Apex Science Fiction & Horror Digest, Volume 1: Issue 8, Winter 2006

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Image“Madness Blows on the Winds of History” by Tom Piccirilli
“Blood Baby” by Jennifer Pelland
“A Place of Snow Angels” by Matt Wallace
“Genesis Six” by Shane Jiraiya Cummings
“The Death Singer” by John B. Rosenman
“Mommy, Daddy, and Mollie” by William F. Nolan
“Last Chance Morning” by Timothy Waldron Semple
“Babble” by M.M. Buckner
“Temporal Spiders, Spatial Webs” by Lavie Tidhar
“Temple IV: Incarnations of Immortality” by Steven Savile

Apex Digest
does something I really like; the magazine provides a brief biography of the author before each story, giving readers an instant point of reference if they are intrigued by a story. The offerings are diverse, and there is a balance of new voices and seasoned veterans. A common thread in several stories is the idea of destiny, both in terms of those created and those to be fulfilled.  It’s heady stuff, and providing readers with points to ponder is one of the things Apex Digest does best. Read the Winter 2006 issue to find provocative stories which shock, titillate, and leave the reader wanting more.

“Madness Blows on the Winds of History” by Tom Piccirilli is a lyrical exploration of the madness that ensues if everything that ever mattered to someone is completely destroyed and the lengths a person will go to in order to avenge that loss. Protagonist Tobalt Tre hunts through the millennia listening to the songs of his dead children, hoping to finally corner his quarry, a man named Thompson, who he believes is responsible for the destruction of his and numerous other worlds.

Piccirilli imbues Tobalt Tre with depth and purpose and crafts a character that is both alien and all too easy to connect with. The reader feels his horror in the face of so much death and isolation, and the hunt for Thompson becomes the reader’s hunt, too. When the nefarious foe makes his appearance, the tale spins the reader almost 360 degrees as Piccirilli shows the degree of Thompson’s humanity as he tells the tale of the true cause of the devastation.

“Madness Blows on the Winds of History” is well worth reading, both for the richness of Piccirilli’s characterization and the beauty of his language. The story provides much to ponder. This is a science fiction tale with underpinnings of deep horror. Fans of both genres should come away satisfied.

“Blood Baby” by Jennifer Pelland explores the consequences of trying to escape your destiny.  The only thing Kaia Wallravens can think about is one day having her own baby. This seems to become a distinct impossibility when she is chosen to be the next “blood woman,” chosen to sacrifice her menstrual blood each month to the demon that holds the life of the valley in its hands. Things take a turn for the macabre when Kaia throws destiny—and the fate of the people of Cloister Valley—to the wind and sets out to create a life of her own making.

Pelland has crafted a solid story, and the punishment inflicted upon Kaia is unquestionably just. I have to say, I didn’t care for “Blood Baby,” mostly because I didn’t care for Kaia. If other readers can find a reason to empathize with her, reactions may be different.

The setting that the title of Matt Wallace‘s story, “A Place of Snow Angels,” alludes to seems like it would be picturesque, an excellent place to visit if it wasn’t the end of the world. Arctic winter has set in, and Joshua has been genetically engineered to control the weather, and in the process, save the world. For some, he is a potential messiah, for others something that must be destroyed. That’s a tall order for a boy under the age of ten. Nevertheless, Joshua seems more than able. The problem is, like most young boys, Joshua has interests of his own.

I thoroughly enjoyed “A Place of Snow Angels.” Joshua was an engaging character, and the idea that man should be careful what he wishes for is always an affecting message. I also appreciated the aptness of the author’s choice of name. "Joshua" is a Hebrew word that translates into “God saves” or “God is salvation.”

“Genesis Six” by Shane Jiraiya Cummings also deals with the end of the world, but in an entirely different way. It is the time of the unmaking, and Jessica is racing to save herself and her child, Libby. Libby thinks the sound she hears is the ocean, but in realty it’s everything she has ever know being swallowed up into a black void.

