Apex Magazine Issue #20, January 2011


January derives its name from the Roman god Janus, the god of doorways and gateways and journeys. The god of beginnings and also the god of endings.   Apex Magazine Issue #20 embraces the Janusian name by presenting three stories and two poems that speak to what some consider the ultimate ending and what others believe is merely the first step of a new journey. This issue is the perfect companion for a cold winter’s night, offering chills to match those which may be right outside your door. Apex promises to deliver stories that are “twisted, strange, and beautiful.” I can attest to the “twisted” and the “strange” and will warn the reader to remember that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Night clowns, stilts, and an End of Days parade are just a part of the accouterment with which Douglas F. Warrick dresses his strangely beautiful Apex debut, “The Itaewon Eschatology.” This story is set in South Korea, where the unnamed narrator, an American male, spends his days with a prostitute/friend he calls “Alice” (because he cannot pronounce her Korean name) and his nights as a clown with his native friend Kidu. These are not your average traveling circus performers. They are Night Clowns, equipped with a special book that Kidu will not allow our protagonist to read, and they travel the streets of Itaewon practicing a very special magic—a magic that allows those who follow their procession to see the end of the world.

“The Itaewon Eschatology” is the kind of short story which lulls you in with its strangeness and its wonder only to reveal a darkness which is both terrifying and beautiful at the same time. Douglas F. Warrick lives in Seoul, South Korea, and his story is flavored with the spices of that land, which make it intriguing and enigmatic for a reader unfamiliar with the culture. My own experience with Asian culture is limited to a small but highly enjoyable exposure to anime, the literary works of Haruki Murakami, and the films of Wong Kar-Wai. As an American partaking of these works, I find myself drawn in by a beauty that I do not fully comprehend and by a sense of humor that elicits joy despite the knowledge that, at best, I am experiencing this humor through a veil. This is the way I felt about “The Itaweon Eschatology.” On one hand there is an engaging fantasy story about two men practicing a deep magic. On the other there is a deeper level of story going on for those with a working knowledge of the culture. Warrick succeeds in crafting a short story that makes the reader want to know more about the art and culture of South Korea.

The second work of original fiction in this issue is “The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells” by Seanan McGuire. Alternating between moments before and after the key event in her story, McGuire tells a tale of biological terrorism and cold, calculating vengeance that is frightening in its reality. Part of my role in reviewing literary material is to give the reader an inkling of a story’s content without harming the potential impact of that story. At the risk of being deemed a failure, I must admit that I cannot share anything more specific about the characters or the plot of “The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells.” I have already shared too much. It is tempting to describe Seanan McGuire’s story as “the ultimate zombie story, without the zombies,” although the impression that gives is not entirely accurate. “The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells” brought to mind films like 28 Days Later and the various incarnations of Resident Evil, stripped of all their implausibilities so that all that remains is the sheer horror of a very real threat to mankind. Horror is not my favorite genre. However, when it is done this well, without the presence of the blood and gore that are stereotypes of the genre, I can do naught but recommend that you read it too.

“Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is a story by Mary Robinette Kowal that originally appeared in Gratia Placenti in 2007. Tuyet is a house keeper who works for a rich family in which the wife is an intolerable terror and the husband is kind and accommodating, that is, when he is not arguing with his wife. This is not work that Tuyet enjoys doing, but it is a necessary evil if she is to save up enough money to pay for a lung replacement for her son before illness takes his life. On this particular day Tuyet arrives to find a colossal mess in the kitchen, and she cannot help but think that the dogs inhabiting the home have more compassion and understanding than their owners.

With this relatively straightforward set up, Mary Robinette Kowal pens a story that builds layer upon layer of suspense, with a reveal that has you going back to the beginning to review each event with a new clarity of vision. “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is by far the most openly disturbing tale in this issue. It proceeds at a quiet pace, drawing you in before exposing the truth. The astute reader will see the end coming long before Tuyet does, but that fact actually makes the reality of the situation that much more horrifying. I have read short fiction by Mary Robinette Kowal prior to this and I consider her to be a skilled author. My frustration with “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is that it is too short to be anything more than a gimmicky tale with a high “yuck” factor. The reveal felt rushed, as if the story was written to a strict word specification and thus story had to be sacrificed for space.

