Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Quick Sips - Terraform February 2019

Three original short stories mark another solid month of releases from Motherboard's Terraform (plus there's a reprint, something more rare for the publication, that's definitely worth checking out but that I am not covering here). The pieces as always look at what the future might hold for humanity, and the visions range from dire to something much more hopeful. And there's a thread that runs through these pieces of connection and isolation. Of relationships and loneliness. And the future seems brightest where people are able to make genuine connects and live freely. And looks bleakest where people are stifled and pushed to their breaking points. So yeah, let's get to the reviews!

“A Crisis” by Aigner Loren Wilson (1165 words)

No Spoilers: Told in the first person, the main character is a soldier helping to oversee the executions of bots who refuse to follow orders. The punishment is swift and is severe, and these soldiers take the part of spectators and guards, though the condemned don’t seem to fight back or attempt to escape. The piece is haunting, quiet, and full of hurt, compounded by a personal situation that the narrator finds herself in, drawn to another woman in such a way that doesn’t feel safe in this time, place, and environment. It’s a lovely but dark exploration of death, destruction, and the spectacle of both.
Keywords: CW- Executions, Bots, Soldiers, Relationships, Disobedience, Queer MC
Review: This is a strange piece, one that unfolds in a future in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where bots are being put to death and yet don’t seem to care that much. The show is mesmerizing, the bots shot through with electricity to erase them, to wipe them clean. Which might not seem like death, because these bots don’t really get shown as being sentient or feeling even. It’s possible that they are being executed for just having a malfunction, which is interpreted as insubordination. The result, though, is that for the soldiers there is the lesson that stepping out of line is punished with death. That to fail to follow orders will not be allowed. And for the narrator, who I’m guessing is a woman mostly because of how the men around her treat her and because of the first line of the story, which I assume is also from her perspective, is forced to hide the way she feels about another woman because of the dangers involved. Because it goes against orders, against the “way things are.” And it’s just this piece that for me carries with it this weight, this oppressive environment tha the soldiers and especially the narrator are supposed to accept without question and yet they cannot. Like the bots, it’s possible that through no fault of their own they might be found guilty of disobeying orders. Of failing to comply. And the threat of that is something that wears on them, that eats at them, and it’s a subtle but sharp piece about that kind of a life, that kind of a situation. A lovely read!

“Early Adopter” by Kevin Bankston (3937 words)

No Spoilers: You monster. *sniff* No, I’m totally fine. Just...just fine. Okay, deep breaths now. Ahem. This story follows a couple brought together at the dawn of what could be considered the real “computer age.” At least, they were able to connect because of Craigslist, and maintained their often tempestuous relationship through the various social medias and technological advances. The story is in some ways about difference, about the generational shifts that can happen, as one of the people here is Gen X (maybe Gen Y) and the other is a Millennial. And yet through their different approaches to tech, they still manage to get stuck in each other’s orbits, the story weaving a deeply moving, slightly tragic, always messy story about love in the age of digital media. And it’s bittersweet and heartbreaking even as it’s hopeful, about the promise of technology and not just the fear of it.
Keywords: Marriage, Technology, Social Media, Uploaded Consciousness, Divorce
Review: This is a beautiful story about love and the way that technology can often complicate things. The way that age and familiarity with technology can often complicate things. Because really it follows a couple who are great together, except that they have some different ways of approaching tech. Where the man here (there’s a man and a woman in the core relationship) is older and a bit less enthusiastic about changing technology, the woman is all about getting the latest thing, taking each new “improvement” because she genuinely thinks they are improvements. And even when they’re not, even when they’re kind of flops, it’s the attitude towards tech that’s the most important thing. Because he’s never really able to shed his prejudice against it, against the artificiality of tech, that it’s not “real” in the same way that talking to another person is, even if it’s doing basically that exact thing, only with more possibilities, more range, more features. He’s something of a purist, wanting to experience something that he completely understands and therefore trusts. For her, though, there’s not the distrust. She does trust tech, and the experiences it offers, and isn’t bothered by any real “fake-ness”. Instead, she embraces the ways she can feel and live, questioning the use and value of barriers between “real” and “fake” that blur through the application of technology. What does it matter if something is “fake” if there’s no difference, if it’s also “real,” and if that realness allows a person to do things they dreamed of, then what exactly is the harm? It’s a story that doesn’t shy away from showing just how messy their relationship is, too, breaking up and getting back together multiple times and still through it all in love, pointed forward, even when what that means always changes. And it’s just a fantastic story that you should definitely make time for! Go read it!!!

“Shutdown” by Jessica Maison (1547 words)

No Spoilers: In an America of perpetual government shutdowns that have gutted the social safety net, Jolene is a woman who works for a national park kept barely open because of tourists. Jolene, though, like the country, isn’t really doing well with the cutbacks and the demands that she work ever harder for less rewards. Essentially homeless though crashing on a friend’s couch, she tries to hold on in the hope that maybe something will happen to end the difficulties. The piece explores a certain kind of helplessness that feels all too real, that’s rooted in corruption and the imbalance of power that means those without money can do nothing but be ground into fertilizer for the wealth of the rich. Unless, it seems, they can manage to become a seed instead, growing not up amid the toxicity of that environment but rather down, away from the whole affair, and for something that has to be better.
Keywords: Shutdowns, Austerity, National Parks, Poppies, Seeds, Transformations
Review: This story has such a real feel to it. That sense of struggling and struggling and still not being able to avoid sinking. That feeling that even when you think you’re making the responsible, good decision, you can’t stop a plunge when there’s no safety net. When you can’t stop the descent. And how the country is moving more and more in that direction. Where there’s no relief, no coming back from even one very bad thing. And here Jolene is desperately trying to do what’s right and at every turn being punished for it. Not that she’s have any better luck doing wrong, here. It’s just that there is no good choice. No winning when the game is so very loaded. It’s rendered in this gutting way, underscoring the spiral of loss that she just can’t stop or slow, chronicling how she’s like the country on the whole, everything spiraling down once people give up on the promise of what the country should be. Once it all becomes protecting businesses at the expense of people, it’s all shot to hell. There’s no coming back when people have made sure the road back is burned to cinder, when those with the most power are still invested in making sure things don’t improve, because they feel if the world is going to end, they want it to end on their terms, in the way that leaves them the best off. And it’s a gutting, fragile read that ends on a moment of change and sublimation. Where Jolene can’t take it anymore and just...goes. Which is beautiful and heartbreaking but quite, quite good. Definitely a story to spend some time with!


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