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Tuesday, February 14th, 2017
12:55 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #21 - She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow by Sam Fleming
There is a curious fey quality to this story, even Fay, with the odd man and his hat and the fog hiding the island, and... but it isn't a fairy story


THERE MAY BE SPOILERS - WORSE THERE MAY BE THINGS SAID WHICH SPOIL THE STORY - I WOULD SUGGEST READING IT FIRST AT


http://www.apex-magazine.com/she-gave-her-heart-he-took-her-marrow/


She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow by Sam Fleming.

Chancery is autistic (or has Aspergers) - one day her only friend in the world, Annabel, decided to leave. Desperate for her to stay, Chancery went outside, experienced the strange events that followed, and which ended up with Annabel going to the shore and drowning herself. And there she meets Hedron, who saves her from pain, and... Hedron is clearly an odd person himself, who has no idea why, for example, the people who go into the sea are drowning. He's aware that Chancery is different because the others don't try to talk to him either. He keeps her alive. For five years with no one else around, but the Oilers, who come for the oil and who Chancery trades with for things like chocolate. Theirs is a strange but symbiotic(?) relationship. Eventually Chancery meets Kay, an Oiler who isn't people but a potential friend, and welcomes her despite Hedron's annoyance. Kay may be right that Chancery is fading, but she wrongly believes that Chancery survived because she is immune to the spores which cause others to Walk (there are some zombie-like remnants of people who are Hedrons eyes and ears and guards). When Chancery refuses to go back with Kay, she is kidnapped, and faces a future of medical testing, except Hedron comes to fetch her. Death follows for everyone but Chancery, and Hedron makes his intent to keep her alive and happy toothily clear. If she is, indeed, failing as Kay thought, I'm definitely not hopeful about where that goes.

It's an excellent idea, with a little more expanded weird than I was entirely happy with and that Chancery wasn't going to explain. I wonder if the first part, followed by the flashback and trail forward was better than starting at the start, but then Kay would have arrived halfway through... on the other hand it's difficult to feel concern for a character's previous life-threatening danger when you already know they survive. It might also have helped bridge the slight distance from Chancery which bugged me a little.

It's an idea driven story with a little weird romance that felt like it could have been a little tighter wound and wrapped.

And I don't think I'd have put it at the end of the book.

But then I'd have swapped out at least five stories so...

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12:51 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #20 - Pocosin by Ursula Vernon
Another Vernon! I guess at this penultimate place so her stories don't become brackets?


THERE MAY BE SPOILERS - WORSE THERE MAY BE THINGS SAID WHICH SPOIL THE STORY - I WOULD SUGGEST READING IT FIRST AT


http://www.apex-magazine.com/pocosin/



Pocosin by Ursula Vernon

I like well-written witches, and old gods, and they combined a treat here.
Women at the edges of things, and a god that doesn't fit the binary people tend to make of the world. I love how every detail is like a dust mote in a sunbeam, sparkling and then gone for the next to catch fire.

UV has her voice, she has multiple narrator voices, but there is a turn of the head, a slow smile, a sudden pin-sharp gaze, that makes her writing distinctive. I'm a fan.
The story of Maggie protecting a dying god from... well God, and the Devil, so he can avoid being part of their big bad squabble but go with Death and maybe come back again... it's quiet and sharp and made me smile and sigh.

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Monday, February 13th, 2017
3:29 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #19 - Armless Maidens of the American West by Genevieve Valentine
Oh, this is the dark and strangely touching story I need...


THERE MAY BE SPOILERS - WORSE THERE MAY BE THINGS SAID WHICH SPOIL THE STORY - I WOULD SUGGEST READING IT FIRST AT


http://www.apex-magazine.com/armless-maidens-of-the-american-west/


Armless Maidens of the American West by Genevieve Valentine


This is another short piece, it reads fast and fluidly and it's in 2nd person (take that haters!)

It actually reads shorter than it is, because it carries you swiftly and clearly along, somewhere between a ghost story and a nightmare where a girl can survive having her arms cut off to wander at the edge of society, talked of but never talked to.

Imagined but never seen.

There's an underlying darkness but rationality and the individual impulse to kindness... helps, I think.

Strongly written and a brilliant idea that has everything a story needs plus that special spark of... something.

current mood: satisfied

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3:25 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #18 - Build-A-Dolly by Ken Liu
This is as if the Toy Story movies spawned a desire for intelligent dolls that could suffer...


THERE MAY BE SPOILERS - WORSE THERE MAY BE THINGS SAID WHICH SPOIL THE STORY - I WOULD SUGGEST READING IT FIRST AT



Build-A-Dolly by Ken Liu



I read, I was enthralled and horrified and OMG it was horrible, a nightmarish prospect and reminder of how much cruelty humans bring to the world.

It is short, entirely rocked, and bites deep.

The end scene, which blends multiple irresponsibilities, may give me nightmares.

I full on recommend it.






[But... just as a nit-picky bit of bitching that's more general than this story -- not everyone responds to bullying by being mean to others. Not everyone who is bullied secretly wants their bully to like them. Not even when it's all middle-class girls bullying each other. Sometimes it may even be that the bully wants the person being bullied to interact with them, to respect them. I get a little freaked by the repeated portrayal of bullied kids themselves being bullies when they can, because perhaps in the back of people's minds that makes bullying natural (she'd do it if she had the power) and in some ways deserved (she's being bullied because she's nasty)

Amy could as easily be mean to Dolly for reasons other than being bullied -- bullies get nice toys too.

And... how come it's always girls get shown in these contexts? Boys always have to be victims of physical assault bullying, as if boys are immune to words and snubs]

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3:17 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #17 - Still Life (A Sexagesimal Fairy Tale) by Ian Tregillis
1. I am curious that two stories seem to use sexagesimal to indicate they're about time.

2. I wish that there hadn't been an error in my print copy of the book that meant two pages of this story were out of order and my having to hunt about when the story flashed forward unintentionally did not make my experience of the narrative an untroubled one.



THERE MAY BE SPOILERS - WORSE THERE MAY BE THINGS SAID WHICH SPOIL THE STORY - I WOULD SUGGEST READING IT FIRST AT

http://www.apex-magazine.com/still-life-a-sexagesimal-fairy-tale/


Still Life (A Sexagesimal Fairy Tale) by Ian Tregillis

A clockmaker in a place without time, falls in love with a man who doesn't age, though she does. She uses up her life trying to win his heart, and then to undo the harm she's done while trying to win his heart.

It's a classically formed fairy tale, with some neat images and ideas, and well written. I suspect a live-action movie would be epic, the written version certainly catches the heart and mind

A happy ending! (Unless the description of Time as a puppy makes you sad he can't win the girl... that's probably just me)

I'm not entirely sure how Tink ends up with Valentine, but her love for him was also pretty sudden and I probably shouldn't fight the happy ending (after so many complaints).

I could have done with this a little earlier, to cleanse the palate.

current mood: pleased

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3:13 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #16 - L’esprit de L’escalier by Peter M. Ball
It's a long way down...


THERE MAY BE SPOILERS - WORSE THERE MAY BE THINGS SAID WHICH SPOIL THE STORY - I WOULD SUGGEST READING IT FIRST AT


http://www.apex-magazine.com/lesprit-de-lescalier/



L’esprit de L’escalier by Peter M. Ball


A guy walks down a never-ending staircase to scatter his dead lover's ashes. He goes further than anyone has been recorded going and keeps on. Along the way he has written things about their relationship, some truths, some lies, mostly trivia.

It is a metaphor.

