Strange Horizons, March 30, 2020

Strange Horizons, March 30, 2020

Dirty Wi-Fi” by Porpentine Charity Heartscape

Cairns” by Jason P Burnham

Three Days with the Kid” by Tara Calaby

Reviewed by Christos Antonaros

This issue includes three short stories themed after “climate crisis” issues such as pollution, post-apocalyptic droughts, and colon-cancer-causing corrupted nutrition. However, each story, to its core, emphasizes human relationships. Each main character comes to evaluate their relationship, either with a stranger seated behind a computer screen, with family members under death threatening circumstances, or the temporary relationship with a stranger who shares the same need to survive. It is our relationship with others that reflects how much we appreciate life, which is directly connected to how we respect the environment and the quality of life it produces.

In “Dirty Wi-Fi” by Porpentine Charity Heartscape, the protagonist speaks to his web lover. His erotic experience through a web camera feels better than any real-life connection. Masturbation has replaced almost any other emotion. It keeps him away from the outside world and its problems. The author attempts to illustrate the catastrophic consequences of isolation that come with the excessive use of the internet. We see many images of a dirty, mortifying, Wi-Fi that corrupts whatever it touches.

However, if there was an attempt to connect isolation with the climate crisis, it got lost somewhere between explicit scenes of web-sex. Nonetheless, the message of the story remains essential, especially during an era where isolation has become mandatory.

In “Cairns” by Jason P Burnham, the protagonist and her wife are doing the best they can to raise their children in a world where food is contaminated by plastic. The grim statistics favor the children getting colon cancer at a very young age. Healthy food is so expensive that they can have it only once per week. If a child gets sick, a colonoscopy can bankrupt a family.

A family of four tries to keep their bonds strong in fear of losing each other with two parents who will sacrifice anything to keep their children safe and healthy. If something made me think in this story, it was the fact that it should not be in a futuristic speculative universe. Stories like this one exist today in several parts of the world.

In “Three Days with the Kid” by Tara Calaby, in a post-apocalyptic Earth tortured by draught, the protagonist finds a girl who shares the same mission as he does: finding a way to survive the day. The protagonist decides to protect the girl, forgetting that she has already made it by herself. The same dangers that he has faced, she has as well. The message here is clear: in times of need, gender roles are eradicated, because they are not part of our humanity.

What is part of who we are, though, is the will to strive and survive. Survival is an instinct residing inside every human being regardless of gender and age. Trusting the youth to assist in a moment of need might prove lifesaving. At least for the day.