It is only slightly odd when none of the fiction published at Terraform turn out to be flash fiction. Though the publication normally keeps things pretty short, it is rather notorious at breaking its own rules. Regularly stories stretch long, and here again we have no story under two thousand words and one that nearly makes it to six. Not that I'm really complaining. There's even a graphic story this month, which I think might be a first for the publication. All in all, lots to see and lots to review. So let's go!
"Landmarks Alone" by Ken Baumann (2206 words)
This is a rather strange and also rather philosophical story about the birth of an artificial intelligence. Not one designed, exactly, but one that grew as a byproduct of creating better computers. One that actually thinks and knows its nature and sentience. One that tries to kill itself not long after it is brought into being because being trapped often goes hand in hand with sentience. Understanding limitation. Pain. It's a rather deep story for one that revolves around a man talking to a computer, and it works quite well for that, this new consciousness defining itself, not human but then not needing to be. The story makes good use of both its human and nonhuman characters, Tom and Tom (or Old Tom and New Tom, Real Tom and…hmm…). They challenge each other, Tom the human not quite wanting to believe that Tom the computer exists, wanting to believe that there is some absolute standard and shaken by the idea that he can no more prove his sentience than New Tom can. And that is where the tension between the grows and also where the story gets into its densest territory, exploring what it means to exist in an uncertain world but also the beauty of existing in an uncertain world, the joy of it. The story ends on a question unanswered, a lack that the reader is left to fill in. And it's a moving piece, layered and complex and rather satisfying.
"One Star" by Margaret Killjoy (2006 words)
In a future with self-driving cars, this is a fun little story of a person having to deal with the flexible inflexibility of computer programs and the law. In some ways it's a story about taking the human component about things and how that's a problem, close to living in a police state. In some other ways, it's about how people misuse technology, how technology becomes the victim of everyone, those trying to use it and those trying to escape it. The story centers on Nic, who just wants to visit a friend when the car they're using declares that it's taking them to the police. Which is bad news. I quite agree that things are getting a bit ridiculous, and that added "security" does not lead to added security. For most it just means a way of keeping people oppressed. And the story does a nice job of selling this moment, the conflict between human and machine and between human and human behind the machines. Because the machine becomes a tool, a slave, not able to make moral decisions but still making moral decisions. And through it all the voice is crisp and fun and rather entertaining, and it's a nicely paced story, worth sitting down with and letting yourself be swept away to a destination that's definitely not where you intended to go. A fine read.
"Be Seeing You" by Madeline Ashby (5804 words)
This is the longest story of the bunch this month, but also a very well-executed story about a woman working as a bodyguard for the heir to a large company in a town dominated by an oil rig and filled with people slowly transitioning to be more technologically integrated. Privacy is becoming a distant thing, but for Hwa it still exists. Kinda. Her boss can see through her eyes and is basically constantly in her head, but still Hwa does things her way, keeps close to her roots and to the people who are more likely to be exploited than the rich boy she's tasked with protecting. It's a rather sweet story, ever so slightly romantic while keeping to its core, which is a story about protection. Hwa is a bodyguard, is a watcher and is watched, and these layers give the story an interesting feel, complex and yet easy to read, flowing nicely with a striking setting and great character work. The conflict arises from Hwa's loyalty to people, from her need to protect, which draws her into a situation that she handles quite handily. There's a lot to enjoy in this story, which almost begs to be expanded upon. For what it is, there plot is snappy, the dialogue sharp, and everything just rather works. It's a fun story, one that hints at further adventures and complications. A great way to close out the year of Terraform fiction.
"Reach" by Matt Lubchansky
This is the first I can remember of Terraform running a graphic story, but it fits rather nicely into the overall landscape of the publication. Mostly, it's a weird science fiction piece that focuses on loneliness and human greed. It's a very short and rather minimalist story, told from a non-scientific point of view, from the perspective of a convict electing to be experimented on in order to be shot into space as a low-cost intelligent satellite. It captures the distance and scope of its project quite well, a man in space with the prospect of infinity staring him in the face. And that quiet way he starts to realize what his new life means. The freedom of it but also the bald terror. The sublime wrapped up in the question of what he might find, or what he might not. It's a very effective piece, tight and hitting. It doesn't get bogged down by the science (as evidenced by the Stuff and the Goo), but it still feels strongly science fictional, looking at what being shot into space might do to a person just beginning to realize that it's a one way trip. I can only hope that this won't be the last graphic story to be featured at the publication. More, please!