Things get profoundly weird in these April short stories from Motherboard’s Terraform. Very. Very. Weird. From planets where people worship different body parts of their prophet to visions of the future or present where people experience alterations in their perception, the works are all about bending the rules of what makes logical sense in what might be attempts to shake and call into question the fundamental and assumed orderliness of the universe. It finds characters embracing the dark and the unknown, rushing into the jaws of chaos, and struggling against the feelings of stagnancy and inertia. There are some really strange works on display here, but I’m going to give it my best in reviewing them!
“The Duchy of the Toe Adam” by Lincoln Michel (3041 words)
No Spoilers: Baldwin, Vivian, and the fish-like Aul-Wick are kind of terrible smugglers, so when they arrive at a planet of religious strife they’re hoping to cash in selling weapons and spice to all sides. What they get instead is a missile for their troubles and a ticket into the middle of a complicated struggle that has been spanning many generations between the devoted followers of the different parts of Adam. It’s a weird read, not precisely bizzaro but certainly a bit bizzare, the situation such that no one really knows the origins of the violence—just that they’re right in their worship of the correct part of Adam. For Baldwin and Vivian, they don’t care so much as figuring out how to make it back to their ship and leave the whole messed up planet in their wake. It’s a fast and fun piece, not worried overmuch with subtlety but not taking itself too seriously either, leading to a solidly entertaining experience.
Keywords: Cloning, Religion, War, Body Parts, Smuggling
Review: This story is one hell of a ride. It’s something where you just sort of strap in and enjoy what it throws at you because there’s blood and body parts flying around, sex and mutated mawbears, and a whole lot of clones. The action is visceral but doesn’t really get bogged down in gore. There’s a humor that fills in instead, that keeps things from getting too dark despite the messed up shit that is going on with this planet. People are dying over and over again, sects seeking always to annihilate each other, and into the middle of this come these smugglers just hoping to make a buck and who are not-exactly-prepared for the level of weird they find. To their credit, though, this all seems vaguely all in a days work, and they take to the intense strangeness as if they’ve passed through worse. And really at the core of the story I feel it’s about the ridiculousness of religious violence, the way that it sounds rather asinine when explained to outsiders. They kill each other because they can’t agree which of the clones of their dead leader was cloned first? But that’s always the general level of religious violence, that one set of beliefs cannot coexist with the other, and so it comes to blood. And because the beliefs are essentially cloned by raising religious children and by recruiting people into the faith, the violence continues. In the story, people are cloned over and over again, no side really earning a clear edge, because in some ways the goal is the static violence. Is to get people not to question why the fighting is going on, but rather that the fighting is necessary and right. Because it keeps Adam in power regardless of which body part is represented. It props up this corrupt system that requires people to fight and die and never rewards them. And it’s a sharp and dashing romp, entertaining as h*ck and very much worth checking out!
“Orphic Hymns” by Grant Maierhofer (10142 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator in this story is a specialist in fungi, in organisms that can survive in space. And after falling into something of a deep funk, they are recruited by a man named Klimt who is putting together a mission to the edge of the solar system, to the furthest humanity will have physically touched. It’s a project that is from the start something of a cult experience, where Klimt is charismatic but just a bit...off. Manic and exciting about going out this far on the promise of a black growth on the hull of an unmanned craft that is now stranded out beyond Pluto. It’s a piece that weaves together a need to move and grow and push boundaries and a weight, a sorrow, and a deep exhaustion that the narrator feels through the entire piece. It’s not exactly a story I suggest reading while sleepy, but it’s a careful exploration of hope and space exploration, humanity and change.
Keywords: Space, Fungi, Exploration, Pluto, Science!
Review: This story does an interesting job of exploring what it means for humans to leave the Earth behind. The story is a strange one, building around the only-quasi-coherent ramblings of Klimt, who is desperate to go out beyond Pluto and who links that to this grand destiny of humanity, to embracing possibilities of life completely outside our experience because it’s outside the reach of our sun. And he has this power to his convictions that inspires people, largely it seems because there’s so many people frustrated with the way things are. With the pace of expansion. With the lack of something...romantic about the push into space. It’s a setting where lunar and martian colonization is happening, is real, and yet it feels almost mundane, to the point that when the narrator hears about going so far, it’s enough to bring him out of his basement and his steady work and into space. And yet his vision is one that doesn’t really meet up with the caution necessary for scientific discovery. He’s manic to the point that he ends up dooming his own mission, because for him it wasn’t about the hope of humanity, but his own desire to put himself outside known experience. For the narrator, the whole thing takes him so far away from his humanity only to return him to it, to reground himself in his life and his human connections. It’s a rather haunting experience, given what happens, a shock given how ponderous the rest of the story is to that point. It’s weird but it’s also rather lovely, a glimpse at the dark and cold of space and a feeling of the warmth that humans cling to stepping out into it. A fine read!