And when I finished I thought it would have been cool to put this at the end of the anthology -- but then a book full of sad stories with this at the end... maybe not. I don't know what is at the end yet but maybe pushing oneself to read another story keeps one from dwelling a little too much (and now I'm extending the metaphor beyond the story)

It's not perfect, but it has a lot to be said for it, and says a fair bit for itself.

(Or reading a large amount of downward trending fiction makes the effort of an endless staircase to nowhere shinier)

current mood: don't bring me down

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3:09 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #15 - The Green Book by Amal El-Mohtar
There's a weird desire for people to call stories told in letters etc experimental, as if entire books hadn't been written that way for a goodly number of years. I suspect it gets the tag now because so often the work fails... This one doesn't.

THERE MAY BE SPOILERS - WORSE THERE MAY BE THINGS SAID WHICH SPOIL THE STORY - I WOULD SUGGEST READING IT FIRST AT


http://www.apex-magazine.com/the-green-book/


The Green Book by Amal El-Mohtar


If a story warns you that there won't be a neatly wrapped up ending is the lack of an ending a problem? (Not in this case)

AE begins with a library collection style note, telling us that we'll be reading a letter by Dominic to persons unknown, in which he's copying part of a book that has become the obsession of his master, Leuwin. We're told there are pages that accompanied this letter missing -- and it's a warning that this is over, and that however it ended we're maybe not going to find out (or the note would read differently).

The letter gives an urgency to the copied material -- Dominic is seeking help, to save his master from his obsession with a small green book... that he now knows writes itself, at least in part. The letter also explains the helpful notes through the rest of the story which detail hand-writing, missing pieces, stains etc. It described the book of the title and then we move to the copied contents.

Through several writers and sections we learn that someone, a woman, was tortured and killed and somehow remains in the book -- at the beginning of which is an invocation to Hecate(?) -- the blank pages of the book demand to be written on, and the Sisters (we suspect are not good people) think is magic and give it to Leuwin as a curiosity.
He discovers the woman trapped in the book. And gradually they write to each other and fall in love. Eventually he is obsessed with freeing her, she is scared he'll get himself killed, and both can see the end of the book -- of communication -- coming closer with every word written. They argue and fall to silence.

Dominic, in copying the book, ends up also in brief communication with Cynthia -- too scared of being drawn into magic to reply. His letter ends with Leuwin's return, and the threat that the Sisters may not let Dominic survive his knowledge of them.

And, as warned, that's all we get.

The writing is ace and the format, even with dropping two levels into the story, doesn't distance from the emotion.

I don't know if it was the fullness of world so abruptly taken away, or just my own desire, that wondered if this was a short story that comes from a novel -- that the Green Book etc are part of a larger story and a small piece of that world has been clipped out and presented here. That somewhere I can learn about the Sisters, and... well everything, the story is rich in sharp fragments of detail you want to explore further.

I liked the short short story - and I want to read more (not in this format, or well if there was a way to expand this but I don't think so... I just want more)

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Sunday, February 12th, 2017
2:14 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #14 - Blood on Beacon Hill by Russell Nichols
This story had pretty solid writing, quite possibly lost some parts in translation (the US is a land that gets peculiarly different from the UK in unexpected ways)...

and made me uncomfortable at several points.


THERE MAY BE SPOILERS - WORSE THERE MAY BE THINGS SAID WHICH SPOIL THE STORY - I WOULD SUGGEST READING IT FIRST AT


http://www.apex-magazine.com/blood-on-beacon-hill/


BUT BE AWARE IT INVOLVES PROBLEMATIC DEPICTION OF STATUTORY RAPE


Blood on Beacon Hill by Russell Nichols


The story opens in a court, with the son of a wealthy politically connected family on trial for statutory rape of the daughter of a wealthy politically connected family - the boy is black and the girl is white. Oh and the boy is a vampire born in 1899.

The problem with immortals sitting at the back of things, like the court, is that it's difficult to see why you'd want the potentially dangerous monster sitting behind you where you can't see it--

Sorry, I want to be detached and write a reasonable review and move on... but mostly I'm thinking that I really didn't need a black boy rapes white girl story in this SFF anthology.

This is what the story tries really hard to skirt and justify. A guy who may look 15 but is a hundred years older than that has sex with a 15 year old girl, and he knows that she is 15. He is powerless to resist her 15 year old self, even though he's a vampire, and can even fly, because of his teenage hormones and because he doesn't get sex very often being trapped in a 15 year old boy's body (are there no other vampires his age? or is there another reason he can't get a date? the prosecutor and I are both curious) The girl loses her virginity to him, possibly as part of a plot, but at the very least she is a cold calculating little underage betrayer who ends up getting him into court on rape charges for... telling the truth. Because he did the crime. He also serves her carnivorous plants that don't sound like they belong on the underage menu either but that's kind of beside the point... I have a privileged black youth in court who has committed statutory rape -- I don't care how inviting or forceful or drunk or flirty or privileged or whatever she was... his defence in the trial is that because he can't get regular sex he should somehow be forgiven statutory rape. The story goes to great lengths to make the teenage girl despicable, part of a plot, a temptress who forces herself on him...

But the guy only had to wait a couple of days, a week at most, and she'd have been legal (well possibly legal, I'm assuming, if the age of consent there is 18 he's definitely fu-- so maybe she wouldn't have waited but that's what men really need to learn -- don't rape, even if it's the only way you get/want sex, you don't rape)

He lives forever, and needs to move somewhere with a lower age of consent if he wants to drink hymens more often. It's not like he could have got away with this behaviour when he *was* 15.

I'm just not comfortable with a story that seems to want me to sympathise with the 115 year old protagonist's lack of self-control and has to make so much of an only nearly just 16yr old girl being a scheming honey trap. She's a teenager, with a father who clearly doesn't give any thought to her welfare -- because this rape case is not going to make her life particularly pleasant long after he's, maybe, won the election (lots of people judge the girl more harshly than the boy in a rape case) -- and can really claim to be young and led astray.

How do you avoid being on trial for rape? Rule number one - don't knowingly commit statutory rape. I feel like I have to keep saying this because... this story got published.

Why on earth would anyone write this around the statutory rape of a minor, when he could surely have been seduced by an 18 year old girl with very few changes - or is a story woven round a true accusation of statutory rape less problematic than one with a false rape accusation, in our current topsy turvey internet morality?

Or, just as a crazy womanish idea -- how about accusing him of assault/attempted murder for non-consensual theft of her blood rather than rape?

That, at least, would have helped with the first problem.

I found it hard to read beyond or around that, but then the ending, where he lets himself be killed by the mob (or flies away), only high-lighted that none of this mattered. And yes, that's where the second problem comes, because Teddy is black.

I have no idea what the comparison is for conviction and sentence length of rich white rapists versus rich black rapists. Rich white versus middle class or lower black... or middle class white versus middle class black... easier odds to calculate.

How much do dying folk hate immortals? Where do dying folk get their blood, or where did they get their blood? Do they drink human blood now, did they once drink human blood? Has Teddy killed a few dying folk back in the old days? I don't know, so honestly I can't tell how innocent he is.

The strongest argument that can be used against racial prejudice in the justice system is that the colour of a person's skin doesn't predispose them to commit crimes against others -- if, however, you're faced with an immortal teenager who may or may not drink human blood from the vein and has self-control issues that have resulted in his raping a 15 yr old girl... is it wrong to feel threatened (whatever the colour of his skin)?

