Thursday, September 20, 2018

Quick Sips - Apex #112

It’s another rather large Apex Magazine this month, with three short stories and a novelette full of darkness, damage, and families. For most of the works, at least, the focus is on the pressures that people, especially women, face to blend in and accept a world that is so actively harmful to them, loaded against them. That they are pushed into participating in a system that harms and abuses them, without real help in dismantling that system. And for some, this is something to fight against, something to push back against, and maybe win some room, some progress towards a better world. And for others it’s something where any attempt to push back is met with brutal punishment and constant bombardment of abuse and humiliation. The stories map the complexities of desire and hope in settings where darkness holds sway, and they are all beautifully devastating. So, to the reviews!

Art by Joel Chaim Holtzman

“Field Biology of the Wee Fairies” by Naomi Kritzer (4700 words)

No Spoilers: Amelia is a girl just entering adolescence in a 1962 America where girls are expected to find fairies. To capture them so that they can demand a forfeit, a bargain, a gift. The gender roles of the time are rigid, just starting to get dented in organized ways, and Amelia is running up against the systems designed to keep women out of STEM, despite Amelia’s greatest passions being in science. She’s getting ready for a big science fair, and navigating her hopes and expectations. And, of course, the pressure to catch a fairy and get interested in boys and hair and make up. The piece is on the lighter side for the publication, but still carries an edge of darkness expressed in the danger that Amelia faces, and an entire system where fairies are used to uphold a misogynist status quo.
Keywords: Fairies, School, Science, Bargain, Prophecy
Review: This is a fun story and I love the idea that there are fairies moving through this world for their own reasons, content to let humans think that their presence means one thing when it really means something else. It works into the rather deceptive nature of fairies, and I love that part of that works into the idea that the world is built on similar lies. Similar deceits. Like the idea that girls can’t do science. Or have to be interested in boys and make up. And I think the piece does a great job of showing the way through those lies, and it rests in study, in asking questions, in forcing a confrontation instead of accepting the standard answers. And I love how the piece portrays Amelia when she learns that, lies or not, the way things are organized has a huge impact on her life. That there are things she wants that she will never be able to have. But that, perhaps, that isn’t the end of the world. Not because it doesn’t suck, but because it gives her freedom to stop trying for that specific thing, and instead can concentrate her skills and energy on something else. Something that will benefit her, and allow her to move forward productively. And yeah, it’s a great read!

“River Street” by S. R. Mandel (720 words)

No Spoilers: Told in second person as an excerpt from a guide on a city, the piece is concerned with a single street, the titular River Street, where everything seems pleasant and each and which has a promise that hides much more darkness than you might suspect. The pacing of the piece is deceptively fast, building exponentially until there is no stopping, no slowing, only the whistle of movement and the obliterating thought of impact. There are things that the story answers, and other mysteries that it leaves for the reader, and it’s a strange but exhilarating effect.
Keywords: Guides, Travel, Streets, Destinations, Landscapes, Surprises
Review: The tone of the piece is great, in part because it’s such a bright and chipper opening, evoking travel guides that are about promotion as much as they are about information. Only here there are indications that something isn’t quite right. In the way that the guide takes control of your intent, washing away wherever it was you were going, giving you cause to linger. For me, it gives the feeling of the street already at work, coaxing you into a sense of ease and happiness. Leisure and adventure. There is a scenic view and it’s like you’ve found something secret and wonderful. Something magical. But of course that magic isn’t entirely safe, and by the time that you really might catch on that there’s a danger it’s already too late, and I love that feeling, that there’s a point of no return and you’ve already passed it a while ago. Sorry, but it’s all hands on deck now, and you’re along for this ride, which grows increasingly wild even as the guide reassures you that there’s nothing to worry about. That you were meant to be here, now, about to face something awesome in the true sense, a bit of the sublime that is terrible even as it draws you closer. And the ending is mysterious in some ways, leaving some things unsaid, implied, or left for your imagination or fear or awe to fill in, which to me does a great job of really pulling you in to the piece and not letting you go. It is an invigorating and energetic and nicely story that walks the line between horror and adventure. Definitely one to check out!

