The science fiction issue continues at Shimmer with two more stories this month that examine place and care and struggle. Both stories, as promised in the issue's editorial, make fine use of language to build their worlds, their voices. The stories blood onto the page with strangeness and with yearning and both make use of characters facing the end of something. The end of the world, the end of a single life. There are moments of profound change and resistance and I'm just going to get to those reviews!
|Art by Sandro Castelli|
"An Atlas in Sgraffito Style" by A.J. Fitzwater ( words)
This issue explores science fiction, but this story feels bit more like urban fantasy to me, set in a place where the streets are alive and all cities have crashed together into a fluid mix. Where graffiti artists battle against people called Bricks not really for dominance but for the best seat for the end of the world. The style of the story is captivating, switching between two women who are more on the side of the graffiti, an artist and an art appreciator. Béla, who wants to be an artist, follows Affra, an artist in some ways linked to the cities, to the nature of them, to how they change and flow. The story is more Béla's, about her growing understanding, her transition from somehow who likes art to someone who does art. It's about learning how to express, how to dance, even in the face of those who want to brick you in, force you to be solely ornamentation, solely two dimensional. The dynamic between Affra and Béla is great, parts friends and part mentor and student and part strangers slowly becoming…something more. The setting is strange and twisted and uncertain but it also borrows nicely from the idea of being an amalgam of every city, with every city's personality battling for the same place. The visuals are haunting, soaring, and I love the way the battles work, the tension for the heart of the city, graffiti or brick. It's a difficult piece because of the uncertainty of it, because of the weirdness, but it's also a very rewarding story for the same reason. Definitely check it out!
"subroutine:all///end" by Rachael Acks ( words)
Closing out this science fiction issue of Shimmer is a story about age and death and remembrance, about a robot, an AI, tasked to care for an individual, tasked to care for so much more than just that. The story does a stunning job of building the life of this robot, 9384-S, who cares for a woman suffering from dementia, from memory loss, from age. The story shows 9384-S as a robot capable of many functions. As part of the city's network and as Ana, the skin they wear to care for their patient, the guise of a former lover, now dead. The story is about care and about what it means to care and about how we care for the elderly, how we are to remember them. And in some ways it's about the hypocrisy of building machines capable of caring and then treating them like they can just be wiped clean and repurposed. The imprint of the care, of what the robot experienced, is part of what makes them…them. And the story does a great job showing the logic and the processes behind care, artificial only in that they are named. We all have our programs, after all, that we run to deal with situations, built from experience and endlessly tweaked. I loved that was played with, how the programming language was used to convey such human emotions, such a human mind. And though there is a ache of memory and pain and loss, there is also the hope that with care comes a sort of immortality, that we need to hold onto what we can of those we care for, even after they are dead, for they make us better. Better people. And it's a great message and a fantastic way to close out a very story issue.