Our pal Kit hits us up with some more Kick Ass Stories You Should Really Check Out!
“What do we do when we’re threatened by something totally alien, unable to combat it? We freak the fuck out. There’s little else we can do if one is to take the nihilistic view that humans are worth very little in the grand scheme of the universe….” Norm Sherman
That’s right. This time the article starts with a quote. Because I.
Before we get started, going forward please post any suggestions you have for themes for me to select stories for. Also, if you want some recommendations on themes or ideas you want to see explored, I’ll see what I can find for you!
Anyway, we’re on two stories this week, as they’re both pretty heavy in content and intensity. We’re looking at agency this time, There are many stories, from the Matrix to Bioshock Infinite out there where these ideas are explored, containing plot twists where it turns out everything was planned out from the start, or tiny choices made at the beginning of a story matter much more than we would think.
The first story this week looks at how control over the future can be a burden, and that there may not be a right answer to a question. On top of that, the universe doesn’t actually care which option we pick. The second story looks at the other side, asking if we really control you own life.
The Cold Equations
“I didn’t do anything to die for… I didn’t do anything…”
This story presents us with a surprisingly unique and haunting antagonist, as two strangers face up against the fact that, to the universe, you are completely insignificant. The story begins with the pilot of a cargo spaceship transporting medical supplies to an outreach planet on the frontier of human occupied space. Six people will die without these supplies, but due to limited resources, and the remoteness of the destination, the ship carries just enough air and fuel reserves for the trip, specifically calculated for one pilot alone to make the trip successfully (with a very small amount extra in case of calculation error). Half way through this journey, the pilot notices one of the gauges on his dashboard ticking. He is not alone, as someone has stowed away on his spaceship. There is not enough fuel or air for both of them, and, unless something changes, they will soon be dead, eternally drifting through space in a metal coffin.
At this point, you’d think a quick air lock later and boom, problem solved, stowaway dies in the vacuum of space. Except the stowaway is an innocent teenage girl, who snuck abroad the ship hoping to visit her brother on the outreach planet. She has no idea about the fuel situation on the shuttle. We go from there.
Agency here is shown by the pilot facing an impossible choice. Whilst he technically has multiple options there is only one that will save both his life and the men dependant on him. There are times in our lives where we’ll be in a situation where there is no right thing to do. Even worse, it isn’t because something evil is making us do it, nor do we gain anything by doing it. This story makes us face up to not only that, but also the universe’s complete apathy towards us. The universe runs on a series of equations (maybe just one very complex equation if Stephen Hawking gets his way!) where we are nothing more than an X to be. Sometimes, the X is too large and the equation doesn’t balance. In this case, the only option is to reduce X and take something away before the calculation is done.
You really feel for both the pilot and the girl. She has made a simple mistake, based on a misunderstanding. The sort of mistake we all make while we’re growing up and do something we know we probably shouldn’t but think we can deal with the consequences. He is a man faced with an impossible choice he has to make. He’ll have to live with whatever decision he makes for the rest of his life. Agency is something he really doesn’t want. If something made the call and executed it for him then he wouldn’t be responsible for the consequences, but no, it’s his call to make and he has to make it. Sometimes control over our own destiny might be the last thing we want in the moment.
Listen to the end and you’ll find out the alternate ending to this story, personally I massively prefer the one they kept.
This story is chilling, reminding you of your own insignificance in the grand scheme of things and that, sometimes, we have to make truly horrible choices. And I love it. This story is fantastic and well worth the time.
Author: Tom Godwin
Hollow as the World
“…Joshua had never existed. All the interesting things in his life had come at someone else’s behest. His whole life had been a game, and not even a particularly well-designed one. Another scared teenager. Selfish. Passive. Predictable.”
Were you ever a socially awkward teenager, self-hating, with no idea how to deal with your emotions towards your romantic interest, and maybe even with a love for videogames? I was! If you were as well, then a warning: the main character in this story will be very relatable, and not in a way you may feel comfortable with.
This is a modern horror story, making use of modern culture, even videogames. You’ll find Portal in this and Not-Minecraft, also known as Stonehewn (and even a reference to My Little Pony… of course…). It’s similar to the use of televisions in The Ring, and I’m sure there’s many a metaphor to be found about our relationship with videogames in modern society. Luckily, It handles it very well. I named the second game Not-Minecraft because Stonehewn is Minecraft on steroids. It is the same game, but with perfectly realistic graphics, the function for your character to play itself and a load of other… interesting features.
As mentioned before, this is a story about an awkward, slightly self-loathing teenager named Joshua. He is in love with his best friend Lydia, and they’re both videogame addicts. It isn’t the case that he’s been ‘friendzoned’. He has no clue how to handle his feelings towards her, and is completely afraid to act on them, despite her signals that he should (this hit a little close to home when I think back on me 10 or so years ago). After trying Stonehewn, Lydia vanishes for a week, becoming a total addict to it (I may have done something like this myself on Minecraft when trying to build a floating airship on Survival mode). One week later she dies. She has left him a note, reading ‘Joshua: a dangerous mirror. This reveals Truth.’
Joshua picks up her old computer and boots up her copy of Stonehewn. He decides to break it, blaming it for her death. This story really makes you think about the control we think we have over our lives. It raises the question about whether or not the decisions we make our really our own, or if the games we play and the movies we watch really control us, instead of us controlling them. Games and other art do that affect the way we feel and the things we think. Therefore, while we may make in-game decisions, these have no real impact outside the game. The only way they may do is the affect they have on us internally, as they alter how we think and behave.
That’s at least one way to read into the story. You may take something else away from it. In my case I think it is a cool way to look at things, but actually so what? When it comes down to it life is actually pretty damn awesome.
Author: Ferrett Steinmetz
Thank you for reading! As I said before, please suggest any ideas you may have for themes and I’ll try to pick two or three stories that fit! If you want a recommendation, I’ll try to give it!