Apex Magazine Issue 136

A thin woman wearing a brimmed hat that seems to be dissolving into the sky walks among a cityscape into the sky

I am normally not a big fan of the horror genre, at least what I think of as the horror genre. But I am starting to change my mind. It depends on the story. And two of my favorite stories from issue 136 of Apex Magazine have straight up horror elements to them. Here are my brief reviews of each story.

The issue starts out with a bang in “Over Moonlit Clouds” by Coda Audeguy-Pegon. A woman gets on a plane only to realize that she has forgotten an important aspect of her trip. She panics and mayhem ensues. A fantastic metaphor for mental illness and how those with it are seen and often treated. (My rating: 5/5)

What if a nightmare was a sentient being? What if that nightmare consumed another nightmare? That is the premise of “Beautiful Poison in Pastel” by Beth Dawkins. It is a fascinating exploration of agency and change. (My rating: 4/5)

The creepy factor is high in “Unboxing” by Lavie Tidhar. It is the story of a little girl who watches unboxing videos created by a little boy with the help of his mother. But these are way more than they seem. A dark exploration of using media as a babysitter and unintended consequences. I would have rated it higher but it felt a little unfinished without saying enough about its themes. (My rating: 3/5)

In a bleak future, Claire Humphrey tells of a double amputee who works from home to build clever toy robots as a way to save enough money to buy prosthetic legs for himself in “The State Street Robot Factory“. When things don’t go as planned, he pivots with an idea on how to leverage what he’s learned. (My rating: 4/5)

At the beginning of “After the Twilight Fades” by Sara Tantlinger, a woman finds a glowing meteorite in the woods near her home. When she touches it, catastrophic changes begin within her. But these are all not bad as she starts to see herself through her own eyes and experience for the first time. (My rating: 4/5)

The Words That Make Us Fly” by S.L. Harris filled my heart with gladness and made it soar. It is the story of a young man whose friends all find magic in how they can use words. But the young man keeps waiting to find where his talents lie. As he waits, he begins to doubt his own ability until he stumbles on the path to his own power. (My rating: 4/5)

Like the previous story, “Every Shade of Healing” by Taryn Frazier touched me deeply. This story is a little darker as it deals with pain deeply felt and experienced. A young woman goes to get a tattoo as a way of dealing with past trauma. The artist has a magical way of transforming that pain. Together they make beauty out of suffering. (My rating: 5/5)

The one story I didn’t really care for was “Reproduction on the Beach” by Rich Larson. It boils down to the trope of a young woman with a much older man who is in a position of power. Things go about as I expected they would without any deeper exploration of the situation. Disappointing. (My rating: 2/5)

Destiny Delayed” by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki tells of a future where a bank has discovered how to remove people’s destiny and save it as collateral against a loan. A poor man mortgages his daughter’s destiny in order to make it bigger for her. When he realizes the trap that the process really is, he takes clever and surprising revenge. (My rating: 3/5)

The third top-rated story in this issue is “They Could Have Been Yours” by Joy Baglio. Suddenly, all of a woman’s exes seem to be getting engaged and married at virtually the same time. As she revisits each of them mentally, she finds a ring that when she puts it on she finds herself disembodiedly visiting each of their fiancées. She spends more and more time in this state, allowing her real life to slowly crumble. The end is poignant and beautiful and one I didn’t see coming. (My rating: 5/5)

This issue ends with an overall rating of 3.9, quite high in my experience so far this year. There is a lot of darkness in the stories in Apex, but the exploration of feelings and ideas within the stories makes it worth the trip.

Carrie by Stephen King

Carrie book cover

I co-teach a writing class at work. My co-teacher is a big horror fan, especially Stephen King. She gave me a list of recommendations as I am not much of a horror fan. I appreciate dark tales that explore the human condition, but to me that isn’t horror. One of her recommendations was Carrie, which I hadn’t realized was King’s first novel. I was familiar with the story from the first time it came out as a movie when I was a kid, so I sort of knew what to expect. Still, I was surprised by how much I liked it.

The story is about the horror of growing up ostracized and ridiculed due in part to being raised in a fanatically Christian home. Carrie is even straight up bullied. And one girl and her boyfriend try to take the sting out of what has happened to her. But there is another girl who simply can’t let it go. And that really triggers the explosive use of Carrie’s budding telekinesis.

Throughout the tale, King brings alive believable characters. I also appreciated the format of the novel. It intersperses telling the story as it happens with news clippings and testimony reporting about it after the events of the novel have happened. It effectively builds the tension and keeps you reading to find out what in the world actually happened.

My rating: 4/5

Unusual Style

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream book cover

I was familiar with the name, but I had never read anything by Harlan Ellison. Recently his Hugo Award winning short story “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” came to my attention, so I borrowed the book of the same name from my library. It is a collection of some of his short stories, originally published in 1967.

The book includes an introduction by Theodore Sturgeon and a Foreword by the author. The author also writes a brief introduction to each story in the collection. The story titles are:

  • I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream
  • Big Sam Was My Friend
  • Eyes of Dust
  • Word of the Myth
  • Lonelyache
  • Delusion for a Dragon Slayer
  • Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes

My favorite stories are the first and last. His style is unusual. A bit stream of consciousness. In the foreword and introduction, both writers comment on how Ellison’s style is not for everyone. For me, the stories here were a mixed bag. Some I liked okay. Some felt a bit dated. Overall, I have to say that I appreciate having read this book, but I don’t know if or when I might pick up anything else by Harlan Ellison.

Storytelling at Its Finest

Something Wicked This Way Comes book cover

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury is superior storytelling, though I didn’t think so as I was reading it at first. I found the language over flowery and a little old fashioned (the book was originally published in 1962). But I got used to the language of the time. And the prose is full of so much metaphor that it almost felt like poetry that paints not just a picture you can visualize but one you feel. Instead of trying to see all the description, I instead let it wash over me and move me emotionally. That’s when the book really came alive for me.

The book is the story of two boys–best friends–in a small town in Iowa. One early morning in October, a carnival arrives. But it is no ordinary carnival. The boys are drawn to it and adventure follows. My favorite aspect of this book is the relationships. The two friends are very different but very dedicated to each other. Jim is the adventure seeker. He wants to do things just because he can and to see what happens. Will is the good boy who feels deeply and sees deeply into others. Will and his father also share a relationship that grows and changes as the story unfolds.

But the part I love most about this book is what it says about the nature of evil and how to overcome it. This story could be characterized as horror but doesn’t share the hopelessness that I associate with that genre. Rather it evokes a living and breathing sense of ominous and imminent doom but resolves it in the most unexpected and satisfying way.