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Review: Aurealis #129, April 2020

Review: Aurealis #129, April 2020

Originally Posted at Tangent Online, April 9, 2020

“Pork Belly” by Jack Heath
“Father’s House” by Grace Chan
“Prime Mover” by Robert DeLeskie

“Pork Belly” by Jack Heath is a trippy ride. In a near future world, female pigs (sows) are being used as surrogates to avoid the death of human women. The story primarily follows Claudia, the would-be mother, as their sow goes in for the birth process.

Overall, it’s an interesting way to treat birth and, I think, pretty accurate. The dialog and inner monologue reads similarly to conversations I’ve had with expectant parents (sans pigs, obviously), but the real kicker comes with the final line of the story. In that moment, the full reality of this situation becomes clear and it doesn’t reflect well on humanity.

Grace Chan‘s “Father’s House” is an emotional wallop. Henry returns home to pack up his father, Tsz-Kan’s, things. It’s an emotional time, with Henry recounting old stories of his childhood with his father who helps him dig through their history; even trying to dig into Tsz-Kan’s life and learn something about his parent.

I can’t say too much more about the story without spoiling it, so I’ll stop there, but the depth of feeling and fondness with which each story is told builds upon itself until, like Henry at the end, you can’t help but cry. Beautiful story.

“Prime Mover” by Robert DeLeskie is interesting. It follows a trucker, Arlene, who is going through the motions of living after her husband dies of cancer. As a final Hail Mary before offing herself, to keep the tone of the story, Arlene takes an overnight job that leads her to an old haunt, a truck stop that served the best pecan pie. When she arrives, everyone she knows is gone, the pecan pie is store bought, and people are going missing. The night just gets weirder from there, resulting in Arlene finding a new purpose in life through her abuse of a sports relic.

The tone throughout is really spot on for a trucker, I think. Having grown up with a diesel mechanic father, I had a lot of exposure to that specific group. Every bit of the story, from the anger at rain to the climactic fight at the end, is told with the same “well, this is happening” tone I recognize from my conversations with truckers and it works really well. A fun, yet emotional romp through the life of a trucker (thrown into an 80s movie plot).

Review: Aurealis #124, September 2019

Review: Aurealis #124, September 2019

Originally Posted at Tangent Online, September 12, 2019

“Leisure Culture” by Maddison Stoff
“Nie Among the Tree People” by E H Mann
“Inheritance” by James Rowland

“Leisure Culture” by Maddison Stoff is far funnier than a story about the end of humanity should be. It’s set in a far-future world where the Earth has taken on an almost Venusian atmosphere, most of humanity lives in leisure pods—think Ready Player One style, full immersion units—and we’ve encountered alien life, but they’re actually kind of cool. Stoff gives us humanity’s last moments through the eyes of a narrator who doesn’t really see it as any different than what they were doing in the leisure pods.

The story is filled with dark humor amidst criticism of both conservative and liberal governments, notably the rich and powerful in both camps. There’s a rough honesty in the story that really spoke to me, especially when the narrator is eating sushi while the world burns.

Because, honestly, if all of humanity is going to be absorbed into a far-reaching alien consciousness, what else are you going to do?

Overall, it’s an interesting read, just don’t expect a ton of depth.

E H Mann‘s “Nie Among the Tree People” is a story about a narrator fleeing the craziness of a city and stumbling across a village of people turned into trees. In this world, gods walk the earth. In the city, they’re things of circuits and electricity, but in the forests, they’re raw elements of fire and wood. Nie’s story begins when their flight from the city leads them to the tree people. The resulting silence and peace evolves into a life-changing experience for Nie, which ultimately results in Nie “saving” the town and themselves in the process.

The story itself is sweet and simple, once you get a handle on the fact gods exist as elemental forces. For me, Nie represents anyone who feels overwhelmed by modern society and wants to get away from it all, to reconnect with a nature that feels so far away in this day and age.

I can only hope that all of us reconnect as gracefully as them.

“Inheritance” by James Rowland is a speculative fiction story disguised as an art review of a dead artist, Nandi Harris, a woman who wove magic into her paints and made fully immersive art a reality throughout the 20th century.

The writing itself has the stale tone you expect in a scholarly article, though the descriptions and attention to detail within each discussed piece is beautiful and deep. In a way, it feels like the author is attempting to perform their own magic trick here, to create a world within a world like Harris did with her paintings. I think the success of that will be mixed, but for me personally, coming off a recent death in my family, it worked wonderfully. The end message, one so personal, hopeful, and unexpected given the handling of the rest of the content, really resonated with me because of that. It’s a great story for someone going through a tough time. Give it a read, if you can.