Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Quick Sips - Terraform May 2015

Hi all! Not quite back home following WisCon but at least the last story of the month from Terraform is a good one. Not really as short as I'm used to for the publication, which is supposed to be under two thousand words but has two stories over three. But the talent on the site continues to impress and these stories really do deliver on a science fiction vision of some pressing concerns. Also, a science fiction Orpheus retelling (I'm a sucker for Orpheus retellings). So yeah, settle in and get ready for some short fiction reviews!


"It's About Ethics in Revolution" by Kameron Hurley (1948 words)

Well that was a rather hilarious little story about a future when GG has won, basically. Where things haven't just been rolled back to "the old days" but updated for a new and dangerous generation who can do anything they want to women and the poor without fear. Indeed, where they are encouraged to be as terrible as they want because it's expressing themselves. And Sorva, a woman passing for a man in this culture, is trying to do something about it. Is standing up to the corporate interests and taking down their world in order to try and build a new one. It's an interesting story, definitely fun and rather filled with anger and rebellion. It's a raw story, one that maybe is a little obvious in its aim and maybe a little limited in its impact because of that obviousness, but it's timely. It's strong and emotional and makes its point quite fiercely. The story ends with a new sort of revolution, with something that might work, with affirming the voices that are present and have always been present. It's a nice story, worth checking out.

"A Song For You" by Jennifer Marie Brissett (3549 words)

People do love the Orpheus myth. I completely understand why, it being quite compelling, quite sad and tragic and filled with love and song and all of that. So I guess no surprise that it is very popular, especially because there are so many different ways it can go. Like here, an artificial man is found in a river by a little girl and listens to his story, how he loved a woman but couldn't tell her. How he was drawn to music and could make amazing compositions. How a war began, a war between the humans that made him and the race that the little girl belongs to. How in that war his love was taken and he descended into their ship to get her, how he played a song so full of love that they let him go, how he was leaving with her only to look back and find her gone. How he was taken apart and his head thrown in a river. It does parallel Orpheus quite nicely and it does it in a way that I didn't realize at first that it was doing so, that the realization came a bit slower but still nicely. I liked how the story changes the little girl, gets her interested in her own people's past and in studying the culture of the race that was wiped out during colonization. And in the end she helps her new friend in the only way she can. It's a melancholy tale, one with a sense of time and weight, and I think it hits well, though the ending does start to drag just a little. Not to the point of distraction, but I wanted more of the narrative to stay with the head. Though it is interesting to see how those early exposures to the head helped shaped a great deal about this person's life. A fine read.

"Science Fiction Ideas" by Tao Lin (1720 words)

This is a weird little story about two people sitting in a park and thinking. The way their minds work, the way they drift and tumble, is the real star of the show, they that these two people can be thinking so much and yet not really be thinking about anything, the way they are lost in themselves, talking but not connecting. They both seem so incredibly bored with life, with their situations, and they talk hoping to connect but can't seem to even pay attention to what they are saying. There's not exactly world building going on because they are talking about science fiction ideas and in some ways also talking about being characters in a story, obsessing about the way they're speaking, drifting in and out of focus on the things that they are talking about. It's a strange story, but an interesting study of these two people and how their inner worlds only partly reflect their outer worlds. At the same time, there is the feeling that they're in this funk that they can't seem to rise up out of. And which came first, their lack of engagement with their world or the mundane-ness of their lives? In many ways the two have no beginning or end, and yet they feed each other. Again, it's an interesting story that calls out to be pondered over, but I'm not sure what conclusions I'm supposed to draw, aside from feeling the pond, the serenity of it, the small ripples on the surface. Worth reading, though, definitely.

"The Counselor" by Robin Sloan (3186 words)

Well this one is certainly a story that gives you a lot to think about. About a AI medical counselor and one of the people who helped to sell it to the government for use, it tackles some very big topics like end of life care, increasing age due to medical technology, and a deep guilt about creating something that is very good but get co-opted by a less than upright agency. There is a bit of hand waiving at the beginning to dismiss the concerns about climate change and similar disasters in order to tell the story of this society where everyone gets a personal AI counselor. Which is great because it helps with medical costs, with keeping the societal costs of health care down. To a point. After a certain age, and especially with people born before many of the medical advancements that make old age much less debilitating, the costs skyrocket. And so the government and the healthcare system decided to create a new aspect of the AI. End of life care. Which uses the same psychological tricks and techniques that might get someone to seek treatment for something before it becomes a larger issue to try and convince them to kill themselves. It's...wow, really. Because it's not really seeing that end of life care is important as much as it worries at the cost of the elderly. It wants to cut off the drain so it tries to convince them to die. It's a great concept to play with and one that the story handles quite well, showing this person who helped create the program dealing with his creation trying to convince him to kill himself. Powerful stuff, and worth your time.

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