Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Quick Sips - Terraform February 2016

Okay yes, wow, I will admit that the February Terraform stories are damn good. These are not always cheery views of the future, but they are complex ones and well constructed ones and, at times, freaky-as-fuck ones that are fascinating and rather startling and intensely satisfying. From stories about privacy to family to wasps out to transform humanity, there's a lot of different takes on what the future might look like. But whatever the vision, the stories are moving, funny at times and heartbreaking at others. So time for some reviews!


"The End of Big Data" by James Bridle (4250 words)

Nice. Here is a freshly rendered, forward looking and rather optimistic view of a way the world might be. A world where privacy is not bought and sold. Where personal information stays personal. The story imagines a world that has undergone a shift in priorities following a complete collapse of not just finances, but information in general, where everything is open to whoever wants to exploit it. Which, when it begins effecting the rich, is a big problem. I quite like how the situation is moved and rendered, the way that it doesn't imagine this action coming from a place of morality exactly but economics and outrage and social pressure. And the world that comes out of it is interesting and highlights just how easy it would be in some ways to retain privacy. To criminalize and police states and companies and individuals from storing sensitive data, which is to say really any data. The main character of the story is tasked with monitoring and rooting out illicit storage, and does so with a calm voice that deftly paints the situation and sells a world that values privacy and where the time and resources currently spent maximizing data exploitation are turned to scientific exploration and real, human issues. Freedom not to collect data but rather freedom from oppression. From fear. It's a strong story with a number of great moments, and the world building is rational and imaginative. It's a place I want to live, a system we should be striving for without the catastrophic precursors the story utilizes. A great story!

"Brain Trust" by Jess Zimmerman (1994 words)

I'm having flashbacks to that time I joined a Facebook group about weddings (don't ask). It was among the most surreal experiences I have ever had. This is a rather excellent story that captures a very specific kind of personality and a very broad problem in this country at least (and most likely everywhere there is systemic oppression…so most places). And that is the fear people have that the work they do doesn't actually earn the things they have. That things are, in effect, not fair, and not fair in favor of the people like the characters in this story. People with affluence, who don't really think about their privilege, who buy the lie that they earn what they have, that maybe things weren't fair in the past but now, not people who don’t have just aren't working hard enough. And there's a willfulness to this ignorance. The "I know a [insert marginalized group here]" or "but I vote for [again]" and believing that makes them not only free of racism, misogyny, etc., but also waives their responsibility to try. And then there are the people like the main character of the story, [SPOILERS!!!] who see exactly what's going on and like it, see that they are privileged and try to wield that privilege to the greatest benefit of themself. It's a nicely built story and the voice and the tone come from a place that I recognize. The moment I saw the names of their children I was transported to that place—I knew these characters. It's very well done and rather funny but for the sad truth to it, the fact that people will go to great lengths just for the hope of enjoying their privilege without the chance of being called out, with the possibility of their legitimacy being questioned or challenged. It's such a great fauxgressive portrayal, one that shows how harm and oppression are passed on. Definitely go and read this story.

"Virtual Snapshots" by Tlotlo Tsamaase (2099 words)

Well this…is another not-exactly-cheery view of what the future might look like. In this one, Botswana is a land where to live in the "real world" is to pay for the privilege. Quite literally, as environmental damage means that most people must put themselves into a digital life in order to keep the cost of their healthcare and their environmental footprint down. To walk the actual Earth is to constantly be paying. It's a nice metaphor-made-real that works with the technology and that builds this very tragic and oppressive situation for the main character, a young woman having to deal with the fact that she's undesirable, that she could afford to live, though barely, but for t he machinations of her family, who see her poverty as an affront on them. The story aims at the ways that family can tear people down, especially when children are judged for the sins of their parents, of things they had no control over. Like the environment, children in general are being put into debt, thrown under the bus as it were. And the people to suffer, the people to be exploited the most, are the most vulnerable, the outcasts, the pariahs. The story does a great job showing the complex and uncomfortable relationship between the main character and her family, and ends on a very bleak and tragic note. For that, though, it is a moving peace with a forthright and earnest voice and a great vision, a warning really, of what the future might look like. Go read it!

"The Future of Urban Housing" by Shannon Chamberlain (2474 words)

"The Yellow Wallpaper" has been rather popular of late, it seems, with a story at Tor last month and showing up again here with a story not retelling the tale but pushing it into the future and making it about fair housing practices. In many ways it is about the oppression of place, the oppression of housing, of having too many people looking for the same sort of place to live and running up against the corrupt realm of supply and demand. It takes the form of a ghost story, transcribed to a police officer and circling around an incident at a bar between a woman who lost her boyfriend and one of her boyfriend's friends. The feel of the story is probably my favorite part, the way it evokes that claustrophobic mood of the original story and shows the desperation of the characters involved, the ways they scratch and fight and turn on each other because of where they live, how they live. The story examines the benefits of technology but also the hidden side of it. The attempts to make technology work for people when really it can end up hurting them. At least when it becomes something that slick the gears of profit. The housing scheme, the transcription software—everything points to ghosts in the machines, people lost to the push of competition, to faster/better/easier. People pushed together like mice in a cage, too close together to stay sane. And it's a story that feels like fantasy while keeping to the science fiction mandate of the publication. It's cleverly done, and I definitely recommend checking it out! 

Interactive Fiction:

"Vesp: A History of Sapphic Scaphism" by Porpentine Charity Heartscape

Okay well that is extremely weird and intense as all hell, a trip of an interactive story that explores mental difference and body and also sort of killer wasps that might destroy things and there's drugs too and…this is a bit of an odd experience. The writing throughout it sharp, the flow powerful and unstoppable at times, the choices involved for the reader…well there's a lot to do and a lot to see. The setting is a future where the main character and the rest of humanity living where she is are under constant threat from wasps. Everyone wears rubber suits and wades through the slurry of wasp corpses and in some ways it's hard to tell all what's real and what's not, but some of it must be real because the plot of the story involves the main characters sorta bringing about some change to the system. The action is visceral and relentless and sensual and disturbing but also very, very good. It is a bit like a game except the idea of winning and losing here is rather odd. The story dives right in to neurodiversity and body, chemical alterations and chemical dependence and love and sex and death and it's surreal in some amazing ways, a game that does a nice job getting the reader, the experiencer, into the head of the character, into a perspective that is much outside what is typically portrayed in fiction and in some ways into a perspective that is much more difficult to portray in fiction that isn't as disjointed and jarring as this. It's at turns upsetting and tense and confusing and just all around good. Do not miss out on the opportunity to go a few rounds through this game. Amazing!

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