Monday, April 2, 2018

Quick Sips - Terraform March 2018

Terraform is firing on all cylinders for March, bringing four original stories that reveal futures that…well, that we don’t really want to experience. That show the cost of injustice and conflict and prejudice and war. The stories feature characters who are trying to find ways to cope the various levels of corruption their worlds are riddled with. Some are more successful than others, but the message that becomes clear as the month’s works synergize is that there can be no good outcome from a terrible system. There can be no happy ending when the world is a nightmare. And that’s something to take to heart, that none are spared when the system is corrupt. Even when you’re sure you’ll be the exception. To the reviews!


“WATCH: The Shocking Assassination of President Guy Fieri” by Hudson Hongo (1985 words)

No Spoilers: Vanessa works for a media company trying to stay ahead of the digital algorithms that determine what gets views and what gets buried online. After a tweak to the algorithms, the company she works for is floundering, trying to maintain its demographic dominance, and increasingly desperate. Enough so that they are willing to try one of Vanessa’s more drastic plans. The piece turns a critical gaze on the purpose and drive of entertainment companies, who seem less interested in creating programs that they care about and believe in and more interested in pleasing the fickle gods of the internet for a shot at big money. It’s dark and almost ridiculously so but manages to cling to a dark humor and dry observational sarcasm.
Keywords: Entertainment, Television, Advertising, Algorithms,Violence
Review: This story looks at entertainment in the age of advanced algorithms that filter for content and attention. That decide essentially what makes money and what doesn’t. And Vanessa is at the heart of it, helping to steer the company she works for further and further into the extreme, pushing content to some new and uncomfortable places. And really for me the story becomes about the ways that people embrace the capitalist model of entertainment rather than looking at the value of that entertainment. Whatever sells is the name of the game, even when it seems to only make people less healthy, less happy, and less productive. The media people have buzz words like educational and responsible and tasteful but really those are just words to hide the fact that it’s a race to the bottom, everyone desperate to outdo each other without pausing to think about what it means. Because if you pause, you’re out. And it’s the worst thing to be out. I love the moment when Vanessa is talking with her sister, who’s not exactly in a good way but who gets something from the programming that Vanessa’s work helps...and Vanessa doesn’t even pause to throw that work away and go after the worst human impulses. It’s a bit of an uncomfortable read made all the slimier with the gloss of making sense and feeling real. Yes, the shows might seem absurd to us now, but just looking at what’s happened to news reporting speaks to the way that our media is chasing nebulous ratings that don’t really mean what they used to before the internet age. Which makes for an interesting and fun (albeit dark as hell) read!

“The Inventor” by Arif Anwar (1478 words)

No Spoilers: A boy in a conflict ravaged nation risks much to deliver medical supplies to a woman acting as nurse to a dying inventor. There, he is shown some of what the inventor has accomplished, and is struck by the idea of what might have been. The piece is quiet but delicate, surrounded by conflict and punctuated by not-so-distant gunfire. And there is a sense of wonder to it, of something almost magical hiding beneath the blood and dirt of war.
Keywords: War, Conflict, Invention, Phones, Destiny
Review: For me, this story is about potential and about the waste that is caused by conflict and war. The loss to all of humanity because of those who could not reach their limits because of the circumstances of their lives. The story explores what I’m thinking is an alt history where basically Steve Jobs or some similar Big Figure in telecommunications/computers had been from a place torn apart by war. What if he had gone to try and help his people? What if he had been lost before he made the breakthroughs that he did. It’s the case of the inventor, who could have pushed technology forward so much, and instead died of cancer in a ruined building. And the story then does really become about destiny, about how there are so many people out there of such great potential who never get the chance to help humanity because of the conflicts that people engage in. Because of pointeless wars. The story seems to ask what it might be like if instead of all this death we fostered peace and opportunity. What might happen then? Would it be possible to recover some of the potential and advancements we would otherwise be denied? And I like how the story does this, by bringing this boy to visit a dying inventor and being struck by this strange piece of technology that for us seems matter of fact. But that really does represent a huge leap in innovation, and if those people most responsible for those leaps hadn’t been there, there’s no saying those leaps would have been made regardless. It’s a complex look at the real costs of war, not just the human lives lost but the vast and incalculable damage done to the possibilities of humankind. To our collective destiny. It’s a fine read!

