Sunday, April 4, 2010

Review: Apex Magazine of Science Fiction and Horror.



Apex Digest is a quarterly print magazine specializing 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 Ben Bova, J A Konrath, James P Hogan and Tom Piccirilli.

A story of cat and mouse, hunter and hunted, opens this issue of Apex entitled Madness Blows the Winds of History. Tom Piccirilli's story is a very cerebral and cryptic piece of cyberpunk, in only a couple of pages he dislocates your mind with rapid, brain-bending sentences - it’s as though your grey matter has been marinated, dolloped and massaged with scientific-techno fluid. (You'll see what I mean when reading it). Tobalt Tre is the bounty hunter of a renegade human named Thompson. Tobalt is a Mollunk: an entity with invasive modifications of a humanoid body. And Thompson is apparently a butcher of worlds - many worlds. Using a manifold of space-travel called The Ledge, the two converge on a Terran world that has been utterly devoid of humanity. As in all speculative fiction, however, nothing is what it seems and surprises abound. It's a great piece, and surprisingly I found myself more entertained by Tom's use of language than the story itself.

As you may have guessed, the illustration on the front gives birth to the story Blood Baby by prolific Jennifer Pelland. As it suggests, Blood Baby is a mischievous, gore-soaked parable. Beginning with the obligatory 'Once upon a time' (something which I've come to dislike but fits this short-story nicely), we are introduced to a mythical township that could possibly exist in any time period or place. In
Cloister Valley, young Kaia wants nothing more than to be a mother - but this town has an inhabitant that demands a 'blood mother'; a spirit that craves a relinquishing of menstrual blood to appease its underground dormancy. And when Kaia runs away to keep her dreams intact, the baby she spawns will mean chaos for the world. To reveal more will be to give away too much, but suffice to say, scenes and imagery toward the end are genuinely gruesome. In Jennifer's world, 'Once upon a time' does not guarantee any happy endings.

'Apocalypse' seems to be the motif of this issue and we enter that realm again with A Place of Snow Angels by Matt Wallace. In this piece, it's Ice that has reduced the world to a scattering of survivors. Another common angle in a 'day of reckoning' setting is the rise of a child prodigy who will perhaps reverse or halt the cataclysm set in motion. Young child Joshua has been chosen for this task, raised by a small phalanx that through science have engineered the boy to realize his impeding destiny , although the final results are far cry from what was initially envisioned. This story won the first annual Red Light District/Apex Publications contest of dark science fiction. Although I cannot see how this would be so, it's still a nifty little read.

Ahh - and so we come to a contribution entitled Genesis Six from HorrorScope's own Shane Jiraiya Cummings; a story that initially I was hoping to find flaws with in an attempt to display that I'm not biased. However, I haven't come across a story in Apex yet that is utterly disdainful, so its inclusion here is certainly one of merit. Beginning with a domestic setting with mother Libby and daughter Jessica, it moves fast as they are driving to escape the void; that endless nothingness that annihilates all in the 'Apocalypse.' With honed and precise sentences, Shane gives us a good ride and an ending with religious overtones.

The Death Singer by John B Rosenman tickled me; here we encounter one of those alien species that are silent and enigmatic, benign and secretive. After Captain Musen and his team crash-land on an alien world inhabited by these Jax: spider thin creatures capable of inexhaustible energy and patience - the captain is hospitalized without much chance of future survival. Enter the Jax Death Singers, whose task taking vigil besides the dying is just as strange as their physical appearance. This story is lent one of the more imaginative illustrations in the issue.

William F Nolan, the literary giant behind such novels as Logan's Run is next on the menu with Mommy, Daddy, and Mollie , a short and delicious horror tale with young Bruce narrating on the unfortunate demise of his Mommy and Daddy. Billy recounts the epilogue to their death and is surprised to find out the dead don't really die -

The next tale felt familiar - if only because at one time or another I have envisioned such a thing. In Last Chance Morning by Timothy Waldron Semple, the future holds a unique and brilliant execution device: Massive steel beam blocks that are slammed together with enough force to reduce a human being to red servile. A human pancake, in other words. Amid this setting are a couple of cons tying to waylay their inevitable destiny, and while you'd think the execution component would be enough to drive this story, Timothy unleashes a yet grander scheme toward the end.

Following on is Babble by MM Buckner. Although at its heart this is a simple horror story involving a haunted Hill (a cell phone tower is its evil heart, of all things), MM Buckner manages to imbue it with everyman characters who give the tale a real sit-around-the campfire feel. This is another one with a very clever ending.

And lastly, we finally come to the concluding serial that was first begun in issue 5:
Temple by Steven Savile. This story has all the ingredients of a classic, and I felt glad I had waited until now to enter his dominion. Many influences spring to mind as we journey with Temple: Mad Max, Escape from New York, and even King's The Gunslinger. With a species of romance Temple is a lone ranger after the Fall; a seemingly ordinary man but unique in that he is truly lost. Having awakened one day in a motel room with no memories of who he is - and no recollection of the reflection that stares back at him in mirrors, Temple's mission is clear - although not at first. In the beginning it took a starving little girl looking for her brother to give him this insight, and from there he seeks the answers through a fallen and insane priest. Not unlike an errant knight, he is tempted by demons and Gods in his journey to be whole. The slow pinnacle to achieve this state is handled deftly and somehow marks the zenith of this issue.

Also included is an interview with Tom Piccirilli and essays by Dr Amy H Sturgis and Alethea Kontis.

All in all, a solid edition. The featured writers making regular appearances are certainly carving a niche in the community. And, with Aegri Somnia (Apex's evil twin George Stark), nominated for a Stoker, the future can only get better. Issue's can be ordered directly from the
Apex website.

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