Short Fiction Review: Apex Magazine Issue 121

Apex Magazine is back!

Apex went on what looked like permanent hiatus while editor-in-chief Jason Sizemore dealt with multiple surgeries for serious health issues (see his editorial in this month’s magazine). But he’s thankfully recovered, and after a successful Kickstarter, he’s re-assembled the Apex editing team, and resurrected the magazine!

Issue 121, then, is their first new issue in almost two years. It’s a double issue, as all of them will be from now on, released every two months. You can grab your own copy here

So let’s dive in! (no spoilers, I promise).

Root Rot, by Fargo Tbakh

Jesus, this story.

Reading it is disorienting at first. There’s a good reason for that, for why the narrator’s voice seems jumbled and confused. But as I read, more and more pieces fell into place, until the very last scene broke my heart.

I wish I could write something this powerful. This moving. An inspiration, and a bar to shoot for.

Your Own Undoing, by P H Lee

Second person, represent!

I usually hate stories told in the second person. All those “You”s feel like commands, and I instinctually kick back against those, and out of the story.

Not so in this case. Lee’s story wove a meta fairy tale around me, a story that was itself an illustration of the conflict at its heart.

If it sounds too clever for its own good, don’t be put off. It’s not. It’s a fantastic story, first and foremost. It’s only afterward, when thinking about it, that its clever structure reveals its shape. Just amazing.

Love, That Hungry Thing, by Cassandra Khaw

This one….this one did feel too clever for its own good, for me.

Not in structure, but in the way it leans so far into the modern (well, post-2004) tendency to leave readers out on a limb. Being confused can work — see the first story, above — for a while, but I (being very careful here, as I know not everyone shares my tastes) tend to get very frustrated if there’s no payoff at the end.

And there’s no payoff in this story, for me. In fact, there’s very little action at all, or even dialog.

A lot of beautiful description, though. Evocative words and phrases that promise glittering insight into this future, but then never cohere into a stable image. Nothing falls into place. It’s an exquisitely described place, though.

Mr Death, by Alix E Harrow

My favorite of the bunch.

I don’t want to say too much, lest I give anything away. Let me just say that this is what I wish the movie Soul had been. Read it. You won’t regret it.

The Niddah, by Elana Gomel

A short story about a global pandemic. Yes, really.

Grey Skies, Red Wings, Blue Lips, Black Hearts, by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor

Had an allergic reaction to this one. Something about another story that drops the reader into a confused space, with no explanation, and calls its main environment “The City.”

All I Want for Christmas, by Charles Payseur

Short, powerful flash piece. Made me shudder.

Keeping Score: February 14, 2020

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I finally, finally, found some time to get some writing done this week. 1,500 words worth.

Very little of that was fiction — I wrote a flash fiction piece that came to me one morning — but still it felt good to get back into the groove of writing and editing.

It helps that my office at the new house is coming together. I’ve got all the boxes of books unpacked, and actually have a path to my desk (though no chair. note to self: find an office chair).

Now all I’ve gotta do is find where all my notes for the novel edits are.

And start exercising again. As soon as I’m not sore from spending every spare minute traipsing up and down stairs with boxes, empty or full.

Flash Fiction Friday: Oct 31, 2014

In honor of Halloween, three personal ads with a horror twist:

Missed connection: Saw you making dinner last night, that blouse really brought out your eyes. I’m a secret Billy Joel fan, too. If you can tell me which album you were listening to, drop me a line, let me watch you have coffee?

DWF seeks M for night of debauchery followed by dinner. Must have nicely-shaped head. No beards.

Where are you, my sweet Rose? We danced while Nero played fiddle, we smuggled rats to Constantinople, we kissed by the light of Giodarno Bruno’s torch. We had a date for five years later, November 5th, but you never showed. Have you forgotten me? Hope to see you in Chicago next year.

Flash Fiction Friday: Oct 24, 2014

Inspired by the tv show Review, today’s flash fiction entry is a critic’s review of my day yesterday, if my life were a television series:

While no doubt the height of neo-realism, the fact remains that in yesterday’s episode our beloved protagonist again spent most of his waking hours sitting at a desk and typing. Where are the coffee shop visits and meeting friends for lunch of past episodes?

And don’t get me started on how little variety this entire season has had compared to the show’s peak (seasons 21 through 25, if you must know. Those seasons had everything: Space! Lasers! Training Montages! Romance! A far cry from the wilderness wandering seasons that followed). Are the writers completely out of new ideas?

Granted, I was intrigued by the homebrewing subplot. There were several different ways they could have gone with that one: a Breaking-Bad type descent into chemistry obsession and bootlegging, or a slow spin into self-enabled alcoholism, the worm eating its own tail so to speak. Of course, head writer Diego Byte couldn’t let anything that interesting happen. We got one party – one! – without any drunken hijinks, and that’s it.

