Apex magazine had to pause for quite a while due to serious health issues of the editor. But a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2020 funded a whole year, and issue 121 just arrived today.
Synopsis: Sam Grayson is a Junior Reaper of the Department of Death. He gets tasks to ferry the souls of the deceased over the River of Death, and has done so 221 times.
The very next task is very hard for him: Toddler Lawrence remembers him of his own son who died at the age of three.
There is a lot of rules and bureaucracy involved, and one simply cannot escape the doom of death. But only this time, Sam wants to change the fate. But the archangel is ever watching.
Review: Alix E. Harrow is an awesome author, her Once and Future Witches blew me away in 2020. Her short story Do Not Look Back, My Lion was my favorite for the Hugos. I had to read this new short story by her instantly as soon as I could hold my hands on the newest Apex issue.
The narration has a mostly humorous atmosphere with lots of bitter-sweet touches – not only from the reaper business with all its formalisms but also from Sam’s voice as a first person narrator:
Jesus Christ on his sacred red bicycle. He’s two.
Two is, by break room consensus, the worst age for reaping. Their souls are still baby-soft and cottony, wholly innocent, but full of the subtleties and quirks that define their selfhood.
The plot is somewhat predictable but very satisfying in the end. We see some world building with small and funny interactions of the ghostly reapers, some serious talks with the archangel Raz, and a lot of caring for the baby boy and his parents.
Sure, the author plays with one’s heartstrings – but on the other hand it is balanced with the cool lady archangel, smoking and wearing jeans, never horrific, ever smiling.
I think there is a place for some wholesomeness without going to deep into sentimental shlock.
Recommended for readers looking for a non-horrific, wholesome, bitter-sweet ghost story. Who also want to support a great SFF magazine.
Meta: Available online in Apex issue 121.