Quick Review: Aurealis #122

Pretty good cover by Andrey Burmakin

Aurealis #122, edited by Stephen Higgins, is an enjoyable instalment of Australia’s leading speculative fiction magazine.

This issue comprises three stories, an editorial, a bit of historical literary criticism, a short interview with Victoria Schwab, and a lengthy section of reviews—a substantial amount of content for the relatively low price.

Here, I’ll only be commenting, spoiler-free, on the fiction. My current approach is to past the contents into my bullet journal and use a coloured highlighter to assign my opinion of the story. Red highlight is a bad rating, no highlight is a readable one, while yellow indicates good and green indicates fantastic.

The three stories in #122 are all science fiction.

Getting Home by P.K. Torrens follows a homesick scientist studying a medical mystery concerning aliens on a planet of what is probably Proxima Centauri. Overshadowing her work is an unreasonable, to say the least, military commander. The mystery is intriguing, the viewpoint character a bit miserable but still engaging, and the stakes are involving enough to make it a compelling read. If I were to complain, it would be that the military commander is a little one-note. That said, not intolerably so or beyond the reasonable bounds of human character. I gave it a yellow highlight, but with green around the edges.

Serine by Shan Drury is a space opera. Seline and her pseudo-AI sidekick investigate a structure in orbit around an out-of-the-way planet. Likable characters and amusing dialogue make for an enjoyable read, and there is ample suspense and surprise from the investigation. This is another one that got the yellow highlight but tinged with green.

Tigers of Mars by Conor DiViesti involves a traumatized veteran of a future war undergoing an unconventional therapy while juggling guilt and altered relationships. It’s well-written and has thematic depth but, for some reason I can’t pinpoint, I didn’t engage with it. However, I still judge it worth a solid yellow highlight. Good, but not to my taste.

Score: Good 100%

So, overall, not a bad hit-rate.

Mini-Review – Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year, Volume Thirteen


The first thing I read after deciding to put writing aside for a month of revivifying recreational reading was The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Thirteen, edited by Jonathan Strahan.

According to the introduction, this is the final volume in this anthology series. Colour me sad. This has been my favourite of the annual “best of” anthologies. I can and will follow Jonathan Strahan to his subsequent projects, but I’ll miss this one.

The anthology is exactly what it says on the tin: a collection of 29 stories published during 2018 gathered into one volume. My tl:dr review would be: it’s excellent; read it.

My longer review won’t be too much more substantial. I didn’t have time to take mountains of notes and deliver a vast, sweeping report. I just transferred the contents list to my bullet journal and, as I read, I left a highlighted the title of a good story in yellow and a great story in green. If the story were just fine, but not that special, it stayed unhighlighted. No stories ended up warranting a possible red highlight for actual badness, happily.

How did the anthology go?

  • Fine: 31%
  • Good: 28%
  • Great: 41%

Technically, three of the stories I rated as “fine” left me cold. I didn’t finish them. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to red highlight them. They were clearly well-executed short stories. They weren’t “bad”—just not to my taste.

Even so, it seems to me that 69% of stories in a volume being good to great is a solid hit rate, and the rest were, I stress again, nevertheless overwhelmingly an enjoyable read. I’d account myself very satisfied, overall.

Naming names, I would say the outstanding fantasy story in the collection is Garth Nix’s The Staff in the Stone. It was a really engaging high fantasy that crammed an awful lot of what’s good about that genre into a small space.

The outstanding science fiction story, for me, was Simone Heller’s utterly brilliant When We Were Starless, which was brilliantly written, sad, and hopeful.

Special mention for transcending categories of goodness has to go to Ursula LeGuin’s short Earthsea story, Firelight—which was wonderful and sad for many reasons.

Other recipients of the green highlight of general greatness were:

  • Mother Tongues, S. Qiouyi Lu
  • The Woman Who Destroyed Us, S. L. Huang
  • A Brief and Fearful Star, Carmen Maria Machado
  • Field Biology of the Wee Fairies, Naomi Kritzer
  • A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies, Alix E. Harrow
  • Okay, Glory, Elizabeth Bear
  • The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society, T. Kingfisher
  • If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, Zen Cho
  • Nine Last Days on Planet Earth, Daryl Gregory

All of that said, I can only repeat my earlier summary that the anthology was a splendid year’s best, well worth the reading and your recreational dollar.