Monday, November 30, 2015

Quick Sips - Terraform November 2015

I'm actually rather surprised at Terraform this month, because for once it actually mostly stuck to its guidelines and all the stories are at least under 3K. The stories are quite different this month, ranging from a humorous string of inter-office emails detailing a crisis with a microwave to a very serious examination of art over time and the rise of AI and immortality. Most of the stories are fun, though, even as they examine future that it's probably best to avoid. And mixing the commentary with humor makes them a little easier to swallow. All in all, it's a fine collection of very short stories, which I will get to reviewing now!


"Hypercane" by Eric Holthaus (2068 words)

This story is only a bit longer than the others, but it uses the extra length to tell more of a traditional narrative, one where a woman, Mariana, is out to show that EnviroCorp, the entity responsible for reducing emissions, isn’t really doing its civic duty. The story takes aim at the role that corruption and capitalism play in environmentalism. Which is to say, basically, that corruption and capitalism make it largely impossible for real reform to work, because it becomes more about the money than doing good, and as EnviroCorp fictionally shows, corporations are really only concerned with the bottom line, and any good they end up doing is, if not exactly accidental, definitely secondary to gaining wealth and power. It’s a neat little story, one that shows how greed and profits drive climate change, an unwillingness to put interests of the people ahead of corporate interests. Mariana becomes one trying to get to the truth, trying to show the blind greed, that things could be done, could be done now, if misinformation didn’t rule. Because information is the greatest tool of change, the greatest champion for trying to do something now. A solid story!

"Noah Takes a Photo of Himself Every Day for 10,000 Years" by Ryan Vance (1223 words)

This story is interesting in that it takes something that actually exists and uses it to make a statement on change and humanity. And also to tell rather interesting post-apocalyptic story in a very short space. It’s a rather difficult thing to do, and here the framing captures the method for revealing plot, in a series of still images, in showing a man taking a picture of himself every day for, well, basically ever. The story follows Noah as he grows and as he experiences the growing advances in technology that bring about the end of the world as we know it, though perhaps that’s a little drastic. In the story, Noah’s video of images is the method for revealing the setting but also the subject of analysis and explanation by what originally seems to be an omniscient narrator and instead turns out to be [SPOILERS] part of a basically-omniscient computer called the Unit, which basically controls humanity. That it owns the video by which it is examined and revealed is interesting and a very nice use of the framing. It’s a rather bleak story, but also one that has a great feel, a sort of slow building sadness painted over a core of resilience, Noah still trying to capture something that has already been co-opted. A story well worth spending some time with.

"Re: re: Microwave in the break room doing weird things to fabric of spacetime" by Charles Yu (1187 words)

This is a rather cute and fun story-through-emails of a man, Jasper, dealing with an increasingly unstable tear in spacetime thanks to a bean burrito, a cup noodle, and a microwave. It’s a great bit of office banality tucked into a story of universes in danger of collapsing. The feel is fun and irreverent, sending up the inter-office email and twisting it a bit as Jasper kind of slowly descends into frantic near-madness. What the story does well is capture that franticness not by showing it but in the way that Jasper maintains his cool, his demeanor of bureaucracy. He never breaks, but it’s obvious by the end that he’s close to, that he’s seen and experienced things and he’s very, very ready for a return to normalcy, that he’s clutching to his office protocols and speak in order to try and distance himself from the true implications of what has happened. It’s a nice look at his struggles through the frame of a series of one-sided emails. It doesn’t exactly do a whole lot new with the idea, but it does do a lot well with it, creating a fun little problem and solving it (or kind of) in solid fashion. A story short and sweet and worth checking out for a nice laugh.

"Dialed Up" by Tim Maughan (2678 words)

You know, sometimes I feel weird not having ever really taken drugs. Then I remember I drink more than is good for me and that, really, drugs are only drugs when they're illegal. When illicit, drugs are, well, drugs. Things you should "Just say no" to (thank you D.A.R.E.). When legal, however, people take them with what can seem like reckless abandon. Have ADD, ADHD, depression, anxiety, sleeping problems, digestion issues, poor circulation? There are drugs for all of those, and some of them fairly seriously mind-effecting. This story explores a future where drug use is rampant but (at least it seems) completely legal, that people can dial up their own mix-and-match of drugs to put them in the zone for any number of situations. The woman in the story is in business, a cutthroat profession, and she medicates herself expertly, uses the chemical advantages for inspiration, for calmness, for basically everything. She is good at what she does, and the story slowly builds the greater ramifications of such a situation, where people are never quite unimpaired, never quite sure of their surroundings. And while it works for something things, for other things it definitely does not. For the woman of the story, it allows her to turn her back on some serious things, to be compassionate one moment but cold and calculating and selfish the next. It's a nicely worked story, with a vein of humor under the rather serious message, that when people start opting out of their own minds their actions invariable slip away from any metric of morality. Because how can you be moral without being completely in control? A fine story and a nice way to close out my November fiction.

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