Every week on Twitter, Shimmer Magazine asks people what they’ve been reading. It’s a great way to find new novels and stories that people are excited about–or figure out what might not suit your tastes.
Here, then, are a few things I’ve read this week!
“Hare’s Breath” by Maria Haskins (Shimmer, September 2017)- A beautiful, heart-aching story of loss, love, and midsummer magic of a very Swedish sort. (Note: depictions of abuse.)
Acadie by Dave Hutchinson (Tor.com, September 5, 2017) – An unwilling president, an illicit space colony, and genetic alteration–what’s not to love? Mostly: the ending, which read to me like the author just stopped writing the novel he’d started and put on a twist ending a quarter of the way through, and called the result a novella. I was particularly disappointed because the twist (which appeared more or less entirely unforeshadowed on the last two pages of the novella!) seemed to me to rub in my face everything I’d enjoyed about the story to that point. And, okay, I should have figured something was up since the thing’s called Acadie and Arcadia is supposed to be an unattainable paradise that can never be regained. But ugggggh. Very disappointed in this one–if you pick it up, you’ll probably be happier if you just stop when the Bureau ship appears in-system and make up your own ending. (Although the twist ending seems to have worked really well for some people, so what do I know?)
Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnoly (Tor, February 2017) – The elevator pitch for this book is “A double-agent sacrifices all his ideals in order to save his smuggler lover before a government coup takes over their decadent city,” which sounds fantastic to me. I really wanted to love this one, but just couldn’t stick with it past the second chapter. I enjoyed the character interactions in the sections of it I did read, but the style just was not my cup of tea, and it was all a little too lushly written for me to get into. (The slang of the world, in particular, felt too self-consciously faux-1920s for my taste.) Give this one a try if “lushly written” 1920s-style intrigue is your thing, though!
Over in the newly-round Twitter timeline, there’s a thing called #FridayReads where you post (you guessed it) things you’ve read. On Fridays. (I don’t think you have to read the things on Fridays, though.)
So! Here are four fictive things and one essay I’ve read and enjoyed lately, arbitrarily ordered, and one thing I’m about to read:
I’m about to read Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar, which sounds like a lot of fun if by fun you mean disturbing surrealist weirdness. I haven’t had much luck with the few newly-published novels I’ve read this year (excepting Kameron Hurley’s amazing The Stars are Legion, which I loved) so I hope this one aligns with my tastes a bit better.
I’ve spotted a couple of reviews out there on the Interwebs for my story “Elements of a Successful Exit Broadcast” in the November issue of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination. I know you’re not supposed to read the things, but I’m a glutton for self-abnegation and never could resist.
There is a great sense something terrible has happened, and that in some ways it takes being in such a situation to give advice on it. That this list is both a manual for others and its own successful exit broadcast. That it follows its own advice, though it slips a bit, as anyone would. That it keeps the pain just under the surface, slipping only momentarily up to show in the quiver of a lip, the hesitation in a word. It’s a gripping story, a very, very short story, and a fine read.
David does make a good point about this being an implausible set of instructions, but such is the nature of the piece’s second-person conceit. Somewhat more baffling to me is that he spends the rest of the review talking about the authentic smell of burning and/or rancid meat. As he says, “Details count, particularly in a story of 200 words.” And sure, I’ll agree with that. And sure maybe I should have deleted “rancid.” (I will admit that it’s mostly there for rhythm.) All the same, this aspect of David’s review still seems a little over the top to me.
Ah well. You can’t please everybody, right? I think that’s especially true for such a short piece as this one.
Author friend Henry Lien was kind enough to send me a copy of the March/April 2015 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, the first edited by C.C. Finlay with his “official full-time editor” hat on.
Heretic Cheap-ass that I am, I think this is the first F&SF I’ve actually sat down and read all the way through. It’s certainly the first I’ve ever owned a copy of. (My reading history with Asimov’s is similar, and my reading history with Analog is non-existent.)
Anyway, it’s good!
I haven’t had a chance to dig into the novella and novelettes yet, but of the short stories it contains, here are a few I particularly enjoyed:
“A User’s Guide to Increments of Time,” by Kat Howard – Two people with similar (but very different) time-stopping abilities engage in a disastrous relationship. Gorgeous prose and a satisfying resolution made this one stand out.
“Bilingual,” by Henry Lien – A story about the practice of dolphin drive hunting (note: explicit photographs of animal slaughter in that link), told in the form of a Twitter feed and two letters. I had a bit of a believability issue with the linguistics at work here in the creation of a “dolphin meme” that could be used to warn dolphins away from Taiji (and presumably other places where the practice of dolphin drive hunting is still legal and practiced), although it appears that dolphins can and do use echolocation “snapshots” to discuss dangerous places, but otherwise this is a very compelling tale. The character voice is excellent (although if you hate Twitter and Internet shorthand it will probably drive you crazy), and for a story told entirely in 144-character snippets, there’s a clear sense of action and character. A memorable read.
“La Héron,” by Charlotte Ashley – A fun Dumasian romp, complete with unlikely nuns, duels-a-plenty, and fairy lords. Lush setting details and good action, plus two female characters who kick ass. Hooray!
“Things Worth Knowing,” by Jay O’Connell – A story about the possible future of militarily-standardized education. I started out not thinking I would like this (teacher has a gun and a Taser-like club), but it’s a well-developed setting with a sympathetic (if at times a tad too nostalgic) character, and the overall plot works for me. There’s even a little bit of intersectionality at work! I think the story will resonate particularly well for those involved with teaching in some way or another. My only real complaint is that the ending makes me want more stories set in this world.
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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