“The Last Rites of Quotient Lorenzo-Lochbaum” by Claire Phillips (2089 words)

No Spoilers: Taking a look at Cap and Trade, a system whereby people can opt to cap their corporeal lives and trade their remaining physical lives for a mental computer upload, the story is all about parenting and expectations, about the ways in which some parents can act like predators hoping to devour their children for a chance at immortality. It’s a strange piece, framed as a final message given to a your person (well, a thirty-something) by their parent. But this frame and the calculating way which with the parent seeks to capture their child’s life is powerful, unnerving, and a rather devastating look into a future where most people’s greatest asset might only get them an early death.
Keywords: Parenting, Climate Change, Life Extension, Death, Disappointment
Review: I think what strikes me most about this story is the way it shows a view of parenting that on the outside looks like a sort of benevolent trust/nurturing/encouragement but in practice becomes something much darker and much more unsettling. The whole story is framed around this monologue, this voice of a parent to their child. And yet because of that the piece is without the voice of the child. From the onset, their life isn’t really what the story is about, for all that it is their life that is being traded for nebulous promises of an eternal existence as an uploaded brain when really it seems to all be for the profit of the parents, so that they can live longer, so that those with more can continue to benefit from exploiting those with less, whose only real asset is their life at this point. The story explores a future of capitalism that is chilling for how real it can seem, where children are looked as capital, as currency to use, and all that you have to do to cash in is make sure that those children don’t really have anything to live for. The child of the story has been pushed by their parents their entire life, told they can do anything, essentially, except escape the prison that capitalism builds around them. And in their desperation for a way out they are vulnerable to those parents offering them one that doesn’t really benefit them. It’s a gutting and powerful read, and definitely a story to spend some time with!

“Music for the Underworld” by E. Lily Yu (4455 words)

No Spoilers: Feo is an artist with a growing popularity and a history of running, of being vulnerable, of safety seeming so far away. When he meets Yuri, things seem to finally be reaching a point of safety. Except in the world that they live in, full of police drones, predatory corporations, and laws protecting abuse, prejudice, and hate, safety is something of an illusion. The story begins with an interesting and almost wonderful feel, but that disappears in a blink, in a single act. And Feo is left trying to reclaim what he has lost only to find again and again that safety is impossible where digital marketing has more rights than most people. Gripping, breathtaking, and utterly devastating.
Keywords: Music, Uploaded Consciousness, Prison, Injustice, AI, Capitalism
Review: Holy shit this story does an amazing job of building to its gut-punch moments. As I said before, I feel the piece does this great job of setting up a world that on the shallowest level seems so cool. Where technology has advanced and AI have advanced and it seems so neat to have access to all of this stuff. And then the real implications of all of it hit and the bottom drops out when Yuri is arrested for reporting harassment. And from there out it rings as such a sharp and merciless deconstruction of our current capitalist moment, where the rights of individuals are eroding in the face of corporate pressure. Where companies right to sell people guns or gather personal data cannot be constrained. Where the law of the land are blatant in their prejudice and it’s just chilling because of how it feels like not that far a step. And how much it builds this hope that Feo will manage to fight back, to find happiness. That this is a sort of future fairy tale that will manage to pull off its happy ending. But people. Warning. It does not. And fuck is it such a gutting moment when it happens, when that happy ending is ripped away and the story leaves the reader instead with this demand not to hope that music and art will make it all better on its own. With a demand to be uncomfortable and realize that this is a hell. Because offering that happy ending would be like saying that it’s okay, like it can be okay. And the story refuses to do that, making people realize that there can be only a terrible, upsetting ending in a world like the one revealed in the story. One that’s looking more and more like our world. And just wow, yeah, an amazing read!


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