“The Terminal City” by Preston Grassman is the first of two poems that close this issue of Apex Magazine. The narrator walks through the derelict streets of a city that once was so much more than what remains as he picks at memories of a forgotten mother. “The Terminal City” is filled with imagery that stirs the imagination to recall images from art and film of the beauty and sadness of a city post-destruction, where nature is beginning to reclaim its rightful place. Preston Grassman offers a poem in which hope emerges from melancholy, cleansing the palate of the darker morsels sampled earlier in this issue.

Mike Allen’s “The Unkindest Kiss” offers up a visceral description of what can only be described as a dysfunctional relationship. The poem feels akin to the poetry I have read by Apex editor Catherynne M. Valente, and I suspect that “The Unkindest Kiss” has allusions to older folk tales.

You can purchase the current issue of Apex Magazine, and peruse previous issues, by clicking here. An annual subscription (12 monthly issues) is currently being offered at the special price of $1 an issue. Sign up here.

Finally, Apex Magazine has recently made changes to its submission process. If you are interested you can read the new guidelines here.

9 thoughts on “Apex Magazine Issue #20, January 2011

  1. You have undoubtedly left me intrigued. Uncultured as I am, I’d never even heard of Apex magazine, I really think I’m going to give at least this issue a try. The first story alone makes it sound like it will be worth it.

  2. Thanks Mike, I actually knew that and thought I went back and caught that error. Thanks, I’ll change it. I’d love to hear more of your own thoughts on your poem, although that may be antithetical to what poetry is supposed to represent. In my last Apex review I mentioned my appreciation for but also lack of solid understanding of some poetry and I would be interested to know more.

  3. Thanks, Carl! Hmm. I don’t know that anything I could tell you about “The Unkindest Kiss” would deepen your understanding of poetry. This might make you raise your eyebrows, but it’s a very self-referential poem. Not, however, in the way you might be thinking. ;-p

    One of the themes I return to over and over in poems I write is the strange nature of time. I invented a whimsical critter called the Time Shark that pops up in my poems once in a while (this blog post I did has links to a couple of ’em.) “The Unkindest Kiss” is a Time Shark poem. My Sharkey is the “woman” who is courted in the poem. You are right in that in terms of tone and image it does dovetail with many things Cat writes, but it’s more a riff on metaphysics than on folk tales.

    What’s funny is this poem was submitted to Cat along with several others that were in fact tattooed with myth and folktale imagery, but this is the one she picked. I ain’t complainin’!

    1. Thanks Mr. Allen. I popped over to your site (love the Time Shark avatar) and decided that I need to read some more of your work to get a better sense of it. I just didn’t want to do so this week in the midst of a lot of work chaos, so hopefully will get to do so over the weekend.

      It certainly isn’t that I don’t understand poetry, more that I have very little exposure to it outside of the more straightforward (for lack of a better way to put it) narrative poems that I like, for example The Raven, by Poe, or The Lady of Shalott, by Tennyson. While each of those has layers to dig out and clever use of language and visual imagery, there is still a basic point a to point b story arc that not all poetry has. It is that other kind of poetry (and again I am making HUGE generalizations) that I hope to learn more about, to understand more. I don’t profess to a great desire to be a high and mighty poetry critic. But what I would like to be able to do is to read something like what you wrote, like what Catherynne Valente writes, and be able to better explain why I enjoyed it, what I got out of it, and also to perhaps actually see what the creator of the poet meant by it, at least on one level.

      Hope that makes sense. I read more poetry last year than I ever have in my life, including Catherynne Valente’s collection, “A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects” and work by Keats and by Edna Vincent St. Millay. I connected with all the work on a satisfying emotional level although much of it, most especially that of Valente, left me with a feeling like there was a world of past storytelling that I am woefully ignorant of which is being mined and reshaped for these poems. Your poem made me feel that way as well. It isn’t a feeling of inadequacy, though I do often feel inadequate to judge poetry, but it is more of an exciting feeling of the work being more than just the sum of its parts, that is is built on and connected to something greater.

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