Paula Guran Reviews Short Fiction: The Dark, Nightmare, and Apex

The Dark 5/19, 6/19
Nightmare 6/19, 7/19
Apex 5/19

The Dark #48 offers two new stories. In Angela Slatter‘s “The Wilderling“, isolated, bored, childless LP is fascinated with a feral child who visits her yard. One might expect LP to do something other than what she does for or with the savage kid. Mystery grows as LP’s actions defy expectation. Slatter, with perfect pacing and accomplished writing, teases our hopes then shatters us at the end.

An isolated woman is also at the center of the issue’s other original, “The Wiley” by Sara Saab. Manon is the sole woman on a team that created a program that has, in 2003, made her wealthy. Work cut her off from most human interaction and, after her success, she remained secluded. The program she helped create brings widespread blackout, “the” Mean­while, she discovers she shares her home with The Wiley, a dark reflection of her aloneness. Fifty years on, Manon relates the true story of how the was defeated and The Wiley’s role in it. In some ways, the story is a throwback to the sci-fi/horror misguided scientists and mon­sters; in others it is far more thoughtful.

Another two originals are featured in The Dark #49. A veiled woman lives under a bridge in the half-dead and haunted city of “Therein Lies a Soul” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu. After the narrator, a gifted young choirboy, sees the woman’s eye, the Brothers who control the city choir encourage his vocal training. Even “with no concrete plan to defeat the evil underneath the bridge,” his “voice seems to give them hope.” But he lives with vari­ous fears and a deep curiosity about the woman. A disquieting tale with an unnerving ending.

In Nibedita Sen‘s “We Sang You as Ours“, Cadence is the oldest of three human-appearing (but not) sisters. At age fifteen, it is time for her to go out and hunt with Mother Reed and Mother Piper; her quarry will feed their ocean-living father. But Cadence has some doubts about her family’s no-doubt age-old way of life (and death) and her future may be somewhat different than assumed. A deliciously dark and oddly charming story.

Nightmare #81 and #82 also have two originals. From #81: In “The Night Princes” by Megan Arkenberg, a woman and her three children live in an apartment in a war-torn city. She tells them a story and promises that when it is finished the violence will be over. She relates a story of Death and her three children, the Night Princes, while reliving some of the truths of her life and hoping the fictions she spins will somehow keep them safe. A dark story with a spark of hope, much like the woman’s tales. Alanna J. Faelan‘s “The Taurids Branch“, the issue’s other original, also deals with telling stories amidst chaos and ruin, except this time the truth is being told. The narrator has a child for all the wrong reasons. Deserted by the father, she tries to care for the difficult infant even as she (and the rest of the world) learns the world will be ending in less than two years, thanks to a massive comet. Theoretically, the story presents a moral dilemma for the reader. It may work that way – or even pose further considerations – for some readers. Although well presented, it reminded (ancient and jaded) me more of a topic for a freshman-level ethics course.

Issue #82 features “Antripuu” by Simon Strantzas and “No Other Life” by Isabel Cañas. In the Strantzas story, the narrator and two friends go on a week-long hiking trip. Caught in a forest by a heavy storm, the campers see a terrifying monster. They find shelter in a cabin where a couple is also hiding, but danger still lurks. Although the story is about survival, it’s not really about escaping a monster. Isabel Ca­ñas’s lushly written tale is set in 1569 Istanbul. Nice Jewish girl meets seductive four hundred-year-old female vampire. What else can I say?

Apex Magazine #120 is both the (sadly) final issue of the periodical and a special issue guest-edited by Maurice Broaddus and focusing on Afrofuturism. It offers three original stories. In “Dune Song“, Suyi Davies Okungbawa weaves a gripping tale of an African village in a future time of drought and encroaching desert. Nata’s Mam once ventured beyond its confines and never returned; now Nata and the chief’s son, Tasé, journey into the deadly dunes. They are probably doomed by both the natural and social environments since anyone caught outside the village is sacrificed to the gods. I shall seek out more fiction by Mr. Okungbawa

Charlotte, in “Fugue State” by Steven Barnes & Tananarive Due, is also trapped by her environment. Her husband, Arthur, was once a brilliant political writer. Now, not yet 50 years old, he can barely read. Worse, he’s fallen under the influence of a Reverend Pike – a man who supposedly has special “powers.” Charlotte is warned that the Reverend, who has presidential aspirations, plans something dire for his stadium-filling event that evening. Charlotte attends and realizes the Reverend has something more than charisma, and his “truth” is even more danger­ous than she thought. The power of this story of good/evil and truth/lies is somewhat dimmed by the supernatural element. It makes for a tidy horror story, but the non-supernatural power of a magnetic leader who elicits the madness of the masses is even more terrifying.

N-Coin” by Tobias S. Buckell has an inter­esting historical grounding in the destruction of Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, once known as the Black Wall Street. It and its financial suc­cess – built by black business and self-reliance – was destroyed in 1921 by a murderous white race riot. Now, or rather in some tomorrow, a cryptocurrency for black-to-black transactions – support black-owned business with black currency – is developed. I’m not sure about the story’s preternatural communication between every black person in America, but it is still a nifty little morality tale.

Paula Guran has edited more than 40 science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and more than 50 novels and collections featuring the same. She’s reviewed and written articles for dozens of publications. She lives in Akron, Ohio, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.

This review and more like it in the August 2019 issue of Locus.

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