Ecologies, empathy, parenting, robots, and unanticipated consequences
October 8, 2021 5:47 AM   Subscribe

Two scifi stories about tech inventions that don't work out as their designers planned. Ken Liu's "Quality Time" (from last year) looks into "unsolved problems in home automation" and a friendship at a startup. "Nobel Prize Speech Draft of Paul Winterhoeven, with Personal Notes" by Jane Espenson (published this month) is an epistolary piece by an unreliable narrator: "My problem was the subjectivity of pain." (Yes, this is the Jane Espenson who wrote the "I Was Made to Love You" episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the "Dirty Hands" episode of Battlestar Galactica.)
posted by brainwane (9 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Liu's piece felt a little too - clever? I kept getting glimpses of something the narrator would feel or realise larger than work and algorithms, but it went for the clever cute line such as the Star Trek quips over something with depth. Espenson's piece is a great scathingly sharp bit with just the right length to land hard. The self-rumintion and complete lack of insight while telling the story around that worked very well.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:34 AM on October 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Loved the Espenson piece. I immediately thought of someone who would be in Winterhoeven's group mentioned at the end.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:14 AM on October 8, 2021

I really enjoyed the Liu. The only thing of his I'd previously read was The Paper Menagerie, which IIRC I found so sad that I was wary of reading anything more. This has changed my mind; both his short story collections are now in my Waterstones basket.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:57 AM on October 8, 2021

The Espenson piece -- to me -- is a monologue that speaks to her screenwriting skills with dialogue. I think it would be cool if she writes more short fiction for the page because she has such skill with dialogue and character.

I know I've recommended this before on MeFi, but Jo Walton's "A Burden Shared" is another (darker) short story about what it would actually look like if we could show each other what our pain feels like (in this case only physical pain). "His entitlement pressed hard on the exact places where her affection had worn thin." It's different in a lot of ways, and it's less triumphant, but it's also clear on how the technology would interact with existing systems of discrimination, and the unequal burden of carework. Who feels compelled to notice and bear others' pain and who doesn't.
posted by brainwane at 11:58 AM on October 8, 2021

I want the notebook they give out at WeRobot.
posted by bashing rocks together at 4:58 PM on October 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

I’m not saying that was a story about Joss Whedon, but I’m not not saying that either.
posted by nonasuch at 5:41 PM on October 8, 2021 [8 favorites]

The first one I suddenly worried it was going to go all Pied Piper, with the rats and the children, and folklore references. They can't do that to Danny! As a sleep deprived parent and arts/computer science bachelor (fairy tales, children's literature, Spanish, mediaeval history, programming, databases...) I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Oof with the second- very precise and biting.
posted by freethefeet at 6:30 PM on October 8, 2021

Even though WeRobot's robots weren't sophisticated enough to pass as human, I was starting to wonder about Amy.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:57 PM on October 8, 2021

Just remembered that this was posted and that I had really wanted to read Espenson's story. It was excellent. Three cheers for Belinda, the librarian. I didn't relate quite as well to the Liu (I felt like I should, as a Trekkie, but...).
posted by mersen at 5:14 PM on October 11, 2021

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