Aurealis, June/July 2000

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"A Mother's Eyes" by John Higgins
"Sewercide" by Michael Pryor
"Carousel" by Trent Jamieson
"Pillow Girls and Straw Dogs" by Simon Ng
"Can You Hear The Angels Sing?" by Alistair Ong
"The Nativity Plague" by Adam Browne
"All The Flowers of Babylon" by Kathryn Deans
"Universe" by Stephen Higgins
"Coyotes" by Anthony Morris
"The World According to Kipling" by Geoffrey Maloney

This double issue, from one of Australia's oldest SF magazines, at first appeared to be meaty, but I was sadly disappointed. Though we have 236 pages in the book, only 116 are devoted to fiction. The rest is spent on a rehash of the history of the Aurealis Awards and the magazine. I am sure this information is relevant and important to the magazine, but I am not sure if the average reader will get much out of it. There are also many book reviews, a science page and something strange about the Lock Ness monster.

The book gets to its first story on page 29 and it is a strange tale of Alien visitation. "A Mother's Eyes" by John Higgins tells of a legacy left by aliens, a virus that effects the individual in differing ways. Some cannot see the colour blue for instance; for Eliza, she cannot see her newborn child. Eliza thinks her husband is an alien sympathizer and believes the aliens are still amongst them. Invisible to those who have contracted the virus. There are some that are immune to the virus but are hunted down and put to death by those who have it. This is interesting, but I don't feel the author really explores his idea anywhere deep enough. The ending lets the bulk of the story down. Good but rushed.

Next comes the very enjoyable story "Sewercide" by Michael Pryor. Here we delve into the secret world of the plumber. Barry, a vacation worker, is learning the ropes from Ray, the guru of pipes and things. But the world of plumbing isn't what Barry had ever thought it would be. What should he make of Morris, who strides down the street naked, and of the strange house filled with scientific jars and a stinking drain? Strange stuff indeed in the goings on of these plumbers. Are they simple men of S-bends and T-junctions or are they the true Saviors of the world? A very good story, my only quibble would be the ending.

Another alien invasion type story comes from Trent Jamieson. "Carousel" shows an alien invasion on the microscopic level. Within the blood of its host are found tiny carousels. Their purpose is unknown. We explore this idea through the eyes of a husband and his dying wife. I am at a loss as to the actual point of this story, and though parts of it are touching I did feel the idea was under developed. Even the physical contact in space later in the story doesn't help to shed any new light on this piece. Well written but not very engrossing.

Likewise "Pillow Girls and Straw Dogs." Simon Ng attempts to place us in China and though the locations are good we have little in the way of colour, feels or smell of the place. I felt this story could have been placed on the moon and it would have little difference. We have a world where perfection and personal matching can be easily obtained through medical manipulation (nothing new here). But while one man waits until his wife has reached perfection he visits prostitutes for his gratification, claiming he doesn't want to be with his wife until she is perfect. The prostitute expounds streams of wisdom and causes our husband to consider his lot in life. Pretty standard fare in the end. Nice writing, easy open style, but predictable.

Alistair Ong delivers a not so standard Private Dick story. "Can You Hear the Angels Sing?" has our hero, Heron, on a case to find a missing boy. Not just any missing boy but one who is part human, part alien angel. Heron searches for him and reveals more about himself in the process. He learns secrets that are more painful than his fall from grace many years ago. Is the missing boy his son? How? Though slightly set up as a mystery, I found too much exposition through dialogue which did weaken the story. Certainly well worth the read.

"The Nativity Plague" by Adam Browne. I like the suggestion of this unlikely story. A man is allergic to advertising and because of the world's proliferation with the stuff he is imprisoned in his apartment. Mr. Vale's problems are exacerbated by the small fact that he is the senior copywriter for a major advertising firm. This story is a sickness that grows, festers into weeping sores and cancerous growths. Much oozing of goo and a proliferation of nipples. We are faced with a lactating man like never before. A mammalian computer, complete with inflamed anus, joins the allergy ridden Mr. Vale in the grotesque, yet engrossing (gross) read. This is horror on the basic scale; it is sickening, visually and mentally. This is one sick puppy. 10 out of 10 on the grossometer.

On a less stomach-altering note we are relieved by the enchanting "All The Flowers of Babylon." Kathryn Deans covers the intricate interactions between the religions of two alien races. One is slave to the other through economic forfeiting. There is nothing surprising or challenging in this story but the writing itself is captivating and a nice break from "The Nativity Plague". This is one for the fans of classical SF structures. I'd keep an eye on this writer.

An American in future Australia joins a suicide helpline. "Coyotes" sees Anthony Morris try and tackle what is a serious problem in Australia today. Though I felt this story didn't offer insights into the problem, it did come up with some interesting Band-Aid fixes. In this future Australia those who try or want to die are conditioned so they are unable to do so. Now comes the introduction of Orin, our anti-hero. He sits in his office covered in blood with a knife sticking from his chest. He's not dead; he's had suicide immunization. The story looks at the problem of youth suicide from the perspective of those who want to die. Its is interesting and frighteningly cold. Horror or SF? I'll let you decide. Good but not startling.

We come to the best story in the issue. "The World according to Kipling" by Geoffrey Maloney. This is Kipling's India and Kipling's view of the world at large. Maloney nicely captures the atmosphere of the land and the attitudes of the people to deliver an engrossing and greatly enjoyable read. The story: A body is discovered on a remote Himalayan track. It is one of Prince Prokolov's special agents but this death was not by the usual means. No British agent had assassinated him. Dr. Roberts, who is performing an autopsy, bars the room and refuses to let anyone enter. He is filled with horror and fear. What has he discovered about this body? And why won't he open the door? Intriguing stuff. I would not be surprised to see this story on an awards list somewhere. Excellent!

The fiction is this issue is good to excellent and writing skills on display are very good, as is to be expected from Aurealis. Another solid issue, fiction wise, but I would have prefered to see more stories used to fill out the pages than information about the mag's history. My favourites were Geoff Maloney's story and the sickening "The Nativity Plague." I have mentioned this story three times in this review, and for good reason. The impact on the mind is huge, the senses are twisted and the overall after image is not a very nice one at all. Adam Browne has a vivid, if not distorted, imagination.

Robert N. Stephenson is the editor of Altair magazine; a publisher, a writer of short fiction, stage plays and the occasional sermon on the mount. His fiction has appeared in Interzone, Talebones and other smaller press venues around the globe. He is currently completing his first novel and is anxious to get down and edit it. He also finds sex more invigorating than writing.