Another month, another handful of stories from Terraform to review. This month the stories are mostly on the longer side for the publication, but they are an interesting mix. I suppose now would be a good time to reiterate my review policy, though, in regards to negative reviews. Some stories...well, they bug me. I either find the messages that I pull from them a bit offensive or else I just find them not effective at doing what they seem to set out to do. As always, that a story did not work for me does not mean that I think it is "bad." These reviews are only my quick reactions to stories. Unfortunately, given the amount of time they take, I cannot always linger and reread and really figure out every story. So I might miss things. How I interpret a story might not be how it was intended. That said, these are my interpretations and thoughts and I feel that I should keep them honest. So what they hell am I talking about? Read on to find out!
"Carcinogens" by Ken Baumann (2083 words)
An interesting story that follows a future newsperson (content creator?) as they do some old fashioned documentary work in trying to avoid as many cancer-causing sources as possible. In a world where almost everything is carcinogenic, it's a tall order, but it does get the main character to reevaluate his life. Financially he's struggling with it, because it costs more to be different, to be healthy, but he's also beginning to see a bit of the appeal. That the things are really killing him. He can make more connections and more real connections without the various conveniences that are nonetheless hurting him. Of course, this being a project for a "news" organization, there are some caveats. Like his followers get a bit bored of him avoiding the dangers of life. They don't want to see him get healthier. They want to see what would happen if instead of avoiding the carcinogens, he embrace them. And that last thought causes him to finally break from what he was doing, finally gets him to see that what people want is for him to die. That he is more entertaining unhealthy. That what people want is to see that people can't change, that people can't give it all up. People make the deals every day, trying to barter with life, with cancer, and they want to be told that's okay. It's a nice story, with some sharp storytelling and a good, fairly believable future. Indeed.
"Making Babies" by Laurie Penny (2113 words)
In this story a young couple struggles with their mechanical child. Basically, the couple is professional, the woman an engineer who doesn't want to be pregnant, and so she creates a mechanical child. And the husband can't deal with this because the child, to him, isn't real. Isn't his. And the woman, the wife, is shown as...cold, perhaps, for wanting this mechanical child. Is shown as emasculating. Shown as damaged, weak, for not wanting to be pregnant, for not wanting to go through the horrors that her own mother went through when she had a child. The husband is shown to be right here, correct in thinking that the child is not real. And so the end implies that they're going to try to have a "real" child, or at least that seems to be what the sex is for, right? Maybe they're just going to have sex without the possibility of procreating. She must be on birth control of some sort if she doesn't want to be pregnant, but somehow...I think this story triggers me far too much for me to give it an unbiased assessment. I hope that I got it wrong, that it's somehow not saying that anyone viewed as woman enough who chooses to not get pregnant is selfish and cold and wrong and wrong and wrong. I hope that it's something else, that it's saying they should avoid having children, that they should, I don't know, be okay with being childless or adopt or something, but this hits way too close to things for me to think clearly about it, so go read it for yourself.
"Coachella 2065: Day One, Reviewed" by Carles.buzz (2030 words)
A story told as a review of a music festival in the future, this story has a lot of charm and an interesting style. It captures a bit of the disdain for popular things, captures people's conflicted feelings about music festivals, that they should be indie but also Important somehow, that they should be big but intimate. And in a future where music festivals are larger targets for terrorism, it makes sense that these things would only be more extreme, that there would be some tight security and that it really wouldn't feel much like a festival now. Of course, the story also takes some speculations about what music might look like in the future. It's an interesting premise, though perhaps I would have gotten a bit more out of it if I paid more attention to music festivals. It's a fun little story, though, with recognizable troubles amped up to eleven with the problems the future has brought. Light but with some slivers of more serious implications, the story works fairly well for what it is. So yeah.
"Out of This World" by Koren Shadmi (1422 words)
This story blends illustrations with text to show a young and incredibly rich young man trying to "get away" from the stifling protection of his guard robot. The story does an excellent job of showing how this character thinks, how money and wealth have warped his mind, his outlook. How privilege has blinded him. He manages to go slumming, looking down his nose at the Lows, at the poorer people, thinking them filthy and beneath him but also wanting to use them. In many ways it's worse than what his rich father does, exploiting them for work, because this young man sees himself as rebellious. Sees himself as somehow better than his father because he's not making them work. But he uses his wealth to get sex from a young woman, uses his wealth to get let into a party, and doesn't really bat an eye when his guard robot shows up and kills the Lows he was with. For him it's defeat, having to go back to his father, but for them it's, ya know, death, and that he sees his loss as worse really speaks to him as a character. So the story works for me, is strong and definitely worth checking out. The illustrations only enhance the text and I found the entire project to be successful. Again, I thought that ending spot on, the illusions peeled back for the audience, for the reader, but not for the character. Money and power insulates him, has already tinted his world, and for all he thinks he is rebelling, all he is doing is living up to the promise of his station. A great story.