I know the blackness of Teddy's skin is meant to be big-time meaningful to the story. But combining two potential bigotries, and having one not unreasonable, blurs any point about the other. Is Teddy being treated more harshly than a white vampire would be? I haven't actually seen many depictions of white teen vampires having underage sex the same day they meet to be able to judge if a black teen vampire would be condemned for doing the same things story has a point. ('True Blood' is the only set of vampires I know where there's the possibility of a trial and I stopped watching somewhere in the second season? Other than that all the teen vampires I know would just be killed, whatever their colour)]

Teddy's defence is pretty much that he will never grow up -- and since there's no reason to believe he'll get any better at finding sexual partners given he's had 100 years of increasingly available options... Who's to say he won't move from statutory rape to just plain rape? Or serial statutory rape? Who can say that this isn't just the first time he's been charged? (because he didn't know his victim's family was as prominent and powerful as his own *and* willing to throw their daughter under the campaign bus)

“These fucking mortals, they’re scared of our power: We’re stronger, faster, smarter. We can fly, goddammit!

If you make a reasonable case for people to be wary it isn't entirely prejudice. Rabbits do not, in general, mix socially with foxes. Rabbits are not prejudiced... or perhaps they are but if so it's a survival trait.

Or I'll put my head on the block and point out that if an African American considers calling the police to be a potentially dangerous action, they may be prejudging perfectly honest, calm, and sensible people in uniform, but I couldn't say they were wrong to believe as they do.

Oddly enough, Teddy thinks that if the crowd kills him his father will get sympathy votes enough to win the election. So not that much prejudice against black vampires then, if a mob murdering one makes a rape charge go away. (We're not led to believe that immortals outnumber the dying folk)

Anyhow, Teddy commits statutory rape. He takes the girl home, at her insistence, so we can see his heartily dysfunctional family -- his sister has committed at least one murder and his mother rapes corpses so... yeah -- and since US politics is dirty top to bottom (maybe that's also a trope fiction writers should use less if they don't want people voting to drain the swamp) the dying girl turns out to be her father's tool in discrediting his father. He is upset because she 'betrays' him. Court case rumbles on. Teddy is upset because his father thinks not being in court will help and so decides not to wait for the bizarre venus fly trap test (which I'm pretty sure could be appealed), or to go to prison for twenty years, but commits suicide by mob.

If the mob kills him -- I'm a little hazy on how you kill him and if the mob know either.

It might be easier to read it as him flying away, because he can fly, and a rapist flying away from any responsibility is not an uncommon thing outside this story universe.

Well enough written story. But to what end?

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12:38 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #13 - Remembery Day by Sarah Pinsker
This is a good solid story to read, until it makes the tragic error of pointing out it's own logic flaw... or does it?

THERE MAY BE SPOILERS - WORSE THERE MAY BE THINGS SAID WHICH SPOIL THE STORY - I WOULD SUGGEST READING IT FIRST AT


http://www.apex-magazine.com/remembery-day/


Remembery Day by Sarah Pinsker


This is narrated first person by the daughter of a veteran of a terrible and brutal war. Thankfully we get her name a couple of paragraphs in -- Clara. Oddly enough the first section, where Clara is polishing her mother's boots for the parade while trying not to let her mother see, gave me my first "huh?" --

I had seen Nana clean them before, but this marked the first time I was allowed to do it myself.


With an important, and slightly complicated, job like polishing boots wouldn't Nana have not just let Clara see her doing the work but had her do it while being supervised before letting her do the boots by herself when there was a time constraint?

Mama didn’t often wake up this early on days she didn’t have to work.

But she does today, which is good, but how do they get her up other years? Does she wake after the Veil has been lifted, there's a whole paragraph telling how Clara has seen her mother's reaction multiple times, and yet if she normally doesn't get up this early...

I find the suggestion that it's her mother's day, so closely followed by rejecting her mother's desire to skip the parade this year, a wonderful indication that Remembery Day is not for the Vets. That the 'allies' around the world all sing the same two songs (and have to have their ceremonies at less convenient times) a warning about what this world is really like.

We watch the parade with Clara, and after are introduced to the idea that the Vets are voting on something -- for reasons best know to SP that they're voting whether to have the Veil come down again is kept secret to the next section. I'm not sure that does anything positive.

“But she wants to remember.”
“It wouldn’t do anyone any good if she ran into one of her friends in the grocery store who didn’t remember her. It has to be everybody or nobody, Nana.”


That it's Clara who explains to her grandmother makes the pressure backwards, from the next generation, more evident again. But... how is running into someone you recognise at the grocery store any different from seeing boots being polished that you don't recognise, or being crippled and scarred and not knowing how that happened -- or else believing a lie. The Veil doesn't sound like memories are being replaced, so somehow a bunch of people meeting at disability events etc don't wonder why so many of them are fuzzy about how they got crippled, or when they gave birth to children, and are good with that, and no one ever let's slip about Remembery Day, even though everyone else is keeping a big secret and stands have to be built? Does Kima never wonder why she has to get up early in the morning once a year, but doesn't ever recall what happens that day? That's easier than running into someone in the grocery store, realising they're under the Veil and pretending you mistook them for someone else?

Her explanation makes no sense, and for a while I felt the Veil was just a clever idea that needed a bit more attention to detail, and then...

It feels, creepily, like imposing a limited dementia on all the Vets.

And that makes sense -- that it is not that the Vets really vote for it, they're all over the world so they can be told that they've voted for it. But if you don't recall you're a war veteran, and no one can mention it to you, then you're probably not getting any kind of war veterans pension, no special services, no respect from the community because it's not like anyone can tell them you're a veteran, presumably there are still people crippled for other reasons. You can't supply battlefield history, or tell people what you did versus what the official history says you did... You can't speak out. You can't even be a terrible lesson in why war should be a last resort.

Kima appears to know, year to year, what's going on the one day she's allowed to remember her service -- so why does Clara feel she's in charge of the questions? Why does her mother only answer, with indirect stories, and put off talking about the war? Certainly she could look at her child growing up and say 'I must tell her about how her father died' or 'she's old enough to hear how I got injured' or at least be able to volunteer information, rather than passively responding. Unless, of course, she realises that there is something odd and wrong about the world, even just seeing it on Remembery Day, that though she clings to the idea she has control of her life, the truth is that she, and all the vets, are being silenced. And she doesn't break that silence because she knows, in her heart, that saying too much might mean she wakes up on Remembery Day one year and her daughter is dead and gone. She's putting off telling her daughter in the hope that one day she'll wake up and it won't be that same one day a year she lives over and over on a never ending loop of parades.

Who lost the war? And who won it? Or is it how they won that makes the difference to this nightmare?

And what do memories, kept so dark and buried, with no possibility of working through any trauma or grief, do to a person/personality? How many people are dying not from the effects of war but from the stress of the living under the Veil? With so many gaps, so many unremembered things, and no way to express or understand any of it.

It's a deeply disturbing thought, that I think would have benefitted from a tweak here and there to have really flowered, to grab a reader and keep them from a casual interpretation.

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Saturday, February 11th, 2017
12:47 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #12 - Keep Talking by Marie Vibbert
Seriously, a ray of sunshine in here would be appreciated...


THERE MAY BE SPOILERS - WORSE THERE MAY BE THINGS SAID WHICH SPOIL THE STORY - I WOULD SUGGEST READING IT FIRST AT


http://www.apex-magazine.com/keep-talking/


Keep Talking by Marie Vibbert


But wait, isn't this a good story because it ends with Sarah getting her own job offer? (Given that the job she wants a) exists and b) she can hold on to it since Miranda was pretty helpful in the current translation and I'm presuming this will be about further translation of possible subsequent messages, which could dry up shortly due to the extinction event).

Only this is Gerald's story. I know it might seem like Sarah's because that's where all the SFF action is, but it's about a parent and his relationship with his child and the end is that somehow (almost magically) he and his daughter will be parted, and she may not have the emotional capability to find her way back to him.

