|Art by Marcela Bolivar|
I wasn't expecting to say in this introduction to the April Apex Magazine a goodbye. But with the announcement that the publication will be going on indefinite hiatus following the next issue (which will be guest edited by Maurice Broaddus), it means this penultimate-for-now issue is the last from the current team of publisher/editor-in-chief Jason Sizemore and managing editor Lesley Connor. I've followed Apex Magazine for a long time, having read every original story and poem put out since I started Quick Sip Reviews (and even before then as part of my reviewing elsewhere). And Apex has always been a venue of challenging, sometimes upsettingly dark SFF. The stories do not seek out the best of humanity, but rather reveal the depths that we as people can sink. Through that murk and grime and grit, though, there's also found the diamond-hard, shining bits of kindness, compassion, and empathy that even the harshest world cannot fully kill, cannot extinguish forever. The latest batch of stories are no exception, and stand as a solid sendoff to a stellar editing team. All health and hope and happiness to all the people involved with Apex, and a huge thanks for showing the light in the dark. To the reviews!
“Professor Strong and the Brass Boys” by Amal Singh (5200 words)
No Spoilers: The Palladium dictates that robots not have more than the barest minimum to survive. That they spend their time laboring, serving humans. That they not know art or leisure. And yet leisure is something that fascinates Professor Strong, a robot teacher who is very respected in ris field. In trying to define what leisure would look like for robots, the professor stumbles across music and finds rhe is drawn to it. Fascinated by it. But it is act of defiance, punishable by death for robots, and at first rhe doesn’t want to risk the lives for any of the robots who join together into a kind of band. Things change, though, when the scope of ris choice changes, and he must decide between being complicit in the continued oppression of ris people, or standing up for what rhe knows is right. It’s an inspiring piece about resistance and rebellion, about the power of art, and about a person’s right to leisure.
Keywords: Robots, Music, Rebellion, Leisure, Friendship
Review: I think the idea that people have a right to leisure time is a revolutionary one. Again. To say nothing that it’s already been something people have fought and died for. The right to not be owned by companies, by the wealthy. The right to not have to work every moment of every day. And yet things have slipped so far that many people are completely okay with a system that demands they not have leisure. Because they feel like if they forgo that, they will have safety, securing, and success. When, really, toil without leisure isn’t noble or good, isn’t the cost of doing business. It’s something that Professor Strong realizes, because rhe can see that robots are just as capable as humans of enjoying art and time off. Time to think and talk and enjoy things. And yet the Palladium has deemed that not necessary, a crime even. And I like how rhe pushes back against that, refusing to be a tool to keep other robots down just because rhe has privilege. Rhe knows that rhe has some power, and yet rhe is not safe. For many that would mean silence, would mean playing along to keep what privileges rhe has. But instead rhe sees that it’s ris obligation to help those who don’t have ris kind of pull. That rhe can make a bigger statement, can force the conversation so that humans either have to listen to or kill rhem. It’s a story that very clearly looks at the need to act in the face of a silent oppression and injustice. Not necessarily violently, but audaciously. And it does show these people reaching for change and demanding to have their music heard. A wonderful read!
“All Votes Will Be Counted (We Promise)” by Paul Crenshaw (5400 words)
No Spoilers: David Clausen is tired of the constant voting of the world he lives in, of the constant need to cast a paper ballot to help steer the course of North America Central, the meganation that he’s a citizen of. The votes don’t seem to matter, and it takes a lot of him time, and...well, he has a lot of reasons why he doesn’t want to have to file into the basement of the local church to vote. Only, when he tries to change the system, he finds just how much his vote matters, and how much it doesn’t. It’s a rather chilling story about democracy twisted into something dark, with a strange feel mixing nostalgia with futuristic technology.
Keywords: Voting, War, Abstention, Family, Democracy
Review: It’s almost difficult to place this story in time because there’s so much of it that feels out of the 50s, with the wholesome family unit and community brought together to vote on paper ballots with tiny pencils. But given the technology that seems present for war, and given the state of the world nations, the piece is more likely set in the future, just one without smart phones or internet. Where voting isn’t about counting votes but rather about controlling the population. Which is interesting in many ways, showing how voting can be a tool to entrench corruption rather than root it out. It shows how voting isn’t always the answer, not because people should be encouraged to abstain but rather because when it’s made purposefully difficult and meaningless, it becomes much more about exerting will and control over a population with surveillance rather than caring about what they have to say. I personally would have loved some further examination of technology and voting, because it seems that if everyone voting were really that important, then having everyone be able to vote without going to a polling place, but rather being able to vote online in some way, would make more sense to me. But I think the choice to make this nostalgic is an interesting one, and one that might question the belief that voting used to be considered more sacred or honest or noble. It’s a rather bleak tale, dark and oppressive, and I certainly recommend people check it out and see what you think.
“A Fool’s Baneful Gallantry” by Derek Lubangakene (7700 words)
No Spoilers: A trio make their way across a blasted desert. Mikaya, a spellcaster (an outlaw because of the magic that has been banned by the Guild); Jasiri, a sellward and warrior trying to live honorably despite his mercenary profession; and Adzala, a wyrmrider who has lost her wyrm saving the other two from a random attack in the desert. On the run, the party has to contend not only with the harshness of the landscape, that has already robbed them of most of their supplies, but the people they find there, who might be their salvation...or their doom. The piece is high fantasy in a setting waiting for some glimmer of hope. All that is left is a candle’s sputtering flame against the pervasive darkness of the Guild and their agents, against the paranoia and mistrust that has spread through the world. A flame that might wink out if this party can’t get out of the reach of the Guild, something made very difficult by the dangers in front and behind them, against which all they have are desperation and their own baneful gallantry.
Keywords: Fugitives, Wounds, CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth, CW- Torture, Magic, Deserts
Review: This piece is pretty classic high fantasy, a work that involves a party beset on all sides by hardship and tragedy, trying desperately to reach for a future and hope that the world isn’t completely lost. That it can be saved. There’s even hints of a prophecy and a chosen one and everything that comes with it, and yet I do enjoy the world building and the feel of the world. The world is one where magic has been outlawed, controlled by a powerful Guild who no one particularly likes but that people have to live with. And it’s created this atmosphere in the world where people don’t trust one another. They don’t care for one another. Where everyone is waiting to turn on other people for their own benefit. And so Jasiri here is something of an exception to that, loyal to his companions and trying to be honorable despite his circumstances. The action is gripping and difficult at times because of just how much bad shit happens to the characters. They go from losing their supplies, losing their wyrm (both of which happens before the story even begins) to losing much more. The story promises what could be succor for them, but it all turns to dust and ash in their mouths. And yet despite all of that they don’t turn on one another, don’t try to sell each other for their own benefit. They remain committed to their mission, even when they don’t all know the true stakes of it, and it’s a fun and beautifully imagined piece, full of darkness and grit but also a hope and a classic feel that makes for a rather wonderful read!