Review: Apex #103

 

Apex #103, December 2017

Cover of Apex #103

“Behind Her, Trailing Like Butterfly Wings” by Daniela Tomova (short story)
“The Edge of Things” by Katharine E. K. Duckett (short story)

At least in terms of the two original stories, Apex #103 could be the “quantum mechanics will get you in the end” literary science fantasy issue and that sort of pessimism and fuzziness isn’t often to my taste but both are readable and have their points.

“Behind Her, Trailing Like Butterfly Wings” by Daniela Tomova (short story)

A reporter from the “oasis people” is interviewing an electricity vendor of the “road people” in a time when “mouths” or “irregularities” open up, sometimes even in oases and often on the sides of the “road,” which is a path walked by the semi-mythical Wandering Woman. Her followers believe “mouths cannot open up where she walks.” These mouths are extremely unpleasant. The vendor describes the aftermath of a collapse of an oasis as:

“Nothing left but crumbs from houses and streets going places you don’t want to be. People half-glued to the asphalt, half inside a hole stretched in time. That second half still not having realized what happened to them. No government left to clean out the bodies, you see.

[Refugees] said some of those people have started screaming now and they will be screaming long after what’s left outside is bones. To the inside only a few minutes, or maybe at most a couple of days if they are really unlucky, will pass before they die but a few minutes of watching your body decay and disintegrate, that is…”

He shudders.

Most of the story is just the conversation of the two people, though there is a harrowing scene of a real-time seizure of a couple of people by a mouth. The conversation does eventually reveal something of the reporter’s history and motivation and results in a revelation about the Wandering Woman.

The tale’s foreground or surface is mostly simple and vivid while its background or foundation is complex and surreal. There are moments of interest but not a lot of action or even much to firmly engage with conceptually. This was the more interesting of the issue’s stories and may appeal to some but still didn’t really work for me.

“The Edge of Things” by Katharine E. K. Duckett (short story)

The nameless protagonist is wandering through a surreal hallucinatory existence, sometimes tinged with horror, which resembles a party of strange people in a strange house. (At one point, a guest offers, “LSD?” and the protagonist laughs and says, “I don’t think I need any.”) Over the course of the story, she eventually makes some progress toward “going sane,” or “going mad backwards.”

This genre bender seems almost to say “idle minds are the devil’s universe” but I’m sure you can make it say any number of things. While I didn’t entirely, some may enjoy this trip.

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Rec: “An Unexpected Boon” by S. B.  Divya

An Unexpected Boon” by S. B. Divya, Apex #102 November 2017, fantasy short story

(Apex is on a roll, with a recommended story in the last issue and another in this.)

The viewpoint of this tale shifts a bit between Aruni and Kalyani (a brother and a sister) the latter of whom seems to have something like a pronounced Asperger’s Syndrome. She’s very smart but can’t read expressions well or stand to be touched by people. When the parents leave Aruni in charge for a time while they’re away and a sage arrives, Aruni is extremely worried because (Indian?) custom dictates that Kalyani must serve as hostess. Much to his surprise, things go well and Kalyani is given a boon – a magic beetle (lightning bug, I think) – because she asked for a friend. When a second sage arrives, however, things do not go well at all and he curses the home. The siblings’ handling of this curse, and its ultimate effects, fill the remainder of the tale.

Aruni is sympathetic as the caring, but exasperated, brother, the milieu and the lightly (and then heavily) fantastic elements are well-handled, and the contrasting sages are intriguing, but Kalyani steals the show. Her disabilities and struggles and compensating extra abilities (even before her beetle kicks in) are well-drawn and induce, but don’t unfairly coerce, the reader’s affection and the working out of the ecumenical parable, while familiar, is satisfying.

Rec: “Penelope Waits” by Dennis Danvers

Penelope Waits” by Dennis Danvers, Apex #101 October 2017, science fiction short story

The first-person narrator is a twenty-six-year-old student who’s taking her classes just to get a better job, though she likes the dogs she washes now. She’s obviously someone whose potential exceeds her environment and experiences. When her insufficient boyfriend claims he’s been abducted by aliens, she doesn’t buy it but then she meets them herself and the grass suddenly looks a lot greener.

In a sense, this is all character and voice, as the narrator is almost the whole of the story and its greatest success. Aside from her, the story’s room is almost bare, having only the science fictional furniture of alien contact, like a fairly worn easy chair. However, the aliens do manage a bit of distinction and the Greek lit references are fun. I think the narrator will entertain many and her plight will speak directly to some.

Rec: “The Dark Birds” by Ursula Vernon

“The Dark Birds” by Ursula Vernon, January 2017 Apex Magazine, fantasy novelette

Baby tells the story of her family, in which there are always three daughters (Ruth, Susan, and Baby) no matter how many are born (and there are many). The parents are ogres and the children have almost no contact with anyone else, though Ruth does hand down stories of Lily, who came from the great beyond. One day, the mother has another child and Baby thinks she must become Susan but later finds that the baby has died. The current Susan investigates and matters quickly come to a head.

I’m not very conversant with fantasy so can’t be sure, but I suspect this may be a tale modeled on a standard fairy tale or something like that. Perhaps not. And I’m sure it can be read many ways though it seems to me it could be a fantastic retelling of how many women might see growing up in (or near) a small, presumably Southern town. Be that as it may or may not, I like Baby’s narrative voice and how it deftly shows her character and Susan’s, especially. It’s just good storytelling which, perhaps naturally for the presumably dyslexic Baby, feels very rooted in the oral storytelling tradition. Also, while it may not resonate for everyone and only does in a proximate but strong way for me, the depiction of the two-book house (Bible and almanac) and the oranges for Christmas provide extra bits of particular concreteness.