Friday, April 21, 2017

Quick Sips - Apex #95

It’s a special guest-edited issue of Apex Magazine this month, with Maurice Broaddus in the driver’s seat. And people, poetry is back for this special occasion! It’s a full issue with four stories (three shorts and a novelette) and two poems. And the pieces all seem to center on narrative and voice. These are stories that look at how we pass along roles and expectations. How we prepare people to accept being abused and tortured, and how people still manage to find ways to stand up and take back their names and their voices and their skins. These are stories that center acts of violence and pain and fear, and seek for ways to bring justice and healing and hope back to people who have little reason to feel them. It’s a wonderful and challenging issue of dark fiction and poetry, and I’ll get right to the reviews!

Art by Angelique Shelley

"Aunt Dissy's Policy Dream Book" by Sheree Renée Thomas (7700 words)

This is a story about dreams and waking, about sight and Sight, about a woman named Cassie who carries a long legacy but hopes for something different. In many ways I feel the story is about fate and about fighting against it. From a young age Cassie has been told what’s to become of her. She has a Gift and that will define her, she is told, because it has defined all those that went before her, the long line of Dissys that have carried on this tradition. And yet by the simple virtue that Cassie is not a Dissy, the story leaves a place for her to carve her own path, to make her own future. The prose is elegant and tied up in dreams because it is in dreams that Cassie has her Sight, that allows her to pierce the veil and see the future. Or some version of it anyway. She’s been told that she’ll not be lucky in love or money, but when a man shows up haunted by a woman he doesn’t know, things are pushed into wholly uncharted territory. And I love how the world seems to break from what happens, from the truth that Cassie doesn’t seem willing to face at first. The life that Cassie has lived, the burden of her gift, have made for a rather shoddy infrastructure, and I like how that seems to be reflected in the way her dream house cracks and threatens to fall apart, and I love how she’s able to share in the repairs, even as she begins to get the rest of her life in order, even as the relationship that slowly develops between her and the man who comes to her becomes more and more central to her happiness and hope. And I like that the story places her in a position to find a way forward that always seemed blocked to her, to push back against the fate that she was told was hers, to reclaim the dreams she thought she’d given up because of her gift. The prose is stunning and rich, the characters complex and wonderful, and the setting and dreamscape add depth and a strong vein of strangeness to everything. It’s a great piece that you should definitely check out, and it’s an excellent way to kick off the issue!

"The Selkie Wives" by Kendra Fortmeyer (3100 words)

There’s a weight that this story confronts. A narrative that is rather omnipresent. A narrative that prepares people to be abused and to be abusers. And the narrative is one that our society tries to teach to its youngest members. These are fairy tales, full magic and wonder but, mostly, full of the necessities of the “order of things.” I feel that’s what the story seeks to subvert by looking at the story of the fisherman and the selkie, the story of abduction, rape, and murder, and seeking to fix it. The frame of the piece is explicitly that, an unnamed presence seeking to retell the story in a way that isn’t damaging. Which means not falling for the easy trap of flipping the story and making it be the fisherman who is harmed. And not making it so that the selkie just likes being abused and kidnapped. The story asks what kind of fix would actually work for this story, for this narrative. Essentially, how can we turn the story to be something positive, something that is affirming instead of awful. And each time the story tries to get to that promised happy ending it runs into problems. Not because it lacks for creativity but because it starts at the wrong place. Because it imagines this happy ending as something that can only be arrived at through this meeting of selkie and fisherman, and that they must keep to these limited roles. And I like that the story aims to subvert that by revealing just how fundamentally flawed those roles are. That in order to cast off the harm the story does we have to go deeper and address the culture of fear and abuse that dominates. It’s a sharp and biting story that examines the many facets of fairy tales and doesn’t avoid uncomfortable truths. A fine read!

"Say, She Toy" by Chesya Burke (2600 words)

Wow. Okay. This is an intense story about violence and about projection and about harm. It features an android, Cloe, who has been created to act as a sort of catharsis for racists. They were made to appear black and female so that they could be beaten and raped and humiliated and hurt over and over again. It’s supposed to ease racial tensions, to give white people some vehicle for their rage and fear and hate, but instead it gives people practice in living out their sickest fantasies without legal ramifications. It reinforces racism because it makes it safe, because it makes a space for it to exist and protects that space. And wow, the story does not pull its punches, providing a very visceral experience while reminding readers that the hatred on display, the level of violence and rage and cruelty, is in no way the speculative element of the piece. No, this level of brutality is seen again and again and thinking that the solution lies in providing state-approved outlets to abuse and torture is…well, the story does an excellent job of showing the direction that kind of thinking leads. The prose is unforgiving and almost dares the reader to look away, to disbelieve, because that is at the heart of what I feel the story is doing, which is confronting the reader with this truth wrapped in this science fiction. Cloe is an android, yes, but there is a sense that their treatment is not based on them being an android. The hate is not because they are an android. The reader isn’t allowed to have a metaphoric minority here, no comfortable distance between the very real issues of the here and now and those in this near-future story. And the result is devastating and beautiful, especially in the ending and the last line, which falls like a hammer, that hits like an asteroid seeking to totally annihilate this lie that there can be abuse without victims. It’s a wrenching read but definitely one I recommend checking out!

