"Being a ham and trying to operate a station under adverse conditions requires ingenuity, knowledge and skill. "
Being a new ham and having to operate a station under adverse conditions should garner relatively unprejudiced support from those with knowledge and skill.
"If you intend to postpone learning the skills, even the very basic ones like soldering, then I suggest you postpone operating while you read, study and acquire the skills you need. "
I half agree with that. Getting a good antenna for a QRP 40m station going from a tiny balcony is probably the least plug and play thing I can think of to start out with. You could buy one of those MFJ apartment antennas, but it's going to be a relative waste of money. You could buy a Buddipole which would be better, but REAL expensive compared to something you could do yourself.
But you need to balance abstract skill acquisition with concrete skill acquisition. Pick an antenna that you think fits your budget. It might be something of a waste of money. But you can start listening with it, make some contacts, and it can be modified.
One of those MFJ apartment antennas is real short for 40m... but it has a coil and a cliplead that could be used on a long wire on a fishing pole at night for better 40m performance.
I want to be encouraging, KC9QEB but I really have to be honest. Most of the cheap apartment antennas that exist are not very good and the decent ones are very expensive (because convenience + performance demands a rather high price, apparently). That doesn't mean that a cheap one won't get you on the air. But it might be frustrating. I can't really in good conscience give you a particular recommendation on a good apartment antenna in the, say, $100 range because I just think they're all ripoffs. That doesn't mean you absolutely shouldn't go that way if that's what gets you on the air... but it does mean you'll get ripped off ;-) Go ahead and pick one, and then figure out something better later.
A good, cheap antenna is within reach.
Study the shorty 40 concept:http://www.k7mem.150m.com/Electronic_Notebook/antennas/shorty_40.html
Check out a cheap 20 foot antenna support that can collapse down to a tiny thing during the day:http://bnmpoles.com/p-119-black-widow.aspx
And when you get around to learning to solder:http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2007/01/its_learn_to_solder_month.html
It's really a massively useful skill to have if you're an apartment dweller because as you learn you're going to quickly find that reliably joining a couple of wires is key. You're actually less likely to **need** to know how to solder if you build a $5,000 DX station with commercial gear including pre made cables than if you build a $300 apartment QRP station.