This is certainly an eclectic month for Motherboard's Terraform, with stories that show the great range possible even within the narrow range that the publication aims for. From bizarre stories of dogs and the defense of Earth to more tender stories of identity and relationships in the digital age, the stories reveal different aspects of humanity. Humanity the confused. Humanity the hopeful. Humanity the resourceful. Humanity the doomed. It's a great mix of views about where the future might take us, focusing on things that seem huge and making them achingly personal. It's a fine bunch of tales that I will review now!
"I Am Zelda" by Fortunato Salazar (1375 words)
This story is…rather strange. It runs with a strongly bizarre feel that permeates the prose and sees Seth Rogan's sentient dog contemplating the defense of the planet Earth intersecting with harlequins and inquilines. And it's the later of those that ends up being the more prominent, though perhaps not the most memorable, part of the story for me. That the story doesn't make a whole lot of sense isn't exactly a problem, given the languid style and surreal landscape of the piece. I like how that idea of inquilines is used to show people living in shared spaces for mutual benefit. The way that the Earth might possess them in hopes of turning away an asteroid on a collision course. The way that people can live in the mouth of a gargantuan harlequin. It calls into question what roles people play on the planet, as I read it at least drawing parallels between pests and humanity as a whole. That we living on the surface of some massive creature and that we're supposed to serve a function but don't entirely. There's more that I want to read into, the talk about lifespans and friendship, how humans can relate to dogs and vice versa but that there's something inherently off about that relationship. And I just like how the story flows, one thing into the next, a tapestry of weird but something resembling a meaning coming through still, this story about the defense of planet Earth and humans and dogs. It's an interesting and complex work that's certainly worth spending some time with. Indeed!
"The Void" by Terence Hannum (1892 words)
This is a deep and moving piece about wounds and about healing and the point beyond which there can really be no healing. I love how the story revolves around this void, this emptiness, this wound in the Earth. [SPOILERS] Created by the exploitation of resources and the disregard for safety and for regulation. Created by a corruption both chemical and moral and manifest in a physical voice in the ground that is growing. That is spreading. And one person is called to the site to take stock, to make strategy, only to find that there's really no way to cope with this level of damage, that the damage is such that it cannot be undone. It's a story that really sells the idea of this hole, this void, being at the heart of industry, at the heart of energy, already underneath all our efforts to pull up resources from the Earth. Like it's us who has created this absence, this void, and now we don't have an Earth to walk on. It's slow burning but unstoppable, the pacing of the story relentless and powerful. I love the way the main character knows instantly what's going on, what's caused this and what it means. That it will never stop. And that they just continue to go through the motions anyway because that's all that's left to them. That they know in some way that this moment has been coming for a long time and they just hoped they wouldn't have to deal with it. But it's here and it's growing it's a great story with a gripping premise and a dark, draining, incredible execution. A great read!
"The Sky, Falling" by Anton Rose (733 words)
This is a very short story that still manages to hit with the force of a body dropped from a plane, an emotional sledgehammer to the temple that nicely looks at a future where humanity is relying on engineers capable of seeding the sky with clouds to try and mitigate climate change and the rise of water. The main character, Suref, is one such engineer, a man who enjoys the work but carries with him a sadness and a loss, a joy and a hope, all in equal measure. I love the language of the piece, how it's framed by altitude, how Suref's life becomes about the rise and the fall, which seems to mirror concerns about the Earth, that the rise can be slow. That it can trick you into a sort of feeling of security. Nothing happens too fast. Just a little rise. A little rise. [SPOILERS] And then suddenly you are falling and everything fails. The safety mechanisms fail and the parachute fails and it all goes to shit so that we as a planet are plummeting down through layers of shit we never wanted to deal with, unable then to stop ourselves or even slow ourselves, unable then to do anything but watch the bottom rising up to meet us and end us. It is an extremely poignant parallel to draw, Suref's fall as he remembers his family, and our own possible global fall should climate change tip and things go from bad to worse to fucking unsalvageable before we can react to stop it. It's quick and it's an amazing read! Definitely check this one out!
"Interference" by Miles Klee (1999 words)
This is a somewhat surreal and rather moving story about relationships and identity. About the secrets we hold and the technology that might be able to unearth them. Not by being good at finding what clues we've left online that might be "the truth," but by taking everything about who we are online and then being us better than we can be. It's a great premise that sees Rebecca trying to find out about her boyfriend, Scott's, family. And it's an interesting journey that takes her on, conversing with this alternate Scott about his past, never quite certain about his answers and always there's this tension between them…until Scott and his parallel meet. [SPOILERS] I do think that the story does a good job in showing how that can be, the damage that can be done when confronted with a mirror like that, one that seems nearly perfect, one that seems to believe that it's real, or real enough. And the story itself is slightly strange, the way that Rebecca seems in one place and then somewhere completely different, in a sort of mental health facility that doubles as a prison and then out and then jobless and just wandering through cities without much direction. To me it gives the piece a sort of paranoid atmosphere, things fluid and changing and up in the air. For the characters it creates a situation where they're not sure of the truth or of each other or of themselves. There is this blurring of things when the parallels get involved, like a resonating frequency that makes it harder to tell what is reality and what is false, and through it all two people are afraid of trusting, afraid of being vulnerable, let their truths be shattered. It's an interesting story and a fascinating read!
"Degrees of Beauty" by Cassandra Khaw (958 words)
Well hey, here's a story that's disturbing af and focuses on the future of beauty, or at least the future of the beauty industry, the future of the drive for beauty fueled by reconstructive surgery and even newer elective procedures. Except that in the story Bai Ling is in charge of electing and her daughter, always nameless, in charge of receiving these procedures. And I love the way the story draws out this arch, like a falling star, Bai Ling desperate for what but certainly not for her daughter's well being. Instead she is chasing something, some ideal that she has been sold, that the world has been sold, that is harmful, dangerous, and ugly. The way that the mother feeds on the daughter, pushing her and pushing her, never really caring how she feels, leads to some incredibly dark places in the story, and it's an uncomfortable read for that reason, for the way that the daughter is treated as flesh that the mother desires to shape and for the way that she's rewarded for it, the way that she never really has to face punishment for what she does. She is insulated both because as a parent ownership of children is mostly expected and because as a woman her daughter is expected to want what she's getting, is expected to feel lucky that her mother is doing such things to her. It shows just how messed up it all is, where beauty is victimhood, where victimhood is money. It's a very dark but very effective piece and well worth checking out!