Apex Magazine #88, September 2016

Saturday, 01 October 2016 13:45 Clancy Weeks

Apex #88, September 2016

The Warrior Boy Who Would Not Suffer” by Abhinav Bhat

The Prince Who Gave Up Her Empire” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
The Old Man and the Phoenix” by Alexandria Baisden

Reviewed by Clancy Weeks

The Warrior Boy Who Would Not Suffer” by Abhinav Bhat is a fantasy tale of an unnamed boy, stuck in limbo just beyond the threshold of death, and forced to make a choice. A simple binary decision—go on, or go back—but which leads to suffering? Through a series of repeated questions, Death forces the boy to examine his many previous lives and informs his choice. A choice that was never really his to make.

Reincarnation stories tend to have two main themes: learning what it takes to live your life right, and learning how many lifetimes that takes. Bhat has successfully blended the two, I think, and this was a good read even though it gets a bit tedious with the repetition of the questions.

In “The Prince Who Gave Up Her Empire” Benjanun Sriduangkaew give us Prince Terasadh ul-Samiss, a young woman with many possible fates, and heir to the Dajral empire. At her birth a seer predicts Terasadh will be a great and forgotten ruler, a ruthless and successful conquerer, or the end of the Dajral dynasty. Her aunt, King Nadjana learns where Terasadh's fate changes, and works to make her the ruler she wants her to be. As is often the case, such well-laid plans often don't work out the way we expect.

I've struggled over this story. On the one hand, it is well written and paints beautiful and compelling pictures. On the other I find it lacking in the storytelling department. Much of the writing here is pretty picture-painting, and does little to move the narrative forward. Sharp readers will have already noted the pronoun issues, and even the seer is a trifle confused, calling Terasadh “he” early on. Look, I get it. Smash the walls of gender perception, and all that, but at least be consistent within the story. If you are going to step outside the common (and I won't use the word normal for the same reason I rarely use abnormal—I don't get to define what is and isn't “normal”) it should have some reason for being there. Sadly, there is none. Choosing common conceptions of sex and gender would have yielded the exact same story. The sex is also gratuitous and over the top, and adds nothing to the story. Sriduangkaew's change of pronouns is nothing more than a literary affectation, and constantly pulled me out of the story to make sure I was keeping everything straight. In the end, there just wasn't enough story here to hang the concept on.

Rounding out this months stories is a fantasy, “The Old Man and the Phoenix” by Alexandria Baisden. Another story of acceptance of fate, it tells of the bond of an old man on the cusp of death with his phoenix. Together the two make preparations for the coming funeral, and the old man asks the phoenix what death is like.

This is the best story of the three in my opinion. There are a lot of stories that involve what's on the other side of the veil, but few get it right. This one does. Recommended.

Clancy Weeks is a composer by training, with over two-dozen published works for wind ensemble and orchestra—his most recent work, “Blue Ice, Warm Seas,” was premiered in Houston on March 28, 2015—and an author only in his fevered imagination. Having read SF/F for nearly fifty years, he figured “What the hell, I can do that,” and has set out to prove that, well… maybe not so much. His first short story, “Zombie Like Me,” will appear in an upcoming issue of Stupefying Stories. He currently resides in Texas, but don’t hold that against him.