Thursday, May 16, 2019

Quick Sips - Apex Magazine #120

Art by Godwin Akpan
Well this is it. The final (for now) issue of Apex Magazine. It's also a special guest-edited special issue from editor Maurice Broaddus. The stories are a mix of hope and fear, exploring futures torn apart by climate change, xenophobia, corruption, and conservatism. Per the mission statement of the publication, these are stories that walk the edge of bleakness and despair, that do not sugar-coat the violent or cruel depths that humans are capable of plunging headlong into. Through that, though, they explore hope in the has of annihilation, resistance in the face of corruption, life in the face of oppression. The stories see worlds only a step from our own and offer guidance, and dire warnings, of what might come if we don't do something now to spread compassion instead of exploitation. So for the last time (for now) for this publication, let's get to the reviews!

Stories:

“Dune Song” by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (4600 words)

No Spoilers: Nata is a rather rebellious girl whose mother left her behind when she left their settlement and headed out into the dunes looking for freedom. Tired of all the control the chief of the village and the Elders exert over her life, and wanting to find the promise and freedom that her mother talked about before she left, Nata prepares herself, hoping that she won’t have to go alone. The piece is heavy, moving through a post-disaster world that has become incredibly regressive, where people survive but have to follow rules laid out to keep those with relative power comfortable at the expense of everyone else. Nata’s struggle is for a place where she can own her actions and her life, and the piece details her hope and her desperate push to run free of the cage that has trapped her future.
Keywords: Rules, Deserts, Whistling, Salvage, Post-Disaster, Family
Review: The world here is scorched, the village of Isiuwa superstitious and unwilling to change, despite how much it seems that keeping things the way they are is a slow death sentence. Without seeking to understand what really happened, without seeking to look beyond the stories of angry gods out among the dune, the people are stuck. And they enforce and impose that on everyone, seeking a kind of solidarity that’s not about lifting people up but about using those at the bottom as stepping stone so those at the top don’t need to feel the sand under their feet. Breaking down superstitions isn’t easy, though, as Nata first has to work on her own beliefs before she can think to maybe help who she can in getting away from a system that doesn’t value them, doesn’t care about them. She leaves with a friend, hoping to find the source of freedom that her mother talked about, all the while carrying her pain at that desertion, that absence in her life. She’s determined not only to get away, but to do better, to not leave a vulnerable person in a place where they will be consumed by the prejudices and fears of the village. And it’s a wonderful piece, deftly and evocatively drawn to show this world where hope seems about as likely as an oasis in a wasted desert. It’s a place where fear seems to be the most prudent emotion, but where Nata chooses compassion and rebellion instead. To chance the dunes and the whistling gods, and find out if the whole world’s a desert, or if there’s more than she can know hidden just out of sight. A fantastic read!

“Fugue State” by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due (5400 words)

No Spoilers: Charlotte is a relationship advice columnist whose husband, Arthur, used to be a political columnist. Used to be, before he met the Reverend. Ever since then, he’s lost his ability to write columns. Or read. Or think. Worse, he doesn’t seem to mind. It’s like he’s become a different person, and Charlotte is growing more and more certain they don’t have a future together. The truth of the matter, though, is even darker than she suspects, and a series of events put her in the position to understand what Arthur has been through. What that means, though... It’s a rather mysterious story and one that takes a look at how indoctrination can work, how certain beliefs and movements require not only a lower level of intellectual engagement but an open hostility toward anything approaching logic or free thought. It’s a piece that creeps with its horror, drawing Charlotte (and the reader) in until it’s too late.
Keywords: Marriage, Journalism, Religion, Indoctrination, Mental Drain
Review: I like how the story shows this progression of the characters losing their ability to write, their ability to think. How it sells the horror of going through that. The strife it causes at first with Charlotte and Arthur’s relationship, because suddenly Arthur’s priorities are so different. He seems different precisely because he is different, because in essence he is a different person, one warped by the Reverend and the power that he wields. The power to influence and manipulate people. The power to craft a narrative around events that he controls. And in some ways it feels like the story is examining the failure of logic to really do much in the face of this kind of fanaticism, this kind of anti-logic hate. How Charlotte underestimates the Reverend, assumes not only that she is above such things but that entire movement, while obviously dangerous, is too obviously wrong for people to buy into. And it’s a feeling that makes a lot of sense given the times, in a country where people were supposed to know better, where people were supposed to be able to see through so open a lie. And yet the power of the lie here is that it’s obvious, that people feel they shouldn’t have to argue it down. And how in that space it convinces people by offering them a simplicity that they want to believe, that they want to participate in, and that there’s a devotion here that together they can make their lies truth just by saying them. In some ways they can, by driving politics and such to support their vision of the world. And by ignoring any time their lies are revealed as lies. By never admitting they’re wrong. It’s a nightmarish piece but a familiar one, chilling and unsettling in how it draws the characters into the blissful horror of the ending. A great read!

“N-Coin” by Tobias S. Buckell (3200 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a Wall Street broker who’s standing on the ledge of a tall building, looking down. The piece is framed as a sort of one sided conversation, or perhaps a confession, of the narrator to a janitor, related the circumstances that led him to that ledge. The piece flows quickly, building around a new cryptocurrency that the narrator and other faux-politically correct people call N-Coin. The premise is simple enough, that it’s a cryptocurrency for those interested in racial justice. Except that what investors like much more is that it seems so popular, growing quickly in value. The story does a nice job of exposing how corporate greed works, adopting any cause as long as it makes money, but not willing to actually stand by an sense of justice...unless they don’t get a choice.
Keywords: Cryptocurrency, Wall Street, Reparations, Investments, CW- Suicide
Review: It’s a fascinating idea, a cryptocurrency for social justice. A way of giving black users a bit of affirmative action. Which investors are willing to go along with, as long as the value of their investment goes up. Which it does. it goes up and up and up, all fueling this push to frame this kind of greed as somehow morally god. Pushing back against historical injustices. As long as the money keeps flowing, it’s fine. And that’s something that the designers and users of N-Coin are intimately aware of. What I love about the story is how it’s this long con, this way of turning a history full of being cheated and taken advantage of and using it to take something back. To trick investors into actually putting their money where their mouths are, even as they never expected to be made to pay. Which is this great moment where the ground drops out, where the narrator gets to feel a bit of what it’s like to lose everything. Except instead of understanding the lesson, seeing and and internalizing it in a way that will help him realize just how just this has all been, he decides that there’s nothing left for him. Which fits with how privileged people handle losing some of their power. Or how they can’t handle it, rather. Because when all’s said and done, the implication of the piece is dark and final. But it’s a nicely complex way of looking at what financial justice might look like, and it’s a fine read!

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