OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.
FUSION FRAGMENT MAGAZINE #17 – June 2023.
Publisher: Fusion Fragment, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Editor: Cavan Terrill
Cover Art: by Evelyne Park
The Aquarium – by Vivian Chou
A precocious child might know how to prevent civilization from going extinct, but how to convince her it’s worth the effort?
This is a very topical story, but I can’t explain why without giving away too much. It also involves a number of cliché tropes, but in new and surprising interpretations that add up to a coherent whole examining our current worries that is both original and refreshing, if not exactly encouraging.
What I particularly like about the story, despite much emphasis placed on the supressed emotions of the characters, is their recognition that logic and rational thinking is the key to survival for the species. It’s very much a Carl Sagan sort of story.
Alas, the cynic in me denies that coming up with a solution and acting on it in a timely manner sufficient to it actually working is possible, given the preponderance of influence of the reptile brain over the cerebral cortex. But I may be a tad parochial, thinking in purely human terms. To put it another way, moral issues may eventually transcend human nature. And cynicism may bring this about. You’ll have to read the story to understand what I’m hinting at.
The Last Good Day – by JL George
How would Lesbians handle the end of the world?
A very superficial summation I’ve given as the premise. The situation is in fact complex. Toxic dust has started falling, like an endless snowfall, and a mature couple, highly experienced in the endless nuances and complexities of a committed relationship, are subject to a maelstrom of ever-narrowing opportunities and possibilities. Increasingly, they are trapped in their home, and in the limitations of their emotions. It’s hard to live without hope.
How does any couple handle imminent doom? Every conceivable emotional and logical response is examined one after another. The reader empathises but is no more able to chose what works best than the characters themselves.
Is this a metaphor for life itself, implying that existence is toxic and we should get over it, take it for granted, and do the best we can? Or is it a metaphor for “extra” difficulties faced by gay couples and the burden this imposes on attempts to live a normal life within a gay context?
Perhaps both. Given that the reader (or this reader, at any rate) is inclined to shout at both characters either “Don’t do that!” or “Why don’t you try this?” it becomes obvious anyone with an ounce of brains cannot remain objectively aloof. Reassuring, in a way. Implies no matter how difficult the problem, maybe because it is so desperately difficult, we instinctively want to solve it. That could be cause for hope. Maybe we’re not so hopeless as a species after all.
Excision – by Cyrus Amelia Fisher
The only thing more difficult than harvesting methane from warming permafrost is stealing it.
On the one hand, this is an arctic adventure drama based on a corporate competition which doesn’t yet exist but sounds plausible enough to interest future capitalists of every sort.
On the other hand, it’s a vehicle for exploring internal corporate mindset as determined by manipulative technology which is not only plausible but probable.
I suspect the methane harvesting is not economically feasible, but what do I know? Maybe it will be someday, given incremental improvements in this or that aspect of materials technology.
What the story is really about is the threat posed by modern billionaires fantasising about using AI and nanotech to interface the human brain with machinery and computers. Supposedly this will open up human brains and personalities to superhuman possibilities. But what if it merely opens up human minds to outside influence and control beyond Joseph Goebbel’s most gushing wet dream? What if it signals the end of humanity as humanity?
In other words, this story is classic science fiction, extrapolating from current trends a potential future that is a good deal worse. Could well influence readers to start fantasising about going off the grid. Never too late to hide? Debateable. Point is this story will get your mind going, possibly to the point of being a frightening pun. I know people who believe advancing technology will solve all problems and allow humanity to live in a paradise. I agree, in the sense that it will make us think we live in a paradise, but we will be wrong.
The story implies soon it will be too late for hope to be anything other than a delusion. This puts it firmly into the “warning” category of extrapolative fiction. Maybe we should pay attention?
What She Did Not Say Was – by MC Benner Dixon
The worst thing about the modern civil war in America is how it disrupts daily routine.
The population of Pittsburgh is under orders to evacuate. Things are so far gone it is up to the citizens to arrange everything themselves. Ethan has chosen to bicycle to her mother’s house in a small town in Maryland. She knows her mother needs her, as does Olly, her hapless brother who still lives at home. Perhaps she can start a new life there.
