Apex, #2, Summer 2005

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"The Falcon" by James P. Hogan
"Phoenix" by Ken Rand 
"Crucifixation" by Lavie Tidhar
"Nanotech" by Ren Holton
"Not For Children" by Bryn Sparks  
"Bugs in the Wall" by Jonathan Moeller
"Orders" by Jon Hansen 
"An Odd Day in I-Forgot" by Athena Workman
"Thick and Thin" by Peter Hagelslag
"Flash of Light" by James R. Cain
"Union Dues" by K. A. Patterson
I have a good feeling about the future of Apex.  Many SF magazines pop-up, do what all the others have done but a bit poorer, and then vanish.  Apex is made of stronger stuff.  Like the premier issue, which was definitely worth your hard earned nickels (that means if you don’t have it, go right out now and buy a copy), Issue 2 is quite satisfying and a step above the competition.  Every story is skillfully composed.  However, I wasn’t completely absorbed by all of them; a touch of the status quo seeped in.

This issue starts of with "The Falcon," a novella by James P. Hogan.  Myriam lives in a dystopia where a strange change of heart gets her packed off for re-education.  Her dreams take her to another world, one which feels like a Fitzgerald-version of the 1920s South, but is probably the far future.  Or maybe it’s all just a sign of psychosis. 

As it is Hogan, the man who created one of the finest SF novels of the last forty years, Code of the Lifemaker, my expectation was for a skillfully written story.  Hogan is hardly going to fail in his craft.  But this is no Code of the Lifemaker, and while it is finely crafted, it is devoid of artistry.  It isn’t clear if "The Falcon" is a tale of time travel, universe switching, or mental breakdown, and it doesn’t really matter.  So much time is spent on Myriam/Vanessa’s confusion and the jump from one reality to the other, that nothing terribly interesting happens.  Nothing uninteresting either.  Once past Myriam’s initial incarceration, the story grinds to a halt though the words continue.  I couldn’t help thinking that the author’s name, more than the quality of the work, got this published.

Next comes "Thick and Thin," by Peter Hagelslag, which puts things back on the right track.  It follows a dim, shape-shifting “bio-unit” and his symbiotic partner, a nanobot swarm, as they traipse across Venus, encountering hostile machines.  There is a bit of a video game feeling, as our “heroes” encounter enemies and power-up or use combo-attacks to defeat them.  But it’s a really good video game, and there’s just enough character development to make the life and death of these two very odd entities matter.  The conclusion brings new meaning to the word “abrupt” but there is enough fun in the first nine-tenths.       

K. A. Patterson’s "Union Dues" is a short-short that points out that spacedock forklift operators need good union reps—better than cargo-mover Jolson has anyway.  It’s a short, nasty joke that will make you groan, and then on to the next story. 

"Bugs in the Wall" by Jonathan Moeller is a complicated, tricky story that builds a unique and dense world in six pages.  That’s impressive enough to make this a must-read.  It also presents a political/economic struggle, nanotechnology, a little torture, and a twist.  Some stories you summarize; some you don’t.  This is one of the latter.  Instead, I’ll just advise you to read it, and suggest that Moeller expand it to a novel; there is more than enough material.

James R Cain’s "A Flash of Light" is the tale of a woman dealing with myriad life problems masquerading as a high-tech time travel story.  Mia is building a machine that no one on Earth could understand, including Mia.  It certainly will do something when it is finished.  She also has lost all her friends, and her unpleasant ex-husband pops in for a visit to say he’s marrying her one-time best friend.  What’s a girl to do besides turn on the machine?  "A Flash of Light" works, but if Mia had been more interesting—if I had been made to care about her more—it would have worked better.

Some stories pull me in with emotional characters, some with intellectually-stimulating plots, and some with new worlds to imagine.  Athena Workman’s "An Odd Day in I-Forgot" is one of the third.  I found the characters all enjoyable to follow, but afterwards they drifted from my mind.  What stuck was the “town” of I-Forgot, where the misfits and minor criminals of an overly rarefied civilization exist, making trinkets and digging.  They do lots and lots of digging.  The narrative introduces a newbie to the eccentric community with all the difficulties that entails.  I can imagine a collection of short stories about the residents of I-Forgot and would welcome it. 

In the short-short "Crucifixation," by Lavie Tidhar, a robot beggar gets what he can from robot pedestrians, always hoping that along with a spare part and a quart of oil, he might be tossed a little religion.  Is religion nothing more than a pill, one that allows the masses to survive their dreary lives?  It’s always an interesting question, and Tidhar presents a new way to examine it.  This is one that could start discussions around the watercooler.     

Yet another tale of microscopic computers, Ren Holton’s "Nanotech" is the prize of the issue.  In it, a “plain but clever” woman joins a high tech company that is beyond the cutting edge.  Soon, she finds out why it is so advanced, and finds herself the only person who is part of the real advances.  There is no moralizing or whining over what is happening to the world.  The heroine does what she needs to survive, making herself indispensable.  I liked her, immoral realist that she is, and was interested in what she would do next, and what was done to her.  I’m not sure that I should be as supportive of her as I am, but I’m happy to put off moralizing for awhile and simply enjoy the tale.  Afterward, if you so choose, there is plenty to think about, particularly on how easily Holton makes the reader empathize with the protagonist.

Ken Rand’s science fiction story, "Phoenix," has the feeling of high fantasy.  Ann, the wife of a faraway planet’s administrator, finds herself wounded and alone in the mountains after a religious revolution reduces society to spears and superstition.  With her sanity slipping, she must find a way to survive, and perhaps, a reason to live.  Ann’s trials are depressing, meaningful, and slightly too lengthy.  The payoff is worth the trip, but I found myself looking anxiously for that end.

"Not For Children" is listed as being written by Bryn Sparks, but I tend to believe it was actually written by the Brothers Grimm’s older and even grimmer sibling.  It is a fairy tale, told by a witch in a fairy tale, and however you put it together, it is dark.  For fans of this rather narrow subgenre, this is a winner.  If you consider Hans Christian Anderson and his ilk only suitable for children, even when everyone is dying, you’ll want to move along. 

The issue ends with Jon Hansen’s flash piece, "Orders."  In it, arachnophobic Midshipman Mamatis is part of a first-contact mission with a spider-like species.  Flash stories have no time for characters and little for plot.  They toss out an idea and either hit or miss.  This one missed.  While competently composed, the substance was two thin even for a single page.