It's something of a short month of fiction at Motherboard's Terraform, with only two fiction pieces and a new chapter in the Highwayman graphic story. And the future looks…well, bleak as fuck in these visions of what might happen. I suspect that given how 2016 has gone, hope is going to be rather difficult to find, especially in near future SF, and these stories certain capture a certain darkness and a certain pessimism when looking forward. Which makes sense, especially given recent events, but these are not easy stories. These are stories that expose the ugliness that humans are capable of, and probably not for the squeamish. But yeah, to the reviews!
"The Asphalt is Melting" by Antonella Di Biase (1751 words)
This is an interesting story about class divides and run away climate change. About one person finding out that everything they thought about their government is wrong, but not really in the way they were hoping for. In a world where people are dying from heat-related ailments and few people have work enough to afford electricity or air conditioning, the main character is off to a job interview. Which has become a rather daunting task requiring a bulky suit and endless walking. And I like how oppressive the world of the story is, how everything is so effected by the climate, by the heat. And I like that the story doesn't really sugar-coat the message. How it seems both hopeful and incredibly cynical and those things can live side by side. Because it shows how corruption works and how injustice is allowed to thrive. By looking not for ways to fix problems but to punt the problem far enough away so that, while people fight over what to do, those with power have already slipped away to somewhere safe. Somewhere they don't have to worry about the outcome whatever. Basically, that instead of investing in solutions, corruption invests in the problem and funnels the profits into an escape pod that only fits those with money. It's completely awful but it's also sharply put and I like how the story reveals it through the voice of the main character, who is wry and has no fucks left to give. And the ending is a nice bit of a twist, pointing toward the human tolerance of adversity and corruption, that people focus on what they can survive, on what's comfortable enough, in order to keep going, even as the asphalt melts under their feet. A fine read!
"Starr Creek" by Nathan Carson (1909 words)
Well this was…odd. This story is more a taste of things to come rather than a wholly satisfying narrative, but it is a great peek into a setting that is dark and twisted and full of dirt and filth and…yeah, just try not to think about what this all would smell like. [SPOILERS] It opens with a conversation between a goat and what must be some sort of alien, and it's a weird piece that then moves to focus on a man named Puppy who is a rather…interesting person whose main drive at the moment is to win a dogfood eating competition in a biker bar. The mood of the piece is definitely dark and rather depraved, dominated by bars and shacks and the sense that civilization is a long way away. It's not an especially pleasant story to read but it does a great job of evoking the feel and the general creepiness of the setting. There is something about the piece that is compelling even as what it reveals is rather repulsive. It's an interesting glimpse at what looks to be a much larger project, and so it's hard to render judgment on just this part, but it's certainly worth checking out to see if it lines up with your tastes. Indeed.
"Sizzle" [Highwayman] by Koren Shadmi
Shit. Just. Got. Real. This project is a rather interesting one, in part because the future it imagines is dystopian but not really in the Mad Max sense, despite a similar aesthetic going on. What we see is that high technology still exists. Comforts still exist. But the divide between the haves and the have nots is so incredibly great that it's terrifying. And this installment shows just how messed up that gets. It also (finally!) shows the main character cracking just a little bit. This is a someone who doesn't really feel pain or hunger or heat like everyone else. Basically, the one thing that he doesn't have to fear, dying, is the biggest motivator for the rest of the world that he moves through. Which makes his judgment of everyone as scum a bit preachy but it does show the frog in the slowly boiling water with regards to what humans will do in order to maintain wealth and power. And, okay, this project has also been about showing humanity at its worst, and there's not really worse than [SPOILERS!!!!] literally eating living babies (maybe they are cooked first, idk). [END SPOILERS]. But this does feel like another turning point. The main character has been mostly directionless since his whole "I should do something" moment a while back, and it feels like he's still dealing with the trauma of having witnessed the world go to shit. He doesn't want to care because it hasn't really done any good, but maybe here he's going to start trying again. Going to start finding the good in people in order to build something that isn't shit. Or maybe not. But this is about as bottom-of-the-barrel as one can get in terms of human depravity, so I'm hoping the story is going to start some sort of upward arc soon. Maybe? Still, a rather gripping chapter that begs to be read multiple times.
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