Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Quick Sips - Terraform March 2015

Another month comes to a close, so there's another month's worth of weekly stories from Terraform. This month the stories range a bit longer on average than in most since its start, but overall I think they are worth checking out. It's a somewhat bleak look into the not-too-distant future, but there are some humorous bits as well, and enough to think about to make this another interesting month for this unique publication. So here we go!


"Headshot" by  Julian Mortimer Smith (1701 words)

In this rather interesting story told via fictional interview, a future is imagined where military action is taken via direct democracy. Civilians can follow people online and any action requires the input from those people following. You need to be approved to take a shot, to make a patrol. It puts some of the participation in the hands of the public. I liked the style of it, the way that social media had integrated into the technology of war, the way it all seemed to flow. The ridiculousness of having to rouse people to vote on an important military action. I liked the idea, that such things would be more open to the public. I mean, on the one hand it's a terrible idea, because the public is swayed by things that would lead to some terrible decisions, but I did like that ultimately the military was answering to the public and nothing else. I think there would be a much more troubling problem in that soldiers would face much greater risk in that situation, when they might not be able to comply to the wills acting on them. But the story does provide an interesting glimpse into the system, into something where the public really isn't allowed to be in the dark. Plus the tone is just sort of nicely disturbing, the way the headshot is glorified. As it would be. It's just nice that it shows this system that is in many ways repellent but still holds a small sliver to promise. Indeed.

"Springing Backwards" by Rick Paulas (2140 words)

In this story is a comedy-apocalypse, the end of the world coming from the removal of daylight savings time. It's a fun, light story of a man and the mistakes he makes that lead to the end of the world, or at least a small end of the world. And, really, it's not exactly something that had much to do with daylight savings time. Sure, it seems to have contributed, but it seemed more that this one guy rather caused most of the troubles all on his own. Still, it sort of the blown-out-of-proportion kind of thing, people battling to keep daylight savings time despite it not serving a real definitely purpose anymore. It's cute, though I kind of hope that the main character gets what's coming to him for being a complete ass and probably causing the deaths of untold number of people. I can imagine, I guess. A funny little diversion, to be sure.

"The Dragon and the Martian" by Becky Ferreira (2510 words)

Two very different kinds of biological engineers work in the same area in this story. One is working on microbes that will help give Mars an atmosphere. His work is long, largely invisible. But he believes. He believes that he is doing something right. Good. The other is designing mythic animals for the few wealthy enough to afford them on an Earth that is devastated and resource strapped. This designer is vain, aggressive, and frustrated because the dragon he's designing doesn't want to be made. Figuratively and literally. While he is trying to force the world to fit his vision, to be a god of sorts, his friend is actually working at terraforming a planet, and yet isn't driven in the same way. It's quite a shift between the two, and well handled in the story. I really liked how the two men clashed and contrasted, and how their missions showed a lot about them. I was a little less convinced about the ending, which seemed a little abrupt, but overall I think the story pulled it off all right. I did like the image of the herd of wild unicorn in the end, that way of summing up the one guy's work. It's an effective bit of story, a glimpse at what might be in the future of designed life and two very different visions that can shape it.

"Flesh For Trade" by Nicholas Budgen (1350 words)

This story is short and seems to be about the circle of how people use technology, in this case in the sex trade. In the story, androids have replaced human workers in sex work, and a pair of new seemingly android workers are delivered to a brothel to work. They are billed as being incredibly life-like. That they'll be able to simulate everything. And, of course, they turn out to be human. The cycle of wanting something to mimic humanity comes back around so that (one would assume) the only way sex workers can make money is to pretend to be robots. It's an interesting premise but one that I think gets a but muddied by the ending, which seems to imply that these new workers, the human ones, don't really want to be sex workers. That they're doing this just to live. Which makes an interesting point but also kinda paints sex work as being demeaning and I'm not really for that. Perhaps it's trying to make the case that for these people it's all they have left, but with the protests shown in the beginning of the book I'd think they could find people more willing to do it. Of course, maybe the point is that people don't want humans, they want robots who seem human so that they can have more license to actually abuse the robots. There's enough in the story to make it provoking and the style is interesting, the lingering question that finally gets answered in the last few sentences. Indeed.

"From Fire" by Cecca Ochoa (701 words)

The last story of the month is also (by far) the shortest. Here the narrator (using the second person you) creates a small avatar or person in a game. Kind of like the Sims or something similar but with more laterality. You start out interested, invested, giving the little person things to do, meddling and helping and all that. Then, invariably, you get bored and reward the person in a way that it doesn't understand. It reacts poorly, and then you get even more bored and stop playing for a while only to check in later and find that the little person is near death, the landscape destroyed. Basically what happens to me in between bouts of Animal Crossing. The ending then turns it a bit, imagines that this little person is creating a little person of their own, imagining that perhaps that is what reality is, that we're all just layers of programming. Which is a pretty interesting idea, though if that were the case I'm not sure where the story says we are. I prefer to think that the story brings up the point that maybe we're the ones inside only to reject that idea. I mean, our world is not entirely destroyed. If we're in a game it's one that's being played for a long time by someone fairly vested in us not completely going to hell. But I do think that maybe it's that knowledge that this isn't a simulation in the end that prompt the most introspection. An appreciation that we are not at the whim of our own playing, that perhaps we need to be more conscious of what we do to our simulations, to the lives we might create, because if life ever erupts online or in a game, we don't want to be terrible through out ignorance and laziness. A good story with lots to think about.

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