A set of four short stories that straddle the flash fiction length this month at Terraform. I must admit I like Terraform, but I don't really get the people who were claiming that it was going to be so much DIFFERENT than other markets out there. I mean, it's good, it has very talented writers. It has a certain style and fills a certain niche, but I don't see it's goal as somehow different from any other market. I wonder if the people who were claiming that Terraform was going to be so much better than other markets still believe that. For me, it's a solid place for short (and some very short) fiction with mostly science fiction stylings (though the last story of the month is not what I would consider strictly science fiction). But let's get on with it!
"Gynoid, Preserved" by Malon Edwards (1669 words)
Well this story's a rather bleak look at what might be the logical progression of both crowd-funding and synthetic bodies. It's a great idea, that people would basically go into debt to bring back their loved ones and resort to crowd-funding to keep those loved ones alive. And just like crowd-funding stories now, for every success, for every "Hey I'm doing some good," there are a hundred more projects that go unfunded, unfulfilled, because the story just didn't hit right. It didn't include the "right" kind of message. It's people picking and choosing winners and losers, and in this story the loser is a young girl whose parents are desperate to keep her and yet who don't have the money. It's striking, it's hitting, and it made me want to know more. It made me want to know about how she died, about why she doesn't really fight too hard to stay alive. There is talk that the self-preservation drive doesn't exist in these synthetic people, but that seems too simple. Perhaps she doesn't want to fight to stay alive because she sees what she costs, sees her own value, and can't help but be a little hopeless. It's a solid story, though, full of loss and grief and interesting ideas.
"Valentine's Day" by Xia Jia, translated by Ken Liu (1862 words)
This is a fun story about what kind of thing can happen when everyone can be plugged in. Huang, a guy in a relationship with Qing, agrees to let his roommates look in on his Valentine's Day date. Of course, they release the feed to the public and the couple's date goes viral. Qing is subjected to escalating harassment while Huang finds himself completely unable to do anything about it. Or perhaps too apathetic to try. On one lever it can seem almost funny because here is Huang who is dealing with making a bad decision and seeing his relationship suffer because of it. Poor Huang, who loses his girl on Valentine's Day. Of course, there's the real message that I read into it, that to Huang this is about him, his about people being mean to him, about the universe being unfair to him, when the real abuse is being aimed at Qing. She's the one that people make inappropriate comments about. She's the one the internet wants to kiss someone. She's the one who has her privacy shattered and who gets stalked. All with the focus more on Huang, all with Huang thinking how unfair this is to him. There is a certain possessiveness that he feels toward Qing, and even though it's not him who's driving this online harassment, it still shows that he sees some sort of equality in the misfortune that befalls them. Equality despite the fact that dangerous attention is being directed at Qing and, at most, people are just laughing at Huang. It's a good story, one that made me think about what it was saying and what kind of a statement it was making about online vulnerability.
"Inter-Exo" by Julie Steinbacher (1962 words)
A group of young people forced to wear exo-suits because of their weakened immune systems find a brief respite from their imprisonment in the metal suits to have something of a party. It's a fairly wild, sensual, sexual party, with the participants allowed to actually touch, and the prose is electrically changed and powerful, describing the simple acts that are normally not possible for these people. Obviously there must be danger here as they break the rules to be together, but the story is more about how they can finally connect, how wearing the suits don't make them less human or less able to enjoy. Indeed, it seems to be about how these people need the touch more, how for them simply holding hands is an erotic act. Of course, they do not stop there. People frowning on rather explicit depictions of sex might look elsewhere, but the erotic elements of this story make sense and are handled very well. A powerful story.
"There is Nothing in the Universe That is Not Me" by Dominica Phetteplace (1247 words)
Of all the stories this month this one was the hardest to parse for me. A very much non-linear tale about a woman moving through popular cliches in stories, it shows how she's always moving forward, always after something, always pursued and pursuer. Taking aim at most of the most popular of conventions with what are the "strong, female character" tropes and also love triangles in both science fiction and fantasy, the narrator keeps going forward, keeps having realizations that she forgets, keeps pursuing...something. In the end she's left to contemplate life and the nature of things and decides to opt out, to break the cycle, to join with the universe and stop existing, but I'm left a little bit questioning what that means for those who write, for those who read. Because the story might be aiming at plot in general, the linear path, the illusion of fulfillment. That I can see. But I'm not sure what the other path is. I guess the story, for me, is saying that you can never really escape the cliches, the tropes, the illusions of progress. The only way to do so is to stop existing, is to step away. But for writers and readers that's not really the "right" decision. It seems to me that the story is saying, instead, that we have to be aware of how we are acting. We have to try. That there is no end and no rest for those who chose to do this because the only other way is to step back, but while that might put you above things, it takes away the ability to make change. Unless the story is saying change is an illusion, but I'm not really willing to see that. But what do I know? In the end I liked it, though I'm not entirely sure what to think about it.