Thursday, July 19, 2018

Quick Sips - Shimmer #44 [July stuff]

Shimmer is ending. The announcement has been made that 2018 will be the last for the publication. It’s a bit of a poignant moment for me, because Shimmer was one of the first publications I reviewed, back when I was at Tangent. Since then, it’s been a source of some of my favorite stories, and has provided a consistent and luminous stream of short SFF. The July offerings are no exception, with two quite haunting tales about the pressure that a setting can put on a person. The pressure to conform, and fit in, and succeed in the expected ways. The pressure to suppress hungers that aren’t appropriate for human communities. The stories are at turns tragic and grimly hopeful. Not that pain or rending flesh or burbling lungs can always be avoided, but that life can sometimes move beyond those hurts and take forms more suitable to thriving in oppressive situations. To the reviews!

Art by Sandro Castelli

“The Passenger” by Emily Lundgren (5000 words)

No Spoilers: Kara works at a gas station after graduating high school with few prospects, and does what she can to make her life less unbearable. Lately, that’s meant hanging out with Wig, who was one of the two people from their high school to attend a prestigious private college with a full ride scholarship. For Kara, who has had a thing for Wig since high school, it seems magical (especially when they practice spells on the beach at night). For Wig, it might be something very different. And when one night takes a decidedly weird turn, Kara might just find out how differently they were experiencing the same events. The piece has an almost distracted style, conversational but like a conversation with someone who’s also having a text conversation with someone else. And it works to capture this tone, earnest and almost desperate and increasingly dark.
Keywords: CW- Suicide, Haunting, Texts, Magic, College, Music
Review: This is a slowly sinking story that really captures the feeling of being pulled under. Of being suffocated. And it does a wonderful job of framing a place and a relationship and a situation that is complicated and dark and difficult. On one level, the story does a great job with Wig, showing this guy who people think has it together, who is lucky, who has so much, and showing that it doesn’t protect him from his own brain, from his own insecurities, and from the immense pressure that he’s under because he’s from a poorer situation and being expected to perform like he isn’t, to be in a place where everyone else is incredibly well off but he’s supposed to succeed because he’s smart. And how that chips away at him, and how he looks for an escape from that. At the same time, it shows the side from Kara’s point of view, and her own desperation and hopelessness, her own anger and dreams. For all that the piece largely becomes about Wig and his pain, Wig and his problems and his magic, the piece is also about Kara, and how he treats her, and how he ignores so much about her because he’s trapped in his own head, thinking of his own problems. Which is heartbreaking, because for Kara this is a good thing, is maybe making this connection that for Wig is in some ways hitting bottom, and it’s just rending for me to see the two characters connecting here but not, each caught up in something but missing each other. And the result, well, is disturbing and weird and disorienting. It’s messed up, but the story handles it with a lovely mood, a disjointed and unsettling style, and a great gut punch finish. A wonderful read!

“Milkteeth” by Kristi DeMeester (4000 words)

No Spoilers: Henni is a girl reaching toward adulthood in a world that has declined into cold and hunger. Along with her father, she walks through a winter without the sound of birds or animals, for there are none left. Or, almost none. Because Henni herself isn’t quite a girl any longer, having inherited something from her mother, now two years dead, along with her flesh, which Henni consumed. The story is about survival, and about fear, and about the ways that men react to daughters they don’t really want. It’s a rather stark and quiet story, one that recalls a deep hunger for more than meat. And it’s a story of growing up in a new world, and one much darker and more barren than the one we know. One that requires a different strategy to survive. That doesn’t recognize or respect the old roles and expectations. And it ends with a visceral freedom, a shift, and a new beginning.
Keywords: Hunting, Hunger, Families, CW- Cannibalism, Post Apocalypse
Review: The promise of maybe-lycanthropies is pretty strong in this story, though perhaps what I like most about it is the way Henni doesn’t feel right in her own skin, having to hide herself from the watchful and violent gaze of her father. She was shielded in some ways because of her mother, because as long as her mother was alive her father didn’t really think of his daughter. Didn’t exactly see her. Until he couldn’t. Until his wife was dead and his daughter had eaten her remains and now, instead of looking at how suited his daughter is to this new world, to surviving, all he can see is a monster. When really, the story does a great job of playing with who the real monster is, not making Henni or the other girl she meets too, well, too human. They are different, and different in a way that might be uncomfortable, because they have different hungers and different drives. But they aren’t the ones to turn their backs on their humanity—rather, their humanity is what turns on them, pushing them to embrace who they are, in order to survive. In order to truly inherit this world, which might not be much, but is theirs. It’s a wonderfully evocative and tense story, about hunters and prey. About hungers and starvation. About families, and blood. A great read!


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