Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Widdam, by Vandana Singh

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(Dystopia) Five vignettes showing how three people get by in a horribly polluted world ravaged by climate change where giant, intelligent mining machines chew up the landscape in search of metals and oil. (13,229 words; Time: 44m)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Not Recommended

"Widdam," by (edited by C.C. Finlay), appeared in issue 01-02|18, published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: : The author has done a great job with the details of this world, from Delhi, strangling in smog, to the Navajo nation dying of thirst, to a warming Sweden recovering from a dictatorship, it all feels very real. The author uses this setting to deliver a clear anti-science, anti-technology message.

Con: The biggest problem is that the setting is really depressing, and the message leaves little or no room for hope. It’s impossible to recommend a vignette that takes you somewhere you don’t really want to go, since a vignette is all about setting.

These are vignettes, so there’s no plot by design, but they go on for too long and get dull by the end. There are lots of potentially interesting loose ends that never get explored enough, such as the AI darknet or the base on the moon.

Beyond that, the setting may feel real, but this is a future that’s very difficult to believe in. It seems more like an extrapolation of 1960s pollution problems than those of today. The implication that no one except a few locals ever protested or revolted or won an election is also hard to buy.

The solution the story seems to propose, that everyone should just go back to Neolithic technology, simply won’t work. Per capita, neolithic societies were far more destructive of the environment than modern ones are. The only reason their impact was limited was that the population was so tiny. Even so, they managed to exterminate the saber tooth tiger and the woolly mammoth. The only way out of our modern problems is to move forward, not backwards, and it's hard to enjoy a story that doesn't see this.

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3 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Huh, I got a much different impression from this story. And I don't believe a story written by a scientist was meant to deliver an anti-science, anti-technology message. After all, the machines that were part of the problem are part of the solution too.

    1. You'd be surprised how many scientists get bitter and disillusioned. However, I'm surprised you thought it didn't have an anti-science, anti-technology message. Did you see something hopeful in the text that I missed?

    2. The saurs becoming part of the fix. And I didn't see a suggestion of giving up tech as a solution. We're shown how traditional Native American and Sami lifestyles are impacted, but I didn't think becoming shepherds was presented as an answer. :)