It's another fairly large issue of Apex Magazine with three fiction pieces and four poems, exploring a number of interesting different worlds that all seem to reflect back on our own. With the fiction, the stories are all rather more fantasy than science fiction this issue, though perhaps science fantasy might fit some of them better, with mixtures of magic and mortality. The poetry takes things in a bit more science fictiony direction, though, with glimpses of post-apocalyptic Earth as well as other worlds that might be experiencing catastrophes of their own. It's an issue that brings the dark but doesn't forget to pack some extra hope just in case. So yeah, to the reviews!
|Art by Mélanie Delon|
"The Old Man and the Phoenix" by Alexandria Baisden (1200 words)
This is a fun and rather heartfelt story about friendship and death, about magic and phoenixes and fear at the end of life. The story does a great job of showing this tender moment between two old friends, a man and a phoenix, as they both deal with the unknown, with new experience. To me the story is about death and about life, about the fear that works itself into the man before he is to die. It's a death he wants, that in some way he's earned after a long life and his own share of losses, but not one that he can face in the same way as the phoenix, who always comes back. And the story's main character becomes the phoenix, always dying but always returning, and dealing with the fact that this time it's someone else, someone else and they won't be coming back. It's a quiet and sad moment that's also cut by the lasting love between the characters, that brings the song to the phoenix's voice and makes this occasion a celebration and a lament all in one, a goodbye in a rather beautiful way. It's a short little story that's decidedly bittersweet but also decidedly fun and a quite touching read. Indeed!
"The Prince Who Gave Up Her Empire" by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (7200 words)
To me this is a story of prophecy and progeny, inheritance and revolution. Time and geometry. The story follows Terasadh, a prince who was born to a prophecy of destruction and betrayal. Death and doom. And who, through her life, proves that to be the case. But not through some drive toward betrayal. Rather because of a drive toward determination. As I read the story, there's a strong theme of determination, of fighting against destiny. War is something that permeates, and is something that here is seen as generational, each child at war with their parents, each person at war with rivals and with themselves and with history. Terasadh travels into the desert to fulfill an obligation to her king, and yet she finds there something that she wasn't expecting. And I love the way the story moves, love the sensuality of it and the way that it mingles pleasure and pain, blood and desire. And it's the blood that runs through the story, shapes the characters and their desires. For life. For victory. For freedom. For balance. Terasadh is a warrior, is a prince, and is groomed with the contradictory mandates of rule and be ruled. As most children are, groomed to grow into a betrayer, an usurper. And that it's something that wounds them as well, that people brought up in this way end up destroying, even as they create. And that in some ways the only road they have to escape that is to create something different. Something better. It's an interesting and vividly built world with a nice touch of strangeness and a beating heart. Definitely a story to check out!
"The Warrior Boy Who Would Not Suffer" by Abhinav Bhat (4300 words)
This is a rather odd story about death and about the transition from life to life again as a young man finds himself hungry and full of knowledge and dying in a desert. And there he struggles to die comfortably and then to answer the questions of the afterlife, to find out if he is free of desire, if he is ready to cast it all aside and soar. The story is cyclical and I love that, love how it comes to stand for the cycle of life and death and rebirth, the character knowing that he is caught and both sad and happy about this, sad that he has failed and yet still in love with life, still wanting to experience everything, to know everything. And that desire is how he defines his life. To me at least t he story does an amazing job of exploring the boundaries of knowledge and desire, truth and falsehood. The main character is presented with a vision, with a choice, and knows what the "right" answer is. And yet it's not a test that someone can pass who is not truly meant to pass, and I like how that is framed, that he comes across as human, as flawed yes and even in the face of a difficult life he has lived still wanting more, still wanting to go back and experience more because the specter of the undone, the unexperienced, the unknown, is so alluring. The story looks without flinching at the nature of humanity, at the nature of desire, and gives this great vision of what might be when all the pain fades and people are faced with the choice of what to do next. And the idea that maybe, someday, someone will fly once thrown is something that I find fascinating and deep, an idea very much worth exploring. Another fine read!
