Under Magellanic Clouds is a newish Australian semi-prozine, and a welcome addition to those local markets that provide a training ground for new writers as well as a home for the occasional story from more established authors.

Alison Venugoban's "Commodities Market" (Under Magellanic Clouds) is based on a great idea which is ultimately let down by descriptive overkill. An introductory quote from a 1999 WHO document lets us know that India suffers from a severe shortage of women because of the rate of female infanticide and the abortion of female foetuses. The story deals with the attempt by Jayanthi Sivalingam to obtain a bride for her youngest son Mahendran, and the desperate and morally dubious actions she is prepared to take to achieve this end. Venugoban has an easy narrative style and an eye for good dialogue that quickly submerges us into a frightening and all too plausible future India. The tale is moving along very nicely when suddenly Venugoban throws in four or five paragraphs that describe in detail what the WHO quote and the story so far had already told us. I felt like I had run into quicksand.

These paragraphs aside, however, "Commodities Market" is still a strong idea, and for the most part told very well indeed. Venugoban obviously has the ability and imagination to write good SF, and I'm sure we'll be seeing a great deal more from her in the near future.

Geoffrey Maloney is one of Australian SF's consistent hitters. Over the last ten or so years he has produced several good stories with a writing style that is all his own. I think "Angel Song" (Under Magellanic Clouds) is his best yet.

In a nightmarish world populated by Welfs who are under the hallucinatory influence of creatures called Angels, two distinctly lower class "scag-hands" - Marmion and her brother - are about to upset the apple cart. Using drugs and implants, the Angels (in league with the very wealthy, I gather from hints in the story) keep the middle-class and the poor docile through their "song" and the vague promise that all Welfs may one day themselves become Angels and thus immortal. It's a crook promise, of course, and dangerous "femmats" like Marmion are out to reveal the scam, if only because of their own anger and spite rather than from any feelings of altruism.

Maloney shows us a society peopled by bitter, selfish and deluded individuals, and yet not entirely without hope. If at times the dialogue is a little strained, perhaps reaching too hard for a kind of cyberpunk cred, there's enough momentum in the telling to keep us involved until the end.

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©1998 Simon Brown.