Apex Magazine Issue 55
I’m very excited to be a part of Operation Fourth Story, a two week campaign put on by Apex Publications and coordinated largely by the Little Red Reviewer. My first encounter with Apex turned into one of the better blogging experiences I’ve had here, so I was quick to volunteer when the next project was announced. I am also participating because I am one of the reasons that short fiction can’t have nice things. Every few months, I think how neat it would be to subscribe to one of the short fiction magazines. Then I look at the foot-high pile of unread Atlantic Monthly‘s by my computer desk and remember why I don’t get magazines anymore.
For this review, Apex graciously provided me a copy of the Dec. 2013 issue. It contains three stories, a flash piece by Ken Liu, a reprint from the recently released Glitter & Mayhem, a poem, a non-fiction essay about minority oppression in SFF, and an interview with one of the short story authors. I selected this largely because of Daniel Jose Older’s essay; the presence of Liu was a bonus. I imagine this was very intentional, but two of the stories on offer also dig into misogyny and related issues. Consequently, roughly half of the magazine attacks one or another aspect of equality, something guaranteed to stir the pot. That said, I imagine that most people who self-select as Apex readers are sympathetic to these concerns. If we’re already pushing literary and cultural boundaries, it’s a short hop to social activism.
Back to the stories. As one might expect from Apex, the first story tosses the reader right into the deep end. I’m glad that the author, Maria Dahvana Headley, is the interview subject later on, or I would have completely missed the point of her story. “What You’ve Been Missing” is a mix of book eating (literally), senility, hippocamps (in brains), and hippocamps (the mythical creature). Crazy stuff. Liu’s short “Before and After” is a quick stream of consciousness view of aliens that I found characteristically entertaining and thought provoking. The next stories, “Our Daughters” and “All That Fairy Tale Crap,” get right to the hard realities of being a woman. Both start out funny, but creep inevitably into more aggressive territory. I don’t want to say that the stories are angry, because that has all sorts of negative connotations (especially when feminists are involved), but they are certainly energetic. And honestly, if I spent my life in the situation that women are in, I would be a pretty angry guy. Any rage that may or may not be present there is well earned.
Older’s essay, “Another World Waits: Towards an Anti-Oppressive SFF” is really why I chose this issue. Despite me being white, male, straight, and nominally Christian, the struggle for gender, ethnic, and LGBT equality in the genre is something I’m willing to fight for. Maybe this stems from my years spent living as a minority, or maybe from the knowledge that my wife and kids would have been interred 70 years ago and denied visas before that. Maybe it’s just the selfish desire for more and better books, with even more original ideas and settings. I have never understood how pushing someone out of our community is ever a positive thing, but Older has no trouble highlighting the lingering racism, misogyny, and intolerance inside SFF. Fortunately for all of us, he didn’t dig into, say, the Kotaku commenting masses. Even within the more civilized parts of fandom, we still have problems, as recent SFWA and convention flaps make clear, so Older’s words are timely. I am glad to see Apex taking a stand here.
So that’s a quick look at what I imagine to be a typical issue of Apex Magazine. Any time I need something weird, uncomfortable, or just plain different from the rest, Apex Publications is the first place I look. Issue 55 delivered all of that, with a bonus call to action for making the genre a better place; it was reading time well spent. Now if I can just get my reading habits under control, I can start adding SFF magazines to the pile in my office.