Every Day was Another Body: Apocalypse Nyx by Kameron Hurley

Nyxnissa so Dasheem—ex-soldier, ex-assassin—is a disreputable and legally questionable bounty hunter, hurtling toward her own demise by way of as much whiskey and as many poor choices as she can manage. Apocalypse Nyx collects five original stories about her, four of which were previously published on Hurley’s Patreon for subscribers. All of the stories in Apocalypse Nyx take place prior to the events of God’s War (2011) and often gesture toward latter events in the Bel Dame Apocrypha series, sometimes with grim foreshadowing.

The world of the Bel Dame Apocrypha is as compelling as ever: biotechnological warfare, magic-oriented bugs on all surfaces, collapsing social order, matriarchal control, the list goes on. These novellas, however, are more concerned with action-adventure than continued development of the milieu—each follows one job that Nyx takes on for herself and her crew, from start to finish.

Apocalypse Nyx is a niche project. The expectation for a set of stories that are arguably prequels to a successful series might be that each will further some existing aspect of the completed dramatic arc. Instead, only two of the five pieces handle that sort of narrative expansion—respectively, how Anneke and Khos joined the squad—but the other three are more concerned with Nyx’s hellbent efforts to commit accidental suicide, her savagely buried feelings for Rhys, and the sort of work an ex-bel dame can get in Nasheen.

The most intriguing bit of character development in the book takes place during the conclusion of the final story, “Paint it Red.” This is the one piece that tackles Nyx alone as part of the larger world, party to the consequences of her own prior actions, without her team and their fucked-up family dynamics involved. She helps do a job with a woman who saved her life in prison, and at the end, that woman’s team murders a homesteading family including the children for no reason. Nyx almost starts up a disagreement over the nature of murder: she kills for work, the team she was assisting did it for pleasure, and that’s markedly different.

The realization leads her to rescind her prior choice to join up with the new team and abandon her own; at the close of the story, she returns home to help clean up the storefront with Khos and Taite and Anneke and Rhys, none of them the wiser of her moment of introspection or that little bit more blood on her hands. After four other stories that show little more than the same-old, same-old Nyx, that conclusion is a strong place to end the collection, leading the reader straight into God’s War.

The unfortunate effect of collecting these stories in one place without respite—all, as previously noted, set prior to the functional arc of the completed series—is repetition of a kind that renders the reader nonplussed and near to desensitized. Each of the pieces treads the same narrative path: same plot structure, same thematic concerns, same notes hit over and over in terms of world-building.

On the one hand: those notes are all compelling and fast-paced, gruesome and titillating at turns, presenting an approach to gender and sexuality that is appalling but fascinating. The Bel Dame Apocrypha series was a stand-out; God’s War was nominated for the Tiptree, Locus, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke and BSFA awards for a reason. However, without room to sprawl, the novellas in this collection strike an odd mix of too much exposition for long-term fans and too much repetition for newcomers.

It is, in a rather direct sense, fanservice. Knowing that from the start places the collection in context and allows the reader to take it on its own terms. After all, who doesn’t appreciate a return to a previous series from a writer they’ve enjoyed, giving some no-strings-attached adventure stories? I’m reminded, in a roundabout way, of Joanna Russ’s The Adventures of Alyx—a damn fun read that knows its target audience. In this case, the target audience wants to see a female pulp protagonist who wears breast-bindings, drinks too much, fucks for sport, and commits a disturbing amount of gore-spattered violence.

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t plow through it in almost one sitting, because I most certainly did. It’s a pleasure-read, a set of stories that push the same buttons, but those happen to be buttons I can appreciate. Apocalypse Nyx isn’t the place to start for a reader unfamiliar with Hurley’s work. For that I’d recommend a more recent novel such as The Stars are Legion (reviewed here as well). However, for a reader who’s interested in seeing a bit of Nyx before the series—Nyx the total fucking disaster of a person, Nyx the monster, Nyx who can’t connect and can’t communicate and lives on the fine line between a death-wish and a death-drive—this collection will scratch the itch.

Brit Mandelo is a writer, critic, and editor whose primary fields of interest are speculative fiction and queer literature, especially when the two coincide. They have two books out, Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction and We Wuz Pushed: On Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-telling, and in the past have edited for publications like Strange Horizons Magazine. Other work has been featured in magazines such as Stone TellingClarkesworldApex, and Ideomancer.

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