CLUBHOUSE: Review: augur Magazine Issue #6 Vol.2 #3

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OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.

AUGUR MAGAZINE issue #6, Vol. 2 No. 3.

Publisher: Kerrie Seljak-Byrne, augur Magazine Literary Society, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Editor in Chief: Alexander De Pompa. Managing Editor: Lawrence Stewen, Senior Editor: Mado Christie. Poetry Editor: Terese Mason Pierre. Graphic Fiction Editor: Amy Wang. Editor: Victoria Liao. Junior Editor: Vivian Li.

Cover Art: Lorna Antoniazzi. Interior Art: Sarah Crawley and Anke Gladnik.

EDITORIAL:

Letting go and holding on – by Alex De Pompa

Review:  

With six issues under its belt augur is switching to paying full SFWA rates, apparently the only SpeciFic zine in Canada to do so. I envy them. They will attract a formidable amount of professional talent.

Alex describes augur as combining SpecFic with “dreamy realism.” Then goes on to say the magazine focuses on character transformations, in this issue specifically characters who “navigate failing and broken relationships as they struggle to let go of inaccurate ideas of who they—and their partners—are.”

I confess I prefer concept-driven science fiction and normally can’t abide angst-ridden fiction of any kind. However, the quality of writing in the last two issues was quite high and perhaps the stories in this issue will blow away my prejudices. Let us explore together and find out.

FICTION:

katabasis – by Catherine George

Premise:  

Hannah and David are wanderers in search of a place to find home. They got together in the East, fled to the Prairies, then to a mountain community, and finally to an island on the West coast. Hannah enjoys walking along the beach while examining the sea-wrack, and also befriending the locals. She dares to think they’ve found a home at last. David, on the other hand, instinctively searches for a sign to move on. They find a soft leather boot washed ashore, a boot with a foot still in it.

Review:

Shoes, mostly running shoes, washing ashore complete with original feet, have become something of a cliché event on the West Coast. Happens several times a year. Back in August 2017 in the fourth issue of Polar Borealis Magazine I published Neptune Calling by Mario Lowther which was inspired by the same phenomenon. No doubt there have been other stories published elsewhere. Not in itself an original concept.

In this story the boot serves two functions, as an omen for David and a talisman for Hannah. To him it is a warning. To her, part of the mystery of the sea. A kind of prop, really, not the central point of the story. It is but one of many elements which make up an evocative description of the refreshing environment where the couple dwells. Living on Vancouver Island as I do, and having visited a number of the neighbouring Gulf Islands, I can tell you Catherine captures the attractive ambience of island living perfectly. Easy to see why Hannah wants to call it home. For David perhaps, it may be a case of things being too good to be true turning out to being not good enough.

This is actually a gentle, observational story revealing how subtly couples can draw apart under conditions you think would draw them together. Consequently, any resolution is bound to be difficult? Read the story and find out. I bet the description is pleasing enough to make you wish that you, too, live by the sea.

Katabasis, by the way, is an ancient Greek term for a journey down to the sea. Very appropriate for this story.

There’s a very silly content warning at the beginning. Ignore it. If you’re mature enough to read a story this well written you’re mature enough to cope with its meaning.

construction project as a ghost story – (poem) by Quinn Lui

Premise:  

If you build a house how long can you continue to live there when the storm comes?

Review:  

At one level this poem is about the difficulties of being a ghost in the house you used to live in. But, at another level, it is possibly about a relationship you have laboriously constructed and whether it is still worth maintaining it when you no longer live it so much as haunt it. Good question. I’ve known several couples who had that sort of relationship and, frankly, the sooner they broke it off the better it was for both of them.

Some vivid images and concepts add urgency to the conundrum but basically it boils down to “don’t haunt” if you want a healthy relationship. Difficult to do when you’re dead, of course. And I don’t necessarily mean literally dead.

noun torture verb break broke broken – (poem) by Kamilia Rina

Premise:

An individual takes refuge in dissociative imagery while undergoing torture.

