The first Apex of 2018 has six original stories (reviewed here), two reprints by the talented Cassandra Khaw and the venerable T. Kingfisher (a.k.a. Ursula Vernon), three poems (I enjoyed “the saddest of angels” by Jeremy Paden), and the usual assortment of interviews, columns and editorials. The cover art by Daniele Serra is stunning.
“Asylum of Cuckoos” by Lila Bowen finds ranger Rhett Walker arrested by the local sheriff for a horse theft committed by a shapeshifter wearing his likeness. The real culprit is brought in as well, and Rhett and the monster are left to sort it out themselves – the kind of not very plausible plot development that depends entirely on the sheriff being a boorish nincompoop. A fun weird western story, highlighted by Bowen’s (a.k.a. Delilah S. Dawson) typically raucous style.
“The Heaven-Moving Way” by Chi Hui (trans. Andy Dudak) is a sprawling, imaginative far-future sci-fi tale with echoes Asimov and Clarke. As children, quarrelsome siblings Zhang Kai and Zhang Xuan dream of exploring the beyond the known systems, and to name the planets and stars they discover, and as adults they get their chance. Interstellar travel is achieved via “Heaven-Moving gates” – technology engineered from discoveries among the ruins of ancient alien civilizations. Xuan believes that civilization is so rare and random that it is unlikely for more than one star-faring society to exist at a time, while Kai believes the improbable is possible in a universe so vast. Together, they search for the answer. A fascinating tale, if a little too static in its plotting. – Recommended
The atmospheric “To Blight a Fig Tree Before It Bears Fruit” by Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley is a short, disturbing sketch about an event called The Meshing, which involves pregnant women strung up at some sort of auction, and unfortunately can’t be discussed in any detail without giving away the ending. An interesting, if gruesome idea. With its premise stretched thinly across a very sparse length, it’s an idea that feels underdeveloped.
Nick Mamatas’ “A Night Out at a Nice Place” is a delightfully cynical, gonzo sci-fi quickie about a higher being (who refers to themself as an “acephalous coagulum”) who straps on a meat suit to go slumming with a human woman. They (meaning the acephalous coagulum) want sex after dinner, so they have to make an effort to not be too condescending. A brainy and witty story with a nice turn at the end. – Recommended
The turgid romance “Symphony to a city under the stars” by Armando Saldaña is written with the kind of spurting intensity of an overwrought love poem, mixed with swooshy sci-fi imagery like “The Cut ejaculated leopard-skinned voidships, their hulls still glistening with the sweat of eleven dimensions…” Not my cup of tea.
Nisi Shawl is an author whose stories have a kind of open-ended trajectory – a clear direction, but you never quite know how or where they are going to land – as opposed to the more fixed, conventional structures most genre authors employ. This is a notable virtue for a writer of short SFF who strives to separate herself from the pack, especially amidst what seems to be an ever-expanding marketplace. Before venturing down its forks and side roads, “The Best Friend We Never Had” establishes its strong premise: Josie returns to the orbital habitat of Mizar 5 to recruit her old friends to crew a starship to a new colony world. But her closest friend, Yale – the one she more or less went there for – is nowhere to be found. Shawl’s prose is as sturdy as ever, and her talent for immersing the reader in the culture of her finely detailed worlds is well rendered, but in the end, I was curiously unmoved. Perhaps there should have been a greater focus on the relationship between Josie and Yale – we are told of their closeness but never really feel it. For once, a more conventional approach by Shawl may have been to this story’s benefit.