There's no path that doesn't end in goodbye, and to emphasise that the doomed/already dead aliens are dancing behind his realisation...

I won't say the story doesn't grab, that the alien message isn't providing a thread of story and an alternative climax to the other story, the one in which Gerald tries to change his life and will probably fail, pull back, because he loves his daughter too much to leave. And in part I think there's an unfairness in the story that implies he might be clinging too tightly. As if somehow the events of the alien story and Sarah, with help from Miranda, being able to translate it, was predictable, was a demonstration of generalised genius not a problem Sarah solved as much by good fortune as her one particular trick that may not have a further application...

The aliens are the background. To a story in which Gerald is flailing and failing, and dancing towards a goodbye.

Like we all do.

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12:38 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #11 - Multo by Samuel Marzioli
We really are getting to a point where good dark writing has to fight for my emotional involvement


THERE MAY BE SPOILERS - WORSE THERE MAY BE THINGS SAID WHICH SPOIL THE STORY - I WOULD SUGGEST READING IT FIRST AT


http://www.apex-magazine.com/multo/


Multo by Samuel Marzioli



This is a neat story. Probably better if you're not normally a fan of horror, because although the background of the monster is fresh it is a measured and distanced horror.

When he was a boy, Adan was threatened by the ghost/demon that was following his neighbour/friend's grandmother. He grew up and locked the memory away, but now his friend has tried to contact him, to check if he's okay. Because the grandmother has died and the thing promised he'd be after Adan next. We see nothing, even in the childhood flashbacks, and the story ends at the point where the adult Adan is as convinced and afraid of the multo as he was when it threatened him.

It's a story with a lot of fear of the unknown. And perhaps I've become too blasé about horror because I'm wondering why, if an old woman can survive being followed round by a multo for twenty years...

Yup it says when you die -- a natural death -- it will eat your body and possess your soul, and ghosts never lie, and there's nothing you can do to stop it? Even if you have forty years or more? I'm being the frog in the pot, I guess, but it is hard to get really worked up over the possibility you'll sometimes see a scary evil thing. I suspect this should have been the second story, back before anyone's stakes were high and good writing alone would have made this a pleasant enough pastime.

It's not that I don't care about Adan. But maybe I'm too old to worry about monsters that haven't caught up with me yet (and is there nothing can be done to stop it catching up?)

And yes, I think the Victorians could get away with a well written story about a ghost, but these days you'd need a very well written story, where at the very least the idea of what happens when you're followed around by something whispering nasty things no one else can hear makes some appearance in the story to make the ghost a problem greater than credit card debt.

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12:34 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #10 - Sexagesimal by Katharine E K Duckett
Sexagesimal may refer to the numbers on the sections, and I assume they're times and... probably stupidly... that they seem to match up to how long the section takes to read. That's almost certainly me being silly, no? But once that was in my head I couldn't see the puzzle from another angle.


THERE ARE SPOILERS - I SUGGEST READING IT FIRST, AT

http://www.apex-magazine.com/sexagesimal/


Sexagesimal by Katharine E K Duckett

The sections switch back and forwards in time, or untime (we're in an afterlife where your memories sustain your continued presence). We unravel the story in flashbacks and eventually lost memories of an affair, and worse, the collapse of the central couple's relationship. The parasites that are uncovered are both creepy, possibly intelligent enough to be mean, and provide the solution to a number of questions set up by the story.

This is another well written story, that uses it's sections with flair and doesn't falter or trip, and I like it well enough. Maybe a touch more than well enough. Again, it's a sad story in a lot of sad stories.

(Given I'm reading in a meh winter where the cold and dark predominates, I'm a little too aware of how the grey piles up, however dramatic and individual each day might be. Also... I'm just a touch sensitive to mentions that not having children meaning that you let down your antecedents, right now)

I like it. I may well remember the parasites a while.

But despite the strength of some stories, as I would normally have finished the anthology by now, I am thinking I'd find it hard to pick it up again given that so far
I'm remembering it as exceedingly sad.

Definitely not a book to read at worlds end.

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Friday, February 10th, 2017
12:17 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #9 - Blood From Stone by Alethea Kontis
It could be that the endless parade of death and pain has numbed me... but...


THERE MAY BE SPOILERS - WORSE THERE MAY BE THINGS SAID WHICH SPOIL THE STORY - I WOULD SUGGEST READING IT FIRST AT


http://www.apex-magazine.com/blood-from-stone/



Blood From Stone by Alethea Kontis

He had no idea that I loved him. He barely acknowledged that I existed, a maid twice over, little more than a shadow in empty hallways

It takes a while to understand the 'maid twice over' -- I have to get to the bit where she mentions doing the work of a maid. There's a bunch of exposition about He before then. None of which gives me a clue that she's a servant in his castle.

A distant desire turns into a happy combination of murder and debauchery which ends with the girl 'marrying' the object of her affections. She kills herself during that wedding, to summon a demon, and so fulfils his desires except that they summon Death who doesn't provide a bargain just a stern warning that presumably goes unheeded.

Death is kind of dumb (he discourages the baron from killing himself or getting himself killed and so ensures a bunch more deaths? I wasn't aware Death made a profit from extra collections)

There are places where the words need a little extra work, but the less than traditional approach to a servant gradually enchanting a noble into marriage is kind of amusing but also slips away for less than entirely understandable reasons. As if Sapsorrow kept turning up at balls all summer, and waited until the prince was past intrigued and into irritated to make her next move. In some ways it's a wicked witchs guide to romance.

And then the end goes weird. I start feeling I'm missing something, that the end is going in a particular direction but I've no idea why it goes there other than AK writing that it does.

“Bring back my wife.” The baron did not implore Lord Death so much as order him to do so.

BTW this man is too inexact of phrase to be encouraged to bargain with demons.

Also, Death tells me she's made him truly love her but I've really had nothing offered to me to make me believe he loves her, as opposed to a bit of desire and having a like-minded companion in murder. That's more friendship than love.

“Yeah, let me stop you right there. See, if you do that now, it’s not a sacrifice. It’s suicide. That particular end will deliver you to a very different place. Am I right?”

And he and she murdering children will not mean they end up in the same place... how many shades of place are there that murdering children is a different one from murdering children and committing suicide?

I am... kind of confused by most of what Death says. And why Death comes when called with the use of an evil virgin woman but not an innocent virgin child.

Lord Death was halfway through before he turned back for one last remark.
“Oh. And Prelati—cut it out, already.”
“Yes, my lord.” They were the last words the magician said before they both disappeared.

Prelati goes with Death? Why? What did I miss? I really feel I've missed something, maybe this being a prequel to another story or... wait is this something to do with the guy with lots of wives he killed for opening a door? I'm not sure why I'm thinking that but...

*Googles*

Okay, it's a prequel to Bluebeard based on Gilles de Rais - this I did not know, and perhaps explains some of the missing pieces as bits AK either expects everyone to know or doesn't realise are missing for people who've no idea Bluebeard may have been based on a child murderer (who didn't marry a whole lot).

Yet it doesn't use either the history or the story exactly. Which would be fine except it didn't make me feel the story itself was whole.

Good words, but a shame about the missing bits.

current mood: okay

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12:07 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #8 - Falling Leaves by Liz Argall
There was an error in this story -- "Yeah, me to."

I noticed it. I almost thought I was the one in the wrong. I'm not sure if that demonstrates the writing is powerful, or how easily enchantment can be broken, or... what.


THERE MAY BE SPOILERS - BUT NOT REALLY BECAUSE I DON'T HAVE MUCH TO SAY THAT WILL SPOILER - BUT I WOULD SUGGEST READING IT FIRST AT


http://www.apex-magazine.com/falling-leaves/


Falling Leaves by Liz Argall


This is really close to having no SFFH element at all. If you challenged me I'd have to admit that I'm assuming the refugee situation isn't a description in another country of a situation that already exists. It could.

