Friday, November 2, 2018

Quick Sips - Terraform October 2018

Thanks to a novel excerpt that I’m not looking at, the October Terraform stories from Motherboard are a little light this month. Three flash fictions, though, deal with some rather heavy themes. Appropriate, given the goal of the publication to put out topical science fiction. Because most of what’s topical right now is the nightmare that world and domestic politics has become. From international war to exploitation and death on a mining colony in space to the much more intimate hurts that family can inflict on each other, these works aren’t exactly a cheery bunch. They reveal characters wanting to find something better, though in very different ways. So let’s get to the reviews! 

*UPDATE: They sneaked in a Halloween novelette on me, so some of the above isn’t accurate.


“One Thousand Cranes” by Zora Mai Quỳnh (976 words)

No Spoilers: Disaster has come to the city of the main character, an unnamed person who has fled to the mountains. They are making paper cranes, in some ways because they have nothing less. Because all that is left to them is the idea of having a wish granted. Not even their wish, but the wish of their child, who did not make it to the relative peace of the mountains, to the tomb that the main character is deteriorating in. The story begins in the present where the main character has completed the final crane and then peels back, earlier and earlier, to before the task began. It’s a story that really sets up the stakes of conflict and the horror of not even really knowing why you’re dying, why everyone is dying. Though the story reveals the path of the main character, the real cause of the devastation is hidden and, perhaps, unimportant to the real heart of the prose and characters.
Keywords: Disaster, CW- Death of a Child, Origami, Wishes, Fires, Mountains
Review: I like what the story does with the idea of the paper cranes, something that has long been associated with hope but also tragedy. Because those who tend to rely on the idea of the paper cranes are children, are those that still believe in magic. And their plight—that they would have something to wish for as simple and powerful as peace, is...well, it’s heartbreaking. And here again it’s the case where the child dies before they are able to complete the cranes. They die and the narrator is all that’s left and all they have is to continue making the cranes. Not really because they believe in magic (it seems to me at least). But because they need some way to keep going, to keep moving, to keep believing in anything. Because the truth is that survival not as an individual but as a species, as a people, has become something only magic could guarantee in this setting. In this world where something has happened and fire and wasting have claimed just about everything there was to claim. And yet in working backwards the story seems to imply that there might still be time. That we can still branch away. That, indeed, that wish that the narrator was working toward might have been to turn back time and change the past while there was still a future to reach toward. It’s a wrenching and difficult read and very much worth spending some time with!

“Death on Leda” by Eric Bosse (740 words)

No Spoilers: On Leda, one of Jupiter’s moons, death doesn’t work the way that it does everywhere else. Because no matter what happens, people just don’t stay dead. Instead, whenever someone dies, they return. And sometimes they return and return and return. The story is framed as a memo written by a corporate investigator on the implications of what’s been happening. It’s semi-formal but mostly excited by the possibilities. Not the philosophical ones, exactly, but the monetary ones. It’s a piece that looks at the weight of bureaucracy and waiting, and the oil-slick readiness of corporations to try and monetize absolutely everything.
Keywords: Death, Space, Bureaucracy, Forms, Corporations
Review: Hearing that death has taken a holiday on the distant moon of Leda is a sharp hook, and I love how the story uses humor to twist expectations. Because hearing that there’s something odd about this moon mine might invite speculation about alien viruses or other ways that humanity didn’t understand enough about what was out there and so there’s something gone wrong. Instead, the problem seems to be more what humans brought with them. That, essentially, that death has taken on its own bureaucratic nightmare in the far off of space. Whoever dies finds themself in God’s waiting room, made to fill out a whole book of forms, and after that still have to stand in line for maybe ever. So the dead flee back into the land of the living. But what about Leda has allowed this to happen? To me, it implies that the rules on this mining base have been tainted by the corporate culture that infuses the memo with its voice. Essentially, the afterlife reflects the religion and reality of the place, and here the place is bureaucratic and corporate, so that each person is trapped, ping-ponging between different difficulties, different nightmares. And they’re pushed to accept the life they know, the corporation they know, rather than put up with an afterlife that could be even worse, if the wait times are anything to go by. And the impact from the piece for me comes from the reaction of this investigator, who sees this an an opportunity. To grow their market, and their control over their employees. To make this fluke into something that they can make more money on. And that casual way that a corporation would leverage death and the afterlife is so cutting, because it seems so true. If it was possible to exploit, they would, and see nothing wrong with that. Which might indeed point to a world where any sort of just deity has gone on holiday, their return uncertain. And in any event it’s a short, fun read!

