This was a smashing story to end the anthology on. The basic premise — what it is that the narrator is selling — made me laugh with delight as soon as I clocked what it was. And then came the true chilling horror as the details of the premise got successively filled in. No gore, all psychological games, and the ugly enjoyment that comes from watching someone rationalise the impossible.
Summary in one sentence: In a setting that could be either post-apocalyptic or merely futuristic (one sometimes looks at the world’s current trajectory and wonders if there’s any difference), Ash and her lover Rebecca are forced to come to terms with the consequences of decisions that neither of them really wanted to make.
I found this story raised more questions than it answered; it felt lacking in details needed to help me understand the importance of the situation that Ash and Rebecca found them in. As a result, I never quite felt like I was following the conversation properly. This was particularly bothersome in the opening paragraphs when I was unable to tell whether the topic of their conversation was rape, or not — something pretty important to determine so that I can put appropriate content notes on reviews! In this case, I think the answer is “not rape”, but the story still involves a degree of sexual violence that some might wish to stay away from.
Review of Jessica Walsh, “I Wake Up In Strange Places”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 46-50 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
When it came time to settle down and read a story before bed, I picked this one because of its excellent title. It’s the sort of title that clearly has a story behind it, begging to be told, and yet the reader has no idea what kind of story it will be.
The story opens on the unnamed narrator awaking yet again in a strange place, and follows what happens after. It is remarkably factual: As a reader, I get told what happens, but not how or why. And even some of the what questions remain unanswered, as even the narrator themself doesn’t know the answer. In the end, I felt the story lacked resolution: Without the background hows and whys, I didn’t care enough about the narrator for the whats to matter.
Sometimes, all it takes is a single moment for a person’s life to change irrevocably. In “White Noise”, we get to see one of these moments in the life of an unnamed narrator, and to see how she must grapple with the consequences of that moment and the decisions she must take afterwards.
If I had to classify the genre of this story, I’d put it firmly in “paranormal” rather than “horror”; it may read as horror to some, but I found I had figured out what the ending would be too soon for the story to have any uncertainty or weighty anticipation for me.
Three travelers journey across an inhospitable desert, hoping to escape the Guild which pursues them. Their quest is feeling increasingly futile to at least one of their members, a wyrmrider named Adzala, whose wyrn they abandoned eight days ago. The situation grows increasingly dire, until Adzala finds out the truth of why the spellcaster is being hunted by this Guild.
This is probably the most high fantasy story I’ve read in Apex, with a world rife with magical creatures, spellcasting, and political intrigue. Also, a lot of fighting: this is a pretty harsh world, where nobody trusts each other, apparently with good reason. There’s a depth to the world, a sense that there is more happening here than we see in the story. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the author has a novel set in the same world – it’s certainly rich enough for one. It’s also nice to see a fantasy set in an alternate Saharan Africa, instead of the more typical pseudo-European settings.
I had trouble getting emotionally invested in this story. While there is certainly a strong setting, I had some trouble orienting myself in regards to the characters. Jasiri, their fighter, stands out as the only character to push back against the harsh, distrustful norms of the setting to truly care about people and reach out, but he is the only character whose personality felt strongly developed to me. Still, if you’re looking for a fantastic setting and a tense plot, this story delivers.
Content warning: Suicide.
This brief story starts off dark and tremendously sad — Christmas night, a man contemplating suicide, awash with memories of committing his senile mother to care, how in the aftermath he lost not only his mother but his wife and son, too. The thread that runs through all the events and emotions, past and present, is a music box that once played on the man’s mother’s dresser, and which he hoped would one day play for his son. In the end, the song of the music box is, I think, intended to leave the reader with a sense of hope, but I’m not sure how successfully it did so: I just felt rather down after finishing it.
This story — at one page long — is over and done with before it even gets started. It was the story I started off with, and it probably wasn’t the best choice for me; it was too short to be satisfying, and I find the 2nd-person narration grating. However, the final line went a long way to turning around my initial impressions.
(Originally published in Apex Magazine 66).