Review by by Steven Pirie
It's pleasant to hold. It's nicely laid out, professionally edited with seemingly not a word out of place. (Okay, I found half a duplicated sentence, and one truncated one, but that's all!)
Apex is A5 in size, perfect bound with colour cover and black and white illustrations inside. My only criticism of the layout is that the font size is fairly small, and as a wearer of glasses I found it more comfortable to read in a good light. I’m sure I’d struggle to read it on the train or bus. It’s decent value, though, with ten fiction stories, a number of book reviews, an essay, and an author interview.
‘There’s so much goodness in this issue that I struggled to fit it all in within 128 pages,’ says Editor in Chief, Jason Sizemore. And overall I’d have to agree. It’s a good read.
The Falcon by James P. Hogan provides a strong opening. Myriam/Vanessa is a young woman caught in two realities, with each appearing as a dream within the other. In one reality, Myriam is trapped within an authoritarian state, and is taken as a political prisoner for her ‘free thinking’ in refusing orders to attack rebel forces. In the other she’s Vanessa, confused by apparent memory loss and/or some form of mental breakdown, struggling to rebuild what would seem to have been an idyllic life.
A touch of passivity apart, there’s nice writing, here. The seemingly ‘waking’ reality at the start is subtly changed to the apparent ‘dreamed’ reality at the end, and the transition between the two is skilfully done to tease the reader along the way. Where the story failed a little is that the ending left as many questions in my mind as it answered, and I found myself wanting more of a denouement. I came away captivated by the story and the writing but not really sure where I’d ended up. Still, even with that possible failing, The Falcon is a strong opener and well worth the read.
I struggled more with the second story, Thick and Thin by Peter Hagelslag. I like reasonably unambiguous openings – intrigue me, yes, but confuse me, no – and in truth I didn’t feel I knew who or what the protagonists were until well into the tale. Losing me so early also made me feel the need to skim somewhat, so I probably missed out at both ends of the tale. The fact that the tale is fairly lengthy didn’t help in that respect.
Murphy and Halo are symbiotic entities currently gathering ‘information’ on Venus – a dangerous place with an entire spectrum of life forms largely in combat with each other. After a number of battles and skirmishes, they are recruited to infiltrate the Venusian equivalent of a religious sect. The ending is not a happy one. Then again, I suppose in joining such sects one might not expect a happy ending. Again, like The Falcon, I found I wanted more from the ending.
It’s not that overall it’s a badly written story – it will certainly appeal to those who like bags of action in their fiction, for example, and there’s plenty of futuristic science in there to challenge the sciency types – just that it fell a little flat for this reader.
Its accompanying illustration by Christine Cartwright is superbly detailed. A shame it’s not in colour, though quite obviously that would raise Apex’s costs somewhat, perhaps to unsustainable levels.
In Union Dues by K. A. Patterson the hapless Johnson gets more than he bargained for when loading freight at the spaceport. This is a short, linear horror story, that’s nicely crafted and which builds steadily towards a suitably garish ending.
Bugs in the Wall by Jonathon Moeller is another fairly linear horror offering. Tray is a scientist who is tricked into subservience by the evil Brutus Montison, the company Vice President. But Tray is a man on a mission, and that mission is revenge and freedom. Whether Tray achieves these goals I won’t say. Buy the magazine and find out.
In A Flash of Light, by James R. Cain and finely illustrated by Michael King, Mia and Max are a couple of washed-up characters, an unlikely mix of physicist and plumber who between them have seen one quark and u-bend too many. Max is the ex-husband, whose breath is a ‘sickly blend of beer and kebab’. Mia suffers migraines, and is bent on finishing one last project. Last, or is it?
For me the story began dubiously, with a wealth of technical description that I didn’t care for. But once the mechanics of Mia and Max’s relationship began to be explored – that they’d lost their only son, for instance, and that both clearly were still hurting because of it – the tale took on real depth. And then the world exploded and it became almost a completely different story.
Okay, I’m being a little flippant there, but there is a natural disaster that is hinted may be due to Mia’s work, but is in fact totally coincidental. Max is gone, and Mia will build a new world. It’s an ending in truth I didn’t really see coming. In one way, I liked the idea that Mia’s world had fallen apart back in her Max days. I hoped in that there would be the story’s resolution, and that’s the world they would rebuild. Don’t take me wrong – for all my flippancy, it’s not a bad ending. It merely feels as if the author let the story go where it wanted rather than rein it back. Whether you agree this is a failure of not, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the quality of its writing.
I truly love the voice in An Odd Day in I-Forgot by Athena Workman. It played with my mind – like some sort of futuristic Magic Roundabout, only weirder – and I didn’t know what was going on early on, but loved it, and simply couldn’t stop reading.
