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Letter from the Editor: Creep-Test Machine

By Rob Carroll
First Published in Issue 006 of Dark Matter Magazine, November 2021

In engineering, “creep” is the tendency of a material to change over time after facing high temperature and stress—or, in other words, it’s the measure of a material’s stability and behavior when put through ordinary pressures. For an engineer tasked with deciding what material (e.g. what alloy or plastic) to use in the manufacture of another material or product, understanding the creep of the potential material components is necessary, for it is the creep that will often determine which material can do the job best. No one wants a material to fail, especially under normal use.

To determine a material’s creep, engineers use a creep-testing machine, and despite it sounding like some whimsically malevolent contraption stolen straight from the pages of a Roald Dahl book, the machine is rather simple. Want to know what a material’s melting point is? Use a creep-testing machine. Want to know how a material holds up in high altitude? Use a creep-testing machine. Want to know when a steady state of change will suddenly go parabolic? Use a creep-testing machine.

To me, the key word in all of this is “ordinary.” Even though it’s possible for materials to be tested to extremes, the machine itself doesn’t aim to subject materials to extraordinary stresses, only normal ones. The machine’s goal is not to bend, or break, or melt. The machine is simply there to test. It is the will of the tester that ensures the tested’s destruction.

Life often feels like a creep-testing machine. This is not new. Humans have always battled stress, whether the stressors be environmental, societal, cultural, familial, interpersonal, physical, emotional, mental, or the rest, but never before has our population (at least here in the United States) been so near their collective breaking point. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting nearly forty million adults age eighteen and older (18.1% of the population). Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10-24, and has been increasing every year since 2007. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates for this group increased nearly 60% between 2007 and 2018.

So, my question ultimately is this: When will the data be enough? When will the lords that pull the levers of this world pause the creep-testing machine that is modern life, with all its mindless bureaucracy and soulless dehumanization? When will they finally understand humanity’s creep enough to realize that the machine can’t keep pushing like this? When will they acknowledge that the destruction of human life can never be justified by an acceptable rate of replacement? When will they realize the greater risk? If we continue this way, if we refuse to throttle back on a machine that’s already overclocked and quaking, the next thing that breaks won’t be the tested, but the thing that tests. The entire superstructure will implode upon itself in the most spectacular and devastating fashion.

In this issue of Dark Matter Magazine, nine stories examine life as one of the tested. “Her Name is Jo,” by J. W. Allen, reminds us of the chilling reality that in a rigged game, success will always be measured by the one pulling the strings. In “Decommissioned,” by Brittany Groves, we see that a broken system will never value a life greater than the net output the life creates, especially when replacement is cheaper than maintenance. “Regression to the Earth’s Mean,” by James Yu, ponders the many ways our society could be better if only we’d find the courage to go against the faulty conclusions reached by a ruling class that values desired outcomes over honest analysis. “The Auger Process,” by Y. M. Pang, wrestles with the uncomfortable truth that a life studied is a life changed, and that a single choice by someone else can affect your life in greater ways than even the sum total of all your own decisions. In “When He, Dreaming, Wakes,” author Lora Gray explores a world overrun by madness following the collapse of the system responsible. In “Ninety-Nine Sextillion Souls in a Ball,” author Larry Hodges laughs fiendishly at our tendency to outsource critical thinking in favor of prescribed thought by first identifying the danger present in such a bargain and then extrapolating it to its most bizarre and illogical conclusion. “On the Eve of the Cumberland Incursion,” by Christopher Noessel, proves that not every story in Dark Matter Magazine lacks a “happy” ending, as it tells the story of an imprisoned victim clever enough to turn its own cage into the tools needed to defeat its captor. “The Eternity Machine,” by Graham J. Darling, stares pensively out upon the distant shores of our understanding and asks without humor if we even have the capacity to travel there, and if we did, would it be worth it to go? And lastly, in this month’s reprint story, “I Feel the Absence of Her Shape,” by Alexandra Seidel, a sentient fungus attempts to understand the human condition, in all its vast and unknowable glory, via a single studied relationship with a marooned astronaut. Can a human being ever truly be understood, or will that intimate knowledge always exist just beyond the grasp of measurement? In this instance, you’re the tester, so that’s for you to decide.


Rob Carroll

© 2021, Rob Carroll