Posts Tagged ‘dystopian’

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Escape Pod 701: Martian Chronicles (Part 2 of 2)

Martian Chronicles

by Cory Doctorow

I didn’t go back to the Junior Colonists’ Lounge for a whole week. Instead, I spent the time with my dad, who seemed pleasantly surprised that his son wanted to hang out with him. It made me feel bad, like I’d been neglecting him. But it also made me ask myself why my father didn’t think it was weird that I wasn’t spending any time with kids my age. Dad had always been busy on Earth, traveling half the time for work, spending his time at home with his computer over his face, barking angrily at it while his hands worked the keyboard like a mad player attacking a church-organ.

I didn’t mind, to be honest. Actually, I preferred it to those times when Dad decided to get all “dad-like” and insist on throwing a ball with me or take me to some kind of sports-match or play some game on the big living-room screen with me. It wasn’t that it wasn’t fun, but there was always a moment when we stopped talking about the game or the project and found ourselves sitting in awkward silence, trying to pretend that the reason we had nothing to say was that we were concentrating too hard on the matter at hand.

On Earth, Dad had been a hotshot statistical risk-analyst. This is not an easy thing to explain. But basically, what he did was tried to figure out how to balance investments to minimize risk. Say there’s an industry that benefits when someone finds a better way of growing wheat — the bread industry, say. And then there’s another industry that suffers when someone finds a better way of growing wheat, like, maybe, I don’t know, the corn industry? I forget how he explained this, to be honest, but this is generally the idea. So what he does is figures out how to invest some money in both industries, so that if someone finds a better wheat-growing technique, the investment in bread pays out, and if no one invents it, the investment in corn pays out. That’s the rough idea. What he did was like ten million times more complicated, though.

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Escape Pod 700: Martian Chronicles (Part 1 of 2)

Martian Chronicles

by Cory Doctorow

They say you can’t smell anything through a launch-hood, but I still smelled the pove in the next seat as the space-attendants strapped us into our acceleration couches and shone lights in our eyes and triple-checked the medical readouts on our wristlets to make sure our hearts wouldn’t explode when the rocket boosted us into orbit for transfer to the Eagle and the long, long trip to Mars.

He was skinny, but not normal-skinny, the kind of skinny you get from playing a lot of sports and taking the metabolism pills your parents got for you so you wouldn’t get teased at school. He was kind of pot-bellied with scrawny arms and sunken cheeks and he was brown-brown, like the brown Mom used to slather on after a day at the beach covered in factor-500 sunblock. Only he was the kind of all-over-even brown that you only got by being born brown.

He gave me a holy-crap-I’m-going-to-MARS smile and a brave thumbs-up and I couldn’t bring myself to snub him because he looked so damned happy about it. So I gave him the same thumbs up, rotating my wrist in the strap that held it onto the arm-rest so that I didn’t accidentally break my nose with my own hand when we “clawed our way out of the gravity well” (this was a phrase from the briefing seminars that they liked to repeat a lot. It had a lot of macho going for it).

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Escape Pod 623: Surveillance Fatigue

Surveillance Fatigue

by Jennifer R. Donohue

Is this woman a terrorist? It’s my job to decide.

My typical first step is social media, before I delve into the emails, the school records. Fortified with overbrewed office coffee, I take an afternoon and read through all three years of her 140-character thoughts, brief conversations with other users, occasional pictures. We’re encouraged to have our own process, and my entire workload, the entire organization’s workload, takes place on glowing screens large and small. We are constantly reading, listening, watching, bionic earbuds ensconced, AR glasses feeding us a constant stream of information. At the end of the day, we stumble out into natural light like people waking from a dream. The building which houses the organization is officially something too boring to look at twice, data storage or legal processing, office upon shell office of generic secretaries designed to deflect public inquiry.

She seems to like mystery books and horror movies. Here, I diverge to the school records. Drama club in high school. She majored in Communications and got good letters of recommendation from her professors. Moved to a city where she knew no one and got hired on at the temp agency. Maybe it’s her new friends which have put her on this list, writers and artists who still photocopy zines in fluorescent-lit shops, trimming them crookedly and stapling them together to hand out at open mic events.

