Abyss & Apex, #17

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"Douen Mother" by R.S. Garcia
"The Winter Astronaut" by Mark Patrick Lynch
"Flood" by Jennifer Pelland
"A Clockwork Break" by Shawn Scarber

Jude-Marie Green’s "In The Season of Blue Storms" opens the fiction section of issue #17 of Abyss & Apex. The narrative is split between two sections, one following Naschi, a blue storm weakened by a recent encounter with another storm, Coromell, and the other a two-person survey crew on the verge of being split up.

The idea of intelligent weather is neatly explored, and there’s a real sense of the alien to these creatures. The storms are both convincingly real and convincingly different, and the story that plays out between Naschi and the other storms would have worked well on its own. However, "In The Season of Blue Storms" also follows Samma Jordan and Pachan Dao. They’ve been searching for intelligent life for seven years and have an unforced, casual romance that provides a welcome grounding for their characters and the story. It also neatly frames the idea of sentient storms, with Jordan and Dao struggling to unlock the puzzle of the world just as Naschi is struggling to find his place in it.

A great idea well done, "In The Season of Blue Storms" starts out the issue on a high note and is one of the best stories on display.

R.S. Garcia‘s "Douen Mother" is a drastic change in tone from the previous offering but no less effective for that. Opening with a young couple who have recently lost a baby, it cuts between the mother’s burning grief and an incident in her childhood when she met a child in the forest. These flashbacks are almost entirely dialogue and, as the story is set in the Caribbean, difficult to adjust to at first. However, the reader quickly adapts to the change in style, and the end result is effective, giving the flashback sequence an identity all its own.

Garcia’s text is densely written and deeply evocative without ever seeming overwritten, and the descriptions of the mother’s grief and the inability of her husband to understand are neatly laid out. However, the story’s real strength lies in its structure as the events of the past begin to dictate the events of the present. The end result is a genuinely horrifying scene where the two collide. Without giving anything away, Garcia has crafted a story that is as chilling as it is oddly moving.  Another strong entry for this issue.

Mark Patrick Lynch’s "The Winter Astronaut" follows the life of Mr B., an old man who lives on Mars on the outskirts of a prosperous town. As the story progresses, we get insight into his life—his growing horror at his encroaching age and fading memory and his friendship with Jimmy Salina, one of the local children.  This is Mars as painted by Norman Rockwell, the old frontier transplanted to a new world. Lynch does a wonderful job of portraying this version of the red planet, and the setting is far and away the strongest point.  The opening scene, where the heat from a launching rocket causes a brief flowering of summer, is both beautiful and memorable.

"The Winter Astronaut" is a more challenging read than its compatriots in this issue. Lynch has made a deliberate, stylistic decision to use old-fashioned, florid prose, resulting in a story which is harder to immerse in than some readers might like.  It’s risky and Lynch comes close, more than once, to losing control of it, but the end result remains a strangely poignant, defiantly old-fashioned piece. "The Winter Astronaut" won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but for some, it will pack a hefty emotional punch.

Set at an undetermined point in the future where all the planet’s water has vanished, "Flood" by Jennifer Pelland follows Callie, a star musician who sings about the oceans the planet once had, and her twin brother, Owen. Callie is convinced she can feel the water that used to cover the planet, and that she is a channel for it to speak through. 

Pelland’s prose is sparse and affecting, and offers a remarkably well-rounded take on both characters. Callie is a deeply sympathetic figure who clearly feels immeasurable pain for the world that once existed.  But, as the story progresses, she is revealed to be slightly less than that. Its high point comes when the leader of Callie’s work detail castigates her for grieving a world she never knew and becoming a liability to the world she now lives in. It’s a slap in the face to both Callie and the story, and it sets up an ending that is both effective and strangely hopeful. This is neatly balanced by the portrayal of Owen evolving from an idealistic and hard-working scientist into a pragmatic, almost fatalistic figure who has been forced to choose between his own priorities and a dying world.

"Flood" is a genuinely unusual take on post-apocalyptic fiction and an excellent piece of short fiction. Pelland’s world never gets in the way of the story, and the ending stays with you long afterward.

Paul Woodlin’s "The Last Temptation of Humanity" deals with a man visiting the small Iowan town of Lynn Grove. Set in the future, Lynn Grove is used as an example of late twentieth century Americana.  The man explores the Church while ruminating on a friend’s decision to be transplanted into an artificial body and also on the immortality it offers her. Woodlin does a great job of sketching a Utopian future and a better one of portraying the ethical dilemma that lies at the heart of it. The relevance of religion—whether suffering defines us and makes us better people—and a particularly chilling cybernetics concern are all communicated in clear, precise prose. It’s a difficult piece, requiring a second and even third read to fully appreciate, but worth the effort.  Woodlin accomplishes a lot in the space of very few words.

In Shawn Scarber’s "A Clockwork Break," Angie is a seamstress at the turn of the century. Working tirelessly for years, she paid for her brother Thomas’s education.  As the story opens, he repays her devotion by asking her to move in with him as governess to his children.

The job, the ease with which she accomplishes her work, and her growing attraction to Bruce, the mill’s machinist, are all portrayed evocatively and elegantly. Scarber has a wonderful sense of place, and the story conjures a different time without ever resorting to information dumps. And when Angie’s work is interrupted by the unexpected, Scarber does a marvellous job showing what happens when, for one brief, glorious moment, the normal and the extraordinary meet. A well-written, strangely uplifting piece, and one of the highlights of this issue.