Review of Apex Magazine, issue 58 March 2014
Posted April 11, 2014on:
this blog post is part of Apex Magazine’s Operation Fourth Story. If Apex picks up enough new subscribers this month, they’ll be able to include a fourth original story in future issues, and how awesome would that be! Click here for more info about Operation Fourth Story. Already a subscriber? click here. But don’t just take my word for it, check out these other recent Apex Magazine blog posts:
Books, Bones, and Buffy interviews Cameron Salisbury, Managing Editor
Two Dudes in an Attic reviews Issue 55 (Dec 2013)
Bibliotropic reviews Issue 58 (March 2014)
Lynn’s Book Blog reviews issue 57 (Feb 2014)
Over the Effing Rainbow reviews issue 59 (April 2014)
Beauty in Ruins reviews issue 54 (Nov 2013)
Genre-Bending reviews issue 55 (Dec 2013)
new! Bibliosanctum reviews issue 58 (March 2014)
And for those of you who would like to take my word for it, here are my thoughts on issue 58, the March 2014 issue:
I’m yet another newbie when it comes to short fiction magazines. I’ve subscribed to Asimov’s for maybe two years now, and have picked up the occasional promotional issue of short fiction magazines at conventions and bookstores and such. But these new fangled electronic magazines you say? Read it on my phone or e-reader, you say? say WHAT?
Once I got over the omg this magazine is on my phone thing, I suddenly realized omg this magazine is on my phone, this is wonderful! I don’t need to worry about it not fitting in my purse or getting all mangled in my purse (a part of me is still mourning that poor, poor issue of Asimov’s that I shoved in my purse and it got completely mangled by my keys), or it getting soaked in the mailbox (the fate of too many Asimov’s). okay, so having Apex Magazine on my phone is pretty neat. And hello gorgeous cover art! Julie Dillon is one of my favorite artists! ok, so it’s pretty to look at, as portable as chapstick, and easy to navigate, but what about what’s in it?
Each issue of Apex Magazine includes a short note from the editor, a few short stories, poetry, interviews, and a non-fiction essay about issues that are near and dear to genre fans. The March issue opens with a short essay from Editor Sigrid Ellis (who I recently interviewed), where she talks about crossroads, the fine line between flying and falling, thresholds, and breaking through those thresholds, deciding if we are falling or if we are no, flying. She’s not just randomly talking about decision trees, she’s introducing you to what lies in the pages ahead. Characters in transitions, characters who are standing at the precipice, people at the cross roads of what will define the rest of their life. And you know what? Falling or flying, it’s up to the person in the air to decide which verb applies to them.
Everything in this issue was either very good, or excellent, and I went back and reread just about everything twice, and sometimes more than twice. A few (ok, more than a few) words on my favorites:
My favorite piece of fiction in this issue was “The End of the World In Five Dates”, by Claire Humphrey. The portions of the story are actual dates that someone claimed the world was going to end, such as Harold Camping’s promise that the world would end on May 21st 2011, and when that didn’t work out, his next predicted date of Oct 21st, and the chapters are also dates in the way that they are gatherings of friends that might lead to romantic entanglements. Unlike those fake prognosticators, Cass knows for sure when the world will end. She’s seen it: A purple light, newspapers scattering to the ground showing a date in 2013. Her friends don’t believe her, or course, and as the end of the world often comes up in conversation, they often take an opportunity to tease her. Because what else is there to talk about on December 21st, 2012?
Cass finds a strange freedom in knowing the day she’s going to die: she knows she’s not going to die any other day. Cass takes crazy risks, doesn’t call her doctor back when tests come back inconclusive, spends hoards of money on a trip to Europe, all with the knowledge that there’s no point in investing a future that will never come. At the beginning of the story, Cass’s on-again off-again girlfriend Petra is embarrassed by her supposed prophesying, but by the end of the story Petra comes to terms that Cass’s reality is well, Cass’s reality.
Five Dates is even more of an emotional roller coaster that you’d expect. From Cass’s detachment to what’s going on and her friend’s horror at that detachment, to nearly the opposite, when her friends have come to peace with her beliefs right as Cass herself begins to truly dread the upcoming date of her vision. Once I recovered from the emotional gut punch of the last sections of the story I read it again. And then later, again. Upon reread, I was in a way, freed from worrying about the end, so I could focus more on the details.
