Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Quick Sips - Apex #75

Breaking a bit from the light July, the August Apex Magazine is rather full, having four original short stories and four poems. That's...quite a lot to get through, but the good news is that the issue is filled with great talent and great stories, fine pieces that capture a sinking darkness with a pinprick of light to be found, to be grasped like a brass ring, to be used to pierce the darkness and emerge from the other side. The stories are about identity, about pain and difference, and about finding a way to find comfort in that difference. It's a fine issue, and I'm going to review it...now!

Art by Billy Norrby



Stories:

"Brisé" by Mehitobel Wilson (5300 words)

A story about dancing, about confidence, about reflections, this one manages to be creepy and dark and sinks with a weight of possibility. It shows Erin, stuck in a marriage that doesn't really suit her, to a man who really doesn't understand her art, who sees her more as a thing he can possess. She is crippled by doubts, by fears, by seeing in herself all matter of weakness. Taken away from dancing, she curls in on herself, collapses under the weight of her fear. She injures herself, and though she is told that she has recovered doesn't seem able to believe it. At home, where her husband has built her an impractical studio to dance in, she sees herself in reflections, and those reflections become gateways to other realities, other dimensions. It's a haunting story, sad and slow and powerful as it moves onward. The prose is tight and reflects Erin's inner struggles brought out, her lack of identity, her insecurity, her fear. And she takes what control she can, violently and finally, in a dance that begins to express what is in her heart. A very interesting piece.

"Coming Undone" by Alexis A. Hunter (800 words)

I love that Apex is taking a few flash pieces mixed in with its longer work, and I love this one about a person born with what many would call a birth defect, having a stunted arm and leg. And yet it's not the stunted limbs that feel wrong to the person, to Natasya. They realize when they see people augmented by machines what they were meant to be, how they were meant to live. It's a striking look at how a person can view their body, which many would consider broken, broken in an entirely different way, to see not the monstrous in their less "normal" limbs but in their lacking the mechanical synthesis that makes them feel whole, feel real and right. It's a great look at how people view the disabled, and I loved how it progressed, at how much is fit into the story. [SPOILERS] And I loved how their following their dream led them down a path they could not have predicted, how they became a soldier and yet that life brought them into contact with a weapon that stripped them of their augmentations, made them broken again, and how instead of rejecting their child, Natasya's parents tried to do what they could, came to see that their child has a right to determine just what they want with their body, that Nataysa is the only one who can determine what is right for their body. It's a wrenching story, a challenge to the standard depictions of body and loss, but it's strong and good and you should go give it a read. Like now.

"It is Healing, It is Never Whole" by Sunny Moraine (3400 words)

Probably it's safe to say that a story about the souls of suicides being gathered up and put on great train to the beyond is not going to be all that happy. In this, there is an entire group of people who work taking the souls of suicides and washing them and sending them on their way. The main character is one such, until they find a soul with eyes, eyes that the soul is not supposed to have, and they stop being able to do their job. Instead they take the soul with them, recognizing in that soul which has eyes but no mouth, no way of communicating except a pleading, mournful look, something familiar. Just how familiar is left for later in the story, but here is a great examination of suicide, of how it happens and perhaps a few thoughts as to the why. I quite enjoyed the explanations, even if they work mainly for this character and part of the story really is the recognition that knowing why is impossible for anyone but the person, that they cannot really ever explain, or offer anything other than their own escape. It's an interesting story, one that pokes at the raw wounds that the world inflicts on everyone. But it's also about that moment when the main character reaches out without knowing quite why and picks out that one soul, feels that bond and empathy. And it shows a sort of understanding for those who choose to jump, casting theirs as a decision that for them is not necessarily about despair but hope. And while the story is probably quite triggering for many people, it still has a power and a beauty to it, and a lot to unpack and think about, and is definitely worth the time to do so.

"Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys: The Elephant's Tale" by Damien Angelica Walters (3500 words)

The circus has seen better days in this story, told by an elephant and filled with decay and regret. A group of circus performers find themselves slowly falling, slowly succumbing to a world that doesn't really seem as bright on the inside as it does from without. The Ringmaster is a cruel man, the Contortionist unable to stand up to him and unable to stand on her own, damaged by his abuse, and the twin acrobats dream of something different. Meanwhile the elephant looks on, and remembers, and remembers, and it all moves on, people dying and running away and realizing that things aren't what they thought, that being brought up in the captivity of the circus has done things to them that cannot be undone, that they are all messed up and don't know how to try something different, don't know how to be better or free. It's the fear that keeps them in their places, but still they all yearn for something more, and slowly something takes shape, a truth that they can't avoid or forget, that the circus will kill them, and if they stand any chance of being happy they need to find a better way. And some of them learn that lesson, and decide to do something about it. And some don't. And this is a great story, full of emotion and the haunting landscape the circus provides, everything fallen, faded, wilting under the pressures and the age, lost to time and to pain and finally spinning its way down and whether or not it will bring everyone down with it is the real question, and I like how the story answers it. A fine story about the greatest show on Earth.

