"Long Man" by E.N. Wilson
"Museum Beetles" by Simon Kewin
"The Many Faces of Lisa Adorn" by Matthew Kressel
"Coming Home" by Deborah Fitchett
"Custody" by Jennifer Rachel Baumer
"The Frozen People" by Danny Adams
Issue 15 of Abyss & Apex is the first offering in their new quarterly format. With four short stories, two short-shorts, and six poems, the issue has a story to suit everyone’s time and taste. From the Fantasy musing of a young girl in "Long Man" to the hard SF aliens and their quirky languages in "Coming Home" to the bleak future in "Museum Beetles," the stories fulfill genre expectations with consistent protagonists who grab their destinies and don’t let go.
E.N. Wilson portrays the hurt and loneliness of a young girl in "Long Man." Bellabel does not wish to visit "the strange house" to attend her Grammy’s funeral. Instead of readying herself, she watches the Long Man who her mother hired to cut the wheat with a scythe. The reference to the Grim Reaper is unavoidable, but this Long Man isn’t frightening or ominous. Instead, he shows Bellabel how a gesture can bring happiness into her bleak life. The voice in the story colors the piece with innocence and vulnerability. Unfortunately, the ending is confusing.
The strongest story in the issue, "Museum Beetles" by Simon Kewin, chronicles many years in the life of a museum. The building is maintained by a Curator, who makes sense of the ancient relics and maintains the extensive reference catalogue of the building’s treasures. In the first scene, the current Curator discovers that beetles from the Great Colony on the lower Coleoptery floor have escaped and begun to eat their way through a stuffed Pan Troglodyte. The story skips ahead through different points of view of subsequent Curators and their quests to preserve their treasures against the constant threat of the beetles. The personal viewpoint powerfully illustrates the theme of humankind’s struggle to preserve important histories in the face of time and its endless minions. Though the "bugs as bad guys" plot is not new, "Museum Beetles" and its twist ending puts a fresh face on a future where knowledge is truly power.
Matthew Kressel mixes a doctor’s note, a teacher’s letter home, and the anecdotes of family members in the study of a brilliant ten-year-old girl in "The Many Faces of Lisa Adorn." Lisa experiences another dimension, traveling with her avatar companion Raphael from planet to planet, exploring a space and time beyond imagination. Whether these adventures are real or simply the musings of a creative child is neither clear nor essential. Kressel takes the reader on an incredible, well-paced journey that is speculative in itself as well as within the framework of the story. The duplicity of Lisa’s existence combines with a sense of wonder for what lies beyond our tiny place in the universe to create a classic Science Fiction tale for old and young readers alike. Though the ending is not traditionally "happy," it leaves questions unanswered for future ponderings.
The opening of "Coming Home" is laced with Science Fiction terms and terminology, species, languages, planets, and the people who live on Station 137 at the center of it all. Deborah Fitchett follows the stuck-in-her-ways alien Nansap on her daily routine at Home. Not the home planet of Jarap, the world she hasn’t seen in almost fifty years, but the station, with her friends and her job and her routine. When news spreads that a new ship will soon dock with four Jarap aboard, Nansap’s friends assume she will greet the new arrivals. But her loneliness for her family, for her kind, a weakness she does not admit, prevents her from meeting the ship. Instead she sulks in her unit avoiding a past she cannot forget. The ending is touching and inevitable, yet somewhat surprising for me. I enjoy stories about characters more comfortable being bitter than loving—protagonists who hurt more than they are willing to ever admit—and Nansap definitely suits my taste. Fitchett invents a language that mixes a multitude of alien tongues into one partially digestible salad of strange words, forcing me to re-read passages at times and only scraping the gist out of her prose. For the alien-loving Science Fiction reader, this story provides a challenge and a satisfying result.
The first of two Flash stories, "Custody" by Jennifer Rachel Baumer, shows how bitter a woman becomes when her man, Daniel, leaves. Susan has a dark anecdote for each possession that Daniel calls to retrieve. Her words are crueler than her actions, typical of a newly slashed and torn relationship and the cavernous and agonizing wounds of heartache. Susan’s resolve is empowering, though the ending is quite the opposite. I would have preferred an outcome more in tune with the witty and irate individual that Baumer fashioned.
In the second short-short, "The Frozen People," Danny Adams chronicles the people of the village of Kriegerwald in the Swiss Alps. Nearby Lake Teufel endures a geothermal jet that thaws the frozen water for exactly twelve minutes every December 17th. The lake soon flash-freezes for another year. The premise is somewhat ludicrous, yet it provides an explanation for the Ice Warrior—a man frozen in the mountainside for seven thousand years—and thus gives the town a tourist attraction. The whimsical story ends with a commentary of our society today, as compared with the old-world feel of Kriegerwald and its inhabitants.
Overall, the issue is filled with classic story ideas and fresh new twists.