Monday, October 03, 2005

Apex Science fiction and Horror Digest (Fall 2005)

I'm a contributor to this issue.

So sue me.

That said, let me talk about Jason Sizemore's latest collection of macabre Specfic in his own words:




Did the issue live up to the hype? Hell yes!

It kicks off with The Kaarst; a post global-warming character study by novelist
M.M. Buckner set (fittingly given the publication's home) in Kentucky. The impoverished albino locals are living a subsitence existence deep underground, but what they lack in worldly goods and material sophistication, they make up for in their generosity of spirit and the richness of their dreams. And they have great hope. Buckner describes the final hours of an interloping geologist from the material-rich, a thinly disguised inheritor of Imperial America. Through her protagonist, Buckner throws spiritual enoblement and altruism up against the ponderous cruelty of neglected nature. The story leaves one wondering wherein lies the greater meaning. This is a good thing.

I'll not talk of my own Accountant: Life on the Streets other than to note that the name of the bar in the story was changed from the original "pHrUt3 bRut3" to "The Radioactive Monkey" so the story could be submitted to Requiem for a Radioactive Monkey (fortunately for Apex Digest, A:LotS was duly rejected from that worthy publication). In a stroke of cosmic irony, Apex Digest (a Kentuckian publication) contains a story by a New Zealand writer featuring a bar called "The Radioactive Monkey" and also a story by a Canadian writer (Barbara Geiger) who has previously been published in Requiem for a Radioactive Monkey. What are the chances of THAT?

And then it gets very dark indeed.

Big Sister/Little Sister by
Jennifer Pelland is that rare thing in the sophisticate modern genre world within which we live: a horror story. From start to finish, the story layers spite and malice and cruelty and hurt to a screaming nub of horror; an irresistible vortex of incredulity that (at the risk of giving all away) leaves the reader crying "For the love of God, Montresor!"

The Meateaters by Sue Lange is a cock-teaser of a story. Monstrous behaviour is made commonplace, and even greater monstrosities are hinted at. The ending is an obvious corollary of the underlying premise if the reader can clear their head of nasty voyeuristic possibilities long enough to think straight. The title says it all.

Heroes, All by novelist Steven Fisher is a brave story of sacrifice and (possibly) redemption. Thematically, it is well placed with The Kaarst and Accountant: Life on the Streets in that a measure of closure is achieved, and the reader is drawn through the SF trappings of a conquered Earth and time-shifted settings for the pleasure of alien overlords possessing famous people from the past. A bittersweet tale, and no mistake.

Irish writer Artie Nolan's story Upgrade won second place in the BBC World Service short story contest. Any description of the plot will likely blunt the sting-in-the-tail. Suffice to say that it uses an established POV gimmick to excellent effect. If the reader is familiar with the 1953 Fantasy Award winning City by Clifford Simak then Upgrade will resonate as a well written homage to the trope. If not, then it will certainly deliver a head-smack at the end and prompt an immediate re-read.

Human Resources by Christopher Stires provides an understated pause for the reader who chooses to progress through the issue in sequential order. It reads almost as a black comedy; a parody of our Occupational Safety and Health obsessed culture tackling workplace stress head-on. The denoument is a wake-up call to the reader as much as it is to the protagonist.

But for this reviewer, the sit-up-and-take-notice-of-THIS-one-boys-and-girls story is Trees of Bone by Malawian writer (and stand-up comedian) Daliso Chaponda. It has a gentle start owing more to magical realism than dark SpecFic, with a wedding in a near-future rural village. A village hot-head has been injured during a foray into the nearby town, and tribal violence bubbles near to boiling. But the elder Katulo insists the wedding should go ahead to help defuse calls for revenge, and during the wedding the reader is introduced to his power of Waking temporal ghosts. That power is used later in the story to terrible effect. Chaponda's skill is that he uses the horrors of the Tutsi/Hutu racial cleansing from our own recent past to infuse his story with a powerful morality rich with allegorical references, African/European ideological collisions, and past/future tension. This story uses the device of science fiction for a compelling examination of the Tutsi-Hutu conflict. Extremely professional, and highly recommended reading.

Little Black Boxes by Canadian writer (and Radioactive Monkey) Barbara Geiger relates a tale of human freedom fighters caught in a web of betrayal and counter-betrayal between warring factions of Earth's alien (body-snatching) conquerors. The gruesome elements and shifting frame of reference work well with the harder science fiction elements, but Geiger's strength is in presenting sympathetic characters who respond to their extreme situation with true humanity.

Alexandria and Nebs by the prolific Bill Eakins will not be to everyone's taste, but stands nonetheless as a bittersweet short story that in very few words paints a beautiful character sketch against an abyssal backdrop. Alexandria and Nebs are the remnants of the AI of an archival extra-galactic expedition. The story relates the finale of their eons-long deterioration. A gem of a story set amidst the preceeding gore, and well worth finding.

The Parting Shot for this issue is Within the Darkness by K.A. Patterson. It seems to be a snap-shot story that certainly aspires to the Dark SF niche Apex sets out to achieve. But for this reviewer the lack of flash-fiction punch made it the weakest contribution in an otherwise extremely powerful collection.

The non-fiction is of the same high standard as in previous issues. Editor Jason Sizemore has demonstrated Issue #2 was no accident and he has a sure hand at the tiller. His vision has always been clear, and now with Issue #3 he displays confidence more befittting an industry veteran.




... untill Issue #4!


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