Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Quick Sips - Terraform February 2017

It's something of a short month from Motherboard's Terraform, though there's still quite a bit to see and experience. It's no surprise that with things the way they are that the first story is about immigration and acceptability and beauty. About how we value people and how we exploit people. About how the world as we're organizing it blames victims and glories tyrants. A bit more of a surprise is the story on the (possible) apocalyptic future of porn. Which...well, Terraform has always had something of an eye on the future of sex, and why should the future of self-sex be excluded? And then a new chapter in the Highwayman series rounds things out. All in all, it's a month of very different pieces unified by a common disillusioned gaze at the future. So yeah, to the reviews!

"The Wretched and the Beautiful" by E. Lily Yu (2569 words)

This story takes direct aim at how people treat refugees and those seeking asylum and then complicates things based on how we perceive these people, how easy they are to get along with. The story imagines an alien ship crashing on a beach of people just hoping to escape their lives and the crushing competition and danger of poverty. The danger of needing to be one of the people who would need assistance in a world where that’s viewed as a moral failing. The aliens turn out to be refugees fleeing a genocide, and their ship opens up huge avenues in human research, and yet because of who they are and how they are, their ship is taken and they are left without anywhere to go, left at the whim of governments and people who don’t care and indeed want these people to be someone else’s problem. There’s a great vein of diffusion of responsibility here, a nice sense that this problem is a small one made large because those who can afford to do something choose not to. It’s a biting and sharp commentary on the way that we here treat people fleeing death, fleeing war, people who might not speak the language and who might look like they’ve been through an ordeal because they have. They are not clean and they are not comfortable because they remind us of what ugliness exists in the world and how much of that we, as citizens of various nations, are complicit in. I love the way the story rewards the people who don’t want to help, because in many situations it’s what happens—yes, there is a reward for turning your back. But it also is closing off the reward for opening your arms and hearts to people who have so much to offer. Instead, what everyone is left with is the scar of what has happened, the absence that can never be wholly filled. It’s a stark and haunting read. Check it out!

"The Perfect Porn" by Carl Franzen (2422 words)

This story look at the addictive nature of...well, I guess “the perfect porn.” And on one level it’s a rather funny story about the way that humans can be manipulated by their sexual drives and how, especially with how our world is set up, we are a bit susceptible to certain kinds of excess. On another level the story does stumble a bit for me because it treats porn or really anything that humans desire as some sort of corrupting influence. That humanity, in intrusting porn creation to AI, opened a sort of Pandora's box and it was up to those elements “immune” to porn to save the day and preserve that which was uncorrupted. Now, I don’t want to get too serious about a story that I do think is supposed to just be rather funny and easy to read. A light piece in a time when light pieces are rare. But I also don’t want to fail to examine what I feel the story was trying to do and how successful it was. Because in many ways it’s a pessimistic piece that shows humanity as not being able to control itself. As not being able to resist porn. Which...in many ways it could be anything that numbs the mind and gives a high. Like the “perfect drug.” And studies have shown that, again and again, a huge part of drug use and addiction has to do with environment and not really anything inherently weak in humans. We want stimulation. We want engagement. Failing that in our lives, we can reach to what’s easy to fill the gap. Which does make this piece a rather nice critique of the world we live in, where engagement is difficult and expensive and people are encouraged to be as mechanical as possible, which would make people want more for escape and release (sexual release, here). I wanted to see a bit more of that, and while I don’t think this is a bad story at all, I’m a bit conflicted about it. What i can say is that it has some rather funny moments and I think people should check it out and make their own minds up about it. Indeed!

Graphic Story:

"Highwayman: Family" by Koren Shadmi

Some time has passed since the last chapter of Highwayman and Lucas hasn't aged a day physically. Mentally though, he's raised a child into old age and is part of some sort of convoy that's driving through a crumbling city. The aesthetic of the story continues to be one of its strongest parts, as Lucas himself still doesn't really know what's going on (or doesn't seem to). Luckily the plot rolls up in a giant-ass future-tank-city and offers the convoy convenient refuge. Really, though, it seems like it's full of people like Lucas who have...plans. I feel in some ways that the visual nature of this series is what keeps me coming back and interesting. I'm very curious to know how the finished project will read all together. Fragmented like this I feel that it must lose a bit because it's harder to spot small bits of continuity that are sprinkled throughout. The addition of Zebulon, though, Lucas' son, is an interesting one, and shows just how much the character has come to care about people, though he still has his tendencies toward being an aloof ass. He's still very cynical but that seems to be well earned at this point, and he listens to the pitch from his people's new leader with a mixture of resignation, anger, and disappointment. Events just don't seem to leave him alone, and perhaps that's where the story is pointing us. The more that Lucas tries to avoid getting involved, the worse things get. For him, for his family, for the world as a whole. He seems to have some power to do something but insists that he does not. Still. When he wakes up and sees that he can actually do something to maybe shape the world for the better is the day he'll become a bit more interesting to me. As it is, I'm still enchanted by the visuals and while frustrated by Lucas' belligerence I'm glad that it looks like he might soon be making up his mind to act, because he finally has someone he cares about. Still a series to keep an eye on!


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