Monday, July 16, 2018

Quick Sips - Apex #110

It’s a big month at Apex this July, with two short stories and two novelettes. And it’s all fascinating work. If I had to pick a theme that resonates through each of the stories, though, I would say that it’s cycles of abuse and trying to break them. In each of the pieces, there are wrongs being done. People being hurt. People hiding from the harm they’re doing, and people trying to avoid the difficult discussions with their families and loved ones. The darkness of these stories comes from the weight of the history here, from the pain and tragedy that has piled up because people have avoided resisting them directly. But these are also hopeful stories, of people pushing past the inertia of mistakes and finding the strength to create a momentum toward justice, affirmation, and understanding. To the reviews!

Art by Kim Myatt

“The Chariots, The Horsemen” by Stephanie Malia Morris (1650 words)

No Spoilers: A woman from a religious family finds that she is ascending, drifting from the Earth, pulled up and into the sky by a religious and inner force. Instead of being something that she celebrates, though, it’s something to fear, something that she is made to fight back against, because of how it’s treated in her family, and especially by her grandfather, a preacher who has a lot of feelings about ascension. Dealing with bodies and expectations, shame and affirmation, the story reaches past the fear and guilt the narrator is made to feel about herself, toward a place where she can embrace who she is in all her glory. It’s a difficult piece, looking directly at abuse and the pressure families can exert, but it’s ultimately freeing and joyous.
Keywords: Religion, CW- Abuse, Bodies, Family, Flight
Review: There’s a heavy religious tone that defines this story, that defines so much about the narrator’s life. Because she is judged by this impossible standard that declares her dirty, ungrateful, and somehow guilty. Not because of anything that she’s done, exactly, but because of the fears and violence of the men in her life. Men who let their own insecurity about not being moral, about not being chosen to ascend, turn into cruelty and control over the women who are chosen. It means for those men fostering an environment where the narrator is made to feel unworthy, like this thing that she’s capable of is something she’s doing wrong. Like her body and her weight, she’s told that her ascending is something to be ashamed of, instead of embraced and celebrated. She’s pushed to hurt herself, to sacrifice herself for the pride of her grandfather, as her mother has been made to before him. And I love where the story goes with that, not shying away from the uncomfortable but rather confronting the reader with how people moralize bodies and ability in order to strip power from women, to deny them their joy of flying. It’s a vivid and visceral story that for all the hurt it reveals, keeps its sights beyond, to a place where the narrator and all those like her can be free of men trying to tether them to the ground. A fantastic read!

“When You’re Ready” by M. Ian Bell (6400 words)

No Spoilers: This is a delicate and tender story about choice, and about nature versus nurture. About insecurity, and all the ways that a life can seem like a prison sometimes. For the narrator, it’s a life that has been defined in large part by abuse he suffered at the hands of his older brother. And from there, a future that seems more and more set in stone. Where he can fall in love again and again and again and still end up alone. It’s a story with a haunted world building, a world cloaked in fog, its vast possibilities unknown, on hold. For the narrator, it’s a canvas on which he hopes to paint a future worth reaching toward. And really, the action of the story involves running simulations, hoping for an outcome that seems almost impossible, but that might yet be within reach.
Keywords: CW- Abuse, Uploaded Consciousness, Clones, Alternate Pasts, Simulations, Queer MC
Review: There’s something so rending about this story for me, perhaps because it plays into the idea of nature and nurture and trying to get another chance out of a universe that only allows for one life. For the narrator, obsessively locked into this series of simulations, it means trying to rewrite his own past, trying to find a way to tweak himself in order to produce a person who won’t sabotage his own happiness. Someone who can be in love, and stay in love, and be happy. The narrator recognizes inadequacies in himself, and while it might be tempting to say that all he needs to do is to try to change, to embrace who he wants to be, there is a certain weight to what he feels—that there’s something in him that’s incapable of being happy, even with his one biggest love. And yet it is so heartbreaking to watch him try to change himself, not exactly to be worthy of that love but to be able to take the chances he needs, to be as vulnerable as he needs, in order to be a decent partner. He’s literally trying to produce a better self, one that will be ready to embrace that life, even if it means the original him, the one obsessively running these simulations, won’t have access to that future. The dark implication is, of course, that whatever happens, the narrator will be alone, will either kill himself at the moment of his success or else live on while the better version of himself goes out there to be with his love. And fuck, it’s just an amazing read, emotionally devastating and all-so-real, with a feeling of loneliness and isolation and, most of all, regret. Regret that he can’t get past his own limitations, despite trying. Being able to see them and yet unable to fix them in himself. And yeah, fuck, just go read this one, okay. It’s amazing!

