Thursday, December 20, 2018

Quick Sips - Shimmer #46 [part 2/2]

Art by Sandro Castelli
It’s happened. Shimmer Magazine has put out its final issue. And though the stories will be coming out on the site through April, I’m closing out my look at the giant final issue today. There are six stories, from authors old and new to the publication. And I have to say, for a publication that has always leaned toward contemporary fantasy, these stories show that Shimmer has always been into science fiction as well. Because a lot of these stories take on some classic sci fi tropes, from time travel to resurrecting dinosaurs to space exploration. These are stories full of ghosts, which is wrenching but appropriate. Firstly, because Shimmer has always been interested in ghosts, in hauntings. And secondly, because the publication might be gone, but its presence is going to be felt for a long time to come, a ghost full of words and worlds to revisit. A memory and a promise of magic and stars. And okay I’m not crying you’re crying. To the reviews!


“The Time Traveler’s Husband” by A.C. Wise (4200 words)

No Spoilers: The titular character of this story spends his days working and living, but also waiting. For the return of his wife, who is off in the time stream, forward or back, saving the world and putting things to right. And though this was the arrangement that they agreed upon when they got together and married, it’s something of a lonely life for the time traveler’s husband, who seems stuck in some ways. In that, though, he turns out to be very much not alone, and the story focuses on the ways that he and the time traveler orbit each other, always trying to find a bit of closeness in a universe vast in space and time. It’s a yearning story, quiet and complicated and absolutely lovely.
Keywords: Time Travel, Waiting, Marriage, Family, Grief
Review: The story does a great job of challenging a lot of things with regards to roles inside relationships and expectations. It flips the script on the image of the time traveler’s wife, showing this guy waiting for a woman who is off doing Important Things while he stays behind. He’s defined in relation to her, and while neither of them really get names, it’s still her title that comes to define both of them. Even so, it’s not like he’s completely okay with the arrangement, and while he’s fairly open and good about her job, there are moments when he resents her, when he seems to want something more “traditional.” And those thoughts come from his father, passed down in a toxic way that’s made more difficult because of the husband’s relationship with his father, strained but with the husband still wanting it to be loving, still wanting it to be good. It’s not, and it’s something of a poison that works on the husband to insert himself into his wife’s world, one that he knows nothing about and can do great harm to. At the same time, the story rejects the idea that the solution to toxic gender roles is to reverse them. Which is how the time traveler comes to see that things must work in both directions, that the domestic and the adventuring must be valued, or else the roles become prisons and rot can set in. But it’s a beautiful story about love and waiting and finding joy in a relationship, in a marriage, and it makes for a great read!

“Tyrannocora Regina” by Leonie Skye (5900 words)

No Spoilers: Cora is the daughter of a kind of experiment mixing human and dinosaur DNA—an experiment that for many is seen as a crime against nature, though that doesn’t mean much for Cora and her siblings who are all very much alive. The piece plays out between past and present and future, Cora’s life diverging at a moment when she feels her first desire for another woman, for a lab assistant who came to help the father. When the assistant leaves, Cora follows into a past/future/uh... where she works at a Starbucks and plays roller derby and visits museums. Her dinosaur traits are explained as mods, and for the most part she fits in, though there are parts of herself that don’t, and overall she’s not exactly blending seamlessly. But the story follows what happens, and happened, and what might have happened, and what might happen when Cora is asked to return to bear witness to the death of her dinosaur mother. It’s a strange but beautiful and brash story full of desire and hurt.
Keywords: Time Travel, Dinosaurs, Roller Derby, Family, Queer MC, Experiments
Review: I love the feeling of the story, the sense of longing and messy action that Cora has. It actually feels very much in keeping with the special dinosaur Uncanny issue that came out early this year (if I can be allowed to make the comparison) and I just love how it takes time travel and genetics and mixes in sex and desire and freedom. How it finds Cora living in this strange nebulous place where she’s living in many realities at once. Where she’s different things to different people. To some an abomination. To some a delinquent daughter. To some just...a person worthy of love. And in all of these echoes she finds it hard to figure out what to do and who to be. She’s pulled by her desires, by the way she wants to follow what feels right and not have to always be plagued by thinking about everything. And it’s there that I really appreciate the ending, because it gives the reader a chance to do something similar, given three different endings for the story. Three different visions of what Cora finds when she returns. It asks the reader if all of them happen, or if there is one that “really” happens. And for me I appreciate that because of how Cora herself has been led by her desires, by a need to express herself and find connections. So for me the endings operate as a way of letting the reader follow their own heart to the ending that resonates best with them, and that will act as the “true” ending. Whatever the case, it’s a moving and fun story that you should definitely check out!