Her government ID photo is serious, dark skin a stark contrast to the mandated white shirt, hair braided back, smile strained and not reaching her eyes. Her government ID does not reflect who she is; few do. She posts a lot of selfies, though. Far more than I do. There is an official metric of normalcy based on how many selfies one takes and posts and I, like my coworkers, try to do slightly more than minimum so as not to stand out. Of course, we’re graded differently, because we’re in the know. We are not to take this to mean we are immune to scrutiny. The opposite is true.

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Escape Pod 598: On the Fringes of the Fractal

On the Fringes of the Fractal

By Greg van Eekhout

I was working the squirt station on the breakfast shift at Peevs Burgers when I learned that my best friend’s life was over.

The squirt guns were connected by hoses to tanks, each tank containing a different slew formula. Orders appeared in lime-green letters on my screen, and I squirted accordingly. Two Sausage Peev Sandwiches was two squirts from the sausage slew gun. An order of Waffle Peev Sticks was three small dabs of waffle slew. The slew warmed and hardened on the congealer table, and because I’d paid attention during the twenty-minute training course and applied myself, I knew just when the slew was ready. I was a slew expert.

Sherman was the other squirter on duty that morning. The orders were coming in fast and he was already wheezing on account of his exercise-induced asthma. His raspy breaths interfered with my ability to concentrate. You really have to concentrate because after four hours of standing and squirting there’s the danger of letting your mind wander and once you do that you can lose control of the squirts and end up spraying food slew all over the kitchen like a fire hose.

“Wasted slew reflects badly on you,” said one of the inspirational posters in the employee restroom. (Continue Reading…)


Escape Pod 595: Islands in the Dark

Islands in the Dark

By Sarah Goldman

Road out from Kaysee was boring as ever. The kids we’d picked up this time weren’t anything to sneeze at: soft-spoken boy with eyes too teched up to blink, real young bratty kid who kept trying to backseat drive me from the hatch of a goddamn pickup, and a girl I hadn’t quite gotten a read on yet. Made me nervous. New things tended to do that. Hal would know their names and their stories, hers included, but that wasn’t my job; socializing was his thing and driving was mine. Talking hasn’t ever been my strong suit. Neither has caring. But I was curious.

I let Hal take the wheel and swung myself back into the hatch. Quiet boy with the bright eyes spoke to me first. Asked me my name and rubbed at the place behind his ear where we’d cut the interface out. Thanks to the spray-on shit Hal kept around, it was scarring up already. We’d grabbed a few cans while we were in the city—we could grow a lot out here, but medical supplies could be hard to come by.

I said, “Call me Lanz.”

“You’re going the wrong way,” the bratty kid told me.

“And how would you know?” I asked. “You ever been out here before?”

“Once, on a bet,” she said. She tucked her hair back and wrinkled her nose. “I made it two hours before my ears hurt too much.”

“We’re going the right way,” said the inscrutable girl. Not soft but not loud either: steady like a lighttrain locked to its tracks. She didn’t say it like she trusted me. It was like she just knew better than the rest of us.

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Book Review: “Libertaria: Genesis” by Sabrina Peña Young

It takes a lot of work to create an opera or musical: you need a cohesive plot that can be sung, you need actors, you need costumes, and you need musicians. Award-winning composer went a different way, sourcing the entire world and putting out her opera, Libertaria, virtually. (She talks about the process a bit more in a TedX Buffalo talk.)

But Young has also taken her opera one step further, converting the show into a novel, Libertaria: Genesis, and that’s what I’m going to talk about now.

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Book Review: “Ship Breaker” by Paolo Bacigalupi

Which side will you be on when the world ends? Will you be one of the haves, an employee (or, better still, owner) of one of the ten big companies that controls everything? Will you live in relative luxury, with good food and affordable health care, safe from the weather and the rising ocean?

Or will you be like Nailer, the main character of Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker, who crawls through the passageways of long-dead ships, pulling old copper wire to fill his team’s quota so they get to eat for another day?

