Terraform, December 29, 2014

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Special Double Review

C. D. Lewis & Joshua Berlow

for December 29, 2014


Terraform, December 29, 2014



Reviewed by C. D. Lewis

At a little over 2400 words, Paul Di Filippo’s “Faster Now” is among the longest pieces published at Terraform (its nominal limit is 2000 words). Di Filippo uses the extra words well: the world feels richer, filled with casual references to not-from-the-present cues that help transport readers to the dismal, price-inflated, dog-eat-dog future he sketches. Casual reference to a ballpark nutria dog or the narrator’s childhood vat-grown oryx-hide glove show how everyday things feel that don’t yet exist. And the narrator’s mention of his girlfriend’s position as USC’s instructor for “Tantric Yoga for Cyborg Halflings” puts some color on his reaction to having her “stolen” – as the narrator puts it in the story’s first line. Positing on the first line that a “nowt” just “stole” the narrator’s girlfriend builds excellent anticipation: what’s a nowt – and how’d he do it? Di Filippo’s first section’s a thing of beauty.

Faster Now” is more than a vignette with some near-future slathered on the scenery: without the science fiction elements, the story’s action would make no sense. The brain hack that enables now-tweaking is reminiscent of Focus from Vernor Vinge’s novel A Deepness in the Sky, but the explanation how it works (delivered in a 2400-word piece!) involves techniques very different than Vinge described – costlier, rarer, and less apt to put subjects in the thrall of another. Nowts, by contrast, seem unstoppable in the pursuit of aims that are all theirs.

An homage to Fifties-era monster-flicks is not where the story feels like it’s headed, but it fits wonderfully. If Fifties-era monster flicks are your thing, you have to drop everything to read “Faster Now” now. Even if they’re not, this is the funniest 2400-word love story you’ll have read all year. Just think: how could anyone have managed to cuff Dulce if she hadn’t liked the idea? If the cuffed chick outs herself as crazy while being hauled to prison, perhaps that’s just what the narrator needs. On the other hand, how can you be sure it’s not an act? What if it isn’t? Whatever happens, it’s hard to shake the idea we just saw the narrator fall heart-first into an industrial trash compactor full of Be Careful What You Wish For. A triumph of longing over reason, “Faster Now” is absolutely worth the read.

C. D. Lewis lives and writes in Faerie.


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Terraform, December 29, 2014


Reviewed by Joshua Berlow

This tale by Paul Di Filippo manages to pack a lot of story in less than 3,000 words. The central question posed is “How can non-modified humans compete with upgraded humans?” There’s subtext as well—genetically modified crabs, romance, and LARPs. The subtext plays well with the central question and keeps the story interesting.

The story opens as our protagonist narrator (we never learn his name) takes his attractive girlfriend Emma out to a baseball game. The story is told in the first person with an easy conversational tone, as if the narrator is telling the story to a friend. During the game, Emma is poached by a “nowt” named Boffo Blinkoff and whisked off to a skybox. The “nowt” impresses Emma, the entire audience in the stands and presumably millions watching on TV with a nonchalant catch of a foul ball. The “nowt” miraculously knows minutes before the ball is hit where it is going to come down. “The whole kidnapping—from my sighting of Boffo Blinkoff, to his catching the ball, to Kiss Cam fame, to seeing him lead Emma off—had taken approximately ninety seconds. I never saw her again.”

How is this miraculous catch achieved? We then have an info-dump telling us what a “nowt” is. Presumably everyone in this future already knows what a nowt is, but since the reader does not we have to have an info-dump. Someone might quibble that such an info-dump is out of context of the narrator relating these events to a friend who presumably would already know what a “nowt” is, but I gladly give Di Filippo a pass on this. Without going into the details of what a nowt is (it’s a clever and unusual enhancement) it’s obvious that unenhanced humans (“basals”) find it difficult to compete with “nowts.” Nowt enhancement is expensive—ten million dollars at the cheapest. So this expensive enhancement widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Sometime later, the narrator goes to a bar called “Nowt So Queer” where nowts and basals mix. He hopes to run into Emma again, but instead hooks up with a lady nowt named Dulce Decorum. Dulce stages LARPs. She gets the narrator into trouble with his job—he’s an Invasive Species Commando. This involves a sub-plot about genetically modified crabs, which inventively echoes the initial question: “How do unenhanced humans compete with enhanced humans?” The answer, while satisfyingly pragmatic, will not be revealed here. What computer electronics technology was to the 20th century, bio-engineering and genetic modification will be to the 21st, so I enjoy stories that address questions posed by this new science.

Joshua Berlow is the founder of the International Psychogeography Institute.