“Hysteria” by Meg Elison (1348 words)
... ... Right, well this story definitely uses the form of flash fiction to fuck with narrative distance and tone in order to deliver a rather devastating read flush with content warnings (pregnancy, reproductive rights, etc.). The story is framed at first as a sort of owner’s manual or guide to an artificial external womb, one that takes genetic material and creates a semi-customizable child. That in itself isn’t new to science fiction, but the story complicates it by not focusing on the ethical concerns of what it means to program a child, but rather the slightly more immediate concerns of what happens when one of the genetic parents doesn’t want the child anymore. In many ways, for me, this is a story about the progress of technology and what happens when it so far outstrips the progress of law and justice. Though the tech exists to do this thing, the laws are mired in the social stigmas and pressures that mean that when one of the parents decides they don’t want to continue with the process, they aren’t allowed to opt out. They are locked into this system, into having to do something not specifically with their body but with their life, something that still seems gendered and stacked against them. It’s a difficult, wrenching read in part because the story reveals its action entirely through interactions with the device, with the automated prompts, which draws this rather brutal picture of what’s happening, and the growing desperation to do something. The ending is a shattering experience, one that leans on the long history of injustice surrounding reproductive health and reveals a situation and a future where progress is measured solely in the level of technology and not in the outdated and draconian laws that exist to police parenting and control reproduction. It’s not an easy read, but it is one that hits and hits hard, leaving my ears ringing and vision blurred as I grapple with the full implications of the piece. Short but very effective, it’s very much worth checking out.
“Last Day at the Department of Oxygen” by Blake Kimzey (1467 words)
This story looks at government corruption and the way that human life takes a second seat to political capitol. Hell, it’s basically about the way that human life is political capitol, and how it’s used to insulate those in power and sacrifice those who are kept around largely to be fed to the machine when the time comes that the shit hits the fan. The story centers a man named Needles as he world in the Department of Oxygen, a bloated agency that’s responsible for regulating a boom industry—providing breathing masks and other devices that allow people to breathe. Only there’s a problem. A problem that Needles isn’t at the heart of, but that’s suddenly very much his problem. I think the story does a great job of imagining how such a government structure might work if trends continue, if regulation of business is confined to essentially skimming money and allowing politicians to privately profit instead of governing to protect national resources and the public interest. It almost sounds naive to say now that this should scare people, that the story is something of a wake up call, taking something that we should think of as a natural right (clean air, oxygen, etc.) and making it into a resource that business can exploit and the government can get a little grease of it. And yet if life and news have taught me anything it’s that this isn’t so far-fetched an idea, is already happening in the shape of water pollution and lobbying that allows for people to be poisoned, that insulates the people actually responsible for policy while at most sacrificing lower level people who spend their lives hoping the system will keep them afloat at least, wills save them, only to find that their own desperation and willingness to be part of a broken system has left them entirely vulnerable to the same kind of careless dismissal that they hoped was reserved for other people. The story does a great job of showing the result, the way Needles has his world shattered. It’s a fascinating read!