“Kerouac’s Renascence” by Tal M. Klein (9500 words)

No Spoilers: Kerouac Jones has Huntington’s, a terminal disease that’s entering into its final stages. As such, he’s sprung a bit from his normal life, first travelling to Japan to get some space and then deciding to take a slow cruise back, where he will end his life and finish his suicide note to this sister. The story is framed as that note, which becomes a sort of confession of his final days, or what he thinks will be his final days, leading up to the cruise and then to what happens next. The piece is a bit ponderous, not exactly slow but deliberate. Kerouac is trying to get ready for death, a project that’s not really possible, and part of how he copes is by writing the note, by finding ways that he can still be in control. Ultimately, though, it’s a piece that for me speaks of questions and answers. Of a string of Whys that lead him and the reader further into the mysteries of the universe and the raw vulnerability of the individual. It’s not a story with a huge amount of dialogue but rather offers the recollections of Kerouac as he tries to approach his death, and tries to make sense of everything that’s happening to him. It’s weird, luminous, and full of a final hope.
Keywords: CW- Suicide, CW- Terminal Illness, Cruises, Love, Letters, Time Travel
Review: This story has a lovely flow to it, not quite stream of consciousness but a sort of blurry overview of events. Kerouac is attempting to give structure and meaning to a period of his life that feels in some ways adrift, where he is powerless to stop the progress of the disease working its way through him, and so he’s trying to wrap a narrative around it. Trying to give it structure so that he can feel like it’s worth it, that there’s some purpose to it. At least, that’s how I read the way he describes things, and the reasons he gives to justify his lies. The piece is a story, not just because it’s a work of fiction but because he’s so conscious of what he’s doing, has the benefit (and terror) of a lot of time to contemplate his own death. And it never becomes something that isn’t annihilating, that isn’t terrifying. I rather like that, through this all, the story never really posits his desire for suicide as a true desire for death, but rather a release from what’s happening to him, from the pain and the uncertainty and the indignity of it. And he’s so bent on convincing himself, because he doesn’t seem one who would have an easy time thinking about death, that he starts to miss what is still open to him. And, the more he gives into his comfort with defining his own story, the more the truth slips away, and the lies become a sort of blanket he wraps around himself for warmth and protection. It’s a wrenching story, because of how open his eyes are and yet how he can’t seem to avoid mistep after mistep. And yet there are things that still defy his expectations, that throw a wrench into his plans. And at some point he realizes that his plans aren’t as important or meaningful as the connections he makes, as the hope he suddenly has. Not that this couldn’t have gone another way, but that when he became too committed to his plans it was a way to insulate himself from dealing with what was happening, and it lead to him hurting people. And that, only by confronting death and life can he find an authentic way to meet his end without regrets, or at least with less of them. A fascinating read!

“All Clear” by Hao He, translated by R. Orion Martin (7900 words)

No Spoilers: Zhang Dong lives in a settlement following the fall of civilization, where people have fractured into small groups that often erupt into open violence. He’s not exactly happen, thanks in large part to the strife he’s having with his father, an anti-technology believer and the leader of the settlement. Of course, things aren’t exactly smooth between Zhang Dong and his son, either, who may or may not have a form of telepathy that connects all young people. And, of course, Zhang Dong’s dreams of leaving and starting his own settlement with his partner, Liang, get put on hold when their settlement is attacked and everyone starts fighting for their lives. Tense, the story mixes a visceral violence with quieter moments about generational change and especially the ways that parents refuse to understand their children, while demanding understanding from their parents.
Keywords: Post-Apocalypse, Family, Telepathy, War, Betrayal, Generations
Review: So much of this story for me comes down to the line between parents and children, connecting generation to generation. Often, this is not the smoothest of transitions, because the older generations end up fearing change, and carrying resentment because they weren’t allowed to fully express themselves or embrace their potentia. For Zhang Dong, who has an implant that connects him to a web that is in disrepair, thanks largely to the state of Earth’s satelight network, he resents his father, who doesn’t believe anything that he does is good enough. Who believes that any technology is bad, and that networks especially are what caused the downfall of civilzation. The excuse is always that Zhang Dong is younger, and so doesn’t understand enough. For Zhang Dong, his father is too old, too stubborn, and has made his share of mistakes, which he doesn’t seem to recognize. All the while, Zhang Dong is starting to make mistakes of his own, which his own son sees and resents. And I love how the story begins to move fathers and sons onto the same page, not exactly bridging the gaps between them but starting to open up lines of communication. Where, maybe, they can recognize the strengths of each of them, and the value of all of them. And really, it’s a rather thrilling and action-packed story that imagines something like a post-apocalyptic future but maybe one where there’s still the hope that people can break the generational chain of resentment and anger and create something new and better. A great read!


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