Poetry:

"Monsters We Create, Woozles We Become" by Levi Sable

This poem is told in short lines that trail down the screen, that give the impression of something fragile, thin, but also something lasting, something perhaps eternal. The poem tells of a parent and child, at first captured in a simple scene that quickly shifts to despair, to isolation and sadness, and then into something else entirely. The child dies, but doesn't stay dead, and the parent is left confronted by the return of their child, their son, and because they could not be together in life, they are united in undeath, ageless. It's a rather creepy poem, drawing on the horror of the situation, a child who has returned but different, as monstrous, and the parent willing to become that to regain some connection to the child. In ways it could be read as any parent realizing that they are losing their child, not to death but to the child becoming something unexpected, something that the parent cannot handle. And the poem then shows the parent coming to terms with that, seeing something of themself there despite supposed monstrosity. I'm not sure I completely like that reading, though, preferring instead that this is more a more straightforward take on zombies, on loss and despair and a parent's attachment to a child and willingness to become a monster to undo the loss and hurt. Because though the ending implies the two are really reunited, that they are reunited as zombies rather twists any positive vibes one could feel about that, as they wouldn't exactly be sentient enough to know each other. Still, a nice amount to unpack and definitely a fun read.

"In the Day After the World Stopped Being" by A. Merc Rustad

This poem is about a woman searching for a return to a place lost to her, to the place to under the Hill, where her lover lives, where she is sure she can find and recover some measure of peace. Because the world ended in some way. There was devastation, disaster. The nature of it is elusive, though it could have been an impact with some space object. Could have been a mega-volcano going off. Something came out of the sky and there isn't much left and this one woman, a worker of magic, remains to try and find her way back to the magic realm she knew before the devastation. The poem is full of yearning, full of determination and loss. The structure is lose but consistent, stanzas of three to five lines, giving the poem not a methodical feel but a measured one, the woman's drive captured in the way she keeps going, keeps searching, unwilling to yield to the enormity of the situation, to the end of the world itself, sure in her ability to recapture something, to discover her way back under the Hill, where perhaps there is something that remains, something waiting to be discovered. A nicely built poem!

"The Owl Child" by Jennifer Ruth Jackson

The shortest of the poems this month, this own is a mere two stanzas of five lines each. The first establishes a woman's (or girl's) transformation into an owl, the second showing her return to human. The lines are short, the images strong enough to carry through the message in a short amount of space, that here is a woman with some wildness to her, who goes through life concealing her nature to some degree, who cannot be this predator of the night and so she becomes an owl, free to hunt but only when others cannot see. A strong use of consonance makes the story flow, gives it a balance and depth that belies the short length. There is a lot here to unpack, a power and a grace that is conveyed in a very small amount of space, something beautiful and familiar, that image of the woman who is truly herself when flying, who lives for that joy and freedom. There is a nice balance to the work as well, the two two stanzas working in forward and reverse. They mirror, and yet there is a sense that it doesn't quite end where it begins, that by the end it is clear that the woman is not the same, that she is not someone who goes back to being "normal" but who lives with the owl inside her. Good stuff.

"Training: Endurance" by Mary Soon Lee

I'm not sure if this counts as an excerpt or not, but I will look at it on its own, and on its own it's about a king without much of an idea of how to live up to what he is, how is treated. He is expected to act, to protect his people, and yet finds himself beset by forces that he has no idea how to fight, that he has no idea what to do about, and fueled by his guilt and shame all he can think to do is waste himself, to punish himself for not being equal to this challenge. Accompanied by his guard, he races toward nothing, just to be doing something, and yet while he moves he sees the people around him that he passes, sees their faith in him, and it makes the feelings that much worse. The poem moves quickly, mirroring the kind's run, short lines with every other stanza indenting to give the feeling of breathing, of the king's movements and desperation, and in that I think it works quite well, captures his despair and his fear and his pain. But it also shows him finding his inspiration, realizing that he has to stop his motion, that he has to rest in order to find the answers, but that it was necessary to run to get to that moment of rest, that only by taking the path he took was he able to make headway in his troubles. A nice narrative poem that appears to be part of something longer, so there's even more to check out. Hurrah!

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