Apex magazine tends toward the dark side of fiction, so it is appropriate that I finished reading the latest issue just before Halloween. It was definitely more of treat than a trick.
The issue starts with a dystopian story in a world experiencing climate change called “Whisper Songs” by Lyndsie Manusos. A woman experiencing post-partum depression witnesses three birds die in her yard. As required by law, she calls the authorities so they can come collect the birds’ songs. They come but things get off track. A close examination of one of these collectors and the mom. Unique and interesting. (My rating: 4/5)
A new writer with the name Zohair gives on odd story called “Quietus“. A man is condemned to death and put alive into a coffin and floated down the river. As the coffin travels, people seem to see what they want to see and have very different experiences, including seeing an empty coffin. It doesn’t seem to have much to say, at least not to me. (My rating: 2/5)
A game of mahjong centers “Life Wager” by Lucy Zhang. A woman who is the child of a god and a human returns to heaven and plays a series of games with the emperor. But that’s about all that happens. Just kind of meh for me. (My rating: 3/5)
“Kɛrozin Lamp Kurfi” by Victor Forna is an experimental story that I really wanted to like much more than I did. It tells of a mother who chases her son into a story to save him and struggles to get out with her mind intact. I liked the idea of going into the story but the telling was a little disjointed and confusing for me. (My rating: 3/5)
Apex excels at stories with atmosphere that provoke emotions. “Junebug” by Sarah Hollowell is an excellent example. Three friends are traveling to visit their dying friend when they get stuck in traffic on the highway. The emotions build and overflow, leading to unusual experiences. (My rating: 5/5)
“Spitting Image” by Rich Larson is the kind of creepy story that is perfect for Halloween. A boy’s friend leads him to a well in the forest that returns things dropped into it, changed. I shiver just remembering this story. Makes your skin crawl, just like it is supposed to. (My rating: 4/5)
After her grandmother dies, a woman wears the hat she did and starts to experience the same thinning of skin and hair. In “Brainpink Umber“, Chelsea Sutton explores questions like: What makes us who we are? And what happens when that starts to fade? This story feels like a metaphor for dementia running in a family. (My rating: 4/5)
Talk about metaphors that work! “From This Beating Heart, From This Fractured Mind” by Elisabeth Ring tells of a man with a wooden ticking heart and a woman with a glass mind living together and supporting one another. He is a bit cold and disconnected. She can’t seem to wrap her mind around things like she should. It is a tale of mental health and isolation. Well done. (My rating: 4/5)
In a future with sentient biorobots, a young man lives with his male partner while his mother from the old country begs him to get married and have children. At the same time, he struggles with what to do with one of his under performing charges. “Memories of the Old Sun” by Eugen Bacon addresses two tropes but never really brings them together. Disappointing with great writing. (My rating: 3/5)
The issue ends with the beautiful “Through Dreams She Moves” by Tonya Liburd. A woman who can enter other people’s dreams enters those of a man in a coma in an effort to wake him up. What makes this especially poignant and evocative is the clever use of the second person. The story addresses several people as it goes: her mom, then boss, the client’s father, the client, and her great grandfather in the past. It works beautifully. (My rating: 5/5)
My average rating for this issue is 3.7 out of five. Be sure to at least spend the time to read the two best stories in the issue.