It's a story about two girls who are what would once have been called 'troubled'. One is suicidal, the other cuts, and the story is a dark one of finding a friendship that helps, or maybe that only just about holds the despair at bay. Well written and convincing -- all too convincing -- it takes me from a) to e) but don't go looking for too much of a beginning, middle, and end... it's more of a last month, this month, and next month.

I... need a word that means I appreciated the story and engaged with it but isn't 'liked'... to like this is the same as 'liking' someone giving terrible climate change figures on twitter.

It worked for me but I'm not sure it WORKED as well for me as it might well for others.

It's a hard, harrowing story where you don't feel either girl is going to make adulthood with only the traumas they've already gathered.

And I think that it suffers from being in a string of readable to excellent stories that are all hopeful endings at best, and mostly more sad than hopeful. I fell a little like yelling at the editors that there are good stories with brighter endings.

There have to be, don't there? I've read them in the past so surely there must be now...

Contrast is a thing in art. A good thing very often.

current mood: worried

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Thursday, February 9th, 2017
12:14 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #7 - A Matter Of Shapespace by Brian Trent.
This is one of those stories that has a certain something, and is easy to read, and you make it all the way through fairly happily...

THERE MAY BE SPOILERS - WORSE THERE MAY BE THINGS SAID WHICH SPOIL THE STORY - I WOULD SUGGEST READING IT FIRST AT

http://www.apex-magazine.com/a-matter-of-shapespace/

Well fairly happily for a story that destroys the whole world(?) by the end but that's

A Matter Of Shapespace by Brian Trent.

This is a story of two halves -- or maybe it's actually three thirds...

We're introduced to Jacob, and Jocelyn, in what starts as an intriguing puzzle -- why is there a pyramid in Jacob's living room? We enter a world where every possession, even every person, is in a manner of speaking rented. I would imagine there are no poor or unemployed/unemployable people in this world and apparantly no anything but humans in something akin to a vast physical holodeck, so I'm not exactly going to get attached to anyone. After some well written exposition about how matter is continually reshaped to requirements there's a scary moment bit until Jocelyn reveals herself and the whole pyramid thing is only a practical joke of hers -- a seriously deranged practical joke since she now needs him to trust her that a very secret merger has happened and he's got to attend a super-secret meeting and she's been released from their version of debtors prison early to take him.

And so to act two part one, where Jacob runs away from Jocelyn and for a short while the story seems to head off into a corperate espionage/warfare man-on-the-run story, but all is quickly reset and Jacob then goes quietly off to the meeting. In act two part two Jacob learns the merger is real and the newly formed entity is going to physically attack the third of the trio of megacorporations, making all their mass into a tidal wave of destruction that will sweep over the area of the Earth they've been denied access to for years and...

At this point you know everything will go badly. That Jacob only demures slightly about the many deaths being caused and how safe he himself will be and not about how plain dumb the plan is does not actually make the plan any smarter. Clearly being remodelled constantly does weird shit to human brains. I am wondering why a meeting was needed at all, because it really doesn't feel like Jacob, or any equity baron etc, is making a choice rather than being driven to agree by the corporation itself.

Part three is the invasion and finding out what actually goes wrong -- sadly it's not as clever as the set-up, just good old EMF bombs (I didn't recall being told that could be a problem) meaning all the matter on the planet is frozen in a ghastly destructive tableau and all the preserved minds are floating around in what Jocelyn described already as a kind of hell.

The story does demonstrate that you can be interested in seeing bad people get their comeuppance -- but also that the end of all life on Earth can be reduced to a comeuppance.

And again it is a good read while you don't stop and don't think about it too much. Amusingly weird.

But then you start realising that it has worked far too hard. The bit at the end of part one where he becomes afraid, sets up way more thrills than are paid back later in the slow fizz of the intended climax of the story. Jocelyn is clearly there so there's a description of what being a disembodied consciousness is like (not nice) and the hoax, the chase, the coporate set-up is there to cover exposition and to have events happen so as to disguise that this is a neat idea/image that required something in which to hide the exposition and backstory, or it would just be a retelling of a fight between grey gloop and... other grey gloop, ending with all the grey gloop artistically paused.

I can see why you'd want to make a story to get to that idea/image, it's a neat one with a gorgeous world-buildiness behind. But the two story starts used to get there, Jacob, Jocelyn, etc are all way too written not to point up what's happening. Jocelyn exists so Jacob can ask her about being in cloudspace. He runs from her so he can give the idea of warring corporations. His arms and legs are removed so we can see he's being presented with the options while powerless to walk out, etc. The guns have been placed on the mantelpieces and pointed at so we will understand when they reappear later.

But the idea of the glitch your house can't see was actually more interestingly shown than the end of the world.

The idea of running for your life/lifestyle in a world that can swallow could have been a thrilling story too.

In the end we get a meeting that's more exposition and not that interesting -- and we've already had the expositional set-up for two previous starts to the story -- and a distantly observed catastrophy that was clearly going to end with them being disembodied for good.

Personally I was rooting for Oakland to have engineered the whole lot so as to become the single owner of Earth, less turning them to stone and more removing Sun Ragnar control and having a sea of matter to play with at their leisure while the disembodied watched impotently. I was thinking that maybe Oakland had tired of shapespace altogether and reverted to a world of things that exist and allowed the rest of the world to be itself while knowing it would eventually be greedy enough to start a war, allowing them to strike in self-defence.

So, readable.

Kept me following through the changes.

Not exactly earned or climactic but nihilistic ending.

Satisfying until you realise you never got a real answer to why Jocelyn was allowed to play with Jacob's house just a string of things to keep you interested through the exposition until the set piece image at the conclusion.

If I wasn't reviewing I'd have called it okay and thought it was suffering from being too clever by half and following The Performance Artist -- now it's those things and a confidence trick.

current mood: cynical

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Wednesday, February 8th, 2017
2:15 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #6 - The Performance Artist by Lettie Prell

THERE WILL BE SPOILERS - AND READING REACTIONS FROM OTHERS CAN BIAS FOLK - SO FIRST READ THE STORY AT



http://www.apex-magazine.com/the-performance-artist/

This is an amazingly powerful story. How does LP grab and hold so hard when the tone is itself very Sunday Time Art Review: My Visit to the Bearclaw Piece? I wish I knew, but I am as enthralled as the audience, and as uncertain what will come next, what the work means, where it will end...

The Performance Artist by Lettie Prell

This isn't the kind of drawing in that relaxes, it's intense and visceral to read. The responses of the audience have echo in my own thoughts, approving or disapproving, or when realising that playing is itself a violation. At points I felt the story physically, in tension winding so tight it created a knot of sickness.

Sometimes stories that pile worse on worse can slip and suddenly you're laughing at the absurdity, at the sad attempt to make you afraid for words on the page -- no slip here. The questions the audiences choose, their involvement in testing and taking apart her words, her identity, once she's shed her body... ring utterly true and understandable, and also subtly unforgivable. At the end, where she has again taken a body (of her own creation) and destroys it, the words 'It looks so vulnerable' grabbed my heart and stopped it. I don't know if the chip is undamaged and contains her still -- neither I think do the audience, complacent of that in their appreciation of the show, of the depersoning of the artist -- but it does feel like a public suicide. An artistic suicide at the very least -- where her art has been compared to the art she might have made and been found wanting.

It's... so simple and so very complicated.

And I don't feel it's an accident that we hear about the death of her mother more than once. Not the worst sadness in her life, but just that she mentions it as surprising that it wasn't the worst...