"The Amenities of Heaven" by Marchell Dyon
This poem speaks to me of loss and of desolation and of the will to survive. It reveals a world of post-destruction, where the narrator travels across the ruins of a country in search for…well, that much isn't exactly answered, though to me it seems hinted at. Her group stops in an old city or town at least where they can have supplies to outlast the winter but the woman finds herself a mannequin from a store and believes it a man, and in this way she is not alone. It's a poem that to me understands darkness and the shock of surviving but also knows that surviving doesn't exactly mean as much as it could in situations of extreme stress. The narrator is religious after a fashion, though, and is essentially able to believe in things that might not be real. To her the mannequin is real and so it is, and so it smiles and comes alive in some ways. And to me it seems to become about finding this way of going on, living with this relic from the past as a way of holding on to something to keep going forward. Not alone but with her faith and amidst the overwhelming evidence of human failure to prevent destruction this faith is also a hope that humanity isn't lost, that there is still something to strive toward. At least, to me that's how I read the poem, which does a nice job with its world building and imagery and is a fascinating read. Indeed!
"Wingless" by Zachary Riddle
Well okay then. This poem takes a look at a pair of siblings who seem to have wings, and who also seem to lose them. The narrator's wings sprouted at age ten and made them something of a spectacle. And then their mother cut them off with a knife. So…the poem is a bit brutal, full of violence and blood, and it's an interesting contrast between parts, with the first the narrator losing their wings and in the second their brother losing his. Only the wings of the brother seem different, seem not to have been cut off but rather burned away. I like the subtle way that the story implies what might be happening, the illusions that the brother might have flown too high and his wings melted. The wings came from their father, after all, but there's no real explanation as to why. And I like that, like the mystery and the strangeness and the magic of it. That these siblings are left with scars of very different sorts. That they are still together and still alive and both of them, like the title says, wingless. That it defines them by loss which is heightened by the absence of their father and the disappearance of their mother between the first and second sections (probably having to do with what she did in the first part). There's a story here and it's not fully revealed but hinted at enough to be a nicely evocative and disturbing poem. Definitely one to check out!
"The Mouth of the Cave" by Brandon Marlon
This poem evokes the old stories of deserts and special swords, riddles and tricks and urchins. It's familiar in some ways, feeling a bit like the Aladdin that most people (in the West) are likely familiar with. A magic cave in the sands hiding immense riches and yet trapped so that the greatest of treasures cannot be taken by one who isn't worth of it. And I love how the story sets it up, this story that tugs at the familiar, the urchin who aspires to be something more, who aspires to be something great. And who somehow knows the magic words and who knows what he's looking for. The poem twists expectations, though, while still honoring the story, giving a warning that reaching for a weapon is not a wise move, especially in a magic cave that at any moment might decide to return beneath the sands. It's a fun story and one that has a great use of language, its word choice helping to give it a magical flare and a rich feeling. It's a poem that's a story to be told with a rumbling laugh afterward, a way of drawing up the allure and then pulling the rug out from under the feet of the listener. It's a story of inspire but also to provoke, to ask the listener if they were seeking such an item, would they be worthy? And hinting that if they still want to go out chasing swords in the desert, the answer might not be affirmative. So yes, a fun poem with a great flow and voice!
"The Storm Creatures" by Christina Sng
This is a brightly imaginative piece that looks at life in a rather interesting location: the Red Spot of Jupiter. Or, I guess, some other Red Spot, but I at least firmly read the piece as taking place in the mysterious storm of Jupiter's most famous region. That here are creatures living as a sort of flock or, perhaps more accurately, like a school of fish, spinning so fast that they cannot easily be caught. At the same time, the poem seems to speak toward similar storms on Earth, or at least similar schools. At least for me it reminded me of the state of our oceans, the destruction of ecosystems. In the poem the decline of the situation isn't necessarily pinpointed as climate change or what but it's from the point of view of something entirely inside the storm, riding this small window that for many on Earth is quickly shrinking. And the leviathans that are lurking in the poem can be like those lurking for us, not physical so much as metaphoric because it means the same thing. Extinction. And that's a big message, tying the storm creatures of the poems to the fish of the sea to us, all of us facing the same threat, only that the fish and the creatures don't really know why the storm is growing smaller, why they're dying out. And we don't have that excuse. A really great poem that I definitely recommend!