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Aurealis #133

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In this issue of Australia’s iconic Aurealis magazine, Nick Marone explores the themes longevity, self-determination, and the issue of disposable commodities in his poignant ‘The House of Time’. Chris Catlin’s does a clever science fictional rewrite of the classic Sisyphus myth in ‘CSFS’, while Grant Longstaff creeps us all out with the granddaddy of haunted forest stories, ‘The Forest Abyss’.

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Why do some people hate fantasy and science fiction with a vengeance while others adore it? Is it simply a ‘pineapple on pizza’ thing? A matter of taste? Or is there something more profound at work?

I suspect it comes down to a concept that gets thrown around in all sorts of contexts: the suspension of disbelief. The term was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817 and was originally about how modern readers can pretend to themselves while reading fiction to accept the reality of the supernatural. It’s a matter of, for a specific time span, deliberately putting aside what you would consider irrational in real life for the sake of the reading experience. You accept its reality so that you can immerse yourself in the story rather than skirt across the surface. Why would you do this? Coleridge argued that giving yourself over to the author’s vision of the world long enough to appreciate the work ‘awakens the mind’. We can see things we’ve never seen before, feel things we’ve never felt, and experience worlds we’ve never visited.

So, originally suspension of disbelief was about the supernatural or fantastic in fiction. At its heart it’s a theory of how we read the genres we now call science fiction, fantasy and horror. In modern times the concept has been extended to include what we do when we read any fiction. Even the most realistic fiction is an artificial construction made to appear real. In order to get any emotional response when we read any story, we need to allow our minds to accept the reality of it. And the idea behind suspension of disbelief has further been extended to movies, theatre, cartoons and mental health.

There are clearly two sides to this phenomenon. The writer needs to be skilled enough to produce a work that makes the suspension possible. If a work is self-contradictory or confusing, the implausibilities and unrealities will block the experience. Coleridge would say the writer needs to be able to infuse the work with a ‘human interest and a semblance of truth’.

The reader, on the other hand, needs to be open to the experience. The question is, how ‘willing’ is this suspension? Why do some readers choose to and others don’t? Is it an innate ability, or is it something that can be enhanced? Judging by the number of people who loathe speculative fiction, and even the number of people who say they dislike fiction of any kind, this inclination isn’t universal. I suspect it’s a little like meditation or mindfulness. Some people have a greater natural inclination to it, but it’s possible to train yourself to do it. Other people have no interest in it at all.

If you’re reading this, you’re most likely to be willing to suspend. So get ready for your minds to be opened!

I pass, like night, from land to land;

I have strange power of speech;

That moment that his face I see,

I know the man that must hear me:

To him my tale I teach.

[The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge]

All the best from the cloud!

Dirk Strasser

From The House of Time by Nick Marone

About Nick Marone

Nick Marone's novella, Fire Over Troubled Water, was released in 2019 as part of the eight-author, eight-book collaborative Drowned Earth Series, and his short fiction has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways (forthcoming), Aurealis, and a Deadset Press anthology called Journeys. Visit his website at nickmarone.com.
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I know what I am, and I know my purpose.
The maker himself stands in the foyer and adjusts my parameters via a tablet. I don’t like some of the changes he is making. Maybe my owners will change them again to suit their preferences.

From CSFS by Chris Catlin

About Chris Catlin

Chris Catlin is a writer and artist from Melbourne who has worked in illustration and technical writing. He’s currently completing a children’s novel he started while building up the courage to resume the fantasy trilogy that was left languishing when it all got out of hand. You can check out his artwork at: www.deviantart.com/chrisrcatlin/gallery.
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CSFS’s databanks surged, projecting hallucinatory images onto his visual system, overlaying past memories onto the unoccupied room before him.

He saw the technicians working as once they had: analysing readouts and feeding information into the consoles. He remembered their soft pink and brown skins, their movements and their voices.

From The Forest Abyss by Grant Longstaff

About Grant Longstaff

Grant Longstaff is from a small, suitably dismal town in the north east of England where nothing much happens. He had no choice but to write fiction. His work has most recently been featured on The Other Stories podcast created by Hawk and Cleaver. He now lives in Glasgow. You can find him online at www.grantlongstaff.co.uk.
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Kat sat in the back of the rental car and played the part of gooseberry with silent perfection, enduring the insipid flirting of Amanda and Jacek as they drove deep into the Polish countryside.

From CONQUIST Part 7—The Mouth of Gold by Dirk Strasser

About Dirk Strasser

Dirk Strasser has co-edited/co-published Australia’s premiere speculative fiction magazine Aurealis for 30 years and founded the Aurealis Awards. His screenplay of Conquist was a Finalist at the 2019 Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival, Richmond International Film Festival, the Fresh Voices Original Screenplay Competition and the Byron Bay Film Festival.
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I write these words in the full knowledge that I can no longer truthfully call myself a conquistador. While this realisation provides me with strange solace, there is a question that now troubles my soul. If I am no longer a servant of his Imperial Majesty Charles V, King of Spain, then what am I?

From The Science and the Magic Inside Fantasy Fiction by Matthew Nelson

About Matthew Nelson

Mathew Nelson has always been passionate about science, science fiction, history, and fantasy, and has previously published non-fiction for Aurealis. He has written nearly thirty stories on Penana.com, where he is known as Nelso555. He is currently writing a novel, and is undergoing his PhD in Media, Culture and Creative Arts.
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Two genres, science fiction and fantasy, grouped together in most modern bookstores, at first glance appear to be quite opposite. One has elves, dragons and magic, while the other has spaceships, time travel and the scientific method. A reader can generally tell which is science fiction within a few seconds. Stand in front of a bookshelf and point at what science fiction looks like and you’ll get it right just about every time. This is a fairly generous point of view that glosses over the technicalities of defining genre.

From Dark Fiction by Eugen Bacon

About Eugen Bacon

Eugen Bacon is African Australian, a computer scientist mentally re-engineered into creative writing. Her work has won, been shortlisted, longlisted or commended in national and international awards, including the Bridport Prize, Copyright Agency Prize, Australian Shadows Awards, Ditmar Awards and Nommo Award for Speculative Fiction by Africans. Website: www.eugenbacon.com
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I was seven or eight and it was night. I lay sprawled on a coach in the living room with my mother. She must have forgotten I was there, or perhaps she thought I was asleep. She was watching TV, a British horror film I Don’t Want to be Born (1975)

From Ernest Favenc: Racism, Literary Games and a Touch of the Speculative by Gillian Polack

About Gillian Polack

Gillian Polack is a writer, editor and historian. Several of her novels and her short story collection have been shortlisted for Ditmar or Aurealis awards. She has edited two anthologies and has several dozen short stories published (some to very mild fanfare, some not). Website: www.gillianpolack.com.
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Last time I wrote about Ernest Favenc, I wrote about him as a writer of a lost race novel. I always think of the Australian version of these novels as novels about lost Lemuria because of G Firth-Scott’s novel about that missing country. Novels of lost Lemuria and their equivalents are rather important in Australia’s science fiction and fantasy history.