Short Story Review | ‘The Touches’ by Brenda Peynado

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You can read this story for free at Tor.com!

Image by Keith Negley

What I find fascinating about speculative fiction, whether it is extremely detailed in the way that it outlines a future or if it’s simply a basic idea, is its ability to make me think about what is going on in contemporary society and what the ramifications for being complacent about that society might be. Mostly because I find myself obsessing over what my future will be anyway. I am not a very retrospective person so historical stuff doesn’t usually interest me as much as potential futures do. And this one was particularly interesting in that it wasn’t an extreme future. It is an unsettling, near future that plays off of the fears and anxieties that are currently in our world; both through the use of immersive technology and the idea that future warfare will not include weapons of mass destruction or somebody who has more troops, but will involve using biology. It is a story that makes me question how much is pure fiction and how much is prediction.

I think one of the hallmarks of this story is that, while I was reading it and the narrator was going through all of her fears about the dirty world–the germs that were in it and the potential dangers of being exposed to those germs–I felt so uncomfortable and so stressed. I became very aware of the world that I lived in, and I am already a pretty obsessive person when it comes to cleanliness, so to have my anxieties voiced to such an extreme really got under my skin (if you will).

At the same time, this story very much focuses on the need for direct human interaction in our lives–that need to have a meaningful relationship with another. Though our protagonist has a life partner and though she is about to become a parent, she’s willing to throw away not only her way of life but also her very life itself for the opportunity to have a direct interaction. She’s clearly not the only one given that side characters within the story also put themselves at risk in order to feel that true connection.

It’s interesting to play with the idea of the unknown causing fear and anxiety. This biological warfare is mentioned so fleetingly within the story and yet it is such a pivotal part as to why the characters find themselves in the worlds that they do. And there’s also this idea of choosing to live in this seemingly perfect fantasy as opposed to facing the ugliness of the real world that I think translates very well to how people deal with ugliness even right now. I know myself that I am guilty of turning away from things that upset me even though I know they’re happening because I feel as if there’s nothing I can do about that. In some instances I think that is true, but there are many instances where, were I to give it the attention it deserves, I could help but I choose not to look because it’s easier. And that’s very much the journey of our protagonist in that she chooses to believe this fantasy world because accepting the restrictions of her world is easier when she’s unaware of an alternative. That is until she finally feels human interaction and then she can no longer go back to her fantasy, she has been disenchanted.

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