Abyss & Apex, Lucky Issue 13: January-February 2005

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"Variables" by Matthew Cheney
"The Barrow Man" by Lisa Batya Feld
"Pan de Oro" by J. Stern
"Erin and the Dinosaurs" by Jon Hansen
"words fail" by Eric Marin
"& I imagine the end of the world" by Peter Roberts
two untitled scifaiku by Tim Jamieson 

Abyss & Apex
, a magazine that’s new to me, contains three short stories, three poems, and one piece of flash fiction. 

"Variables" by Matthew Cheney harks back to what used to be called "experimental" fiction back in the heady days of the "New Wave" debate of the late 60s and early 70s.  Many readers will probably be put off by the story’s list format, its constantly renumbering of paragraphs suggesting the hitting of a reset button, its splattering words against margins and pouring them into parallel columns.  I’m all for such occasional rule-breaking if only to throw old-fashioned readers like me for a loop.

Cheney’s subject matter justifies the experiment, I think.  Our protagonist may be a god, a computer and/or the software that runs it, or anything but the inventor of the game he seems to remember being.  The entire scenario could be the fault of electrons behaving badly, in the quantum sense.  If this story isn’t wholly successful, I did enjoy the ride and the paranoid tone reminiscent of Barry Malzberg. 

If you’re a sucker for death-personified stories (and what Twilight Zone fan isn’t?), you’ll find "The Barrow Man" by Lisa Batya Feld worth reading.  The title character saves the life of a girl during a time of plague, with consequences both predictable and unexpected.  Feld spins some nice twists on the "being-death-is-my-job" subgenre, including some spooky hints about the dispatching of souls.  Gentleman Death’s decision to save young Claire seems a whim he should know better than to indulge, but their relationship and Claire’s growth to an adulthood in which she defies her father figure are affecting just the same.  It’s a solid piece of work, though I found myself wishing for more of a sense of place and time from the author—a medieval studies graduate, after all. 

"Pan de Oro" by J. Stern is a fantasy that’s harder to get a handle on.  The narrator and his (her?) "attendant" Alex live in an impoverished Enlightenment-era Europe, and are performing Faustian alchemical rites so they can transcend space and time.  Ambitious stuff, and perhaps more prose-poem than story.  Stern seems more interested in evoking a mood of striving desperation than actually showing what is going on.  Which is fine, but I found "manifold kaleidoscopic dynamisms that men cannot record from their Ptolemaic perch" rough going. 

"Erin and the Dinosaurs" by Jon Hansen manages to create that believable twentysomething sense of being at loose ends with work, relationships, and everything.  I found Erin, her cheating boyfriend, and especially the untrustworthy other woman who doesn’t even appear on stage, so well-rendered that the dinos in the kitchen seemed almost superfluous.

Rounding out the issue are three short pieces of verse.  Eric Marin’s "words fail" is a selkie’s lament; Peter Roberts’ "& I imagine the end of the world" is a brief world-in-a-grain-of-sand vision; Tim Jamieson offers two untitled "scifaiku," a term coined by the Japanese Forrest J Ackerman and endlessly reviled by the Japanese Harlan Ellison.