“What Lasts” by Joanne Rixon (851 words)
No Spoilers: This story unfolds over five vignettes, each taking a look at how people react to the knowledge that the world is ending. Many of them focus on artists, and how people try to craft things that will last, that will remain after humanity is gone. It’s heartwarming even as it’s a bit shattering, because while there is a tragedy to it I feel it also does a good job of capturing some of what it is to be a human. Not humanity, with the scope that makes it seem like it’s one creature, but a human with the power only to look back at the end of things, then ahead once more. It’s poignant and rather beautiful for all that it’s also very short, and it definitely feels topical in a time when the end of the world is very much a real shadow looming.
Keywords: Apocalypse, Art, Time, Books, Math, Non-binary MC
Review: I love the different ways that people approach the idea of mortality, how they seek to be remembered, to capture something human so that maybe there will be some record, some trace left behind for someone else to find. For some future explorer to uncover. Which I think very much is this human impulse to wanting to live on. A way to sublimate our reproductive drives into something different. And the scenes show different ways of people trying to do that. By etching math into metal that can withstand time. By creating objects that will last, that will speak to an order that cannot be mere chance and chaos. By preserving some of the literature of Earth so that some of that creativity and life won’t be lost. So that something of the language will survive. By creating huge forms in landscape, of a scale that will be seen by anyone passing over. And then there’s the last scene, which I find I read a couple of different ways. Because there’s one reading I have of it where it’s saying that there’s something to be said about not pushing back against the tide of destruction. That nothing lasts forever and so any attempt to Do Something in the hopes of reaching immortality is ultimately futile. That maybe what would be best would be focusing on the present, and enjoying what’s left of it as much as possible. I think it’s telling that there are children here, speaking to a certain amount of hope that maybe the end won’t come. That maybe somehow humanity will survive. And maybe it’s that hope that lasts, at least until it doesn’t. And it’s that hope, that all of these people share, none more legitimately than the others, that sort of binds them all together as humans staring down the barrel of extinction, hoping despite it all, living despite it all. And it’s a wonderful and lovely read!
“Dormitorium” by Geoff Manaugh (6559 words)
No Spoilers: A man agrees to participate in a sleep study in a new state-of-the-art facility where he dreams can be influenced and monitored. He assumes that the point of the study is introspective, that he’s supposed to have some great epiphany from it, but the people involved might just have much different motivations. The piece is strange and rather creepy, drawing on the uncertainty of dreams and the way that the man keeps trying to bend what he’s experiencing to be about himself and his past, assuming that’s what people want of him instead of letting the dreams guide him to what they’re trying to reveal.
Keywords: Sleep, Dreams, Architecture, Kidnapping, Psychics
Review: I do like the way that in some ways the story is about the difficulty of conducting studies on dreams, because of the ways that interpretation can be led by researchers and how the conscious brain gives meaning to the unconscious imagery that surfaces during sleep and dreaming. In some ways the story is about this kind of desire the man has to get the “right” answer when it comes to his dreams, which means effectively interfering with the research that the people paying him want to do. And it’s rather great watching them try to use a light hand to guide him toward what they want him to be focusing on and having him just pulling as hard as he can toward this one self-centered thing while using the excuse that it must be what they want. He’s...well, he’s the kind of man who has that kind of natural self importance, who doesn’t see that they might be doing something much different than he thinks. Because they know a lot about the architecture of his dreams, and the lost boy he keeps dreaming about might not be himself, but...well, an actual lost boy who needs his help. Despite the numerous clues that there is definitely something going on and the desperation from the researchers to find this boy seems to go far beyond the man’s psychological breakthroughs. And I like that he doesn’t really get let off the hook for that. That he has to live with the fact that his insistence on leading when he was supposed to be following meant added time an actual person was suffering. And though there’s a happy ending of sorts to the tale, it’s one that doesn’t bring him comfort, and for me at least I like that, because it acknowledges that his own entitlement might have cost someone their life. And it’s a bit of a thrilling and creepy piece, melding dreams and reality in a nicely innovative way. A great read!