Apex #137 (Special Issue), April 2023

Apex #137, April 2023

“Loving Bone Girl” by Tehnuka

“Your Wings a Bridge Across the Stars” by Michelle M. Denham

“The Flowering of Peace” by Murtaza Mohsin

“Liwani” by Sydney Paige Guerrero

“The Matriarchs” by Lois Mei-en Kwa

“The Toll of the Snake” by Grace P. Fong

“Rhizomatic Diplomacy” by Vajra Chandrasekera (reprint, not reviewed)

“The Fish Bowl” by Zen Cho (reprint, not reviewed)

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

This special issue features works by writers of Asian and Pacific Islander backgrounds. Just as those terms refer to a large number of disparate cultures, the magazine offers a wide variety of science fiction and fantasy.

“Loving Bone Girl” by Tehnuka features a refugee from a genocidal war who can create places into which she can lead people. The narrator follows her into a cave, where she keeps the bones of her family, who were slaughtered in the war. She asks the narrator to keep her bones when she dies.

This is essentially all that happens in the story, which is mostly a mood piece. As such, it is powerfully written, creating a strong sense of melancholy beauty. The fantasy content is original, and one might wish for a longer work with a more fully developed plot.

“Your Wings a Bridge Across the Stars” by Michelle Denham takes place in a fantasy universe in which two immortal lovers are kept apart, one in Heaven and one on Earth, and are only allowed to be together for one day each year. The main character is one of the women who spiritually bind with magpies into order to provide a way for the lovers to meet. During her apprenticeship, she ponders if the force needed to make use of this magical power is pride, love, or anger.

The author manages to make a mythological setting seem very real, through the use of vivid, down-to-earth details. As I have tried to suggest in the above synopsis, the theme seems to be whether one should perform a job well for its own sake, for passion in one’s work, or for justice. The question is an interesting and important one, even if the story is less than dramatic.

(The editor’s note makes it clear that one should be familiar with the ancient Chinese myth of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl for full appreciation of this variant. My ignorance of this classic folk tale may explain why I did not understand the purpose of the briefly seen men who bind with crows.)

In “The Flowering of Peace” by Murtaza Mohsin, a woman from a poor family is selected by aliens to be their representative. The extraterrestrials grow a certain crop on Earth, the cultivation of which she supervises among those who formerly scorned her. The plot deals with how her actions radically alter the lives of her people.

Certain details make it obvious that the story is an allegory for colonialism. The main character’s ambiguous feelings about how she serves the aliens, and her mixed emotions about her people, are the most interesting aspects of this work. The notion that the aliens chose this lower-class woman as one of their acolytes may be intended to reflect those colonialized persons who cooperated with the colonizers, but it also seems like an unlikely form of wish fulfillment.

The title character in “Liwani” by Sydney Paige Guerrero is a goddess of light. She dwells with other deities in a realm apart from the mortal world. As those who believe in them die out, she and the other deities grow weak. In a desperate attempt to save herself, she journeys to the mortal realm, leading to an unexpected fate.

The goddesses and gods in this story are fully developed, three-dimensional characters, with whom one can empathize. Particularly moving is the plight of Liwani’s close friend, the god of memory, who grows forgetful as belief in him among mortals declines. The climax is both surprising and logical, and manages to be sad and hopeful at the same time.

“The Matriarchs” by Lois Mei-en Kwa consists of three sections. The first is set beyond space and time. The second takes place in the far future, and the third somewhat nearer to our own time. The first describes how a woman sacrifices herself to send a message back in time. The second shows how this message saves the inhabitants of a seemingly doomed starship. The third deals with one of the people working to create the technology used in the first section.

The first section is difficult to follow, given the innate impossibility of conveying a place outside time and space. The second is more typical of space-going science fiction. The third is the most interesting, because of the way it shows a character interacting with futuristic technology in a unique way. The story’s unusual structure is intriguing, if not fully successful.

“The Toll of the Snake” by Grace P. Fong takes place in the Hollywood movie industry just after World War Two. A young woman, intent on becoming a star, signs a contract with a studio. When the woman who hired her decides that she is too ambitious, she makes use of a supernatural device to end her career in a dramatic way.

In addition to a satiric look at Tinseltown, the work offers insight into ethnic stereotypes and the casting of white actors in Asian roles. Despite these serious themes, however, this is mostly a tongue-in-cheek monster story. Starting off in a very realistic manner, the narrative builds to an apocalyptic climax that strains the reader’s suspension of disbelief. (As a minor quibble, the antagonist is addressed as “Ms.” rather than “Miss” or “Mrs.” more than once, which seems anachronistic for a tale set in the late 1940s.)

Victoria Silverwolf isn’t going to work as many extra days this month as she thought.