Thursday, September 22, 2005

Apex Digest Issue #2

Note - this issue contains my short story Not for Children so everything I am about to say is deleriously biased.

Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest has come of age with the summer issue (#2).

Editor Jason Sizemore has pulled some name authors into the second edition to raise the bar, and the lesser-known writers have managed to also meet that mark. Sizemore’s vision of dark speculative fiction, hinted at in the premiere issue, has now exploded into realisation. The stories in the magazine have a tight dystopic theme running through, with a focus on individuals. Two sub-themes also emerge, providing a balance between black technology and bleak society.

The Falcon by James P Hogan opens the issue with an extremely skilful story of a woman who escapes her harsh reality into a dream of normality -- or perhaps it is a story of a woman recovering from a delusional psychosis of dystopia. Or perhaps it is a story of a political dissident being contained in a virtual prison by a society that is more complex and surprisingly humane, than first appears. The important point is, the story draws the reader through many levels of interpretation, limited only by the degree to which the reader chooses to be engaged. In the hands of an amateur, the story would struggle. In the hands of a writer as skillful as Hogan, this story by itself justifies the cover price of the magazine.

Thick and Thin by Russian sailor Peter Hagelslag is a Venusian morality tale about a nano/biotek symbiant named Halo of Flies and Murphy respectively. Hagelslag is a confident writer, and the reader is immediately won over by the tight characterisation of the constituent personalities of the symbiotic protagonist(s). The extremity of the physical environment is used to focus attention on the relationship – if Hagelslag were a boxer, he would certainly be punching above his weight.

A Flash of Light by novelist James R Cain is well written version of the oft used plot device: end-of-the-world/new-Eden-ism. But it is well written, and the reader is rewarded by the journey, if not the sting-in-the-tail.

An Odd Day in I-Forgot by Apex editorial staff newcomer Athena Workman is worth mentioning for the clearly envisioned setting, and (once again) memorable characters. Wert the Giant, Rusty the Fagger, Gregorina the Burnie, Teensy the Dwarf – all of them are used to great effect to indirectly describe a society of Housewife Hubbies, Mall giga-complexes and a curiously mixed Orwellan suburbia. It’s not what you see straight ahead, it’s what you see out of the corner of your eye that makes Odd Day work so well.

All of the other stories are well written and engaging. Not a turkey to be found, which is always a relief when reading small press genre publications. More to the point, Sizemore’s arrangement allows a reader to start at the beginning and finish at the end in a single sitting, without the reader feeling the need to check the length of the current story in the contents page, or flicking to the excellent reviews and interviews to take a break from amateur offerings. The cover art builds on the premiere issue visual brand, and although the quality of the interior art is inconsistent, some of the illustrations are excellent.

More to the point, the story arrangement is coherent, they are all high quality, and the magazine certainly kicks some serious genre arse.

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