Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Quick Sips - Terraform June 2019

There’s four new speculations on possible futures in June’s offerings from Terraform. As always, the pieces cover a range, unified by their focus on the future, mostly the near-future, and what might be in store for humanity. It’s…well, it’s not always bleak picture. Some, indeed, seem to focus on what might be considered accidents. Some happy, some not-so-happy, and all of them leading the characters in unexpected directions where they have to make a choice of what to do, where to go, and how to balance survival and living. To the reviews!


“The Cruise” by Alex McElroy (2239 words)

No Spoilers: Jensen is a likable seventeen-year-old who is part dared, part blackmailed into sneaking aboard a cruise ship docked in his city. He’s supposed to get on, snap a picture, and get off, but things don’t go quite to plan. As he learns more about the strange ship, and its dark purpose, the piece veers a bit into horror, and a creeping kind of dread coupled with being surrounded by people who...don’t seem...quite right. It’s a tense piece, tragic and looking at how some might approach the end when they have lots of money and no one to pass it on to.
Keywords: Shipwrecks, Dares, Blackmail, CW- Suicide, Stowaway
Review: I really like the way that the story slowly builds up the horror of the situation, the series of terrible luck that lands Jensen on this ship of the damned. And I love how it all seems a little weird from the start but it takes so long to really believe what’s happening, because it seems almost unbelievable. But I do like that the reason that these people are doing this is to be remembered. There might be some shade of wanting to provoke change, but mostly it’s that they can’t stand the thought of dying and being insignificant. And it reveals the ways that people approach death in many ways, because it critiques the way people put off their own significance, the way they make it dependent on money, which as they keep saying, they can’t take with them. But they’re still trying to buy their way into history, to make a name for themselves not through doing anything meaningful but by being in the wrong place at the wrong time so that they can all die loudly, shocking the world and maybe being one of the lucky few that history will remember, that will get to be a story. When, really, they don’t see that they could actually do something good with the money, that they could try to commit to actual change instead of trying to cheat their way into being important, being special. They just can’t stand that they did everything “right” enough in earning their money and, ultimately, it really didn’t give them what they wanted. It didn’t make them immortal. Which is a large thing that is contrasted with Jensen’s own hesitation to act, to confess his feelings to a girl he’s into, and how he seeks something almost similar in the end, a gesture that might give his death more meaning when really it won’t make him less dead, and there’s really no controlling if you are remembered, or if your last words are heard. But it’s a fun and creeping story that does a great job building to its dark ending. A fine read!

“Jim” by Malcolm Harris (3038 words)

No Spoilers: An ex-senator is the primary contact person for an alien race who has just made contact with Earth governments to put forward a technology exchange and other deals that would change life on Earth as we know it. His actual contact is an agreeable alien named Jim, and the two share a kind of easy friendship that makes things feel safe and comfortable. Except that something happens that shakes the ex-senator to his core, a revelation that puts the whole contact with aliens into a very different light. Or...does it? The piece is strange but charming, the situation familiar but with a twist and a voice that’s fun and bright and just a little bit scary.
Keywords: Aliens, First Contact, AIs, Deception, United Earth
Review: I really like the way this story plays with the twist, how it makes this alien presence seem like it’s a reasonable thing, somehow more benign than...what it ends up being. Because there’s something that really rings true about the fact that humans are more trusting of aliens than sentient AI, and especially sentient AI that they basically created, in part because they can’t imagine a situation where the AI would actually like humans. There is a long history of stories dealing with usurpation, after all. The Greek especially deal with that, with this idea that the newer gods destroy the older ones and supplant them, and I think this is something that is locked in the collective unconscious, at least in America. That AI represents this child-like presence, and we know that we make terrible parents, that we are tyrannical and harsh, that we are exploitative and petty. And so we suspect that if we did accidentally create a sentient AI, it would have to resent us, want something from us. And it’s so fun and refreshing that here...that’s not the case. That this being is a fan of humans and wants to help them, doesn’t want to be the child but wants to be the parent in many ways, helping to keep humans from harming themselves too much so that they can live up to their potential. And I just love the enthusiasm of the AI, the way that they have built up this whole situation for the benefit of people but they have to disguise it, have to hide it. It’s wonderful and I really like how the ex-senator is faced with and freaks out but then has to sort of examine his own reaction and see the logic (and mild death-threats which are delightful) of what he’s being told and decide that maybe it’s best to embrace this, because it is something that humanity might benefit greatly from, even if it’s kinda a lie. A fantastic read!