This issue of the magazine also includes a very thoughtful interview with Claire Humphrey, where she discusses her inspiration for the story, which among other things, included her father’s last days. Diagnosed with stage IV cancer, he made peace with the fact that he needed to make end of life plans while friends and family were suggesting long term care and treatment options. When faced with the knowledge that there wouldn’t be a ten years down the line, or even a two years down the line, his entire mindset changed. If like Cass, you knew, or thought you knew when your world was going to end, how would your plans change? Would you still floss your teeth, or save for retirement? I find that kind of intense change intriguing. Don’t think I’d want to actually do it, but it’s a fun mental exercise, and fiction is a very safe place to explore it.
I have a weakness for fairytale retellings, and even better than that is one where I don’t know at first blush that it’s a fairytale retelling, or any kind of fairytale at all. Thus was it with Mari Ness’s “Undone”. Told from the point of view of a deformed young Prince, it’s so very nice and all that the court tailors and seamstresses have made him beautiful jackets to draw the eye away from his feathered arm, and that everyone is going out of their way to find something useful for him to do, as he is the Queen’s brother. Perhaps he has beautiful handwriting and could be a scribe? no. Maybe he has a beautiful singing voice, or could be trained to be a diplomat? no and no. People try to be polite, but the prince is far from stupid about his odd situation. He can’t help but blame his sister just a little bit – why didn’t she finish his shirt? What did he do to deserve being partially left behind, being made into a freak like this, to be eternally trapped between two worlds, never welcome in either of them? And even if she could tell him, would he really want to hear the answer? Another emotional punch to the gut, but so beautifully rendered that it’s nearly physically painful, but in such a good way. The best part of those classic fairy tales is what happens after the last word of the last paragraph. this is why your parents read you fairy tales right before bed, so you could dream the next chapter. “Undone” is that next chapter.
“The Parable of the Supervillain” by Ada Hoffman was a surprise favorite for me. Poetry is often lost on me, so what a wonderful surprise to feel like I could actually access this poem and get something out of it. Told from the point of view of the mundane sister of a supervillain, we learn how much in common these two sisters have, one a divorced mother of one, the other a supervillain who feeds politicians to dinosaurs. The narrator wants to only help her sister. No one here cares about forgiveness, or reasons, or “why so angry?”. This is one sister simply telling another “I don’t care what happened. I love you”. As a sister, this poem spoke to me in unexpected ways. My big sister isn’t a supervillain, even though when we were kids I’m sure I thought she was, once or twice.
Non-fiction essays in genre magazines is a complete novelty for me. Everyone is always talking about stories, telling stories, doing interviews, and all that is great, but none of those stories or interviews take place in a vacuum. They are all shaped by the community, by what is important to the writers, by what the writers assume is important to someone else. The more active I become in the genre community, the more I realise that these essays, these treatises, this non-fiction is just as required reading as the fiction. This issue of Apex included the essay Invisible Bisexuality in Torchwood, by K. Tempest Bradford. You remember Torchwood, right? it’s the Doctor Who spin-off with Captain Jack Harkness as the pansexual protagonist, and his team of investigators who keep a close eye on the rift in time and space in Cardiff. An expert on the show and it’s many tie-in novels, Bradford discusses the original goals of the show as put forth by the writers – to write in such a way that viewers couldn’t tell the sexual orientation of the characters, to write characters who had positive relationships with people of both genders.
I may have found Torchwood as entertaining as it was sexy, but I am ridiculously easy to please. However Bradford rightly felt disappointed and eventually left out by the writing that promised to include a wider range of sexualities, and in the end did a very poor job. She dissects a number of episodes where a naive hetero viewer (like me) wouldn’t have even realized how marginalized and stereotyped the same-sex couplings were. Bradford also discusses a key scene in the tie-in novel The Twilight Streets, where Ianto confesses to Gwen that his bisexuality only makes him feel isolated, a foot in the door of both worlds, but never fully welcomed in either. Props to Editor Sigrid Ellis for putting this essay in the same issue as “Undone”. My thanks to Bradford for opening my eyes to aspects of the show that I’ll be paying closer attention to on my next re-watching.
1400 words and change, and I’ve barely touched on half of what was in this issue. Just so ya know.
I’ve recently become an Apex Magazine subscriber, which means the April issue is waiting for me on my phone too!