effects are temporary.”

Stephanie started to protest but then stopped. A terrifying memory flashed through her mind. “Mom said they might take me to a hospital for the dead.” She didn’t know what that meant but the memory was clear. “She said you’d keep me here to fool me into thinking I’m still alive.”

Jani was holding up both hands now. “Slow down. The survival rates are scary but they’re far better—”

“You’re not listening. She said they’d take me to a hospital for people who’ve _already_ died. I have to escape before—”

Stephanie started to stand but Jani put a heavy hand on her shoulder and said “Lullaby.”

The word opened a bloom of orange light across Stephanie’s vision. A static hiss exploded into her ears, and she felt herself falling. There was a firecracker yellow flash and then…nothing.

Genres:

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.

Genres:

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.”

Genres:

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.