Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Quick Sips - Terraform September 2019

It's still been a little slow at Vice's Terraform, but September saw two releases exploring different rather bleak visions of the future. Both pieces are rather philosophical, exploring questions of race and "equality," science and revolution. It features characters struggling against pressures to conform, trying to find ways to resist in a way that will be meaningful not just personally but on a societal level. The pieces explore when it might be better to fight back openly, and when to work subversively. When to concentrate on science, and when to join in the physical and political movements. And without further delay, I'll get to the reviews!


“e-race” by Russell Nichols (2335 words)

No Spoilers: Ellison is a hold out for a mandatory surgery that will render him, and everyone else in America, presumably, unable to see race. It’s a procedure and initiative that is supposed to end racism, but the 125-year-old wants nothing to do with it. Trouble is, mandatory means mandatory, and he’s taken forcibly into have the procedure done. Not that he’s going quietly... The piece looks at the idea of an “easy fix” to racism, and how dangerous and foolish it is to believe that any “fix” for something as huge and defining of American history could be easy. It looks at the appeal of such an effort, though, and why it must be rejected, even if the idea sounds just, because the impulse and drive behind it almost certainly isn’t.
Keywords: Visual Augmentation, Racism, Legislation, Mandatory Surgery, History
Review: I love that this story takes on the idea of the legislative “easy fix” for racism that avoids at all costs actually coming to terms with the history of racism in America. Which is to say, I like that the story shows that most efforts to “end racism” are actually attempts to obfuscate racism. To try and rebrand it so that it’s not this bad thing that everyone was taught was wrong. Because tolerance is easy as long as it doesn’t cost anything, as long as it doesn’t require some sort of action. Look how quickly white people are to rail against “call out culture” or “cancel culture” because how dare people of color call out white people for being racist. Something must be done when there is any avenue, even one as toothless as calling someone out online (just look at our fucking president). But it’s still seen as some sort of reversal of power, to the point that action must(!) be(1) taken(!!!) and in this case that thing is to take away not the ability of people to be racist, but the ability of the oppressed to name the oppression they face. It will require how much longer to move the goal posts, to learn the new ways that they can talk about the ways they are marginalized and hurt. And the story does a great job of framing that and wrapping in a rather charming way, clever in its dialogue and style and fun even as it’s driving at something very dense and complex. It’s funny even as it’s a bit devastating, and it leaves room for hope, that even as methods for silencing the oppressed evolve, the oppressed themselves evolve faster, in their language, support, and survival. A wonderful read!

“Blue Dusk” by Keith Wagstaff (1225 words)

No Spoilers: This story is framed as a letter from Marina, a woman leaving Mars for parts unknown, to Anna, a woman living on Earth. They are connected through a woman the letter (and so the story) centers, a friend of Marina’s who is also Anna’s sister, Beatriz. The piece reveals a Mars that is beset with issues, with corruption and a roiling desire for change. It’s something that Beatriz is at the heart of, and something that Marina seems to want to get away from. And the piece looks at the decision to stay and try to fight for social change in times of trouble and with the prospect of calamity looming, or else to leave and try to push the bounds of science in the hopes of raising all ships. And through that it’s just a rather intimate and quiet piece that carries a heavy weight.
Keywords: Letters, Mars, Space, Opposition, Decisions
Review: This is a rather strange read for me, a letter about a conversation and not exactly heavy on context, but at the same time that seems part of the point, that the letter is a warning that can’t make itself too obvious, lest it be intercepted and understood before certain events come to pass. The characters, too, are a bit shadowed, but what they represent seems a bit more clear to me. The narrator, the letter writer, is a scientist of some sort, aimed away from a Mars that has become a corrupt and politically stifling place. She’s looking for another place to be, a new frontier, where she can concern herself not with the politics of humanity but the science. Trying to solve problems that she feels have solutions rather than wading into issues that seem intractable. Only her friend has a strong point, namely that the science can’t save a corrupt setting. That the corruption is always going to be something that ruins the science, that twists it to its own means. That without changing things at the political level, there’s little point in doing the research and the testing and the investigating. That sometimes there just needs to be a revolution, and even if it fails, even if past revolutions haven’t solved the problems, that’s not to say that they shouldn’t still try. That they still shouldn’t hope that humans will be able to justly organize and govern themselves. It’s an interesting and really loaded conversation, and I like what the story does with it, the strange but rather ominous tone it strikes and how it ties everything together in a rather short space. A wonderful read!


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