Friday, October 23, 2009

Apex Magazine of Horror and Science Fiction

Apex Magazine a quarterly print magazine in what could be termed science-horror. Jason Sizemore, the editor, found this niche in the small press market and Apex has evolved to publish authors such as Kevin J Anderson, Bev Vincent, and William F Nolan.

Old themes are revisited in Kevin J Anderson's The Sum of all His Parts: that of the prodigy child Frankenstein. Readers might be aware of Kevin's collaboration with Dean Koontz regarding this creature. In a brief afterward, Kevin reveals that this story was a personal attempt to bring some history to the myth and really flesh out the milieu of this famous monster. As stated, an old theme, but Kevin really breathes some life into it with carpeted, stitched together frames revolving around Castle Frankenstein and the town that sits below it like a macabre human farm. For the inhabitants have secrets - sins past and sins present that reminded me of the motif King used to a much broader extent in his novel Needful Things. There's a love tryst that becomes homicidal, a drifter that is reeled in as though the town has an infectious mental disorder - and even an arsonist without much of a conscience, who will pay for his crimes in a most arbitrary way. Like a dish coming to full boil, all are shoved together in more ways than one and with enough force to make this a memorable story.

Next, we have The End of Crazy by Katherine Sparrow. Although this tale isn't exactly original - to me it felt original. Like something obvious and hidden in plain sight, you'll wonder why you hadn't conjured it yourself. In this police-state future, schizophrenics and their like are given the ultimate weapon for mental illness: Sanify. A drug that induces the cunning illusion of a logistical mind and actually suppresses something far greater and stranger than any mere psychosis. What I loved here is that we have thriller that anybody can relate to: who hasn’t thought about going crazy at one time or another? It's a tad depressing, but we're in horror territory here, and bad feelings are a stock in trade. Imagine this one as a short-dizzying two minute film and you'll be rewarded.

Every story that pops up these days (outside of the hard-core western genre) and features the word 'Gunslinger' might elicit a sigh. It certainly does for me, anyway. King's story of Roland and his ka-tet soaked the annals of horror and science fiction (Western and Arthurian too - if you wanted to be picky about it) so much that it seems almost blasphemous to embolden that word in type. However, even now writing this, I'm strongly reminded of the influences he used to springboard his characters into action, so by all means give The Gunslinger of Chelem by Lavie Tidhar a go. Here, we have a pair of cops in the future where working is dreaming. Sound cool? It is. It's how they go about catching the killers ... and a man named Stephen Cohn is one nasty killer in the extreme. Although short, I think this particular story would've fitted into Aegri Somnia nicely.

A piece of flash follows next with Locked In by Mary Robinette Kowl. It wouldn't be included here if it wasn't engaging. It concerns euthanasia in a domestic setting involving a mute participant. Of course, with any cool piece of flash, the ball doesn't get rolling until the final sentence ... and this one literally.

A drug addict is lined up as an unwitting hit-man in Projector by Daniel LeMoal. Latticed with surreal horror elements, Projector is a rip-roaring read that's easy on the eyes. A small cabal of druggie-misfits hopped up on goofballs are given a task when their lives are bought hook, line, and sinker by a crime overlord. The added extras concerning the psychic 'projectors' ensue a appreciatively vile and funny ending.

Following on is another amusing story entitled At the 24-Hour by regular William F Nolan. We feel like we're in a kind of sixties 'pulp fiction' mystery at the start, where trench coat's ruled, cigarettes were endorsed by doctors, and waitresses spouted dialogue that could only come from a hacks pen. This all takes place in a 24-Hour coffee shop, where one hungry man named Allen pulls up a chair and steps up to order black coffee. Only black coffee. Then we find out why . . .

Welcome to Eursupia, the gargantuan city of Jeremy Adam Smith's Pyramus and Thisbe. Reminiscent perhaps of a globular Star Wars necropolis, it even has an identical city built beneath it to house the inhabitants once they have died. At its most basic, this is a simple speculative tale of a cyborg (Pryamus) who falls in love - something that is forbidden in Eursupia. Jeremy's use of language, however, makes it so much more. It's told as though encoded in myth, foreseeing future generations looking upon the mythology as though Biblical in nature. I found this story hugely entertaining, and wouldn't be surprised if it saw its way toward a commendation in some competition or other.

Winner of the 2006 Apex Halloween short fiction content, Sufficiently Advanced by Bev Vincent is a riotous and simple story with prose as blunt and to the point as the big guy we all know Bev has written books about. After crash landing on an unknown planet - the only one to escape his ship The Odyssey - Henry comes into contact with what appears to be a primitive race. Appears. The flip-flopping that comes next is nasty and hilarious. A short, sharp piece.

Teeth. The subject of which trillions of writers for the horror genre can scrutinize, dissect and ultimately use to scare. The possibilities are endless and Rob D Smith's Don't Show Your Teeth is a fine example. On an off-planet construction consortium, Nik has a friend who has somehow acquired the very stage teeth used in the Nosferatu movie. Rob uses futuristic slang and just the right amount of dialogue robed with prose to make this entertaining.

This particular issue of Apex is as dark, funny, and entertaining as ever (the cover definitely conveys this - and the illustrations inside are more compact). Perhaps I'm just easy please but the stories here genuinely resonate with quality. Of course, minor editorial adjustments could have been made in some of them but (in my opinion) these aren't worth mentioning here.

Also begun is the first part of a four part serial entitled CainXPII: The Voice of Thy Brother's Blood by Geoffrey Girard (the illustration to that one looks like something from American Psycho, so it should be good). Then there's a funny and original interview with the writing machine Kevin J Anderson by Althea Kontis - and another with Liz Williams by Lavie Tidhar.

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