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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Shimmer #31, May/June 2016

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Shimmer #31, May/June 2016

All the Colours You Thought Were Kings” by Arkady Martine

Suicide Bots” by Bentley A. Reese
Define Symbiont” by Rich Larson
An Atlas in Sgraffito Style” by A. J. Fitzwater
.subroutine:all///end” by Rachael Acks

Reviewed by Kat Day

This month’s issue of Shimmer features five stories which, in a departure from their normal contemporary fantasy fare, all have science fiction themes. In her Editor’s Note, E. Catherine Tobler comments that she chose these particular tales because: “Each of these stories has a distinct voice that won me over.”

In “All the Colors You Thought Were Kings” Arkady Martine weaves a story about a group of youngsters about to leave the only home they’ve so far known to journey into space. Our main protagonist, Elias, is about to receive officer’s training. He’s travelling with his friend, Petros, and we also meet the beautiful Tamar, an imperial princess. But, it transpires, between them they’ve hatched a plan… There was much to like in this story. The characters are well-written – Martine makes interesting use of second-person voice – and the imagery is gorgeous. This is world-building at its finest. However, very little seems to go wrong for our young heroes, which felt unbelievable and also made it hard to care whether or not they succeed. A shame, really as, for me anyway, it sucked the power out of the ending.

Suicide Bots” by Bentley A. Reese is a very different beast. Here we find ourselves in the head of an android called Jones, who’s about to commit a series of crimes in New Chicago. It’s fine in the whole, but telling a story from the point of view of an android isn’t the most original idea, and some aspects of the narrative felt rather forced. For example, Jones’ habit of mistaking screams of pain for laughter. The ending is pleasingly creepy, though.

Define Symbiont” by Rich Larson is a relatively short work in which our protagonist, Pilar, is trapped in an artificial exoskeleton which is forcing her to endlessly ‘run the perimeter.’ It’s an intriguing premise, and Larson takes the story in an unexpected direction as we learn how and why Pilar ended up in her predicament. It’s a bleak tale, but a thought-provoking one.

We find ourselves in ‘The Last City Left in This World’ in A. J. Fitzwater’s “An Atlas in Sgraffito Style” and are plunged into the middle of some kind of civil war where the work of graffiti artists comes to life and battles other entities called ‘Bricks.’ There’s some snappy dialogue here, but overall I found this story very confusing. Perhaps this was deliberate – a metaphor for the confusion and chaos of fighting – but I found myself reading and re-reading paragraphs, still not understanding what was happening, and eventually giving up. The ending left me no more enlightened. This was certainly the least enjoyable of the five stories.

Finally, we reach “.subroutine:all///end” by Rachel Acks. This is a sad little tale, again told from the perspective of an android. This time however, our protagonist – Ana – is nursing a human being in the late stages of her life. Although the android is at the center of the tale, this is really much more about how humans do and will manage end-of-life care, and the story does a beautiful job of conveying the emotional difficulties of that situation. The snippets of made-up machine code through the story provide a different twist, and are used to good effect to add weight, particularly to the ending.

Kat Day writes a successful, non-fiction science blog called The Chronicle Flask, which you can find at thechronicleflask.wordpress.com. She’s also recently started a fiction blog, which you can find at thefictionphial.wordpress.com.