Because apparently I missed a story that came out in (very) late May, this month's Terraform features six stories, most of them under 2k and a few breaking guidelines to be more than that. Personally I find it just a little funny because the "hard" word limit was praised in some corners (that I didn't really agree with) as being conducive to creativity, and yet here Terraform shows that for the right story the limits have to be eased. But yes, a very good mix of stories, all little glimpses into what might be and all worth giving a look at. So to the reviews!
"The Judge" by Sulagna Misra (1336 words)
Well this one technically came out back in May but because it wasn't on a Monday I missed it. It's a fun little story about a robot and a human meeting at a small diner to take part in a tradition. A competition. They tell stories, and whoever tells the better story gets possession of a small device called a Judge that can open doors, that can make things so much easier. Jay, the robot, lost last time and is determined to win back. They pick language as the topic and the two competitors take turns telling their stories. I'm normally quite a fan of nested stories like this, stories within stories, especially when they manage to use that structure to good effect, and having the stories be both about language is an interesting play. The stories are very different, the first being about email and humanity beginning to communicate directly, brain to brain, while the second is about a race of aliens building an AI to explore a place they cannot go only to be unable to understand the AI because what the AI finds is so far outside the language of the aliens. Both are interesting stories, and both show a sort of progression in language. In the first, the "progress" of having feelings instead of language leads to a lack of awareness. In the second, the failure to "progress" by learning new words and ideas leads to being left behind. To me it points toward a mix of everything, that language shapes our ability to think and conceive of new ideas, so that our language should strive in some ways to be more complicated and not less. A fine story.
"The Trap" by Aaron Gordon (1783 words)
This story is about soccer. Future soccer. Or football, I guess, depending on where you're at. In this future world, soccer is a fixed sport. At the international level, it's fixed all the time, controlled by a field that is full of tricks and weapons that can be turned against players. That are used to tweak the games, make sure that one team wins and one loses. It's a fix that everyone participates in, either actively or by not seeing it. By believing in the fix. It's a great story about how something can be turned, corrupted by money and made into a mockery of itself. Of course, it's also about the human drive in sports. To win even when winning seems impossible. And so the story follows one footballer who is tired of being part of the fix. He steps up and tries, for once, to win. It's a compelling story, weaving the history of the sport's fall into corruption with this one player's progress across the field. So that even when the story is at its bleakest, it's at its most hopeful. Hopeful that even with the corruption, even with the lies and money and politics, that something remains of the game that cannot be wholly bought and sold. Another solid work.
"The Last Museum" by Paul Ford (3287 words)
I think a story like this does show what I want and expect from a publication like Terraform. This story does something that I've been wondering at for a while, which is show a Millennial future but also the post-Millennial future. A place where we have become our parents only not really at all. It's a fascinating story about the construction of a museum, not to hardware, not to computers or even really to "tech" because tech implies a certain hardware. This is a museum exploring what Millennials have done and been focused on more than anything else, and that is connection. It's almost funny to see such a world, such a place that understands and celebrates the particular industrial drive that has gripped Millennials, but finally has them as the drivers and not the passengers. Which is beginning to happen and will happen more. People always assume that the oldest generation is always the same. But I think this story taps into something that is important, which is that the values of society have been changing, away from glorifying a thing toward glorifying connections. People are generally becoming less interested in certain things. Cars, homes, things that previous generations valued above all. The story explores how the new system works and also show it as inherently transitory. The next generation will already be taking it farther away, farther into a future we can't easily predict. So this is a very interesting story to me, one that hits on the pathos of the generation. As a Millennial, it's refreshing because it doesn't demonize this new way of thinking and valuing. It isn't blaming Millennials for not buy enough cars or enough houses. It's a nice story that's worth checking out.
"Homunculoid" by Joshua Chaplinsky (1571 words)
This is a neat story told as a video game review of a "classic" game that allowed a person to basically play the game of life. It's a rather biting critique of society now where winning and losing is determined not at the end of life but at the beginning of play, with whether the character has been born into the right situation or not. For a game that sort of gameplay mechanic is rather shocking, because it basically forces people to then play through that "life" of the character. For those born winners everything is easy. Restrictions are low and consequences light. Opposite that for those born into the "loser" group. The story makes a pretty entertaining read, going through the mechanics and play of the game and basically giving a map of intersectional privilege. What's not exactly surprising is that when people got to play the game, it became more popular to play as the losers than the winners. I think that, while not thoroughly explored in the story, is the most interesting aspect, because it points to what I would say is a fairly standard human reaction to narrative. That people don't want to see themselves as being overly privileged. That they want to be the underdog, even if in "real life" they don't even understand what that means. But overall the story does make some interesting points, reminiscent of comments that Scalzi made about being a certain way is like playing through life on Easy Mode. The story does much more with the idea, obviously, and is an interesting experience. The good times just keep on rolling.
"Trending Hot Topic" by Kate Losse (1425 words)
This story rather embodies that idea that Terraform is taking ideas that just happened and running with them. This one focuses on the idea of Hot Topic moving into social media, which is/was a real possibility. It's a cute story, showing how the company that thrived on mall culture might transform itself into something that thrives on internet culture. Post-storefront and steering trends just as it always did, trying to outguess the future. It is sort of an interesting match, because it does seem to be geared both toward nostalgia and toward that "cutting edge" culturalism. It sells shirts but it also sells the idea of freedom and expression and making it all trendy somehow in order to get money, in order to get relevance. It's a snake eating its own tail and in the world we live in now it's running out of tail to eat. What the story images is that it finds a way to expand out, to regain its relevance and power and it's not difficult to believe that it could do very well in social media, getting away from Facebook's family-centered-ness. Honestly, Facebook is now the place where relatives go to see pictures. Everything is manicured and fake. Twitter is a little better if only because it has none of the permanence to it, none of the focus on putting things up for grandma to see. Something that bridges those plus works in other things is fascinating. Of course, because the story is so quick on the heels of the news, it feels a little rushed at times, the ending shifting a little too much for my tastes, but it does remain an entertaining and fun story. Definitely good for a smile and a laugh from anyone who remembers the mall era of Hot Topic dominance. Indeed.
"Like a Sea Cucumber" by Rudy Rucker (2522 words)
I will admit, this is a rather cute and charming story of a writer who becomes increasingly dependent on a virtual avatar of himself in daily life. The avatar, the Me2, is him, a compilation taken from his books, from his social media and emails and things like that. It's supposed to help him with things, and as an AI it does a pretty all right job. Especially seeing as how the writer himself is actually sunk down in some depression and not feeling like doing anything. As a joke he lets his avatar do a speaking gig for him, and it works. His popularity starts to increase. It gets him paid, but it also shows him that what people are liking now isn't really him. It's been skimmed and prepped to be likable. It's part of a product demo, basically, showing just how much the Me2 is capable of. It's an interesting story and I liked the idea of this guy becoming a bit more unhinged from himself, questioning who he is and who this avatar is. And I also liked that the story didn't really go depressing with the story. Instead of the ploy being shown as ultimately bad or immoral, it's shown to be just something that helped him find himself. That helped everyone involved. The Me2 is happy, and he is happier and finally able to pull himself out of the hole he was in. It's a cute story that's worth checking out.