“Asylum of Cuckoos” by Lila Bowen (fantasy short story)
“To Blight a Fig Tree” by Benjamin Kingsley (science fiction short story)
“A Night Out at a Nice Place” Nick Mamatas (science fiction short story)
“Symphony to a city under the stars” by Armando Saldaña (science fiction short story)
“The Best Friend We Never Had” by Nisi Shawl (science fiction short story)
This month’s Apex (now available in print as well as electronic formats) is a double issue of eight stories which includes five originals.
The first, “Asylum of Cuckoos,” is another Weird Western about race and gender which gets lost in the pack. The last, “The Best Friend We Never Had,” is a dystopian science fiction story about an agent returning to a station in order to do some recruiting (and fighting). There’s nothing especially wrong with it except that, perhaps due to excessive backloading, I’m given no reason to care about the milieu or characters – but that’s pretty fatal.
In between are three shorter stories which would have to be classed as “science fiction” but aren’t, exactly. Specifically, “To Blight a Fig Tree,” which involves pregnant women and their parasites, is not so much a science fiction story as a scene of mechanical surrealism (or symbolism) and probably won’t appeal to many but may work for some. I think “Symphony to a city under the stars” is, in one sense, an old-fashioned tale of the romance of space and the romance of women (and their costs) and, in another, a (not so) new-fangled VR tale. It also feels like an attempt at surreal poetry but is shot through with grammatical errors and confusing awkwardness. Also, while symphonies can have varied structures and this story’s structure may have been intentional, the section headings with symphonic tempos set an expectation for a finale which it doesn’t have.
Finally, a posthuman coagulum is slumming it with a less evolved (but still not entirely human) entity in order to have “A Night Out at a Nice Place.” They have a cosmological conversation which discusses life, the universe, sadomasochism, and everything. The intellectual epiphany at the end results in actual action of a sort but this “sci-phi” (philosophy) piece, while entertaining and thoughtful, is not fully fictional. Still, it was the best thing in the issue, has a last line unlike most you’ve read before, and is definitely worth a mention.
Aside from the stories, one general thing I feel I have to note is the number of grammatical errors in this issue, mostly in “Symphony” but also elsewhere. (Oddly, both “Symphony” and “Asylum” have issues with “sunk” vs. “sank.”)