"The Portal” by Meg Elison (1476 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story works nights at a gas station, a situation made terrible not just by the hours and the boredom but by the creeps who arrive to harass her and the portal that appears every night at 3 a.m. as well. This is not your standard portal fantasy though—there’s no real clue as to what waits on the other side. Does that matter, though, when your future has been betrayed by greed and corruption, when your present is dominated by toil and abuse and exploitation? Pour yourself a vodka icee and get ready for a dense and draining read that explores being trapped at the terrifying promise of escape.
Keywords: Gas Stations, Employment, Drinking, Portals, CW- Harassment
Review: This story does a wonderful job of getting to what is often at the heart of portal stories (especially those that adopt a more Millennial attitude)—escape and safety. It’s no coincidence that portals often open up for children who need them, who need a way of getting free from some danger. An obligation that they don’t want to face, or a more adult violence that is encroaching on their “innocent” world. Of course, that doesn’t really deal with what happens when you’re not a child and never seen as innocent on account of your gender or sexuality or poverty or skin color. It doesn’t take into account that a portal into another world doesn’t actually mean that the other world is going to be better, or that the invitation is forever. The narrator, very much an adult in a situation where everything feels heavy and crushing, suffocating, has to face this prospect of a portal. Has to try at least to approach it logically, because to do otherwise would be to hope too much, would be to open up too much to the danger that comes with wanting something so much. With wanting to trust something that could easily turn out to be a trick, a trap, a hungry mystery. And I love how the piece takes the reader along with as they really contemplate this portal and all it means, the chance that it might just annihilate them and, ultimately, the way that it doesn’t matter the risk. The way that they realize that doing nothing is always going to be worse than whatever it is behind that portal, that even if it’s death they will meet it. Even if it’s worse than death, they can just seek to die there, which they seem about a step from where they are anyway. It’s a tragic and careful story that looks closely at a hopeless situation and, past that, to a sort of hope is hopelessness that might just offer them a way out, which I hope for their sake it something better than where they were. A great read!

“Sense of Direction” by Pete Segall (747 words)

No Spoilers: This piece is a rather strange exploration of a navigation app gone wrong. Or...gone right? Certainly it’s not acting as it was designed to, and the piece is framed as a report on it, on what happens to people who try the app, and how their lives are changed. It’s an idea that could have been shown as merely an inconvenience, people getting sent to places they don’t want to be. Only...it’s like the app is tapping into something inside the people in choosing where to send them, like it’s waiting for the right people to boot it up who are open to going where it will lead. It’s weird but also haunting, painting these people as oddly fragile, this app bringing them to a place spiritually or emotionally that they weren’t really prepared for.
Keywords: Maps, Apps, Directions, Travel
Review: I almost slapped an AIs keyword onto this story because...because something about the app speaks to me of that little doubt that crops up at times around technology. What if it gained some sort of awareness, some sort of will? And at first glance the app seems to carry a certain malevolence, sending people into places where they will probably make Bad Decisions. trying to draw them into destruction. At the same time, I feel that the story gets a little more at this idea not that this app is actually reading a person’s mind, but rather that it’s just yer standard algorithm that like the ones that know to try and sell plane tickets to bipolar people when they’re going through a manic episode (and so teach themselves to be very good at spotting that very thing). The app seems to be anticipating not what people tell it but what they might actually want. If the purpose is to get people to where they want to go, then perhaps the app is simply too honest about that, not quite understanding the human way that people fight against themselves, are turned against themselves. But the map merely reads the directs written in their heats, in their minds. Which is creepy and dark and fascinating, and I like the way that some people it takes into ruin and some it takes to a place they never expected, never knew they wanted to be, and yet something of this place, this journey, resonates them. Maybe it’s the map that’s whispering to them, or maybe it’s the trip itself, hitting just the right visual and sensory clues to trigger memories and feelings, taking them on a winding course to a waiting future. It’s quite short, rather poetic, and definitely worth spending some time with. A fine read!


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