The Book of Apex vol 4 Review, part 2!
Posted February 9, 2014on:
I’m a terrible blog tour host. I didn’t even *read* the entire book before the tour started. But there’s a silver lining here! It means as the month goes by I’ll be posting additional reviews of different stories in the book! My terrible reading habits is a win for you! I might even be a completist about the whole thing. Yes, yes I shall. my goal for 2014 is to be a completist.
Today’s reviews include short stories by Ian Nichols, Cecil Castellucci, Sarah Dalton, A.C. Wise, Alethea Kontis, Katharine Duckett, Cat Rambo, Tim Susman, Mari Ness, Brit Mandelo, and David J. Schwartz. Think that’s a great combination of authors? it is, but it barely covers one third of the awesomesauce that is this volume of fiction from Apex Magazine.
interested in reading these stories for yourself? of course you are! Head over to Dab of Darkness and enter to win a copy!
In the Dark, by Ian Nichols – In the mining town, the men sing on their way home from the mines. Songs about the sunlight, about beautiful women, about farming, songs about nothing at all. You don’t ever sing about the darkness of the mines, and you don’t ever sing alone. These are easy rules to live by, rules that keep everyone alive. Until the gypsy boy came. He flashed his dark eyelashes and caught the eyes of the officially unbetrothed. His nimble fingers graze the strings of his guitar and his voice is a caress on the air. But he sings alone, and he sings of the sad and the tragic and the lonesome and the dark. He hasn’t grown up around the dream-stealing darkness of mines, he has no way of knowing the danger he’s in. Morgan should really warn the boy about the dangers of singing about the dark, so near to the Dark. So he takes the gypsy boy over the mines, to show him, to warn him, to get him to shut the hell up already. This is a story that sneaks up on you, like a growing evening shadow that leaves a chill on your shoulders.
Always the Same. Till it is Not, by Cecil Castellucci – I am not a fan of zombie stories. This is a zombie story, and I loved the shit out of it. My enjoyment came from how the story was presented, from the style of the prose. I’m not being told “a story”, but watching a metamorphosis take place. Our nameless narrator is some type of zombie. Words are useless, vocabulary unecessary. Days consist of sleeping, night consists of feeding. The sky is yelled at, flesh is consumed, the horde moves on, often consuming its fallen members. They find themselves in a cemetery, and eat the flesh of the bodies that are presumably in shallow graves. Our narrator seems to realize this is a different place, a special place. When the horde moves on, he hides and stays. As is his lifestyle,he continues to consume the flesh found within the cemetery. And begins changing. As the protagonist’s mentality changes, the prose changes. Sentences that were fragments a few pages ago now have nuance and structure, thoughts that once consisted of “eat. sleep.” now involve complexity and forethought. He comes to understand that eating the flesh of those buried in the cemetery is what allowed him to change. If everyone in the horde ate of that flesh, perhaps this shambling shuffling disease could come to an end. When the horde returns, he knows what he has to do.
Blood from Stone by Alethea Kontis – Henriette loves the Baron. She loves him so much, she’ll do anything for him. The Baron gets involved with the alchemist Prelati. What are they trying to do? raise the dead? trap a demon? Henriette isn’t sure, but she’s interested in finding out, especially if it will let her spend more time with the Baron. The two dabblers in dark magic need someone to clean up their biological messes, so an agreement is made. Yes, she’s in love with the Baron, but this isn’t a frou frou love story. Yes, there is a marriage, and some kissing, but there is also kidnapping and murder and far too much ash in the fireplace. In fact, the story gets deliciously sick and twisted by the end. The story has a gothic feel to it, and Henriette fears the day when Prelati succeeds with whatever he’s doing, for then, what use would the Baron have for her presence? Has he even noticed how she feels? With it’s old fashioned feel, it was an unexpected surprise when a guest shows up at the end with a decidedly modern voice. I read this story two or three times, and each time I enjoyed it more.
Sexagesimal, by Katharine Duckett – There are no pearly white gates in the afterlife, no singing angels. It looks very similar to real life, and people tend to act rather the same as well. The afterlife is populated and decorated and given form by the memories of the dead. Dying never cured anyone of taking things for granted. You wake up in the afterlife with the memories you died with. Perhaps a terrifyingly vivid memory of a heart attack, or perhaps the nothing that Alzheimer’s left you with after ravishing your brain these last ten years. You have only what you came in the door with, and memories are so valuable they can be used as currency. What would you give up to keep what you have? You spend the afterlife with your loved ones, but that doesn’t mean it’s happiness forever. This story tied for 1st place for the Apex readers poll for best of the year. I think after reading it you’ll understand why.
So Happy We Had this Time Together by Cat Rambo – I liked that this story was symmetrical – the first few paragraphs match up with the last few paragraphs, a little like a cross section of a snowflake. Our cutthroat narrator works in television, and gets stuck working on a project she doesn’t believe will fly – Unreality TV. Take some supernatural characters, like a werewolf, a vampire, and a demon, and throw them into a haunted house with a medium, an exorcist and some cute college co-eds. it’s television gold, even the violent episodes, like that one that was banned in a few states because of the casualties caught on film. At the wrap party, our narrator realizes this is only the first season of the a show that will change everything. She’s just going to have to resign her old position and ride the wave of the paradigm shift. This story isn’t super dark, or super tragic. It’s just hella fun.
