Apex Digest, #10

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Image"Bad Sushi" by Cherie Priest
"Daydreams" by Lavie Tidhar
"Memories of the Knacker’s Yard" by Ian Creasey
"Pigs and Feaches" by Patrice E. Sarath
"Cain XP11 (Part 2): The Henry Lee Lucas Memorial Highway" by Geoffrey Girard
"Monument" by Nancy Fulda
This issue of Apex Digest is the tenth issue of the quarterly publication billing itself simply as a compilation of “Science Fiction and Horror.”  It contains six short stories, a couple of interviews, some illustrations, and an essay, and clocks in at just about 100 pages long.  It is surprisingly substantial, and the quality overall is surprisingly high.  In the time I’ve been reviewing for Tangent I’ve reviewed at least a couple of dozen such publications (and I’m not certain, but I think I’ve never reviewed the same title twice–how fragmented does the market for these things have to be?), and this is seriously the first one ever that I’m considering buying my own subscription to.  It’s that good.

In "Bad Sushi" by Cherie Priest, an elderly sushi chef realizes that something is wrong with the sushi—really, really wrong.  For me, this entertaining, if not exactly fresh, tale evoked comparisons to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Alien.  The overwhelming gross clamminess that pervades the entire story is quite effective in setting the tone and atmosphere, but I found the early attempt to tie what is happening in the story present to something that happened to the chef during WWII to be unrewarding.  It distracted from the primary storyline, delaying what would have been a much faster start off the chocks without it.  I’d have to call it a pleasant little thing-that-goes-bump-in-the-night story.

In the world with affective dreams, a la The Lathe of Heaven, there needs to be some form of police, a guardian of dreams to try and keep reality stable.  This is the world posited in "Daydreams" by Lavie Tidhar.  One elderly member of the Dream Police (also called the REM squad) is trying to help a woman who is being systematically mutated/mutilated by an unknown assailant in her dreams.  Who is her attacker and what is his purpose?  While I liked the style of this story and thought the concept interesting, I found the mystery somewhat obvious and the conclusion a little flat.  I think to some degree this story suffers, perhaps unjustly, in comparison to the other pieces in the issue, which set a very high bar for achievement.

"Memories of the Knacker’s Yard" by Ian Creasey is one of those rare short stories that creates such an engrossing reality that I’d like to see a novel come out of it.  This reality is based upon two relatively simple ideas.  One, ghosts are real and exist as a sort of ephemeral embodiment of the deceased memories.  Two, cybernetic enhancements have been created that allow people to buy, sell, and trade memories, either between themselves or with ghosts.  These two ideas together ultimately completely transform our society, creating a new racial divide between the dead and the “breathers.”  Our protagonist, a cop, must tread the boundary between the two groups, trying to catch a murderer by locating the memories of the victim.  He goes to where the ghosts congregate, the Knacker’s Yard, where he experiences their hostility and their jealousy, using his own memories (the only currency that holds any real value for the ghosts) to barter for information.  The cop is frustrated and weary, but determined to find his killer.  As outlandish as this all sounds, I nonetheless found this reality vivid, exciting, and completely self-consistent in its rules.  The result is an extraordinary treat indeed.

"Pigs and Feaches" by Patrice E. Sarath is not a story that is going to work for everyone.  A virus that rapidly causes a disease much like Alzheimer’s (the story calls it "Fast A") has spread through much of the population, leaving only little enclaves of functional people.  Two women go plundering in the contaminated part of town and run into one of the inhabitants.  As a guy who lost his mom to Alzheimer’s, I’ve always liked to think that if the disease has any blessing (and it probably doesn’t), it is that the victims have no idea what is happening to them, that they don’t realize their own cognitive collapse.  The story, taking a different tack, is not willing to let me off so easily, the result being both horrific and terribly, terribly sad.  The irredeemable tragedy of the people infected and the loved ones they leave behind is undeniable and scorching.  Though a very good story, I won’t be reading it twice.

If we’re honest with ourselves as horror readers, we have to admit that the days of being genuinely frightened by horror stories are behind us.  I remember getting turn-all-the-lights-in-the-house-on scared by the first Halloween movie almost 30 years ago when I was ten, but, as George Lucas says, that was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  The best I can personally hope for out of horror nowadays is to be vaguely creeped out, and even those thrills are becoming fewer and farther between for jaded old me.  Then something like "Cain XP11 (Part 2): The Henry Lee Lucas Memorial Highway" by Geoffrey Girard comes along, and while it’s probably not going to have me leaving all the lights in the house on, it might give me a shiver down my spine as I look out the window at a particularly dark moonless night and wonder who might be out there in the darkness.  The government is cloning the “greatest” serial killers of all time – a dreadful idea that I think our ethically bankrupt government is just crazy enough to try. The DoD hires an ex-commando to track all the clones down when they escape.  Definitely not for the squeamish, it is nonetheless one of the best stories in the collection.  Incidentally, this is part two of a four-part piece.  The first piece is available online, the last two will be in upcoming issues, but this piece standing alone makes for an excellent story.

"Monument" by Nancy Fulda is just a quickie piece of flash fiction about first contact between humans and an alien race, and how awfully it goes wrong.  The price this mistake costs us and what this says about our humanity are both alluded to in the story but not really answered.  As I’m not a particularly introspective person, the story fell short of making me think more about the universe and our purpose in it, which I think is what the author intended.  Clearly the main character undergoes such introspection and finds himself lacking, or at least disappointed in his race as a whole.