“Coyote Now Wears a Suit” by Ani Fox (5400 words)

No Spoilers: Kupua lives in the shadow of the lies they’ve told their family. About who they are. About what they want to do. And avoiding it is becoming less and less possible when they get a full ride scholarship to Harvard and their auntie sends him to get Coyote, the trickster god himself, out of prison. Those things might seem incredibly unrelated, but as the story moves through its sequence of misadventures showing some of the sights and sounds and complexities of Hawaii, those two things come closer and closer together, until everything kind of explodes, but into something beautiful and healing and wonderful. It’s a piece that explores Kupua’s life on Hawaii, the difficulties they’ve faced not just with their family but with their love life, the corruption of the police, and the proliferation of people taking sometimes-criminal means of trying to get by.
Keywords: Jail, Gods, Tricksters, Queer MC, Family, Truths
Review: The voice that drives this story is a conflicted on, full of guilt and shame and yet a fierce drive and love and hope. Kupua is a character that is caught between identities, not shifting exactly but finding the language absent for what speaks to the truth inside him. Inside her. And it’s a truth that they’ve long been hiding and running from, because of the hopes burning inside them, and the fear that it will change everything for the worse. That she will be rejected. That she would lose the thing that matters the most to her—her family. And it’s a situation that Coyote walks into like a force of nature, and I love that the piece explores the ways that Coyote seems to speak in only lies and yet reveals the deeper truths. How he arrives and upends everything in Kupua’s life, and yet Kupua cannot hear him, because at this point he’s not really being honest with himself, or with those around him. He’s in crisis, caught in this moment where he might pursue his dreams in academia, where he might be able to live openly, or at least as openly as possible for someone who can’t find neat labels that fit them. But there’s the hesitation, the wanting to avoid trouble and drama. And yet being drawn into it anyway so that she has to embrace her power and potential, and step into her legacy as a badass capable of Getting Shit Done. And emotionally devastating and richly imagine and just so real. And it’s a gorgeous and flowing and fantastic story that you should read immediately. Go do it!!!

“A Siren’s Cry is a Song of Sorrow” by Stina Leicht (7600 words)

No Spoilers: Jill and Alex are sisters growing up abused by their father and acutely aware of the ways that society treats girls and women, stripping away their protections and trying to make them powerless in the face of any mistreatment from men. The only place that they feel safe is under the water, and so they are both drawn to the idea of mermaids. Jill, though, older and the narrator of the story, soon finds that even fairy tales about mermaids tend to end poorly. Alex, though, pursues the hop of finding magic to transform and escape. Instead, the sisters find more trauma, more hurt, and more barriers to freedom or justice. It’s a very difficult story to read because it does not pull any punches and frames the voice of society as a rapist, a murderer, because that’s exactly what it allows and even encourages.
Keywords: CW- Rape, CW- Murder, CW- Abuse, Sisters. Mermaids, Magic
Review: This story traces some incredibly difficult and terrible traumas and violations, drawing Jill and Alex as girls without protection from the violence they face from their father. Who know that they cannot talk about it, that there really is no release for them, because they won’t be believed or, if they are, it might make things worse. And Jill especially as the older sister experiences the ways that growing older only seems to make things worse, that it offers no real protection or promise of release from the cycles of pain and powerlessness. And I love how the magic is used here, that it’s something that Jill can’t bring herself to believe in. In part because believing would be too painful if it turned out to be a lie. Because she’s been so let down by every hope she’s had. And she wants to believe in the system, that she will be able to find safety, or some version of it. That the horror will stop if she acts a certain way, if she waits for hope to bloom. Only that doesn’t work. Because it’s not about her actions, and by the time she truly understands that it’s too late. And yeah, wow, this is a dark and disturbing story, demanding readers face the realities that it’s often easier to ignore (that society often demands we ignore). It’s powerful and it’s heartbreaking and the hope it finds really isn’t that a person can stand up and change all society. But rather that freedom, when prevented and frustrated, can become something dark, as long as it works. A difficult but rewarding read!


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