Apex Digest #6

Review by Steven Pirie

The first impression of Apex is of a quality magazine, with atmospheric illustrations, decent production values and plenty to dip into. It is published four times a year out of Lexington, Kentucky.

First, the fiction. The star of this issue was Whether to go Through, a story I’ve happily read four times now and would happily read again. A group of space travellers awake to find themselves falling into a mysterious room, which contains nothing but a gravel floor which is gradually getting hotter, and what appears to be a portal or doorway – but which could equally be some kind of energy barrier that would cause their death. Their predicament puts in question the way that humanity responds when faced with the unknown, an issue that is beautifully encapsulated in the last line. I loved this story, and was not surprised to see that Christopher Rowe, the author, has been nominated for several awards.

Queen of Stars by Bryn Sparks is an original, compelling, and outrageous (in a good way) story of a gay couple in space. The aptly named Moesha is determined to make ‘her’ gravity stilettos fit for a space walk, which has unforeseen and far-reaching consequences. Following the intervention of the damnable Australians, here in the guise of ruthless space pirates, Moesha realises that her journey has only just begun. This is a really memorable story, full of colourful and vivid imagery. Definitely different!

Another strong piece is Cerbo en Vitra ujo, the story of Grete and her attempt to find her lost boyfriend, Kaj, whom she fears is lost to the body harvesters. Mary Robinette Kowal’s story is based on skilful world creation, with a complex social hierarchy that is seamlessly woven together to underpin this tale. The sinister harvesters take desirable body parts from the young and healthy, grafting them onto those who can afford to replenish or augment their fading bodies. The donors, however, are not necessarily willing participants in the process. We follow the young Grete’s amateur detective work, sharing in her growing fear at what may become of Kaj, towards an ending where horror meets sci-fi. Terrific.

The first story in this issue, and the subject of one of the non-fiction articles, is Duel in the Somme by Ben Bova. This is a traditional tale of boy tries to get girl despite her richer, better looking boyfriend, but combined with a futuristic gaming environment. The main character crashes and burns in his attempt to win the girl’s affections… or does he? This was entertaining, but with an all-too-neat ending that switched me off somewhat.

Of the remaining fiction, Cut and Paste by Peter Gutierrez, The Deep Misanthropic Principle by Brandon Alspaugh and Robby Sparks’ Indigestion, I most enjoyed Spark’s story. It opens with an entertaining account of someone who really, really needs to go. Badly. While giving a presentation, in a highly socially constrained world. And this particular bowel movement is complete with major consequences – the main character, Hardin, has deliberately imbibed a substance that, when passed into the water system, will drug the populace, giving him the chance to escape. However, is Hardin a protagonist or pawn? Things don’t quite turn out as he planned, although he still manages to cling to his main hope, which is of freedom. This is wildly imaginative, although the writer’s skill manages to maintain the suspension of disbelief.

This issue of Apex also contained a serialised story, Temple Part II: A Map of You, by Steven Savile. I haven’t covered this, since I missed Part One. There are also insightful interviews with Poppy Z. Brite and Kage Baker. The magazine closes with Michael C. Reed’s Only an Echo, a thoughtful short piece about a simulation of Jesus, complete with disciples, about the changing impact (and disposability of) religion.

There is some interesting non-fiction too, especially Once Upon a Horror, which tells how Alethea Kontis’ love of genre fiction sprang from her childhood attraction to fairy tales. I empathise, as I think I began the same way… all those evil stepmothers, grisly ends, supernatural beasties and heads struck off with a single blow… who could fail to see the connection?

To sum up, Apex Digest is a quality publication with a good line up of fiction, interviews and non-fiction, complemented by high quality illustrations. I’m looking forward to issue 7.

Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest, edited by Jason Sizemore and published by Apex Publications, USA. A5, 108pp. Website: www.apexdigest.com

This review originally appeared on Whispers of Wickedness, and is reproduced here with permission.