Ethan finds it hard to say goodbye to her neighbours, to her home, to the birdbath the local birds depend on. Everything normal and pleasant is no longer safe. Her reality is under threat. Time to abandon that reality and substitute a new one.
Trouble is, though she has prepared to be a high-functioning refugee, not all her fellow refugees are as nostalgically altruistic as she tries to be. And something weird, impossible even, is beginning to hurt everyone’s chances of survival, almost as if reality itself is dissolving.
This is an important story. There are literally millions of desperate refugees worldwide, many of them starving or subject to genocide. Yet the media somehow fails to convey just how dire the situation has become. Coverage melds together into a white noise of same old, same old, apparently easily ignored, because “real” life, the North American environment, “normality” itself, is a powerful counterweight to images glimpsed on TV.
But what if the block you live on is in danger of being destroyed? The city you live in? Everything and everybody you know threatened by people who want to destroy you, regardless of how unfair you consider their attitude? What if all you can do is grab whatever will fit on your bicycle and peddle as fast as you can to escape certain death? What if the “safe” locations are incapable of helping you? What if money has become worthless? How do you survive?
Worse, what if you can no longer depend on your personal physical and mental resources? What if they are continually compromised by a steady drumroll of the unexpected? One disaster after another, without so much as a chance to catch your breath before being plunged into fresh peril? How do you cope?
Though fairly light on the physical dangers refugees face, this story vividly conveys the emotional and mental distress of a refugee’s world turned upside down and gone mad. Call it a learning experience which may awaken your ability to empathise more than ever before. A needful story, this. After all, we are, all of us, potential refugees of one kind or another, the way things appear to be trending.
Spirals – by EA Mylonas
A newly wed couple move to the city and struggle to make ends meet. Slowly, they start to get ahead. Then she begins to molt.
A retro-fantasy of sorts. Lubos works in a meatpacking plant whose environs remind me of Upton Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle” which blew the lid off that industry back in 1906. Interestingly, the primary pest infesting the city is not rats, but silverfish, whom Lubos hates with a passion.
Yet the meat he processes does not come from animals, but from meat grown in vats, so in fact the story takes place in the future, albeit a grubby, diseased future full of despair and struggle. But then, why not? It’s an alternate history, where people like his wife Eliza occasionally molt as part of the normal scheme of things. Trouble is, never can tell how people will transform. Might even change sex.
Difficult for me to figure out what this story is actually about. It appears to imply that clinging to accepted routine is stultifying and essentially a dead end. On the other hand, the threat of change is indeed a threat, in that fear of the unknown, or at least the unanticipated, can trigger loathing and paranoia which nullifies any hope of change for the better. Given the accelerated rate of change in modern times, and the often-startling consequences which offend those who hate and fear change, the problem addressed is as modern and topical a conundrum as can be.
Reduced to essentials, I suppose the question posed is how do you cope with the inevitable? There are many answers, and everybody picks one or another to act on. Unfortunately, often at the expense of people who’ve made a different choice. At least Lubos and Eliza are credible in their reactions and offer an object lesson of sorts. Thought-provoking, this tale. Worth reading.
NOTE: Only three more stories to review, but of late I find it difficult to be alert and interpretative for more than a few hours at a time, then a kind of brain fog sets in. Something to do with aging I suppose, now that I’m 72 years old. So, apologies to the authors of the three stories I missed. Even though I still have a few hours before the deadline, I am literally too tired to read, let alone think about what I read. I’ll try stream of consciousness without revision to get my conclusion written.
The five stories I have reviewed are very serious indeed. Flashes of quirky humour here and there, but mostly a thoughtful and meaningful examination of the human condition no matter how bizarre the setting. Fusion Fragment is evolving into a literary heavyweight methinks, a thinking reader’s delight as opposed to the “mindless entertainment” of old time SF pulp fiction that Lovecraft used to disdain. Very contemporary. Very intelligent. And very challenging. Cavin Terrill is doing a superb job as editor. Excellent selections. Fusion Fragment definitely worth reading every issue. Make it a habit.
Check it out at: < Fusion Fragment #17 >