Today, I am reviewing the April 1st edition of the short story periodical Abyss and Apex! Published quarterly, this issue contains seven short stories, listed below as presented to me by the publisher. I will be reviewing each separately, then the periodical as a whole. Because these are short stories by different authors, I will be dispensing with my customary rating system, instead focusing on the content of the stories themselves.
The stories are:
"Penmanship" is about a magical archivist of the dead, and it being easier to get forgiveness than permission.
From Nigeria involving a modern man, magic, and Boko Haram: "Middle of Nowhere."
"All and Nothing" is a tale of a Viking woman, her relatives, and outsmarting her way to their god of the dead.
"Roadmaster" is about a sort of time-traveling antique car, and heroism.
"The Long Way" is the story of a child who runs away to see his daddy on Mars, and his mother's and his searches.
"What Does a Time Machine Cost?" (flash) is the poignant tale of a woman who devotes her life to unraveling her mother's death.
The lyrical "Barleycorn" tells of a modern fertility goddess trying to keep a man from sacrificing himself for her.
All and Nothing, by Chadwick Ginther, is an expertly-told fantasy tale rooted in some Norse mythology that isn’t as well-known as Thor and Odin. The protagonist, a woman named Aught, faces prejudice and discrimination as she seeks to prove herself worthy to the god of the dead and take her place as His emissary. Although this god chooses any who are worthy, some feel the position is worth ensuring there are no other supplicants. Ginther uses evocative language very effectively in this story, and I feel like the characters really came to life over the 16 pages. A worthy inclusion, and a fine read for anyone interested in the interplay of magics and traditions rather than combat.
Barleycorn, by Cae Hawksmoor, is rich with detail and curious in its story. While not confusing, Hawksmoor describes things that I am familiar with through new eyes, which gives them an interesting tint and forces me to see them afresh. The tragedy of life given so that more life can proceed from death is intensely well done, and I was enraptured by the whole story.
Middle of Nowhere, by Walter Dinjos, plays off the stereotypically Western desire for self-determination by pitting the protagonist’s will against that of a god. He struggles against his dictated destiny, but once he accedes to it (for reasons of his own), he finds that fulfilling his role completes him and makes him whole. Dinjos has created a fascinating magical system and populated his world with interesting people - I would have liked to see this expanded into a full novella or novel - and the interplay between the protagonist and the “savages” is fascinating.
The Consequential Effects of Practiced Penmanship by Marc A. Criley describes an urchivar, someone who transcribes the events of the past and puts them in book form that can be read and accessed; apparently, it is also possible to change events through these books, called uhrbuchs, provided one hasn’t done too much meddling before. In honesty, I did not like this story; there were glimmerings of things I thought were very interesting and cool concepts, but the construction and the flow defeated me. I didn’t understand most of the premise, and the interactions made little sense at times. I think this story could have been served well by being book-length, to allow for scene-setting and world-building, so that the reader could understand the rules the characters are playing by.
Roadmaster by Randall Andrews is a touching story wherein an old man uses his car to revisit his memories - and more - while his young grandson learns a little about his family’s history and about magic he didn’t know existed. While the story itself is emotional, touching, and interesting, it was too brief and events happened too fast for me to really enjoy it. My pdf review version clocked in a 7 pages, and I just don’t feel Andrews gave his work enough space. There were also a few typos in this version, but I don’t know if they made it to the final work.
The Long Way by William Campbell Powell is also short, at seven pages, but much more intensely interesting. Written almost in epistolary style, wherein the information is provided in the forms of letters or testaments by the primary actors, The Long Way brought tears to my eyes throughout as I imagined my own children in that situation. Powell’s portrayal of a young boy trying to reach his daddy on Mars by walking struck home to me and rang true, and the resolution of the story brought everything together succinctly and satisfyingly. Truly an excellent story.
What does a Time Machine Cost is a work of flash fiction by Elliotte Rusty Harold. Clocking in at only two pages, Harold manages to make Time Machine sing. Chronicling the efforts of a young girl working towards saving her mother by building a time machine, the work feels realistic, powerful, and the ending lines echo a truth that all would be well-served to understand: that life is worth every moment of itself.
Overall, this edition of Abyss and Apex has many excellent stories, and a few that could use some lengthening. I would recommend the periodical to anyone who enjoys these types of works, and look forward to reviewing more in the future! You can find Abyss and Apex at the link here.