SFcrowsnest

Apex Magazine Issue 85, June 2016 (emag review).

Another month rolls by and brings with it another ‘Apex Magazine’. This is issue 85 and, let’s make this very clear right from the start, it’s an excellent issue. For me, ‘Apex’ has always been about the stories. Yes, I read the poetry, interviews and non-fiction pieces. In fact, I read it from cover to cover just to make sure I’m giving as honest and complete a review as I can, but it’s the stories I look forward to. This issue delivers.

Before we delve deeper into the magazine, it would be discourteous of me not to mention the cover by artist Joe Badon. It’s a slightly un-nerving picture which ties in nicely with the editor-in-chief’s sudden interest in the podcasts of TANIS and the Black Tapes. He’s managed to get the producers to agree to a feature and interview. This is another thing I like about ‘Apex’, every now and then Jason Sizemore throws in something unexpected. I don’t always like what he’s thrown in, but I’m almost always new to the item.

‘Folk Hero’ by Mary Pletsch is the first story and quite rightly so. Set in a war ravaged world where the aliens have been beaten back, the combatants are now the surviving humans fighting amongst themselves. On one side, you have the Terran Garrison and, on the other, the Separatists. Each side employs snipers although the separatists have immortalised theirs in a folk song titled ‘The Ardua County Sniper’. Verses are added to the song after notable engagements.

At the start of the story, there are forty-six verses and at least sixty-six at the end. Folk hero is a multi-generational tale of killings and revenge. It’s one of the best stories I have read in some time. I’m glad to say Andrea Johnson does the customary interview with the author Mary Pletsch. Johnson has a way of asking just the right questions to allow us to understand why the author wrote the story in the way they did. This adds to my appreciation of the story.

‘Cuckoo Girls’ by Douglas F. Warrick is the second short story. I have to say it is a very un-nerving, creepy story. Two girls are running from their demons literally. These are demons who are hell bent on killing them and it would seem that the girls are incapable of killing the demons. In this story, some girls get visited by their own personal demon intent on causing the most suffering and anguish to that one girl. This usually means all their close family and friends are slaughtered and they are pursued across the country before they, too, are killed. I read this from start to end in one go. It is one of those stories that, once started, you just can’t put it down.

The third story is a longer piece at 9,100 words. I’m not sure how Aliette de Bodard wrote ‘Memorials’ to be exactly that long as it seems very precise. Anyway, I’m grateful that ‘Memorials’ is longer as it is another very good story. In the far future, there is a human galactic civilisation and there are virtual realities. Some of these VRs are populated by Perpetuates which are the recorded personalities of dead people.

Also present in this universe are the Rong people. They are exiles after losing a war and appear to be second class citizens in the galactic civilisation. One custom that distinguishes them from other people is that they consider the making of Perpetuates of Rong people taboo. This makes Rong Perpetuates rare and expensive, although dealing in Perpetuates is a criminal offence. Cam makes her living from acquiring Rong Perpetuates which makes her a criminal if she gets caught. However, being a Rong means Cam doesn’t have many options to earn a decent living and crime pays quite nicely.

‘Memorials’ is an intriguing tale with an excellent plot and a thoroughly believable environment. The Rongs clearly reflect the authors Vietnamese ancestry which gives the story a subtle charm. It really was a delight to read.

The last fiction piece is a six-page excerpt from the novel ‘The Kraken Sea’ by E. Catherine Tobler. At first, it seems to be just a story about one orphan boy in a group of orphans on a train to the west coast of America in 1893. Jackson is the orphan boy and he’s a bit different to the other children. It’s not a long excerpt but there is enough to get your interest.

The non-fiction piece is ‘Seeking Tanis. Runner Available’ by Betsy Phillips. This is the feature and interview with the producers of the TANIS and the Black Tapes podcasts. As I had not previously heard of either podcast, I was interested to see what they were about. It’s quite an interesting article in its own right but you will have to listen to the podcasts yourself to get the full story of what they are about.

I thought issue 84 was one of the best editions of ‘Apex’ magazines I had read for some time. I might have to revise that as issue 85 is equally good. Perhaps better. Certainly I would expect some or all of the fiction pieces from this edition to feature in a future ‘Apex’ anthology. They really are that good. As usual, you get bonus material from the ‘Apex’ website, so it continues to be exceedingly good value for money at £1.99.

Andy Whitaker

June 2016

(pub: Apex Publications. Black & white Kindle edition. Price: £ 1.99 (UK). ISSN: 2157-1406. ASIN: B005ANGWV8

check out website: www.apex-magazine.com/issue-85-june-2016/