I'm probably missing one story from the October Terraform, but as it might be coming out on Friday (I'm pretty sure that's what their schedule has changed to, rather than the previous Monday releases), I'm just going to roll it into the November Terraform reviews. It's a nice mix of stories this month, with a look at income inequality and...pets. Which might seem a strange pairing but which work nicely here. There are a number of interesting plot twists (and not just that there is a 5K+ story at a publication that claims to stick to under 2K) and a fun range of characters. To the reviews!
"A Job Opening" by Devon Maloney (2427 words)
Well this is a rather dark story, a rather bleak outlook on the future, and yet one that I have no problem believing. Warming trends let go as the rich escaped within protected, monolithic complexes and those without scrape by off what they can. It is a system where the haves have and everyone else is varying degrees of screwed. People are exploited, and exploited, and only those at the top get anywhere. Even those with enough to live cannot thrive, are so consumed by their work that they have no time for comfort, no time for anything but providing more labor to those that have. For the main character, Maya, things aren't even as good as that, and she is largely dependent on friends to get by. But then a chance comes up to get a job. To move up. That she only knows about because she knows someone. There is a great conflict here, the want for better but also the guilt that comes with using nepotism to get it. The question of whether success comes from deserving a thing or from knowing the right people, being in the right position. It's something that I think many many people struggle with, that comes with living in a culture that is so unequal. Unfair. The story is moving and sad and manages to fit a lot into a short amount of time. The desperation that Maya has to improve, the way her life and the life of her child are in the balance, is done well and the ending comes with a great sinking feeling, a cold horror and a deep sadness. A great way to kick things off.
"Who's a Good Boy" by Marlee Jane Ward (1725 words)
The idea of talking animals is certainly a popular one, and this story captures the reasons why a person might want to be able to converse with their pet. Namely, to bridge the loneliness that surrounds them. To get some manner of support and care, if only from a pet, which is supposed to love unquestioningly. But, of course, part of that love is that the dog can't question, doesn't really know enough to question. And if they know enough to talk, they probably know enough to question. Such is the situation with Sera and her dog Hershaw, when Hershaw gets "Uplifted." It's a neat concept and well executed, the magic wearing off very quickly and the story taking on some deeper, darker implications. About pets but also about ownership in general and respecting sentience and a lot more. For a talking dog story it does a nice job of distancing itself from the pack, though having an uplifted animal or object that wishes to return to being ignorant is not exactly new or underused. The personalities of the dog and owner make this story charming, though, and the ending adds a nice additional layer to it, something new that is not often talked about, and that ending is what really sells the rest of the tale, what makes it impact with more than just the same old, same old. There's an edge here, a realization that it's not just the uplifted that aren't really happy with their situation. That the problem is wider and deeper than that. A rather fun and interesting story!
"The NuCorYou Guide for New Corporate Persons" by J.R. Johnson (1787 words)
This is a rather fun, if also rather dark, story of the progress corporate personhood might make. In the story a body wakes up. A corporation made flesh, given the body of a person who had no other options. Things are pretty rosy for corporations, mostly, and this new consciousness reads through the guidebook for beings like them while inside a battle is waged for the soul of the company, for the soul of the person who is emerging. I like the contrasts in the story, the contrast between the cheery tone of the guide, the optimism born from exploitation, reinforced by the fact that most of these new corporate people will agree with the basics, that they exist to exploit, that their actions are above reproach, and the pain and conflict that happens inside the new mind. Until a clear winner from among the corporate personalities emerges. And I like the contrast between that voice and the body it inhabits. The contrast between what was intended and what happens. And through it all a sort of happy lack of accountability, a freeness that where there is corruption there is nothing to worry about for corporations. And yeah, it's a nice piece, funny and compelling and hitting on an aspect of corporate personhood that never really gets asked. Whose voice does a corporation use? If it's a person, how is it unique from the individuals that make it up? A nice read.
"Blue Monday" by Laurie Penny (5275 words)
I can admit that I was not exactly expecting a story about cat videos. What I was expecting less? A story about cat videos with a wry sense of humor and the emotional power to punch me right in the gut. This story is deep and it is dark, about pain and bottling emotions and exploiting people. About the nature of loneliness and how people seek to fill the holes in their lives with something better. Something numbing. And when people are too poor to afford drugs or alcohol, or maybe just can't afford to take those for other reasons, their opiate of choice is often cat videos. Or other baby animals. Things to laugh at, to find cute. Things to get lost in. And the main character of this story has already lost plenty. Lost and is trying to protect herself from that pain, even though she can't fully, even though it keeps coming through. She works for the company that provides emotional numbing via animal videos, and yet she is bitter, desperate after her girlfriend leaves her, even more desperate when her last connection to her girlfriend, her girlfriend's pet cat Pocket, is stolen by her work. It is a rather dark story but with great humor, an amazing voice that hits all the right notes, a young woman who doesn't want to feel, who takes no shit and who is sarcastic, shielded. And the story offers no real answers, just a spiral of people being exploited, people unable to heal because life sucks and no one is interested in making it better. It's a great story, a damned depressing story but in the best of ways, one that hits and doesn't stop hitting. Very well done!