Sunday, April 4, 2010

Apex Magazine

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 cerebral and cryptic piece of cyberpunk. In only a couple of pages he'll dislocate your attention with rapid, brain-bending syntax. 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 utterly devoid of humanity. As in all speculative fiction, however, surprises abound. It's a great piece, and I found myself more entertained by Tom's command of language than anything else.

As you may have guessed, the front illustration 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 yet fits here 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 a citizen who demands a 'blood mother.' A spirit who 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 would be too much, but suffice to say, scenes and imagery toward the end are genuinely unsettling. In Jennifer's world, Once upon a time does not guarantee a happy ending.

'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 a cataclysm set in motion. Young child Joshua has been chosen for this task, raised by a small phalanx who through science have engineered the boy to realize his impeding destiny ... although the final results are a far cry from what was initially envisioned. This story won the first annual Red Light District/Apex Publications contest of dark science fiction.

And so we come to a contribution entitled Genesis Six from HorrorScope's own Shane Jiraiya Cummings - a story I was initially hoping to find flaws with in an attempt to display no bias. However, I haven't come across a story in Apex yet that is disdainful, so its inclusion here is 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; an endless nothingness annihilating all in the 'Apocalypse.' With honed and precise sentences, Shane narrates a climax with religious overtones.

The Death Singer by John B Rosenman tickled me; here we encounter one of those silent and enigmatic alien species. 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 never 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 blocks which slam 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. Another with a very clever ending.

And lastly, we finally come to the concluding serial 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 its dark heart. 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 individual 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 staring back at him in mirror) Temple's mission is clear ... although not at first. In the beginning it takes a starving little girl looking for her brother to give him 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. And, with Aegri Somnia (Apex's evil twin), nominated for a Stoker, the future can only get better.