Paula Guran Reviews Apex, Midnight Echo, Podcastle, and Pseudopod – Locus Online


Apex #141
Midnight Echo #18
Podcastle 10/3/23
Pseudopod 11/24/23

J.S. Breukelaar’s novelette “Hole World” in Apex #141 finds the world taken over by ten­tacled somethings. Justin is one of the few left alive. Though limited by a sentient manacle, he still works at Whole Foods, now under “new management,” tending to the frozen meat – guess the source – that is delivered weekly to feed the “managers.” Justin, forced to live and struggling with his existence, identifies with Winston in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Breukelaar masterfully renders his desperate situation but still manages to offer hope. “Homewrecker” by E. Catherine Tobler is told through a series of transcriptions of a home renovation television show with the same title as the story. Set dur­ing the pandemic, the transcripts more or less – there are gaps due to lost footage and garbled audio – follow Dean Murray, the host, as he singlehandedly records his survey and starts the restoration of a historic house – until he receives some unusual assistance. A singular haunted house story.

Issue 18 of Midnight Echo: Magazine of the Australasian Horror writers Association – guest edited by J.S. Breukelaar (again!) – is subtitled Cursed. Of the 18 works of fiction included, I felt three stood out. A woman in N. King’s “The Things She Carried” is burdened by the weight of the expectations of her husband, his parents, and her parents to bear a child. She lightens her load by disposing of, first, the contents of her purse – makeup, work-related items, phone, laptop, etc. – then her clothing. It turns into a body-horror story that’s predictable but well done. Kaaron Warren’s “The Book of Nature” is a chilling little tale featuring a haunted school in Darjeeling and a cursed book. In the satisfying “No Returns” by Penny Durham, a woman wants a medical publication to publish her “fantastical hodgepodge of unsupported assertions” about healing. Turned down three times, she seeks revenge using a computer-aided hex. But the hexer isn’t the only person with good IT support.

Gentler Things” by Thomas Ha from Pod­Castle 807 is a charming story about how we can gain from losing. A father tells his daughters about the Prince Who Lost. Men, he notes, want to hear about “the ones who win, not the ones who lose.” When he dies, the narrating daugh­ter remembers and reconsiders the stories. She learns a great deal about her father.

During November and December PseudoPod admirably featured previously published sto­ries from 2023 anthologies and collections. Despite being a reprint, I figure “Thirteen Ways of Not Looking at a Blackbird” by Gordon B. White – originally published in the 2023 anthology No Trouble at All edited by Alexis Dubon and Eric Raglin – is still fair game for this column. A boy grows up in a home where something horrific is happening in the locked basement, but his mother teaches him: “You don’t see nothing, you don’t say nothing. Never. Never ever…. Good boys keep their mouths shut about business that ain’t theirs. They don’t talk about it and they don’t think about it.” Growing up in a “house where we don’t speak of things Daddy doesn’t do” is warping enough but when the “nothing” is discovered and the child grows older, the mother’s insistence continues. As the boy narrates the story, we realize how deeply the denial and disorientation have affected him. A well-told, profoundly distressing story.

Recommended Stories
“Gentler Things”, Thomas Ha (PodCastle 10/3/23)
“Homewrecker” E. Catherine Tobler (Apex #141)
“Thirteen Ways of Not Looking at a Blackbird”, Gordon B. White (Pseudopod 11/24/23)

Paula Guran has edited more than 40 science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and more than 50 novels and collections featuring the same. She’s reviewed and written articles for dozens of publications. She lives in Akron OH, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.

This review and more like it in the March 2024 issue of Locus.

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