“The Great Sublimation” by Dorothy Santos and Elia Vargas (1680 words)
No Spoilers: Atad is back after a long absence. It’s been over a year since “Dust As” made me scratch my head and think a lot, and this new installment of the larger narrative is no less lyrical, and deals with language, systems, memory, and will. For Atad, the Earth is still something of a mystery, though one she’s doing her best to figure out. From wondering what it might be like to be human to rejecting that notion, from trying to store math and philosophy is easy-access memory to the frustrations of memory-based ticks and limitations—the piece doesn’t exactly follow a linear path. Instead, it follows where Atad leads, through the curving avenues of her thoughts and distractions. It’s a strange piece, but it has a certain logic to it, that of an outsider poking at the borders of what they’re kept out of, wondering if there’s a lack in themself or if the lack is the group they can’t fit into. It’s about minds and space and information, all mixed up a bit purposefully and interestingly.
Keywords: AI(?), Language, Observation, Mathematics, Humans, Memory
Review: So once again I’m left to wonder if I’m missing a lot in this piece. I really like the feeling of someone completely outside humanity wonder at the utility of humanity while also being its biggest fan. Because though Atad struggles to find a lot nice to say about humans, there’s also the fact that she can’t seem to stop studying them, and committing their knowledge to memory, and all the while feeling the push and pull of belonging and loneliness. Because for me at least the piece examines what it means to be Other, outside a system. And trying very hard to understand it, to empathize with it, to get inside of it. And wondering at the same time if it’s worth it or if it’s even possible. Because Atad isn’t human, the human system frustrates them as much as it fascinates them. And they know that they’d be losing something very important if they were able to integrate. Instead, the story is a study in contradictions, in holding everything in a state of flux and motion. So that, like life, like language, like energy, there is no true rest, but rather a glorious chaos and feeling of change. It’s a sort of dance that Atad is beginning to be able to see a value and beauty in for itself. Not as an end, but rather to take these moments as they are. “I am the process.” Atad said this. And they are. A process. A series. A looping system that doesn’t end where it begins. It’s an interesting and complex read, but definitely worth spending some time with!
“Congratulations on your recent purchase.” By Katherine Inskip (781 words)
No Spoilers: You are the proud owner of an Alfven-80 Smart Vac(TM). Congrats! Except, of course, that things are not what they seem at first with this very short story that focuses on time and environment and destruction. It’s a story that creeps toward an ending that lands with a solid weight, that becomes more and more undeniable even as the voice of the story tries to maintain a sense of normalcy. And in that I feel it does a good job of capturing what it’s like to treat everything like business as usual when the stakes of what’s happening, and where it’s leading to, are so dire.
Keywords: Warranty, Purchases, Diagnostics, Time, Malfunctions
Review: What I love about this story is the way that it opens with such a familiar voice. That of commerce and capitalism, where it’s like the reader themself is being addressed. And it’s a situation that everyone would accept, that of the post-purchase survey. Or, at least, most people would try to skip it and grumble but ultimately have to let the machine do its thing. Meanwhile the true cost of the device, the true price of maintaining a culture of wealth and consumption despite everything, continues to rise. And it’s a great moment when that first idea that the story encourages you to have, that this is familiar and safe and normal. And yet as the story progresses the reader learns that it’s a lie. That the voice of certainty, of capitalism, of casual exploitation, cannot stand against the realities of an Earth destroyed by human-driven climate change or post-disaster destruction. That for all technology seems like it will be able to solve its own mess, and give humanity back a pristine Earth because, I don’t know, nanobots or something, the reality of the situation is that pretending that the problem will go away is just inviting it to get worse. And in the end, no amount of advanced vacuums will be able to clean up the mess that humans have made of the planet. It will come down to what we are willing and able to do ourselves that will ultimately save or damn us. A great read!
“Next Door” by Ryan Harris (685 words)
No Spoilers: Greg is a salesman of Geiger counters in a future where the trappings of radioactive contamination have become chic. He lives in a suburb where keeping up with the Joneses is still very much a thing, though the landscape has become a bit altered. The story is dripping with sarcasm and a biting critique of the sort of consumerism that dominates suburban living, a competitiveness that serves no purpose other than to signal wealth and class. And the question the story keeps in mind is, in a world torn apart by disaster, war, and contamination, what use are those old trappings? The answer it comes to is biting, sharp, and just a bit depressing.
Keywords: Competition, Suburbs, Radiation, Neighbors, Lawns
Review: The world of the suburbs is one where people try to outdo each other in meaningless gestures of wealth, trying to say, essentially, that they are the best off because they can afford something trivial but extremely expensive. Nice lawns, nice cars, nice relationships—everything is aimed at maintaining the illusion that things are good and will never be bad. Only in this story things are Bad indeed, with the world descended into nuclear war, and yet Greg and Tom are still doing the proverbial dick measuring with regards to their cars, their garages, and most tantalizingly of all, their lawns. And all the while they keep at the same systems, the same model of society that led to the annihilation of so much. They don’t care that the world is destroying itself, as long as they can still show up the neighbors. Which is cynical as all fuck but having grown up in the suburbs and fallen out of that class, I’m not sure I can really say the story is unfair. It sees that this sort of empty consumption and competition is how people are made complicit, how they’ll justify doing things that hurt the world, that hurt themselves, that hurt each other. Life becomes a game and winning means exploiting the rules to try and get ahead. It’s brutal and it’s corrupt and it’s very much how a lot of our society operates. Which manes for a short, punchy, and interesting read!
“Actionable Intelligence” by Alter S. Reiss (1412 words)
No Spoilers: Pace is a fourteen-year-old soldier training for a war that has become everything. He spends his time in countless simulations, sometimes interrogating civilian prisoners. The story follows one such interrogation, one such conversation, and it reveals a surprising amount about the world the story introduces and the specific situation of Pace and those like him. The piece is quick and short, straddling the area between flash fiction and short story, and it builds its nightmare world through implication and the jarring shift observable in both Pace and the simulation he interacts with. It’s a story that for me becomes about not interrogation but recon, probing for information not for the sake of the war but for the soldiers, and their hope of one day getting beyond their present circumstances.
Keywords: War, Interrogations, AI, Education, Simulations
Review: On the one hand, there’s so much more I want to know about this world. What happened. Who the war is with. What level of destruction the world has seen. On the other hand, I’m not sure it really matters. Because what the story does reveal is that the law has been completely dismantled. There is only the chain of command here, and no representation or anything like that. No lawyers and I’m guessing at this point no politicians either. Pace is only a child, trying to navigate being a soldier and educated as a soldier while also knowing that there’s a lot he’s not being told. Because the simulations contain more than he’s allowed to know, and because through persistence and quick thinking the simulations can be made to give up information that they might not have intended, there’s the chance that through a careful exploration of the simulations Pace, or some other soldier, might be able to figure out what really happened. And from there, can figure out what to do. Because what seems clear is that they’re being kept in the dark, and the more they struggle to try and find out what’s really going on around them, the better their odds that they’ll be able to beat the system and escape their confinement as soldiers, where the only other escape is being blanked. It’s strange but haunting, and I like the way it shows how one tiny bit of possibly irrelevant information is valuable, worth passing on, so that eventually a complete picture of the world can be assembled. A fine read!