Reviewed by Catherine Davis

Issue 4 of Apex Digest features nine stories, most of which lean more towards science fiction than horror, though some have elements of both. It is illustrated throughout with good quality artwork by a variety of artists. In addition to the stories, Apex #4 also features interviews, essays and reviews.

Apex opens with Bryan Smith's Walk Among Us: A Jack Grimm Story, a tale of a supernatural PI dealing with slave-trading aliens. It's very much an action story, and is told with humour and imagination. A problem the story has, however, is that as a follow on from Smith's Grimm Awakenings chapbook, it doesn't quite stand alone. One section in the Nevada desert, for instance, which may well be deeply meaningful to familiar readers, to me was just a confusing distraction. Overall, it's a fun, easy read, but perhaps works better in context.

The Serpent was More Subtle by Tom Piccirilli is both gripping and intelligent. Set in a future blighted by a mind-destroying cult, 'Tenfew, the Children of the Well,' it follows the mysterious narrator's visit to their city, and in a well-crafted story explores mankind's relationship with religion and good and evil.

Eugie Foster's Oranges, Lemons and Thou Beside Me takes several paragraphs to get to the point, beginning with a not particularly relevant account of a just finished war. Once the protagonist, Sabin, has been introduced, however, the story becomes an intense account of a painfully close relationship between twins and Sabin's reluctance to share his memories with his sister through an 'I/O wire.' The first paragraphs aside, it is a well-structured story, driven by the character's emotions.

In Symbiosis by JA Konrath, Lt Jericho Stiles is the sole survivor of a spaceship crash on an inhospitable planet, who records his physical and mental trials on the ship's 'voice modules.' This diary-like form can be very limiting and at times the story seems to struggle to stay within these boundaries, especially when providing background information. Nevertheless, Lt Stiles is very well characterised, and the story perfectly paced, so a vivid and plausible picture is painted of an alien planet and a man driven to extremes.

Burn Rate by Phill Jones is a well-written futuristic crime story, full of ideas. Thadeus is a police officer investigating a series of gruesome murders. The story touches on the issue of prejudice to some extent, as Thadeus belongs to a marginalised minority of people with an ultra-high metabolism, but the main focus of the story is the plot, which is highly original and very imaginative.

Jennifer Pelland's Erasure deals with the topic of a woman who has her memory erased after a traumatic experience. Not an original idea in itself, perhaps, yet the story that unfolds is well told and unexpected.

Christine W Murphy's Babysitting has feminist undertones in its plot of a man, John, sentenced to act as a husband to an alien, where he leads a housewifely existence looking after her children. It is not the cuddly, humorous tale this subject matter implies. Instead it is dark and surprising as the stories of John's relationship with his alien family and his actions that led him to this situation are skilfully intertwined.

Ghost Chimes by Nancy Fulda is Apex Digest's first annual competition winner. In this story Fulda uses the device of hologramatic ghosts to explore the relationship between a daughter and a mother who really doesn't know when to let go. The emphasis is very much on the characters rather than the ghostliness, and although they were well drawn and engaging I feel the story could have been stronger if it had made more use of its supernatural element.

The magazine ends with “Apex's parting shot' a piece of flash fiction, in this case Bryn Sparks' Seize the Day. It's a sort of fantasy/ science fiction parody that looks like it was a lot of fun to write, and provides some silly, light relief after the darker stories.

Other Content

Essays:

Friendly Competition by Gill Ainsworth

The New Shoggoth Chic: Why HP Lovecraft Now by Amy H. Sturgis, Ph.D.

Geek Chick Summer: Life in Conventions by Alethea Kontis

Interviews:

Barry Maher: Interview with a “Legend” by Jason Sizemore

Mary Doria Russell: Some Things About Mary by Alethea Kontis

Reviews:

The Devil You Know- Poppy Z. Brite

Veniss Underground- Jeff Vandermeer

The House-Scott Nicholson

Bloodstone-Athena Workman

Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest, edited by Jason Sizemore and published by Apex Publications, PO Box 2223, Lexington, KY 40588, USA. A5, 128 pp, $5 US (Canadian $6.50/International $10) or $18/4 US (Canadian $22/International $34). NB Price rise after March 16. For full ordering details refer to website.

Website: - www.apexdigest.com


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