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Tomorrow Is Waiting
April 17, 2013 7:19 PM   Subscribe

"She also found herself liking Kermit a lot more than she'd expected to. Anji had never really watched the Muppets before; her parents, like most parents she knew, had treated TV as only slightly less corrupting an influence than refined sugar and gendered toys. But The Muppet Show was really funny—strange, and kind of hokey, but charming all the same. She ended up watching way more of it than she needed just for the project. "Tomorrow Is Waiting", a short science fiction story by Holli Mintzer, published in Strange Horizons.
posted by brainwane (29 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
I kept expecting it to go horribly, horribly wrong, as robots-coming-to-life stories usually do in the mainstream....
posted by daisystomper at 7:29 PM on April 17, 2013


I love everything about this.
posted by mhoye at 7:32 PM on April 17, 2013


As if the Muppets will ever, ever, ever be allowed into the public domain.
posted by The Whelk at 7:44 PM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Loved that.
posted by rtha at 7:44 PM on April 17, 2013


I smiled so hard... I want an AI Kermit!
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 7:51 PM on April 17, 2013


I want this to be real.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:11 PM on April 17, 2013


Damn, that was wonderful.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:11 PM on April 17, 2013


I assume that in the next episode, the AI Muppet characters are all mass produced with custom tweaks and in various brands , to serve as willing entertainment slaves , expendable factory fodder, and lethally efficient soldiers .

Yeah, enjoy your innocence while it lasts.

ps The Muppet Show = the de facto British localization of Sesame Street and the best one by far
posted by Bwithh at 8:13 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now that my initial smile has given way to contented analysis...

It's so wonderful to come across a story that makes you leave your own life for the time that you read it. You're transported to that reality, and when you finish reading you feel like you've emerged from some other world. I love that feeling so much... I'll be tracking down any other work the author's done to be sure.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 8:21 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, I wrote this story. Hi. Was not expecting it to turn up here!

It is actually the first piece of fiction I had in a SFWA-qualifying publication; since then I've had four more. Thank you all for your lovely comments, and for motivating me to get some more writing done.
posted by nonasuch at 8:28 PM on April 17, 2013 [49 favorites]


Possible Henson-designed proto-Kermit AI candidate for dystopian security forces robots nightmare sequel

(excellent story, nonasuch. I very much enjoyed reading it)
posted by Bwithh at 8:31 PM on April 17, 2013


I assume that in the next episode...

Yes, we get it. You're an awesome iconoclast who is able to turn the most delightful things into grim dark twisted versions.

*sigh*
posted by Etrigan at 8:33 PM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm fangirling here. Just a little. OMG!
posted by rtha at 8:39 PM on April 17, 2013


Yes, we get it. You're an awesome iconoclast who is able to turn the most delightful things into grim dark twisted versions.

*sigh*
posted by Etrigan at 8:33 PM on April 17 [1 favorite −] [!]


well, to be serious, I think Holli the author is presenting an iconoclastic (in a good way) vision of advanced AI R&D. The more typical narrative about how sentient AI R&D ends up is the likes of DARYL, WarGames, Spielberg's AI, Short Circuit, Blade Runner etc. etc etc. Outside of scifi, in corporate and government narratives - as applied in university R&D contexts like the story talks about, that kind of AI R&D narrative isn't primarily seen as dystopian, but as something to be championed . So Holli's Muppets story is subverting that dominant AI R&D narrative
posted by Bwithh at 8:52 PM on April 17, 2013


rtha wrote: I'm fangirling here.

You're not a boy? But the username... I thought "rtha" was just a clever way of writing "Arthur".

Evidently I can't tell Arthur from Martha.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:07 PM on April 17, 2013


Really beautiful story nonasuch. I loved it.

I must admit that when I read the bit about her making the code available online I thought, great, now some asshole is going to use it to make a dalek.
posted by calamari kid at 10:33 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, I was delighted when her Professor didn't take the student project away from her and claim credit. Students! Be like Zuckerberg or Gates! If you create an AI as part of a student project, don't give it to your tutors! Get an IP lawyer!

Phew. That wouldn't have been Kermit, though, would it? This way was better.
posted by alasdair at 11:40 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


While I work I like to keep a live stream going in the background. This one I know has been marathoning every episode of the Muppet show ever produced, for six weeks straight now. If there are any repeats I haven't noticed.

The guests are amusing too. All names I've heard, but most of whom I haven't seen. It's very interesting to watch the B-listers of the 70s strut their stuff.
posted by clarknova at 1:38 AM on April 18, 2013


There are 120 episodes of The Muppet Show, which without commercials is a bit less than two-and-a-half days of run time. So you'll run into repeats eventually, probably pretty soon. Although there's plenty more than B-listers on the show: Steve Martin has one of the coolest episodes (no laugh track; all the laughing is Muppet Show crew!) Dudley Moore participates in the show's lore by inventing a music-making machine that, for one episode, replaces the Electric Mayhem. Spike Mulligan has a terrific episode. The Mummenschanz have a particularly freaky episode. And so on. It's really a terrific show.

We're mostly pretty fanatic Hensonians around here, so anything involving muppets will probably be well received. I'd be lying if I said I didn't tear up a bit at the thought of a revived, living Kermit. But forging ahead beyond that, for the sake of the author....

My main problem with the linked story (given to nonasuch in the spirit of constructive criticism) is that it could probably have gone deeper into Kermit's history, since the character did a number of things before The Muppet Show, although that was the program that really cemented Kermit as being the "leader" of the muppets. Before Kermit, Rowlf was probably the most representative muppet.

