Anthology Review: ‘Book of Apex: Volume 4’

The Book of Apex: Volume Four of Apex MagazineI am what, second to last stop on the blog tour for this collection of stories?  Honest to God, what else is there going to be to talk about by the time it gets to me?  Writing this in advance I won’t have the advantage of reading all the posts that come before.  But I can hazard a few guesses.  I will make the assumption that every story in the book will have been dissected, rated, and then have a comb ran through them again.  There will most likely be interviews with authors galore, which I will find interesting because in some cases they will probably be longer than the story in this Apex collection.  In short, I find myself wondering if the average reader of this blog tour is going to be bored by the time they get to me.  After throwing out a couple of ridiculous ideas (including, I kid you not, running the stories through a giant death match until only one is left standing) I decided to keep it simple and talk more about my experience with short stories in general and this collection specifically.

When first offered the chance to read this collection my first thought was to pass.  I just don’t do short stories.  Novellas, yes.  But short stories are a rare thing for me to read.  When I do read them I tend to drift toward stories that build on an existing narrative, such as the new Shy story by Joe Abercrombie in Dangerous Women, then I return the rest of the collection unread.  I just tire of the pattern so common in short stories; quick set up followed by a crazy twist, The End.  But I looked at the list of authors included and I just couldn’t turn it down.  If I get to read Valente and Valentine, plus try Tidhar after hearing so much, well I guess I could give a short collection the old college try.

Glad I did.  There were still a few I struggled with, and I was reminded over and over about the limitations of the short story format, but there were some real gems here that I would hate to give up now that I have read.  It was better by far than most collections I have tried; it just feels like it had higher standards than the typical themed collection of various authors.

Problems with the short story format?  Ya, I had them.  There were a couple of stories in this collection that seemed absolutely pointless.  As in, nothing happened and even a couple pages is too many for that to happen.  (No, I won’t be pointing out which stories I didn’t like).  Perhaps more frustrating in my mind were the stories that I really liked but want so much more from.  There were a few that made me think they could be amazing novels if fleshed out a bit more.  As short stories they were good, but damn it I want more!

But despite the reservations, did I enjoy this collection?  Oh I did.  Set aside the frustration of wanting more from some of the stories; I wanted more because they were so good.  Just give me those stories and I would have called this a good, but flawed, collection.  Flawed of course being based on my bias as a non-short story reader.  But even with those biases I would call this collection a success because intermixed with a lot of good and only a couple of bad stories were some brilliant ones.

It should come as no surprise that Catherynne Valente gives us a gem and it comes right to start the book, easing my fears and letting me work into unfamiliar territory.  The Bread We Eat in Dreams is everything I wanted, short but completely contained, just as magical as anything she has written.  Maybe I am a sucker for a demon story.

Who is Adam Troy-Castro and why have I not heard of him before?  During the Pause is a true sci-fi masterpiece that everyone needs to read.  Or have broadcast directly into their minds.  It works within the short length because of its ‘real time’ element; everything important is contained within the impactful message being passed along.  Absolute horror, but with just a hint of something that could be hope.

So Glad We Had This Time Together by Cat Rambo.  I said I hate the ‘set up the world then toss in a twist’ pattern of short stories earlier but this one showed once again there are exceptions to every rule.  I could think of a lot of things that could go wrong with a reality TV show involving the supernatural but even I may have missed this obvious flaw.

Other can’t miss stories if you are the type to just skim through the volume?  Try out Decomposition if you want something disturbing, Ironheart for proof that war is hell but it could always be worse, Tommorow’s Dictator for your typical dystopia done a bit smarter than the current trend, Trixie and the Pandas of Dread for a grim laugh, and The Performance Artist if you hate yourself and don’t want to sleep.  Oh, and if that isn’t enough I also read the sweetest little fairy tale that should be easy enough to spot by title.

Ultimately I am glad I read this collection, and I think it is worth a read for others who, like me, may be a bit skeptical of the format in general.


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