"Cut, Cut, Cut" by Walter Mosley (6200 words)

This is a fascinating story about appearance and attraction, about curiosity and achievement. It features a woman, Marilee, who goes on a date with Martin, a plastic surgeon whose real passion is the brain. The story develops the characters well, giving each of them a reason for seeking out companionship and very different goals behind the date. For Marilee it’s about recovery after a messy divorce, and she sees in Martin first someone who has also been betrayed by someone close to him. He’s easy to get along with, a great listener, and an energetic lover. Win win. For Martin, though, the relationship is something he wants in order to remind himself what passion is and to take himself outside his work a little bit. Though he often listens, it’s in sharing his own ideas that he comes most alive, and that where the real heart of the attraction is between these two people, that they are both pulled by this idea of Martin’s. The story plays out like a mystery, Marilee nearly deciding to call things off until she learns that Martin might be hiding something. And then the story really strips away their motivations and finds what’s in their hearts. They yearn for challenge. For Marilee, in my opinion, she wants something to push her outside her comforts, something she can feel engaged in. And that’s Martin’s dream as well, and his desire for all people. It turns out, though, that what he’s willing to do to get there is…well, the story does a great job of slowly hinting at what’s going on and then going all in with the reveal. And I love the way that it revels in the twist, in Martin’s big secret. It makes complete sense and I just love how Marilee and everyone react to it, like this was always what was going to happen and it doesn’t matter, because things are in motion that cannot be stopped and maybe should not be stopped. It’s a great and fun read that does a fantastic job of closing out the original fiction of the issue!


"VOX" by LH Moore

This is a short poem that’s light on detail but heavy on impact. It uses short lines and mostly five-line stanzas to create a feeling of being short of breath, of being tired, of being resolute despite difficulty and opposition. The actual plot of the poem features the narrator standing against some foe. The imagery evokes battle and war and yet in the piece itself there is no violence. The narrator defeats their adversaries not with sword and spear but with words, with a dismissal. The title of the piece evokes voice, and the narrator is claiming their own voice, is making a space for it that can stand against those trying to police them. The enemies of the poem seem to me to be agents of the status quo, and a status quo that is rigid and harmful to many. A status quo that denies the humanity of so many, that would rather destroy than embrace. And here the narrator becomes back of a movement, a collective. The poem ends on the plural “We are won.” and I love that it implies so much more than just one person standing up to the system. It implies that there is strength in being able to go completely around the gatekeepers, to create something that they cannot stop and cannot break. The narrator stands victorious not because they slew their foe but because they survived to speak, to share their words, to be heard, to take back their voice. It’s a lovely and affirming story with a great flow and feel!

"Things That Earth No Longer Bears" by Linda D. Addison

This poem is striking and strikingly different from the last poem. The language is much more dense and the stanzas take up the entire page. There is a sense here that this poem is a vastness, like space itself, and inside that space life exists and unfolds, to the delights and disappointments of the narrator, who remains an observer through it all. There is a sweep to the piece and it looks at how corruption can grow in places, how the promise of the universe can be broken by pain and the desire to hurt. This is the cancer at the heart of the first two stanzas, the idea that out of the boundless possibilities and hopes that can exist, that we know can exist, too much of our time is taken up in pain, in giving it and receiving it. And even as this tragedy unfolds and mars some of the beauty of the universe, it is also something vastly small. What is bigger, what is beyond the understanding of humans too obsessed with the hate to see it, is that we are not the be all and end all. The universe spreads on with or without us and out there at the edges brand new things are taking shape. The poem does a great job of grounding the excesses and hurts of humanity in this small pocket of the larger piece, shows how it can seem to take up space but that there are other possibilities, other hopes to discover. Which is a very positive message, really, even while it seems a warning. A warning to pay attention and glory in the new and unique and inspiring. Another fabulous read!


1 comment:

  1. Charles, thank you for taking the time to read and react with heart and mind to the work in this issue. Your clarity of understanding with my poem was heartening!