Writers talk, and sometimes they say things like 'writing isn't a performance art' -- because you edit, you change, you correct. (But of course the performance artist plans. Their editing is done before the performance. ) This story is performance art -- it speaks in the moment, it can't be put aside and picked up, it unfolds before your startled eyes and says things about you, about audiences, about art, and artists, and what makes a human being human.

And leaves you with more than you can just say.

I don't know if I want to remember it forever, or bury it deep where it can't come back to haunt me.

current mood: uncomfortable

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12:23 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #5 - Advertising at the End of the World by Keffy R. M. Kehrli
Five years after her husband died, two years after she moved to a cabin in Montana, and six months after the world ended, Marie opened her curtains to discover her front garden overrun with roving, stumbling advertisements.


You know, there's something to be said for just telling readers the facts straight off (though often that can be uncomplimentary somethings). There is no point trying to lift this sentence to make your own work better because it works HERE (and when people borrow things those borrowings often stick out as different from the rest of what they have).

HERE is a well crafted story which in the end tells us Marie's probable future using the advertisements.

THERE WILL BE SPOILERS - ONE BEING THAT I LIKE THIS STORY - GO *READ* IT AT


http://www.apex-magazine.com/advertising-at-the-end-of-the-world/


Advertising at the End of the World by Keffy R M Kehrli

I can imagine ads --I'm not sure that they'd cost less than people being sent door-to-door but I can imagine them being more acceptable, the way many people find ATM machines preferable to cashiers. An ad can come in your house and probably not be a thief pretending to be a salesman, and may use pressure tactics but probably won't assault you. Robert's theory on why they exist doesn't have to be correct, any more than his wondering how sentient they are -- although that did open the possibilities delightfully while I read, so that the ending was being written from the beginning but not without options (until you reached the end). I wondered, like Robert, if the ads could learn, would develop and replace their dead makers. I wondered if Marie could make use of them. I wondered if they might wander the land, desperately seeking someone to sell to. Or if Marie could pin notes to them and they'd find other survivors for her.

That's not a story problem, that's a delight, when you parallel process with the writer and are keen to follow and find out what does happen.

The narration is strong, it leads you on, but like a river -- with elegance and a perfectly measured pace. It unwinds.

And gradually the backstory is revealed, the ads understood, and at the end as they die you realise that Marie, without her pills, without others, with a frail human body of finite energy, will like them fail and die, or power down and die. There is the faint hope held out, that maybe there are other survivors, and maybe she can find them and share the burden of survival. But equally the knowledge that she may gradually grow to slow to garden, too tired to forage, eat her stores, and fade.

Quietly I realised that the ads are Marie, and the ads are humanity -- threatening in crowds, and destructive, and useful only to a point -- so easily running out of life and then just bodies to clear away.

This is a lovely, simple, human, story that I suspect will stay with me long after I've forgotten it's title and where I read it.

current mood: charmed

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Tuesday, February 7th, 2017
12:04 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #4 - If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky
I'd already heard of this story but not read it. I didn't actually listen to much that was said because it was mostly said by those I have little time for (other than darkly warning against people falling into their orbits)

I was prepared to be disappointed - because the previous two stories in this collection were disappointing and I figured anyone with sense would open an anthology with at least a couple of strong stories and that they probably had... so far as they were concerned.


THERE WILL BE SPOILERS - THOUGH I'M PRETTY SURE IT WOULDN'T HURT THE BEAUTY - GO *READ* THE STORY AT


http://www.apex-magazine.com/if-you-were-a-dinosaur-my-love/

Maybe it matters that I know how it feels to sit beside a hospital bed so I got hit harder, maybe not. Maybe you just need to be able to empathise with loss and grief


If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky


There is only one thing that jarred me a tad reading this story.

It wasn't the If starts to the paragraphs, some echoing the ends of previous paragraphs and some breaking free -- those are not mistakes, they give a rhythm to the words as they unwind in my mind, disturbing the flow and resetting the direction in which the narrator's thoughts are travelling.

This is a poem, a two stranded story of what is/was and what is imagined. And the idea of stages of grief is overused and misunderstood but here there's the underlying truth -- there is denial, there is self-sacrificing bargaining (from giving him up to giving herself up), anger, and just the shadows of acceptance.

At the end, that builds into a harder and harder knot in my chest, we know everything that happened, we don't need her name because we've been shown her heart and her pain, and we know the future the way she knows the future but wants another fantasy -- him whole and with her again.

The one point I'd want to edit -

They’d grasp each other for comfort instead of seizing the pool cues with which they beat you, calling you a fag, a towel-head, a shemale, a sissy, a spic, every epithet they could think of

Too many names called, and they soften... three, maybe four if you can keep them harder and sharper. Sissy is... weak compared to fag, realistic perhaps, but trailing off rather than biting harder. And epithet likewise is too measured, I know she's educated but they don't call people epithets they call them names... And worse than names.

There is a required lyrical distance in so much of this piece but just then it was jarring to be *that* calm... because this come before she wants them dead, before her anger... I could have done with a little harder, because it felt a little as though the writer couldn't bring herself to wholly commit to the words. The bare ugliness that perhaps the narrator would have avoided but... was she reliving or imagining? Maybe that's where I'm wrong -- thinking of it as a brief flashback when it's as much her imagination of what happened as the rest...

Only still... three or four words in a list... more and it starts feeling like a list and get's processed differently

Other than that nit--picking, RS has written a gem.

current mood: touched

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Monday, February 6th, 2017
4:59 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #3 - Candy Girl by Chikodili Emelumadu
The three stories after this one in the book all have my love for one reason or another... and I want to read on faster but talking about the meh stories is sloooowing me down (because if I get too far ahead I'll lose contact with what I've read)


THERE WILL BE SPOILERS - ANYHOW - GO READ THE STORY AT

http://www.apex-magazine.com/candy-girl/




There's a fetish known as vore, I believe, where people like to imagine eating or being eaten. There is absolutely nothing wrong in writing about a fetish, or edging close to what other people have as a fetish or, whatever... What goes wrong for me here is a long long beginning and middle to the story (which has a basic anger underlying it) and then a very short told ending which is totally unconvincing and made all the effort I put into the rest of the story a waste.

Here we go...

Candy Girl by Chikodili Emelumadu

The story is told 1st person - and again the protagonists name is fairly absent... I thought it was Ngwa before it started looking like it was Muna, and yet there are plenty of places earlier where it would be normal to say someone's name and so introduce her. But then, Muna is, aside from her snarky, angry, tone... exceedingly passive -- I guess passive aggressive.

At the beginning of the story she pricks her finger on her umbrella -- this is not a thing I have ever imagined doing or having happen outside a Bulgarian spying scenario where it's deliberately made into a weapon but eh. Something other than blood comes from the cut and she... is taken to a clinic by her cousin.

The cousin takes charge, the doctor is high or something, and so the cousin takes her to a witch.

The witch discovers Muna is enchanted and that the culprit is her ex-boyfriend, Paul.

Paul is summoned -- he is in the country because Muna invited him to her wedding (my best explanation is that she thought him seeing her married to another man would make him go away but that's kind of dumb), and has had a spell put on her because he loves her. The umbrella is supposed to be the spindle from Sleeping Beauty... so presumably he wanted her sleeping? Anyhow, long explanation short, he went to a crappy witch and instead of being given the person he loves most he's getting the thing he loves most, which is chocolate.

That was my first biggest bump, once I was used to reading around the anger, the grammar mistake is fun, yes, and familiar, but being given the person he loved most -- as she was married to someone else already -- doesn't seem much like something you'd ask for as a spell. How is she given? For the one you love to love you back even more, sure, but if it's just a one word mistake... It can't be that he wanted to turn her into the one he loves most because he already loves her...