This show desperately needs a return to the glory days of showrunners like D.C. Nassau, or even Phil Conway. They knew how to mix multiple sub-plots while still giving us a visible character arc over the course of the season. As it is, this show still occasionally has a spark of life, but its best years seem to be behind it. 2 stars.

Flash Fiction Friday: Oct 17, 2014

Congratulations on the purchase of your new Samsung by GE™ Instant-Cook Oven™! We hope you’ll agree it’s the best way to prepare hot, healthy meals for you and your family! Please remember us when replacing your unit after its beta-decay period of 6 months is up!

Remember, the most up-to-date version of this manual is available as a video at: http://youllneverreadthis.com. We’ve included this printed copy for those of you who have slow internet connections, live in the Continental US, or were raised in a text-based household.

WARNING: Do not stick your head in the Instant-Cook Oven™ during the winter to keep warm. It won’t lower your energy bills, but it WILL give you a terminal headache!

Your Instant-Cook Oven™ comes with a plethora of features designed to make cooking easier than ever!

For example, to cook a perfect turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, simply:

  • Press POWER to turn the Instant-Cook Oven™ on
  • Press DOWNLOAD to start the recipe selection process
  • Use the Ultra-Sensitive Keypad™ arrows to navigate through the recipes and choose the one you like best
  • When you’ve found a recipe, press SELECT to select it
  • Hit YES to confirm the download
  • Scroll through the Terms of Service and Licensing info for the recipe you’ve selected (read carefully! some recipes have unverified nutritional information) and hit YES to accept
  • Wait for the download to complete, then hit INSTALL to save it to the Instant-Cook Oven™’s recipe book (myRecipes™)
  • Hit MENU to go back to the main menu, then hit RECIPES to find the new recipe in myRecipes™
  • Use the Ultra-Sensitive Keypad™ arrows to select the recipe you downloaded, then hit SELECT
  • Hit YES to confirm your selection
  • Press COOK. Use the Ultra-Sensitive Keypad™ to enter the number of guests, their religio-ethnic background, current Vegan status, and country of citizenship. You may use the GuestBook™ (see page 1,337) to select from previous guests, so you don’t have to enter their information again.
  • Have each guest complete a retinal scan to confirm identity, and verbally accept the recipe’s Terms of Service and Licensing Agreement. If your guests have not yet arrived, you may send a TastyInvite™ (see page 442) to them so they can confirm and accept at their convenience.
  • Once all your guests have confirmed, you’re ready to COOK!
  • Open the Raw hatch (see page 921) on your Instant Cook Oven™ and check your Corn Pellet level. It should be above the Minimum Level Bar (see page 145) to continue. WARNING: cooking a recipe without adequate Corn Pellets can result in fire.
  • Close the Raw hatch, and press COOK
  • Press YES to confirm cooking
  • Wait for the ChowAlarm™ to sound, letting you know your food is ready!

Flash Fiction Friday: Oct 10, 2014

Three more three-sentence flash fiction stories, this time in the genres of Comedy, Romance, and Mystery.

Comedy

The CEO droned on and on about how well he’d been listening to his employees’ concerns. By the end of the meeting, the Board had hit on a plan to address the biggest complaint.The next Monday, half of the employees got pink slips, the other half got cards that said “Congratulations! We’ve doubled the size of your cubicle!”

Romance

Her smile pulled at his heart, his laugh put her at ease. Their hands met while watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, their fingers entwined, a knot holding them together. By the time they whispered “I love you” it was no longer needed: every glance, every touch, every kiss already said it.

Mystery

Detective Yarborough threw the typed pages down in despair: three people, three confessions, none of which matched up to the evidence. The wife was out of town when the vic was killed, the maid was locked out after 10pm and the business partner had never raised a hand in anger in his life. Yarborough put the pieces together in his mind – no body for an autopsy, a large life insurance policy, three killers that could never be convicted – and booked all three as accessories to insurance fraud: helping a guy fake his own death was still a crime.

Flash Fiction Friday: Oct 3 2014

Inspired by one of Chuck Wendig‘s Flash Fiction Challenges, I’m posting three flash fiction stories today, each three sentences long, and each in a different genre.

Horror

The Infection was spreading up her leg, converting flesh and clothes into an amorphous green tentacle. Anne pulled her belt loose for a tourniquet, tying it off a few inches above her knee. Then she lifted the hacksaw, set it just below the tourniquet, and sawed through.

Fantasy

With the dragon dead, the town didn’t need a hero anymore. Bjorn spent his days bragging and his nights drinking, his armor hung up at home, rusting. When he died, they couldn’t fit him into it.

Science-Fiction

He could see into my memories, read the very core of my soul. We met in a chat room, in those heady days before the Regulation. Since he was Deleted, all I have left of him now is his Worm inside me, spreading random bytes of his code wherever I go.