The Book of Apex Volume 4: Review. . . part 1!
Posted February 2, 2014on:
Scattered throughout the month, I’ll be posting reviews of selected stories of The Book of Apex: Volume 4 of Apex Magazine. If something you read here or on any of the other blogs participating in the blog tour gets your attention, I encourage you seek the story out on the Apex website. And if you like what you see? Consider purchasing a subscription to the magazine, or one of their anthologies. Consider leaving a comment on their website, or on twitter, or on the blog post. You’ve got an opinion and thoughts? I’d like to hear ‘em.
What I love about the fiction published by Apex is that it’s not straight up scifi, or straight up fantasy, or straight up anything, really. It’s a little bit of this, a little bit of that. It’s true fantastika. Stories that can’t possibly happen in real life, but as you are reading, you so very much *want* it to be happening. The ultimate in suspension of disbelief. Many of your favorite authors have been published in Apex magazine, along with new authors who are soon to become favorites. And that’s what Apex does – they take the cream of the crop of the strangest of the strange, scratching that itch you hadn’t known you had until it was relieved.
This is the stuff you can’t get anywhere else, it’s that flavor that’s part bloody sunset, part crystal constellation, part fever dream. It’s like walking into that weird little bar on the corner (you know, the one with no windows? that one.), and playing it cool. You ask the bartender what they recommend, and they bring you a pint of something dark. You think you know what it is, but that first sip tells you this is something very different. It starts out gentle, even a little sweet, but then ends with an unexpected bite, so sharp you wonder if you’ve bit your lip because you swear you taste blood in your mouth. This is that unlabeled, brewed in the back, only available for people who ask for it by name type of drink.
The 24 Hour Brother, by Christopher Barzak – The first thing you need to know about this story is that you’re not going to get through it without crying. Lewis is excited to finally be an older brother. After the complications of Lewis’s birth, no one expected his mother to be able to carry another child to term. But a miracle happened, and little Joe was born. but Joe didn’t stay little for long. He cut his first tooth shortly after being born. Within the hour they were chasing him around the hospital. He’d nearly grown out of his baby clothes by the time his father caught him for the taxi ride home. Within 12 hours he was fully grown, and leaving his 15 year old older brother behind when he went out drinking. You can see where this is going, can’t you? Joe’s mother knew, the first time she saw him, that she was going to lose him. There’s something especially tragic about stories where you know from the opening paragraph that it’s going to end badly. Like I said, you’re not going to get through this one without crying.
The Leavings of the Wolf, by Elizabeth Bear – Dagmar runs to get away from her divorce. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. She runs to lose weight. If she loses enough weight, she’ll be able to pry that wedding band off her finger, that gleaming golden reminder of everything that went horribly wrong in her life. And interspersed with her running is a floating story line, a dialog between her and an ex. But the thing is, this extra story line? You don’t know when exactly it’s happening. Was it years ago? a few weeks ago? yesterday? The weight of these few extra lines here and there are like the mark a wedding band leaves on your finger after years of wear: you don’t know anymore who you are without the mark. Anyways, on her morning run, Dagmar often sees the same murder of crows, it’s that group she’s been studying, anklebanding, and researching for the University. The crows know her, she knows the them, and she even makes the occasional Thought and Memory joke. One day she meets someone who might be a God, it’s not a joke anymore. And he tells her why she’s still running. We’re all running from something, and sometimes it’s only the fear of losing a mark that tells us who we thought we were supposed to be. I’ve run hot and cold with Bear’s fiction in the past, and this one hit me hard. In a good way.
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.
Faithful City, by Michael Pevzner – Everyone wants to go to the city, but you can’t go until it calls you. And one morning, our narrator hears the city calling to him. He’s not a music guy, but the orchestra begins in his mind, and it’s beautiful, and it’s calling to him. he’ll follow his brother’s footsteps, he’ll risk life and limb to get to the city, to enter the temple. Ever been in a room with a loud fan, or a lot of white noise? And after a while, you start hearing snippets of music in the noise? That’s what I thought of when I read this, of all the bits and pieces of classical music that my mind thinks it hears in loud white noise. When our narrator arrives, exhausted and starving, at the city, the lone family living there takes him in and nurses him back to health. But how dare they tell him he can’t go to the temple? He’ll get to the temple, even if it kills him, even if he has to kill his hosts.
Armless Maidens of the American West by Genevieve Valentine – Everyone in the village talks about the armless woman who lives in the woods. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who saw her, with her bloodied dress and her long, bedraggled hair. This story is written in the rarely used second person point of view, so it’s as if the reader is directly experiencing what’s happening as a resident of the town, adding an additional level of intimacy. What exactly happened to the armless maiden? Why did someone cut her arms off, and how did she survive the blood loss? Television crews occassionally show up, and it’s during those times that the town rallies around the maiden, protecting her from those who might exploit her. No one in the town is going to offer her succor personally, but they’re sure as hell not going to let a stranger harm her resident freak. But then that weird university researcher shows up, claiming to be doing a study on armless maidens of the American West. Wait, she’s not the only one? How many armless maidens could there possibly be? And it’s an open ended story to boot, which I appreciated.
The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catheynne M. Valente – No one writes like Valente. This I know to be true. I know when I see her name on something I”m in for a treat. In the sleepy New England town of Sauve-Majeure lives the demon Gemegishkirihallat. And she is a very patient demon. She waits for particular children to be born. She waits for the town to trust her as that old granny who lives by herself. She waits for the shy mothers to bring her their daughters for sewing lessons and voice lessons, and lessons in how to be a proper young lady. She’s a harmless old biddy, baking her bread, and giving lessons to young women. She’s accused of being a witch, threatened with being burned at the stake. Gemegishkirihallat wonders if it’s possible to die, she wonders what it feels like, wonders if death will bring her back to hell. And speaking of hell, what the hell is Hell’s own baker doing in a sleepy New England village full of superstitious puritans? That word “demon” and that word “hell”? They don’t mean what you think they mean. Leave it Valente to take a subject matter that we’ve been taught to abhor, taught to fear, taught to be wary and superstitious of, and flip it inside out. I would be friends with Gemegishkirihallat, I would send my daughter to take lessons at her home, I would buy her loaves of bread at the market and I would have no idea who I was dealing with.. An aside that I found hilarious: I had no problem pronouncing Gemegishkirihallat’s name, but had to ask around for the proper pronunciation of the town’s name and of many of it’s human residents. Valente speaks a textured language of peaks and valleys and shadows and secrets and patience.