Apex Magazine Issue 72, May 2015 (magazine review).

It’s been a couple of months since I last read ‘Apex Magazine’ and the first thing to hit you is the cover artwork by Beth Spencer which is striking to say the least. It’s not often you see a steampunk fairy. While talking about the cover, I should mention that there’s a good interview with Spencer where she gives us an insight to the creative process.


Before we get to the content, we have to delve into ‘Words From The Editor-In-Chief’ penned by Jason Sizemore. It’s good to know that ‘Abyss and Apex’ has been nominated in the category of Best Semi-Prozine. Although there have been some shenanigans with the voting for some categories of this year’s Hugo Awards and Sizemore comments that this particular category has escaped such nefarious intrigue. I hope he’s right.

The first item following the editorial is ‘Remembery Day’ by Sara Pinsker, which is an altogether different take on Remembrance Day. It is a very good story although I can’t say too much more about the plot without giving away spoilers. What I can say is that there has been a war in the near future but we don’t need to know about the war or who fought in it. The story is about a daughter dealing with her mother who is an injured veteran during Remembery Day. It’s certainly worth a read but I do disagree with Sizemore who described this and the other stories as ‘heartbreaking and poignant’. Certainly poignant and possibly a little sad but not heart-breaking. Immediately following ‘Remembery Day’ is an interview conducted by Andreea Johnson with the author Sara Pinsker. It touches on the ideas behind the story and goes into her other writing and career as a musician.

The next item is ‘Wildcat’ by David Bowles. Set in the USA near the Mexican border in 1908, it tells the story of Donna Hooks who sets about clearing some scrubland to start a farm. Donna is a divorcee but from a moneyed family so she is able to employ workers to assist in the land clearance. Things get interesting when one of her employees shoots a wildcat that was menacing the workers. After being killed, the animal changes into the form of a young woman and three small cubs are found nearby. Donna goes against the advice of the local witch woman and decides to rear the cubs who are obviously changelings. The story details her struggles and the difficult decision she must take. Although I often see this type of story, this one is well-written and the setting adds to the ambiance of the tale.

‘A Sisters Weight In Stone’ by JY Yang is the third short story. This is also set in the past but in a rather different steampunk past. In 1892, there are airships transporting people and sea travel is dangerous due to dragon-worms that infest the oceans. These are thought to be the foot soldiers of the dragon princes who rule the seas. The sisters Jade and Little Phoenix are travelling to make a new life in Singapore following the death of their mother. Unfortunately, their airship is caught in a storm and Jade, the younger of the two, is lost overboard to a dragon when the ship violently pitches. Little Phoenix continues onto Singapore and sets about getting her sister back. While there are lots of things I like in this story, I found the ending to be inconclusive leaving me with the feeling it’s unfinished. Just one or two more paragraphs might be all that’s required to polish it off.

The three short stories have been good which shows that there is some good new material out there. Why the editors decided to republish ‘Toot Sweet Matricia’ by Suzette Mayr which was first published in 1999 and not go for something new is beyond me. I must admit I don’t like the story which is largely due to the writing style. It starts by telling the story of a legend of a selkie who sheds her skin to sunbathe and is forced to marry a fisherman who has hidden her skin. The story then becomes a series of rambling recollections of a selkie yearning for her lesbian lover that all blur into each other. I suppose it’s all down to personal taste and others may like the story and writing style but I didn’t.

It was with some relief that I read the excerpt from ‘The Buried Life’ by Carrie Patel. This is actually a chapter from the novel and gives us a good taster of what we could expect. It seems to be set in the past and I’d judge the setting to be somewhere between 1850 to 1900. As the title indicates people are living underground and the posh people live in large residences arranged along underground boulevards. The main character for this chapter is Jane Lin, who is a laundress for the wealthy. As she delivers the cloths back to her clients, she overhears snippets of conversation of a mysterious group in one of the client’s residencies. Things become even more interesting at the next house which is why this chapter is called ‘Chapter 4: A Stranger In The House’. From the excerpt, I’d wager it’s going to be quite a good book.

This month’s non-fiction piece is ‘Eye-based Paternity Testing & Other Human Genetics Myths’ by Dan Koboldt and well worth a read. Koboldt dispels some of the myths about genetics while explaining our current understanding of how it works. Any budding authors who are going to be including genetics in their stories should really read this article. It’s nicely written in easy to understand sections.

Next up is the poetry which is always a troublesome section for me. This month’s four poems are no exception but I’m sure some people must enjoy them. I feel as though I’m missing out on something but try as I might poetry just doesn’t do anything for me. Anyway, there’s another excerpt to get my mind back on track. This one is chapter 15 from ‘The Grace Of Kings’ by Ken Liu and, while it might be only one chapter, is almost a complete story in itself. It’s a fantasy sword but no sorcery (at least in this excerpt) tale. It’s hard to tell from this excerpt if there is going to be something unique in the full novel to mark it out from a genre that is so well trodden. There’s an old general forced out of retirement to help subdue a rebel kingdom. The rebel king is a reluctant young lad who the day before was a fisherman. Nothing startlingly out of the ordinary so far but it’s not a bad tale and probably not a bad book.

The review of short fiction by Charlotte Ashley is interesting as she speaks about seeing the same stories over and over again. There’s also the comment that it has been suggested that a lot of current SFF is niche and left wing, while lacking in swashbuckling fun. While Ashley says she’s sympathetic to this viewpoint two of the three stories she picks out for review seem to be niche and lacking the swashbuckling fun bit. If we broaden our consideration to the other stories included in this month’s edition of ‘Apex’, then I think swashbuckling fun bit is very absent indeed.

I’m not sure about the direction ‘Apex’ is going in as it does seem to have become dominated by stories about women written by women. I thought its brief was to publish new speculative fiction for a general audience but it seems to have become polarised on the female perspective. Can’t we have more stories that aren’t overtly left in ideology and flavour with some good old-fashioned swashbuckling fun and from a more representative demographic or should I be looking for another magazine?

Andy Whitaker

May 2015

(pub: Apex Publications. 100 page black & white Kindle edition. Price: £ 1.99 (UK). ISSN: 2157-1406. ASIN: B005ANGWV8)

check out website: www.apexbookcompany.com/collections/apex-magazine-all/products/apex-magazine-issue-72/

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