“Primary Color” by Zoe Goldstein (823 words)
No Spoilers: This is a viscerally strange story, and one that plays with reality and dreams, computers and physicality. It finds the narrator, a person who codes birds into the sky, who might code the sky itself, as they meet a woman from a gas station and the two explore their possibilities and alternate realities. The piece flows in some very weird ways, working in almost a stream of consciousness way but grounded by the narrator and their relationship with this pink-haired girl. It reveals a world that for the narrator at least is fluid, half code and half all the things they are trying to avoid. It’s unclear to me if this is a future, or just a way of reframing the present, but it makes for a rather poetic read, beautiful and lonely.
Keywords: Sex, Birds, Skies, Computers, Sleep
Review: I really like how the narrator moves through this world, so obviously looking for ways to put themselves into a space more digital, less physical. They code all day, and see around them a sort of blurring between the real world and what might be a game world. At least to me, part of their drive is a sort of annihilation into the digital, into a space where they wouldn’t have to sleep, wouldn’t have to touch or be touched but where they could also be a part of the code, touching everything, a part of everything. For me, they have this desire to dissolve, to get away from their body, which they inhabit like a bad tenant, moving about aimlessly and just a bit dissociated from what they’re doing. The pink-haired girl is someone they meet and it’s like going through the motions of a relationship. They have sex and there is something there but it’s distant, the narrator seeming to me to just do what’s expected of them and maybe a bit curious if being with someone else will help to break them from their drives, from their loneliness. And...well, for me the story explores how it does and doesn’t, how they imagine they might change because of this, how they imagine they might change if they reject this and try maybe to become something else. And it’s such a weird story that for me gets at the ways people can be isolated, not just because of their work but because of their despairs and their needs and their hopes, and how for some people freedom exists in code, in a blurring of reality. It’s a trippy piece that is definitely worth spending some time with, and it’s a lovely read!
“Rapid Enlightenment Machine” by Anna I. Wu (820 words)
No Spoilers: Somehow it’s most often Terraform where I end up saying that it would be difficult to spoil a story if I tried, and it’s true again with this deeply strange piece about a person who agrees to go into a kind of sensory deprivation chamber designed to provoke in the person experiencing it...well, it’s kind of hard to say. The story is weird, flowing perhaps with the dissolution of the person that might happen with sensory deprivation, where the main character of the piece, the second person “You,” slough away in the darkness without the senses to ground you to the physical world. The piece is rather haunting, the entry into the chamber a sort of organic trap, alive and disgusting and yet compelling, dark, and emotionally resonating.
Keywords: Sensory Deprivation, Parents, CW- Pregnancy, Enlightenment
Review: For me, the story is about the terror but also the release that comes with doing something like sensory deprivation. It’s framed as a kind of short cut to the profound, a way of confronting things that otherwise are buried too deep. The piece is weird and really sets a creepy scene with the character, with You being drawn into what you expect will be only boring, but which turns out to be much more unsettling. There’s something alive about the experience, something that plays into what it might feel like to be inside a womb, to be a mixture of two parents with different and sometimes opposed views. Your experience is at the same time a violation and an insight, and it provokes in you an anger and a resistance. You recoil at the intrusion, at where you are taken inside this space, and you demand release. And yet there is something about it that is intimate and compelling, that does give you...not a thrill exactly. But it gets past your defenses to something real and profound and experiencing that, something so real and raw, has an appeal that grows, that pulls at you like it’s a cliff you want to jump off of, knowing that there is a parachute and other limits in place that make it safe. Only there’s also something dangerous I feel about it, that the safety might only be temporary or illusory, and for me there’s a lingering darkness in the question of what happens if you delve too deep, and to willingly. It’s a strange and interesting experience, and it’s a story that’s definitely worth spending some time with!