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Review: “The Book Of Apex Volume IV,” The Apocrypha

You may remember a year ago I reviewed the stories contained in The Book Of Apex: Volume IV Of Apex Magazine. This anthology reprinted the fiction from Apex Magazine issues #30-44, in it’s entirety (or so I thought.) Turns out, there was at least one story from each issue left out of the collection! So far as I can tell, all of these were reprints when they appeared in Apex, but I’m a completist. And so, I give you the omitted stories from Apex #30-44!

  • This Creeping Thing, by Rob Shearman. (***)
    From issue #30, originally appearing in Love Songs For The Shy And Cynical. Susan has trouble loving, but once she gets there….once she gets there, her love can move mountains. I didn’t like this one, and I can’t explain why. It just rubbed me the wrong way. It wasn’t poorly written, though. You may like it okay, I just didn’t. CONTENT: Sexual content, non-explicit. Mild profanity. A cat gets euthanized after being hit by a car, so I suppose that counts as violence. Occult-wise, we have ghosts….
  • The Yellow Dressing Gown, by Sarah Monette. (*****)
    From issue #31, originally appearing in Weird Tales #63.2. A museum curator obsessively tracks down the yellow dressing gown worn by a famous artist during the last days of his life, alone in his gallery painting away while he slowly went mad from syphilis. This one was delightfully creepy! I highly recommend it if that’s your thing. CONTENT: Brief sexual innuendo. No profanity that I can recall. No overtly-depicted violence, although the aftermath of a murder or suicide is dealt with. The story is also fairly creepy, it should be pointed out. Occult-wise….there are implied to be some supernatural figures that don’t overtly appear in the story but hover around the fringes. I won’t say more because spoilers.
  • The Prowl, by Gregory Frost. (*****)
    From issue #32, originally appearing in Mojo: Conjure Stories. A former slave tells the tale of how he came to America, his troubles once he arrived, and the strange creature that came along with him in disguise. I cannot stress enough the high level of quality in this tale, nor how much I enjoyed it. Go read it–you won’t be sorry you did. CONTENT: Mild profanity. Some frank but non-explicit discussion of sex. Violence, occasionally a bit gory. I don’t think the plateye quite counts as occult content, but he is a semi-spiritual figure, so that may depend on your definition.
  • Useless Things, by Maureen McHugh. (***)
    From issue #33, originally appearing in Eclipse 3: New Science Fiction And Fantasy. A woman battles the New Mexico desert, the economic downturn, and the general ups and downs of life. This tale contains doll-making, burglary, illegal immigrants, cheating spouses, all kinds of stuff. I didn’t connect with it, personally, but I do have to admit that it was well-written. Just not up my alley. Unlike most of the stuff published in Apex Magazine, I don’t think there was anything fantastical or speculative about this story. Very bleak, which I’m not usually a fan of. CONTENT: Mild profanity. No violence. The only sexual content comes when the protagonist breaks down and uses her doll-making skills to craft specially-ordered sex toys in order to make ends meet.
  • Lehr, Rex, by Jay Lake. (****)
    From issue #34, originally appearing (so far as I can tell) in Forbidden PlanetsAn Imperial scout ship is dispatched to the rescue when a twenty-year-old distress signal is finally received from the INS Broken Spear. On arrival, however, the rescuers discover that the now-delusional Captain Lehr has no intention of leaving, and that there may be more to their mission than meets the eye given the planet-buster stored in the hold of their ship. What was on the Broken Spear that the Empire deems so dangerous? This was a very fun story, with a twist that I at least did not see coming until the very end. CONTENT: Very mild sexual innuendo. Some sci-fi violence. No profanity.
  • Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life, by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. (****)
    From issue #35, originally appearing in Interzone Magazine #229.  I can’t describe this story. It wasn’t my favorite, but it was obvious that the author put a lot of effort into shaping exactly how much is revealed and when, and to describe that would be to upset the balance she worked so hard for. Like I said, I wasn’t a huge fan (and that’s a subjective judgement I can’t quantify), but it was a well-written piece nevertheless. Some would call it beautiful. CONTENT: Mild sexual innuendo. Some implied violence. No profanity.
  • The Chaos Magician’s Mega Chemistry Set, by Nnedi Okorafor. (****)
    From issue #36, originally appearing in Space And Time #101.  Ulu wants to be a chemist like her uncle, and spend her days protecting the land from pollution and other threats. Ulu is a very orderly little girl. So, her dad stops at Ugorgi’s store and buys her The Chaos Magician’s Mega Chemistry Set. Ugorgi’s store is a very interesting place, full of things that shouldn’t exist–a six-legged dog, for example. But when a “laboratory accident” disrupts the local space-time continuum, it’s up to Ulu and her chemistry set to make it right…. CONTENT: Brief profanity. Mild violence. No sexual content. Occult content….that depends on the conclusions and definitions of the reader.
  • Blocked, by Geoff Ryman(****)
    From issue #37, originally appearing in The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction. This one was….confusing. I first took it to be a dream, (it does begin with “I dreamed this….”) but now I think that the narrator was speaking figuratively. I didn’t like this story, per se, but I do have to admit that it was well written. It was quite a scathing indictment of humanity’s discontent…. CONTENT: Brief profanity, mild innuendo, and no real violence despite some very adult themes such as suicide.
