Apex issue 9. Summer 2007. Pp. 128. $6.00.

Reviewed by Simon Mahony

This is a fairly new magazine with this being issue 9 and now editor Jason Sizemore thinks he is finally able to define the "type" of fiction they have been publishing: "the application of technology to create horrific or terrifying visions…the unknown creating havoc… [and] …the expansion of the human element, be it powers of the mind or of the body". (p.2)

The only previous issue of Apex I have read is number 6 (summer 2006) which was filled with high quality pieces. Among those that linger in my mind are the haunting search for a lost lover ‘Cerbo en Vitra ujo’ by Mary Robinette Kowal, and a well researched and referenced essay ‘Some Notes Towards a Working Definition of Steampunk’ by Lavie Tidhar. Most memorable for me was the exquisitely crafted and aptly titled ‘Queen of Stars’ by Bryn Sparks with vivid description, developed plot and characters, all in a classic tradition where the good guys are beautiful and the villains nightmarishly repulsive, and completed with an excellently described metamorphosis which allows the hero(ine) to reap revenge with a little help from the gods.

This issue number 9 is a high quality publication with some excellently written stories, interviews, and essays, as well as good artwork. The adverts, of which there are many, also seem to have been chosen for their appropriate and provocative design.

The first story, and one of the strongest in this issue, draws the reader in and holds them tightly throughout its 12 pages. ‘The Sum of His Parts’ by Kevin J. Anderson, stitches together in taut and well-paced prose neat background stories of the donors to Victor Frankenstein's infamous project. We are introduced to the individuals and how they came to be sucked into Victor's web of intrigue, deception, and single-mindedness. Anderson develops the characters superbly with subtlety and economy of words.

Katherine Sparrow's ‘The End of Crazy’ catches the fine distinction between crazy (as in insane) and extremely gifted, drawing perhaps on experience gained in her day job (see the short biog) but certainly using words that should ring true for her readers. Two young people on the edge are struggling for freedom but each are on either side of that line (both sanity and freedom) and one of them is not as alone as they might think.

‘The Gunslinger of Chelem’ stalks dreamland where dreams become reality in Lavie Tidhar's offering until he meets the 'Man With No Name' who has seen all the movies and knows how to ride off into the sunset, even a surreal one.

The short and simple ‘Locked In’ touches a raw nerve when Mary Robinette Kowal reminds us of our vulnerability and the potential for blind faith when it comes to our understanding of the nature of science.

Druggies have their uses when a ‘Projector’ gets out of line in Daniel LeMoal's tale of the same name. The boss calls in the debts for a job that only they are equipped to do. With an unexpected twist at the end that makes us re-evaluate our preconceptions.

An excellent short tale by William F. Nolan titled ‘At the 24-Hour’ told almost entirely in conversation between the protagonists at the all-American diner with a not-so-at-all-American stranger.

The love story of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’, known from Ovid and popularised by Shakespeare, is re-worked in a new setting inspired in part, says the author Jeremy Adam Smith, by Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. A love that transcends death mixed in with surreal cities inhabited by both the living and the dead overseen by the 'brotherhood' provide the backdrop for this tale of love and loss. This tale is well-written and taut with Classical themes throughout but fans of Ovid (and indeed Shakespeare) might be disappointed with the distance between the clear allusion suggested in the title and the plot.

‘Sufficiently Advanced’ is the deserving winner of the 2006 Apex Halloween Short Fiction Contest. Ben Vincent draws the reader out using a not uncommon topos of the spaceman and the aboriginals but with delicate treatment of this theme. Disembarking from the Odyssey after crashing alone in a strange land, like Odysseus, Henry hopes his greeters are not going to eat him and they do indeed turn out to be curious and welcoming, until…

‘Don't Show your Teeth’ by Rob D. Smith is a little predictable but nevertheless well-written bringing new meaning to the expression 'green teeth' and develops well in the short space it's given.

The longest in this collection and perhaps the most disturbing with its dark theme is Geoffrey Girard's ‘Cain XP11: the Voice of Thy Brother's Blood’. Cloning and genetics is much-covered in the media and here combined with the battle over 'nature and nurture' we have a most provoking tale with a splattering of blood and gore thrown in to shock and horrify as the sole government investigating agent closes in. This is a four-part story with part two in the next issue of Apex.

To complete this issue there's an interesting dark poem ‘Poppet's Left Impression’ by Brandy Schwan, a couple of interviews, two good essays and a short flash titled ‘Sonorous’ by Paul Abbamondi where the gleaming object found in the woods is best left alone.

As well as offering the opening tale the prolific writer is the subject of the first interview—‘What Wouldn't Kevin J. Anderson Do?’, followed by a second more conventional Q&A featuring Liz Williams.

‘Unspeakable Horrors: The Legacy of Darkness in the Visual Arts of Western Culture’ by Deb Taber explorers the attraction of the morbid tracing its roots to Ancient Greek art and pottery, through the Christian era and the birth of 'Best-Selling Horror' with woodcuttings of Prince Vlad Dracula and his forest of impaled bodies. The horror genre is older than we realise, Taylor argues as she moves to the modern and links this with our inner needs which draw us "into the unknown that we dread to explore, yet crave" (p.117).

Alethea Kontis eloquently describes her encounters with school English teachers and the curriculum in a year by year struggle to truly express herself in her writing. ‘Kill Me Then’: a struggle to reach fulfilment outside of the 'box'.

Overall this is an excellent and very professional publication with high editorial standards. It was a pleasure to read and I look forward to the next issue.

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