Ailuros by Matt Doyle
In the <present//future>, Josh and Alex must face <a//their own> monster if they are to salvage <their relationship//Ailuros Unit 23>;
These <are not> separate stories.
The following report represents a summary of the incident involving the abandoned microgravity holiday destination, Ailuros Unit Twenty-Three, and the crew of the Salvagers Guild Three ship, The Orca. The report is comprised primarily of the official transcripts of both the aforementioned events on board the unit and my interview with Guild Director, Sarah Walker. The final entry consists of my summarizing thoughts on the case.
As is often the case in investigations such as this, in the end, Ailuros itself is as much the key to understanding the events as the people involved are.
Circumstances as well as personal choices are important, after all.
The physical edition of the book features an experimental layout that allows the reader to choose how they wish to read the story.
AUTHOR: Matt Doyle
PUBLISHER: Fractured Mirror Publishing
LENGTH: 207 pages
GENRE: Science Fiction
*I received a free review copy in exchange for an honest review of this book.
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Secondary Character(s), Gay/Achillean Main Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Main Character(s).
AILUROS is sci-fi in an experimental format, about exploring two kinds of wreckage and figuring out how to deal with the monsters found within.
This book has an unusual format where the right-side pages form one story about the salvage of Ailuros Unit 23 and the left-side pages are an intertwined but distinct story about Josh and Alex’s relationship which contextualizes the right side/Ailuros story. I read the right side all the way through before going back and reading the left.
The tale of Ailuros Unit 23 is one of a salvage gone wrong and the analysis of the aftermath. It’s fast-paced, scary in places, and pretty deep for what is basically a novella within the larger novel. There’s time to get to know a few characters very well and others at least a little before the salvage goes awry. If this were the whole story I’d recommend it to anyone who likes sci-fi with horror elements.
The left side (Josh/Alex relationship) is a mix of self-reflection, observation of the right-side story, and psychoanalysis by another party. It builds more of what is probably the actual setting outside of the simulation, but focuses on what Alex thinks about what Josh’s side of the simulation. Its pacing is altered by whether it’s read on its own after reading the right side or if it’s read as parallel text during one reading of the book as a whole.
The combination of both sides of the book creates a complex but very understandable narrative about a relationship which is in its end stages after a sudden shock, and the drastic but futile efforts attempted as one of them tries to understand what happened. As experimental fiction, I can say this definitely worked for me. The place where this excels is the world-building, in both halves. The layers of framing are complicated enough to build immersion without making it hard to follow. I wasn't great at tracking what the left side claimed various right side characters were meant to represent, but it's said clearly and seemed consistent.
The very last bit on the left, which fills the function of an epilogue layered outside of both narratives, is fantastic. It makes me want to re-read the whole thing with the final revelation in my mind. It's the best kind of last-minute reveal, one which contextualizes the earlier information without contradicting it.
Right side (Ailuros Unit 23) CW for grief, ableist language (brief), medical content (includes discussion of alien pregnancy/reproduction), blood, violence, gun violence, domestic abuse (backstory), murder, major character death (graphic), death (graphic).
Left side (Josh/Alex relationship) CW for drugging, alcohol use (not depicted), domestic abuse (not depicted).