Erzulie Dantor by Tim Susman – I most enjoyed the rawness of how this was written. There are no quotation marks around the dialog, giving the dialog a ghostly feeling. It’s like you can hear everything, but you can’t tell what direction it’s coming from or how far away the person is. Are they whispering right next to your ear? Bellowing from across the plaza? Maybe she’s just talking to herself, and the dialog is all in Sirene’s head. In disaster torn Haiti, Maisie has thrown everyone out of her house, including Sirene and her baby son, forcing them to live in the cold and wet of a Red Cross tent. Sirene calls on the unpredictable spirit Erzulie Dantor, the Warrior Mother, to help her in her time of need. Maisie is accused of stealing and possession, and other horrible things the community won’t bear. But just because they got rid of Maisie doesn’t mean they’ve gotten rid of the danger. Maybe there was a reason she kicked everyone out of that house. The rawness of the writing style was a double edged sword – I enjoyed it as a novelty, for how it gave the dialog an unexpected fluidity, but at times it hurt the flow of the story and I wasn’t sure who was talking to who.
Labyrinth by Mari Ness – She’s the master of the Labyrinth, and she awaits her dance partners. Most combatants arrive at the center afraid and hungry, easy to dispatch in a few minutes. Some arrive prepared and brave, also fairly easy to dispatch. She’s been doing this for a very long time, maybe it’s time to retire, to allow one of her talented children to take over. She knows she’s not supposed to show preference for her children, but she’s so very proud of them, they are such talented dancers with such potential! The dancers at the center of the Labyrinth nearly always win, because only the guilty are sent to face them, and only the innocent could ever win that match. The guilty have earned their deaths. She’s proud to fight alongside her daughter, her daughter knows every step of the dance perfectly. Every step but the last one. Her children have not yet learned to kill in cold blood. Dear Mari Ness, I humbly request that you write a companion piece to Labyrinth, from Sarren’s point of view!
Winter Scheming by Brit Mandelo – Harvey is physically abusive to her girlfriend. So, from the start, I didn’t like Harvey and hoped something bad would happen to her. She’s being followed by an owl, and what kind of owl follows a woman around, especially during the daytime? As the title implies, this story takes place in the winter, and it was perfect reading for an overly snowy weekend. Such a wintery tale, in fact, that Harvey nearly gets snowed in (mirroring my friends who couldn’t get out of their driveways) when she visits an out of town bird sanctuary for advice on her owl problem. Anne, the woman who runs the sanctuary is also a wise woman of sorts, and she tends to make fun of the naive young women who visit her, hoping for a love potion or a sign in the wilderness of what they should do with their lives. But Harvey isn’t a naive young woman, and Anne immediately knows how to solve the “owl problem”. It was nice to see such a horrible person get exactly what they deserve.
Bear in Contradicting Landscape by David J. Schwartz – an absolutely fascinating story. Our narrator is an author, and early in his career he wrote some pretty awful fiction, none of which was published, including one such story, “Walk Out”. He hasn’t thought of that story in years, until one day, when he met the main character, Eddie, on the train. Eddie’s confusion about his own life is directly related to the authors lack of writing skills when he wrote the story. And then there is the author’s girlfriend, L, whose body is covered in tattoos, a visual record of her life. This is a gorgeously complex story, in a way mirroring the complicated interplay of light and dark and line and history on L’s body, a reality that can change with any step, if you will. the narrator is inadvertently changing reality, because Eddie as written, needs to dovetail into our world somehow. L becomes concerned that her author boyfriend might be changing their reality too, might be changing her, somehow. How can he know what’s real at this point? How can he observe something without changing it?
Sweetheart Showdown by Sarah Dalton – Shay-Shay is a beauty queen, and she’s preparing for the most important pageant of her life, the Sweetheart Showdown. While she recovers from skin grafts and other beauty treatments, she imagines ways to sabotage the other contestants. Shay-Shay does great in the opening rounds, avoiding the psychological warfare from the part cyborg girl, and transmitting her own telepathic messages to discourage the other girls. But the final round isn’t a bikini contest or how to bring about world peace. It’s a gladatorial fight to the death. Shay-Shay’s competitor, Kelli, has won this competition three years in a row now. Kelli knows what it’s like to win, knows what’s expected of the winner, knows what they do to you to make you want to keep winning. This story is a little fucked up, it starts out all fluffy and harmless, with just a little bit of a weird creep factor going on, and then it takes a turn for the disturbing. Having thought quite a bit about the end of the story, I wonder if Kelli wasn’t so much winning, as saving and protecting the other girls, even though in this case, protecting them and killing them means the same thing.
My Body, Her Canvas by A.C. Wise- This story didn’t speak to me as directly as some of the others, but that’s okay. Sarah is an artist, and tattoos are her artwork. She covers his body in tattoos, often calling him in the middle of the night when the muse strikes her, giving her a need to get these images out of her head. She’s turning him into a work of art, and he’s thrilled to be a part of her life in this way. He knows he’s the cage for her nightmares, and the more she can get the nightmares out, the better off she’ll be. I think the narrator, the tattooed man, is a bit unhinged, a bit obsessed with Sarah, almost to the point of deifying her. Maybe that’s what bothered me, his obsessed of her, to the detriment of his own personhood.