“Pinny” by M. Keaton
“Hour by Hour” by Lindsey Duncan
“Weepers and Ragers” by Aliette de Bodard
“Diminished Capacity” by Andrew Zimmerman Jones
“And Saturn Below” by Wade Ogletree
Big Brother takes many forms in issue 22 of Abyss & Apex, from governors to kings to penny-pinching corporations. Though the form changes, he’s definitely watching, and boy does Big Brother have goals and schemes. Watch out!
“Pinny” by M. Keaton involves sorcery. Narrated by a young boy named Rotan, the story takes place in a small village during the time when the Romans were the lords of the land and the magical walked among us without fear. Logan, along with his companions, Barnabus and Valae the tracker, appears one day, acting on behalf of the governor. He is there to collect the yearly tribute and root out the cause of the strange blight shriveling crops and the frequent animal attacks on the flocks of the town. As the investigation begins, other strange things come to light, such as alarmingly high fertility rate among the cows, sheep, and women of the town. Or, the large number of animals that have been savaged but not eaten. There’s far more to Logan and his companions than initially meet the eye, and the tribute is in realty the least of Logan’s worries.
“Pinny” unfolds slowly. Telling the story from Rotan’s point of view allows for a lot of detail, yet keeps things simple to understand. A good read. The story gets it title from one of the characters, who plays a prominent role as the truth of the tale is revealed. It's quite different from the other offerings in the current issue of Abyss & Apex, and I think that’s a good thing, for its inclusion offers something to appeal to a varied readership.
“Hour by Hour” by Lindsey Duncan takes place in the Principality and tells the story of Quiramene Telari, a priestess known as "Apex of the Hours." She and the other priestesses help solve the mystery of the King of Alzhara’s murder. But there's a catch, the king isn't dead. His fate has been foretold, and he seeks to find his killer before he dies so that he may choose a fitting successor.
The description of this society and of the priestesses that make up the Hours is interesting, as is the notion of someone trying to solve their own murder (yes, that plotline’s been done, but I still find it novel.) There's a lot of language and ritual that surrounds the religion of the Principality that seem a bit tedious, but as the story progresses, it becomes clear why that level of detail is necessary. The characterization is well done. As the most accessible of the Hours, Quiramene is like an onion. Parts of her keep peeling away until the reader is left with something surprising. Dawn, Twilight, and Midnight play lesser roles but are equally engaging, as is the king. Though the story wasn’t quite my thing, there was a lot that was compelling about it.
“Weepers and Ragers” by Aliette de Bodard tells the story of Sylvia, recently returned to her body after serving time in the Containment Banks for a heinous crime. Sylvia “went through the full Reformation Program, through every painful step of it. ... So the Council rebuilt a body from her DNA, and uploaded her mind into its brain. And then they released her, left her to pick up again the threads of her old life.”
As Sylvia deals with a visit from The Reformer, similar to a parole officer or caseworker, readers get to experience firsthand how well the system works. I thought this was a convincing portrait of a descent into madness, made all the more poignant in that it was not only inevitable but sanctioned by the state. I can't say I liked it, but the story succeeded in making me think.
As a side note, I thought “Weepers and Ragers” paired beautifully with “The Memory of Touch” by Karen Swanberg in the previous issue of Abyss & Apex.
“Diminished Capacity” by Andrew Zimmerman Jones tells the story of idealistic young lawyer Elaine Robinson, her dangerous client, Billy, and a seemingly hopeless court case. Billy is a teenage boy on trial for invading the mind of the target of his crush, Meredith, and putting her in a coma. If that wasn’t bad enough, he’s also done the same to his first lawyer, a partner in Elaine's firm. No one really expects her to win "The Teen Brain Rape" case, even her client. Yet, Elaine is bound and determined to try. More importantly, she wants to know what really happened.
I found myself shaking my head as I finished “Diminished Capacity” because it saddened me on several levels. There were many things to ponder, especially in the context of current event in today's society. Billy could be any child who has been failed by the government, his school, the system in general. As in real life, it’s far easier to blame and punish him for being different—a situation he certainly didn’t create and would change if he could—than to take responsibility and try to figure out a way to really solve the problem. In other words, the story struck a chord.
Readers may not wax philosophical about “Diminished Capacity” like I did, but I think they may find things to take away with them. Definitely read the story for yourself and see where it takes you.
When Miguel and Roberta find Kronos III, Polar Explorer floating in space in “And Saturn Below” by Wade Ogletree, the adventure begins. Hoping for an easy salvage, Miguel gets to work. The first problem? Nothing is obviously wrong with the Kronos III, Polar Explorer. For any experienced reader of speculative fiction, that's code for run away now. For the protagonist, it means “gee, I’ve got to figure this out.” You can pretty much guess how the story will turn out from there.
Ogletree rounds out Miguel nicely with a distinct personality and throws in some romantic tension to boot. There is a smattering of lovely imagery, and the pacing is also good. I didn’t dislike “And Saturn Below,” but I didn’t find much to be inspired by, either. But, with the exception of Star Wars, space opera isn’t really my cup of tea. Fans of the sub-genre may enjoy “And Saturn Below" more than I did.
While reading “The Road to Heather Cove” by Richard A. Lovett, I kept wishing it had more bite. It starts off with protagonist Duncan Jones slowly morphing into the avatar for Death after he comes across a death's-head key-ring pendant. The story wends its way through Duncan’s transformation and cuts to Jill Lyons and her life with her husband, Paul. Duncan and Jill’s stories have the potential to intertwine, with an inevitable outcome, but Lovett chose not to go that route. Instead, he made “The Road to Heather Cove” a cautionary tale. In the end, I wanted the story to either be longer or less passive—passive in that it isn’t really Duncan’s own delusions or frailties that set the stage for mayhem; it’s his possession of a specific, diabolical object, which he doesn’t even see coming let alone willfully participate in. Having seen and read a lot of fantasy/adventure stories with magic talismans, I was ultimately disappointed.
I really got a kick out of “The Devil You Know” by Heidi Wessman Kneale. The protagonist, Mrs. Timmor, is a resourceful young woman who finds a useful purpose for an unwanted guest. Even though I suspected where it was going from the start, I wanted to keep reading. Kneale succeeds in crafting a fun story, fulfilling my criteria for good flash fiction. “The Devil You Know” tells a complete story in a concise but creative manner with good characterization. Readers will have no trouble getting a clear feel for Mrs. Timmor’s state of mind, as well as that of her gentleman caller’s and of the husband we never meet. It’s a nice piece, reminiscent of Arsenic and Old Lace—except “The Devil You Know” would be the prequel. Enjoy.
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