Today I'm looking at the latest from Apex, which brings another strong issue. I'll start by saying wow, the poetry in this issue was very consciously chosen to circle around the Fae and also the loss of a child. So does the fiction, though perhaps not in such an obvious manner. Still, it's a solidly connected issue. So you know it's going to be cheery stuff. As always, though, Apex brings its stories with a healthy dose of darkness. These are not always the most happy of tales, the but quality is always excellent and it keeps me coming back month after month. So here we go!
"Houdini's Heart" by Thoraiya Dyer (4195 words)
A story that mixes the promise of magic with a deep-space tether around a planet with perpetual lightning storms. The world-building of the story is solid, slowly revealing the situation without dumping too much information all at once. The planet, the station, the necessity of heart modifications, the never being allowed back from the surface, the desperation of Houdini and Owen and Carmela. Everything works, from the con that Houdini is trying to run to the obvious love that Owen has for his son and the way that Carmela will follow Houdini wherever she goes. Really solid stuff, and I liked how Owen was put in a position to believe Houdini but not in the way she anticipated, and how that one desperate and rather tragic action led to the resolution, which is something of a happily ever after if happily ever afters were depressing as hell. I mean, it's kind of nice because Carmela and Houdini will be together, and Owen's son, Ben, will be seen to, but it took Owen's death and it's also not really a great situation for any of them. Carmela's feelings for Houdini aren't exactly the healthiest, and Houdini will kill herself at some point. So even though the story closes on a "things sort of worked out" note, it's only the latest in a string of things trailing after Houdini. One gets the sense that the future isn't exactly shining bright for Carmela and her, despite the likelihood of lightning strikes. A very good story, though.
"Charaid Dreams" by Rati Mehrotra (3500 words)
Another sort of colonization story, this one focuses on a family on an icy world that's not quite what it appears. Charyn, the only child to actually survive being born on the planet, is in a not-great spot after her father gets lost in the snow and is presumed dead. She must go out with her older brother to hunt, but while out she is lured away by some force of the planet, and learns the true nature of life there, that there are creatures that live in every aspect of the world Charaid, including her. They've let her survive to study humans, and they're giving her a choice to stay or go. The isolation and cold of the story are palpable, and that's something that, as someone from Wisconsin, I can appreciate. I rather like stories about the cold, about what it does, and this story has it in spades, the wide openness contrasted with the closed in feeling the cold brings, the need to draw together. The alien life is truly alien on Charaid, and I liked the word play with the naming of the planet, the visible world a charade for this other life to exist and grow. And Charyn, young and rebellious and uniquely isolated, is interesting and sympathetic, though I did want to know a little more what she was going to do. There just doesn't seem much of a future on a world with so little humans. At least, not human life. That aside, the story doesn't trap Charyn, leaves her to find her own way. It's well done, and makes me want to know what happens next.
"A Beautiful Memory" by Shannon Peavey (4000 words)
Birds are memories in this story where a young woman finds that she can't just bury her problem in dirt and hope that they'll go away. Living on her own, she runs a business of selling the birds that grow from her repressed emotions. Business is good, and yet getting rid of her emotions and the memories that went with them doesn't make her happy. It doesn't even make the emotions go away. Her anger, her hurt, her sadness all remain and come back again and again. It's a great concept, and one that plays out well with the woman's issues with her family, issues that are never really explained but perhaps don't really need to be. what is certain is that she does not get on well with her parents, that her father at least is quite cruel and manipulative and probably not a great source of happiness for her. She wants to get away, to escape the feelings that she can't help but feel, but she can't. The sense of joy that she has when she discovers she can lose her memories is heartbreaking, and the image of her birds pecking their way back into her head is...well, dark. It's a good story, with plenty of mood and some great scenes. I loved the bits with the businessman, and how he seemed to evoke the reactions she might hae toward her father. A good read.
"Where I'm Bound" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (4200 words)
This is what happens when you read the poetry first; you miss that the poems aren't the only ones that relate to the Fae and stealing of children. Really, mostly all of these stories and poems have been about the loss of a child or the Fae. Kind of strange, given the lack of a theme issue, but it's well done, and nice to see the different ways the writers approach the themes and motifs. In this, a changeling human clown named Tess, captured from the human world and made to work in the Fae realms, is tasked with taking a new child by her Fae wardens. There are rules to taking children into the Fae realms, though. They have to give their name, their free consent, and eat something from the Fae. And Tess manages to get the child she has chosen, Rex, to do all of those. It's a little but up in the air if that's really a good thing or a bad thing. because Rex had a shitty life and wanted more than anything to get away. It's still preying on the child, but like "Momma Gonna Fight" (one of the poems) the situation the boy is in changes the context of the abduction. So hurrah, even more to add to this theme of missing children and the Fae. And this story is well done, with a bit of hope at the end, though like with the rest of the story it's hope tinged with a bit of sadness and cruelty. Like any good Fae story.
