- “Stars so Sharp They Break the Skin” by Matthew Sanborn Smith (science fantasy short story)
- “Mother Jones and the Nasty Eclipse” by Cherie Priest (2700 words)
- “Cherry Wood Coffin” by Eugenia Triantafyllou (fantasy short story)
- “Fifteen Minutes Hate” by Rich Larson (science fiction short story)
- “Cold Blue Sky” by J.E. Bates (science fiction short story)
The original fiction in this month’s Apex is entirely in present tense and more than once in second person. Therefore, despite having linked to it in my last “Links” post, I’ll link to this gem again: Michael Swanwick cites Ursula K. Le Guin on present tense (with a teaser on second-person). Leaving technique aside, the issue brings us sharp stars, nasty eclipses, cold skies, coffins and hate. Whee! Let’s go!
In the center, there’s an interesting little flash piece about a guy who’s making a “Cherry Wood Coffin.” Coming deaths seem to impel him to start work and the wood, itself, tells him what to do. This is going to be a small coffin so it’s no surprise when a young mother arrives and tries to bribe the worker into doing away with the coffin. She learns why that’s a bad idea.
On either side of that are slightly longer pieces.
“Mother Jones” is no story at all but simply an elliptical op-ed on politics, apparently triggered by current affairs, in which “I” monologue at “you.”
The “Fifteen Minutes Hate” is a puzzler for me. It riffs on Orwell (and Steve Allen’s “The Public Hating”) to tell us about a woman’s cilia-bearing phone crawling over her to wake her up and inform her she’s about to become the focus of the Hate. I was expecting her to have done something trivial, thereby pointing up the ludicrous nature of the Packs that patrol our internet and society. It also occurred to me that she might have actually committed some capital crime, thereby conveying an idea that, even then, vengeance is not justice, hate poisons the hater, etc. Instead (without spoiling the specifics) she’s done something that actually is reprehensible and non-trivial, even if it is in comparison to “some government infoscandal, [or] a nuclear aggression in Mashhad.” The point would seem to be on the vicious mobs but the point would have been sharper with a different protagonist and/or situation.
On either side of those are two tales that are longer still (though still just 4-5K words).
“Stars” deals with a veteran of the psychic wars (to borrow the Blue Oyster Cult song title), who is recovering from a mysterious additional ailment, accompanied by a mysterious person for whom he has strong ambiguous feelings and it mostly comes clear in the end. It uses present tense with little justification, though a theoretical reason is asserted at one point, and shifts person with even less, though it is all intended to convey the psychic trauma the veteran lives in (rather than, y’know, just conveying the psychic trauma the veteran lives in). This will likely suit some people but did not work for me.
“Cold Blue Sky” was certainly the tale I most enjoyed reading from this issue. The problem is in what the ending means. It opens with an “anthrobotic” model waking up when the cops come for her and we learn that’s she’s “evidence” in a crime. We learn the nature of that and more about her, her society, and the people who bought her. It’s told in a tense, clipped, fast-moving way that provides excitement and narrative thrust without actually being all that action-oriented and the first person narration, coming from the robot, creates an interestingly objective subjectivity. However, like “Stars,” this is in first person present tense which is either disastrous or quite clever, depending on how we’re supposed to take the ending, This story has generally been done before and I don’t know that it adds a lot even under a charitable reading but it was fine content.