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Magazine Review: Shimmer, The Pirate Issue edited by John Joseph Adams

1470539643_e0810c09c7.jpg?v=0Through various and sundry circumstances, which I won�t bore you with here, I was able to get a copy of Shimmer Magazine�s Pirate Issue, guest edited by John Joseph Adams. These ten stories and 1 interview are well written, and were good choices for a speculative fiction magazine�s issue on pirates. The fantasy, horror and/or sci-fi elements were neatly incorporated into the pirate stories.

If the editing has one failure (and this may be the fault of the submissions, not the editor) it is that the stories lack any real multiculturalism. Pirates have existed in various cultures at various times, and this issue would have been a great opportunity to explore that. Yet all of these stories see pirates in the 18th century Atlantic sense, in the Blackbeard�s and the Captain Kidds of the pirate world. Chinese pirates, so interestingly depicted in Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End, are absent, as are Arabian pirates of the Sultanates and the Mediterranean pirates of ancient times. This is a detriment to the issue as a whole.

However, that is a minor flaw, and overall these short stories are quite varied in their approach to pirate stories. John Joseph Adams was invited by the editors at Shimmer to be the editor, and his skills at choosing good stories that have plots, characters, and are under 5000 words shows through.

I must warn you, that in order to describe these stories, it is likely that I might give away something that makes spoils it. Such is not my intent, but it is hard to evaluate a story of so few words well without giving something away. However, I will endeavor not to ruin these good stories for you.

The first story, A Hand for Each by J. Kathleen Cheney gives the reader a horrifying new look at the origins of Davey Jones. I have to say that I was horrified by the end, as I had come to like the protagonist, and the end he meets is rather a sad one.

Captain Blood�s B00ty by Jeremiah Tolbert (the 00�s are zeroes, but that is hard to tell, it might have helped if the title had been published with a slash through the zero, so it didn�t look so much like an O. It took reading the story to get the cleverness of the title.) is a science fiction story, of Internet piracy. Tolbert cleverly weaves all the stuff geeks, nerds, and dorks will readily recognize into the narrative. If you spend any amount of time on the computer, or have played Dungeons and Dragons in the past, you will like this story for the creative way that Tolbert uses magic and technological terminology (words like sprog and MMORG or Truename-enabled). If it fails in one respect, it is in the key to the story. The special program/magic ability that the protagonists are seeking is not explained very well, and I didn�t really understand how it worked. To tell you what it did would ruin the story, but lets just say I�m not really sure how the application of it solved the problem of the narrative.

In Melinda Selmys� The Blackguard of God, we are reminded that even the worst of pirates needs absolution. This story is a sort of morality play, teaching the reader that before we judge another man�s deeds, we must first walk a mile in their shoes. It is a very short story, but the point comes across loud and clear.

Mikal Trimm decided to set his story Come to the Islands in the present time. Trimm provides a magical explanation for the overwhelming urge that pirates of yore had to collect gold, and the protagonist falls prey to very same spell. This story ends loaded with possibilities for what might happen in the future to the protagonist, although it doesn�t look like the story of his life will end well. This story was okay in my opinion, but seemed to be more of a prelude to a story, rather than a story in and of itself. It really ends where it should begin, in my opinion.

The Barbary Shore by James L. Cambias tells a story of space pirates who enact their piracy from the safety of earth. In a not to distant future, these pirates use satellites to seek and destroy their prey. The underlying thrust of the story is the antagonism that occurs when a lover is scorned. The two characters have a personal stake in the battle between their satellites, and Cambias does a good job of telling that story. I dislike the way the story ended. I felt that the final section of the story including a phone call was unnecessary. The section before had ended strongly and positively and had I been asked, would have said to end it there. The last part of the story adds nothing either in characterization or in plot and so should have been left out.

Pirates by Adeline Thromb, Age 8 by Marissa K. Lingen is way too much like the essays I once read in my teaching days. And that is exactly the intent. The story is written from the perspective of an 8 year old, complete with illustrations. The idea is cute, and the story is creative, but Lingen doesn�t pull off the age eight mentally perfectly. Several sentences and spellings (oh, did I mention we have eight year old spelling too?) are to adult in phrasing and correctness to have been written by an eight year old. Some are also too abstract for an eight year old to even consider putting in an essay. The story is cute though.

Jill Snider Lum sends Blackbeard to hell in The Sweet Realm. While giving the reader a history lesson in the life of Edward Teach, the famous pirate Blackbeard, we learn that pirates can be stereotyped too. Lum cleverly tells this story of hell and reincarnation. It has an overt political message I found annoying rather than funny. Your political affiliation will determine how funny you find this story by its end. But you don�t have to take my word for it; Shimmer has made her story available for free at their website.

The Furies by Rajan Khanna tells the story of pirates who prey on pirates. Although this story ends rather painfully (at least for men), Khanna�s narrative is plausible, and the righteous anger exhibited by the Furies makes the supposed villains more sympathetic than the protagonist. That, is, until the really painful end.

Justine Graykin adds to the legend of Captain Hook with The Perfect Hook. Like Peter Pan, her story is of an alternate reality. But the protagonist is unusual in that she is a plump, middle-aged mother. Setting up a juxtaposition between wanting to relive her glory days as a young woman and her current responsibilities, Graykin gives her character vibrancy and kinship with the reader. When the protagonist makes her choice, I applauded it. This was one of my favorite stories of this issue.

The final story, Hard Times for Bartleby Crow by Grant Stone, was I think the poorest choices to include in this issue. The story lacked a real problem, and while it was interesting in its take on the mice that so plagued 18th century ships, I felt no connection either to Bartleby Crow or the mice. It is a ghost story of a sort, and a story of madness. Still, it lacked any sort of real plot. This is probably the one I would have replaced with another story.

The illustrations throughout this issue were very well done. They had detail and connected very well with the stories. The cover was appropriate and appealing, with a simple graphic design that grabbed the eye without shouting too loud. Inside, the layout was excellent, the stories very readable and the binding solid (it had a graphic novel sort of binding). It was held easier in the hand than a mass market paperback, and each story is just the right length to get you through lunch at the office.

You can watch a reading of the first few paragraphs of each story at Youtube, with the illustrations providing the visual aid. The website also has bonus material on the issue that is accessible with the password contained in the print magazine. There are also author readings on audio of the stories, and the ability to buy electronic versions of the magazines. The website is superb in its offerings and meshes nicely with the print magazine.

The issue also includes an interview with the founder of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. This is appropriate, as it was their letter incorporating a piracy theme to the Kansas School Board that really brought them into the mainstream knowledge of many people. Although a couple of the questions seem redundant, it is still an informative and interesting interview with the strange and satiric organization.

John Joseph Adams and the team at Shimmer have put together an enjoyable issue with some creative takes on the topic of piracy. As mentioned before, only it lack of multiculturalism really detracts. There is foul language (appropriate for a pirate issue!) and some sexual innuendo, so this is an issue for mature readers. All the other elements fulfill the mission of the magazine and provide entertaining reads for the speculative fiction crowd.

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