Issue 44 of Apex Magazine leads off with “Trixie and the Pandas of Dread” by Eugie Foster. It would take a hard heart to resist a story that starts like this: “Trixie got out of her cherry-red godmobile and waved away the flitting cherubim waiting to bear her to her sedan chair.” In the world Foster has created, one can become a god when the Karma Committee appears at her door bearing prizes akin to the Publishers Clearinghouse bonanza. Trixie uses her power to get rid of the jerks who write sexist, homophobic or racial comments on public internet forums. Can we all agree that we really need a goddess like this? But the work is growing less satisfactory lately; Trixie is having a mid-goddess crisis. The story is about how she gets past it, and it is as satisfying as it is funny.
Lettie Prell’s “The Performance Artist” asks serious questions about what constitutes life in a world where people can download themselves into computers. The questions are brought home by an artist who showcases her transformation from living human to — what? Is she still a living human being at the end of the story? Are we fully formed by body and brain, or are we still alive if all that remains is a disembodied brain? The story is also about the shallowness of our society, our seemingly unrelenting desire to watch disasters occur before our very eyes. You could spend a lifetime thinking about the philosophical issues raised in this short story.
“The Patrician” by Tansy Rayner Roberts is about a young girl, Clea, who encounters a man who has been around for a very long time, charged with killing the monsters of myth. She first meets him when he is battling a trio of lamia, which he defines as a type of vampire that seduces young men and drinks their blood. As her brother is the presumed victim of the last remaining lamia after a fire kills two of them, Clea is mildly interested (as teenage sisters will be) in the dispatch of the final lamia. But Clea’s encounters with the man do not end with this original encounter, for she continues to see him throughout her life, and often aids him in his battles with mythological monsters. There is little that is new or startling in this story, but it is well-told and enjoyable.
Each issue of Apex Magazine contains a non-fiction piece that’s just as enjoyable as the fiction. This issue offers “All the (Real) Geek Girls” by Sarah Kuhn, about the recent kerfuffle over girls and women who dare to call themselves nerds or geeks, and the boys and men who wish to deny them that title. It’s not clear why males wish to exclude females from identifying themselves as, essentially, social outcasts, but they do, and they’re quite vicious about it. Having been a debater throughout high school and college (often finding myself the only woman in the room) and is now a lawyer (still often finding myself the only woman in the room), I sympathize with Kuhn and others like her. Male privilege sure finds odd places to crop up.
The issue closes with an interview with Eugie Foster conducted by Maggie Slater. I found Foster’s discussion of writing while working full-time to be especially informative; writerly discipline confounds and fascinates me.
Issue 45 has a Shakespearean theme. Kat Howard’s “The Face of Heaven So Fine” takes “Romeo and Juliet” as its theme, with a Juliet with whom everyone falls in love at first sight. Juliet takes plenty of lovers, but there is a price: it’s a one-time deal, and in return for the sex, Juliet will take a bit of your skin, a perfect scar sliced from a spot of Juliet’s choice. “She was a love story with a knife, and a tattoo of an apothecary’s vial.” The idea is pretty much the story, and it wraps when Juliet explains why she does what she does.
“Zebulon Vance Sings the Alphabet Songs of Love” by Merrie Haskell is a tale of a world in which robots are actors, each assigned a single role in a single play for their entire existence. They can play the role in the manner of any actor from any time period, at the choice of the patron who will watch the play. Even the worst versions of the character are among their repertoire. Robot!Ophelia rebels one day and wanders away from the AutoGlobe Theater in which she normally performs. She roams the entertainment district, ultimately meeting the title character who, to her surprise and shock, is a human and not a robot. Their encounter changes Robot!Ophelia for good.
“Mad Hamlet’s Mother” by Patricia C. Wrede is told from the viewpoint of Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother. She suffered mightily at the hands of the elder Hamlet before he died; he beat her. She sees signs of the same sort of violence in her son, which causes her sorrow as well as fear. She had hoped his was her image, not his father’s. It causes her even greater sorrow when she realizes what Claudius did to free her of her first husband, when she is forced to conclude that Claudius is just as mad as his brother. When Claudius bids her not to drink from the cup of wine intended for Hamlet, she has a choice to make, and she makes it — knowingly.
The best story in this issue is “My Voice is in My Sword” by Kate Elliott, about a production of “Macbeth” that stars a spoiled Star of holies and interactives who tries to steal every scene in the play. But his conduct is even worse than that: he feels privileged to touch every female in the cast intimately and to hurt every male. They dare not complain, because they are only the second group of humans asked to perform for an alien race, and the Star’s studio has bankrolled the expedition. The aliens, colloquially called the Squats even though humans aren’t supposed to use such a derogatory word (they’re really the Squanishta), are polite to a fault, treating the humans with great dignity, even when the Star behaves like a boor. Perhaps it’s because they are empathic. And thereby hangs a tale — one that Elliott tells well.
Sarah Monette’s contribution is a scholarly article about “Hamlet” called “Welcome to the Reformation, Bitches.” It’s not a title you’d find in a typical journal of literary criticism, but it’s some of the best criticism I’ve read lately. Monette explains why Hamlet hesitates in a way I’ve not read elsewhere, a way that makes perfect sense from a religious and cultural perspective. I wish all criticism were as accessible and fun to read.
The interview in this issue is Maggie Slater’s interview of Kate Elliott. Slater asks good questions, such as how a writer determines how long a story should be, from a short story to a seven book series, and Elliott gives some real insight into her work.
I was startled to realize that all of the stories, articles and interviews in both these issues were written and conducted by women. That’s not one of Apex Magazine’s aims; it’s published plenty of fiction by men. It is a refreshing coincidence!