Neo-opsis, Issue 11

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“Silence in Screamland” by Robert P. Switzer
“Justice” by David Taub
“The Depths of Heaven” by Mark Anthony Brennan
“Wedding Day” by Jennifer Pelland
“Symposia” by Tyler Keevil
“Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour’s Arthropod” by Terry Dartnall

There’s a strong thread throughout this issue of Neo-opsis of the controls and manipulations of society or government on individuals, tying much of it together nicely.

“Silence in Screamland” by Robert P. Switzer posits a future where people are required annually to visit a scream room and vent their frustrations.  Based on the results, the staff, including our protagonist, Cheryl, assign the people to the appropriate psychiatrist.  Into this comfortable status quo comes Dan, who instead of screaming calmly meditates.  Cheryl is intrigued, though her superiors feel threatened.

The story then follows these two through the years as word leaks out about Dan’s actions.  After some hand-wringing by those in charge, they do nothing, and the movement spreads, becoming a Silent Society of people who counter frustrations by being at peace instead of venting them.  Dan himself doesn’t condone this as a movement—“If I’m their god, I’m an unwilling one”—and his final words of the story subvert the entire idea.  The story feels didactic.  For much of its length, didactically promoting meditation and calmness, and even with the final subversion simply didactic in another way rather than an examination of the ways people deal with frustration, which is what the story seems to intend to be.  Even so, giving the story through Cheryl’s eyes allows it to be more than that criticism would make it sound.  A good, if not great, start to the issue.

“Justice” by David Taub is set in a future of gene-freaks and bio-weapons, alien species, distant star systems, and human modifications.  It tells of Acacia, the protagonist, on her obsessive hunt for Tynan, the sociopath who killed her sister.  Acacia has finally tracked down Tynan in the bar he tends.  She knows that killing him in the open will immediately bring the authorities to her, and the omnipresent cameras will convict her instantly.  But she doesn’t care.  She will die, executed, but she’ll take Tynan with her.

Before she kills him, though, she lets him talk because she’s uncovered some strange actions of his during her pursuit.  There are hints throughout, little mysteries that pull the reader through—why do his mannerisms and facial expressions remind her so much of her sister?  At times the dialogue is a bit cheesy, and some of the actions of Acacia especially seem a bit far-fetched.  But it’s a good story, largely because of how those hinted mysteries play out.

The strongest story in the issue is “The Depths of Heaven” by Mark Anthony Brennan.  Mikkaann lives in what seems to be a primitive society, though with hints of advanced technology powered by geothermal energy (though they don’t call it that).  Much of the setting and society is revealed slowly, which is part of the enjoyment of the story, but it’s shown that they live underground and consider heaven to be below them while above-ground is hell and evil, ruled by the wicked sun.  They live in a tightly religion-bound society.

Mikkaann, however, is the hereditary interpreter of those surface things that come to them, including a young woman who challenges Mikkaann’s beliefs about the surface.  She explains that yes, their ancestors did encounter an alien species who harmed the surface, but the danger is past, and a part of him wants to believe while another part struggles with it.  This is the strength of the story, this tension between the ideas he’s grown up with and the new information she brings, even as the priests condemn her to die.  An intriguing setting and an evocative story.

The next story, “Wedding Day” by Jennifer Pelland, is also a very strong story.  It begins with Addie, a girl about to be married to the machine that keeps her and her female relatives alive.  Because of radiation, they have been told, the machine takes drastic measures to keep them safe, first shielding them as they grow deep inside a meteor, later marrying them to a protective suit, which they call their wedding dress, and impregnating them so a new generation is born.  The girls are raised as they were while the boys—more fragile, more prone to being hurt by the radiation—are kept alive as long as possible elsewhere, long enough, they can only hope, for their sperm to be potent.  Eventually even their wedding dresses cannot keep the women alive, and they become a disembodied consciousness within the machine.

As her own daughter grows, Addie has doubts that the machine tells them the truth in everything.  They feel love for it, but it seems to be induced love rather than genuine, manipulated by the machine.  This is a fascinating idea throughout and brings the story to its high level.  It also offers an interesting parallel to Brennan’s story, with the machine taking the role that religion and the priests had.  What keeps this story from being as good is that Addie’s realization near the end, leading to the climax, feels abrupt and rushed.  Still, this is an enjoyable and thought-provoking tale.

“Symposia” by Tyler Keevil is basically an updated take on Aldous Huxley’s Brave New WorldThe narrator, Mark, is a lawyer for the rare criminals who show up in a future where most people are connected to something called simply the Corporation, and through that connection, their actions and desires are controlled.  Mark is a member of the elite who are allowed to think for themselves, or at least so they believe, and his current client, André, is a member of a small rebel group that uses terrorism to oppose the Corporation.

Overall, the story is well told as the relationship between Mark and André develops into something different than lawyer/client, and André attempts to wake Mark and others up to the nature of the Corporation’s control.  Yet it really ends up feeling like it’s simply playing off of Brave New World instead of exploring the ideas in any new way.

The final story, Terry Dartnall’s “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour’s Arthropod” is a short, comical piece about an alien court trying a species for their interference with humans.  Specifically, they’re being tried for setting up vanity presses on Earth, something that no other species in the galaxy would think of creating.  Earth, however, is the laughingstock of the galaxy and falls for the vanity presses.

It’s a very funny setup that allows for some nice jibes about publishing and humans in general.  The ending also is funny, with a nice twist adding even more humor, but it didn’t seem to build on the humor of the opening so much as reach for another joke, which weakened the overall story.  The laughs still make it enjoyable.