Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Quick Sips - Terraform July 2016

Politics are dominating the news of late, but the July Terraform stories take a bit of a step back from that. Sort of. These are glimpses of possible futures and they're definitely not bright, from a report on how humanity might be viewed through archeology to the nightmare of the future of online privacy to blood and chaos at the Olympic Village to a world where things are definitely not Okay. These are not overtly political pieces, in that they don't feature any political candidates, but at the same time they are deeply ideological, about what is at stake with the current conversations about privacy, against individual versus corporate rights, and about where we're steering our planet. It's a fascinating bunch of stories that I'm going to get to reviewing! 


"Reviewed in Brief: New Excavations in the Valley of the Kings" by Alter S. Reiss (881 words)

Ah, archeology. I can't be alone in having wanted to be an archeologist as a child. Explore long forgotten cities and unearth great secrets. And guess about what they mean. History itself is a strange thing, and I quite like how this story examines it and complicates it, shows how archeology contributes yes, to our understanding of the artifacts of the past, but also to our erasure and valuation of it. Our reimagining and appropriation of what we cannot really understand. History is a narrative no less speculative than the zaniest of space opera. We seek some sort of academic objectivity that is but an illusion, that is informed by our cultural biases and personal biases and our desires for something grand. Not that Las Vegas is small or unimportant, but seeing it revealed in this story through the lens of people excavating it long after the people who lived there are gone and their records largely extinguished…well, it's a charming story and manages to be rather humorous and rather pointed. In some ways it's a "look at how funny this is when the shoe is on the other foot" kind of story, when it is our culture being erased and rewritten. And while it is in part played for laughs, there is a touch of the very serious about, the understanding that this goes on right now, by us, and the ramifications of it are more than just wry chuckles about American crime or hyper-sexualization. This is about the past, and about seeing that the stories we tell about people who aren't here any longer (or even are here but who we don't want to listen to) shape history and what we consider "true" and "untrue." And that is something that is scary powerful, something that we need to strive to be better at, retaining the importance of historical discovery without being blinded by our own misconceptions, ignorance, and pride. An excellent read!

"User Settings" by Sam Biddle (2238 words)

There's a lot to be said about the amount of data that exists now on the internet. Recordings (mostly text but also voice, video, pictures, etc.) that detail a great deal of our lives. That open those lives to scrutiny in ways that really has never been possible. And so much of that data is given by people without an awful lot of thought as to what it means. Of course, for the vast majority of people this doesn't really mean anything. Or doesn't mean too much. For the already vulnerable, though, for the marginalized and aspirant, data that exists online can be incredibly dangerous in the wrong hands. And the legal status of that data is often a minefield of different jurisdictions, laws, and entities. This story takes a look at some of that through the tale of a woman just trying to purse her past, to purge the accumulated crap that people can use against her. Data from hospitals that don't have to worry about HIPAA. Things that go viral at her work. Everything being recorded. It's an interesting look at that and to what lengths companies will go not to protect their users but to rather to protect their data, the data they can use to make money, to target advertising. Data that can be stolen for various nefarious reasons. As I read the story it's a critique of companies that don't put user privacy and rights at the top of their priorities. Companies that want the power over that data as a tool. Compaies that don't have good abuse mechanisms and protect abusers in order to protect themselves. It's a nicely done piece, and I think mostly avoids blaming this culture on people who often don't have much choice in what they have to agree to in order to do their jobs or connect with people in vital ways. Because you can't really blame people for not reading the terms of use when they can't actually decline to use the software. But it's an interesting story and a nice vision of a world where privacy is bad for business.

"The Ultimate Olympic Showdown" by Aaron Gordon (2477 words)

Well okay then. This is…well, it's an imagined battle royale in the Olympic Village, world-class athletes fighting each other with their weapons of choice. In that the story takes on this weird, almost humorous tone, because one would figure, however familiar an athlete is with a badminton racket, they would pick up a gun if one were available. So this imagines athletes a bit like superheroes, not allowed to deviate from their theme. Having to fight based on their sport. It's weird. And a bit more than that the story wonders what would happen to these athletes if isolated and alone, with the country and perhaps the world crashing down around them. It doesn't exactly imagine that the spirit of the Olympics, the idea of coming together to compete, would win the day. And perhaps that's what the story is really getting at, that the Olympics have lost a great deal of that spark that made them important. That the idea that they are a unifying force is somewhat…overshadowed by the corruption and the cheating and the deception and the everything. That this has gotten a bit out of hand and needs perhaps something to stop it from ripping itself apart. It's certainly a story with some action and a rather compelling pace and momentum. Things get out of hand quickly and only get worse, the ending coming as something completely absurd and yet in good keeping with the rest of the story, almost funny but also rather frightening as well. A fascinating story!

Graphic Story:

"Highwayman: Afterglow" by Koren Shadmi

If the first part of this graphic serial was to establish that the world is really going to shit and that the main character can take a bullet and just sort of brush it off, this second part seems to draw the main character into a sort-of adventure. I mean, it's more like he's kidnapped, but as his purpose just seems to keep moving, this works for him too. I like the passive nature of the main character, the way that he doesn't really fight but doesn't really go along with what's happening. He's kidnapped by three rich young women who seem to be on their way to a sort of concert or festival, a controversial choice when the extravagance is thrown of the face of so many people who have nothing. The three women are all shades of irresponsible and affluent. Their plans for the Highwayman are uncertain but judging by how they treat him and people in general I'm guessing it's nothing good. The sides that are drawn here between good and bad aren't exactly the most subtle, but they are vividly drawn and nicely shaded. The women here, like the bible salesman from the previous chapter, are both "bad guys" but it's more the philosophies that they represent that are shown to be lacking, shown to be detrimental, selfish, and destructive. They have no compassion and no restraint and are all about taking what they can. Which is how this world that's slowly being revealed works. This is a place where law is on its last legs, where people have to line up for water rations and even that seems at risk from the people who just want to enjoy their wealth. It continues to be a rather bleak picture being drawn, but also a starkly beautiful one, where affluence and extreme poverty create this mosaic of humanity on the decline. It's a chapter without a whole lot of violence, much like last chapter, but with the threat of violence omnipresent. The Highwayman doesn't fight, but that doesn't mean there won't be bodies and blood littering the ground before this is done. A great read!

No comments:

Post a Comment