  • Wolf Trapping, by Kij Johnson(****)
    From issue #38, originally appearing in The Twilight Zone Magazine. A disturbing tale of obsession and its consequences, how far we will go to achieve the thing we want. Richard is living alone in the woods, observing the wolves and their behavior. One day he stumbles across a lone woman doing the same, but whereas Richard strives to remain detached and not affect their behavior, this woman wants to join the wolves and be a part of their pack….. CONTENT: R-rated language. No sexual content. Some disturbing and gory violence.
  • Undercity, by Nir Yaniv(*****)
    From issue #39, originally appearing in Hebrew in Dreams Of Aspamia #19, in English as a bonus novellete in The Apex Book Of World SF II. There is a city that exists beneath the Tel Aviv that you know. No, that’s not quite right…you couldn’t dig your way to the Undercity. It exists in another plane entirely, a cold, sunless echo of the world that we live in. And tomorrow the two Tel Avivs will switch places….I’m not entirely sure I “got” what the author was trying to tell me here, but I was very much pulled into his world. This was a dark, very atmospheric tale, and whether or not I completely understood it, I have to say that I loved it. CONTENT: No profanity that I recall. Some mild sexual content, fairly non-explicit. Mild violence.
  • Sacrifice, by Jennifer Pelland. (***)
    From issue #40, originally appearing in Dark Faith: Invocations. A woman sits by her father’s bedside as he lays dying of lung cancer. A voice offers to allow her to trader her life for his…. OR A man stands outside his daughter’s funeral, mourning with every fiber of his being the deal he made to save his own life at terrible cost…. Was this well done? Yes. I have to admit that it was. Did I like it? No, I really didn’t. You should have noticed by now that I’m really not a fan of stories that cast God as a sadistic old creep. CONTENT: R-rated language. Mild sexual references. Mild violence and the heavy subject of death and sacrifice.
  • Sonny Liston Takes The Fall, by Elizabeth Bear. (****)
    Also from issue #40, originally appearing in The Del Rey Book Of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Sonny Liston was a boxing legend back in the day, until the day he faced off against a young up-and-comer by the name of Cletus Cassidy. Cassidy? He went on to change his name to Muhammad Ali. Liston lived a hard life, full of controversy, and died the way he lived. Elizabeth Bear spins a poignant tale of this controversial figure, and I’ll admit I had no idea about any of this. Prizefighting legends from fifty years gone aren’t really my specialty, you see. I did enjoy the tale though…. CONTENT: R-rated language. Fighting violence. Mild sexual innuendo, non-explicit.
  • Simon’s Replica, by Dean Francis Alfar. (****)
    From issue #41, originally appearing in the Philippines Free Press. An aging queen, feeling her mortality creeping up on her, commissions a perfectly accurate replica of her lands so that the golden age of her kingdom will be remembered. I have to admit that I did see the ending coming, but it was still a pleasant tale. CONTENT: No language, no sex, and no violence.
  • The Glutton: A Goxhat Accounting Chant, by Eleanor Arnason. (****)
    From issue #42, originally appearing (so far as I can tell) in Tales Of The Unanticipated #22. Here we are treated to an epic poem by an alien race very different from our own. This is my first encounter with the Goxhat, but apparently their culture has been the author’s pet project for quite a while now…. CONTENT: No sex or profanity, some violence.
  • Relic, by Jeffrey Ford. (**)
    From issue #43, originally appearing in The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet Of Curiosities: Exhibits, Oddities, Images, and Stories From Top Authors And Artists. Out at the end of the world, there is a church to a maybe-saint by the name of Ifritia. It only holds services four times a year, once for each season, and its main claim to anything resembling fame is the supposed relic of its namesake saint in a shrine behind the church. Father Walter is ordained by no particular higher authority; he simply built the church and recalled that the preachers from his boyhood were called Father. Sister North simply joined the church one day after an infrequent sermon. I feel like this story was supposed to tell me something, but I missed the message. Without whatever it was supposed to tell me, the simple almost-plot left much to be desired. Maybe it’s something you’d enjoy, but I wasn’t particularly impressed. CONTENT: No profanity. Some violence, some non-explicit sexual innuendo.
  • The Patrician, by Tansy Rayner Roberts. (*****)
    From issue #44, originally appearing in Love And Romanpunk. In the Australian outback, there is a town built of Roman stone, in the Roman style, and committed to the Roman way of life….as long as the tourists are looking, of course. But there are monsters that called Rome their home, and they are drawn to things that are Roman….there are also those who hunt them, on a quest to rid the world of its monsters. I absolutely loved this story, and I am very much looking forward to tracking down a copy of the collection it originates in. Roman monsters, monster-hunting, immortality, this tale has it all. Highly recommended. CONTENT: Mild profanity (At least, I don’t recall any that wasn’t mild, but its possible it slipped my attention. I was kind of distracted by the sheer awesomeness of the tale.) Some violence, usually perpetrated against dragons or manticores or lamia or some such, but occasionally extending to their victims as well. Some sexual content, not too explicit.

