Thursday, April 6, 2017

Quick Sips - Motherboard's Terraform March 2017

There are only two stories (that I found) from Motherboard's Terraform this month, but they pack a nice one-two punch of near-future worries. In one, art and artificial intelligence meet in a mesmerizing tale of gaze and intent. And in the second, masculinity is indeed so fragile, and apparently needs to enforce a gun culture that requires compliance or death. The pieces look at characters struggling with their environments, with the artifacts of a culture that is harmful. And things in both…don't really go as expected. It's a pair of interesting stories that I'm just going to jump right into reviewing!

Stories:

"Sophokles In His Cave" by Brendan C. Byrne (3528 words)

This is a strange and nearly hypnotic story about a woman gone out to a decommissioned ship for an art project/installation. Her journey is one that goes on without much in the way of human interaction. She is flown out there and accompanied and served and assisted entirely by robotic and AI entities. And yet her goal is to create art that is human, that is by and for humans. In tackling the project on this isolated barge, though, which is heavy with the history it carries, she begins to encounter strange apparitions that haunt her and that seem to demand a space in her art. The vision of the future here is striking—post authoritarian, post trust in humanity. It’s this that I might like the most about the story, that Samira, the main character, trusts AI and robots more than people. It seems to make complete sense because computers seem to be incorruptible. They are not really supposed to be biased or corrupt. So when they say something, Samira trusts them. The story places with this idea, too, cutting Samira off from humans and leaving her alone as the ghosts of the ship come to life, come to show her what happens, what humanity has done to itself. It’s a story that makes good use of metatextuality by layering the art forms. There is visual art inside this work of fiction, but even inside that there is narrative, the story of these ghosts, the story that someone is trying to communicate, with Samira as the lone audience. It’s strange but it’s interesting and compelling, and it begs to be read more than once. The actual action of the piece might be a little difficult to follow at times, what is real and what is not, but it’s done in a moving, beautiful style that asks some deep questions and leaves the reader to chase after answers. A fine story!

"Mandatory Carry" by Caleb March (1934 words)

This story takes the idea of gun idolatry to its logical conclusion, imagining a world where gun ownership is not only encouraged, but required, where intervening in violent armed conflicts is also required, and where failure to keep up with gun culture results in punishments both social and legal. For Paul, who is terrified of his gun but has to keep up appearances, the whole situation is just a trap waiting to spring. A merciless dive into destruction that nothing seems able to stop. In trying to do his part in everything, he ends up falling victim to a system that is not fair and that judges guilt not on results or any attempt at an objective metric but solely based on how much actions support the toxic masculinity at the heart of every part of this system. The story does a nice job building up this setting and then putting Paul into it, making him face pretty much exactly the situation that he fears and having it play out pretty much exactly as he fears. The story shows how things can be for people not suited to the driving ethos of a society. For those who cannot measure up (for whatever reason) to the roles as they are defined. For Paul, who is passing (essentially) as a manly man but who doesn’t feel that way, who isn’t that way when he can be by himself, the world he lives in is a dangerous one. Not just because of guns but because everyone wants to punish those that don’t fit. There is this predatory feeling that is encouraged and it means that anyone not fitting in will be killed. For many this isn’t exactly anything new. The story does show the space that women are afforded in this environment, and while it doesn’t mention homophobia or racism, I’m guessing that’s been written into the laws as well. This kind of institutional corruption only allows violence to be funnelled at “acceptable” people, who are deviant in some way, and Paul finds that no matter how he tries, in the end there’s no real protection for him. It’s an uncomfortable piece that I feel is handled well throughout. Indeed!

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