Magazine/Issue: Shimmer, Issue #16
Fiction Editor: Catherine Tobler (twitter: @ECthetwit)
Front and back cover: Kurt Higgins/Zelda Devon
Author’s Note: Shimmer is clearly a joint effort. As well as featuring multiple illustrations by several artists, a team of talented people worked on the editing, layout, and web design; I’m sorry that I couldn’t list them all. One way of learning about them would be to purchase issue #16 of Shimmer, where they’re all (rightfully) given credit for their work.
Author’s (second) Note: This is the fourth in a (roughly) monthly series of science fiction and fantasy magazine reviews. My intent is to convey the experience of an in-depth, cover-to-cover read of a single issue, rather than to provide a true overview of the magazine’s ongoing content. This month’s review – of issue #16 of Shimmer – should be read with that in mind.
On Shimmer’s home page it states that the magazine publishes “contemporary fantasy short stories, with a few ventures into science fiction or horror, and the stories tend to be tinged with sorrow (though we’re not averse to the occasional funny tale)” and I found this to be accurate. Shimmer has a distinct feeling to it: rawer than Apex and more surreal and fantasy-oriented than the classic science fiction that you might find in Clarkesworld. There was something very physical about some of the stories in issue #16 of Shimmer: an awareness of the body, the blood, and of mortality. Though the stories taken as a whole don’t turn away from the classic narrative shape they don’t embrace it, either, tending at times towards provocative, moody meditations on life, love, and death.
Please excuse the occasional vagueness of the below fiction summaries. Rather than being intentionally obtuse, this is indicative of my desire to not spoil the reading experience. Presented here are a few comments regarding the general feel, structure, theme, or writing of each piece, rather than a thorough analysis. Overall I found the writing to be good – very lush – though occasionally I thought that (perhaps out of an urge to push boundaries) a line or two or a passage could have been pulled back.
“Ordinary Souls” by K. M. Szpara is an interesting story about sacrifice and love. Reading it made me consider the promises we make in relationships, and the circumstances that lead to their being inevitably broken.
“Goodbye Mildred” by Charlie Bookout had a nice dust bowl feel to it, with almost (but not quite) too much setting as we learn the story – and secret – of an old couple and their enduring love. For some reason that I struggle to articulate this story really pleased me.
I quite enjoyed “Opposable Thumbs” by Greg Leunig, in which the mystery of the narrator’s identity is slowly revealed at a pace at first frustrating, but ultimately rewarding.
“Word and Flesh” By Dennis Y. Ginoz takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, but quickly centers on one element within it, and a life that has an ultimate, grim purpose. It was after reading this story that I wrote a note to myself about the (sometimes grisly) physicality of Shimmer, and how it stood out in comparison to the other magazines I’ve read for this series.
Of all the stories in issue #16 of Shimmer, “The Revelation of Morgan Stern” by Christie Yant (Twitter) was the only one that I thought could have been longer. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, but the initial conceit is interesting and the actions of the main character made sense in context. As the reasons for the apocalypse are revealed, the story brings in a unique, fairy tale twist.
Though I enjoyed some aspects of “The Binding of Memories” by Cate Gardner, I found that some of the more surreal elements fit uncomfortably with the more literal ones. This gave the story, for me, a disjointed quality. I felt that it needed to be tipped more one way or the other.
I enjoyed “The Death and Life of Bob” by William Jablonsky, about a man who dies, only to show up for work the next day. I found it to be a light-hearted and at the same time (in a back-handed way) thought provoking story about tolerance, the undead, and the limits of goodwill.
“The Sky Whale” by Rebecca Emanuelsen is a sweet story about a little girl, set in a post-tsunami Japan. It has a surreal aspect to it that I enjoyed but wasn’t completely in sync with. Full disclosure: I love Japan, so I’m a soft touch for stories that are set there.
I struggled a bit with “Tasting of the Sea” by A.C. Wise. Though I liked the style and overall arc of the story, I wanted a little more subtlety of theme. That said, it was an interesting read and some of the images were beautifully painted.
“Lighting the Candles” by Laura Hinkle I found intriguing, but with its punk vampire and club scene, not as original as I might have liked, which I could have overlooked if the story itself had more depth and complexity.
I found myself wondering how “Gemini in the House of Mars” by Nicole M. Taylor would end, and I wasn’t disappointed. I found this story about a widow, his dead wife’s twin, and the haunting he experiences to be fascinating, with just the right amount of ambiguity.
I chuckled at the end of “The Haunted Jalopy Races” by M. Bennardo, a slicked-back story about a race for a girl that continues for years after the death of the racers and has a funny, wry twist at the end.
The central idea of “In Light of Recent Events I Have Reconsidered the Wisdom of Your Space Elevator” By Helena Bell is fascinating and touches the edge of magical realism, but I wanted more than the story ultimately gave me.
On the site you can join the mailing list, as well as find a listing of authors and some online content, gleaned from readers’ choice winners from past issues and a good way to get a bead on the fiction, for anyone on the fence. Issue #10 of the magazine is available for free download, though at $4.00 for an online copy and $8.00 for print, it’s just as easy to purchase issue #16 and support the unusual fiction that Shimmer releases into the wild.