Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Quick Sips - Terraform January 2017

Terraform has entered 2017 and some of the nightmare that the publication predicted might happen, that the publication warned could happen, that the publication seemed to hope wasn't going to happen, has. It's a full month of releases, and surprisingly few deal with the recent election and new…person who got sworn in. Which is a call I can appreciate, because at the moment I have anxiety enough about it. Indeed, most of the stories steer clear of actually addressing the orange elephant in the room in favor of showing what it might mean for us that he's now where he is. These are stories that imagine the future of work. The future of science. These are stories that are about what happens after a shock, a loss, a grief. They're about the desire to forget and the desire to be free and the desire to imagine a brighter world. They are an interesting bunch of pieces that seem particularly interested in the question: what next? And they have very different answers, though all of they are worth checking out. So yeah, review time!

"Home Movies" by Deepak Bharathan (1135 words)

This story takes some interesting chances with its frame to provide a rather devastating story that almost feels like a rocket's flight in reverse. It opens with the explosion, a thing of power and spectacle, but without too much to ground the event. As a reader I know what's going on, and there's enough emotional shorthand at work to sell this moment, but I don't know the characters yet. The story fixes that by slowly drawing backwards in time, slowly drawing away and away from the event, from the tragedy that opens the story. And yet the story never loses track of that moment. Everything that is revealed as the story draws backward and backward in time is aimed at contextualizing what has happened and what the characters of the story mean to each other. It's also drawing backwards, that rocket of emotional destruction arching back only to explode where it begins, as well, compounding the tragedy of the events by showing just how damaging they have been. To not only leave the present a scarred mess but to somehow go beyond that, by the decisions the survivors make about how they are to go forward, which in this case means reaching back as well. It's a story with a tight structure and a rather heavy hand. Still, the emotional beats are spot on and the sense of loss palpable. To me it becomes a story about the power of grief to transform every aspect of a life, right down to the memories. And how far a person will go to avoid the changes that loss has wrought within them. It's a wrenching story and a fine read!

"Portrait of an Amazonian" by Surian Soosay (349 words)

I'm unsure exactly whether I should be putting this in a graphic story category or if it's a better fit just out here in stories. I'm just going to keep it here because it's definitely not a traditional graphic story, not told in panels or anything like that. Just with a lot of rather creepy but effective illustrations that permeate the text, that break up the words. They go very well together, giving visual glimpses of what the devices being described might look like, but the pictures don't really push the narrative forward, so for me it's more story than graphic story? If that makes sense? Whatever the case it's very short and reveals a world that should seem much more unlikely and nightmarish than I feel it is. Because, really, the realities of working in the US for many are already increasingly dystopian, with automation driving wages down while still requiring human handling at many levels not because machines can't do the work but because the humans can do it more cheaply. That, in effect, human work and endeavor is devalued in the face of employers who care more about the bottom line than they do the actual people who work for them. The story captures this in an incredibly small amount of space and does so with the weary resignation of a worker just hoping to do the job and save enough to quit. Which doesn't seem like a very unlikely situation nowadays. Indeed, the bland, tired tone of the piece gives it that added impact, that this has become nothing strange, nothing outrageous. That it's just the latest in a long series of steps turning people into cogs in a machine of their own oppression. Yay capitalism! It's a good read!

"Love Like Monkeys" by Jess Zimmerman (2827 words)

This is a rather interesting story about love and about desire and about a sort of infection of dissatisfaction. The story has a wonderful voice, centering Daphne, a woman in a boring job, in a boring relationship, suddenly with a lover she's never met and an intense desire to escape. To break out of the dullness of her routines and her fiancé and to risk something. Only that same desire is sublimating into a fixation of this new person in her life, this electronic connection that's trying to pull her to Costa Rica, to a place where people have been disappearing into the sea. This story stretches a little bit when it comes to its science fiction element, which is just a little surprising given how strict Terraform tends to be with regards to that, but I do think that it manages to keep things pretty firmly in science fiction, imagining a sort of infection that no one is really looking for, that no one is really expecting. Something that doesn't just attack the immune system but that attacks a weakened social system, attacks the isolation that work and modern expectations bring. Because while I'm not one to tout the past for much, it is the case that technology has made people more exploited in their jobs, on call more and constantly accessible. Meanwhile the expectations of the past to start families and buy buy buy still drive people into seeking happiness in avenues that really doesn't work. Bad relationships that lead to bad financial and personal decisions. That lead the main character into contracting something that's subtle but very dangerous. It's an intriguing story that's definitely worth spending some time with!

"#Jolie 2024" by Fiona Alison Duncan (2234 words)

Well it hasn't taken long for Terraform to shift from stories about the potential outcomes of the most recent election to imagining what this turn of events might lead to down the road. This story, nicely framed as the product of an era of increased automation (even of news, healthcare, and agriculture), is an introduction to a new president—President Jolie. In some ways it's a glimpse of the future that is hopeful. That seems, especially at the moment, like something to reach toward. To hope toward. Because at the moment all that seems likely are the measures that become the background of the story. The disenfranchisement of huge numbers of people. The devastation of climate change coupled with social restrictions on identity and safety. The continued onslaught of sexual assault, poverty, and injustice. And the story points toward a movement away from those things, wrapped up in such a way that is both incredibly appealing and incredibly terrifying. Because the story seems to take this trajectory of trusting celebrities over politicians to its extreme, showing the power that it can have, yes, but also how our society fails when the reason we can't elect a woman president is that she isn't attractive enough, isn't enough of an object. And that for all that this new female president is imagined as strong, bracingly liberal, competent, and driven, that many people are concerned only with her beauty is…well, pretty fucked up. Unfortunately also perhaps pretty accurate when looking at America and what the fuck just happened. I do like the idea, though, that there is some hope in the future, even if I'm not sure to the extent the story celebrates identity and how much it mocks it. Partly because the story is organized as if constructed by an artificial intelligence, a news aggregating program that generates news. It's a fascinating piece, though, and an interesting look into a possible future. Definitely give it a read!

"Echo" by Nicholas O'Brien (2239 words)

This is a rather interesting and slightly creepy story about a police detective interrogating a computer. Well, an Echo to be specific. The Echo of a woman who was murdered in her home. And it's a bit uncanny how much the conversation between the two seems like the conversation between a cop and a resistant perp. The way that it fits into this pattern that's so familiar from crime dramas and the like. And, really, it feels very spot on in that, as anyone who has ever really wanted to get something from a piece of technology but doesn't know quite how can attest to. Especially when you're dealing with automation and very especially when you're dealing with automated voices. Because you have to deal with the fact that the computer will only be able to accept certain commands. And you have to deal with the fact that the computer will only be able to give certain responses. So the dialogue is very limited, because it cuts out all the other ways that people communicates. The detective tries to intimidate the Echo at times, does so unconsciously because it's just what they know. And again this seems so real, because I know from experience that often when something isn't cooperating you resort to these sorts of tactics, wanting to break the machine unless it does what you want. And I really like how the story complicates itself at the end, how it twists this from being straight forward into something that's much more complicated and deep. There's something here about the way that we teach the machines even as we think that we're the ones learning, and that's the part of the story that is vaguely terrifying. It's a neat story, one that works both as an interrogation/mystery and also something more. An excellent read!


No comments:

Post a Comment