Monday, April 13, 2015

Quick Sips - Apex #71

Today I'm looking at the latest from Apex Magazine. As always, there's a lot to like, including five short stories, two poems, and some nonfiction, of which I'm looking at one. Also, that cover. Amazing. The stories are fairly dark and most with some lingering questions after the final words fall. Which leaves it up to the reader to draw conclusions and find meaning. To introspect. It's a neat tool used to great effect in this issue. So without further delay, the reviews!

Art by Adrian Borda


"Beatification of the Second Fall" by Sean Robinson (4400 words)

This story is slow and ponderous and about an angel that fell to Earth and who has been imprisoned in a small room and used as a sort of elixir. He is harvested, his sweat and tears and hair and even his tongue and eyes. Sister Judith, the woman who holds him, doesn't really care for him beyond his use, his value, but her son, Learner, comes to see the angel differently. Perhaps because the angel might be his father. Perhaps simply because he is trapped in the house as well. But Learner can't do much to help the angel except be there and talk to him and listen. The angel doesn't want to leave, though. It seems that the angel fell, and wants the punishment that Sister Judith gives him. Of course, things cannot last forever, and the angel's real purpose seems to have been to warn the world of the impending apocalypse. Something he doesn't really get to do. And there seems to be the meaning of the story, that these people were too wrapped up in their own wants and needs to see the importance of an angel. That they ignored the warnings because it was unpleasant. And Learner, though he suspects, doesn't have a chance to do much. Though I kind of wonder what happens to him after that. If it's the Biblical apocalypse, then he will be judged, in part for what he failed to do to help the angel. If it's something else...well, it's interesting to speculate. A good story.

"Silver Buttons All Down His Back" by A. C. Wise (4500 words)

A story of two men with their own insecurities never quite finding their way to each other, this one is a bit heartbreaking. Devon, partially paralyzed and using a rig fused to his spine to live "a normal life," meets Gary, an astronaut, and for a while things are good. They care for each other. They probably love each other. But they are also both guarded, both insecure and unwilling to talk. Devon fears that Gary only cares for him as an object, as the rig, as a fetish. And Gary fears that Devon will stop seeing him, that he's invisible. Both want to be seen, want to be known for who they are. Both want love. But both are so guarded and wounded that they can't quite open up about it. They pass each other, almost what the other needs, but in the end they let each other down. They make the jump toward the moon but gravity catches them. This is a sad, sad story, and I can't help but wanting to see them happy, to help them to see each other without their reservations. The prose is amazing, the characters excellently rendered. This story pokes the deep insecurities that rests in all of us, our need for love, and shows that to make it to the moon you have to stop being afraid of being cut to pieces. Something Devon and Gary don't quite manage. A beautiful story.

"Crow" by Octavia Cade (3200 words)

A story set on a sea where mechanical crows dictate how much a boat is allowed to fish in order to protect the ocean ecology, this one has a nice feel to it and a very interesting story. It's the blend of the old world and new world technology that I liked the most, the way that they're using older ships but have mechanical crows with communication technology and things like that. The way that there is a ship of all women out fishing, the way the world seems to be part post-crisis or post-apocalypse but where the older ideas and images still have sway. A weird setting, surely, but one that seems real with all its ritual and detail. The story itself, the women looking for fish, isn't exactly the fastest paced, but it does have many nice moments, and seems to be making a statement about need, about how people resist doing the right thing for the environment except where they are more forced to comply. Here an entire system exists and is enforced to maintain the solvency of the oceans and its fish, and people trust the system even as they resent it. And the story ends on the idea that the people on the boat can't really control it. That they have to live based on the needs of the sea, and hope that by doing that there's enough for them. An interesting story and great setting.

"Wind" by Naomi Kritzer (4300 words)

Two friends make a deal that goes quite wrong in this story, which is sort of a moral fable but also not at all. As children (or maybe young women), the two friends agree to trade aspects of themselves, Air for Earth. They hope this will give them magic power (which it does) in order to achieve their goals (which is also kind of does), but they don't realize that doing so imbalances them and doesn't make them happy at all. It leaves them damaged, and though they had resolved to stay together they split, the one with excess Air being incapable of settling and the one with excess Earth being incapable of changing. Both are unhappy, and both age until the one that stayed in their village and entered an unhappy marriage and had kids is visited by a stranger. I will admit that at first I thought it was her friend returned, but that is not the case. Instead, the strange has other secrets, and also a way of getting her out of the rut, of giving her a bit of Air back so that she will take a chance at being happy and fulfilled. It's an interesting story and I love that the ending subverts the moral of the story. Stated, the moral is to beware of excess Air, to avoid it because it might take you away, make you want change. Get you to take a chance. But that's exactly what the story is advocating for, that a little Air is a good thing, that it can get you out of an unhappy situation and trying to do things with your life. A fine story and I loved that ending.