Review:

Kamilia Rina is, among many things, a survivor of torture. I’ve never been tortured. It follows that I have no right to “critique” what she has written about the experience. I can only give my impression. When I say “dissociative imagery” I refer to a process of compartmentalization wherein the self-awareness strives to separate itself from the physical reality of the torture by radically reinterpreting what is happening in abstract terms. I am given to understand from assorted reading this is one of the psychological defence mechanisms people employ under such extreme circumstances. I apologise to Kamilia if that is not true or relevant to what is revealed in this poem.

The imagery is powerful and striking, but not literal. Nevertheless, the gist of what is happening is apparent and deeply unsettling and disturbing. In this case the content warning of “violence/torture” is justified, not in terms of graphic description so much as emotive description which pulls the reader into empathising with the poet as victim. I seldom read a poem which brings tears to my eyes but this one did. Evocative as hell, I guess because this is about a genuine hell-on-earth which is far more common and ubiquitous than we dare think. Absolutely, this poem makes you think … and feel.

remembrance of worlds past – by Andrew Wilmot

Premise:

A young man finds it difficult to cope with his girl friend’s fatal illness. That a giant planet, dubbed Mortem, has appeared on the edge of the Solar System and will collide with the Earth in five years time is a problem that both find hard to reconcile with their personal fate.

Review:

The movie When World’s Collide immediately springs to mind. However, this is an intruder with a difference that defies physics as currently known. Truth is nobody in this tale knows precisely what will happen when the two planets merge. Faith in science, faith in religion, faith in anything is called into question to the point where any answer seems as valid as any other. Most of all, faith in a loving relationship is placed under scrutiny. What does it all mean? And what is left when it is gone? When the relationship has finished?

This, too, is a gentle, contemplative story. Definitely falls into the category of “dreamy realism.” The science fiction aspect is merely a Zen-like object to focus on to encourage meditation in search of enlightenment. At least, that’s how it seems the two main characters approach it. Other methods of coping by humanity at large are mentioned, and all seem credible. Indeed, it is a curiously realistic survey of likely response to an unlikely event. Given the details revealed in the story, I think my response to Mortem’s imminent arrival would be curiosity, an eagerness to know. Or maybe I’d be shooting my way into the deepest bomb shelter. Won’t know till it happens.

The story IS gentle and reflective. Hence the content warning of “illness/death” is absurd and pointless. Have we all become children? Years ago, I remember a woman somewhere in the United States sued a publisher for publishing a book “unfit for children.” The judge dismissed her case, commenting to the effect “Madam, do you think all literature should be reduced to the level of children’s books? The world is full of adults. Be one.”

I quite sincerely believe this new(?) fad of content warning (seen it elsewhere recently) in mature literature aimed at adults is demeaning and insulting to the readers. Must we assume readers are idiots incapable of handling fiction that focuses on metaphors and themes relating to real life problems? Do we need Cole’s Reference Note labels on every work of fiction?

Grapes of Wrath = Content warning: poverty depicted.

1984 = Content Warning: Oppression Techniques.

War and Peace = Content Warning: Incompetent military commanders.

Aren’t these writings in themselves supposed to provide the warning? Shouldn’t you have to read them to understand the message intended by the author?

I really hope augur stops putting in these warnings. They function as spoilers, for one thing. And I don’t think it is a good thing if readers decide to skip this or that story based on these warnings. They might soon decide to skip reading augur all together.

Besides, is augur determined to drive away the faint of heart? Such people probably need to be exposed to the kind of cutting edge literature that augur normally publishes. That’s the whole point of being topical and innovative.

Nope. Content warnings strike me as elitist, counter-productive, and unnecessary. Hope they stop this foolishness. Okay, end of rant. I’m old. I can safely be ignored. On to the next item.

garage sale – (graphic art) by Wai Au

Premise:

A young couple drives about in search of garage sales. They are looking for, and need, entirely different things.

Review:  

People going to garage sales often alternate between looky-loo restraint and impulsive possessive instincts. They return home either regretting what they didn’t buy or regretting what they did buy. Not really the most pleasurable of pursuits. What if clairvoyant powers enter the picture? Makes things complicated.

