Review: Shimmer 19

(Link to Shimmer, issue 19)

Shimmer is one of those magazines I love, and would love to be published in. The rhythm and the feel of any given story’s prose are just as important as the action, the plot, the characters. (Which is not to say they are MORE important. Just AS important.)

On the one hand, that requires a little readjustment of your internal readingometer—you can’t treat the ‘zine like most short story markets, expecting it to give you gratification up front and centre, expecting each story to start with a clear statement of motive, move through a sequence of try-fail cylces, and end up with the protagonist riding off into the metaphorical sunset, the prize grasped firmly in hand.

On the other hand . . . I’m not entirely sure that what I just said is actually a negative.

Because it doesn’t rely on what we’ve come to expect when it comes to speculative short stories, Shimmer regularly delights. It moves you into a different head-space, one where the world is not what we’ve come to expect. One where it’s dark, mythical, and more than a little unsettling. Each of the stories it contains does something to you that keeps your eyes locked in place, your chest tight. Each of them stays with you when you’re finished to some degree or another, and will make you look up, blinking, at the world outside your head. Each of them makes you look anew at things you thought you already understood, wondering.

And this is good. This is what story should do, what fiction should make us feel.

Issue 19 is also the start of a new publishing model for the ‘zine. No longer must you scrape together the remains of a month’s tightly-stretched paycheck to feast upon these gloriously dark stories. No longer must you ask yourself: Another loaf of bread or Shimmer? Starting with this issue, the wonderful shimmery folk who run the place have decided to take pity upon us poor wage-slaves and release their issues for free online as well as selling them in an e-book for those who can afford it. As a librarian and open access proponent, as well as as an author, this hits me in my happy places.

A few weeks back, Shimmer also ran a little Twitter contest, giving away three free subscriptions to the e-book version of the magazine based on the use of a hash tag, #newshimmer. I was fortunate enough to be one of the winners, which means I’ve already read the whole issue.

If you’re pressed for time or don’t like possible spoilers, this is where you’ll want to stop reading this review, and go buy the magazine or—at a minimum—read whichever stories are currently online.

I suggest buying the magazine if you can, because why wait? You’ll also have the benefit of supporting Shimmer’s new model, of letting their staff and those of other magazines know that you support free-to-read fiction publishing, that it’s sustainable, and that it doesn’t kill all your income. But, more importantly for you right now, you’ll get to read all the stories right away. Here’s that link again, if you missed it: Link to Shimmer, issue 19

So, if you’re going to stick around, on to the stories.

“The Earth and Everything Under” by K.M. Ferebee

As of the time of this posting, only the first story in the issue, “The Earth and Everything Under” by K.M. Ferebee, is available as free content on the Shimmer website. When I first opened my e-book copy, I read about half of this before moving on to the other stories in the issue. The pace seemed to lag, I got a little tired of the length and frequency of the letters inserted into the third-person narrative, I kept wanting something decisive to happen. On reflection, though, that seems like less of a problem with the story, and more of a problem with what I’ve been reading lately.

Revenant pseudo-birds, witches, and letters from beyond the grave notwithstanding, this is what might be called a quiet story, so don’t go in expecting fireworks and you’ll be fine. Personally I might have liked a little less of the letters, but I did like the protagonist, and the overall setting of the story, as well as where it ended up. This felt like the most lyrical story of the batch, as well, with the letters reading something like poems from the afterlife, and with plenty of gorgeous description in the narrative itself.

“Methods of Divination” by Tara Isabella Burton

A diviner who doesn’t believe in divination meets her match in a client whose romantic break-up with the woman he loved and lost is almost identical to her own past experience with an ex-lover. The opening few paragraphs of this one confused the dickens out of me (Who’s “he”? Who’s “I”? What are they talking about and where?!), but once I got past that minor bump I enjoyed this story thoroughly.

I could tell where this one was going pretty early on so far as character development and plot, but getting there was still a delight. The narrator, a knowingly cynical charlatan who “explains” visions and so-called signs to her eager clients, has a compelling voice and just the right touch of pathos about her to be sympathetic without being melodramatic. A bittersweet ending which fit just right made for a satisfying close to the piece, too.

“Jane” by Margaret Dunlap

This was a fun read, and probably the easiest transition for me going from non-Shimmer to Shimmer reading. It’s got enough of the style and tone of a shimmery story, but it’s also about the zombie apocalypse and all the violence and action that entails.

Er… Sort of, anyway. I would say it’s more a story about human beings that just happens to take place in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. The zombies themselves activate the plot, and keep it moving, but ultimately it’s about connections (missed and otherwise) and the stories we tell ourselves about our selves, so to speak. (I myself have written several zombie-stories-that-are-not-really-zombie-stories, and sold one recently to Freeze Frame Fiction, so obviously I’m comfortable with the idea of them.)

This was probably my favourite story on first read, and it got me in the proper sort of mood to read the rest of the issue, where the stories were a little slower, and more shimmery.

“List of Items Found in Valise on Welby Crescent” by Rachel Acks

This is the most experimental of the stories in this issue, and is something like a mystery for the reader, who must figure out what happened entirely through an examination of the contents of a valise found in the woods. It’s a non-traditional narrative through and through, and the reader has to work to put the story together. I found this an interesting piece, and some of the images stuck with me, but overall I didn’t feel quite as much as affected by it as I did the other stories.

I think one thing which throws me about it is that it’s an odd mix of what I might call a Victorian feel (the circus, called “Dr. Birrenbaum’s Stupendous Sideshow,” has a bird woman who may or may not be real) with modern-day stuff (a Blackberry phone, a used condom wrapper). There were also a number of items in the briefcase which seemed superfluous to the story at the heart of the mystery (why does it matter that there were 3 chapsticks? 5 ballpoint pens as well as a fountain pen?) but I’m willing to allow that this may just be lazy reading or a lack of proper thought on my part.

Anyway, an interesting piece and well-written enough, but not my personal favourite. (Oddly, because I usually quite enjoy non-traditional narratives.)


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