Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Quick Sips - Terraform July 2015

Well Terraform is certainly branching out a bit this month, including not only a piece of nonfiction but also an excerpt from a novel. The nonfiction I will be checking out, but I'm skipping over the novel excerpt for now. Aside from those newer offerings, there is also a humorous fictional nonfiction piece and a slew of mostly humorous stories, with a large exception being the first story which is decidedly not very funny. But there's a fair balance of different speculative stories, even if some are purposefully ridiculous. So to the reviews!


"The Rewilding" by Ben Goldfarb (1506 words)

I think I actually know vaguely of what this story is referring to, a plan of Pleistocene Rewilding where megafauna from Africa would be introduced into America in a huge sort of nature reserve in an effort to plug some of the holes left in the ecosystem. It's an interesting idea and one that is played out well here, with the animals introduced taking over, setting up their own systems, giving humans a hard time. The story follows a father and daughter who are the last holdouts of humanity in this vast park, this vast area where the rewilding is allowed to run its course. They are an island, electrified fence and all, a holdout. But they aren't winning. Predators keep on getting in their pastures to kill their sheep and after one such incident the father goes out to hunt the animals responsible. It's a nice story that looks at how humanity sees itself, that looks at nature and also at manufactured nature and asks if there is really a distinction. The man obviously values his nature more than the rewilding, but by the end comes to question that, comes to see that maybe what he's doing is just holding onto a nostalgic idea of what he has, what he had. That though he sees the rewilding as artificial, that it is actually seeing results, and that the ecosystem might indeed be the healthier for them.

"Killing Taylor Swift: An Apple Music Love Story" by Drew Millard (2261 words)

This is a future comedy about how messed up the future gets. It focuses on a loser who happens to be named Taylor Swift and an assassin who is also rather a loser who's tasked with killing him. Well, not with killing him so much as killing Taylor Swift, who has control over streaming music because of some weird deals during the nation's financial collapse. The story manages to hit its funny here and there while providing a rather grim look at the future, and more specifically at the future of music, which is already rather confusing but which the story does a good job contextualizing in this strange future. The main drama from the story comes from the no-relation Taylor Swift's relative unimportance and impotence. He can't really do anything, and yet is targeted for his name. And that aspect of the story works well, that he is a man whose most striking feature is something he had no control over. He wastes his life, and then is killed. And there is something to that, I think. Overall, I think the humor fell a little flat to me, this not being the kind of story that I normally enjoy too much, but I did crack a smile at some of the lines, and I think that some people will definitely enjoy this. So yeah.

"Humane Resources" by James Mitchell (2037 words)

This story follows an office, an entire building of objects, tools, that are alive. From the pens to the coffee cups, everything is a computer that not only transmits data but that has personality, consciousness. It's run by Corpus, and Corpus is trying to figure out one of its employees. Because of how it is limited, Corpus really only knows people by the data they create, by their habits and things of that nature, and the data on this man is anomalous. Corpus struggles, and I loved the way it interacts with all the different devices, the different personalities which are  each catered to function, to be helpful and foster a positive environment but also to collect data and to further the corporate goals. It's creepy even as it is cute, the devices all rather endearing but painting a picture of having things in control which have the illusion of humanity while lacking the ability to intuit. That it turns out that things with the person Corpus is studying aren't quite on the level is interesting, showing an extra level of oversight but not necessarily a level that is more reassuring, because the implication is still that over Corpus there is another device that has power, that has control, but that it is not exactly human either. It's a fascinating story, and a very fun one, the author managing to make the devices alive and quirky. The tone is light, fun, and it makes this one a story to check out.

"Next Draft of the Future" by Dave Pell (786 words)

Framed as a fictional newsletter from five years in the future, this story does a nice job of bringing the funny and the commentary on things going on now. As far as introducing ideas that seam plausible given today's current dramas and scandals and trends, the story does a good job of speculating about what might happen, what might eventually be fact and not fiction, though in a way that had me chuckling throughout. The delivery of the Ha-Ha is quite spot on, small statements stuck at the end of more serious asides that make the situations seem both ridiculous and strangely frightening. Much of it might just be trying to pick winners and losers to make fun of, but the story is short and fun and does what it sets out to do, and there is definitely something said for that. It's a nice, mostly light way to close out the month and manages to be pretty safe despite how easily this sort of story can be used to punch down. Instead, it keeps its targets to large corporations, fad dieters, and scandalous celebrities. Anyone looking for a laugh should definitely go and read.


"The Earliest Science Fiction" by Cecilia D'Anastasio

Wow. This is actually a very interesting examination of science fiction as a genre and an idea and I have such feels about this article. Because it gets at so much of the modern argument about science fiction and defining science fiction, how many want to say that a work is not science fiction if the science is not credible. Which is completely ridiculous. I was just talking about this in my review of another nonfiction piece that what is science fiction must then change with time, change with what is plausible and what is not. For those who want to claim that works like the one described in this article, the True History, are not science fiction because they are in no way realistic are missing the point completely. That science fiction is not at its core about moralizing the technological implications of our advances. That it is not, really, just about thinking about what humans might do with the fire that is stolen for them. That it is, instead, about something deeper. That it's not so much a defined and limited genre that must deal with "realistic" science but rather uses the idea of the future and technology we do not possess to guide and teach and critique and complicate. Especially because "realistic" science fiction changes day to day. Writing a story about time travel in the past when people didn't know the limitations of time travel and the like, and it counts? But write it today when the science is a bit clearer and it's no longer science fiction? Same with faster than light travel. Is Star Trek somehow no longer science fiction when it's written today because it uses scientific ideas that have been shown to be bullshit since the show first aired? As always, here I am arguing that holding some sort of objective definition of science fiction is pointless, is destructive. What science fiction needs is an open and questioning mind, not artificial barriers for readers and writers that seem defined simply to keep people out of the genre. But perhaps that's an aside from the article, which is really very interesting and you should go read it. Go!

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