Apex Magazine Issue 139

A bust of a platinum-haired woman emerging from a translucent human heart with a white moth in the foreground.

The next magazine up for review is the July issue of Apex Magazine, which I tend to think of as speculative horror.

The first story in this issue is by A.V. Green and is entitled “The Monster Fucker Club“. And just like it sounds, it is about a group of teenage girls dealing with the challenges they face by having sex with monsters. The story explores these different challenges, including the crazy reality of having to be concerned about active shooters in school. It is an interesting idea explored well, but I felt it could have gone deeper. (My rating: 3/5)

A young woman with an invisible creature around her neck is visited by a stranger in “Dolly Girl” by Christopher Rowe. It explores the theme of self-harm in a supernatural context. It seemed to be going someplace with something to say and then just ended. (My rating: 3/5)

Island Circus” by Amal Singh is another entry in the growing number of stories in the second person. In it, you long to run away to join the circus. What you are running away from is a boat community that is struggling to survive after climate change has caused the oceans to rise. A story about the conflict between duty and desire. (My rating: 3/5)

Relationships are hard. Abusive ones much more so. What to do when you miss your abusive partner after you part? How do you learn and grow to avoid such relationships in the future? That is what the protagonist in “But I Love You” by Sachiko Ragosta attempts to find out by buying a Just Right android made in the mold of her former lover. Fascinating but creepy exploration of troubled relationships. (My rating: 3/5)

In “The Discarded Ones“, Linda Niehoff tells the tale of ghosts who need adopting like stray dogs. These ghosts need someone to look after them until they are ready to move on. A woman sees a late night advertisement that tugs at her heartstrings. She herself is hurting and goes to the shelter to adopt. An interesting way to explore how caring for others can help us heal ourselves. (My rating: 4/5)

The Magazine of Horror” by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki is an exchange of letters where the author is attempting to get a lucrative return on publishing a story in the titular magazine. But the potential downside of doing so could be deadly. The tension builds throughout as does the creep factor. (My rating: 4/5)

Sometimes I read a story that I just don’t connect with. “Gim of P” by Benjamin Dehaan is one such story. In it a miner notices something unusual that no one else seems to care about. The problem is, I didn’t care either. (My rating: 2/5)

In “You Me and the End” by Mona West, a twin on an airplane talks to her absent (and likely dead) twin as the pilot tries to figure out what to do after a nuclear war. There is connection and despair as well as a faint hope of celebration. A remarkable achievement in a story of only a thousand words. (My rating: 4/5)

Zombie’s like to eat brains, right? But what if you were a vegan before you became a zombie? This is the case for the protagonist of “A Young Zombie in Crisis” by Walidah Imarisha. And she doesn’t like brains and so eats the bare minimum to stay undead. How she comes to resolve this challenge is gross and funny. (My rating: 4/5)

You Without Me” by Endira Isa Richardson is a haunting story of a mother and child told to the child (you) by the mother (I). The child is dead but still communicates with the mother. It is a dark tale that really wasn’t for me. (My rating: 2/5)

My average rating for this issue comes in at 3.2 out of 5. Not very good. This magazine tends to be hit or miss for me and not very consistent. While I have appreciated it, I am unlikely to renew my subscription at the end of the year.

Apex Magazine Issue 138

A man with wings and the head of an eagle floats in the sky with the sun behind him as the rays shine over his shoulder and through one wing

While this issue originally came out in May, I waited to post it until all the stories in it were available for free online. That way, you are able to read any that pique your interest. And here are the stories with brief reviews.

The issue opens with “The Relationship of Ink to Blood” by Alex Langer. In a fascist world at war, I warehouse manager catalogs and maintains all the personal effects of the regimes victims. In fact, he has conversations with them, talking with and befriending them. He has a particular affinity for one victim who refuses to speak with him. This is an amazing story that touches on what Hanna Arendt termed the banality of evil. (My rating: 5/5)

Ncheta” by Chisom Umeh tells of a human world that is awash in virtual reality so much that it is affecting the parallel world of the gods. In fact, it is beginning to encroach on that world of those gods as they struggle to do something about it. An interesting premise that ended up not that interesting to me. (My rating: 3/5)

Despite the fact that an alien race nearly wiped out humanity, the titular mother in “Thank Mother for Your Life” by Mary G. Thompson saves an alien child and cares for it as her child. These creatures crave others of their own kind, so the mother arranges with another foster mother for their alien children to meet. This is not a good idea. This tale is told from the perspective of the alien child and is a fascinating look at how decisions are made. (My rating: 4/5)

In an immigrant neighborhood, five dogs go missing each leaving a pool of blood behind. Then children start to disappear without a trace in “Chupa Sangre” by Tre Harris Salas. No one seems to know what is going on. But the narrator’s abuela is pretty sure she knows and sets a trap. A story of family and the immigrant experience, it will touch you deeply. (My rating: 4/5)

The narrator of “A World Unto Myself” by P.A. Cornell can in his old android when he gets a new one. But he just can’t bring himself to do that. So he just leaves it on a bench in the scrap yard where it gets a new an unexpected life. An interesting take on repurposing old tech. (My rating: 4/5)

In “Lady Koi-Koi: A Book Report” by Suyi Davies Okungbowa, a Nigerian high school student is assigned a text reflecting the experience of his colonizers. Rather than writing that book report, he writes one about his encounters with a ghost calling herself Lady Koi-Koi that better reflects his own experience. (My rating: 3/5)

My least favorite story of the issue was “Measure Twice, Cut Once” by K.R. March. I found it confusing a little muddled. It is the story of a group of enslaved dressmakers conspiring to poison those who will wear the dresses they are forced to make. (My rating: 2/5)

A woman repeatedly emerges from the sea trying to remember something that she finally remembers in “Smoke Fire Wind Sea” by Valerie Kemp. The writing here is superb. Lots of imagery and emotion that communicates the confusion and pain until it becomes clear what is going on. (My rating: 4/5)

Is it possible to shift a memory from one person’s brain to another? That is the question explored to great effect in “A Mastery of German” by Marian Denise Moore. The narrator is asked to take over a project at work and kill it. But as she starts to find out more about it, she wonders if she should. (My rating: 4/5)

The final story has a super long title. It is “An Inventory of the Property of the Escaped Suspect, Confiscated at the Time of Her Arrest Following the Incident on Ash Street, with Annotations by Acting Sheriff Helena Fairwind” by Tim Pratt. Its format is unique as is exactly what is says it is. The story is told through the inventory of a suspect’s property and the reports about what happened. A unique and enjoyable twist on storytelling. (My rating: 4/5)

To sum up, there were ten stories in this issue for an average rating of 3.7. When I first subscribed to Apex Magazine, I wasn’t sure about it. It’s focus is on darker fiction. I didn’t think that was my thing. Turns out there is a lot of good, short, dark fiction out there. Give it a try.

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.