APEX DIGEST #9

Reviewed by Greg Schwartz

Just by reading the names on the cover, you can tell issue #9 is going to be a good one. Apex Science Fiction & Horror Digest, edited by Jason Sizemore, has been around since March 2005, and has certainly carved out a nice, cozy spot on many bookshelves.

I've skimmed through a couple prior issues of Apex, and never found the magazine lacking. This current issue is no exception. I was extremely impressed by the calibre of fiction that the editors gathered together. If there was any doubt before (which I don't think there was), Apex has certainly arrived.

The production quality is professional, with standard-size type and a good blend of fiction and art. The hauntingly dark cover was designed by Justin Stewart and brought into fruition by Aradani Studios. Paul and Michael Bielaczyc, the two men who make up Aradani Studios, also split the interior art. The illustrations highlight the stories effectively and are very well done.

There is a lot of space given over to ads. Normally I would find this to be a bad thing, but every ad is for a product/website/service that has something to do with science fiction or horror, and most of them contain good artwork.

Now on to the stories. Kevin J. Anderson (a name familiar to anyone who has read Star Wars or Dune novels) leads off with The Sum of His Parts, looking at the Frankenstein legend from another angle. With seamless storytelling, he weaves together eight separate tales into one tightly-written piece that kept me absorbed from beginning to end. Anderson has great word choice and rhythm -- “sharp silver smiles”, “thoughts run like raindrops down an uneven pane of glass.” Definitely one of the best stories of this issue.

Next up is Katherine Sparrow. Her story, The End of Crazy, is a surreal trip inside the mind of a formerly-crazy woman (now “cured”). The author packs a lot of detail and description into a story that only takes place over a couple of days, and may not even take place at all. She took a very strange idea and shaped it into an enjoyable read. It reminded me of watching The Clockwork Orange in a room wallpapered with Dali paintings while Pink Floyd played in the background. Not that I've ever done that.

Lavie Tidhar's story, The Gunslinger of Chelem, is an imaginative, fast-paced tale set in a future where dreams are more than just movies to watch while you sleep. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The story deftly walks the thin line that is suspension of disbelief, dragging the reader along for an interesting and, at times, funny ride.

Locked In by Mary Robinette Kowal is a good short story. I like the premise and the flow of the story a lot, but for me the ending was a little weak. I think the last couple of sentences could have been changed to give the climax more impact, but it's still a strong story.

Daniel LeMoal's story, Projector, is a futuristic look at a society adjusted to the role of projectors -- people who can shape the world around them with their minds. We get to see that the future may not be so very different from the world of today, and people will still be slaves to many things, some of their own choosing and some not.

At the 24-Hour, a short story by William F. Nolan, left me a little unsatisfied. Most of the story is well-written (which, given the author, is no surprise) and fun, but the ending seemed almost a separate entity from the rest of the story. I have no doubt others will read and enjoy this one, but for me the last few paragraphs didn't fit with the feel and style of the story. Of course, that could have been the effect the author was going for and I just misinterpreted it (which I'm sure has NEVER happened before).

Pyramus and Thisbe by Jeremy Adam Smith can best be described as “Isaac Asimov meets ancient Rome”. The setting strongly defines this story. Not willing to be merely a backdrop, the city Smith created can almost be classified as a supporting character. The smooth flow of the story and Pyramus' struggle with his desires captivated me from the beginning. My only problem with this story was the extensive (almost exhaustive) vocabulary Smith uses, which many times left me looking for a dictionary, but that is hardly his fault. I blame my public school education.

Bev Vincent's short space travel tale, Sufficiently Advanced, is the best story of the bunch. It takes cultural relativism to a whole new level. The story is well-paced and well-narrated, and Vincent's use of back-story is sparingly efficient. He tells you just enough to keep you interested and informed without switching focus away from the present. The story naturally progresses from the beginning to the climax to the end, with no jerky movements or awkward pauses. (Insert sexual joke here.)

I'm still not sure what to think of Rob D. Smith's Don't Show Your Teeth. The story is set in a futuristic world where space cities are growing at an exorbitant rate. There are two characters, the narrator and his coworker, who happen to find a pair of monster teeth used in an old horror movie. There's a subtly supernatural element to the story which has a lot of potential, but it's not fleshed out enough for my dense brain to understand it.

Part one of Geoffrey Girard's serial, Cain XP11: The Voice of Thy Brother's Blood, is a must-read. Excellent storytelling and dialogue carry this first installment (of four, I believe) along at a clip, and the plot, while I've seen it used a few times before, is far from overdone. I'm sure by the end of the series Girard will have put such a spin on it that it will hardly resemble any other story with the same basic premise.

But mainly you have to read Cain XP11 for the last line. It is one of the strongest single lines I've ever read in any story, and I've never come across a writer who can deliver such an impact of both horror and humor in six simple words.

There is only one poem in this issue of Apex -- Poppet's Left Impression by Brandy Schwan. I don't think anyone will disagree that Schwan is a gifted poet. I'm not a smart man, especially when it comes to analyzing poetry, so most of this poem went right over my head, but I enjoyed the rhythm and the pacing - it seemed to start off fast, much like Poe's The Raven, slowed to a more casual speed toward the middle, and then picked up again for the finish. Brandy has a book of poetry, Grim Trixter, available at apexdigest.com.

Issue #9 contains two interviews. Alethea Kontis, one of Apex's esteemed editors, questions super-commercial author Kevin J. Anderson about things he wouldn't do, which is a neat change from the standard interview format, and well-known writer Lavie Tidhar interviews well-known writer Liz Williams, giving the reader a good insight into how she writes her novels and short stories.

The first of the two essays in this issue is very ambitious. With Unspeakable Horrors: The Legacy of Darkness in the Visual Arts of Western Culture, Deb Taber seeks to explain the origins of horror and dark fantasy artwork, and describe its impact and appeal from the time of ancient Greece all the way through to the present. It is an interesting and informative essay which provides a structured timeline of dark art and how it has evolved, and I learned quite a bit from it.

The second essay, Kill Me Then by Alethea Kontis, is a light look at a writer's life and the path that led her there. It's funny and entertaining, and quite inspirational.

The last story of the magazine is Sonorous by Paul Abbamondi. It's written in second person point of view, present tense, which is a very hard way to make a story work, but the writer pulls it off in this one. Sonorous is a short (one-page) tale, very reminiscent of Stephen King's The Langoliers. In spite of the brevity, the story manages to build up a sense of suspense and impending dread which draws the reader in. Flash fiction is often hard to do, but Abbamondi seems to have a good grasp of it.

Apex #9 is packed with intense dark fiction that will keep you turning the page. With its professional design and layout, first-rate stories, and powerful illustrations, this issue is a great read for any science fiction or horror fan. I strongly recommend picking up a copy.

Apex Science Fiction & Horror Digest, edited by Jason Sizemore, and published by Apex Publications, PO Box 2223, Lexington, KY 40588-2223, USA. A5, 128 pp, $6/issue in USA, $7 in Canada, $11 international (postage paid). Available in Barnes & Noble and other U.S. & Canada bookstores, online at Apexdigest.com, Shocklines.com, Amazon.com, ClarkesworldBooks.com, and Fictionwise.com (digital version only).

For a special offer from this publisher, go here.

Website: - www.apexdigest.com


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