Short Stories Taking Long Views

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A Review of the FUTURES Chapbook Series from Radix Media.

Ed. note: Last year, worker-owned printer and publisher Radix Media , embarked on their Futures series, a collection of science fiction chapbooks that explore critical contemporary issues in an imagined future exploring climate change, dystopian politics, self-determination, and more. You may have seen our interview with co-owner Sarah Lopez. Below we’ve covered four of the seven works. The full set is available for purchase on their website, as well as each individual title as detailed below.

Hard Mother, Spider Mother, Soft Mother
By Hal Y. Zhang
32 Pages, $10.00
Review by Bailey Drumm

Ellery Lang’s mother, seemingly going through some sort of psychotic episode, has an unspoken itinerary that she must follow, but soon goes missing. Ellery explains, “I’ve never spent so long thinking about a person as I would a math problem,” but that’s exactly what happens in Hal Y. Zhang’s Hard Mother, Spider Mother, Soft Mother.

Ellery tries to find concrete conclusions to an unsolvable human puzzle, which Zhang shows using unnatural language to make the reader feel the discomfort Ellery experiences in her relationship with her mother, Valerie.

Valerie has always managed to stay off the grid, writing in notebooks, not personalizing their house, or overloading security systems in their home. She understands the benefits of being monitored, but also had an idealistic outlook on the world without screens. She explains it to Ellery through trying to take a picture of the sky, and seeing how dull the image was compared to the real-life counterpart. “What we see can never be captured. It’s better to not have anything than to have something wrong.” Though the reader still may not understand Valerie in the end, neither does Ellery, but she puts pen to paper and begins to try.

 

Milo (01001101 01101001 01101100 01101111)
by Alexander Pyles
28 Pages, $10.00
Review by Maria C. Goodson

If faced with death or life in a robot body, what would you choose? Milo explores what humanity looks like after your physical form no longer serves you. The issue is a relatable one: in moments of extreme pain or frustration with one’s shape, we have all wondered what it would be like to strip it all away and get a new, perfect body. As the story goes on, Alexander Pyles shows us the descent into robotic binary by increasing the use of 1s and 0s translated into English at times, to show the integration of technology into the genetics of Milo’s mind:

“I was running. 01000110 01100001 01110011 01110100[Fast] and hard down the street. No 01101001 01100100 01100101 01100001[idea]if I would make it, but I had to try.
Nothing mattered anymore.”

Milo recalls stories like the Black Mirror episode “Be Right Back”, or C.L. Moore’s story “No Woman Born” where, an opera singer’s brain controls a perfectly calibrated robotic body — it looks nothing like her, but her movements, her voice, even with its metallic twinge, are one hundred percent her. In Milo the perspective is much more intimate, we are inside his head, watching the world watch him, wondering what they see when he himself feels himself fading away.

This story makes you think about what this experience would be like in a very personal way, the first person point of view plunging you into the action. The first words of the story, “Am I whole? Am I a person?” reminded me of the uncanny moments I question, as we all do, existentially dissociating the physical body from the mind. How would it feel to look down at metal hands and question this even further?

 

Point of Honor
By Aeryn Rudel
28 Pages, $10.00
Review by Bailey Drumm

Doom is the first word that comes to mind when reading the opening paragraph of A Point of Honor by Aeryn Rudel. The reader watches Jacob open a declaration from the Bureau of Honorable Affairs, described as looking “like a fresh bloodstain on a white tile.” The reader only later comes to find the severity of its contents — a Challenger, Mr. G. Olsen wants to duel Jacob to the death.It’s a case of cyberbullying, but taken to an extreme in a world where justice is served through combat.

Rudel draws a picture of dystopian politics self-determination in a not-so-pleasant guise. The challenger chooses the severity of the duel and the challenged chooses the weapons, with two months for training. You either choose to potentially lose your life, or are added to the list of “duel dodgers,” rebels that are considered cowards in this dystopia. Though Jacob believes he doesn’t know this man, it is revealed that he knows him by his LiveWire user name, GabO, where they had played Path of Honor together.

The training room, which resembles something of a torture chamber with weapons of all shapes and sizes from modern firearms to archaic swords and axes, depicts the ruthlessness of the situation. The upside to it all? If both duelers agree to a televised battle, the winner gets 5% of the networks profits, and the losers’ family gets 10%. In such a compressed length the reader’s curiosity is peaked, but with minimal explanation of how the world grew into this type of justice system, driving home its stark ethos: no mercy, only justice.

What You Call
By germ lynn
28 Pages, $10.00
Review by Maria C. Goodson

What happens when your world is torn apart by an idea seemingly borne out of practicality? If the reason you were alive was taken from you, what would you do? How far would you go to live out your life’s purpose?

What You Call plunges you deeper and deeper into a world where robots are created solely to care for another human being. The narrator, a support-unit searching for their person, finds themselves on the run, and continues to communicate with their person, someone named Moss, in their mind, telling them that they will always search for them, always take care of them, contemplating the idea of love. We are left with is a story of electrical grief that carries a devastating desperation that begs the question: can robots really feel? What You Call does not show us that they do, germ lynn makes us feel right along with them.

This story slowly breaks your heart while making you wonder if it should be breaking in the first place. What could have easily been a generic fugitive story is anything but. What You Call is absolutely beautiful and mournfully sad in all the right ways. lynn’s lyrical prose is a turn from the typical depiction of how robots think, lovely lines like “I searched for the moon because it comforts you, but it was new, so it was dark and lost, just like us.” What You Call is a love story that teases out who loves whom, little by little, until the truth of the situation is more devastating than if it were a simple story of romantic love.

 


Also on sale at the Radix website are the three remaining works of the Futures collection: Muri by Ashley Selby, Guava Summer by Vera Kurian, and Always Blue by John Dermot Woods.



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Atticus Review is a weekly online journal that publishes stories, poems, flash prose, creative nonfiction, mixed media, book reviews, and other genre-busting words of wisdom and interactive literary whimsy.

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