Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Quick Sips - Apex #106

Three original stories bring a strange and decidedly dark flavor to March’s Apex Magazine. And front and center in many of the stories this month is the idea of observation. Of perspective. Of seeing and being seen. Of how large a role perception has in mapping reality, and how large a role it has in creating reality. The stories feature characters caught between larger forces. Trying to reach for a human connection while being pushed and pulled by very inhuman forces. It makes for a number of unsettling and grim moments, when humans fall victim to the machinations of others, where how people view the world doesn’t match how others want the world to be, and the results are violent and swift. And even when a person seems to hold out, there is an inevitability about the stories, that sometimes (perhaps often) humans just can’t stand up to the forces arrayed to steer the universe. To the reviews!

Art by Benedick Bana

“Irregularity” by Rachel Harrison (7500 words)

No Spoilers: Nyle is an Observer, one who is tasked to watch space for signs of an invasion like the one that almost reached Earth in the not-so-distant past. It’s not the job he wanted, but the best he can do because of his background—something he almost rose above but ultimately couldn’t. His time as an Observer is routine, and extremely isolated—until something happens to draw him into something big. Part mystery, part exploration of regret and guilt and sorrow, the story moves slowly but with a touch of strangeness to it, playing with dreams and the lengths that Nyle might go to in order to avoid certain truths. Touched deeply by the dark of space, it’s by no measure a happy story, but it is a rather beautiful one, full of longing and a quiet dread.
Keywords: Space, Communication, Observation, Invasion, Viruses, Dreams
Review: The story does a lot of interesting things with the ideas of invasion and observation. Nyle is supposed to be watching for signs of threat to Earth, and yet even so he’s vulnerable because of things that he doesn’t want to see. Things he doesn’t want to remember. And so he creates a situation, aided by some outside intrusion, where he can still reach back and reclaim something that he has lost. When really what happens is that his wound that won’t heal is a point of infection, and he ends up falling into a trap designed to exploit his weaknesses. The piece is gothic in some ways, taking place on a station where Nyle is one of only two humans, and really gets no other contact except for the AI that he’s meant to spot-check. There’s a darkness about the piece, with all that space around to hide the threats to humanity. For all that things feel very routine at the beginning, and that Nyle feels that he can let his guard down in many ways, there’s a growing tension, a dread about what’s happening. It’s easy enough to fall into the same trap as Nyle and want so badly to believe that there’s a happy ending that the tragedy is still a surprise when it comes, when the piece twists toward horror. It’s a lovely bit of storytelling with a great balancing of the sadness of Nyle’s situation and the fact that he’s sort of an ass who makes some huge mistakes and is certainly not rewarded for that. And despite a very bleak ending, there’s a definite power to the piece, and it’s a rather effective and gripping read!

“We Are New(s)” by Bentley A. Reese (2900 words)

No Spoilers: A Londonder named Toby and a northern woman named Elizabeth meet under the watchful gaze of...something. They talk, and as they talk a story begins to wrap around them, tighter and tighter, a created narrative that isn’t true, at least not yet. In this future world, truth is connected to the same feeds as everyone else, so that it can be manipulated and twisted by a skilled enough hand—by someone or something born of those feeds and eager to create interest. The piece maintains a nice conversational tone and really builds the scene between the two characters even as it leaves the nature of the “We” of the piece mysterious and ever-more unsettling.
Keywords: News, Observation, Interest, Objectivity, Lies
Review: There’s a nice punky style to this one, that gets at the future of news that is already beginning to happen, where it’s about shock and about getting people to look at content. To create interest rather than to report on things that are happening. When news is driven by advertising, by money, then these things start to happen, and as I read it the “We” of the story is basically that way of thinking made manifest, a sort of corrupting and infectious entity that has decided to invent the news (in a much cooler way than that Bond villain, tho). And I love how the story splits into two levels, one all about this connection between Toby and Elizabeth, people from so different of backgrounds experiencing something genuine and fragile and wonderful, and the other level one much darker, about a serial killer who is capturing attention and interest, and how the “We” of the story is planning on using that interest to further its ends. To create more violence. Because when news is about money, conflict is good, violence is good. It’s not about what’s nice or happy or affirming. It’s about pushing the bottom line and coming up with larger and larger stories, all true by how they are believed, by evidence that can be fabricated. It’s a wonderful story with a bleeding edge, and it’s definitely worth checking out!

“A Priest of Vast and Distant Places” by Cassandra Khaw (2100 words)

No Spoilers: A woman rides in a plane towards home, which for her means a lot of relatives she doesn’t like and about three people (mother, sister, best friend) who make home something more than a destination or departure. She’s a priest of planes, able to converse with them, to listen to them and talk with them and offer them something that no other humans can—understanding. For all that, though, the planes don’t quite understand her, and what follows is a weighing of the life that the main character could have among the planes and the sky, or being able to go home, with all the joy and the pain that goes along with that. The story skips a bit in time and really explores the concept of home and travel, especially for one who moves around a lot, who has made a life of going from place to place. Quiet, beautiful, and with a warm cut just a bit why the rush of the cold wind.
Keywords: Planes, Priests, Travel, Home, Family
Review: I’m guessing that the story evokes a bit the train stories of Ursula Vernon (hey, also mostly from Apex), only here focusing on a different kind of transportation, and in that a completely different scale of transportation. Because planes are global creatures, moving from place to place but across all borders, from Paris to Hong Kong to New York and all points between. And the main character, the second person “You” of the story, is a priest of planes, able to hear them and commune with them. In part because travel seems to be in her blood, the pull to go beyond, to change the scene, to experience what the world has to offer. It’s what fulfills her at the same time that it seems to tempt her away from her home and those people that she loves. Because she doesn’t settle, there are few things tethering her to the ground. But enough, for the moment at least, that she can feel connected to people, to a community. And I think where the darkness of the story comes from is exploring how fragile those connections are. There’s a certain shine to the way the main character is able to resist the call to cut her ties to the ground and enter the rather more glamorous world of the air and sky. She stands by her decision that even a small group of people can mean the universe. At the same time, she sees clearly that those connections are not eternal. That people change. And that when they can change too much, fraying and finally breaking, at which point there would be nothing holding her back. Because she does love flying, traveling, _going places_. But she also seems to recognize that such a choice, to embrace that and leave any other home behind, will also be tinged with sadness and loss. So it’s a moving, rather haunting story that does a great job of showing the gravity pulling the narrator from the ground and into another life as a priest of planes. A fantastic read!


No comments:

Post a Comment