This is just one of a series of posts I did on this anthology. You can find the others here:
Part One (My personal favorites….)
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
-Apocrypha (The reprinted stories from the relevant issues, not included in the anthology)

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Review: “The Book Of Apex Volume IV,” Part 4

This post doubles as one of the “stops” on the Book Of Apex Blog Tour organized by the Little Red Reviewer, where we all read and discuss The Book Of Apex: Volume IV Of Apex Magazine (*****). This anthology collects all the stories published in Apex Magazine issues #30-#44, the first fifteen issues since Lynne M. Thomas took over as editor for the magazine. In my first post, I looked at some of my favorites from the anthology. This time, I’ll look at some more of those that didn’t make the cut. Not that they’re bad, some of them are great, they just didn’t “do it” for me like those others did. The great thing about Apex Magazine is that their stories are all available online, so if you are intrigued by a story you can just click the title and it will link you to that story on their website! I’d be interested to hear your opinions as well, so feel free to leave a comment telling what you thought of a particular story…..

Also, the giveaway is still running at the first post in this review series! Check that out here!

  • Coyote Gets His Own Back, by Sarah Monette. (***)
    This one is really too short to describe without rendering it moot. I wasn’t really a fan of this one, just didn’t connect with it. Doesn’t mean you won’t. CONTENT: Violence, some gruesome content. No sex or language.
  • Waiting For Beauty, by Marie Brennan. (***)
    An incredibly disturbing take on Beauty And The Beast. I wasn’t a fan, but maybe you will be. CONTENT: No explicit sex, violence, or language, but it is pretty disturbing nonetheless. I can’t tell you why, because spoilers.
  • Murdered Sleep, by Kat Howard. (****)
    This almost made my best-of post. As with most of the other times I’ve said that, I’m not sure why it fell short. Perhaps partially because I’m not at all certain I understood it. I think I got it, but I could be mistaken. Anyway, this was an excellent tale of a young woman who receives an invitation to an endless party in the land of dreams…and the costs inherent in accepting such an offer. CONTENT: Some violence. Mild sexual innuendo. No language.
  • Armless Maidens Of The American West, by Genevieve Valentine. (****)
    In the woods surrounding town, there’s an armless maiden, still covered in blood from where her father went mad and chopped off her arms. She lives out there, pitied and feared, with no human contact until one day a grad student comes to town looking for data for her project entitled Armless Maidens Of The American West. It would seem that this is not an isolated phenomenon…. Faintly disturbing, but I really loved the writing style here. CONTENT: Some implied violence. No profanity, and no overt sexual innuendo. There are a few speculations about why her father did what he did, and you could take that train of thought in a sexual direction if you wanted to, but the author will give you no help there.
  • During The Pause, by Adam-Troy Castro. (****)
    Our world is about to end. There is nothing we can do to stop it. Our world will end, and we will suffer endless torment as a result. Not even death will offer an escape, except for one brief moment moments/eons into our torment…and in that moment, we will have a choice to make. I won’t say I enjoyed this story all that much, but I definitely admire Mr. Castro’s imagination and craftsmanship. The entire story is crafted as a message from another world in the path of the wave of destruction, warning us of what is to come. It was actually fairly chilling…. CONTENT: No explicit sexual content, language, or violence, although the descriptions of what is to come can be a bit disturbing.
  • Always The Same. Till It Is Not, by Cecil Castellucci. (****)
    Here we have a challenging tale about what happens after the zombie apocalypse, told in first-person POV by an ex-zombie. I really enjoyed it, and I have to say it was really well done. I can’t say too much about it without giving things away though, so I’m gonna shut up. CONTENT:  No profanity. I don’t think the characters even know any. There is, however, a fair amount of evocatively-rendered violence, as well as some moderately explicit sexual content.