“Rust and Bone” by Mary Robinette Kowal (3200 words)

No Spoilers: The unnamed narrator of this story lives with their grandmother in a strange place with a yard made of stone and a porch marked by the grooves made by grandmother’s iron rocking chair. The place has an almost dream-logic to it, where the child follows the rituals of the place, sure of their permanence because nothing has changed before. Because it’s almost been this way. Until one day something changes, and the narrator has to make some choices. And what follows is a situation tinged in blood and iron, full of struggle and choice death and magic, where the narrator is stuck between a harsh world they don’t know and the relative comfort of their grandmother. It’s strange, haunting, and luminous—evocative without being entirely clear what exactly is going on.
Keywords: Family, Horses, Mail, Choices, Magic
Review: I love the poetry of this story, the way that everything hangs together, full of magic and what I’ll call a visual richness. Meaning for me that the story really nails its aesthetic, conjuring up this world of deserts and stone, rust and iron. It’s difficult to place the story in terms of time period or country, but there is a definite magic to it, and a dark strangeness, a feeling for me of being at the border of places. The home where the narrator lives is one that seems generally outside of things, a sort of snow globe where the narrator can be safe. One step across the boundary of the property, though, and they cross into a place where they’re vulnerable. And I like that the story isn’t entirely clear what happened to land the narrator at grandmother’s place. It’s implied it’s because of a choice made by their mother, who returns to try and collect them. But there the story turns to choice and consent, ritual and magic. The mother who arrives treats the narrator as an object, as property almost that needs to be recovered. I love how both mother and grandmother refer to them as child, and yet to me it speaks in two entirely different ways. And it’s a creepy, strange, and surreal piece, one held together by the taste of metal and the feel of wind. For me it speaks of family, and the complicated mess that can be at times, and the magic of imagination, and hope, and resilience. A fine read!

“From the Void” by Sarah Gailey (5000 words)

No Spoilers: Judith is a high priest aboard a ship that was supposed to take thousands of people to a new home. A new world. Except that, fairly early into the voyage, people started coughing up feathers. And as this mysterious illness spread, more and more people were brought out of status to replace those who had died. Until only two people remained—Judith and Esther. Old friends, the two could do nothing about the disease except survive, it seemed, longer than they were supposed to. For Judith it means having more time to perform final rites on the dead. For Esther, well...that’s a different story. The piece is told in a haunted fashion, with the weight of all the quiet dead screaming around Judith, confronting her at all times with what she has lost, and what she’s not going to be able to finish. Wrenching and full of a relentless loneliness, this one does not pull its punches.
Keywords: Space, Disease, Death, Faith, Feathers, Queer Characters
Review: This story is heartbreaking, centering the friendship of these two women aboard a plague ship without real hope of surviving. They seem to be unaffected by the disease, but for both of them it feels like maybe it’s only a matter of time. And now they aren’t even together again, and that last loss has definitely cut Judith the deepest, because she was relying on Esther to make this ending bearable. To make it something they could both meet with dignity and faith. Because Judith is religious, and is going about the duties of her position by seeing to the dead. But all of that weight on her alone gets to her. drags her down. And without another person to help her carry it...well...shit. And I just love how the story builds up the full complexity of what has happened between the two women, the hope and the fear and the betrayal. The grief and the loss and the certainty of more loss. The way that Esther couldn’t take being alone and yet also couldn’t take going through what she went through with her wife again. The way that Judith didn’t ask to be woken up and didn’t ask to be the only priest left and can’t hold to her faith in the face of what has happened. In the face of the way that she’s lost faith in _people_. In her best friend. And ahhh, this one is rending and raw and beautifully devastating. Definitely give it a read, but go in knowing your feels might not make it back out again. Fantastic!

