Aurealis, #20, 1998

Sunday, 31 May 1998 18:00 A.M. Dellamonica
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"Imagining Alex" by Simon Brown
"Occasional Demons" by Robert Hood
"Rule of the People" by Sean McMullen
"In Theory" by Dirk Strasser
"On the Continent" by Hoa Pham
"Keeping the Moror Running" by Geoffrey Maloney
"The Infinite Race" by Terry Dowling
"Habits of Empire" by Sue Isle"
"Byzantium vs Republic of Australia" by Russell Blackford
"Australian Visions" by Michael Pryor

Asking an Australian about res publica would, I suspect, get an answer as complicated as the one I end up fumbling through when I'm asked--as a Canadian--to explain Quebec sovereignist politics. There is a freight of cultural knowledge in these stories which is huge, simultaneously daunting and utterly fascinating. I'm not sure anyone outside the culture could truly understand everything the phrase implies, but I am grateful to Aurealis for opening the window with these vivid and varied tales of the Australia to come.

"Imagining Ajax," by Simon Brown, is about the relationship between a professor of 19th century English poetry, and a newborn artificial intelligence who is interested in the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The professor, Michael Norris, has fled to Berkeley to escape the changeover of Australia's government, a change he opposed. Subtle and enjoyable, the story makes good use of Hopkins's poetry to flavor the tale and sharpen the fine edge of its ending.

Like Brown, Robert Hood quotes poetry in "Occasional Demons," unlike him, he resorts to Milton's Paradise Lost and offers up one of the Devil's best speeches through the unlikely mouthpiece of Princess Diana. The story is spiced with other references, too--Orwell's 1984, lyrics from popular songs--as Juno Le Grande, the Defender of the Republic, investigates Diana's ghost, who is haunting the President's official residence. The story is well written and Juno is interesting, but the other characters are a little weak and the ending forced.

The classical pantheon and a unique predator are residents of the Republic in "Rule of the People," by Sean McMullen. Julia--a raptor who feeds on vampires--has been trapped in an Australia where Proteus is selling dogs to shepherds and Vulcan is a builder of steam engines. The story's conceit is interesting, if perhaps not deftly handled, but Julia's story holds some sympathy.

Adrian Langer is a neuro-empathic actor hired to stand in for the President in "In Theory," by Dirk Strasser. Recruited to prevent an assassination attempt, Langer is imprinted with the President's neural map to give a speech by hologram for the Republic's Centenary. Lithe and smart, Strasser's wry tone makes the story thoroughly enjoyable.

"On the Continent," by Hoa Pham tells of a fractured Australia where the Republic failed, and one powerful, repressive state menaces the other countries on its borders. Its main character, Mike, is a fifteen year old, facing the draft and unsure whether to try and avoid army service. When a stranger in his family pub tells a tall tale which is really the true--and suppressed--history of The State, his worldview is changed forever. A compelling tale which offers a disturbing vision, "On the Continent" does suffer from some shaky POV changes but is otherwise solid.

It is the fortieth anniversary of the People's Democratic Revolution when Jerzhi Kapucinski wakes to find himself embroiled in a conspiracy in Geoffrey Maloney's "Keeping the Motor Running." When he finds the murdered body of a corrupt bureaucrat involved in the biotech black market, the fact that the victim is his former lover is the least of his problems. "Keeping the Meter Running" is a good story, though its setting is perhaps a bit implausible--could old-style Communism really rise in Australia without developing one or two new wrinkles?

Cas Caro is hip deep in political murk before he knows it in "The Infinite Race", by Terry Dowling. As high-level government officials are assassinated by an apparently invincible assassin, the civilian policeman discovers that he has participated, years ago, in a temporal experiment that he only barely understands. This lack of clarity is an unfortunate weakness for the reader as well, however, and dulls the story's effect. Simon Harnet is the president of Australia in "Habits of Empire," by Sue Isle, a well told fantasy about the relationship between the land and those who rule it; about the poltical roles of men and women in politics, and ultimately about the responsibility that comes with national self-determination. The story has a cool and moody tone which well suits Harnet's travels through the political world and his encounters with the three women who awaken him to his responsibilities.

"Byzantium vs. Republic of Australia," by Russell Blackford is a starchy account of the Republic's constitutional wrangling over issues related to Zelestis Prime, a computer-construct of a once living citizen, and the legality of the process which created him. "Uploading" is strictly forbidden by Australian law, and one reason for the stricture is that it leads to the inevitable death of the human involved. Though Blackford's writing is clear and his characterization sharp, this story ultimately fails by not making us care sufficiently about Zelestis Prime or his fate--the usual tension of a courtroom drama is lacking here.

Finally, "Australian Visions," by Michael Pryor is a series of hallucinogenically delivered, humorous glimpses into the future. Each vision is vivid and delicious, and Pryor's self-mocking style an utter treat for the reader.

The cumulative impact of the stories in The Futures of the Australian Republic is that of having one's eyes opened to a new, complicated and fascinating world. A clear sense of infinite possibility is evoked here, bringing with it the spirit of everything that is most wonderful in the genre. Everyone who participated in the production of this remarkable issue of Aurealis is to be heartily commended.

A.M. Dellamonica has been a theatre technician, rape crisis worker, college newspaper editor, actor, apprentice pink-collar slave trader, alarm monitor, piccolo diva and guerrilla secretary. A resident of Vancouver, B.C., Canada, where she lives with the most wonderful woman in the world, she is a member of the Fangs of God on-line writers workshop. Her stories have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including the Best of Crank! anthology and Realms of Fantasy. She is a regular reviewer for Tangent.