“The Fate of the World, Reduced to a Ten-Second Pissing Contest” by Erica L. Satifka
Reviewed by Pedro Silva
Interzone #275 showcases three short stories and two novelettes.
A couple find themselves in a bar suspended between moments and wholly apart from reality, in Erica L. Satifka’s “The Fate of the World, Reduced to a Ten-Second Pissing Contest.” Pursuing escape means contending with inebriated aliens, repetitive diets and mounting ennui to which these alien’s are apparently immune; to their minds, “this is the party.” Despite its short length, the story presents glimpses of lively characters, snapshots on a trajectory that gracefully lands its bittersweet resolution.
In Steven J. Dines’s “Looking for Laudau,” an aged man, Rust, pursues a deadly figure through the southwest United States—a desert landscape crowded with spectral bodies only he can see. Rust winds through Phoenix, seeking; his quarry holds the power to reunite him with a dead lover, perhaps even to release Rust from his apparent immorality, a “door” out of this world.
Though our protagonist’s backstory remains mostly a mystery, his conflict is clearly projected across the lovers and landscapes he encounters, each instance lushly described in Rust’s bleak, first-person POV. The pace suffers when the prose takes liberties exploring poetic tangents (e.g., our protagonist’s musing on the metaphor and imagery of ghost trails), but nonetheless drives toward an engaging climax.
In Abi Hynes’s “The Mark,” a self-described monster endures a treacherous mountain climb in search of safety for himself and the precious bundle strapped to his chest. Our protagonist, one of a few engineered by a race of furry, tree-climbing males, reflects on his unique reproductive physiology, seemingly the reason for his exile.
Flashbacks intercut scenes of the harrowing trek, and save a divergence concerning a pet cat, these feel aptly chosen. Our protagonist’s naive POV means that world-building is outlined in only the broadest strokes, however. Especially of note is the prose’s careful use of gender pronouns, challenging readers to jettison their preconceptions and fully inhabit the isolation and disquieting sense of otherness of a gendered being conditioned in a non-gendered society.
In Malcom Delvin‘s “The Purpose of the Dodo Is To Be Extinct,” the branches of reality, ceaselessly bifurcating at every decision point, are investigated and managed by the Authority. Crucial to their investigation is Prentis O’Rourke who, for reasons unknown, suffers a mass extinction across all branches at precisely the same time; and all while uttering identical last words: “If only.” What follows are glimpses of a relationship between Prentis and Laura, his wife in most branches, but an acquaintance in others, and occasionally his murderer, occasionally not. One instance of note is a Laura who works at the Authority and never marries Prentis, yet has her life altered nonetheless by his mass extinction.
Delvin’s prose takes on a clinical style that fits well with the bureaucratic milieu of the Authority—and also manages to be funny; a lengthy excerpt from a report detailing Prentis’s many deaths, for example, reads like a cosmic joke in repetition. In a trope familiar to stories that wrestle with time, this one ends where it begins. What is difficult to tell, though, is if the story’s resolution is actively pursued and triggered by our protagonists or simply a natural consequence of this branching reality.
Upon his death, Christ wakes in a boardroom, in Leo Vladimirsky‘s “The Christ Loop.” Here, a marketing team brainstorms instruments of his execution, enacts them and gathers feedback: Christ is mauled by polar bear, coiled by rope and suffocated by blankets. Each experience is scored. Results are tallied: which deaths culminate in the most memorable symbology, or the most easily merchandisable? If humanity’s sins are to be forgiven, this death “has got to have legs.”
Vladimirsky’s take on market-testing foundational religious events is the most thought-provoking SF idea in this issue, yet isn’t this story’s only concern: themes of self-sacrifice and suffering as a means of expiating one’s sins are deftly touched upon, if not fully explored. The resolution punctuates these themes well, however, with a statement on the true nature of sacrifice.