Ever since the success of Bacigalupi’s Windup Girl, I’ve been meaning to read both it and Ship Breaker. It turns out I finished the latter almost a year to the day since it was released. I’m not sure how it justifies the young adult tag it’s given — it’s brutal, bloody, violent, and depressing, and while I do think it’s a good book, it makes me wonder about what exactly comprises YA fiction these days.

In Ship Breaker, Nailer Lopez leads a very difficult life. About twelve years of age, his job is to collect wire from old oil tankers and other beached vessels in the southeastern United States. He’s on a team of similarly-aged individuals, under the command of the pragmatically-ruthless Bapi. The team collects wire for one of the few big companies that controls commerce worldwide. What’s worse, this is one of the best options for Nailer, who knows that once he’s too big to crawl through the old ships, he’ll have to work heavy crew (for which he’s too small) or do something even worse.

In addition to all of that, Nailer also has to deal with his father, the vicious drug-abusing pit fighter Richard Lopez. Perhaps that’s where the YA part comes from — despite everything Richard has done to Nailer, Nailer still apparently loves him. Or, at the very least, respects him for being his father, as well as for being able to beat the hell out of him.

After a large storm, a clipper ship — Nailer’s dream is to work on one of these large, clean vessels, sailing the oceans — is beached and Nailer and Pima (a member of his crew) go out to scavenge it before everyone else gets there and takes the good stuff. They find a survivor — and in true YA fashion, she is the daughter of someone important — and Nailer must choose whether to kill her now or save her in hopes of a bigger payday.

While the book hits all the YA tropes — rich daughter, rough main character, bad parent, hero’s journey, double-cross, big showdown at the end — where it really excels is in worldbuilding and characterization. Even the minor characters are well-rounded, from the dispassionate murderess Blue Eyes to the dog-men who work for Captain Candless. When someone is injured, the reader really feels his or her pain; when one is successful, such as when Nailer escapes death by drowning in oil, the reader joins in the jubilation.

And the world itself, a semi-near future where the oceans have risen and hurricanes can be Category Six, is compelling. Not a lot of it is shown because, to Nailer, it doesn’t really matter. There’s his beach, and there’s the Orleans, and there are some mentions of Houston and a melted Pole. That’s about it. But still we know that now-destroyed coastal cities are called “Orleans” — the newest of which is somewhere in Mississippi — and we know that corporations have pretty much free reign to do what they want. We know that the Chinese yuan (I don’t think it’s mentioned by name, so I’ll call it that) is the premier method of currency, and we know that genetic engineering has taken place to create dog-men who are devoutly loyal to their patrons.

In reading Ship Breaker, it’s plain to see why so many people are high on Bacigalupi’s writing. However, I didn’t adore this book in the way that I did the Terry Pratchett YA novels, or Harry Potter. It felt a little to me like the YA tropes were shoehorned into a story the author wanted to tell. Had the story been aimed at a more adult audience, or been of a wider scope, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more, but as a YA novel it just didn’t have the kind of oomph I was expecting given the accolades it’s received. There was too much “easy” stuff for me (as a writer and avid reader) to recognize, such as clear signposts which say “THIS IS IMPORTANT AND IT WILL COME BACK IN THE CLIMAX OF THE NOVEL, SO PAY ATTENTION”. That doesn’t take away from how good I think the book is — which is to say, “yes, it was a good book”. I definitely would read more adventures with these characters, and Windup Girl remains on my list.

If you like dystopian futures where corporations smash the downtrodden, who in turn smash each other, then this is a good book for you. If you enjoy contemporary-style YA dystopian fiction, you’ll like it. There’s no steampunk, no supernatural, almost no high technology, but what there is is so vivid that you’ll be drawn in even if you don’t care for the subgenre. It’s worth a read.

Note to Parents: This novel contains graphic violence and adult situations, though no sexual ones. I would recommend it for older teens, and younger ones who are mature enough to play MA-rated video games such as Call of Duty. Of course, you should use your own discretion when it comes to your children.

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