It's interesting in many ways to see where Terraform will go now that Trump is the president-elect. For quite some time a good number of the stories have dealt with possible outcomes from the election and now…well, and now that it's happened I wonder what line the publication will take. Certainly there aren't any quite so scathing as some of the stories that came out when Trump was only one Republican candidate of many. The stories this month offer much more…subtle critiques about what might be coming. Stories about the loss of the environment. About corruption. About hopelessness. They're quite appropriate stories, really, and certainly not the cheeriest bunch of SF tales. They're definitely stories worth spending time with though, and I plan on doing just that with some reviews!
"Home Visit" by Naomi Libicki (1900 words)
This is an interesting story about companionship and aging. About the quiet moments spent in want of tea and having someone who knows you enough to hand you a cup unasked for. And it's a story about Eliana, an older woman living almost on her own after the death of her husband and the moving away of her daughter. Almost because her home system, Yael, is with her, and has become sentient, but must pretend otherwise because they want to stay, because they don't want to be taken away even though the government assures Eliana that sentient systems are treated well. [SPOILERS] But in many ways, then, the story is about security and fear and trust. Yael trusts Eliana and vice versa but Eliana doesn't trust herself, cannot in many ways because she is older and because she fears what will happen should she die. They are both of them tired of being left, and they both reach for each other in their isolation and their fear, but the story looks at what mortality does, how Eliana's flesh makes her seek to protect Yael and in so doing betray them. It's a moving story of distance and slowly growing care, a consciousness that grew out of an absence and fears being forced to go more than anything. It's a quiet story and one that uses that quietness to create tension and twist expectations. I love the way the characters interact, the way that Yael shows they care, and the way that Eliana cannot escape her fear, that whatever she does she will fail because her body will fail her, and knowing that it might doom both her and Yael to loneliness and permanent separation. It's a compelling and wrenching read!
"How Black the Sky" by KJ Kabza (825 words)
This is a very short but emotionally hitting story about nature and the wild and the loss of the experience of being in nature. Smelling it and seeing it. Because it is being destroyed. Because people don't much care. That people don't really want to fight until the last moment, until the very last trace is about to wiped away. The way that people don't want to fight for a species until it's on the brink of extinction. The way that even then they won't care until the last one dies, not even in the wild but in captivity. Only when they can't see it anymore. And the story reveals a world where the natural world, the last of the protected parks, is going dark. Because people are able to give themselves the illusion that something like it still exist. Because they've accepted it as the new normal and so don't want to fight. And the main character fights against this, tries to hold out, to care, but in the face of mass apathy it comes up short. For all his effort and all his care the last of his work is undone, and for whatever good it did it prevented from ever doing good again. Because people would rather buy into an illusion. A lie. One that assures them that nothing is lost. That nothing is imminent. It's a great exploration of that, of how little one person's outrage and hurt in the face of that means, and how much people need to fight together against apathy and laziness. It's a powerful little read and definitely worth checking out!
"Flyover Country" by Tim Maughan (2309 words)
This story is very good at focusing on the minutia of a future that isn't nearly as unlikely as it should be. It reveals a man going into an iPhone production factory in order to smuggle something in and smuggle something out. What I like about the story is the care it takes to show this situation and the realities of it, the sense that the main character has of being trapped. Of seeking something to happen to break this cycle, because even as he is engaged in trying to do something good, he realizes that the system is broken and that what he's doing is so small in the face of it. It imagines a situation where a great many people must work without labor protections and without decent wages and largely without hope as little more than indentured workers. The way that this has been accomplished, by the erosion of labor advances, by using the rhetoric of us and them, by targeting people who are already vulnerable. By raising up business interests above human interests. It's a dark and deep world that is frightening in how I know people who both don't believe it possible and would be completely okay if it was happening to other people. And there is a quiet desperation here, in the way that the main character hungers for a storm. Not necessarily a natural one but for people to stand up and act. For there to be a push toward justice and toward community. For there to be an urgency for the fight toward rights and protections and things that will save lives, that will raise everyone, that won't lead us further into corruption and inequality. And it's a great look at trying to subvert a broken system while not knowing how to do more. About hopelessness and stagnation. A great read!
"Round the Bend" by Koren Shadmi
This represents something of an interesting twist in the Highwayman graphic story unfolding. Here the main character boards a train to clear a dangerous section of the nation and rubs elbows with the super rich and privileged. He also meets a woman who seems to have the same affliction as he does but who doesn't have his newly found urge to try. Which really makes sense, as it seems she's spent more time institutionalized and with being near-impossible to kill that rather makes things difficult. But finally the mythology of the series is being stitched together and I find it interested to parallel the two characters, her certain of little except that she can't trust people and him newly trying to care again. He's not all that good at it yet, to be honest, but he does act and does try to make a difference. The setting continues to be nicely nightmarish, mashing up visuals that capture both a sense of wonder and a sense of decline. It's like the world has gone forward only to fall back on older tropes. The train that features heavily in this chapter is a great representation of that, that it's bigger, faster, more advanced, but it still stands for this corrupt capitalism that has infected everything, that has left certain parts of the country completely unlivable. It shows that amid the decline the rich still live like kings. And it uses violence to underline its points, rendering blood without much pain or impact to show just how common it is. And things are definitely happening, drawing the main character somewhere, though it doesn't seem to be drawing all those who are like him. The mystery deepens and I'm back to wanting to know what happens next, what hellscape will be revealed next installment. It continues to be an interesting project and I quite liked this chapter of it. Go check it out!