The website of UK writer Dan McNeil

APEX DIGEST | Volume 1: Issue 7

| 2006
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Apex nearly died a while ago, which means that in a parallel world, this issue never appeared. Or in another parallel world, it did appear, but on Gliese 581c, as a William Morris wallpaper pattern, perhaps called Apex Red House, Pattern Number 7.

Anyway, Mr Editor Sizemore emailed his readers to ask for help, and help they did. This suggests either that his readers are gullible fools, or that they’re rather discerning, and know a good small press magazine when they see it. If Pattern Number 7 is representative of the Apex oeuvre, I’d say the latter applies.

So, what of the content? In more or less the order of the contents (which is more or less the order in which I read the contents), we have:

Grass Land, by Michael Laimo. Reminiscent of more than a few Philip K Dick stories (and that’s no bad thing – if good SF is about anything, it’s about appropriation and re-mixing of past tropes), Grass Land is a variation on the spaceship-crash-lands-on-a-very-weird-planet-where-things-go-from-bad-to-badder scenario. The grass may be greener on the other side, but the local grounds maintenance team in Grass Land deliver a killer cut. This is my joint favourite piece – brisk, good fun and deliciously nasty.

Children At Play, by Joshua Steiner is the children-at-play-oh-look-here-comes-a-monster-but-is-it-a-dream-or-is-it-even-worse scenario. As a story, it’s not my cup of Gliesian tea (in other words, this is an entirely subjective and other-worldly criticism), but it’s a well-written piece that delivers an entirely unexpected ending.How To Raise A Human, by Deb Taber. This is by far the weakest story in Apex #7. Boring and derivative, it veers in an apparently undecided way between cod-instruction manual and un-horrific horror pastiche. For a lesson in how to properly write this style of story, look no further than Fun With Your New Head, by Thomas M Disch.

Promise Them Aught, by Marlissa Campbell. A short satire (with some nice horror) of children, gullibility, political promises (broken, naturally), the medical profession and human apathy. A close second to Grass Land.

The Tow, by James Reilly. Despite being set miles from space, The Tow reminded me strongly of Alien (the original, not the overblown sequel). A nice line in body invasion. Reads like a second draft (the ending was a bit underwritten), but enjoyable nonetheless.

Kissing Cousins, by Neil Ayres. I’m sure I’ve reviewed this story somewhere else, and I’m sure that when I reviewed it somewhere else I said it was pretty good. Anyway, this is pretty good. In style, Neil Ayres reminds me of a John Christopher /JG Ballard hybrid (that’s a Very Good Thing). A Very English Style. Good bits: Croydon – obliterated (and why not). A burnt-out Ford Escort (no car more deserves being burnt-out than a Ford Escort, let me tell you). This is dystopia of a very personal kind, and a joint second best story alongside Promise Them Aught.

That Old Sandlands Fever, by Douglas F Warrick. Audio books, shooting and hanging? Apparently, this is Mr Warrick’s first sold story. I hope to see more. Short and tasty.

Doxies, by Brandon Alspaugh. Missing father, cold and repressed mother, hybrid girl with wings…maybe. A clever and subtle tale.

The Death Of Self: Temple Part 3, by Steven Savile. The writing seems curiously old-fashioned, and I found this story hard to understand. Having not read parts 1 and 2 though, I’m probably being overly harsh, not to mention exceedingly thick.

The Minotaur’s Rabbit, by Beth Wodzinski. Solar flares, frogs, unkind humans and rabbit love. Short, sublime and surreal. Joint first favourite with Grass Land.

As well as the above, I gorged on interviews with Michael Laimo and Tim Powers (both of them interesting and quite nourishing), essays from Lavie Tidhar (the vampire can be seen as the ultimate product of the enlightenment) and Alethea Kontis (Americans have absolutely no idea how to drive) and a poem from Brandy Schwan.

Despite one duff story, this is a very good collection. May those that saved Apex (or Apex Red House, if you live on Gliese 581c) live long and prosper.

©Dan McNeil 2006
[This review first appeared in Whispers of Wickedness]