Is there something about muppets that makes them conducive to robotization? What if you applied that system to clips of a human being, like say Jim Henson or Frank Oz? If a character quizzed virtual Kermit, could he find a discrepancy between the original character and the robot version? Which version of Kermit is he? (The earliest version, from Sam And Friends, wasn't explicitly a frog!)

I'm personally glad that the Disney corporation didn't stomp down on virtual Kermit when they found out about him, although sadly, that seems out of character for them. That might have been an interesting angle to pursue, however.
posted by JHarris at 2:06 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Totally charming. But what happens when someone uses the same code to make a second Kermit? I mean... actually, I can kind of imagine what happens. It would be really entertaining Muppet show episode.

And what happens if someone starts feeding in footage of, say, Boris Badenov... Or Richard Nixon?! Anji's really opened up the door to the dystopian nightmare, here, despite the apparent happy ending...
posted by OnceUponATime at 3:41 AM on April 18, 2013


This was my first successful front page post and I am so happy people like the story, and delightedly surprised that the author is MetaFilter's Own!

I love this story for a bunch of reasons, including but not limited to:

* Kermit is in the public domain. That makes this utopian fiction all on its own. ;-)
* The main character is an Indian-American woman, like me. I felt the same hospitality and joy in that as I did with "Jump Space" -- it's so rare that I get to feel like the protagonist of the story is someone who looks like me! And she is never described physically, which is great and allows me to project myself in there. :)
* Anjali is a woman in CS, a bricoleur programmer, who engages in zero romance over the course of the story because this is not about that, this is about her work. We get a pretty strong sense of her approach as a coder, and it's quite realistic.
* The joy of Kermit. It gets Kermit just right -- "I interview well" I can't help but hear in Kermit's voice. And he's so kind. At the beginning of the original The Muppet Movie, the reason he leaves the swamp is because someone tells him that he could make millions of people happy. This story shows you that easygoing good heart and the effect it has on everyone around him.
* Anjali's journey. She makes something amazing, and she is afraid she'll get in trouble, and she doesn't quite get why people look up to her (unreliable narrator with impostor syndrome - nice), and she discovers her values. The moment where she looks at her undone homework and then chooses to start the Fozzie codebase so Kermit can have a friend -- it's like Huck Finn's "well all right then I'll go to hell" turning point.
* It's so friendly and happy and warm.
* Banjo!

Those of you who want speculative fiction to talk about copyright, check out Ken Liu's "Life Plus Seventy". JHarris, in "Tomorrow is Waiting" Kermit is in the public domain, so of course Disney can't stomp on Anjali, and I think that makes for a sweeter, happier story. And I think it's reasonable to say that the robot Kermit is the sum of all his appearances, including and leaning towards the chronologically last ones.

Muppet fans who enjoyed this story might like to skim fanfic at Archive Of Our Own that includes Kermit. There are a lot of crossovers.
posted by brainwane at 4:22 AM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's not easy being [chrome and steel, and covered in the blood of a thousand generations.]
posted by blue_beetle at 5:20 AM on April 18, 2013


But what happens when someone uses the same code to make a second Kermit?

See Muppet Show Episode 104, and Sesame Street News Flash with Herman the Hippity Hop/Dr. Nobel Price for reference.
posted by mikepop at 7:07 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


My main problem with the linked story (given to nonasuch in the spirit of constructive criticism) is that it could probably have gone deeper into Kermit's history, since the character did a number of things before The Muppet Show, although that was the program that really cemented Kermit as being the "leader" of the muppets. Before Kermit, Rowlf was probably the most representative muppet.

Is there something about muppets that makes them conducive to robotization?


I think these are bad criticisms which miss the point. The first supposes that extensive backstory is better than something simple and perfectly distilled even if more "accurate." The second sort of miss the fundamental specialness of muppets, which is odd since you're harping on canon. The muppets are like empathy and love distilled. Of course a muppet is more conducive to sentience than any other (in this universe) "public domain" character.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:05 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


The second sort of miss the fundamental specialness of muppets, which is odd since you're harping on canon. The muppets are like empathy and love distilled.

Mmmmm.... I think this doesn't do the appeal of the The Muppet Show Muppets justice - their appeal is much more complex and interesting than Sesame Street; The Muppet Show was conceived as an edgy show for adult audiences. Muppet Show Muppets often don't represent empathy or even love...
posted by Bwithh at 8:19 AM on April 18, 2013


I can think of no higher praise, nor a more true statement, than this:

I believe that Jim Henson would have liked this story.
posted by Etrigan at 8:20 AM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Mmmmm.... I think this doesn't do the appeal of the The Muppet Show Muppets justice - their appeal is much more complex and interesting than Sesame Street; The Muppet Show was conceived as an edgy show for adult audiences. Muppet Show Muppets often don't represent empathy or even love...

Kermit? Kermit is totally love. He may sometimes be weary or beleaguered at times but he always wants his friends to succeed.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:30 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not that I think extensive coverage of the history of the muppets would improve the story, just that I think a nod here or there would be kinda nice. Not required, and far be it from me to play backseat author here.

The other questions I had are more along the lines of wanting to explore the story's universe a little more.
posted by JHarris at 12:56 PM on April 18, 2013


Okay...am I silly for getting teary? Awesome story.
posted by varion at 7:57 PM on April 18, 2013


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