Apexology: Horror

Apexology: Horror - Jason Sizemore, Alethea Kontis, Nick Mamatas, Jennifer Pelland, Dru Pagliassotti, Elizabeth Engstrom This is the third or fourth collection I've read from Apex, and while not quite the punch in the gut that Dark Faith is, it's still a superior collection that I recommend to any fan of dark fiction and horror.

This book is marketed as a survey of authors in Apex's stable, and (like Apex's books) there is a wide variety of themes, tones, characters and voices. There really aren't any especially weak pieces, and there were a few of standouts that I especially liked. It's available for US$2.99 at SmashWords right now and it's worth a lot more than that. I highly recommend picking this up.

The first story in the collection held me absolutely captivated. It Tasted Like the Sea by Paul Jessup covers dark fiction's familiar territories of lust, obsession and warped perceptions and boundaries with such verve and vigor and interesting characters I was hoping the story would be longer than it was.

The next real standout story for me was Cerbo en Vitra ujo by Mary Robinette Kowal, replete with elements of Frankenstein and Johnny Got His Gun, told in a future setting where all is not as bright as it seems. Making the horror more poignant is the point of view, a lovelorn teenage girl trying to find her boyfriend. Mary did a superior job making me empathize with the protagonist, no mean feat considering I didn't understand teenage girls when I was a teenager, let alone now.

The Dark Side by Guy Hasson did an excellent job of balancing competing concurrent realities in the protagonists head, while telling a story of duality, fate and the abuse of power. What starts out as an innocent story about a man with a singularly unusual problem eventually becomes a story about a man with a universal problem, but a unique solution. I'll leave the twist to be discovered by the reader, but I was pleasantly surprised at the sophistication of the way it came about.

Lavie Tidhar's contribution Transylvanian Missiontries too hard to create a mood from the setting (Nazi occupied Romania in WW2), but unfortunately it falls a bit flat in that regard. The setting was never developed enough for me to feel like I was there, but the action makes up for it. It's a bit like the videogame Castle Wolfenstein, but tells a story of the power of the land and it's myths to overcome "upstarts" like the Nazis. It's an exciting read, setup more like a thriller than traditional dark fiction or horror.

There are several very short stories in the collection, which I appreciate. I like the ultra short story format, probably because of fond memories of reading Aesop's Fable as a very very young lad. Deb Taber's Powered is a very short story that made me giggle and smirk. That may say a lot more about my own macabre sense of humor than the subject matter, but it's a great story either way.

Eulogy for Muffin is set in contemporary Seattle, but that's not the only reason I like it so much. I'm always fascinated with the machinations of belief systems amongst groups of people; for me, the interesting question isn't "What do these people believe about the world around them" but rather "When did these people's beliefs change and why". This is the space explored by Jennifer Brozek in a slow spiral that leads from the most charming and innocent to the sad and horrific in such slow increments - while keeping a tense, pageturning pace - I found myself forgetting to guess "the twist". I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of her stories.

Taking a turn into straight-up Science Fiction is The Junkyard God by M. Zak Anwar and O.M.R. Anwar. For some reason, the copy I have doesn't have any introduction or author information for this piece, nor am I able to locate any information on google. I wish I could, this dark futuristic take on the Beowulf theme was exceptionally well done and I would like to read more stories set in this world.

Sibling rivalry goes to places it probably never should, but thanks to Jennifer Pelland's excellent treatment of the subject Big Sister/Little Sister, this utterly twisted tale of jealousy and anger is a joy to read, even while people are doing hellishly horrible things to each other. It's the best kind of horror, in my opinion, the kind that makes me ask myself what I would do in that situation and would I be any kinder or humane. Ultimately, I'm not sure I would.

Just because I didn't provide a synopsis of each of the 21 stories included in this collection doesn't mean they aren't as good. It just means two things. First, I'm a lazy reviewer and second, at any given time and emotional place in my life certain themes and tones are going to feel more immediate to me than at other times. For three bucks, you can't go wrong with this book, and I'm sure anyone who appreciates dark [fiction, scifi, fantasy] and horror will find something they like in this book.