|Art by Aaron Jasinski|
Despite editor Jason Sizemore’s continued health issues (hope there's improvement, Jason!), Apex Magazine definitely isn’t slowly down, with three original short stories and a new novelette, all looking at history and memory, violation and revelation. The stories explore the ways that people build prisons, for themselves and for others, and how much it hurts to have to inhabit those places, barred in and often cut off from hope. They run the gamut from historical fantasy to humorous science fiction, showing that humanity casts a long shadow on history, and in that shadow all manner of greater darknesses can lurk concealed. It’s a gripping, rending issue, and I’ll get right to the reviews!
“The Prison-House of Language” by Elana Gomel (5600 words)
No Spoilers: Dr. Sophia Abdoul experiences language much differently from the rest of the world, it seems. To her, speaking is painful, words having different tastes and feels but none of them exactly pleasant. It’s something that has pushed her into linguistics, in an attempt to understand her condition and maybe find a language that suits her, and it’s her work that brings her to the attention of the military, which has a strange experiment on its hands that’s seen some...unexpected results. The piece is dark and with a voice that manages to be elegant and blunt at the same time, capturing an earnest feeling that is refreshing and, it turns, out, piercing. It’s a story about prisons and those who keep them, and all those trapped inside.
Keywords: Language, Translation, Aliens, Experiments, Dreams
Review: The story is an interesting one in how it plays with the idea that human perception is shaped by language. That how we experience the universe changes with how we frame that universe in language. It’s a theory that’s existed for a long time, and one that it’s rather difficult to either prove or disprove, but it’s certainly compelling, and I love how Sophia approaches that, how she, through the experiment she is brought into, is able to see through the bars of the prison. The story is not a particularly happy one (not surprising given the publication), but it has this haunting beauty to it, that Sophia not only has a different relationship to language but that it means she experiences our world differently. It makes her isolated and alone, because in many ways, despite her vast skills with languages, she’s the only person who really speaks her own language. And she’s been searching and searching in part to break through that solitude, to find some connection to something bigger. Which she does end up finding, though not at all in the way she expects, and I just love the creepy way the story twists language from something that’s supposed to be our greatest tool, into something that has a much more sinister purpose. It exists as something that helps us explore our universe, but also conceals so much as well, and keeps us in many ways trapped by the limitations of our language to properly imagine and conceive of what reality might be like. And I love how the story takes that and plants this seed of doubt that might bloom into something dark and terrible. A wonderful read!
"Where Gods Dance” by Ben Serna-Grey (1200 words)
No Spoilers: A father brings to life a series of beings following the death of his son. So don’t expect a very light read, I guess is what I’m saying. The piece looks at the emotions left over after the death of a child and follows this man as he gives them life, as he cycles through what’s happened. The piece revolves around loss, not just the initial loss but each subsequent one driving the narrator deeper and deeper into his own pain. The prose is tinged with longing and with sadness, with desperation and a certain knowing doom with which narrator pushes forward toward an end that pulls him under like quicksand.
Keywords: CW- Death of a Child, Resurrection, Constructs, Guilt, Grief
Review: The story in some ways has a touch of fairy tale to it, in part because of the way that it’s structured as this recurring cycle. The man lost his son, and so he goes about trying to make something to fill the void left over or else to exorcise the pain that he feels. And yet each one has its problems, its ways of not being human, that eventually lead to a new grave. The man grows more desperate with each failure, and though he remains fairly tender and compassionate towards the creations, even that has a limit. For me the story is about the weight of grief and guilt, the way that the father can’t let go of what has happened. He can’t release himself from the guilt of all the time he had but didn’t use as well as he could have. All the moment he could have had with his son. So that he’s haunted by all these shades, these shadows of his son, and gets so caught up in them that he ends up forgetting that actual boy who died. And so when the time comes for him to try once more, one final time to bring back his son, he can’t. It’s about the dangers of letting grief consume all things, of becoming isolated and alone with only an obsession and a growing line of graves. It’s chilling for me because it features that slowly fading warmth of this man losing his son again and again, and losing himself in the process. A fine read!
