So I think that the publishing schedule has changed at Terraform. Instead of stories coming out on Monday, they seem to be coming out later in the week. It's strange because I can't check every day to see, but I'm thinking they've been coming out closer to Friday most weeks. Whatever the case, the stories this month are good. Mostly dark visions of the future, and getting into some non-science fictional waters perhaps with a few of them, but definitely a nice mix of stories and styles. And some that really hit hard. Even an excerpt from a longer work that I decided to look at. So to the reviews!
"These Were the Transitional Years" by Zak Smith (2818 words)
Well that's pretty fucked up right there. In a good way, of course. This story is all sorts of rather uncomfortable and confronting the way that people view relationships, view sex, view other people in general. The way that what people do and what they want is often at direct odds with the way they live and the beliefs they hold. It's...well, the story follows Diane as she goes to see her ex, the father of her daughter, to talk and not talk. Her ex lives in Batch, in a place where he's basically just a sack of flesh having sex all day. It's jarring not only for its graphicness but also because it matches so many people's idea of paradise, the constant sex, the constant wanting of the people servicing him. There is no care for the Sexinurses with him, no real viewing them as people because in many ways their humanity has been stripped from them. All that's left is their place as object, made so by the way they are treated, by the way society has taught them to behave and modified them to behave. Same for the men Diane keeps in her own sort of harem. But it's something she doesn't want for her daughter, to be one of the Sexinurses. The way that people want to categorize people into the Lost, into those not deserving of basic rights, and the Elect, those that do. And people are fine with this as long as they are Elect, as long as their children are Elect. In many ways this is about a parent seeing that the way her generation has made the world has actually done extreme harm but they didn't see it until their child was the one facing damage. It's a damning look at how people act, how people can legislate and believe in things basically only because they'll never be effected by them. A powerful story that has the feeling of a slow car crash, the cause of which could have been missed but is long passed. A fine story!
"It's Going to Be Okay" by David Axe (1576 words)
This is a rather sweet story about a man who works with malfunctioning robots in the military. He thinks of himself as a robot psychiatrist, but then he also thinks of his charges, the robots that are brought to him to diagnose, as people. Which he's not supposed to do, but it is endearing to see him struggle to keep from referring to the robots as people. It makes sense, because at the point they're at the robots are basically sentient. Not all that complex, but capable of thought, adaptation, innovation. And a basic understanding of the world, of their own programming. Here the main character meets a robot who was tasked with helping some humans injured in a strike and suddenly stops working. Because it realizes from the humans it helps that humans create their own problems, their own weapons. That humans are self-destructive. And the robot doesn't know how to handle that. It's a nice commentary on war and humanity but especially the way in which humans design the weapons that invariably get used on them. That here the coder who opened the robot to doubt was part of the team that designed the software that allowed him to be bombed. It's not a new thing, but it is interesting to think that at some point the weapons we create might just say no. Not that it's a completely new concept, but the story does a good job sticking to its scale and scope, keeping things simple and grounded in the moment. And the ending is pulled off well, with just enough of that emotional payoff and lingering doubt. Another good one!
"Gold Fame Citrus" by Claire Vaye Watkins (1515 words)
This is an excerpt from a longer work, but I'm looking at it anyway. It's a stark piece, a single snapshot of space, of land, of change. Here is a future that might not be far off, one where the California droughts have made a startling transformation, turning a huge swath of land into an enormous desert, into a dune that pushes back everything around it. Farmland, towns, everything is swept under by the dune, but the Earth taking back those things that humans had written on it. Clearing the slate. Mostly this short passage is about that, about the dune, about how it spread, about what it looks like. About how it's been made into postcards and bad art. But there is something deep in the thought of staring out onto this new national landmark, more ethereal than the Grand Canyon but even bigger. The prose of the piece is dense and sensual, getting across the sense of loss, the sense of vastness, the sense of relentless drive with which the dune moved. It does a great job of showing that moment, showing the reaction of seeing it for the first time. I'm not sure how it fits into the larger narrative from which is comes, but I can say that it's a moving read, and worth checking out on its own. Indeed!
"Homesick" by Debbie Urbanski (2005 words)
This is a story of how the past isn't something that can be brushed aside, that starting fresh can sometimes be an impossible task. Especially when it comes at the expense of others. The story takes place on a ship heading for unknown parts, with refugees fleeing Earth. The story is preoccupied with dreams, with the dreams that the children of the ship are having, of places that they've never seen. Of Earth, but Earth from before the adults fled. From before the environment worsened. And the adults don't know what to do about it, can't stop it, and find the dreams compelling, addictive. It effects them, and some consider killing the children to make the dreams stop. [SPOILERS!!!] The great thing that the story does is tie the children back to the children that the adults left behind on Earth when they left. Because they had to leave their children there, presumably to die, in order to leave. And that, wow, is some dark territory, dark because now their new children, their promised better children, are dreaming and the whole mission is poisoned by it, by the actions the refugees took when escaping. They are unable to shake off that action, must live in a sort of penance state, unable to cash in on the lives they've betrayed. The character work, the gothic mood of these magical dreams, of these refugees being haunted by their past, by the home, is great. It's an excellent story that really does hit home. A great way to wrap up the month.