Winter has come in truth to Shimmer Magazine, as December's releases shows a mix of horror and despair, pain and the lingering traces of loss. The stories both structure themselves around strong premises—the loss of a great war, the tasting of spirits—and complicate them, flesh them out with characters that exist in broad strokes but still impart a subtle complexity. There are some dark flavors at work here, notes of blood and hunger, but there's also a certain tenderness as well. There is despair, yes, but there is also resolve. To live. To survive. The stories approach these ideas from very, very different places, but they're well paired all the same. So yeah, to the reviews!
|Art by Sandro Castelli|
"Spirit Tasting List for Ridley House, April 2016" by Rachael Acks ( words)
This is a short but deliciously creepy story that features a mash-up of wine tasting and haunting. It's framed as a walking tour of a haunted house with a special glass that allows the taster to experience the flavor of the lingering spirits of the dead. It's a great premise and a wonderful execution, building a nicely layered horror by examining not just the deaths of the people being consumed and not just their consumption but also hinting at the tragedy of their lives, the damage that they did or the ways in which they were betrayed, all of them circling inward to the final moment, to the final tasting, where everything is brought together in a powerful and delightfully dark moment of terror and malevolence. This is a story that seems perfectly made for me, because I am all about drinking and all about crossing SFF with drinking notes. Taking that a step deeper, as this story does, fills me with a deep joy even as it fills me with a sinking dread. I just love the idea of these people going around sampling ghosts, savoring the pain of their death, the richness of suffering. The reader is invited in and made a part of the proceedings. We are made guilty of enjoying the feel and taste of these spirits we consume. We are all of us voyeurs and have to face the uncomfortable reality that enjoying the story places us as witness to those final lives, knowing that while we might not be the one who perpetrated the crimes the house has witnessed, we have enjoyed the flavors of what has happened, even if it repulses us a bit as well. It's a short read but a magnificent one, sharp and crisp and deep and very good. Go read it!
"Now We've Lost" by Natalia Theodoridou ( words)
This story takes a look at the devastation left behind in the wake of war. Looks at a town full of women who have lost their men to the violence. Who have lost, and been abandoned, and try to find some way forward in that. I love how the story focuses on how the war has replaced what was planted in the town's gardens with cigarettes and broken glass, and the main character wondering what will grow. There's this visceral feeling throughout that these people had very little to do with the war. They supported it because they had to, they lost their men and boys to it, but it's something that they feel distant from, that losing is something they're just told about. And they wait, and wait, trying to hope that things might return to how they are and knowing that they can't. That there are some things that can't exactly be healed from. Which is not to say they can't survive them. But I love how the story shows that distinction, that the earth has been sowed with glass and death and there's really nothing growing. The main character does find someone, does settle into a relationship and a life with him, but it's not something that really erases the loss. The relationship is interesting and does ease some of the pain, but it's also colored by that pain, not allowed to exist without the scars of the war. The women survive, as people do, but they can't really heal until the wounds are closed, until the earth is cleaned. It's a slow story and a heavy one, but quite well done and very much worth checking out. A great read!