Apex Magazine #34, March 2012
Reviewed by Richard E.D. Jones
Contradictions are a matter of perspective. Draw a black square next to a white square and they look like the exact opposites, a complete contradiction of each other. Move in close enough and you begin to see blurring around the edges.
What might seem an opposite, can, when viewed from a different angle, turn out to be more alike than you ever imagined. Keep those thoughts in mind when you’re reading the latest issue of Apex Magazine. The March 2012 issue is full of seeming and actual contradictions and what happens when the two defining characteristics meet.
“A Member of the Wedding of Heaven and Hell” by Richard Bowes is a great example of truth in labeling. That is, the story is about a wedding of a representative from Heaven and one from Hell, as well as the special guests sent from on high and down below to observe or, perhaps, put a stop to the ceremony.
Bowes starts the story off right by describing how the Fool of God, a Heaven-sent troubleshooter with a penchant for what looks to be off-tangent babble, moved up the Timestream, skipping through world probabilities until he found a certain world where it was June of 1960.
On this certain Earth, in a specific America, two demons named Bob and Bill guarded the front door of a church in which a very different wedding was about to take place.
You see, in the world of “Wedding,” the angelic and demonic hosts had long ago either lost interest in or lost the capability to interfere on the mortal plane and had begun to deputize humans to do their work for them. And so the Fool of God can see into the souls of those he meets, determining if they are knotted up with Satan or with the Creator. In the case of the Fiend, his former babysitter, there’s no question but that she is deeply knotted with the Adversary.
Both the Fool and the Fiend wield very specific and quite vast powers in their own missions, powers that either were given to them or were inherent in their forms. No one has ever told either of them the truth of the matter. They both are here for the wedding.
A lovely, very Heavenly woman met a man of Satan while working and they found they were not contradictions of each other, but were actually quite similar. So similar they decided to see each other again and again, which led to the wedding.
The Fiend had been sent to the wedding with orders to make sure it went through, while the Fool arrived with more nebulous instructions.
Bowes does a good job of presenting the dilemma, not necessarily whether or not Heaven and Hell can get along in the form of the young lovers, but whether the combination of these two might lead to averting a catastrophic event further down the Timestream.
While there wasn’t much in the way of what I’d call sparkling dialogue or witty repartee, I did like the descriptions and character interactions, as well as what conversations took place as we follow the Fool of God. These were some interesting characters, in a strange predicament, which caused some beings to act in ways that seemed, dare I say it, contradictory.
All in all, it was a well-written story, full of characters I wanted to spend more time with, all chasing after the answer to a question that intrigued me and set me to thinking even after I was done with the story.
The contradiction at the heart of “Copper, Iron, Blood and Love” by Mari Ness is a bit less formal, a bit less black and white, although it does involve a very lot of black, as you’ll see.
Told in the style of an oral fable, “Copper” sings the story of the raven’s daughter, who is the only one of seven children to survive her mother’s knife-sharp call to their father, the raven. One by one, the mother placed her knife to the throats of her children, begging their father to return for the sake of the child.
Only the youngest child survived. Because the people of their village did not kill, they staked the mother out in the fields and allowed the ravens to take her. The ravens did not take her, but thirst and hunger did. And so the youngest daughter of the raven went to live with the cruel blacksmith and his daughter and son.
Over the years it was noticed that the daughter of the raven did not speak in more than the soft caw, caw of her father. While living with the cruel blacksmith, the daughter of the raven would collect small scraps of cloth and use them for her bed, which she created anew each night on the warm floor of the forge.
One day, the daughter of the raven saved the daughter of the blacksmith when their cruel father decided to use his wicked-sharp axe to remonstrate with his progeny. The axe turned to black feathers in his hand. After the death of the blacksmith, his daughter claimed the forge and began making delicate sculptures of birds and of feathers.
After a number of years, a stranger came to the village and offered to restore the voice of the daughter of the raven. To thank her friend for saving her life, the daughter of the blacksmith decided to give up her own beautiful voice so her friend could find hers.
The complication arises when the stranger discovers that it might not be the voice of the raven’s daughter that was wrong.
Writing a modern-day fable in such a was that it feels as if it were spoken, rather than written on a page makes for some difficult work. Ness, however, does an admirable job in translating the oral cadences to ones that work on the page. Reading it, I could hear her voice rising, falling, winding around and through the smoke drifting up from the fire we all sat around as she spoke.
However, there is such a thing as taking something too far. Interspersed with the actual story of the daughter of the raven, Ness gives us a bundle of conflicting fables. One small fable tells us one thing, while the next small fable tells us something exactly the opposite.
I thought a few of these mini-fables were amusing, but their sheer number began eventually to wear down the narrative Ness tried to weave. Despite this extra weight, Ness manages to present us with an interesting fable that takes us to places to which we’ve never been, but now might like to visit.
While the characterization was of necessity a bit sparse, as fables tend to trade in archetypes as opposed to character development, I did enjoy the way these odd people bounced off one another. All in all, it was a fun bit of story.