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The Book of Apex Volume 4 edited by Lynne M. Thomas

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment

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The Book of Apex Volume 4 edited by Lynne M. Thomas (Apex Publications, 2013) is an anthology of thirty-three stories from the first fifteen issues of the Apex Magazine edited by Lynne M Thomas — it’s now edited by Sigrid Ellis. This is a completely eclectic collection of stories, avoiding genre classification with the stories often ignoring traditional limits.

“The Bread We Eat In Dreams” by Catherynne M Valente is a rather delightful tale of a demon who, for reasons made clear at the end, gets kicked out of Hell and has to put up with the uncivilised humans who appear on her doorstep to start a town. She thinks them uncivilised because they burn her as a witch. Foolish humans. As if fire would trouble a demon. “The Leavings of the Wolf” by Elizabeth Bear wonders whether marriage is like a wolf that can as easily bite off your hand as lick a wound clean. So when a marriage ends, the wolf does take a final bite and leaves nothing but grief behind. That’s something that would challenge even a god. “The 24 Hour Brother” Christopher Barzak fulfills the old adage that you wait nine months for something to happen and then, almost before you’ve had a chance to draw another breath, it’s all over. “Faithful City” by Michael Pevzner is nicely ambiguous. This may be the last remnants of humanity holding out when the rest have achieved posthuman status, or the city may be completing the eradication of humans in this post-apocalyptic scenario. “So Glad We Had This Time Together” by Cat Rambo is a great joke, naturally extrapolating the current trend for reality television shows and wondering if the network would go for a version of Survivor in which some human volunteers have to live in a distinctly haunted house without dying or becoming a vampire or walking around like a zombie.

“Sweetheart Showdown” by Sarah Dalton provides a completely different way of becoming Miss Congeniality in this version of a beauty pageant. To the victor, the spoils, the exfoliations and the disfigurements. Or should that be the other way round? “Bear in Contradicting Landscape” by David J Schwartz is a metafictional fantasy in which an author may have written his ideal woman into his life only to find a bear has chased one of his characters back into the real world where the cats eat the rabbit (or something). It’s entrancing. “My Body, Her Canvas” by A C Wise is a provocative story about the inherent quality of submission in relationships. Where there’s reasonable equality, the compromises to enable people to coexist in peace are usually positive. But when there’s imbalance, the degree of dependence may mean the loss of one partner means the end of the other’s world. “A Member of the Wedding of Heaven and Hell” by Richard Bowes is, for me, a slightly rare moment of Christian fantasy in which one of God’s agents in the multiverse has to decide whether to compromise on dogma or take a hardline against evil in all its forms. “Copper, Iron, Blood and Love” by Mari Ness is an engaging slightly more traditional fantasy tale in which the youngest child of a human woman and a raven survives to become a blacksmith. “The Second Card of the Major Arcana” by Thoraiya Dyer pits the sphinx against a modern computer and riddles flow elegantly forward into the future to keep humanity safe.

“Love is a Parasite Meme” by Lavie Tidhar celebrates all that would be lost in an apocalypse. The few survivors could forget language once they had found each other and decided whether they could love each other or remember what happened at the end of detective novels. “Decomposition” by Rachel Swirsky tells a story of revenge by causing the disappearance of his enemies two girls except, in the midst of his victory, he finds himself caught up in quite different emotions. It’s a completely satisfying ending. Tomorrow’s Dictator” by Rahul Kanakia is a radically different human resource management story which takes simple spousal manipulation to a whole new level while also offering fringe benefits to a whole community. Perhaps being a dictator is something you start off doing out of love. . . “Winter Scheming” by Brit Mandelo continues the themes of revenge and manipulation through a fascinating ghost story which sees an abusive person forced to pay an unexpected price. “In the Dark” by Ian Nichols slightly changes the emotional edge from the darkness of jealousy and fear of loneliness to understated heroism when rivalry in love might get out of hand. “The Silk Merchant” by Ken Liu takes a different view of the nature of love, seeing sacrifice and loss as implicitly a part of true relationships. These six stories represent an outstanding core for this anthology.

