Apex Magazine, ed. Lesley Conner. Issue #134 (November 2022). Online at apex-magazine.com.
Reviewed by Storm Blakley
Apex Magazine’s January issue was a collection that made me think of bargains and agreements, and how those can change our perspectives on the things that really matter. Those bargains can be dangerous things, especially when made with powerful beings and magic. Whether we knowingly sign them or not, the consequences are inevitable; some bring about redemption, while others are simply dangerous.
Deals with ancient, powerful beings usually have strings attached. Isabel J Kim’s “The Big Glass Box and the Boys Inside” pulls the myth of the fae into the modern world, where of course those deals would be made in large office buildings, with carefully crafted bespoke contracts. I quite liked this story, a tale of queer summer love, interning for something to put on resumes, hoping to be made Partner, and the betrayal of our own hearts, when they, perhaps aided by the Fae in their inscrutable machinations, outwit us without us quite knowing how. In the end, perhaps we were wrong about what was most important, even if we were so sure when we first signed on.
“Carnival Ever After” by Mari Ness surprised me. In many fairy tales, there are a good child and a bad child. The good child has their wish granted and lives happily ever after, but what about the bad child, the one cursed instead of blessed? They are usually driven away, their curse making them something shameful, that no good upstanding people would keep around. When we read the old stories, they disappear, because what good are they now? Their purpose is done, they’ve proven the moral theme to the story. But maybe they found a place, a group of fellow freaks and through them learned what family really is; those who have your back, who love and support you. What if, then, the “blessed” ones came back, and begged for you to go with them, now that the blessing had turned, and they needed you? Would you go? Or would you stay with your real family, the one you found?
Last of the short stories, we have “The Immortal Game”, by Lindz McLeod, and this one might be my favourite of the issue. This, too, deals with choices, bargains; even if they’re unspoken, they can still bind. It unfolds with the moves of a chess match, and like that historied game, the tension picks up masterfully as the game progresses. Unspoken agreements are tricky, and when magic is involved, it’s best to be wary; the devil’s in the details, after all, and being unaware can be dangerous. Better to know as much as possible, before taking on those with the power, the true predators, who are not always the ones you’d expect.
Some binding agreements we have no choice in, and that’s the case in Sagan Yee’s “Experimental Protocol for the Coronal Sectioning and Assessment of a Human Soul”, Apex Magazine’s first ever flash, which was unlocked through their last Kickstarter campaign. We don’t have a choice in being born, but we do in our actions throughout our lives, and those may perhaps affect what happens to us after we die. In this flash, we witness the memories of a person as their soul is extracted, carved down to its component pieces, and weighed in making that judgment. How many bad choices will affect the outcome of what comes after death? How many good ones negate one bad? Most will never know.
Each of the authors in this issue did a masterful job in each story, crafting worlds that felt lived in and real, with protagonists I found myself cheering for. I was invested in each one, wondering at what in their lives had brought them to this point, and after each story ended, I wanted more. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire issue, and would highly recommend.