Aeon #7

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"Whyte Boyz" by Jay Lake
"The Doom That Came to Smallmouth" by Joe Murphy
"Lupercalia" by Rita Oakes
"N+1" by Stephen Couch
"The Passion: A Western" by Bruce McAllister
"The Ile of Dogges" by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette 
"Here There Be Humans" by Ken Rand
Issue #7 of Æon contains a variety of stories from surreal to pragmatic and from far-future what-ifs to long past empirical myths.  

The issue starts with "Whyte Boyz" by Jay Lake, a bizarre story of a future where stereotypes have been reversed and humans have created a hierarchy where height—elevation from the surface—is the status marker.  Gayan is a "whyte [nigga] in the Darkman’s world" who lives down on the surface.  He possesses the gift of insight, literally.  He can look into a person and see their futures as paths to be taken.  Wire is a former whyte who has been turned into a "made thing," used by the Darkman as an assassin agent.  He is dropped from orbit to the surface.  When the two meet, they play on each other’s emotions and pasts, bringing the story to a predictable yet tangential conclusion.  Lake’s storytelling is more eclectic than I’ve seen from him recently, generating an unsettling tone.

In "The Doom That Came to Smallmouth," Joe Murphy paints an exquisite picture of a small town with a secret.  Rusty and his Pa, a luremancer, drive out to Mnar County, Texas to enter a fishing contest on Smallmouth Lake.  Though the tournament is "full," Pa convinces the man to accept his entrance form.  When Rusty slips away, abandoning his father in favor of a local school girl, the story dives into the land of the surreal.  Rusty must come to terms with a bad decision and the secrets that lie beneath the still waters of the lake.  A big fish tale that grips like a set hook and doesn’t let go until the catch is in the boat, "The Doom That Came to Smallmouth" reads like golden age science fiction crossed with a hint of the Twilight Zone.

One of my favorites of the issue, "Lupercalia" by Rita Oakes combines (in the author’s words) myth, history, gossip, and sword and sandal movies.  Marcus and Julius are Mutaro’s—creatures part wolf and part human, or quasi-werewolves—whose semen is milked and drunk to prolong the life of their human captors.  Their Mistress, Lyvia, is a part of the Roman elite.  The story starts with the skinning alive of Marcus for his wolf pelt.  His mistress spends the better part of the story lying on the pelt to torment her slave.  Though Marcus is resigned to captivity and suffers from a case of Stockholm Syndrome, his brethren, Julius will never submit.  When Lyvia forces Marcus to torture Julius for one of his wrongs, the story sprints into action and races for the climax.  Steeped in colorful characters, "Lupercalia" is Gladiator meets Underworld, though to compare the story with the celluloid media does it a disservice.  Oakes scribes an action-packed, mythical romp through Roman history.

Stephen Couch blends mathematics and data structure design with speculative fiction in "N+1."  I’m a sucker for a good math story, and this one has everything I could ask for: a down-and-out convict, the allure of addiction, the eloquent art of programming, and the excitement of otherworldly intelligence.  When a hacker is released on probation with the condition that he stay away from computers, he finds himself surrounded by computational power and the ever-present Internet.  Though his options are limited, he finds a way to sneak onto the net and his fate is decided.  As he maps out the interconnections of this worldwide phenomenon in his apartment using art supplies—paper, toothpicks, Popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners and yarn—the art expands into a speculative masterpiece.  "N+1" starts off slow, but it’s worth the read.

"The Passion: A Western" by Bruce McAllister is an odd look at the Easter play through the eyes of "Clint."  He’s working on set, thinking about the director one moment and the score composer the next.  The mix of realism and old cowboy sensibilities combined with the Christian story makes for a surreal adventure with plenty of blood and introspection.  The setting came to life through vivid imagery, but the constant reminders that the story was only a script being acted out prevented my complete immersion in McAllister’s world.  Instead I merely stepped on stones across a river, occasionally getting my shoes wet but never falling in. 

Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette pair up for "The Ile of Dogges."  Sir Edmund Tylney must reject a playscript from writers Jonson and Tom Nashe.  He censors the play due to its too-clever satire that the Queen might find offensive.  Unfortunately for Tylney, the play is well written, and he finds himself becoming absorbed in the plot.  When the play is illegally performed, Jonson and some actors are arrested and tortured.  While Tylney summons the nerve to burn the playscript, a stranger appears who adds another layer of intrigue to the story.  "The Ile of Dogges" is a quirky mix of Elizabethan atmosphere and futuristic speculation.

The last story, "Here There Be Humans" by Ken Rand, is told from an alien point of view.  Chief Detective Sula A’com is charged with investigating the disappearance of Administrator First Slon M’lay.  Slon became so enamored of the planet Earth and its believed-extinct humans that he drifted into the wilderness and never returned.  The aliens use the planet to study the ecosystem and house their convicts.  Some escape and "go native," organizing themselves into hidden communities.  Sula is the classic open-minded investigator who becomes tempted by the allures of his case.  In the end he must face the rugged and dangerous jungle and make a hard decision.  The story’s fascinating premise sucked me in and held on.  Though many alien POV stories read like bad Star Trek actors in suits, Rand creates a layered culture with unique ways of thinking, reacting, and evaluating.

Overall, my favorites, "Lupercalia" and "Here There Be Humans," are both plot driven scenic adventures, and "N+1" is a geek-wonderful work of intellectual art.