Friday, September 25, 2020

Quick Sips - Diabolical Plots #67

Art by Joey Jordan
The two new stories in the latest issue of Diabolical Plots are quite well paired, and find people clinging to ghosts. In the first, that’s rather literal, with a character and their ghost dog, and the relationship that has so fulfilled them both coming to a close. In the second, it’s a bit more figurative, but the characters are still clinging to the ghosts of humanity and all the things that humanity destroyed--the way of life that has been lost, replaced with something much more efficient but not quite as comforting. Both stories are emotional and challenging, presenting readers with situations where there no stopping loss. But also showing characters moving forward regardless, picking themselves up and looking towards the future, even if they’re still also looking to the past. To the reviews!


“The Last Great Rumpus” by Brian Winfrey (2284 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is pretending to be the maintenance person (or glorified pooper-scooper) at a dog part. One without a dog of their own. At least, that’s what it appears. The truth is more complicated, and the narrator is actually at the park to spend time, perhaps the last time, with his dog, Hank. It’s just that Hank...well, Hank’s a ghost. Which doesn’t stop him from being something of a rascal (if anything, it makes that a bit worse because he can’t been seen by most people and doesn’t need to worry about fences or walls). The piece is both fun in the way it establishes and explores the bond between the narrator and Hank, and bittersweet, because it sets up how even dead dogs aren’t beyond beyond getting old, though it means something different for ghosts.
Keywords: Dogs, Ghosts, Trouble, Dog Parks, CW- Death of a Pet (Dog)
Review: I really like how the story draws the narrator and Hank, two beings sort of drawn together by their longing, by being outside most everything else. The narrator doesn’t exactly fit in, is used to being viewed sort of as a weirdo. But not fitting in might have imbued him with something that let him see Hank. Or, if you take a bit more fatalistic approach, there was something in both of them that sort of needed the other. Hank needing someone to help him live his best un-life for as much time as he had left, and the narrator needing a reason to get out, to Do Things, to actually live their own life rather than just sort of slugging through everything. The two are good for each other, and maybe their meeting was “meant to be.” Whether that’s the case or not, they did find each other and they have done so much, and like any good person-and-their-dog stories there is so much going on emotionally, made all the more loaded because Hank is, well, already dead. And where one might expect that means the story would have less chance for emotional devastation (you can’t kill a dead dog)...that’s not exactly true. Because while Hank can’t die again, he can lose his connection to the physical world. His spiritual energies out. What’s next after that isn’t exactly certain but what is is that the story manages beautifully to almost reassure the reader that it’ll be okay and then punches right in the feels. Which might sound a bit like a bait and switch but really it’s handled well and compassionately, showing that this bond isn’t just about fun and mayhem (though Hank does seem to like both). It’s not light, despite being a romp at times, and the weight comes from the knowledge that it has to end, that the narrator will have to figure it all out afterwards, ow to go forward without what has become their reason to try. But I feel the ending opens up the hope that they’ll do just that, to see that what they had was beautiful but not, ultimately, the end. An end, but hopefully one of many, as having pets often cycles. A wonderful read!

“That Good Old Country Living” by Vanessa Montalban (2169 words)

No Spoilers: Told from the point of view of a nameless narrator having something like a vacation, something like a medical/mental treatment, the story reveals a world post-humanity, where AIs designed and built in humanity’s image, but programmed to revive a devastated Earth. Except that now there’s a kind of digital disease that is spreading through the population. Not rooted in bacteria or other normal pathogens, but an issue rooted in the ways the AIs have been programmed to feel human. It’s a problem in the way they feel and the way they despair, and the treatment being implemented involves reconnecting to lost humanity through things like going out to visit a human farm. Or the best guess at what a human farm would be. To recreate the family vacation, and maybe recover something from facing the past.
Keywords: AIs, Memories, Farms, Post-Disaster, Extinction, Trains
Review: I really like the way this story organizes around the absence of humans, the wounds that humanity left, including on their “offspring,” these AI/robots/androids who have been seeing to the planet, bringing it back from obliteration. But still dealing with all the ways that humans fucked it up, left it almost uninhabitable, killed off the vast majority of animals and plants and made it so that these new beings had to put efficiency above all, de-pollution above all, creating a system where they are, yes, basically or factually robots because they need to be in order to survive. But there’s something lacking in all that and I like how the story handles that, showing that these people have started experiencing these profound sadnesses, these depressions, and its torn through them. In order to combat the sort of weight that comes from thinking about all that’s been lost, they are given minis, what are basically robot children, and they are sent out to the farm, to witness what it was like, to get to experience some of it. some ways it helps. And for me it also speaks to the ways that people often treat these kinds of vacations, these glimpses at things that they are essentially told they cannot have. They come to get away from the stress and “efficiency” of their daily, working lives, and get to see something presumably idyllic. An older way of doing things. One that seems to offer an escape from the toil they are used to, the listlessness that has crept around them because of the robotic nature of their existence. Except that, like with here, the older way is part illusion, possible only though a misinterpretation of the past. Erasing a lot of what the past not really better and in many ways worse than the present. But it’s an effective illusion, one that often acts as a kind of carrot, getting people through their slumps and able to get back to work, hoping to “earn” another vacation, which in turn keeps the system of toil in place. And it’s achingly told, showing how human these AIs really are, how caught in the issues humanity authored, how unable to envision a future that’s better, that improves upon the flawed human systems. And it’s an interesting read and one definitely worth spending some time with!


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