Crossed Genres #33, September 2015
“Ants on a Trestle” by Elliotte Rusty Harold
Reviewed by Herbert M. Shaw
This month’s theme for Crossed Genres is “2065 (the year).” Authors were asked to tailor their submissions surrounding the concept of a fifty-year jump into the future. Moreover, they were asked to use their creativity to express what the year means to them. In retrospect, the goal would be to have the readers come away from the stories questioning our own thoughts and theories of the future.
What does the theme mean to you?
Surprisingly, each story is rather unique in what is depicted. The first story details the conflict between industrial evolution and biological evolution. The second story does not even mention the year precisely, but takes on the political implications of advancements in bio-engineering. The third and most disturbing story shows how the imagination can create wondrous fantasies of a possible future mixed with the make-believe time experienced in childhood.
“Ants on a Trestle” by Elliotte Rusty Harold
In the later part of the 2060 decade, public transportation has taken the form of trilon cars traveling in the thermosphere. Far above Earth, the modernized subway systems permit expedited travel around the world at speeds on par with fighter jets. These trilons run on superterranean tracks called trestles, taken from the name of a horizontal structure like a table or bridge held up either by two pairs of sloping legs or an open cross-braced framework.
Daphne, a biology professor known for her extensive knowledge in the science of entomology, is called in for her expert opinion on how to deal with an infestation. Somehow, ants have made their way to the trestles 100 kilometers up. The colony’s exposure to the atmosphere and elevated radiation levels from the sun have mutated their genetic makeup, enabling them to survive and propagate their species exponentially. And what’s worse? They are eating away at the superconductors that power the trestles to transport trilons. Can Daphne help the companies invested in these trestles fix their infestation without creating a devastating cost to their bottom line?
Perhaps the most humorous aspect of this story is how the author manages to incorporate his two homes into the story. As a Brooklyn resident, it seems only natural he would write a story about the future of public transportation. Trains are much less noisy when they are far above the clouds. In addition, the ants just happen to be a species that, according to the story, expanded since being introduced to North America in the late 19th century at the height of New Orleans’ growth as a central ground for commercial trade. Interesting as Harold originally hails from the Louisiana landmark city.
What he provides in this story is a particular take on entomological genetic mutations. The ultimate resolution is relatively common among the “mutated species” subgenre in SFF, but Harold holds his own to many scientific truths while acknowledging the realities of business and the toll natural coincidences can have on it.
“The Springwood Shelter for Genetically Modified Animals” by Verity Lane
A suggestive look at how advanced breeding when mixed with human action and error can create questionable practices similar to recent real-world investigations of certain non-profit organizations.
When teenage orphan Mel is dropped off at the title shelter for bio-engineered animals, her exposure to the real world comes full circle. Much like indebted servitude, Mel is required to help out at the Shelter as part of a program to “give back… in exchange” for the benefits provided by the corporation that funds the orphanage from where she will “graduate” after reaching the age of majority, having surpassed adoption for many years.
Her interests are piqued by the Springwood Shelter, an adoption center and makeshift zoo containing many different kinds of animals that no human in 2015 would conceive of actually existing, short obviously of the author. These creations include a polar bear cub that will never mature, a tiger whose mannerisms reflect those of a common housecat, and the rhinoceros equivalent of a little person. The major conflict arises when Mel stumbles upon the Shelter’s best kept secret, which lies behind a glass door and a yellow curtain.
Mel’s semi-narrative perspective includes a divergence from the societal norm when she meets Anita, a citizen working at the Shelter who personally disagrees with the modern cultural separation between orphans and citizens. More of the political aspects of the future of society are told through the eyes of a still naive teenager who lacks the capacity to explore the reasoning behind how orphans and living genetic experiments are viewed by general society.
Lane is the author interviewed for this edition of Crossed Genres, and openly admits that the theme “2065 (the year)” was not an initial prompt for the story as she wrote it, but became a driving factor upon its announcement. Her vision of the future through the eyes of a child maintains a realistic, though not entirely judgmental, view of what some might call a bleak future for humanity where classism is as strong as ever. However, hope is alive and well in the foil character of Anita, who keeps the spirit of progression alive and well. Mel’s day at the Shelter proves her resilience as a person and her cunning as a human, but her interactions with Anita secure the notion of the story that tradition and change go hand in hand.
“Chasing Comets” by Brian Trent
In the last story from this month’s issue, Brian Trent explores the mind of a happy father whose boy is a chip of the old block in “Chasing Comets.”
A present narrative from the father’s perspective details an afternoon playing video games with his seven-year-old son in 2031. Their conversations are all about space and astronomical physics. A sudden fall of snow elicits an impromptu trip to the mall, with daddy as Luke Skywalker and little Sammy as R2-D2. The title event is the pretend time between father and son, envisioning cars with the snow drifting off their roofs as they fly through the space of the storm like the Millennium Falcon at light speed.
The concept year is shown in a daydream of the ever proud parent, fantasizing about a time when his boy will be a Command Officer in the space program. His protective instincts refuse to let his son go on a mission into deep space. At a time when man can travel at a quarter of light speed and has established residence and commerce in the Republic of Luna on Earth’s moon, it seems the only thing that doesn’t change during evolution is a parent’s concern for their child.
The fantasy element is emblematic of the Christopher Nolan film Interstellar, prophesying man’s advancements through they eyes of two boys dreaming of space travel. Trent intersperses three distinct scenarios whose chilling reality is realized upon the penultimate event that leads the reader to wonder if the future truly is fixed or merely another wildly imaginative world made up in the narrator’s head.