This is the fourth post in a series of reviews of individual stories from this anthology. The other posts can be found as follows:
Part One (My personal favorites….)
Part Two
Part Three
-Part Four
Part Five
Apocrypha (The reprinted stories from the relevant issues, not included in the anthology)

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Review: “The Book Of Cthulhu II” edited by Ross E. Lockhart

I’ve been on a bit of a Lovecraft kick lately, first reading the man himself, then Alan Moore’s disturbing homage. And it all got its impetus from The Book Of Cthulhu II (*****), which I won via the Goodreads FirstReads program. (My review is not influenced by this fact, for the record.) I figured I should read the real thing before picking up either of the derivatives. Sad to say, I haven’t had any luck finding a copy of The Book Of Cthulhu I, but oh well. Most of these are authors I’d not heard of before, and all save a couple are ones I’d yet to sample. Kim Newman wrote the stellar Anno Dracula series, among other things, and I am a Neil Gaiman devotee. I’ve not read all of his work yet, but not for lack of trying.

This is an anthology of Lovecraft-inspired works from a wide range of authors. I’ll list and comment below, only commenting on plot when I think it necessary. Its a bit tough to mention plot for a short story without spoilers, so….

  • Neil Gaiman, Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar; I had read this one before in a collection of Gaiman tales (don’t remember which one), and it didn’t make much sense then as I had never read HPL. Now I have, and I had a much greater appreciation for the story. That said, not nearly as great as A Study In Emerald.
  • Caitlin R. Kiernan, Nor The Demons Down Under The Sea; The writing style here was a bit confusing at first–Ms. Kiernan is not afraid of a sentence fragment masquerading as a full sentence if it helps set her scene. But once the scene was set this proved a very evocative tale.
  • John R. Fultz, This Is How The World Ends; Fultz sketches a brief vignette of Cthulu’s rise from the deeps to swallow the world, and I must say his vision is frankly terrifying.
  • Paul Tobin, The Drowning At Lake Henpin; Most of these are Lovecraftian, but this is the first one I’ve seen that could have been written by Lovecraft himself.
  • William Browning Spencer, The Ocean And All Its Devices; I’m still not completely sure I understand what Spencer is saying about what lives in the water just offshore from this beachfront hotel, but I know I don’t want to meet it.
  • Livia Llewellyn, Take Your Daughters To Work; This one succeeded in disturbing me. That’s all I’ll say.
  • Kim Newman, The Big Fish; I love Kim Newman. Newman is a past master of the literary pastiche, here presenting a sequel to Lovecraft’s Shadow Over Innsmouth while at the same time doing a Sam Spade-type character (maybe Spade himself, the protagonist is never named….did Spade live in San Francisco?) AND roping in his recurring characters Edwin Winthrop and Genvieve Dieudonné from the Diogenes Club stories.* Which I am just reminded that I should get around to reading…..
  • Cody Goodfellow, Rapture Of The Deep; A corporate investigation into a potential source of endless energy on the seafloor turns to terror when an ex-Soviet psychic and his unwilling protegé take an astral visit to sunken R’lyeh….
  • A. Scott Glancy, Once More From The Top; An aged Marine recounts the horror he and his fellows experienced at the Battle Of Innsmouth. I quite enjoyed this one….though I don’t recall the Deep Ones having Shoggoths in the original story. Maybe that came from one of HPL’s stories I haven’t read yet…..Anyway, gonna try and track down the anthology this originated in.
  • Molly Tanzer, The Hour Of The Tortoise; An exiled young lady returns to her ancestral home, thought cursed by the surrounding villagers, to find her illegitimate father on his deathbed and something amiss about the house….
  • Christopher Reynaga, I Only Am Escaped Alone To Tell Thee; Christopher Reynaga recasts Moby Dick as a tale of Captain Ahab hunting Cthulhu in order to buy the world more time before his rise.
  • Ann K. Schwader, Objects From The Gilman-Waite Collection; A creepy though not unpredictable tale of a man entering a museum exhibit featuring the coral and gold jewelry from Shadow Over Innsmouth.
  • Gord Sellar, Of Melei, Of Ulthar; I’m still not sure I understand this one. Melei is visiting other worlds in her sleep, one of which appears to be post-Cthulhu New York. I can’t figure out, however, whether she exists in the far-distant past or the regressed future….in either case, it was an intriguing tale.