"barefoot sprites beware" by Steven Wittenberg Gordon
Sometimes very short poems can have some of the strongest images, mostly because with that much condensing a lot has to be drawn out of a little. Perhaps it's shouldn't amuse me so much that my review of this poem is much longer than the poem itself, but I would have to work hard to beat a haiku. And this is a haiku, five seven five, with a sort of cautionary tale that beneath something that looks bright and cheery there is a dark, hungry side waiting for the unwary. It's a strong image, t he leeches under the leaves, with a sprinkle of magic thrown in for good measure with the word choice (sprites, starving leeches that exist on land). Really it's just good advice, a sort of look before you leap or don't assume just because something's pretty it isn't deadly as well. Because sometimes it's the pretty things that are most dangerous...
"Hook" by Jennifer Ironside
This is a creepy and rather interesting poem, though one that I personally have a small amount of trouble figuring out. The imagery is strong, a person beside a stream, whispering the names of the dead into the waters. At the beginning of the story it seems like some sort of creature, a monster, and yet the image is revisited at the end as the parent of Katie, one of the dead children. I'm guessing, because it makes the most sense to me, that the child simply was out exploring and drowned, and the grief and guilt of that has driven the parent a bit mad, and now they're searching for their child, using the names to draw up the child, to try and undo the damage, reverse the death. More, it seems like this final act is one of suicide for the parent, unable to cope with the loss of a child, drowning in the same river their daughter did. At least that's where I land. It's possible that the first image and that last are not meant to be a circle and there is something predatory at the stream, something that took the child. Certainly the real estate agent is a little suspect, words that would become so prophetic. But I guess I see a less fantastical explanation to the language and imagery. The poem, though, is dark and definitely worth pulling apart.
"The Changeling Answer" by Jarod K. Anderson
This poem is much less figurative and much more fantasy than the other poems so far. Instead of drawing up imagery that could be fantastical, it very much chooses a side by having the main idea be the theft of a child by faery creatures. The old changeling story where the Fae steal a child and replace it with something else. In this poem, the parent discovers the deception but is not overcome by grief. Instead what is there is a cold anger that makes hot iron to destroy or at least punish the creature that has taken the place of their child. This is a poem that evokes vengeance and violence. The images are strong and methodical, the flow very much a structured beat like a drum. There is a great deal of restraint in the poem, the first three lines all ending with periods and more periods to end the stanzas. It gives the poem the feel of emotion being kept in check, but the ending break in the flow, the two line coda and the lack of punctuation leading into it, those show the heart of the character in the poem, that they might not be unhinged by grief but they are definitely grieving, and using that to fuel their anger and revenge. It's nice work, and one feels a little bad for the changeling. The story does definitely show that though the Fae can be wicked, humans can win hands down in brutality. Hurrah?
"Mama Gonna Fight" by Beth Cato
This poem takes a much different approach to the Fae, or at least puts it in a much different context. Again the idea of the Fae trying to take a child away is visited, but here it's a young slave-girl during the Civil War who is being courted by the Faery Court, and she wants to leave. Only her mother won't let her, doesn't want her to go, probably knows that the Fae are not to be trusted. Of course, taking place on the cusp of Reconstruction, there's a lot to consider when it comes to what would be best for the girl. Would she perhaps prefer living among the Fae to being a slave or, if freed, a newly freed former slave in the Reconstruction South. Of course, part of why this poem is a little bit more muddied in its sides is that we don't really know what the Fae are planning with the child. Obviously nothing entirely good, because why else would they fight over the girl, but there's a bit more nuance here. Perhaps it's just that one wants to believe the Fae more when the situation is worse. Perhaps that's what makes them so devious, so dangerous. Because they can make you almost believe that the mother is in the wrong. That they are the better option. A nice read, and in the context of the other poems an excellent counter. A great collection of poems here.
"A Whole New World" by Mark Allan Gunnells
Okay so I rather love articles like this. Not just because I'm not straight and wanting to succeed and it's always awesome to see people getting their stories out there, stories that I want to read and where I can feel like I exist. But also because these articles teach me about the field that they're describing. Did I know that there were a number of gay horror writers out there? Not really. Am I now excited to go look up the names mentioned (including the Mark Allan Gunnells) and find some books to put in my queue? To spend some money on? Very much yes. That is a big reason why I like these kinds of articles. In part because the story and because it's nice to see that not being straight doesn't magically preclude someone from writing genre fiction. And in part it's just that I can actually feel my awareness being raised. Yes, I should be out there finding these things out on my own. I am still responsible for what I buy and what I read. But there are times I just don't know what's out there, and I always appreciate someone giving me some pointers on where to look for good writing. So this is definitely worth checking out.