Anyhow, she is turning into chocolate (but Mars favourites not actual chocolate) and there's nothing to be done except for Paul to eat her. Muna panics at this point and needs a phonecall from her beloved husband, Tom, who we've heard nothing about up until now but who is the love of her life and has already gone back to London -- seriously, to put an ex-boyfriend off she invited him to a wedding on a different continent from where Tom and she live at a time when Tom couldn't even stay for a honeymoon, but Muna stayed on, as did Paul because that weird marital arrangement was supposed to impress on him how over he and Muna were... Why do you go all the way to Africa to get married if you're not going to at least go back with your husband after and make like honeymooning rabbits?

Tom is amazing, he's great, he's... been entirely forgettable until needed to say a few words and calm Muna down, because if a guy says 'fight' in a low voice you totally have to do what he says and not keep on panicking. And Tom has had to be introduced so that he can perform a single act in the final paragraph of the story.

There follows a Paul continues to eat Muna sequence, which is fine because the licking he's been doing has already made me queasy. They make him eat all of her in one
sitting, so she'll be intact (even her breast are needed for later). And then she's gone.

At this point you may have thought there was a master plan. I thought there was a master plan. I figured there would be something at least as clever as the grammar error in the spell.

But then we get an explanation that what I've been reading is a book (a really short book?) by Muna. Who, after Paul went home, settled in his balls. (Presumably after he'd pooed the remains of her chocolate body... so did he need to eat all of her or did the witch just enjoy the show?) After taking possession of his testicles she in some unexplained way gradually took over the rest of him, he realised and tried to get himself neutered by doctors -- then tried to cut her off himself but was foiled by her already having the ability to make him faint (And it's not that hard to injure yourself so badly they have to remove the contents of your sack). CE gets to breeze past how he could be on suicide watch and medication without being sectioned and committed beyond what some random stranger could undo (Tom is not a relative even).

So, Muna took over, pushed Tom down into the toes of his right foot and... Tom is now living with a man and no one has asked what happened to his disappeared new wife? She's vanished and he's living with her ex-boyfriend...who he got out of a mental hospital... Will Tom and 'Paul' go to prison for murdering Muna? Does Tom like the gay sex? They're not married now. Will Paul get back in control if Muna tries to have a sex change for him? Or has any operation in which she loses consciousness? Will she go back to the looney-bin if anyone sees this 'book' about her being trapped in a man's body, or have to be medicated back into Paul?

And do I believe that a woman so passive that it wasn't even her idea to go to the doctor (and she mimed a zombie rather than asking WTF was wrong with her) can oust a self-absorbed bastard from his own body and mind?

No. The ability to do that one paragraph ending really wasn't earned.

Or to put it another way -- too many words wasted on unimportant things and not enough attention on connecting me to the ending. Didn't have to be a happy ending. Any ending that vaguely matched the beginning and made some kind of sense would do -- this is like when someone is telling you a long involved story about what happened during their day and then sees a programme they like is starting on TV, so having patiently sat through all the digressions and jokes and observations you get 'and so we stopped worrying about it, the end'... Even if you didn't care that much it's annoying to have the person who has made you listen to all the rest just shut off without finishing properly.

If much of the pointless had been trimmed from the story -- like Tom, all talk of the wedding, the doctor at the clinic, Sleeping Beauty -- there would have been more room for Muna, and even more room to write some portion of how Muna got her groove back, a doubtless angry but reaching for amusing, set of interactions involving Paul, Muna, and perhaps even Ginika. (And yes in my head I've now got Ginika helping her cousin get rid of Paul for good (WTF doesn't she get him into one toe and have Tom cut it off?), then we find out she's always fancied Muna... but that doesn't have to be in the story :P)

As it is, it reads like someone started a story, then just dumped the summary notes on the end and sent it out without realising it wasn't finished, and when they did it was in the pre-publication stages and too late to admit.

Oh I missed the editing error -

Typical. It is just like Paul to make a shambles of things and expect to be praised nonetheless. This is why I broke up with him. Well, one of many.


One of many whats? I presume once there was reference to 'the reason' that would make sense of the last sentence, but somehow that error's been missed in the zine *and* the book I'm reading :(

current mood: indifferent

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Sunday, February 5th, 2017
3:52 am - Best of Apex Magazine - review #2 - Going Endo by Rich Larson
The next question of how to write a review is whether to retread the winding path of discovery, showing the highs and lows as I fell on them... revealing at least as much of myself than I could possibly do of the story. Or to start with the conclusions and add whatever bits and bobs of evidence support them, ass-backwards as it were, making it shorter and smarter. It depends, I guess, what one wants to learn and what purpose there is for the result.

There is also the snag that I keep wanting to compare one story to another and while that's reasonable perhaps in a single collection, it may be less so later, if I'm expecting a reader to refer back a dozen posts.

Anyhow, hi-ho hi-ho to story two we go... and to be perfectly honest next time I read this collection I'll likely skip from Jackalope Wives to If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love, because life is too short to reread things that don't come near working for me. Your mileage may vary, especially if you haven't as much on the clock as I do.

This is liable to go long because I really don't like the story and feel the need to justify not liking something that's been picked as the best of stories published by Apex.

THERE WILL BE SPOILERS - ALTHOUGH IT'S POSSIBLE FAIR WARNING ABOUT THE INTENT OF THE PIECE WOULD BE OF HELP - ANYHOW YOU CAN READ THE STORY AT

http://www.apex-magazine.com/going-endo/

Going Endo by Rich Larson

I didn't connect with this story for a number of reasons, not least that if I pick up a book of SFF short fiction I'm not looking to read a sexual fantasy. It feels a lot like a name-erased slashfic for a manga or anime -- where only the sexual content of the story is developed because the reader is supposed to know everything else, including the majority of characterisation, from the source material. When I got to the end I felt cheated because it's pretty much the build-up to a sexual encounter, and though it throws out a good half dozen SFF questions it gives no answers other than 'sex will make everything okay'... except no it won't and I'm left with a sexually happy ending pasted over a really dark and desperately sad (which I'm fairly sure RL doesn't care about because... well... sexual fantasy...)

And yeah, the main kink is sex with an animal/slave.

There are also a bunch of bits that go astray if you're not reading for the eroticism(?)

Let me just demonstrate a little with the first paragraph

They say the reason it’s mostly fems who go endo is because of the whole penetration thing, like us sirs can’t handle the wet interface, but once on leave I got my face pulped in a blood-brawl at Decker’s Draughts & Dopamine, and since the autosurgeon took five whole hours putting my jaw back together I woke up with a supersize catheter stuffed up my cock. Going endo can’t be worse than that, I don’t think.

The story is in first person, which people often think makes it automatically more immediate, more likely to draw you in to the character -- this is not true. There are lots of tricks to help draw a reader in, first person alone is not one of them, and neither is a high density of future jargon/slang thrown at you in a super-sized first sentence. It's bold, it's dramatic, it... fails really easily. The unfamiliar words force you to either surf over them and hope to connect with WTF is happening in the next paragraph, or to create meaning from what you've got...

fems/sirs - this is a future which has had a period of increased patriarchy between now and then, women (and gays?) are termed from 'female' while the word for men is derived from the honorific, if all men are sirs and all women females...

