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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Apex Digest, #1, Spring 2005

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Image"Permutations" by M. M. Buckner
"His Cross to Bear" by Liam Rands
"The Throne Room" by J. Stern
"Thrilling Wonder Stories #52: The Invasion of the Zog" by Lavie Tidhar
"PH: Only Partially Human" by Anna Parrish
"Layers" by Michael Simon
"A Place in the Sun" by Doug Hewitt
"The Conservation of Thelos" by Lawrence M. Schoen
"New World, Old World" by Christopher Stires
"Allergies" by Christine W. Murphy

[Editor's note - Andy Severn starts off this two-part tag team review:]

Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest is packed from cover to cover with good quality science fiction and horror short stories from established writers. Unlike other publications, the ads are few and far between. Perhaps the ink and pen artworks that punctuate the end of most stories are a little amateurish (I'm reminded of doodles that appear on fellow games designers' pads during long scheduling meetings)—but that doesn't put me off.  Apex's premiere issue rounds off nicely with a sprinkling of reviews and an intelligent essay on the use of horror in science fiction.

"Permutations" by M. M. Buckner is a nice piece about a team of research scientists living in the "G-Ring," a chain of satellites circling the Earth. They begin the story with the mentality of college net-heads, permanently wired into their mainframe, floating fetus-like in their satellite obsessively playing RPGs in their spare time. A global catastrophe cuts their link with Mother Earth and forces realization of their eventual mortality. Their obsession with their game increases, probably as some kind of coping mechanism. The death of Eva triggers a change in their focus and in time they sublimate into their mainframe. With that, they lose their sense of reality; life becomes an extended game of Python Foes. The end was a little delirious for my liking, but still a good read.

In "His Cross to Bear" by Liam Rands, Fadagin hangs in the heat of the desert on his cross. Travelers along the road stop, and as is the custom, abuse him for his crimes. This tale tells of an other-world colony where life is hard, and crimes against the community are dealt with harshly. In Fadagin's case, the plaque by the cross describes his crime of irresponsibility whereby his family were killed as a result of a simple honest mistake.

The story twists nicely when we learn that it is his brother who was sentenced, but Fadagin's sense of guilt and moral duty compelled him to take his place.  Further twists towards the end round the story off nicely.

I liked "The Throne Room" by J. Stern a lot. The story is presented in the form of a report written by an officer of the National Office of Foreign Phenomena. His report describes the finding of an alien artifact and their attempts to discover its purpose. A lucky break provides the first tantalizing signals from the device, which in turn are decoded. But is the message within a prophecy, a warning, or a threat?

In "PH: Only Partially Human" by Anna Parrish, I loved the idea of human hybrids created for work on the moon.  Unfortunately, the ending was too abrupt and the story too thin. There's so much more that could have been done with these characters.  Nevertheless, I look forward to other PH stories from Ms. Parrish.

"Layers" by Michael Simon is a story about a wonder drug to cure all mental illnesses. Great, except that it works like a kind of mental paint-stripper. The whole world starts taking this miracle drug then finds the hidden layers beneath–ugly layers, dangerous layers!

"The Conservation of Thelos" by Lawrence M. Schoen is a grisly tale. Thelos, trapped in his prison pit is visited by a specter who feeds off pain. He convinces Thelos to harm himself, and in turn, imparts super-human powers on him to help him escape his prison planet. But Thelos is not as dumb as we come to think he is.  I stifled a cheer as I came to the end of this story.

[And now we join Matthew M. Foster by the fireplace:]
 
Apex Digest is a nice size. It’s comfortable.  I might like the font a point size larger, but that just means I’m getting old.  But on that front, it’s a magazine I can hold in one hand while reading without my thumb hurting (yes, others do cause my joints to complain).

So why am I writing about comfort?  Because that’s also how I found the contents of the premiere issue of Apex.  These are comfortable stories, ones to cozy up to a fireplace with, along with a cup of hot chocolate, or perhaps some brandy.  They felt old school (think 1950s) and relaxing.  Not tales that would change my life or that I would be talking about in a year, or a month, or even a week, but ones that are perfectly satisfying at the moment.

Lavie Tidhar’s "Thrilling Wonder Stories #52: The Invasion of the Zog" and Christopher Stires’s "New World, Old World" fall into the realm of flash fiction (so I surmise–I didn’t count words), which work well when you want to read just a bit more before getting that refill of brandy. 

I’m afraid "Thrilling Wonder Stories: #52 The Invasion of the Zog" is poorly titled as I never got that feeling of deep adventure the name would suggest.  Rather, I was led on a psychedelic journey.  The Zog have landed, but not in ships.  They’ve come as purple raindrops and are more akin to flora than fauna, at least for humans who love to categorize.  How do you get rid of purple-fruit-growing-blobs that can reform when separated?  And what do you do when a human joins them?  Mr. Tidhar tells us in three pages.  The sentences flow nicely and he says all that needs to be said. 

Another hot chocolate?

In "New World, Old World," Cassidy tells his story from jail, from an alien death row.  He was part of an Earth exploratory mission, the first to have found extraterrestrial life.  Obviously, things didn’t go well.  Most flash fiction has a single thing to say, and that’s true here, but that one thing comes dangerously close to being a statement from my eighth grade civics teacher.  Hardly controversial, a story, even a very short one, needs a bit more substance in its message.  The big reveal is not nearly as interesting as the three-foot aliens that we barely meet.         

Doug Hewitts’s "A Place in the Sun" is all '50s form.  Our hero, Thigpen (yes, his name is Thigpen), wakes from stasis on an alien world to find things are not how they should be.  As the financier of the expedition, he expected to slowly return to consciousness with a happy colony ready to receive him.  Instead, he’s dragged into the real world to the sounds of explosions by a rude woman in a spacesuit.  Apparently, Thigpen has to save the day.  A nicely constructed, pleasant story with a nifty, if predictable ending, it is marred by a few improbabilities.  Hewitt attempts to keep the tension up by having characters withhold information they really should be spurting out as quickly as possible.  Still, that’s a little thing, and for a fireplace read, you will be satisfied and quite ready to go on.

And there is more to go on to, such as Christine W. Murphy’s "Allergies," the high point of my evening’s read.  Tracy has a problem.  We’re not sure what it is, but it causes her, from time to time, to get completely hammered, start a bar fight, and then skip to the next space station she can find.  Using her brain, brawn, and breasts (well, cleavage actually, but I had to go with the alliteration), Tracy tries to survive and maybe get a date.  An engaging story with a sympathetic lead, I was taken in both by Murphy’s style and by the relatively simple plot.  And I have to applaud the sheer volume of double entendres in a story without any actual sexual activity.  This goes in the good clean fun category, with an added wink or two.  Read "Allergies," finish your brandy (or hot chocolate), and turn out the lights.