There is a part of me that stares in shock at the stories in this month's batch of Terraform SF offerings. Not just because they are rather shocking, about dangerous unknowns and the human tendency to push forward without thinking things through the most thoroughly. But also because all of these stories actually stick to the under 2,000 word guideline. Which means all of these stories know how to hit and bow and clear the stage, know how to reveal a future that teases, that compels, but that leaves so much deliciously unanswered. Time to review!
"Slippage and the Flag" by Ryan Vance (1893 words)
This is an interesting story, and a rather unique view of time travel, one that I don't think I've ever seen before. Where people from a near future are traveling through sinkholes to the farther future to do humanitarian work. To fix problems that need more than that future has. And that some people go through and don't come back. Mix that with a great emotional core of the main character waiting for her partner to return, to rejoin the fight in the present, and I just like what this does, like the layers and the weight and the idea. The conflict between the future and the present, the question of what people would do if given access to a world that was more advanced, even if it was recovering, even if it was broken in some ways. [SPOILERS] And I love that in the story there's so much placed on fixing the future that people start to overlook the present, that people start to take the future as a given they cannot escape, and in doing so fulfill their own prophecy. There are obviously different ways to see the future but in some ways even a broken one is a comfort, is proof that not everything is doomed. And some people just want to jump ahead, to move to that place. But that many others know that doing so is a sort of cheat, that what is really required is to act now. That we can still do something and have it matter. And that without this moment now people in the future will have it even worse. That there is hope, however distant, and that it requires effort here and now and then and always. A fine read!
"The Flesh Interface" by Mother Horse Eyes (1994 words)
I must admit I am super curious about this Reddit phenomenon, because this story is creepy and interesting, a mix of horror and science fiction that worked quite well in drawing me into a mystery, with ramping up the tension and then letting it sit, linger, almost promising something and then, at the last moment…well, that would be telling. The story itself is framed around a "flesh interface" which houses a portal to…somewhere. Somewhere that effects living things. And not so living things. The story does an interesting job of building up the story of a group of researchers studying the portal and experimenting with living people (and dead people) in their search for trying to figure out what's going on. And running parallel to that is a historical context that gives the piece added layers and a rising feeling that doesn't let up to the end. [SPOILERS] And I do like that the story doesn't really answer the questions, the mysteries that it sets up. That it creates this compelling question of how and what and why and brings into focus the human desire to conquer ignorance and the danger that represents when the answer to the question might kill people just with the power of it, just with the implications of it. It's a nice piece and an interesting project and I'd be interested at least to see where it's going. Indeed.
"The Battle of Fort Hollow" by Rick Paulas (2292 words)
I rather like how this story mixes rather heavy amounts of propaganda-fueled-dystopia with just enough hints at what's "really going on" to make for a rather fun and delightful read, a science fictional kind of Civil War reenactment with a lot of strange and a lot of commentary about the nature of information and freedom in the face of control and manipulation and, basically, fascism. The story offers a nice look through the eyes of a young man living beyond The Wall, a structure meant to keep the people on the inside safe. Safe from information and safe from their own decisions. [SPOILERS] It's an effectively crafted story, a sly elbow and chuckle and I like the way that it moves, how it shows the main character slowly growing more dissatisfied with the situation and then being confronted with something that…but then the story ends. And I like the pull-away moment, that the "real story" is effectively denied because by that point it seems so obvious what happened. Which is scary as fuck, because it means in the back of our minds we acknowledge that, while this is a joke in some ways, it makes sense. It makes sense and we are here, this close to it. And fuck. So yeah, I feel the story does a nice job with what it sets out to do, and think it's definitely worth a read!
"Espie" by Rich Larson (1125 words)
I'm not usually the best judge of parenthood stories, but this is a fine example of a story that features babies but doesn't trigger my "parents are the worst" fight or flight response. In this future there are children and then there are SPs. Save Points. Which I love the name because it evokes the sort of gaming culture that people my age were sort of brought up with but which newer games don't have so I imagine the idea of save points is something strongly tied to a very specific span of time. And a specific kind of people. This is not what I would call "Millennial fiction" but in many ways it's tied to the Millennial experience, to not knowing what to do and struggling to live up to this idea of success while also embracing huge leaps in technology that allow things like artificial babies to exist. [SPOILERS] I actually have no problem with the SPs themselves. It seems actually…smart as a way of dealing with depression and having something to hold onto of the past. It is valuable, as any momento is valuable, though here there is definitely the sense that it's something only the wealthy can afford. The main character is an artist, which is deliciously nebulous, but definitely an artist who seems lost, who has no idea what he's doing and just wants some semblance of safety and security and stability. The story sells it well, builds itself around his lack and his confusion and his desperation, the sense that he's been abandoned by society, by his family, by everyone, is alone and lonely and finds in this SP some illusion of what he wants. It's an interesting story that does a fairly nice job with its premise and character. I like the voice and what weight of what happens, even if I'm not quite sure where it leaves the main character. A fine read!