REVIEW: “The Pulse of Memory” by Beth Dawkins

Review of Beth Dawkins, “The Pulse of Memory”, Apex Magazine 116 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

It is generally agreed that, on a generation ship, nothing can be wasted. But what about memories? In this unusual story, people have discovered a way to recycle the memories of the dead, so that no knowledge or experience will be truly lost. How is this feat accomplished? Through fish. The fish eat people before they die, and then teenagers eat the fish when they come of age, thus gaining the memories of the people that fish dined on. It’s morbid, but effective.

The brilliance of this story lies not in the idea of memory-eating fish (though that’s a pretty great conceit), but in the way it shows how different people respond to this practice. Society is not a monolith, even in the constrained environment of a generation ship. Some people feel an almost religious reverence for the fish, others are disgusted by them, and some yearn to do away with them entirely. It’s a rich and organic source of conflict, and one that is too rarely used in most stories, making this story all the more sweet for really exploring it.

For such a strange (and at times, confusing) story, Dawkins keeps us grounded with a strong point-of-view character. Cal’s love for the fish, and for the role they serve in society, provides the reader with a hand to hold from beginning to end. This story gives us a unique take on generation ships, a staple of science fiction, and I’m grateful to have read it.

REVIEW: “Captain Midrise” by Jim Marino

Review of Jim Marino, “Captain Midrise”, Apex Magazine 115 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

The Golden Crusader is not what he used to be. His flying is slower, and more unsteady. He never gets more than six stories above the ground, and he seems to float more than glide, a strange balloon bobbing far above the sidewalk. He still foils crimes, still saves people, but tourists and locals alike miss the excitement of the old days, when he was a blur of motion speeding through the city.

This is the story of a journalist trying to understand what has happened to the city’s hero, to his hero. The idea that people would turn against a superhero for a lessening in their impossible powers should be ridiculous, but it’s painfully plausible. People do not like seeing that their heroes can be flawed, can be imperfect, can suffer, and there’s no reason to expect that wouldn’t extend to the kind with superpowers and capes.

I appreciate the restrained tone that Marino used. It sets us up for the ending, where journalist and hero finally talk, and we get a final, uncomfortable glimpse into the truth: that for all his powers, the Golden Crusader is only human. Recommended for anyone who likes superheroes and is in the mood to reflect a bit on what the presence of one might actually be like.

REVIEW: “Girls Who Do Not Drown” by A.C. Buchanan

Review of A.C. Buchanan, “Girls Who Do Not Drown”, Apex Magazine 115 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

On an unnamed island in the cold ocean, girls grow up knowing that the sea may kill them as they grow up, when glashtyns will come to lure them beneath the waves. That is the way it has always been and the way it will always be. For Alice, this destiny is complicated by the fact that everyone else thinks she is a boy. But when a glashtyn comes for her anyway, she realizes that if the water horse can see what she really is, then someone else may figure it out too. She walks into the ocean.

The writing and the storytelling here floored me. It’s a simple story on the surface, but Buchanan brings forward every ounce of pathos, delivering it to the reader like an offering. There is violence here, and a deep isolation, but it never feels overwrought. If anything, the descriptions are surprisingly restrained, and the mirroring of supernatural and real-world themes is allowed to speak for itself.

I am not ashamed to admit that the ending of the story made me cry. It is a good ending, and more hopeful than I would have believed. I won’t spoil it beyond what you can infer from the title, but this is a beautiful, resonant story.

REVIEW: “On the Day You Spend Forever with Your Dog” by Adam R. Shannon

Review of Adam R. Shannon, “On the Day You Spend Forever with Your Dog”, Apex Magazine 115 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

This is a story about love and loss and time travel. What if a physicist had to put their beloved dog to sleep? What if they already had theories about time travel? What if they wanted to just one more day with their pet?

I appreciate that this story never descends into the saccharine, despite the sentimental subject matter. This could easily devolve into something sickly sweet, and while there is certainly a place for rainbow bridges and pets looking down on us from above, this story is not that. Instead, it evokes feelings of loss and hopelessness and desperation, finally focusing in on what it really means to love someone who you are destined to lose.

But don’t think this is all emotion – the specifics of time travel within this story are both unique and detailed. While time travel is definitely used as a metaphor, the story also works as science fiction, with a well thought out explanation of how it works and why.

I think this story will speak to anyone who has ever loved an animal, but be warned, it may make you cry.

REVIEW: “Riding the Signal” by Gary Kloster

Review of Gary Kloster, “Riding the Signal”, Apex Magazine 114 (2018): Read Online. Originally published in InterGalactic Medicine Show, 29 (2012). Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Alec Chu is a member of an elite squad of remote control mercenaries, who pilot bots to carry out private battles in relative safety. He’s good at the work, and it’s a solid paycheck, until one day his base comes under attack.

This is a solid story about the difference between a soldier and someone who simply fights for a living. Alec (as well as his team leader, a true veteran) struggles with the fact that his team, while highly competent, lacks the unity, trust, and focus that true soldiers possess. As the story goes on, he has to see if he can find that kind of dedication within himself.

This is a more action-heavy story than I usually find in Apex, which I’m sure will please some people, and disappoint others. It’s well-written, so if lengthy action sequences appeal to you, then you will likely enjoy this departure from their usual fare.

REVIEW: “Master Brahms” by Storm Humbert

Review of Storm Humbert, “Master Brahms”, Apex Magazine 114 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Seven versions of Master Brahms live together – six synths, or clones, and the original. Synths don’t like to think about being synths, so the original allows them each the illusion of such as much as possible. Things come to a head when six Brahms find that the seventh has been murdered by one of the remaining six, and the house computer has been compromised by whichever is the killer.

This is a satisfying closed room murder mystery. The murder is intriguing, but is also not the main point. No, the real question of this story is: which Brahms is the original? Deep down, that is the only question that matters to any of them, and the murder is just a way to bring that question into the foreground for them. I’ve read plenty of stories about clones, but I don’t recall ever seeing one about how a clone would psychologically cope with being a clone before. This is fresh, fascinating territory.

REVIEW: “Godzilla vs Buster Keaton, Or: I Didn’t Even Need a Map” by Gary A. Braunbeck

Review of Gary A. Braunbeck, “Godzilla vs Buster Keaton, Or: I Didn’t Even Need a Map”, Apex Magazine 114 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Glenn’s sister, Janice is dying of AIDS. She is raunchy and funny and loud, and refuses to sanitize her experience for anyone’s else’s comfort. Glenn is withdrawn and hurting and really, truly trying his best, but he doesn’t think it’s good enough. Before she goes, she arranges for him to receive a gift that she hopes will help him.

This story is a poignant, realistic depiction of people dealing with death in all of the messy, ugly, ways that real people do. And yet, in the end, the story circles around to a kind of peace that defies expectation. If I give you too many hints into how we get there, it might deprive you of fully experiencing the journey, and that would be a shame.