Shimmer, Autumn 2006

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“Halloween Night” by John Parke Davis
“Skeletonbaby Magic” by Kathy Watts
“Pray For Us, St. Dymphna” by Bryan Lindsey
“The Angel Wood” by Angela Slatter
“Through the Obsidian Gates” by Aliette de Bodard
“A Wizard on the Road” by Nir Yaniv (translated by Lavie Tidhar)
“Voices of the Gods” by Monica Eiland
“King of Sand and Stormy Seas” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Autumn 2006 issue of Shimmer opens with a short—almost flash—piece that packs a lot of punch into a small space…and a punch that ambushes you from around a corner, no less.

“Halloween Night” by John Parke Davis gives us a small slice of Halloween night with a family who, that night every year, can invite deceased relatives to share the holiday with them. It’s a theme that strikes deep around the holidays; how many of us wouldn’t want to see at least some of our loved ones again? And the family’s reunion is happy—for a while. But as Davis reminds us, even our most beloved family members (along with ourselves) had their failings, and those failings don’t go away just because you’re dead. After a fashion, “Halloween Night” is a nicely-done story about being careful what you wish for.

“Skeletonbaby Magic” by Kathy Watts confused me a bit at first—I wasn’t certain whether the main character, Ocean Full of Hope, was mad or actually living partly in the spirit world as she cradled her dead (skeleton)baby and talked to her deceased husband. This confusion isn’t an accident; she really isn’t treading completely in the world of the living. Watts effectively portrays a woman who has let herself be caught between the worlds of spirit and living—in the spirit enough so that the living often seem strange to her, but in the living enough so that she’s disturbed by how much she has unsettled her family. The conclusion isn’t a surprise, but it is well drawn, and it’s always nice for me to find a good fantasy story that isn’t based on traditional Western elements. (In this case, the story is grounded in Pacific Native American folklore.)

Bryan Lindsey’s “Pray For Us, St. Dymphna” is an edgy, nerve-wracking tale about an agoraphobic named Jacob Banes. Jacob is afraid to leave his apartment and yet can get into the mind of someone with whom he finds some sort of connection, be it a phone call or an object that belonged to that person. There are consequences to this, of course, and not always good ones—in fact as the story progresses, the consequence (potential or realized) of each of Jacob’s telepathic invasions increases by several orders of magnitude. The story gripped me by the third and last such peeking in—and then, I’m very sorry to say, fell flat on the very last line. The descriptions, both of what Jacob “sees” and his emotions throughout, are excellent until the very end, when we get a concluding line that only states the obvious rather than finishs painting the picture. Still, don’t let that spoil the story for you; you’ll miss out if you don’t read it all the way through.

Angela Slatter’s “The Angel Wood” is a fantasy tale with traditional elements that avid readers will easily recognize: a plague forces a family out of the city, they go to an ancestral home fallen on hard times, and the woods nearby contain a secret that is inextricably intertwined with the family and its fortunes. What the story has going for it is good characterization in the two primary characters, a girl named Henrietta (Henri for short) and her grandmother, Sybilla, owner of the forlorn manor (and keeper of its secret). While there is nothing surprising or distinctly new in the story, it is a pleasant read with a deep historical/fantasy texture running throughout.

“Through the Obsidian Gates” by Aliette de Bodard is the most challenging tale in the magazine, the hardest to read, and probably the strongest of the lot for those elements (not to mention another well-done non-Western fantasy story, this time set presumably among the Aztecs). Sahague is a young woman who watched her husband, Achtli, die an untimely death from a disease, and so she has gone into the Underworld to challenge the gods and bring her husband back to the world of the living.  Sahague wins their challenge only to have the gods warn her that her joy will be short-lived, to which she writes from a later perspective, “Perhaps I should have listened.” For gods are not so easily defeated.

Their challenge and her return from the Underworld are only the beginning of her and Achtli’s trials. De Bodard never lets up the pressure in the story, and it becomes increasingly clear to Sahague that ultimately, you cannot defeat the gods of death completely any more than you can put off death itself forever—and she is compelled to continue fighting not just for the love of her husband but also from a curse the gods laid upon her. But she also becomes increasingly aware that one way or another, life is short, and you need to take as much joy and love from it while you can before you have to surrender it forever. An excellent story overall.

“A Wizard on the Road” by Nir Yaniv (translated by Lavie Tidhar) is another brief piece packing a punch, though mostly in a lighter vein than “Halloween Night.” This time, a driver (whom we only know as “the driver”) is not startled by the appearance of a wizard in the passenger seat of his Fiat and is less than impressed by the wizard’s offer of power, glory, and women. Or is he? The story’s conclusion is as concise as the rest of the tale but gives the impression that it may be longer lasting than it might appear.

Monica Eiland’s “Voices of the Gods” comes out of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez school of fantasy in that what is strange and wondrous to us, to the point of almost being surreal, is commonplace in the story’s world—and not always welcome. Men and women in this world occasionally…but not always…grow wings as they come to an age where they might start thinking about marriage and children, and though for men this can be a blessing, it means a great sacrifice for women, for flying allows you to hear the voices of the gods.  Men bring back inventions and new ways of doing things, but for women, their voices are irresistible. In keeping their wings and flying, they give up home and hearth—and the story implies that relationships for winged men and women who try pairing end in disaster.

The main character, Aire, is a young woman who realizes (with no small bit of fear and frustration) that she is growing wings, and gets the unusual—if not pleasant—opportunity to have a close-up look at what she will lose, will sacrifice, no matter what decision she makes. On one hand is a young man she fancies but will give up if she flies…and on the other is an elderly woman Aire is caring for who cut off her own wings and suffered another sort of lifelong emptiness. Eiland makes it painstakingly clear through the course of the story that Aire could go either way, that indeed she has compelling arguments to take either path; and when Aire finally decides, Eiland writes convincingly of how one final thing can tip the scales to permanently decide our life’s path.

And lastly, “King of Sand and Stormy Seas” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a melancholy tale about a man named Lysander who set out to become a knight and a hero, but failed at his life’s dream and has, apparently, come home to give up. He meets up with a child named Edric who reminds Lysander of himself as a youth: a mind packed with adventures and hopes for glory when he grows up. The older man’s quest ends, but perhaps the youth’s own will begin in a few years. The story is tinged with hope for Edric but for Lysander…I won’t spoil the ending except to say that giving up on one’s lifelong passion exacts a painful toll, and it offers a warning to us that sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we can’t always reach our dreams. A sharply bitter story by design but a fine concluding piece for the Autumn 2006 issue of Shimmer.