Apexology: Horror is a digital only anthology of dark fiction from Apex Books. The anthology’s editor, Jason Sizemore, states in the introduction that the anthology’s goal is to “promote the authors on the Apex roster in a cost efficient manner.” There is a mixture of reprint and original stories. As with all anthologies, the stories range in quality. While there are some strong stories in the anthology, many others fail to add anything new to what are overused premises.
My personal preference is for short fiction with new and inventive settings and premises. Strange Horizons maintains a list of Horror Stories We’ve Seen Too Often and notes that
We recognize that horror stories are often more about mood or tone than about original plots. Still, these plots and ideas are particularly common in the horror stories submitted to us.
This is a common failing of many of the stories in the anthology. They rely too heavily on situations that could easily make an appearance in a bad horror movie.
The majority of the anthology’s twenty-one stories can be classified as traditional horror or dark fantasy, with a couple of stories featuring futuristic settings. Vampires, werewolves, the Cthulhu mythos, exorcists and body part snatchers all make an appearance.
Paul Jessup‘s “It Tasted Like the Sea” will probably be a love it or hate it story for many readers. The story opens with the description of the work of a misunderstood artist.
Slack, emotionless bags of skin stretched onto brass hooks. Eyeholes, mouthholes, each wanting to be filled with shiny white rows of teeth and slick marble globes of sight.
The story is the goriest in the anthology and at times struck me as trying too hard to be provocative. The artist protests:
About the ethics of death, about the beauty of the morbid that would transfix the world. About violence as a statement of ethical boundaries.
The writing itself is strong throughout the story, but I didn’t connect at all with the ideas and characters.
“Summon, Bind, Banish” isn’t up to the standard of other stories I have read by Nick Mamatas. It ended so abruptly that I wasn’t sure whether some of the text was missing. It involves a retelling of Aleister Crowley’s adventures, but the point of the story was entirely lost on me.
“To Every Thing There is a Season” by Dru Pagliassoti is a fun comedy of manners mixed with the Cthulhu mythos. It is one of the strongest stories in the anthology and features likeable characters and funny lines.
The list of eligible bachelors this Season was decidedly dismal, with so many army and naval officers slain or insane; only old men and aloof Exquisites were left to entertain all of the ladies who’d descended upon London for the Season.
I think “Life’s a Beach” by Alethea Kontis and Ariell Branson was intended as comic horror, but neither the comedy nor the horror worked for me. The main character strolls along the beach inflicting gruesome deaths upon people that annoy him. Stories with an unpleasant protagonist who Does Bad Things and Must Be Punished have to work extra hard to impress me and I failed to find anything of interest in this piece.
Gill Ainsworth‘s “Kusatenda Uroyi” is the story of a tourist visiting Zimbabwe’s Chinhoyi Caves. The main character is not interesting enough to justify the story’s length and the story could have been more effective if it were reduced in length.
Gene O’Neill has won the Bram Stoker Award for one of his collections. That’s why it’s surprising his “Lottery” adds so little to themes already covered by stories such as Shirley Jackson’s canonical “The Lottery.” The story details a place known only as the Village where the elders hold a lottery to work out who will be sacrificed.
“Cerbo en Vitra ujo” by Mary Robinette Kowal has perhaps the most interesting setting in the anthology. The protagonist searches different space stations for signs of her missing boyfriend. It is a memorable and powerful story with an unpleasant ending. The story relies on a certain amount of stupidity on the protagonist’s part to work, but it’s not unheard of for people to do stupid things when it comes to love.
“The Spider in the Hairdo” by Michael A. Burstein is a solidly crafted story of a socially outcast teen that falls under the sway of an alien invader in the form of an intelligent spider. While the story is enjoyable, its style and tone feel somewhat outdated. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had found this story in an anthology from the 1950s (which is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your point of view).
“The Dark Side” by Guy Hasson deals with the protagonist who has an unreliable memory and is able to experience glimpses from possible futures. There are some funny lines in here, but the story is overly long.
“With the Beating of their Wings” by Martel Sardina is a tale of reincarnation in Tibet. The plot is minimal and instead the story relies on its mood and setting. Much of the story is described rather than shown, which reduces its impact.
“Enough to Make a Devil” by R. Thomas Riley is a Cthulhu mythos story where a psychiatrist questions a disturbed prison inmate. This is another overdone setting and the characters aren’t strong enough to make the story more memorable than other similar stories I’ve read.
Jason Sizemore notes that by including his “Flash of Light,” he is indulging in self-publishing and hopes the reader will excuse this. “Flash of Light” is one of the anthology’s weaker stories. One of the characters is mentioned as having been drafted in “2046, the third year of the American-Asian war,” but the story absolutely fails to present any future world-building. It reads like it could have been set in the 1960s. A war veteran goes crazy and attacks his family with a shotgun.
Lavie Tidhar‘s “Translyvania Mission” was my favorite story in the anthology. Partisan vampires take on Nazi werewolves. Tidhar manages the difficult balancing act of making the story fun, scary, different and plausible.
“Inside Looking Out (or: Falling Through the Worlds)” by Mari Adkins is about a psychic asked by the police to find the location of some murder victims. The story is slow to get started and reminded me too much of The Gift.
“Powered” by Deb Taber is described the author as “Tool Porn.” This flash fiction piece goes into loving detail about the attributes of a power saw and is effective in establishing a creepy mood.
“Disturbing Things” by B.J. Burrow is an exorcism story that suffers from a weak non-ending that doesn’t resolve things.
The mixture of whimsy and horror in “Eulogy for Muffin” by Jennifer Brozek didn’t quite work for me. The story’s likely ending is immediately obvious. Children worshipping a pagan god receive instructions to hunt down their unsuspecting neighbor.
“Hands of Heritage” by Elizabeth Engstrom is set after Dracula and deals with Abraham van Helsing’s efforts to thwart yet another vampire. The plot flows along smoothly and although it’s not terribly original, the strength of the writing makes it an enjoyable read.
“The Junkyard God” by M. Zak Anwar and O.M.R. Anwar is a post-apocalyptic story with a warrior confronting a beast made of discarded technology. The setting felt a bit reminiscent of a mixture of The Road Warrior and Nine.
“Bessie Green’s Thumb” by Fran Friel relates the story of an elderly woman reinvigorating her neighborhood by using magic to create a fantastic garden. The characters are well done, but the ending lacks a sense of surprise.
“Big Sister/Little Sister” by Jennifer Pelland creates one of the stronger senses of horror in the anthology. A bitter woman seeks revenge against her deformed sibling that has been attached to her body in a bizarre experiment.
Although Apexology: Horror is not as strong as many other anthologies being published today, at only $2.99 US it represents good value for money and provides the chance to sample the works of a variety of dark fiction authors.
Edited by Jason Sizemore