“Ironheart” by Alec Austin plays a very elegant fantasy game in reinventing the horrors of trench warfare using a reanimation process to continuously recycle the soldiers as zombies. What kind of place is this to send a loving brother and sister? “Coyote Gets His Own Back” by Sarah Monette is a different take on revenge when a coyote does what she can to protest what happened to her. “Waiting for Beauty” by Marie Brennan is what the Disney fairy story fails to warn aspirant beasts. Sometimes, patience on its own is not enough. “Murdered Sleep” by Kat Howard also nicely subverts the notion of the fey with their eternal dance that never changes and the hunt that, in paradox, kills that which never changes. “Armless Maidens of the American West” by Genevieve Valentine takes a cold hard look at how people relate to a strange phenomenon on their doorstep, and wonders whether privacy comes at the price of humanity. “Sexagesimal” by Katharine E K Duckett reflects on the nature of memory and what it might be like if, after death, the memories of our lives sustained us (assuming, of course, that our memories were reliable).

“During the Pause” by Adam-Troy Castro interrupts the program to bring us an important announcement. Forget defcon and the Russians or Chinese, this is serious end-of-the world shit. We wonder whether you could do us a favour. We know it’s a lot to ask. . . “Weaving Dreams” by Mary Robinette Kowal is outstanding as an exploration of faerie lore on American soil, well, some of the time anyway. “Always the Same. Till it is Not” by Cecil Castellucci is a zombie story tinged with redemption and the possibility of an afterdeath life. “Sprig” by Alex Bledsoe confirms fairies are real and are on Facebook. Whatever! “Splinter” by Shira Lipkin warns us an other world experience can spoil our appreciation of this world when we come back, if we come back that is. “Erzulie Dantor” by Tim Susman finds a modern setting for a traditional voodoo tale. “Labyrinth” by Mari Ness creates a marvellous sense of ritual as family, friendship and tradition struggle for ascendancy in a setting where the hierarchy is inflexible. “Blood from Stone” by Alethea Kontis continues the idea of rituals, this time with a rather different end in mind and we see a rather unexpected price paid as a result of a sacrifice. “Trixie and the Pandas of Dread” by Eugie Foster wonders whether godhood is all that exciting a lifestyle. After all, even the most patient of people gets a little wearied of being wrathful all the time. “The Performance Artist” by Lettie Prell finishes with a download, or should that be upload? It’s all in the eye of a beholder or art critic, particularly if she becomes a florist. It’s all magnificently ephemeral.

Put all these snippets together and they should tell you there isn’t a weak story in The Book of Apex Volume 4 and several are genuinely outstanding. I confess to being somewhat remiss in following what’s good in the short story field. If you’re like me, this is an excellent book to read. It enables you to catch up with old friends and pick up many new names to watch out for.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Glitter & Mayhem edited by John Klima, Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas

July 31, 2013 2 comments

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When reviewing, you sometimes have to bite the bullet and use technical jargon to get the message across. Glitter & Mayhem edited by John Klima, Lynne M. Thomas, and Michael Damian Thomas (Apex Publications, 2013) revives the urge to dive back into critique. Prepare yourselves. This anthology is “fun”, using the word in its most technical sense, of course. Thematically, we’re partying, on occasion in disco or roller derby mode, so be prepared for some culture shock. It’s also quite sexually liberated so brace yourself for diversity. There’s also occasional bad language but where in this life is safe from the undeleted expletive or three? Overall, there’s considerable irreverence on display although there are moments of seriousness. Put this together and you have one of the most enjoyable of anthologies of the year so far. And, at the end of the day (or night) depending on how long the party lasts, isn’t that what fiction should be all about? Yes, there’s a space to be held for the white-knuckle and wow-factor stuff — actually the kind of stuff that’s often held up for praise when it comes round to award time — but we should all be allowed to celebrate reading for the sheer pleasure of seeing words used well to make us smile, or think (just a little — too much thinking can overload the brain’s computing power).