“Molli’s Oggles” by Rich Larson (1016 words)

No Spoilers: Molli is a child who has moved with her family to the big city after living the first part of her life in a more rural environment, or at least one less densely populated and with more wildlife. The change has been hard for her, or at least that’s what her parents tell some friends that are visiting. They’ve had to put an anxiety filer on her oggles, devices that allow her to experience an altered (and sanitized) version of the world that she’s not supposed to be as stressed about. The nature of Molli’s stress, though, isn’t exactly what it seems. The piece is short but captures very nicely how children can adapt to new environments. How they can find the good in most things. But also how there _are_ some things that don’t really come with a silver lining when you’re a kid. A story touched by darkness, it packs a bit of a punch in the end.
Keywords: Filters, Virtual Reality, Cities, Family, Anxiety
Review: I love the way the story frames itself, focusing at first on how the parents are telling Molli’s story (that she’s having a hard time transitioning to the city) and then actually goes into Molli’s head to get her real story. A story that doesn’t really look like the one her parents are telling. Because while she doesn’t like the city as much, it’s not something she really hates. It’s crowded and the outdoors aren’t as fun, but it’s not like it’s awful. She has a playground, and kids to play with, and there are still animals and some other things to enjoy. And this tool, the oggles, that her parents have given her to engage anxiety filters on really don’t do much outside. It all seems too fake, and she can feel the cracks. It’s much more inside that she needs to engage the filters, because of how the stress of transitioning to the city is effecting her parents. Because they’re fighting, and resent each other, and have in part made Molli a pawn in the battle they are having with each other. And it is this dark moment when Molli engages the filters to go inside that the full story comes together. That the real problem isn’t with her at all, or with the city. That to her it’s just a place, and she can have a childhood anywhere. But that the stress of her parents’ screaming at each other all the time is what makes her anxious. And it’s a sharp way of showing a rather subtle point about the stories that people tell about their children and the truths those children must keep to themselves. A fine read!

“Summerland” by Geoff Manaugh (9581 words)

No Spoilers: Peter has returned to Summerland island to set his parents things in order after their death. Never a fan of the place, he’s found it hard to take care of all the business while also processing his emotions, and as a result he missed the evacuation that saw most of the island’s inhabitants safely to shore while he waits out a storm. He’s all alone with his grief—or he would be, except he spies a boat braving the storm to arrive late one night. A boat carrying two of his neighbors, and a deadly secret. The piece is dark and Gothic and incredibly well suited to Halloween, taking a classic monster idea and updating it in a very rare fantasy story from Terraform.
Keywords: Loss, Sickness, Island, Gothic, Vampires
Review: I like the Gothic qualities of this story, and how it updates the vampire story and places it firmly into the modern world in a way that feels real and yet not incredibly obvious. It builds well, using Peter and his emotional troubles and the arrival of his neighbors and the strange illness afflicting Caroline to slowly paint this picture of something that no one really wants to see, though the signs are all there. But the setting is solid, an island normally secluded entirely depopulated because of a storm. It is literally a dark and stormy night when the piece opens, but because the focus is on Peter’s emotional troubles, the danger is allowed to draw nearer and nearer unhindered. It almost reminds me of The Raven for how Peter treats a lot of it, initially seeing the new people on the island as a break from his loneliness. As time goes on, though, he can see that this isn’t a blessing. And the pacing here is great, moving Peter around in a haze of grief and alcohol so that he’s not really at the top of his game, and yet knows enough that something is wrong about Caroline. There’s an animal reaction that sends him running every time, and only thinking that he needs to save someone else really gets him to confront it, at which point things get really dark. For me, the story is about a failure to act. A failure to recognize what is going on. A willful refusal to really see the truth, because it seems too unbelievable. And that leaves the door open enough for something to slip in, dark and dangerous and so so thirsty. And it’s just a fun Halloween read!


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