“?”, by Randall Munroe.
Read by Howard Tayler. (10 min)

He had not read his slip of paper. It was folded in an envelope in his left pocket. In his right pocket were several books of matches, and he was wearing a backpack. He pushed his way through the scrubby pine trees on the west border of the barrens.

“This isn’t how it works, you know. The machine is playing word games.”

He hopped across a clear stream, feet sinking into the sandy bank on the other side, wetness seeping over the soles of his sneakers. Water was bad. He needed dry brush.

“The universe doesn’t work by word games. You have to think with words to play word games.”

He kicked at a snake, daring it to bite, but it disappeared into the undergrowth.

“You can’t just say what’s going to happen ahead of time. That’s not how physical law works. That’s narrative. And when reality is twisted to fit narrative, that’s not natural. That’s someone making stories happen.”

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Randall Munroe, a cartoonist from southern Virginia, is the creator of the webcomic xkcd, one of the most popular comics on the Internet. Formerly a roboticist at NASA, he now makes a living writing comics. He spends his time drawing, traveling, and training computers to beat humans at Rock-Paper-Scissors. He lives in New England.

Howard Tayler is the creator, writer, and illustrator of Schlock Mercenary, the online comic space opera. His witty dialogue, epic plots, and exploitation of all those little things the science-fiction genre has to offer have earned him praise, a Hugo nomination, and a full-time living. You can also listen to him as the co-host of the podcast Writing Excuses.

In the book, “?” is illustrated by Kazu Kibuishi. This podcast episode was edited by Matthew Schwartz.