Then there's the penetration bit -- women (and gay men? are there gays?) can go endo because they're accepting of penetration where men (real men?) don't tolerate that kind of thing. The exageration of the pain involved in having a catheter inserted while you're under anaesthetic makes damn sure you know how not masculine any kind of penetrative act is. Sure, women go endo but that's because they're women and not because they're particularly talented in any way.

blood-brawl - I would expect blood from a brawl so if it needs the emphasis I'm expecting deaths. This does not seem to have been more than a plain brawl. And as a side note, five hours for a machine to put his jaw back together... would seem to indicate either a jaw so badly smashed that there'd be other serious injuries, or an autosurgeon that's a cut-rate version of a human one. Wouldn't it be easier and cheaper to replace the jaw rather than putting it back together?

Yes, if you don't sweep me up and carry me away somehow, I will ask questions and I will want some kind of answers before the end.

In Jackalope Wives the first section of exposition is an easy and beautiful read, it informs and welcomes one into the story. Here the expositional introduction requires work and doesn't provide much definite information for the effort. (And some of what you think you've understood falls into question afterwards.)

There are endos, usually female, who interface with exos -- which can move in vacuum. The un-named narrator is a tech and looks after the exo called Puck. Exos are kind of small, only slightly larger than humans. They kill... people(?) in space. Puck's endo is Cena.

So they're some kind of soldiers? In a fight against... something/one? Endo's are human and exos are... alive? Aliens? Engineered armour? They age... and endos can let themselves go physically so... maybe not military? Or are they bonded so the endo can't be got rid of for getting fat... as long as they fit... well I guess totally inside if the pair work in vacuum with the connections not through a mini-airlock... But why so many connections? I mean a bunch of nerve data from the spine wouldn't be particularly useful in combat and people don't have a brain in their tails. How can the exo swim through space with at least five foot of it's seven foot length taken up with a not particulalry supple human body that it's presumably not supposed to bend, fold, or mutilate?

If you make me do brain work...

The exposition at the start of the next section... (more?) tells me they're killing space pirates(?) and have been for a month... and they're contract killers/police/soldiers? But it's clear they've been killing in space for more than a month... why do they exist, who did they kill before and who will they kill next?

Exos feel pain... which makes me think they must be found creatures, because who'd engineer a living spacesuit to be that sensitive to pain, but an alien species that can be used as a spacesuit is... TELL ME!

The protagonist caring about Puck getting hurt should make me like him... but... it doesn't entirely work. Maybe because he hasn't got a name, and so far what personality he has is... kind of obsessing on Cena's looks and her being penetrated by Puck's tendrils...

And what Cena does makes me dislike her, but also feel uncomfortable about how exos are treated. If tendrils need to be in sockets why would you cut one off? Are there spares? Won't Puck be put off putting it's tendrils in when they get painfully cut off? Having taken on a previously ill-treated dog I can assure you that she never got entirely over her fear of wellington boots (as worn by the farmer where she was being used to breed puppies) . Cruelty doesn't breed trust or co-operation, it creates wariness. And um, why do endos have ninja(?) blades fitted subcutaneously? She's inside all the time she's in action, no? Or is life outside that violent? And how does she get that blade round behind her to cut a tendril she can't see? She's not a cat... And if it's still connected doesn't it hurt her too or is this entirely one way communication with Puck? And how is she going to get the lump of dead flesh out of a hole that has a cover close over it... (automatically?) or does she now have to wander around with her spine open to the outside world while she finds someone to poke the dead tendril tip out?

Does Puck have the sentience to offer thank you gestures? Or is this just our nameless narrator being unreliable? And... wait... this is a story about people wearing something as intelligent as a dog, maybe?

Also, the tendril that's cut off is an inside one but Puck grabs the narrator's hand with a tendril next to the cut one - so it's insides are open all the time when there isn't an exo inside? Or not?

Then more exposition, but this section seems to contradict the first description of exos... because I don't see how they can hold a human being and have lengthy grapplers and still be only seven feet long.

Once I hit contradictions...

Apparently pirates don't have ships, just suits that may or may not be alive. I am dead curious as to the biology of the exos... they move like fast metabolismed creatures... squid say... but in vacuum... and full of people (who need to breathe?) How do they propel themselves? Or are they not swimming but launching from one mass to another?

Oh, and the nameless faceless narrator is stalking Puck (and Cena?) and is making me think of a creepy young Malcolm McDowell even though I have zero idea of him, outside or in, besides his obsession with Puck.

The next section is creepy sex with a person he has no emotional or physical interest in. My interest level is likewise zero. The sexism level is high. The woman has to have an added shock value kink. And disturbingly, so many people want to apply the skin of an exo to themselves or a sexual partner that it's a premade option on a system affordable by lower scale folks. Ewwww. Plus you can apply a skin to your partner over the skin they've selected to be. More ewww. (And in the very first sentence of the story he had a cock but now it's his prong...) Feris is annoyed by the change of skin but only leaves after she comes... You know if you have this super virtual reality that can create a feeling of exo flesh where the woman doesn't have flesh... why does she need to stay? Can't the VR fake the feeling of a prong? Why are partners you don't give a fig about necessary at all?

Meh.

Another 'They say' section. which would be neat if these were tell sections interleaved with show ones... if the repetition meant something, but there's exposition and action scattered throughout 'they say' sections and the others.

In this one we discover the narrator really is creepily fixated, because you'd hardly know from what came before that he tends other exos -- especially since in the first section he seems to be criticising techs for not keeping their exos as well as he keeps Puck... but some of those others are presumably looking crap because he's spending all his time on Puck and not getting his job -- (done)

And then we hit the longest section of the story, which is also the last, in which the narrator happens to have to get in Puck's tank naked and climb in and all is sexy, but then he's discovered by Cena, has a jealous row over how he cares for Puck and she doesn't, which is settled with a few words and an off-stage threesome.

I am curious as to how the narrator witnessed Cena talking in half-VR but didn't hear what she was saying. It makes me question exactly how that works.

Also, they have a heap of security on old footage of the exos, but no surveillance cameras in the holding pens? Not worried about the enemy bribing someone to poison or drugs the exos...

Anyhow, the sex is the climax of the fantasy and that's it.

We now know that Puck is old and probably going to be killed soon. Maybe not this time round, but that's why there aren't any older exos. They get killed. Used and killed. They're slaves, made or captured, forced to serve, and then killed. No one even seems to show them much genuine affection either, to the extent that the narrator's fixation seems to be the closest to an emotional return for the exo's service. Does Puck want a threesome? Do we have any understanding of whether Puck is consenting, or is this two people agreeing to rape a companion animal? Meh, the nameless narrator isn't thinking about anything but sex with Cena inside Puck, and I'm not sure I'm supposed to think of anything beyond that either.
But eh, it has shiny SFnal trappings (that aren't followed up or don't make sense) to distract from unquestioned or justified bestiality.

There were potential interesting ideas, none of which were explored. There was fighting, that we never saw or had reason for. But that's how you can tell it's a sexual fantasy rather than a story. The narrator is a blank (except for where the attempt at a slang makes me think of A Clockwork Orange -- with it's slang being futuristic and yet somehow old-timey) and he doesn't manage to convince me that what's happening is in any way a romance. Maybe if we'd got to know him, maybe if he wasn't hidden behind a screen of slang. If Puck wasn't observed entirely through his male gaze -- I don't know anything but that it feels pain and may appreciate kindness. Cena is almost as much of a blank -- but for the sadistic edge to her relationship with Puck. And I don't know if she's fighting to save Puck for Puck's sake, or because she's too old to be assigned a new exo once Puck is 'recycled'.

All I know at the end of the story is that Puck suffers inside and outside its cage and won't get to retire but will end its life in the knackers. And I don't think I'm supposed to care.

Writer's write, but an editorial letter to point out the differing measurements and other minor quibbles, or even that a little tidying could do wonders... that would have been a decent idea. Even if the sexual fantasy matched your kink, a little tidying could only have made it better.



current mood: irritated

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