Reviewed by Bob Blough
The issue starts out strong with Thoraiya Dyer’s “Houdini’s Heart.” It opens on a space station above a colony planet. It is a no return situation if sent planetside due to the infestation of alien microbes. But there is an even deeper twist: to arrive on the planet you must go through electrical storms so fierce that they stop a heart. Therefore to get on-planet you must give up your heart and have it replaced with a mechanical one (shades of Vonda McIntyre’s brilliant novella, “Aztecs”). With this setup, Ms. Dyer sets up an intimate four-person encounter which includes the keeper of the gate who allows only people with replaced hearts onto the lifts, his hemophiliac son, a magician who wants to perform her biggest feat of magic by going on planet without her heart being replaced, and her lover. The four of them do a dance of love and misunderstanding that is all too human. The SF element is necessary for this short story to tell a love story that speaks to us in the here and now.
“Charaid Dreams” by Rati Mehrotra posits another colony world. This one has failed so completely that the original settlers have been left to fend for themselves on a planet where all but one child born there has died. The story concerns this child, the planet’s alien species, and the real reason for the death of all the children but this one. It is a story that has many good things going for it, but ultimately is not memorable.
Have you ever wanted to get rid of certain memories (and the emotions attached to those memories)? In “A Beautiful Memory,” Shannon Peavey has posited a woman who can do just that. She has the ability to take emotions/situations, spit them out and form them into seeds which she then plants. The seeds grow into “thought birds” which hold her memories of a certain moment in time. I have to say that this is one of the most lyrical and beautiful stories about what happens when we try to ignore what and who we are. In hiding our emotions what do we become? It is just horrifying enough that it feels real. Lovely work.
A dark fantasy story, “Where I’m Bound” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, combines two scary ideas—circus clowns and the cruel fae who steal human children. The clowns in this circus seek out their prey during their act. It is told by a human who was abducted years ago and is now abducting other children. It is written in Ms. Hoffman’s characteristic clear prose and interesting characterization. A highly effective, eerie, fantasy story.
The final story, Damien Angelica Walters’ “Sing Me Your Scars,” first appeared in a collection by the same name which Apex Publications published in February 2015. This is a straight horror story and a fiendishly successful one at that. A scientist creates a living creature from dead human parts a la Dr. Frankenstein. The horrific switch is that each part that is sewn together contains the person’s personality, or soul, so that six humans live in one body. And the doctor is about to replace a part of the body that contains one of the personalities. It's an eerie nineteenth century setting with the monster as our protagonist with a darker monster that preys on her. This is an excellent dark horror story, creating an aura concisely and maintaining it well.
This was a superb issue of this magazine with four of the five stories going onto my best stories of the year list. Jason Sizemore is the editor-in-chief for Apex. You are doing an excellent job, sir. Thank you.
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