Review: Tales from the Realm, Vol. 1

Aphotic Realm is an up-and-coming fiction magazine for the strange and the sinister, co-edited by Adrian Alexander Medina and Dustin Schyler Yoak. Tales from the Realm Vol. 1 is the “best of” collection for 2017, and it is simply excellent. Special kudos to Aphotic Realm‘s art director Gunnar Larsen, the creator of the anthology’s gorgeous cover, who consistently provides the magazine and the themed anthologies with eerie, breathtaking visuals.

The anthology offers something for every fan of dark fiction. There are mythical creatures, monsters, ghosts, and various undead; the kind of evil we cannot comprehend and the kind we can; bonds between people that transcend all obstacles and those that destroy us; foreign places, foreign worlds, and how oblivious we are to the perils; above all, the fragility, majesty, and darkness in us humans and in all we strive for.

Silencing the Bell by Gary Buller. Explores the consequences of inexcusable actions, guilt, and punishment.

Other Mother by Skye Makaris. A tale of a fairy who’s served royalty for generations, and the costs of those relationships to everyone involved. Beautiful and intricate.

Imagination by A. K. Summers. What happens when what’s inside our heads makes no sense to the rest of the world.

Rot Brothers by Simon McHardy. Relationships between siblings, mistakes, loss, and revenge.

The Trials of Man by Tevis Shkoora. A fantasy tale of a royal coming of age, and learning the hard way that the world is much bigger than himself.

The Wall’s End by Rudolfo Serna. The conditions on Earth have changed and so have humans, but will the modifications persist through generations?

The Forgotten House by S. J. Budd. Be careful what you wish for, because someone might acquire it for you. And not in the way you’ve envisioned.

Persistence of Memories by John Crain. A well-written sci-fi story of extraterrestrial exploration. It reminds us of that old saying that involves a feline and a thirst for knowledge…

Enid and the Owls by K.T. Wagner. A heartbreaking, dark tale of aging; how the world stops seeing that people matter in their twilight years.

The Yellow Door by Isha Ro. Precise and unflinching, a story of meaningless and perennial evil in our midst.

No Laughing Matter by Phil Temples. A detective story, with a hilarious, absurd premise that somehow, deep down, feels surprisingly…not absurd.

My Better Half by Mark Blickley. Funny and unapologetic, a tale of a self-absorbed man who has a lot to learn and a unique opportunity to do so, yet, being who he is, doesn’t.

Dinner Party by Ashley Libey. A tight sci-fi gem, with vivid characters and sharp glistening edges, literally and metaphorically.

Cajoled by Bronte Pearson. Even the seemingly safest places can be replete with danger when we’re vulnerable.

A Mother’s Love by Micah Castle. A beautifully crafted fantasy piece, revealing darkness within people and the protective power of love.

Provident Justice by Carrier Connel-Gripp. Teenagers, man; teenagers. Gripping, with a surprising and ultimately heartwarming resolution.

Number Seventeen by J. R. Heatherton. Gaslighting, ’tis all I will say. If you watch The Handmaid’s Tale, this story might give the same feeling in the pit of your stomach; it’s a mixture of incredulity, helplessness, and rage.

The Shape of Government Center by Gene Grantham. You know how parents ask, “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you follow?” Now replace the bridge with the creepiest, spookiest building you know.

An Almost Cannibal by Morgan K. Tanner. A gentleman of good taste makes his fortune as a special kind of motivational speaker. This story features exquisitely vivid, stomach-churning imagery.

Black Lung Hay Fever by S. E. Casey. Set in a sleepy town, the story slithers, relentless, as if everything is business as usual. Terror emerges from the deceptive molasses of routine.

Truly, this is an excellent anthology. However, if you want to read just one story from it, I recommend Other Mother; I believe it is also the longest piece in there. I remember Other Mother from months ago, when I first came across Apothic Realm‘s website. The story blew my mind: gorgeous but unassuming prose, a number of well-crafted characters, relationships that feel organic even though the characters aren’t all human, and a fairly (pun intended) complex plot with several surprises. This story has a lot of heart but tries to keep a stiff upper lip. Also, you are guaranteed to notice the opening sentence.

If you’d like a few shorter stories that span a wide range of topics — a taster flight, it you will — I recommend picking from among Enid and the Owls, Persistence of Memories, The Yellow Door, Dinner Party, A Mother’s Love, Provident Justice, and Black Lung Hay Fever.

Overall, a great collection. I look forward to the 2018 anthology and suggest keeping an eye on Aphotic Realm — I predict exciting times ahead for this splendid new magazine.

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