Reviewed by Steve Redwood

I discovered the Shimmer website quite by chance during an anything-to-avoid-futilely-tackling-the-totally-insoluble-problems-in-my-latest-story Internet browse, liked the look of it (the site even includes a two-minute Youtube 'taster'), and ordered the latest issue. (Actually, what really happened is that Mr Tennant's boon companion and ghost-writer, Mr Bruno, spotted the front cover, depicting a bear dancing with a princess, and sent me ten copies, asking me to pass them round to any princesses of my acquaintance. Frankly, I don't know what he hopes to prove by this, but I know better than to cross him.)

First, physically, it comes in my favourite magazine shape, tall and slim a la Sigourney Weaver; there must be a proper name for it, but I don't know it (I swear I looked, but it doesn't come into the ANSI paper sizes). It's the US version of A5, you know, the one on a diet, with aspirations to be on the catwalk in Paris and Milan. Perfect for pockets. A nice 84 pages on high-quality paper, beautifully clear print, just enough illustrations (and good ones, too) to rest the eye. Oh yes, and that nicely designed colour cover, full of rich browns and reds, that so excited the arriviste Mr Bruno. This may all seem irrelevant to some people, but for me the shape, look, and feel of a book or magazine has a strong effect on my reading experience.

In this issue (I don't know about others), fantasy rules, with a sprinkling of fantasylike SF, and fantasy, at least as traditionally understood, is not my preferred reading. Nor are talking bears... but the one in N A Bourke's Juana and the Dancing Bear can dance as well as talk, and can offer a solution to the tragedy of a crippled teenage princess for whom a political marriage is planned. The story, which is open to various interpretations, all of which would stress the importance of feeling and our surrender to it, is nicely understated and beautifully written, with mood, tone, and story perfectly integrated. I was slightly bothered by the revelation of who the bear really is, this fitting too neatly into the traditional fantasy world view, but all is forgiven for the fine writing. A great start to the mag.

Philip J Lees' Duets, about a musician, Cyro, the strings of whose guitar have subliminal properties which can control the mood of any listener, and which he has used all his life for easy seductions, is cleverly modulated, a superior study of the biter bit, a most original story (at least to me), with an excellently ambiguous ending: one senses that Cyro may come to enjoy his fate, even if he is only one more for the 'collection' of another musician who has learned that music can also bring unbearable pain.

Stephen Moss' Tom Cofferwillow makes the reader's life rather hard with a somewhat non-BBC English: 'And the shorter one... Well, how can I lay that canvas for your lashes? He looked like a man, and yet... the words flee my tongue like kith-rats from a skirling joon... His dark skin glowed like the moon over a loftant sea...'. But as with Russell Hoban's classic Riddley Walker, if you allow yourself to be led by the sound, not trying to understand every word immediately, it all makes sense. It's then fun to go back, and pursue the 'etymology' of the vocabulary. The story? If you've ever read Frank Herbert's The Green Brain, you'd have an idea. But as this is unlikely, well, think of the marvellous Boogie-woogie man in Nightmare Before Christmas. Still baffled? Well, creatures from other dimensions can be very strange. It would be unfair to tell you any more. Very clever and entertaining, though you may feel a bit tezzle-timble by the end.

After a nice bit of lateral captioning with Chrissy Ellsworth's Lucy, Michael Livingston's Catch of the Day, concerning a fisherman's meeting with a water-dwelling alien, and the alien's strange sacrificial gift, was maybe too long, and it took some time for me to get into it. But it does deliver a nice ending, and with hindsight you see the reason for the rambling beginning, though even so I still think it should have been slightly pruned. But if you want to learn about fly-fishing (another clue for the story above)...

Cat Rambo's dryad (ah, memories of school-torment Keats!) in Eagle-haunted Lake Sammamish is even riskier than a dancing bear, but the story is nicely pulled off (the fine pic helps). What's interesting is that if it seems fitting that Juana finds happiness (and health) in her story, so it's equally fitting and inevitable that Deirdre won't, because while the former has been able to return to nature, the other has been exiled from it. Moreover, in the former story, although there's a concrete Castilian setting, the tone is fantasy from the word go, whereas here we're in the real world of ecological disaster, where those who depend on nature are doomed. A moving story that also has a message.

Mike Driver's Night Milling is OK, thoughtfully written (and very careful with the detail), but really a variation on a rather familiar theme, or rather two themes, that of a thirst for vengeance leading to insanity, and a ghost reliving its final moments. I was slightly disappointed by the 'revelation' of the ending, but the story is cleverly written. It is also the only one that couldn't be classed as SF or fantasy.

I never really felt drawn into Dario Ciriello's Dwell on her Graciousness, perhaps because the very word 'goddess' sends warning shivers up (down, across?) me old timbers. But I recognise that it is a brave attempt to merge SF with mysticism (the Goddess is some kind of supra-Galactic entity looking for her opposing principle) and as with the alien fishing story, it ends on a high note. (I was reminded a little of James Tiptree, Jr.'s incomparable A Momentary Taste of Being, where it turns out that humanity itself is only gametes of some other race.)

Finally, we have a neat little fable, Sparrow and Egg, by Amal El-Mohtar and its premonitions of the bird flying the nest.

There is also a brief interview with Cherie Priest, whose first novel, Four and Twenty Blackbirds, was released by Tor. I desire to hate her with a great unforgiving hatred, as my first novel was rejected by Tor, but she sounds pleasant and modest enough, so I shall simply hate Tor instead.

What I noticed about all the stories is the sheer intelligence that has gone into the writing, even the stories that appealed to me less. There is no flotsam here, but some fine writing that treats the form seriously (even Boogie-woogie man!). This, combined with the attractiveness of the package, means that I can happily recommend the magazine.

(Details are on the website, but a single issue is a modest $5, a four-issue sub $17. But shipping from the US almost doubles that: one can also buy a PDF for $3.50 which might be a good idea for anyone in the UK who wants to check it out, though PDFs are not for me.)

Shimmer edited by Beth Wondzinski. US equivalent of A5, 84pp, price(s) as per previous para.

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