|Art by Godwin Akpan|
November at Apex Magazine brings three stories (two shorts and one novelette) that look very closely at memory. That feature characters who have to face events in their pasts…or try to obliterate them. For some, this is an incredibly traumatic event. It ends in death and murder. Or revolution. For others, it’s a chance to walk back from an edge. From an abyss. From despair and loss. For all of them, though, memory is something that is confronting them with something. With the weight of their own existence or the depth of their love. And these are stories that find different ways for the characters to face their memories and move forward into a world drastically changed by that confrontation. To the reviews!
“Master Brahms” by Storm Humbert (5200 words)
No Spoilers: Master Brahms is not one but seven men, an original and six clones, all living in a sprawling manor and studiously avoiding the question of who is the genuine article. Because each one believes he is “the real Master Brahms,” and approaching the question is something that they avoid for a multitude of reasons. Mostly they cohabitate and keep themselves company. Except that they’re all called into a room in the house to find that one of the Master Brahms is dead. And that the house AI has been tampered with to keep them from figuring out which of them is the original. It’s something of a mystery, the narrator of the Masters Brahms sure of his own veracity and terrified of the possibility that he might not be “real.” And it’s also something of a stark look at the identity of clones whose memories seem complete but do have some sort of a mark that sets them apart as not exactly the same. Something that twists identity into pretzels and lends the story a deep and unsettling darkness.
Keywords: Cloning, Murder, CW- Suicide, Identity, Memories
Review: Hey I’m a sucker for a good murder mystery and this one takes a isolated manor with a limited cast and injects a bit of killing into the mix. The main pity is that there’s not really a detective among the crowd. Because they’re all the same people. But because they’re the same people, it also means that they’re all killers. That what one of them did is something that lurks within all of them. And as the narrator discovers, yeah, that’s quite true. And that’s perhaps the real horror of the piece, that the narrator accepts this as a way of burying the truth that he should have been detecting. Basically he becomes an anti-detective, one who has no interest in solving the murder. Instead, he wants if anything to forget it and the reasons behind it. Because he knows that whatever reasons are revealed to him, they will make him a murderer, too. And the only way to deal with the truths that get revealed is to choose which to embrace. He settles on embracing the truth that he’s a murderer, but not the one that he’s a clone. And it’s a hitting and interesting moment when that happens, when he decides where he’s going to go next. It’s creepy and it’s a fascinating kind of whodunit, and it’s certainly worth checking out. A fun read!
“Godzilla vs Buster Keaton, or: I Didn’t Even Need a Map” by Gary A. Braunbeck (11400 words)
No Spoilers: Glenn totally doesn’t have a drinking problem. But following the funeral of his sister he’s not exactly in a great place. He’s dealing with a lot of guilt, a lot of anger, a lot of numb worry and questions. Which means it’s fairly lucky that his sister has left him something—a computer and a program that seems designed to take him on something of an inner journey, to help to face the sister he’s lost far too soon and also the person he used to be. It’s a touching and wrenching read of dealing with death and loss and finding a way to move forward after such a blow. The dynamic between the siblings is deep and interesting and gives the prose a weight and power that reaches out from the screen much as Glenn himself is gripped in turn by the program his sister left him.
Keywords: CW- Terminal Illness, CW- HIV/AIDS, Siblings, Computers, Memories, Grief
Review: I think the thing I had the hardest time in this story was just figuring out when it was set, mostly because HIV/AIDS treatment has come a long way. The computer, though, grounds the story in the early 90s, and from there everything else clicks together. The siblings are still characters a bit out of time, fascinated by very old films and the other parts of their personal lives a bit more opaque. Glenn especially is isolated, having lived most of his life avoiding being social, close to his sister but few others. And even as it’s his sister who’s dying, who’s leaving, she worries about him and wants to try with some of her final time to help him out. Enter the AWARE Network, which somehow manages to channel his sister and even his own past self in order to try and help him through his grief and start to take steps to get out of his comfort zone and actually meet people. And it’s such a touching and intimate tour of Glenn and his insecurities, his guilts and his fears. His relationship with his sister, which has defined so much of his life. And it treats her death with both respect and anger, because it’s not fair, because she’s so young and wanted so much and was so much better at living than Glenn. And that she should die while he lives in his current state almost seems like an insult. So he’s pushed to remember his own desire to live. To experience life. To not let her death sink him further into loneliness. Which is refreshingly not about finding a romantic partner, but rather about making connections. About getting out even if it’s on the internet. And it’s a lovely and touching way of bringing him out of his shell and giving him a future he’s excited to experience. And wow, yeah, it’s also a rather powerful piece dealing with some big and dark themes, but remains fun and rather mysterious throughout, and is definitely worth checking out. A great read!
“Toward a New Lexicon of Augury” by Sabrina Vourvoulias (7000 words)
No Spoilers: Alba is a witch. Not a very powerful one, mind, with only a single talent—augury. In a time and place where resources are scarce and the world has been rocked by climate change (not to mention corruption), she’s a part of the Mob, a group of people who have banded together to push back against the exploitation of the wealthy looking to turn their area of the city into a meat grinder for business. To break up their families and erase their ways of living. Though she’s not the strongest witch in the bunch, though, she knows how to play to her strengths, and when the city teeters on disaster, she does what she has to in order to protect her daughter and serve her people. It’s a heartwarming (if also slightly heartbreaking) story about resistance and perceptions. And how there are different kinds of power, those coded as feminine no less potent than those more lionized.
Keywords: Magic, Family, Post Disaster, Traps, Witches, Resistance
Review: I really like how this story frames resistance in this world of post-disaster, of climate catastrophe. And I love as well the way that it weaves magic into the mix, showing how those with power align themselves with others in power in order to create these very rigid castes where those at the bottom must pay for everything, slowly being bled dry by those above them. And Alba is fighting for a better city, for the rights of herself and her family, which includes a great many other people. People not necessarily related by blood but by purpose and place and consent. And Alba, even not being the strongest of witches, has a lot that she can offer. A bit of augury, yes, but also a drive and a willingness to do what she has to for her daughter. It’s something that makes her go to charity places the others won’t, and make sacrifices that others won’t. Which, it turns out, includes risking her mind and her very soul to a plan that will allow them to stop the development of their street, the gutting of their ways of life. She meets with the powers of the city, who think they have her in their pocket, because she seems weak and they are strong. Only the story shifts what that means. It puts strength not in individual ability but in cooperative action, which Alba excels in, so that she can help spring a trap, willing to pay the price, saved in some ways by her love and the people who love her. And it’s a wonderful story with a great cast of characters, a gripping dilemma, and a clever and badass solution. Go read this one!