“Thistledown Sky” by Stephen Case (1900 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is unnamed and defined mostly by his role as a parent to a daughter who has chosen to be ghosted, a procedure that breaks her connection to Earth gravity and allows her access to the booming race to the distant stars. For the narrator and his wife, this transition is basically death. Because for them, left behind on the Earth, it’s an end. Their children will go out into the unknown, never to return. Because the tech only exists around Earth, the trips to the stars will be one way until the ships can build new gates on the worlds they’re traveling to, something that will take a long time. And the story contemplates that, and the shifts in generations, and the fears and uncertainties that go along with being a parent and not really understanding the times your children grew up in. Not understanding the new opportunities, and new risks they’re willing to take.
Keywords: Ghosts, Space, Travel, Parenting, Departures
Review: This is an interesting story for centering the perspective of the parents here not approving of their daughter’s decision and having to watch as she goes off into space. Away from them. Away from Earth. In some ways rejecting everything that these parents wanted to teach her. And yet I feel that it reveals this misapprehension that the parents have about what their values are. About what they taught their daughter. Which is not a sort of measured caution or respect for tradition. Rather, what the daughter has been left with is a situation where if she doesn’t ghost she risks being left behind herself. Passed over. Unable to climb and “succeed” by the metrics not of her generation but the ones before her’s created. That the parents don’t approve means mostly that they see her as better than this. That they didn’t want to lose her. But it seems so in keeping with their outlook. It’s not like they thought about what options she’d have. They both kind of accept that this happened, the inevitablity of it, even as they hate it, because they know that they helped make it happen. By not living closer themselves to the planet. By not valuing what they had but rather chasing what they might have. It’s short but it packs a lot of emotional complexity into this moment of parents finding that they have no real argument against what their daughter is doing, and so having to fall back on faith, and hope, even when mostly they’re hurt. It’s a fascinating read!

“Ghosts of Bari” by Wren Wallis (4500 words)

No Spoilers: Mati is the captain of a three-person salvage crew along with an advanced AI named Kin and a heavily augmented former soldier named Eli. Together they run through the Bari Arm, an area of space that many steer clear of for superstitious reasons. When they come across a fully intact ship ripe for salvage, even the strange feeling that something is wrong doesn’t stop Mati from pushing forward and moving aboard. What they find there, though, isn’t at all what they were expecting, and their prospects for a huge payday start to shift as they dig deeper into the ship’s origin and purpose. A piece exploring the fallout from war and the divide between exploitation and freedom, it finds a group of characters who have been hurt and who have hurt others striving for a situation where there are no victims. And still they are faced with the same old horrors of war, genocide, and the need for care.
Keywords: Salvage, Space, History, Poetry, Ghosts
Review: I really do love that the story for me speaks to this desire to escape the cycle of harm and war and death. A cycle that the salvage crew understands very much, all of them fleeing from conflict to engage in the much less conflicting (though maybe less lucrative) life of war. They go specifically where there aren't many people in order to avoid conflict and because they’re not all that afraid of ghosts. In some ways they understand ghosts, that there are these echoes of harm done that usually don’t want to hurt anyone. They just want to be and to be heard. And that’s kinda what they find out in the dark. A ship that has come from war, that has carried with it the desire to escape. To be free of that cycle. And it’s a haunting and rather beautiful story of the salvage crew coming across this ghost of a hurt so long gone that no one remembers the context. And there’s definitely money that could be made. They could take this ghost and try to cage it and sell it and exploit it. And it would set them up for life in a way that would give them power and options. But it would mean becoming a part of that system again. it would mean, however detached from the events, a kind of taking part in that ancient genocide. And it’s carefully but powerfully done, bringing the characters to where they see the paths open before them and take the one that leaves them free of war and violence. And it’s a wonderful read, and quite the curtain call for a publication that I have followed and loved for years.


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