The guards drag me up the stairs and shove me onto the stage. The audience jeers at me, but most of the insults are colloquialisms that I don’t understand. I do understand that the entire population of an Australian writers’ commune showed up to deal with me, and that I don’t have a single friend out there.
The woman who runs the place is also on the stage. She speaks towards me, but in a loud, theatrical voice that’s clearly for her followers. “We had a deal, raggedy man. You stay out of Australia, and we don’t write any more talking chicken stories.”
“The deal means nothing if you just switch to lesbian rhino stories.”
She turns to the audience. “Right or wrong, this man and I had a deal. What happens when you break a deal?”
The audience chants, “break a deal, face the wheel.” They repeat the chant over and over.
The woman whips a tarpaulin off a mutant wheel of fortune. She spins it before I can read anything, but as the spinning slows, I get a glimpse of my possible fates: something about poisonous snakes, left in the desert to die, fed to a great white shark…
The audience lets out a disappointed “aww” as the wheel makes its choice. “Read Bok Bok Bok: a Talking Chicken Anthology.”
I spit on the floor. “Spin it again.”
The audience cheers.
The Root Bridges of Haemae by Sean Monaghan. This story had a detailed setting on an alien world, but for me, it had a go-nowhere plot. Even worse, I sensed that the plot was going nowhere early in the story. Here’s a brief summary, so you can decide if the plot goes somewhere for you:
Two human researchers are studying an alien planet where the females of the sentient species give birth to many small offspring, dying in the process. One of the aliens learns that human females don’t die during childbirth, and this makes her sad about her pregnant alien friend’s impending death, and that sadness makes her an outcast. Then the alien’s human friend dies in childbirth, leading to further sadness.
I want more to my stories than “someone was sad about some things.” This story could have been rescued if the aliens and/or humans had begun a research program to allow the alien females to survive childbirth. Maybe some traditionalist aliens would try to stop them. If the researchers succeeded, how would alien society change? Would there be a population boom, needing a further research program to invent alien birth control?
Elven Blades by Ian Bell. Several modern-world characters try to deal with the impact of magical Elven objects which were dug up by archaeologists. The opening scene was far too bloody for me, but I enjoyed the different reactions of three characters to the objects.
Across the White Desert by Deborah Sheldon A team investigates a UFO which went down in Antarctica. I liked the story, but the ending was abrupt and inconclusive.
Aurealis Magazine is based in Australia, thus my second Mad Max-themed intro story. This issue surprised me twice. First, although I had specific problems with each story, I was impressed by the overall quality of the writing. There were no stinkers that made me say “where are the editors?”.
Second, I was surprised there were only three short stories. At the end of the third, I was looking forward to the next one. Still, I prefer this approach (fewer stories of higher quality) to the shotgun approach of the other Australian magazine I read, Andromeda Spaceways In-flight Magazine, which gave me several good stories, but also subjected me to some mediocre and truly awful ones.
At this point, both Australian magazines are on track to make round two of my magazine quest. Come on, America, the Australians are kicking our butts! If you’re an American magazine editor, it’s time for you to wrap yourself in an American flag, perch a bald eagle on your shoulder, and find me some good stories.