Friday, May 19, 2017

Quick Sips - Apex #96

The May issue of Apex Magazine features two original stories and one reprint that explore trauma and distance, time and space and hope. It’s an issue that’s about the telling of stories and the reaching back for some semblance of comfort and closure. It features characters who are living on borrowed time, who are fighting against the weight of the forces that have doomed them. For most of them, it’s not a doom that is avoided, either, but that comes with the power and relentlessness of a train, of a storm, of a sun exploding. These pieces explore darkness in different ways, revealing it as both a source of comfort and fear. So yeah, join me as I jump into the reviews!

Art by Marcela Bolívar

“How Lovely Is the Silence of Growing Things” by Evan Dicken (5000 words)

This is a rather surreal and haunting story about two women, a mother and a daughter, Kate and Mel, travelling through a world where the sun has become something wholly other than what it was. Instead of bringing life it brings a twisting, its green light a poison that corrupts everything it touches. That makes reality malleable. That makes the story a very vivid and memorable one because the world is so strange. It’s a story that almost feels like a zombie tale for all the dangers of it, for the poets who inhabit this world, who were once people and who have become green, driven and consumed by the strange that the sun’s light brings. Kate and Mel are working through some shit, too, Kate having to deal with the fact that she left Mel when she was young, that she wasn’t there enough for her. At least, that’s what the story would have you think at first. There’s a lovely mystery to the piece, wondering about not only what happened to the world but also to Mel and Kate and the absent Abby, Kate’s wife and Mel’s other mother. The story is gripping and brutal, revealing this world where everything is dangerous, where everything is hungry. And inside of that world Kate is plagued by memories and dreams. The way the green light works is that it can infiltrate minds and make things different, can remake reality itself. And there’s a huge amount of power in that, a huge amount of potential. And, it turns out, a huge amount of tragedy. The piece certainly is in keeping with the dark mandate of Apex, but it’s not the twisted horrors that make it so. Rather, the piece reveals this wound, this elegant despair and destruction that becomes clear only at the end, only when all the illusions are brushed away and the truth comes out. And fuck, yeah, it’s a great read!

“The Three-tongued Mummy” by E. Catherine Tobler (7400 words)

This is another strange story, but one of a series of such exploring Jackson’s Circus. Each story that I have read helps to explore this world and the Circus, or at least one of the attractions. This time the story begins when Jackson discovers a special Mummy and brings it back. The Mummy, Kek, is named Nefertiti and made into a show, but their powers go beyond that. For a coin they can transport someone to someplace else. Past, present, or future. The story is split between descriptions of such exchanges, that never quite seem to go the way the payers expect, and the sections chronicling Kek’s time at the Circus, how they spend their days and their nights. There are performances, yes, but it’s more a story about violations and unfinished business. Kek can transport people, and yet it’s not exactly a consensual thing. Where they bring the payer, and what happens to them there, is something the payer is rarely prepared for. But it fits with the story of Kek, with how they were interred, told of a certain afterlife, only to find life again when their tomb was violated, when they were violated. What drives them after that is a sort of revenge but it’s also one that reveals their nature. They can take other people to the past, present, or future, but Kek doesn’t have the power to escape. Their own situation is one of confinement, at least until the terms of their curse are met. There’s a violence to the piece but it’s one underscored by this older vision of justice, where the mummy is a tool and little else. How the story complicates that by finally giving them a way out of the cycle, by finally giving them the power to consent and escape, is nicely and powerfully done. The focus here isn’t so much on the Circus as many of the others I have read, but I like how it continues to explore the people and the situation there, the nature of Jackson as showman but also finder of lost things, a giver of refuge and, if possible, healing. It’s a wonderfully complex and heavy story but with a hope that destructive cycles can end and new beginning can still be possible. Indeed!

“Hiraeth: A Tragedy in Four Acts” by Karen Lord (4000 words)

This is a story of humans and Earth, of distance and adaptation and hope. It features Janik, who grew up on the Moon only to need to get his eyes replaced because of an accident. And from there, well…he leads a very interesting life with Hiraeth at its core. And Hiraeth is the thing that effects humans living away from Earth, living away from where they evolved to live and thrive. It’s a sort of disorder in the brain, one that gets worse and worse, where the mind is stressed by all the foreignness of being so untethered to Earth. And so in space Hiraeth comes to define Janik’s life. His parents split because of his father contracting it and the need to avoid it sends Janik deep into the asteroid belt where he finds a different sort waiting for him. The story is about compromises in the face of the harsh realities of life in the solar system. Janik isn’t so much inspired by the romance of space as he is motivated by a fear of Hiraeth and the uncertainty of life on Earth, which seems full of conflict and death. And yet the situation in space isn’t doing so well either, and there’s growing pressures on Janik to further augment himself, to leave that part of him that is human behind so that he can better survive and finally leave Hiraeth behind forever. And I love how the story shows this complex relationship between him and this condition, this way of living, how it captures the dissonance that living away from Earth causes in the mind and yet also shows the human desire to go out, to travel, to reach beyond ourselves. The story is well named a tragedy, as it’s not a happy tale, but also because it takes on this old tradition of a sort of confession. The framing of the story is that Janik is telling a group of people about himself. About this life. What impact this will have is unknown, but there is a sinking grief to this, the feeling of Janik watching humanity reach out and then shrink back into a shell of itself, wanting so much to spread its wings into something beautiful and afraid to face the prospect that it’s not possible. It’s a moving tale that unfolds with a matter-of-fact voice and a wonderful vision of scope and the solar system. Another excellent story!


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