Saturday, February 8, 2014

Review: The Book of Apex: Volume Four of Apex Magazine

I’m really happy to be participating in the blog tour for The Book of Apex : Volume Four of Apex Magazine, and I would like to thank Little Red Reviewer for organizing this fun month-long event in the SFF reviewing corner of the internet.

The Book of Apex : Volume Four of Apex Magazine is a collection of short fiction published in year four of the Apex Magazine.  These stories are weird, surprising, and generally carry a nice emotional punch.  I enjoyed reading all of them.  Some of them were by authors I was familiar with, but others introduced me to new writers whose work I will most likely enjoy in the future!  Today, I’m going to review a few of the ones that ended up being my favorites, and I’d also like to remind you that I will be hosting a post from Thoraiya Dyer on February 22nd!

In Thoraiya Dyer’s The Second Card of the Major Arcana, someone has awakened a sphinx, which promptly sets out to rid her realm of fools.  I think that feeling aggravation about the stupidity of some parts of humanity is not unusual, and neither is a passing wish that the more foolish parts of humanity simply did not exist.  Past that, though, most people would discard this passing idea as immoral—for who could possibly decide with impartiality and accuracy which humans deserved existence, and which did not? I’m fairly certain that anyone who brings up this argument would consider themselves worthy of existence, but that can only be a subjective decision. 

In this story, someone has gone a step further, waking a judge from ancient days to separate the wise from the fools.  Of course, the definition of wisdom has changed over the years, and the sphinx’s method of judgment may come as quite a shock. Will the sphinx be able to find wisdom in the modern world?     

A light-hearted response to a similar dilemma comes from Eugie Foster’s Trixie and the Pandas of Dread. Trixie is a young goddess whose domain is the smiting of jerks.  The level of jerks she hunts are, for instance, people who leave racist comments on Youtube videos. It’s easy to believe that humanity would be better off without these kinds of people, but, for reasons mentioned above, it’s also necessary to accept that judging those who are or are not worthy of existence is an impossible and immoral task.  Of course, within the confines of fiction, it can be positively hilarious to see Trixie dealing out highly disproportionate punishments to minor offenders who are just truly awful inside.  I have to say, though—unlike a certain character in the story—Trixie would not be invited to my wedding!

Continuing with the idea of judgment, there’s also Mari Ness’s Labyrinth, where ritual executioners wait in the center of a maze to ‘dance’ with the condemned.  The main character accepts the sacred duty of the dance, and she does not question the validity of their method.  When she accompanies one of her daughters in her first execution dance, though, things do not go as expected.  I loved the form of this one, and the balance of the story from beginning to end.

Another view of justice can be seen in Brit Mandelo’s Winter Scheming, in which the abusive Harvey is stalked by a tawny owl that will not let her forget her crimes. I think it’s got to be hard to write an engaging story from a villain’s point of view, without making that villain in any way sympathetic.  It was uncomfortable to read Harvey’s words and actions, but I was very interested to see that she was forced the face the consequences of her actions against a woman from her past.

There were also some stories that projected forward certain modern pop cultural and artistic trends.  For instance, Lettie Prell’s The Perfomance Artist, featured a modern artist who puts together a very unusual exhibit.  Incorporating the idea of uploading human consciousness, she makes her life an interactive work of art.  I thought this was a very creative approach to the idea of uploading minds, and I could see this being a subject of art, were the technology ever available.

Other stories presented creative takes on reality television.  In Cat Rambo’s So Glad We Had This Time Together, supernatural creatures are put together in a “Big Brother”-style reality show, a decision that proves to have disastrous consequences.  Sarah Dalton’s Sweetheart Showdown combines beauty pageants, gladiatorial arenas, and the cultural obsession with youth, beauty, and cuteness.  Both situations seemed shallow and commercial in the beginning, but moved forward to surprisingly dark results.

In addition to this small collection of favorites, there are many excellent stories in this collection that I have neglected to mention.  If any of these stories strikes your interest, The Book of Apex has these and many more stories to offer!


  1. What I love about this blog tour is that everyone is reviewing different stories in the collection.

    Sweetheart Showdown, what a crazy, weird, unexpected story! I'm still trying to wrap my head around Winter Scheming, I really did not like the main character, and of course, I don't think we're supposed to. I really enjoyed Labyrinth and So Glad We Had This Time Together.

    1. I hope that between all of us, we cover them all :). I definitely don't think we're supposed to like the main character of Winter Scheming, which is what made it so unusual in my mind. I really didn't expect Sweetheart Showdown to take such a dark turn!