Tag Archives: Queer

Hopeful Science Fiction: Skin City

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Earlier this year I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the eighth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

Skin City

Kelly Robson’s Skin City was about a street performer named Kass who got into trouble after falling for a radical privacy devotee.

The futuristic world Kass lives in is set about 80 years in the future in a time when climate change has become strong enough to seriously damage cities. Toronto and any other city that wished to survive had long since erected domes over themselves to keep violent, seasonal storms from flattening their historic buildings.

woman wearing virtual reality goggles
They might have looked something like this but larger.

This naturally meant that humans were crammed into much smaller spaces than many folks know in 2020.

To compensate for constantly being surrounded by strangers, some wealthy people in this universe have decided to wear a sort of electronic helmet over their head when they leave home that digitally erase other people in their line of sight and hide the owner’s facial expressions from strangers, too.

The reason why people who wore visors would want to hide their facial expressions is something best discovered by new readers for themselves. It was explained thoroughly and satisfactorily.

I enjoyed reading about these sociological and technological changes. They seemed like things that could easily happen to future generations given what life is like in 2020. I’ve known some people who gave up on social media for privacy reasons and many others who are painstakingly careful about what they post there.

Given the right technology, I can see a lot of people opting out of being seen by others, especially if they’re living in a cramped city that no longer has the resources to give people much personal space at all.

As for Kass? She wasn’t one of those folks who were wealthy enough to afford a status symbol like that by any means. Her income barely covered the necessities, and she definitely wasn’t someone who was thought of highly by the authorities. In fact, when the audience first met her she was in jail and looking at the possibility of spending the rest of her life there.  That’s the sort of detail that will keep me reading for sure!

The ending was well done, too. I would have liked to see more foreshadowing done for it so that readers would have a hint of what was to come when the earlier scenes continued to grow bleaker, but I enjoyed the twist when it was finally revealed. Honestly, it was the only logical outcome of everything that had been established about Kass and her society earlier on.

Now I know you’re all wondering how a story about a character who was incarcerated and deeply in love with someone who ordinarily would never interact with her could possibly be hopeful.

There was a time right before the final scene when I was tempted to stop reading. It didn’t seem possible for there to be a cheerful ending when Kass had so many things stacked against her pursuit of happiness.

The beautiful thing about the Better Worlds series is that it doesn’t require perfection from its characters, settings, or plot twists. In fact, some of the best stories in this online anthology so far have come from the most unlikely places in my opinion.

While this wasn’t my favourite story in this collection, it was a solid one.

Choosing to Survive: A Review of Powdered Souls

Title: Powdered Souls, A Short Story: They Decided to Survive (Snow Sub Series Book 1)

Author: Dixon Reuel

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Romance

Length: 22 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Dixon

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb: People together in close quarters – fraternization naturally follows.

A military VR trainer, wanting to keep her relationship with a fellow scientist hidden, must pass a security inspection in her lab by the vicious Atlas Crusade that has swept to power.

When the leader of the security team demands an unusual VR request in her lab, Prof. Meliss must decide between keeping her lover safe, or secretly undertaking a consciousness swap that could end the Crusade’s five-year long relentless rule. A rule that has co-opted all scientific research to aid their global expansion, rendering Prof. Meliss and Prof. Lauren expendable, as legions of other researches wait to step into their lab if either woman dishonors the great Crusade.

Science and the military aren’t always a good match for each other.

Virtual reality is one of those topics that always makes my ears perk up when I see it mentioned in a science fiction blurb. There are so many different ways to approach this idea that an author can do just about anything with it, and Ms. Reuel came up with a pretty creative take on why the military would be interested in developing a virtual world for their soldiers to explore. Their reason for paying for this research is something best discovered by readers for themselves.

The world building would have benefited from more development. I was confused by how the military seemed to simultaneously know everything that was happening in their research bases and yet also not know simple things about them like what sort of equipment they used or how their experiments were going. It’s totally possibly for a regime to act this way, but it would have been nice to know what the limits of their knowledge was.

Prof. Meliss, the main character, wasn’t given much opportunity to reveal her personality either. I’d struggle to tell you much about her as an individual or explain why she’d gotten into a relationship with her assistant, Dr. Lauren, knowing how dangerous that would be for both of them. A lot of this character development could be coming in future volumes, but it would have been helpful to have a better understanding of who she was and why they were willing to take such huge risks. I always like finding queer couples in science fiction, so I was disappointed with how their arc played out so far.

One of the few things I did learn about Prof. Meliss was that she could think quickly in a crisis. That’s the perfect skill to have when an army has descended onto your base and is breaking down the front door. The most interesting scenes in my opinion were the ones in the beginning that described how she reacted to this invasion.

Since this was both a short story and the first instalment in a series, I was definitely not expecting the character development or world building to be perfectly ironed out. But I would have liked to see at least a few sentences spent explaining how this militaristic society works, why relationships between scientists and their assistants were punished so harshly, and what the military was and wasn’t capable of. Getting thrown into a new world is amusing, but I needed more answers about what was happening before the final scene wrapped up.

With that being said, I saw a lot of promise in this tale. There were hints about how climate change had affected the lives of ordinary people in this futuristic world that I’m incredibly curious to learn more about.