I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1 by Jason Sizemore, Lesley Conner
Published by Apex Book Company on January 12 2016
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Horror, Science fiction
Format: Finished paperback
The nitty-gritty: A fantastical gathering of Apex’s best of the last six years, showing a broad range of styles and talents in speculative fiction, with something for everyone.
Apex Magazine has been going strong for six years, and I’m so happy to have read this group of stories selected from among hundreds published over the course of those years. I recently interviewed editors Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner about the process of gathering and selecting stories for this book, so if you missed that interview, I highly recommend you check it out here.
It takes a special kind of focus to write a really good short story, and Best of Apex: Volume 1 brings together a wide variety of stories and authors. If you love speculative fiction at all, I know you’ve heard of some of these authors, but not all of them are household names, which makes discovering them all the more exciting. While I enjoyed each story in one way or another, I have to admit I have my favorites, and so in the interest of time, I’ve decided to share my six favorites with you, and explain why I loved them so much:
L’spirit de L’escalier by Peter M. Ball. By far my favorite story of the bunch! After losing his lover, a grieving man decides to honor her by descending the longest staircase in the world. He takes with him a bag with her ashes, and three sharpies which he’ll use to write messages to her on the stairs as he descends. This story was full of aching sadness, as he tells himself he’ll keep going down the staircase as long as he has things he wants to say to her, after which he’ll stop and climb back up. You could read this story as a metaphor for sinking into grief, but I also loved it for the otherworldly idea of a staircase literally descending into the center of the earth.
The guidebook says that the lowest step anyone has reached is 120,828 steps down. People have probably gone lower, but they haven’t come back. It’s assumed that the suicides make it to the bottom.
If there is one.
If they were lucky.
Going Endo by Rich Larson. This crazy story involves two races of creatures, endos and exos, and delves into their symbiotic relationship, which is so strange and wonderful that I nearly clapped my hands with glee as I was reading! I won’t tell you too much, but I will say I loved the narrator, a “tech” who takes care of an exo named Puck and the tender feelings he develops for her. I loved the odd, futuristic language—”Ye, Puck’s the slickest, quickest, baddest exo in the squad, I brain.”—and the otherworldly quality to the story.
Candy Girl by Chikodili Emelumadu. Another strange tale, I loved the African flavor of this story, about a girl whose ex-boyfriend tries to win her back with a love spell, only to discover that his choice of words has turned the spell into a curse. So funny, a little disgusting, and quite a joy to read.
Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon. You may very well have heard of this story (or even read it yourself) since it’s won a whole bushel of awards, including the Nebula. Ursula Vernon has two stories in this collection, which doesn’t surprise me. Jackalope Wives is a folktale-like story of a race of shapeshifting women who can be “caught” if you burn their animal skins when they are in human form. This story affected me strongly (read: made me cry), and after finishing it I wanted to go searching for every Ursula Vernon story I could find!
Advertising at the End of the World by Keffy R.M. Kehrli. What an odd and sad story this was! A lonely woman, living alone after her husband has died, manages to survive the end of the world after a superflu has devastated the human population. When a group of robotic advertisements stumble into her garden one day, she is shocked to find that they can change their appearance to look like her husband. This was a poignant look at how loss and loneliness affect us and drive us to do things we wouldn’t normally do.
The Performance Artist by Lettie Prell. A powerful and terrifying story about a female performance artist who decides to download her consciousness into a robot—in public, of course. A cautionary tale about merging man and machine, this story shocked me, I suppose much like good performance art might.
A few other stories that really stood out for me: Pocosin by Ursula Vernon, Sexagesimal by Katharine E.K. Duckett, and Still Life (A Sexagesimal Fairy Tale) by Ian Tregillis. Please note that the word “sexagesimal” appears in two titles in this collection, a word I literally read for the first time right here! (Weird, right?)
And here’s a shout-out to the rest of the stories in this collection, all worthy of being included:
If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky
A Matter of Shapespace by Brian Trent
Falling Leaves by Liz Argall
Blood From Stone by Alethea Kontis
Multo by Samuel Marzioli
Keep Talking by Marie Vibbert
Remembery Day by Sarah Pinsker
Blood on Beacon Hill by Russell Nichols
The Green Book by Amal El-Mohtar
Build-a-Dolly by Ken Liu
Armless Maidens of the American West by Genevieve Valentine
She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow by Sam Fleming
My only (small) complaint would be that I would have loved to read a short blurb from each author, describing their inspirations for the stories, which could have easily been added to the author bios at the end of the book.
The bottom line, though, is this: Best of Apex: Volume 1 will blow your mind—in a good way—with some of the most creative, magical, upsetting and thought-provoking stories I’ve read in quite some time. Check out the state of speculative short fiction. I promise, you’ll find something here that will change you in some way, and isn’t that what fiction is supposed to do?
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.