  • Mark Samuels, A Gentleman From Mexico; This was an outstanding idea, and I literally laughed out loud when I realized what was going on. I didn’t find the ending as strong as the middle, but it was very like what Lovecraft himself might have written as the ending.
  • W.H. Pugmire, The Hands That Reek And Smoke; Very creepy. Not really my thing, but creepy.
  • Matt Wallace, Akropolis; Behold, the Great Old Ones are returning, and they have sent their emissaries to prepare the way for them…..A great story here.
  • Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette, Boojum; This was one of my favorites, a real surprise find. Living spacecraft, starfaring pirates, evil aliens who collect human brains for their own sinister purposes…..it’s all here. Quality science-fiction! I’m going to track down the anthology it was originally written for….I was a bit hazy on most of the Lovecraft connections in this one, as I’d not read the relevant tales.
  • Jonathan Wood, The Nyarlathotep Event; Agent Arthur Wallace of MI37 goes up against Nyarlathotep, an ancient entity from a dimension representing humanity’s collective fears, and he does it with a snarky sense of humor and a hilarious narrative voice. I literally laughed out loud several times while reading it, and plan to track down the author’s other stories featuring the same protagonists.
  • Stanley C. Sargent, The Black Brat Of Dunwich; A surprising tale here, as Sargent turns the entire HPL story The Dunwich Horror on its head. Very fun, and HPL himself might be a fan of this one, but it would help to have read the original tale first.
  • Fritz Leiber, The Terror From The Depths; I actually forgot for a while that this wasn’t actually a Lovecraft story. I don’t think I’ve ever seen (by HPL or anyone else) so comprehensive and cohesive an ode to the Cthulhu Mythos….Well done.
  • Orrin Grey, Black Hill; A quick read, a mite predictable, but decent nonetheless.
  • Michael Chabon, The God Of Dark Laughter; A small-town sheriff investigates the ritual murder of a clown, possibly uncovering ties to an ancient and unholy cult. I really enjoyed this one, and I think I may have to look up more of Michael Chabon’s work.
  • Karl Edward Wagner, Sticks; An incredibly creepy tale of an artist who discovers an ancient abandoned cottage that continues to haunt his dreams….Again, I really enjoyed this.
  • Laird Barron, Hand Of Glory; Less actually scary, not incredibly Lovecraftian, but a good story nonetheless. Mobland hitman Johnny Cope has a problem. It seems that an old enemy of his father has sent goons to kill him. They weren’t incredibly successful, but they did manage to get his ire up. Now Johnny wants to know why….

On the whole, I loved this collection. A lot of the stories were excellent, but like with any collection you’ll have some that were better than others. I love Neil Gaiman, but given my choice I’d put in A Study In Emerald over Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar. Its simply a better tale–though, I’ll allow, perhaps not a better tribute to the original Lovecraft. Some of the stories I flat-out disliked, but that was probably a matter of taste. Certainly they are different than the ones cited by other reviewers as having fallen flat for them. A few of the stories, good as they were on their own, probably would have been enhanced by a more thorough knowledge of Lovecraft’s works. I’ve only read a very small selection as of this writing. I plan to remedy that in the near future….I very much recommend picking up this book if you ever get the chance. And in case you are interested, you can find the official website of Ross E. Lockhart, the editor of this book, here.

*Technically, the Diogenese Club stories happen in a separate world from the Anno Dracula novels, but they are mirrors of each other and feature the same characters. The prime difference seems to be that in the Diogenes Club stories Dracula was actually defeated as scheduled in his original book, whereas in the Anno Dracula world he was triumphant.

Content: This is a horror anthology, so from the get-go you know its not going to be appropriate for children. Bloody horror violence. Sexual references, including the implication that a couple characters are lesbians. The protagonist in another tale makes her living as a writer of Victorian-era pornography, and mostly non-explicit excerpts of her work are included. She also refers to several sexual encounters of her own, in generally non-explicit but incredibly suggestive terms. Language varies from story to story, but some at least are R-rated.

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