“Curse Like a Savior” by Russell Nichols (3900 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a hologram technician, fixing up projections that have been...compromised. In most cases, it’s the case of hackers managing to tweak the code enough for, say, Jesus Christ to start dropping f-bombs. It’s a living, but one of the dangers with working around religious figures (as a non-religious person) is the potential of being dragged into a religious discussion. Something he’s contractually not allowed to do. And yet... The story is a mix of humor and a growing darkness. Because even as the narrator goes about his business, what he thinks he knows about the situation might not be what’s really going on. And the twist, when it comes, is a bit shocking, a bit hilarious, and a bit terrifying.
Keywords: Holograms, Religion, CW- Rape, Repair, Hacking
Review: The story does a great job of combining humor and something decidedly darker, swirling around the ideas of hacking and blasphemy. The narrator here is someone who has a job and just wants to do it, likes avoiding people for the most part and considers himself rather careful and rather clever. He’s also a man who has been hurt, especially by the church, so there might also be a part of him that enjoys that he makes his money as a result of people hacking religious holograms. Except that it brings him back into contact with religious people, and some that have even less scruples than the hackers who would target such religious icons. For me the story plays with the idea that religion makes a person slow or backwards. Because most religions are conservative and slow to adopt new technology, there’s this sense that they are almost safe in that way, that something about hacking and having religious convictions are at odds. But with a Christianity at least that evangelizes in a rather capitalist way, innovation is the key to increased profits and increased influence. And wrapped in the guise of disapproval and Old Fashioned Values, it’s not until it’s too late that most people, the narrator included, realize that the game isn’t what they thought it was. It’s a fun, nicely twisted story that shows just how complex and insidious some cons can be, and while I don’t think that it frames all religions as cons, I do think it shows that religion can be a great vehicle for deception and exploitation. And that it’s very dangerous to assume that just because a person loudly complains about something they must be innocent of doing it. A great read!
“O Have You Seen the Devile with his Mikerscope and Scalpul?” by Jonathan L. Howard (9500 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this strange story has been tasked with going back over the Jack the Ripper killings. Essentially reliving the crimes again and again in order to...understand them, maybe, or “solve” them through some means. The piece follows them as they peer into the past, following the women that were murdered, tracing the outline of this shadowy killer who was never caught and who remains an almost romantic figure in history, the “first” serial killer, or at least the one to best capture a great deal of attention in the English-speaking West for it. It’s a story that reads a bit like a nightmare lost in an obsession, the narrator driven back again and again to places they don’t want to be, all looking for what’s important, what’s vital about these killings, and finding that the answer isn’t what they thought it might be. Or isn’t, at least, what most people would assume. It’s a haunting read, like history itself, but with a twist of triumph to banish at least one monster back into obscurity.
Keywords: History, Jack the Ripper, Mysteries, Murder, Serial Killers
Review: History is a dark place, made darker at times by the obsessions of the present, by the fascination people have with brutality and murder. With the way that people wrap heinous crimes up in layers of legend that make them somehow admirable. Jack the Ripper is something of a bogeyman now, a figure at the heart of a million conspiracies, and the narrator of the story is so fucking done with that. Is done with thinking of this killer as anything more than ordinary. Or no, less than ordinary. A rot. A shit. The story pierces through the veil of history only to linger not on Jack, but on the women who died. It’s their part in all of this that the narrator seeks to understand, that the narrator empathizes with. There is no moment of wanting to be the asshole killing them, no catharsis in their pain and terror and death. No, that’s saved for a different target, one whom much more deserves to be imagined helpless and afraid, broken and screaming. And in that the story takes history and seeks to redeem it. To reveal not the inherent awfulness of humanity but to show that through even the darkest of times there are people being good and decent. That even in rotten and fetid London when people think everything was dirty and diseased and “perfect” for Jack the Ripper to emerge, there was a lot of good, and the evil was really things like income inequality and the lack of a social safety net. Which gee, sounds familiar. The story reframes the common narrative, finding one that rings no less “true” but isn’t weighted down by all the violation and ego that goes with most Ripperology. And it’s an intricately layered story, a trip into the past to affirm that Jack the Ripper wasn’t a superhero, and that he doesn’t deserve to be remembered. Definitely a story to spend some time with!