I fairly regularly get approached by publishers/editors to review all manner of material. Many seem to either not read or not understand the fairly clear scope statement for the site ie ‘the best in short SF’. I had a recent offer of a review copy of the third in a fat fantasy trilogy, which had no chance to start with, but a quick investigation revealed that the trees which had been guarding the Earth, the Mighty LaLas, were under threat or somesuch, and it was for me an indication that that sort of fantasy can be almost diametrically opposite to what I see SF as being. I’d see mainstream, detective and other fiction genres as being closer to SF than that kind of fantasy.
By means of which this leads me, unintentionally, to Apex Science Fiction & Horror, a small press mag published from Lexington KY (where the jelly comes from I believe). Now I personally wouldn’t see the two as being an obvious bedmate, and am really not at all enamoured of a lot of horror. My limited experience of that genre is that it is particularly easy to do it very badly, and throwing blood and guts and snot into the mix in as big a quantity as possible seems enough to get it accepted for publication, regardless of literary merit. I did read a lot of Stephen King in the late 70s/early 80s, and enjoyed those stories (when he was at his peak). I did try a couple of Frank Herbert books, but even to a wet behind the ears late teenager, I could spot the difference between King and Herbert in the quality of the writing.
Anyhoo, editor Jason Sizemore took the effort to email me with an offer of a review copy, and I took the offer up. The mag came shortly thereafter. That was late March, and it’s now mid-July, and I reckon if I don’t do something about the review now, it’s never going to happen.
So, a quick review of the mag – not all of which I’ve read.
It’s a neatly produced digest, that stands up well in terms of production quality to the big digest magazines. The cover artwork is good, although it has to be said, some way ahead of most of the interior illustrations. But as with the fiction, the purpose of small press mags is to give an outlet to those not quite/not yet up to pro standard. Mind you, as an art editor, I’d have sent a couple back with a few suggestions. One that raised a smile was the picture to illustrate the story ‘The Gunslinger of Chelem’, which featured, erm, a gunslinger. And, to set the gunslinger in the location, he was, erm, standing next to a roadsign pointing to …. you guessed it, Chelem. Just a bit too literal!
The back cover artwork is of a high quality, although unfortunately it’s of a scantily dressed sci-fi babe holding a gun, advertising the Changeling Press, who by the looks of their website seem to be able to give SF, erotica, and the Internet a bad name! Saving grace for them though is that they appear to be far less tacky than the advert inside for author M.R. Sellars, whose Miranda Trilogy appears to be a Benny Hill/horror combo. I won’t give you the urls – google if you wish, but I ‘m sure you’ve got better things to do.
So, what about the fiction?
Well, first up is a Frankenstein story by Kevin J. Anderson, who is a pretty big name to open up with. He has more than twenty million books in print. Dude, how fast does he write those suckers? What? Oh, twenty million copies…
I’ve little in the way of benchmarking, but ‘The Sum of His Parts’ feels ok but probably without breaking any new ground, with a plot that sees the original owners of the various bits that make up Frankenstein’s creation having a say in the denouement. I’d imagine it’s a plot line regularly used in horror.
Katherine Sparrow’s ‘The End of Crazy’ has some potential in detailing a couple trying to come off a nasty drug habit, but ends up with Nazi cops jackbooting all over the place.
Lavie Tidhar’s ‘The Gunslinger of Chelem’ features a Man With No Name, but the story didn’t hold me – particularly the early sequence of twenty lines of dialogue unbroken by anything – just dialogue, which is a failing of many writers yet to fully hone their skills.
There follow a number of shorter mostly horror stories, skimmed by myself, with established author William F. Nolan providing a slightly more polished piece – and showing how to handle a two-way conversation without resorting to it reading like a film script. But again, it’s fairly bog-standard vampire fiction, with a bit of an sfnal device thrown in at the end.
Jeremy Adam Smith’s ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ gives an snfal bent to the myth, suffering slightly imho in trying just a bit too hard in the writing of it, with the adjectives and imagery being too visible rather than subtly affecting the story.
Bev Vincent’s ‘Sufficiently Advanced’ is straightforward SF, although teleporting ‘natives’ on the planet crashlanded on by a space traveller is perhaps stretching it a little too much for rigorous SF. They get on famously (language evidently not being a problem) but it all ends in tears, when the ‘abos’ get freaked out at his tech.
Geoffrey Girard’s ‘Cain XP11 : The Voice of Thy Brother’s Blood’ is the first installment of 4 and looks, from a quick skim, to promise a bit more than the usual semiprozine fayre. The closing sentence will doubtless please the horror afficianados.
Interviews with Kevin Anderson and Liz Williams follow, with a couple of essays thereafter.
If your taste runs to the macabre, with a preference for horror and a bit of SF, then doubtless Apex is going to appeal. For someone who doesn’t really go for horror, and is used to reading SF that is (mostly) highly polished and robust, the standard of writing, for the most part, as with most zines, does get in the way of full enjoyment of the fiction. But the editorial team are to be praised for putting together a high quality issue in terms of production, and a good range of fiction for the market it aims at. You can also buy online via a website that is well beyond that you would normally get for this type of mag.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll leave my pile of ‘to be read’ and spend a couple of hours watching the first mountain stage of the Tour de France, then I’ll be out on my bike for a couple of hours on the flat Essex country roads. I’m not getting as much reading done as I did before I got my racing bike, but I’ve lost a lot of weight!!