Monday, May 14, 2018

Quick Sips - Apex #108

It’s a pretty big May for Apex Magazine, at least in terms of number of stories (with four originals). Which means there’s a lot more worlds to see and experience and get made uncomfortable by. Apex specializes in dark fiction, and these four stories do a nice job of showing how differently darkness can manifest in short SFF. From trauma and war to injustice and defeat to death and undeath to panic and fear, the stories all have different takes on what makes our skin crawl and our stomachs sink. So let’s dive right in to the reviews!

Art by Anna Dittmann

“Stars So Sharp They Break the Skin” by Matthew Sanborn Smith (5000 words)

No Spoilers: Cal is the survivor of a war, but not one that was waged with guns or traditional weapons. It was a war of minds, taking place in a strange landscape that ended up effecting reality itself. And while that part of the story is so twisted up with the pain and trauma that Cal and the others engaged in the war went through, what remains is a man who is struggling to cope with his new life and new condition. He’s been hurt, and what makes things easier is Ginny, who has been caring for him, being with him. But even as she helps, her presence is something that Cal can’t understand, and his own certainty that she couldn’t possible care for him is what pushes forward a lot of the piece. Numb, wounded, but with a soft beauty.
Keywords: Ice Skating, Trauma, War, Therapy, Recovery
Reviews: This is a weird story and as such a little hard to really get into at times at least as far as plot is concerned (for me, at least). As I read the story, Cal is on assistance now because of what happened, and he see Ginny as part of that assistance, someone who has basically been required to help him instead of someone who really wants to be with him. And his own infatuation with Ginny is a source of anxiety and sadness, because to him it’s impossible that love could be reciprocated. And yet the story dives into the hurt and the memories that Cal has been avoiding, finds that what he and Ginny share goes beyond just his injuries—that what they share is the war itself, and what happened to them. And there’s this subtle magic to everything that seems almost like it could be a dream or a hallucination and yet might also be that what happened to them has allowed them to tap into reality itself. To nudge it. And it opens up this space for them to begin to heal, to remember enough of what happened to learn from it and maybe get over it, while not dwelling or festering with it. It’s a quiet story that does a nice job capturing Cal’s insecurities and pain, and it makes for a fine read!

“Mother Jones and the Nasty Eclipse” by Cherie Priest (2700 words)

No Spoilers: Told in second person, this piece comes from the voice of struggle, from the voice of a woman who became a folk hero of sorts. And it’s directed at a different woman, one more modern, one who has in some ways taken on the same struggle. Who has taken on the constant struggle, at least, of being a woman pushing for change. The piece resonated for me with current events, with a certain recent election and the weight of expectation, criticism, and discourse that dominated the run up to that vote and the time since. It’s a piece that speaks, and has a lot to say, mostly about anger and resilience and determination. About corruption and the need to battle it. And the thankless task that so often is, especially for women.
Keywords: Witches, Women, Stories, Resistance, Struggle
Review: I think a lot my reading of this story comes from how I interpret the voice of the piece. As not quite a ghost but definitely not a living person. As something different and immortal because of the work she had done, because of the strength of her convictions and the trouble she caused. She stepped out of life, became something larger than, something uncontainable. And she speaks to this new person, who I read as former Secretary of State Clinton, following this eclipse, which here I’m reading as the 2016 US presidential election. The story never really comes out and says this, but I feel the implication is heavy enough that it’s not a controversial reading. And I like how the story the delves into all the various ways that injustice lead to this eclipse, and yet how there’s still work to be done. Here the narrator speaks to this person about the need to keep going, to become larger still, never backing down, and I feel in this instance that the narrator speaks to the reader through this person (amplified by the use of second person). That here is a sort of call to not let a setback stall the movement. It’s a defiant and exhilarating read.

“Cherry Wood Coffin” by Eugenia Triantafyllou (720 words)

No Spoilers: A coffin maker is compelled to work by the voice of a coffin wanting to be built. The piece creates a magic to the work that he does, that give him the power to create the final resting place for the dead. With that magic, though, comes a wholly different possibility than just putting the dead in the ground. Haunting and understated, the story manages to squeeze a whole lot of mood into such a short space. The piece builds up an interesting world with a very key difference to our own, and the difference is dark and provocative. Leaning much more into horror than the last two pieces, this one brings the creepy and doesn’t apologize for it.
Keywords: Coffins, Death, Carpentry, Voices, Undead, CW- Death of a Child
Review: I really like how this story manages to get so much into the very small space. The world building is neatly done and super fucking dark. Because the slow reveal of the story is that the voice the coffin maker hears isn’t just a trick or a sign that he might have some Issues. Instead, it’s a bit of magic that allows the dead to truly rest. Without the coffin, the body doesn’t exactly stay down. Which is interesting because it means that people have to live with this choice, with this bargain they can make. To not bury their loved ones and instead let them rise, so that they can be together still. It’s completely understandable, and I like how the story confronts the coffin maker with someone who wants to do just that, who doesn’t want to be dissuaded. And yet this person also doesn’t know the full truth, just as the coffin maker didn’t when he made that choice with regards to his wife. And the story just does such a creepy job of showing that he obviously regrets the decision (because he doesn’t want the person to do what he did), and yet he won’t change things. He’s still resisting the call to make her coffin, which means he’s still choosing this life. It’s complex and messy and just makes for a damn good read!

“Fifteen Minutes Hate” by Rich Larson (1200 words)

No Spoilers: Another story told in the second person, this one looks at the aftermath of a night of mistakes for a woman named Savina. Mistakes that have led to a rather extreme outcome—being Blacklisted. Though what that actually means is left darkly vague, it seems completely legal, a form of punishment carried out swiftly, dramatically, and publicly streaming. The story focuses very much on the feeling of disorientation and confusion that Savina feels upon waking up followed by the panic and fear at finding out what’s going on. It effectively puts the reader into her head, into her situation, unsure of exactly what’s coming but feeling vaguely culpable not only because what she did the previous night, but because of how she participated in similar spectacles in the past.
Keywords: Cats, Alcohol, Breakups, Social Media, Pariahs
Review: I find myself a little conflicted about this story, because I think it does a great job of capturing what this kind of thing would feel like. Waking up and finding that you’re suddenly public enemy number one and that your life is kinda over. What’s coming isn’t exactly certain, though it’s unlikely to be fatal, but it still seems like something that would make a person social poison. And in that it seems to me to brush against social media’s so-called “call-out culture.” Because so much of this is about how when someone missteps they are effectively prevented from doing anything but make it worse because of the overwhelming reaction. But. But. Part of me is a bit uncomfortable with how the story depicts those people reacting to this lastest Blacklisting. It’s easy enough to see the bloodthirsty vindictiveness of the masses when the masses are viewed as ignorant attention-seekers. For me, the real surprising thing about the story is that this would be an offense to grab national hatred. It’s possible the piece is trying to speak to the double standard that women face in public spaces and social media, and the omnipresent violence they must speak over. But. The thing is that I don’t really buy this level of backlash unless Savina was a celebrity. She doesn’t have enough power to inspire the kind of hatred that people have for women with any sort of influence. It does a nice job of occupying this moment, this feeling, but perhaps I am fixating too much on certain aspects of my reading. I’ll leave this up to readers to decide on for themselves.


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