If you are a vegan, vegetarian, or any other veggie – an, you might not to read the next few sentences. This collection of short stories was like eating a thick, red, juicy steak. You just kept tearing into the perfectly seasoned, just-right grilled, hunk of meat. As each chunk rolled around in your mouth, the juices slowly dribbled out of your mouth, down your chin and dripped, dripped onto your white t-shirt. Delicious are the stories in The Book of Apex, Volume 4 of Apex Magazine, edited by Lynn M. Thomas.
The stories are mixed smoothly throughout the book; in some of the compilations I’ve read, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the order of the stories. Thomas has made it perfectly clear here, moving logically from demons to gods to supernatural phenomenon to witches and back again. It all makes sense and so, it was a joy to read. So let’s go to the stories themselves.
The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne M. Valente: I love Agnes G. She’s a little, keep-to-herself baker and gardener who happens to be a demon. Valente tells the story of Agnes G. through centuries until we come full circle to present. There is such a sweet, creepy, cranberry Hansel and Gretel feeling to this story.
The Leavings of the Wolf by Elizabeth Bear: Bear gives us a woman trying to overcome her failings and shattered dreams with the help of a god. She has created a real human with human frailties who discovers her inner strength.
The 24-Hour Brother by Christopher Barzak: What if. That’s what Barzak has asked in this story that follows Joe for 24 hours from birth to death. A fascinating look at a full life taking place in 24 hours and how it effects the whole family. It’s a bit of Benjamin Button in reverse.
Faithful City by Michael Pevzner: Pevzner creates a city so sinister, I’m still not sure whose side I’m on – the humans or the city. The city calls to the main character and he must answer the call. The question is – what will he find?
So Glad We Had This Time Together by Cat Rambo: Unreality TV! Ha, ha! I love it and I loved this story. This is what would happen if all supernatural beings took over Survivor. It reminded me of an episode of Charmed where the demons have their own TV show.
Sweetheart Showdown by Sarah Dalton: Ok, I’ve got to make another TV/movie comparison – this story is Hunger Games only it’s based on a beauty contest and the contestants battle to the death for the tiara. The beauties are vicious and delicious.
Bear in Contradicting Landscape by David J. Schwartz: Schwartz weaves a tail inside a tale here, literally. What our main character writes, comes to life, spooking his girlfriend and messing with his own sense of furry reality.
My Body, Her Canvas by A.C. Wise: Is tattoo artist Sarah a sadistic torturer or a genius artist? Either way Wise’s main character is totally addicted to what she has to offer. The pain in this short is exquisite.
A Member of the Wedding of Heaven and Hell by Richard Bowes: Lions shall lie down with lambs in this story by Bowes. Could it happen? Can angels and demons coexist in a sort of détente wedding? Sometimes funny, sometimes thought provoking, find out the answer in this short story.
Copper, Iron, Blood and Love by Mari Ness: There was definite feel of the Native American tale to this one. Probably due to the crow who figures predominately in this fantasy story of love and sacrifice.
The Second Card of the Major Arcana by Thoraiya Dyer: I could feel the hot sands in the desert as the creature searches ruthlessly for one who is wiser than she. All the fools have to do is answer the riddles correctly and they will live. Dyer has created a sinister sphinx here.
Love is a Parasite Meme by Lavie Tidhar: The lovers in this very short short are ghostly; they are the once vivid and sharp tintype that now has only shadows in the greys. Has love eaten away at these two, sapping their energies until they are nothing but smoke?
Decomposition by Rachel Swirsky: A lovingly gruesome tale of Vare’s revenge against his wealthy nemesis. Swirsky paints a dark tale of man’s depravity when searching for vengeance.
Tomorrow’s Dictator by Rahul Kanakia: Don’t drink the Koolaid! That really is the best advice if you want to maintain your freedom, your individuality, and your soul. Fresh, cool story.
Winter Scheming by Brit Mandelo: Mandelo has schemed up a fine, chilling tale in this short. We see through the eyes of an abuser, the predatory feelings, the rage, and then we feel the sweet, feathered revenge that the abuser receives.
In the Dark by Ian Nichols: It’s amazing what a pint will do for a man, especially Morgan who braves the dark, singing. Eerie folk-like tale.
The Silk Merchant by Ken Liu: Ah, greed! So many have fell to their doom, destroyed their families, and their world by succumbing to that deep, deep pit of shiny silk. Liu story is so human it hurts.
Ironheart by Alec Austin: Austin slaps us into a world that is a hell hole of endless battle and reanimated corpses. He has reimagined what family would be in that nightmare world.
Coyote Gets His Own Back by Sarah Monette: Luther is a mean son of a bitch and proves it when he kills the coyote. But the coyote will have the last word in this short, easy going tale by Monette.
Waiting for Beauty by Marie Brennan: This is so, so hauntingly sad, as the Beast agonizingly waits for Beauty. Beautifully written.
Murdered Sleep by Kat Howard: Kora flits along into a masked ball full of horned and snaked dancers. Dreamy and sleepy, Howard’s tale is very interesting.
Armless Maidens of the American West by Genevieve Valentine: Valentine’s short here reminds me of the tales of the murderer with a hook who escaped from the mental institute who jumps out to mutilate young teens making out in their cars. Is he real or just an urban myth? Or in this case an American West myth?
Sexigesimal by Katherine E.K. Duckett: Ok, I had to look up the title to see if it was real thing and, of course, it is. I’m still a little confused about its relevance to this great story by Duckett, but it rolls nicely off the tongue. This short presents a unique idea of what the afterlife might be like – a system of memory trading.
During the Pause by Adam-Troy Castro: A Twilight Zone story by Castro about aliens trying to warn a less intelligent race of impending doom. Unique viewpoint.
Weaving Dreams by Mary Robinette Kowal: Really interesting blend of the modern researcher and the magical witch, and her intern.
Always the Same Till it is Not by Cecil Castellucci: This is a great take on the zombie story, with a splash of love and reason. Loved the perspective.
Sprig by Alex Bledsoe: Even by the end of this story of the fairy, Sprig, we are still left to wonder – is she real, or just a poser with wings and ear buds?
Splinter by Shira Lipkin: A group of friends goes on an odyssey and experiences, what, a rift in the world, a drug-induced other-worldliness? Only one will survive.
Erzulie Dantor by Tim Susman: Sisters facing devastation after a hurricane. At a time when they should be counting on each other for love and support, envy, greed, and spite burn at the heart of one sister. Great story.
Labyrinth by Mari Ness: There is a certain feel of feudal Japan to this story. The adherence to tradition and honor in the dance to the death, even if it means the death of a loved one.
Blood From Stone by Alethea Kontis: Practicing dark magic requires sacrifice, more and more sacrifice. Until the blood runs free. The characters in this short are evil and Kontis gives them everything they deserve.
Trixie and the Pandas of Dread by Eugie Foster: Pandas? Dread? Somehow they just don’t seem to mesh and Trixie, a modern, hip goddess agrees. So, what’s she gonna’ do about it? Love it!
The Performance Artist by Lettie Prell: This gripping short gets down to the gut of many of the stories in this book – what does it mean to be human? What is the essence of life and death? Can a robot be alive with the essence of the artist? Can a robot just be?