Tangent Online

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Aurealis #109, April 2018

E-mail Print

Aurealis #109, April 2018

"The Marred Queen" by Terrence MacManus

"Painted Ocean" by Lynette Aspey
"The Great Filter" by Gus Moreno

Reviewed by Jason McGregor

This issue of Aurealis, the long-running Australian magazine, contains three short stories, starting with a fantasy and concluding with a couple of science fiction stories (the last of which is not by an Australian), all of which are mixed bags.

"The Marred Queen" by Terrence MacManus

Cassandra, the Marred Queen, had created superior magic technology which displeased the brutal Powers That Be and created an action-reaction dynamic resulting in a rebellion against them and their oppressive measures. When the story opens, Leo is a top lieutenant to Cassandra and has caught himself a small spy or assassin named Troy. Rather than dispose of Troy like he should, he feels compassion for what he see as a brainwashed victim and brings him to Cassandra. Things, unsurprisingly, do not go as Leo would like.

There isn't much to this story and would be even less if Leo weren't an idiot. The milieu is sketchy but generally quite familiar, though there's some creativity to the magic system and some action at the end.

"Painted Ocean" by Lynette Aspey

In this AI cli-fi story, two corporate titans square off while two incorporeal entities also battle in a cyberspace Earth while the physical world suffers the effects. Eventually, one of the story's three semi-protagonists enters cyberspace to reconnect with her old flame (now one of the AIs) and to transform while the third protagonist observes some of it and feels internal conflict.

This long short story reads on the one hand like a compressed novelette and, on the other, like a story much longer than it is. The lack of focus between the multiple, partly AI, protagonists makes it difficult to connect with. The cyberspace elements feel dated and the resolution is too easy. This is similar to E. J. Swift's recent story, "Weather Girl," with its female protagonist, estranged husband, computers, and climate fiction, but is much less effective. The most interesting part of this one is its extreme AI-controlled climate governance.

"The Great Filter" by Gus Moreno

The first-person protagonist works in a "salmonry" (artificial habitat for fish farming) where people engage in "Lopping": a practice where workers have "industrial accidents" which result in their damaged parts being replaced with superior prosthetics and in which their employers and the insurance companies collude. Meanwhile, they watch a version of "The 2,000 Year Old Man" skit and once, late in the story, think about the Fermi Paradox and a possible "Great Filter." The drama involves the protagonist deciding he might Lop and trying to work himself up to go through with it.

As "Painted Ocean" suffers from confused character-focus, so the plot/thematic parts of this one don't seem to cohere. It initially feels like a socio-economic satire with traces of surrealism but ultimately focuses on the title concept. While I could be wrong, the latter seems to say "if we want to survive we need to painfully sacrifice in order to become more human than human" – which is ultimately a misanthropic or pessimistic way to look at it. Either way, this story was odd but not very inviting or dramatic.


More of Jason McGregor's reviews can be found at Featured Futures.