This is a tightly-written tale that hits on many different ideas, from the sacrifices one makes for love to the lengths we will go to survive. Protagonist Jessica is a woman dancing on the edge, and the cost she must pay for a passing folly provides the most interesting facet of “Genesis Six.” Vivid imagery contrasts neatly with the dark underpinnings of the reason for the devastation. While the story has a definite conclusion, it left me wanting to know more about Jessica, Libby, and their past and potential future.

I got caught up in the image of the Jax sitting by the protagonist’s bed in the “The Death Singer” by John B. Rosenman. The creature sounds like the last thing anyone would want hanging around while they’re on the brink of death; I suspect seeing it would expedite the process. The dialogue between Musen and Weinstein or Musen’s musings while in the throes of an alien virus are not particularly compelling, but the underlying concept of a death singer is appealing. Most people will undoubtedly appreciate the idea of living in a world where they are never alone, even in death.

In “Mommy, Daddy, and Mollie” by William F. Nolan, the voice of a petulant eleven-year-old boy, Bruce, is captured perfectly. Bruce tells his tale in an easy to follow and often enjoyable way. This story is also short, although anything but sweet, making it a quick read.  It is, however, also predictable. Once the reader learns Mommy and Daddy’s fate, what befalls Mollie is a foregone conclusion. Still, “meeting Bruce and hearing his interesting perspective on life is fun in a dark and twisted way.

“Last Chance Morning” by Timothy Waldron Semple is full of striking images, from the taste of a ripe peach to the feel of being smashed like a pancake. Protagonist Hostler is nine days away from execution when another inmate, Foxy, offers him a chance at salvation. Whether or not Hostler is willing to take the chance and if the risk will be rewarded make up the bulk of the tale. I found myself liking Hostler, even when it becomes apparent he was in prison for good reason. While the story does flirt with some prison tale clichés, it also transcends them.

The most horrific thing in “Babble” by M.M. Buckner is a man. That’s significant considering one of the main characters, Frank, spends most of the story trying to convince the other characters that a spot in Tennessee called Horn Hill is haunted. The characterization is excellent. Frank is every blowhard in a bar who will spin out the most amazing stories if you just buy him another beer. The narrator is everyone who has ever had to listen to the Franks of the world one too many times. Last but not least, the recounted newspaper stories of violence and mysterious occurrences are vividly realized, and there is some dark, compelling imagery. In the end, I’m not so sure Frank was wrong.

“Temporal Spiders, Spatial Webs” by Lavie Tidhar is both bizarre and appealing— bizarre because the “Spider” in question isn’t a sentient life form, appealing because regardless of this, the reader comes to care deeply about its fate. Tidhar crafts the kind of contrasts that really get the gray matter going and provide a window into another realm. This realm is similar to our own but that occupies a space and time all its own. Definitely take the time to savor this very brief bite of Spider’s world.

The last fiction offering in the winter issue of Apex is “Temple IV: Incarnations of Immortality” by Steven Savile. Temple is haunted by the dead. On top of that, he’s also suffering from amnesia. Bearing a silver cross, he avoids the silver-eyed dead as he travels through the cities of Europe, finally landing in Paris. There he searches for his identity while death and disease follow in his wake. It is the dead he unconsciously calls to himself who finally lead him toward the information he seeks.

Savile uses colorful language and good characterization to carry his tale. The disorientation and confusion that Temple experiences are shared by the reader, and layers of understanding unfold for us as they do for him. Temple learns parts of his tale from the dead; for instance, a woman named Katja points him in the direction he must go and reminds Tower that Nathaniel Glass is his real name. Secondary characters like her provide context and add depth. Little details scattered throughout, like street names and the fairy tale, Rapunzel, make a big impact.

Savvy readers may guess who Temple really is based on the title and the opening paragraphs of the story. Don’t let that deter you.  The story Savile spins is a complex one and well worth the time.