Shimmer, Summer 2006, #4

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"The Crow’s Caw" by Amal El-Mohtar
"Oscar’s Temple" by Stephen L. Moss
"Lucy and the Centaur" by Chrissy Ellsworth
"Always Greener" by Paul Abbamondi
"Bluebeard" by Angela Slatter
"Gnome Season" by Michael Livingston
"On the Edge of the World" by Marina T. Stern
"Urban Renewal" by Tom Pendergrass
"A Fish Tale" by Beverly Jackson

Shimmer Magazine
is the type of publication that you’re proud of reading in front of your peers. It is journal-sized, with an attractive, simple front and back cover layout. The interior has a clean, professional design. The font is eye-grabbing and large enough for most eyes to read without hassle.

In fact, your friends won’t know you’re reading geeky speculative fiction. They’ll be thinking you’re reading a literary journal full of dense, boring prose of pseudo-intellectual subject matter.

It’s a shame, in a way, because Shimmer has some of the best dark fantasy and horror to be found in the small press. More people need to be exposed to this magazine.

The issue starts with a strong piece of work by Amal El-Mohtar, “The Crow’s Caw.” Two crows listen to a group of men each share their version of how crows came to lose their musical voices. El-Mohtar accomplishes a lot with this story. With her use of language, she builds a mystical mood, one that is particularly dark. Yet, El-Mohtar does not want to bring the reader’s mood down; we are talking about crows here. So the writer intersperses moments of levity throughout the text of each character’s morality tale.

“The Crow’s Caw” is a fascinating read and a good example of how a writer can manipulate mood to pull the reader into the story.
“Oscar’s Temple” by Stephen L. Moss is a rare bit of science fiction published in the pages of Shimmer. A deputy mayor of a sizable metropolis in the future stumbles upon a mass of garbage-eating goop. It turns out this goop is a type of alien that feeds on almost anything and can help solve the city’s deadlock with the garbageman’s union.

The plot and characters of “Oscar’s Temple” aren’t anything grand or original. In fact, I’d rate the story as a sub-standard Shimmer piece but for one thing: the protagonist’s relationship with his upstairs neighbor, a bird-like alien named Jerry. Jerry is in the know, but to get answers out of Jerry, you have to answer his questions first. Uncomfortable questions.

Jerry’s TV was on. More footage of the Aerid over Shanghai. “Could you ask me something else?” Walker asked. “I’m not up for that question right now.”
Jerry’s spoon scraped against the bowl of stew, but he seemed cheerful enough.
“Okay. How often do you masturbate?”
Sure, the humor in this excerpt is blue, but the bond between the characters creates the real interest in the story. Overall, a good read and a serviceable plot.

“Lucy and the Centaur” is a two-sentence story by Chrissy Ellsworth. Lucy has lost her cat. To the centaurs. Not much else to say about such a short piece.

The next story isn’t much longer. “Always Greener” by Paul Abbamondi is a bizarre, horror-lite flash piece about a man’s envy of another man’s lawn. Perhaps the subject material of “Always Greener” is too light for me, as I found the story to be ineffective. Authored by an emerging writer, Paul Abbamondi has better and stronger works on the market.

"Bluebeard” by Angela Slatter is the best story in this issue. I highly recommend "Bluebeard" to anyone who would ask the question: What defines a great short story? Foremost, Slatter’s ability to play with words to invoke mood, setting, and characterization are good enough to impress even the snottiest MFA.

For example, I present one of my favorite passages (the opening two paragraphs of the story):

Her breath smells like champagne, but not bitter as you might expect.
Something inside her turns it sweet, I’m not sure what. She’s a sugar-candy kind of girl, bright and crystalline as she reclines on the sofa—a chaise lounge, more correctly. Her hair is spun like golden sugar, her eyebrows so light they may as well not be there, her lashes so contrastingly black that they must be dyed, her skin pale pink, and her mouth a rosebud pout, filled with small pearly teeth.
“Bluebeard” is the tale of Lily, a whore’s daughter living in Paris with her mom. Lily is a bright child, thoughtful and loving to her enigmatic, beautiful mother. When a “client” named Davide invites them to his countryside estate for a weekend, Lily finds herself in grave peril.

Angela Slatter knows how to build suspense. The creepy interaction between Lily and Davide throughout “Bluebeard” gives the whole piece an uncomfortable, shift-in-your-seat, kind of vibe. Lily, Davide, and Mother, go beyond the stereotypes of whore, endangered child, and manipulative man.

While the conclusion could have been stronger, this is one of the best stories I’ve read this year.

Michael Livingston contributes the dark, endearing story, “Gnome Season.” To tell the truth, Livingston did much more with a story about hunting live garden gnomes than I expected. Wrapped around an intense (and often amusing) urban hunt for gnomes is a wild treatise about parenthood, expectations, and the scars of a lifelong resentment.

Gramps has seen garden gnomes all his life. Ted dismisses Gramps as crazy, much like his father has for years and years. After Gramps moves in with Ted and his dad for health reasons, Gramps starts to see garden gnomes in the backyard of Ted’s house.

Ted is amazed when he sees them too.

This is an effective, weird story that is the hallmark of what makes Shimmer good.

“On the Edge of the World” by Marina T. Stern follows the relationship of a poor fisherwoman and an enigmatic village storyteller. The fisherwoman falls in love with the storyteller, saving her pennies to buy the man a fancy set of clothes. The following morning, after bedding down with the man and expressing her love, she finds that he has disappeared.

The prose is elegant and the plot is simple. Simple, except for the conclusion. I’m not able to wrap my head around why the storyteller left the fisherwoman. At first, I thought it was a statement that “all men are scum,” even sensitive artsy-types. The author states that the fisherman is cursed and has to leave. Re-reading the text, I still don’t find the "cursed" angle.

Still, an entertaining, light read.

“Urban Renewal” is my second favorite story of this issue. Told in a non-traditional format by author Tom Pendergrass, we’re given a set of letters that describes one town’s efforts to evict the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. The efforts backfire, bureaucracy is defeated, and everyone is happy, except for the Old Woman in the Shoe. She still has all those kids!

The last story of the issue is “A Fish Tale” by Beverly Jackson. This is another flash piece that didn’t strike me as noteworthy. A woman is walking along a levee, thinks she finds the love of her life, and after making brief contact with the man, has a series of flash-forwards to various points of her future life. If you’ve seen the movie Run Lola Run, then you’ve seen this concept in action.

Without the flash stories, this issue would receive my highest praise. Otherwise, I’ll call this one another typically strong outing by the publishers and editors of Shimmer.