This is a charming four-page graphic story that makes me glad I lack clairvoyant abilities.

paper, incense, need – by Sharon Hsu

Premise:  

In Chinese culture the Qingming festival is the day one honours revered ancestors with special food offerings and the burning of joss paper (spirit money). Many Chinese settled in far-off lands like America carry on the tradition. Bit of a burden for the ghosts of the ancestors to travel so far, or is it?

Review:

A quiet but delightful story recounting the experiences of a “long-lived” auntie ghost striving to assist generations of descendants. Tastes and customs change, but a ghost “lives on.” Never occurred to me before that a ghost has to adapt to changing times.

Well, I take that back, I saw the 1944 movie The Canterville Ghost with Charles Laughton on TV maybe 50 years ago and it raised some of the same issues, but rather differently and I haven’t thought a lot about it since. No, the “flavour” of this story strikes me as quite original and intriguing. It makes sense, too, given the context of the belief system involved. I enjoyed reading this story.

Enjoyed it despite the extremely lame Content Warning “story mentions self-induced abortion.” Indeed, it mentions it as part of the depiction of a resilient young woman determined to cope with hard circumstances. The gods forbid that readers should ever have to think about possible difficulties in life. No doubt best to skip the story and move on. Sigh. It’s actually a very heart-warming and moving story. In my opinion, at least. Well worth reading.

theories on gods – (poem) by Jason B. Crawford

Premise:  

The poet questions the origin and nature of the gods.

Review:

Jason suggests that the gods created by mankind over the millennia tend to reflect needs and aspirations which not everybody shares. This raises the interesting spectre of judging the gods as opposed to being judged by them. Only way to be fair, actually. Thought-provoking poem.

monstrous attractions – by Cindy Phan

Premise:

Blanca has broken up with Tanna, the woman she thought was going to marry, and has wound up living in a small town where she is responsible for the maintenance of two tourist attractions, one a giant golf ball, the other, a massive pinta bean. Even weirder, she’s being trained by a supervisor who has spent years looking after said ball and bean. Still, a job is a job and this one is pressure free. Till the full moon comes along and it is revealed that Ed, her boss, has a most peculiar obsession with the two tourist attractions, which, it turns out, are not quite what they seem, but something more.

Review:  

I once had a picture book showing most of the peculiar but enduring “giants” in the vicinity of the Trans Canada highway. The giant Easter egg, the giant lumberjack, the giant lobster, the giant moose (in competition with one in Norway), the giant canoe, etc. etc. There’s quite a few of them. Almost all are what’s known as “primitive” art, being hammered or carved into existence by enthusiasts with no arts training whatsoever. The result is inevitably rustic and endearing. People love to pose with them.

So, a story involving two such bizarre attractions has great appeal for me. The moral of the story, that relationships are what they are, is slight. But the fantasy aspect transcends philosophy or questions of morality. The concept is just plain fun. Yes, there are parallels with her past romance offered, some of them sad, but I don’t care. I was too caught up in being amused to bother with larger lessons to be learned. Not exactly what the author intended, perhaps, but I found the story too entertaining to be taught anything by it.

I believe I mentioned I prefer concepts over angst. To me the concept underlying this story completely overrides any and all subtle details of character. I’m hopeless that way. Possibly entirely for the wrong reasons I had a thoroughly good time reading this story. Hope the author doesn’t mind. I liked it.

CONCLUSION: 

With the exception of the poems, the style employed by the story authors is less literary than the previous two issues, maybe tending more toward plain but clear and precise description of a more accessible nature. Fine by me. That’s the kind of writing I prefer. All of it still very good writing, to be sure. Above all the stories are varied, each interesting in its own way. Excellent selection, in fact.

The poems are good. Very good. And Kamilia’s poem in particular is a stand-out piece of writing. Immensely powerful. I know it comes straight from her heart. An important piece of writing. I don’t think I’d be able to read it out loud to a group of people without breaking off under a surge of emotion. It’s that impactful. At least to me.

My one complaint, as I’ve made abundantly clear, is this Content Warning business. But I’ve said enough already. Fact is I recommend you read augur. I’m sure you’ll have as emotional a read as I did.

Check it out at: < augur magazine 2.3 >

 

 

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