Paula Guran Reviews Short Fiction: Apex #130, PodCastle, and PseudoPod

Apex #130
PodCastle 2/23/22
PseudoPod 3/11/22

Nine Theories of Time” by Spencer Nitkey leads off the six original stories of Apex #130. It is not so much a story as an eloquent meditation on time, life, death, and grief.

In the near future of “To Live and Die in Dix­ieland” by Russell Nichols, brothers Walter and Royce Mitchell develop a virtual reality platform, Dixieland, in which white folks can experience slavery. On the brink of its big launch, tragedy strikes. It’s an uncompromising story about, on one level, racism and compromise and, on a more personal level, compromise and family.

The First Promise We Break” by Risa Wolf mixes various fairy tales with mythology. The myths are not a comfortable mix, and the story would have been stronger without the myths.

Because I grew up in Oklahoma surrounded by Native American culture, “Tenure” by Devon Mihesuah resonates for me. This tale of white guy Chad Schroeder, who lies about being Choctaw to gain an endowed professorship meant for a Native American, may not work as well for others. Chad’s neither a complex character nor much of a scholar. His subterfuge is so shallow that he would probably be exposed sooner instead of later. Since this is speculative fiction, no one will be surprised that he gets his comeuppance from a supernatural source. The writing, like the story, didn’t work for me, but the author’s obvious passion and her myriad of accurate details make the story enjoyable for me; maybe for you, too.

The surreal “It Rises and Falls and Rises Again” by RJ Taylor doesn’t work as well for me. The idea of a mysterious summit from which everyone who climbs it falls to their death, followed by pseudo-deep answers for a character who makes the trek never captures my imagination.

The AI in “Strata” by Benjamin Blattberg need “emotive circuits” to “parse information out of data – to see what mattered, to make intuitive leaps in cognition.” The tech-speak is all very con­vincing, but I just can’t buy the hyper-emotional AI. Others may have no problem.

Chaitanya Murali’s engaging “Just One Last Mango” (PodCastle 723) starts as the simple tale of two children who “steal” mangoes from their tolerant elderly neighbor, then mines Hindu folklore for the story of a specter of a man griev­ing the death of his love, part of a centuries-old destruction caused by Jyestha, the goddess of misfortune.

Emily Rigole’s “The Bear Across the Way” (PseudoPod 801) is unusual and satisfying. Unlike her neighbors, Shelley ignores the bear after he moves into the neighborhood. Then her husband volunteers her to watch the ursine abode while its owner hibernates. The bear requires no attention, but he wants her to take care of his “trea­sure” – the hive in the basement. She proves to be the wrong woman for the job. This is an original take with a sad and scary ending.

Recommended Stories:

“Just One Last Mango”, Chaitanya Murali (PodCastle 2/23/22)
“To Live and Die in Dixieland”, Russell Nichols (Apex #130)
“The Bear Across the Way”, Emily Rigole (PseudoPod 3/11/22)

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 OH, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.

This review and more like it in the June 2022 issue of Locus.

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