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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Aurealis #119, April 2019

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Aurealis #119, April 2019

In the Mountain Valley” by Gordon Grice

Abomination” by Michelle Birkette
Fracture Line” by Chris Walker

Reviewed by Jeffrey Steven Abrams

In the Mountain Valley” by Gordon Grice

Although not for the queasy, this 3700-word work of horror is a captivating piece of storytelling.

Owner, Morland, has been having trouble retaining help on his high-country cattle ranch. The winters are harsh, and the work is hard, but it’s the haunted creatures that cause most to leave.

Finally, Moreland finds Grant, a manacled brute chopping wood. The convict is a fearless, no BS, take charge kind of guy, someone Moreland can use. All goes well until one day Grant’s dead body is found laid out on the mountainside. When a party arrives the next day to retrieve his body, Grant is gone.

Mysteriously, other workers begin to disappear. A wonderful tension builds as people are plucked away, an homage to famous scenes in Alien and The Thing.

As expected, there is a final confrontation between Moreland and Grant. Much as I enjoyed the earlier parts of the story, the ending was a disappointment. The carefully built tension gave way to gory descriptions. Two unexplained details also plagued me. How was it possible that convict Grant had guns in his possession? And, why didn’t everyone leave when given the chance?

Abomination” by Michelle Birkette

In the fashion of great works like Crime and Punishment, Dracula, and Lolita, “Abomination” unfolds from the perspective of the ‘evil’ character.

The story begins with eight-year-old Lydia escaping from somewhere, the reason for which is unclear. As she runs, thoughts of her tormented childhood replay in her head. She has always been called a freak, but the words only hurt when they came from her father.

Hearing noises, Lydia hides behind bushes where she encounters a lizard. So hungry, she eats the beast raw without a thought. When a dog nuzzles her from her hiding place, she leaps onto the road, directly into a friendly old farmer.

Like Lydia, the old man is not who he seems. Wise, he perceives the nature of Lydia’s affliction, a trait he shares himself. They both must not only eat meat but take the life of that which they consume.

The growing relationship between the farmer and Lydia occupies the body of the story. Here Birkette shows off her talents by creating scenes from the perspective of an evil creature pretending to be mute, communicating instead via gestures. So well executed, the effect was chilling.

My sole issue with “Abomination,” and it’s minor at that, is that I believe it would have been better minus the last three paragraphs. A very small price to pay for such a wonderful story.

Fracture Line” by Chris Walker

Think of an interstellar Top Gun with some Star Wars blended in, and you’ll get a feel for this rousing work of SF.

Kyle Miller plays Top Gun’s Maverick role as the best of his planet’s pilots in their interplanetary war with the Acharans. The early fighter-action scenes are riveting, and the later political skirmishes are fascinating, but what sets the story apart from other space operas is the setting.

Multi dimension/reality travel has become possible. Rather than fighting in traditional 3D space, the best pilots must also anticipate movements in and out of alternate realities. A lot of text is dedicated to explaining the physics behind this environment, perhaps a bit more than necessary.

When the enormous Acharan Dreadnought appears, the equivalent of Star Wars’ Death Star, Kyle and all the remaining pilots battle for their planet’s survival.

The ending is unsurprising but does have some interesting twists. Overall, I found “Fracture Line” an exciting and well written tale, but a lack of feeling made it unremarkable.