Apex Magazine #78, November 2015

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Apex #78, November 2015

Blood on Beacon Hill” by Russell Nichols

To Die Dancing” by Sam J. Miller
The Beacon and the Coward” by Day Al-Mohamed

Reviewed by Robert L Turner III

Blood in Beacon Hill” is Russell Nichols’ first pro-rate sale and takes on questions of race and culture within the context of a vampire on trial for statutory rape. In the interview published with the story, Nichols tells us “To be born black in America is to be born on trial.” The story is clearly an effort to expound on this thought. It opens with Teddy, a century old vampire trapped in the body of a fifteen year old, on trial for having sex with a fifteen year old girl. As the story develops we are introduced to his politician father, necrophiliac mother, and new age sister. The story is interesting, but is overshadowed by too many obvious political commentaries and parallels. The protagonist is black, his mother is sexually repressed and disturbed, there are mobs demanding the death of the “V word” etc. etc. These elements, and many more, sap any subtlety from the text. The story has potential, but is heavy handed in its delivery. I could see a reedited version of this story as an elegant allegory for life at the social margins.

To Die Dancing” opens in a world where a new strain of puritanism has taken control of the government and all deviant behavior up to and including dancing is punished. Ostensibly the story deals with a one night pass to dance and relive the forbidden days of freedom. Clive, the protagonist, spends his night in fear that the whole thing is a trap; a way to flush out remaining undesirables. Yet he feels compelled to attend in an attempt to find his missing friend Ummi. Only towards the end does he realize how is fears and perceptions have blinded him to other truths. Sam J. Miller does a good job of teasing out the fears and blindness of the protagonist, while finding moments of true emotional impact.

The Beacon and the Coward” is a fast moving piece by Day Al-Mohamed. Set in a post-civil war steampunk universe, the story focuses on an all-black crew manning a lighthouse. In it, Danville, our protagonist, has been outed as a coward who was too frightened to charge with his unit at Gettysburg. As he is preparing to leave, he and the lighthouse crew are called upon to rescue a foundering ship.

The story itself is fast paced and well written. The author includes enough information to place us firmly in the world without losing sight of her narrative. The central theme of redemption is augmented by the larger leitmotif of isolation and outsider status.

Robert Turner is a professor and long term SF reader.