It all starts with “Sister Twelve: Confessions of a Party Monster” by Christopher Barzak, a pleasingly subversive fairy story in which twelve princesses discover a secret passageway that takes them to an infinity of parties through time and space. All they need do to escape the dreary grind of life in the palace is to touch the floor, open the door and go down the steps. The freedom is intoxicating so long as it lasts. “Apex Jump” by David J. Schwartz has to be the ultimate roller derby event where the challenge is not to win, but to avoid being beaten by a new record amount. Just remember, when the sergeant major says, “Jump!” you do it without hesitating. “With Her Hundred Miles” by Kat Howard let’s suppose each sleep really is a little death and the dreams that are born during that short stay in the afterlife are fatal to whatever you were dreaming about. Then dreaming about birds in flight would mean you wake up and find your bed surrounded by dead birds. But suppose you dreamed about people?

In these days of sexual equality, “Star Dancer” by Jennifer Pelland supplies the Women in Black I’ve been waiting for. This story is definitely WiBbly and sometimes WoBbly (that’s Women on Blue Kisses) when the dance music plays and we all get as high as an elephant’s eye. “Of Selkies, Disco Balls, and Anna Plane” by Cat Rambo reminds us we can change our appearance and act out roles wearing different clothes, but underneath, we stay the same. “Sooner Than Gold” by Cory Skerry is a delightful story about possibilities. Who knows what excitement lurks on the other side of a closed door? Whatever it is, keep it close to your chest! “Subterraneans” by William Shunn & Laura Chavoen takes the idea of wife swapping to a new level. Think of it as a kind of megamix when you choose between the red and blue pills to Marvin Gaye’s “Lets Get It On”. “The Minotaur Girls” by Tansy Rayner Roberts is a thoughtful story of a young girl on the cusp of adulthood, wanting so desperately to be old (or skillful) enough to be allowed into the “club”. In just a few pages, this contrives to say something interesting about the ties between the generations of the young as they take years off their lives in the pursuit of the unattainable. “Unable to Reach You” by Alan DeNiro in these days when everyone expects you to be connected 24/7, it’s important to get to the source of any problem and assert control. “Such & Such Said to So & So” by Maria Dahvana Headley plays a neat game with the language of drinking and partying, suggesting no-one should get to like their drinks too much or the dog will leave its hairs when it bites us on the ass. While “Revels in the Land of Ice” by Tim Pratt finds poetry in the eye of the beholder if you go to the revels to see what it reveals.

“Bess, the Landlord’s Daughter, Goes for Drinks with the Green Girl” by Sofia Samatar is nicely surreal. Life passes by this pair of partying girls and death fails to keep them down as they keep the celebratory mood going. “Blood and Sequins” by Diana Rowland gives us inadvertent police officers in a major prostitution and drug bust as the zombies rescue the butterfly. It all makes perfect sense when you read it. “Two-Minute Warning” by Vylar Kaftan gives us a nice SFnal twist on a paintball party upgraded to more lethal levels as people who live for the thrill of it all encourage those grown more timid to get back into the spirit of things. “Inside Hides the Monster” by Damien Walters Grintalis wonders how sirens would fare when modern music replaces the simple melodies she prefers. The problem, of course, is that if she listens to this modern music, might her own music be tainted. Yes, that could be a real problem. “Bad Dream Girl” by Seanan McGuire gives us the real inside dope on roller derby when the girls with aptitude come out to play. Of course this is all wonderful so long as they play fair. No-one gets hurt (too seriously). But what would happen if one decided to cheat? “A Hollow Play” by Amal El-Mohtar wonders what people might sacrifice if the need was great. It’s all a question of relative values. The more you want, the greater the sacrifice you might have to make. Of course, as the process approaches, you might suddenly realise what you propose to sacrifice isn’t meaningful enough. That would be an unfortunately discovery to make. “Just Another Future Song” by Daryl Gregory considers the problem of identity which might get a little lost if you can upload yourself into different bodies. The challenge, of course, is to remember just enough, whether in the brain unit or the gut, to make the best transfer to the next body. “The Electric Spanking of the War Babies” by Maurice Broaddus & Kyle S. Johnson returns to another SFnal disco groove as the Star Child looks for the mothership to give the Funk to the people, whether they want to receive it or not. “All That Fairy Tale Crap” by Rachel Swirsky is a very amusing metafictional rant against the idea of fairy stories and the stereotypical women who defer to their Princes so they can become mindless Princesses and live unfulfilled lives forever after.

Put all these hints together and you have a highly enjoyable anthology.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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