I-Forgot is society’s dustbin. But if there are rogues and undesirables in its township, they are lovable ones. Chris is out-running the ‘republic Guards’. He strays into I-Forgot, and begins the charming interaction between the multitudes of odd characters within.
”You gonna stay amongst us’ he (Wert) asked, quietly. The boy nodded slowly, but that was all right. None of them really wanted to be there.’
I disagree. Of course they want to be there. I-Forgot seems a wonderful place. I want to be in I-Forgot when the revolution comes!
Crucifixation by Lavie Tidhar is one of the shorter offerings in Apex Digest. It does well in that it invokes sympathy in me for a robotic type protagonist, who’s reduced to begging for spare parts in the street, and who falls foul of the robotic mafia. I rather like this tale. Its parallels with today’s seemingly uncaring society are nicely worked into a futuristic setting. All the protagonist has left is to pray, which, unless you happen to believe in the power of prayer, might be seen as a somewhat downbeat ending. But I felt this tale was an easy one for the reader to connect with while still remaining firmly fixed with a speculative element.
Nanotech by Ren Holton is a story of nanotechnology taking over. It begins as a tale of office politics, and ends with the narrator breeding the super race, so as you might guess there’s a broad spectrum of ideas in here. I can’t quite make up my mind about this one. It was an enjoyable read, but I can’t help feeling there’s something missing in it. The un-named protagonist takes up a lowly cleaning job to try and get access to the main guy’s computer, which seemed a little out of character to me – surely she’d find a more high tech method, particularly with us being told she operates not at the cutting edge but at ‘the air perturbation ahead of the cutting edge’. And her offspring are both genius babies and gurgling babies at the same time. Maybe that’s why I don’t buy into this story right away, interesting though it surely is. Nanotech is nicely illustrated by Dalmatius P. Frau.
Phoenix by Ken Rand is a kind of post apocalyptic tale in which Ann is reduced to the madness of a caveman-like existence. She’s shunned by what’s left of the population, deemed a witch and driven out whenever she tries to make contact with the townsfolk. But the townsfolk adults are suffering a sickness, one which Ann herself has unwittingly caused, and soon they summon their ‘witch’ for help. Like the legendary phoenix, Ann sets about helping the children rise again from their ruined civilisation. Well worth the read, is my opinion on this story.
Finally, Not For Children by Bryn Sparks provides a well-crafted ending to the main fiction section. It’s a kind of allegorical tale within an allegorical tale, along the lines of be careful what you wish for, and be wary where you tread. A young man seeks the ‘favours’ of the beautiful ‘Woman of the Caves’. But all is not as it seems with this woman, and the young man’s lust is also his undoing. And while the witch’s spell takes effect, we are treated to a story within a story, where the desert near the caves is shown to be no place for children. I must admit to being a little confused as to how the two portions of the tale are really supposed to mesh together. It’s one of those tales that has you scratching your head a little, as if the real meaning is slightly fogged. It does, however, make for entertaining reading.
Finally, finally, there’s a flash fiction piece: Apex Parting Shot: Orders by Jon Hansen. A fear of spiders first contact story ends with the ambassador climbing up midshipman Mamatis’ leg. As nice a way to finish a magazine as you’ll find. If it had been me, the headlines would read: ‘Rolled Up Newspaper Spawns Intergalactic Incident.’ A fun little short to round things off.
Overall, I like Apex. It feels like it’s confident that its fiction is of a high standard, if that’s not too obscure a thing to say. I would certainly buy further editions for my reading pleasure, without the intention to review.
- Godforsaken by Steven Shrewsbury, reviewed by William I. Lengeman III.
- The Burroughs Cyclopaedia: Characters, Places, Fauna, Flora, Technologies, Languages, Ideas and Terminologies Found in the Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, reviewed by William I. Lengeman III.
- Woman by Richard Matheson, reviewed by William I. Lengeman III.
- Empress of Clouds by Diana Hignutt, reviewed by Erin Gold.
- Rebel Nation by Chris Stires, reviewed by Gill Ainsworth.
- Neurolink by M.M. Buckner, reviewed by Conrad McHollister.
- Fear of the Unknown: Horror Anthology, reviewed by Conrad McHollister.
- Essay: Horror Saves Lives by Gill Ainsworth.
- Interview: Jason Sizemore interviews Eugie Foster.
- Justin Stewart
- Angela Jobe
- Stephanie Rodriguez
- Dalmatius P. Frau
- Christine Cartwright
- Michael J. King
This review originally appeared on Whispers of Wickedness, and is reproduced here with permission.