The two stories in this month's Shimmer content explore the boundaries between ideas that seem distinct but, upon closer examination, become a bit fuzzy. The space between human and plant, waking and dreaming, shadow and body, male and female. The stories dive into the ways that categories sometimes fail, that treating things with scientific distance sometimes means losing the real point. They are moving and complex stories of magic budding into our world and so I'm going to jump right into reviewing them!
|Art by Sandro Castelli|
"Only Their Shining Beauty Was Left" by Fran Wilde ( words)
This is a story about transformations. About longing. About becoming something other than the traditional flesh of humanity. In a literal sense it's about a scientist who never gets much of a chance to follow her true desires because she is railroaded and bullied into doing things for others. For me, mostly. But Dr. Ganit is a biologist with an interest in plants, and when people start turning into them she's drawn into the study, even though what she seems to want is to transform herself, to join into this movement toward the botanical. The story unfolds as she studies the phenomenon, which isn't exactly a disease or an affliction. It touches everything, people panicking but even so the changes seem to reveal something about the people. And it puts them wholly beyond the reach of those trying to contain them. They grow through their containers, through the homes and the universities. Through the stress and the categories and the walls. It's a lovely story and one with a slowly building power and desperation, an urge to understand but also to surrender into something that is so huge and so different. [SPOILERS] For Dr. Ganit, as far as I read the story, she wants to join in but can't quite set aside the human bark she's had to grow. She wants to become a tree but fears that it will make her vulnerable and she has such good defenses that it takes a long time to drop them in order to dream of something different, in order to let the natural in. It's a wonderful story with a strong sense of the strange that makes for a creeping and captivating read!
"Shadow Boy" by Lora Gray ( words)
This is a rather difficult story (with trigger warnings for self harm) about identity and gender and shadows and bodies. And it requires, I think, a very careful examination on my part so that I don't misgender the characters involved. The character is introduced as Prudence, though the name is one given and not one taken freely. The name, like the body that they were born with, doesn't fit the main character, who has to deal with erasure and transmisogyny and all sorts of uncomfortable crap from their family. It's a story of class, too, with the main character having to move because of eviction, brought to a city that seems hostile even as they grapple with the gender identity and expression. The story brings in its magical element in the form of a shadow, a shadow boy to be specific, and a strange entity known as Peter who might be like Peter Pan but who might be something completely different. Peter is at the same time a child and a hungry force wanting to take the shadow boy for himself. As for the main character, I feel the strong implication that they identify as a trans man but they never really come out and say that so it's more open. That gender is being complicated here is obviously one of the main thrusts of the story and to me it feels to simplistic to just slap a label on the main character and move on. Because the main character's journey, their questioning, exists in a place where they haven't quite decided what fits. What works. The ending feels like the main character finally stepping into themself, embracing who they are, and yet where that will take them I'm not wholly sure. Whatever the case it is a moving and magical piece about despair and hope and it's very worth checking out. Indeed!