"Slow" by Lia Swope Mitchell (4800 words)

A story about art and longing and a sort of sentient and parasitic stone that feeds off a young woman, this one is a bit dark but quite striking. Picking up from some Greek myths, especially the popular Orpheus image of trying to look back, the story moves slowly, with the artist unaware of what she is creating but slowly coming to understand. It's a rather creepy thing, the statue, alive and needing her to feed it. I liked the Orpheus reference because the statue is just starting to turn back, and it is by turning back that it gives itself away, that it reveals its nature. Not that the statue is evil, but that it's not good for her. It reminds me of relationships, where they take a long time to build and you're always aware of how the relationship, the other person, is feeding on you, weakening you. Sometimes it takes it being pointed out, requires destruction. Despite the work that went into it. Despite the pain and the effort. Despite everything, the story hints that sometimes it is necessary to tear it all down. To destroy that work. An effective story, and one inherently about art, so one that interests me greatly. It's dark and moody but ultimately freeing, even if there is a cost to be paid. Good stuff.


"The Multiple Lives of Juan and Pedro" by Isabel Yap

As the title would suggest, this poem is about who men who live a collection of lives before a river floods and washes those lives away. It begins with the aftermath, with Juan and Pedro clutching each other after the flood. It then moves in irregular stanzas through other lives, some where the men are closer than others, most of the time their lives only intersecting briefly, not intimately. And yet they are linked somehow, those other lives showing glimpses of what might be. Two men who mean nothing to each other, really, though there is the feeling t hat they could be more, that even then they might be more. Except that the river washes away those might-have-beens. It brings them together as they flee the waters, as they try to escape in each other, each using the other as a sort of anchor, knowing that if they don't hold on the river will wash them apart, that it will make them the strangers of those other lives. Only by holding on, by remaining together, do they have a chance at something different, at something maybe better. I liked the form of the poem, the lives being indeterminate length both down the page and across, showing the randomness of life, that great river. A solid poem.

"there must be a surefire way to separate the ravens from the crows" by Keith S. Wilson

This poem is...strange. It's quite staccato in its flow, images interrupting each other and ideas shifting from line to line. Which made it a little more difficult to decipher for me, personally. There are certain things that get returned to, though. Icarus, for one, and the idea of "at least." Birds. Travel. Wonder. Age. The end of the poem brings many of these aspects together, watching a flock of birds alight into the sky, thinking of death, of Icarus. To me, it seems to be saying that age is a process of losing wonder, of wanting order and distinctions. That Icarus flew in part because he didn't see the lines between himself and the birds. But that age makes us all more cautious, less able to be surprised, and also more wanting systems. Walls. Mazes and labyrinths. That we're less likely to just let be or see the birds as like us, as anyone as like us. That we grow too rigid. But then, I might be very wrong on this one. I admit I struggle a bit more with the borderlessness of this poem, which seems to mirror that openness of Icarus, that refusal to follow form. It's good, though, and definitely provides a lot to ponder and examine. Good times.


"Never Enough Farmers! Class and Writing Fantasy Novels" by Jennie Goloboy

This article reads as just some good, no nonsense observations on some typical "mistakes" made in fantasy stories. I use the quotes because, of course, fantasy is fantasy and as such "not real" so mistake is something that must be handled weirdly. But the advise and observations here circle around the idea of not putting our own modern middle class sensibilities as anachronisms in more medieval settings where they wouldn't make as much sense. Because people do have a strange idea of the past, shaped by movies and other works that aren't really about being accurate to the past but rather making statements about the present. Not an awful lot is said in the article about race in these settings, but that too seems to be something where writers take modern race issues and put them back in time. Despite the landscape being different. Same for sexualities. Things change. There's not always a good idea of what things were really like because of how they are portrayed in media. So yes, the idea that writers trying to write past-like civilizations should know a bit of what they want to write about, including the class elements, is very important. Class is something to be overlooked or forgotten. So a nice article for would-be world builders.

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