REVIEW: “Salamander Six-Guns” by Martin Cahill

Review of Martin Cahill, “Salamander Six-Guns”, Shimmer 38: Read online. Reviewed by Sarah Grace Liu.

What do you say when a story’s not really your jam, but it’s so well written? In “Salamander Six-Guns” Cahill presents a detailed world, where creatures of the marshes and swamps have received a sentient boost from Momma Scales, a lizard lord (at least, I think that’s how some of the biologics of this world work—humans can also be turned to scale-folk through a bite or an injury). The scale-folk comprise croc-folk, gator-kin, pyth-people, snake-touched, “iggies,” and more. As the Scaled Nation, they are slowly encroaching on the dry lands. The story opens in “Sunblooder’s Stand…the last living border town abutting the Scaled Nation.”

The greatest part of the story is some of the beauty of the lines. Cahill is clearly a writer who is as much in love with the sound of language as the story it tells.

For example:

How does a body run as slow as it can?

Or, the pop, pop, pop of the meter in this line:

We pulled out our pikes and our steel and our guns.

Or the beauty of the opening line:

He descended on the town like a saint sent from Dark Heaven.

What pulled me out of the story, however, was not the overall masterful construct or the lyrical narrative, but the lingo (dark heaven, bright hell, sunblooders, new dark) and the dialogue: “Even Momma didn’t have such a title and you all looked to her like she was Shadow Matron come High Dark to bless!” It felt…disingenuous, affected. It felt channeled, like some syntax and diction patched together from various colorful pockets of culture. It felt a little bit like appropriation. I find it hard to describe the fact that I felt a little wrong reading this.

Then again, it’s no small feat to create a completely new culture with their own slang and their own way of speaking, and yet give it a feel of familiarity, the feel of a shootout in the west. To that end, Cahill accomplished a lot. I’m just not the person for this story. I’m sure all of these atmospheric touches and details make the story great romping fun for the right reader. There are some GREAT lines in here, and despite myself, I did become thoroughly engrossed in the story.

REVIEW: “Maps of Infinity” by Heather Morris

Review of Heather Morris, “Maps of Infinity”, Shimmer 38: [Read online]. Reviewed by Sarah Grace Liu.

Oh my heart. I loved this story so much. I’m a sucker for mythological retellings, ones that show our monsters and our heroes from other sides. I loved this even more because I didn’t know who Asterion was, and I didn’t need to, really. I didn’t know the name. But I knew the character. I soon caught on through contextual clues, but I love that I didn’t know through his entire first section, preventing me from coming to the story with any preconceived ideas. This probably would not be the case for many readers, but it worked for me. So I won’t tell you. Even if you already know just from what I’ve said.

The story orients us to Asterion by presenting him first, and telling his side through second person, as if the narrator is also addressing the you of the reader, bringing us within his sphere. We can imagine his thoughts, we don’t balk at his agency. It allowed me to encounter Asterion fully, to have empathy for this character who is an outsider and who feels deeply.

I feel ashamed to admit that if the King’s ugly daughter likewise comes from a named mythological character, I don’t know it. She seemed more of a patchwork creation to me, comprised of bits of other characters. Perhaps the moreso because she is unnamed in the story. There are opportunities for deeper interpretation just within that.

Regardless, they play off of each other beautifully, these two creatures who defy categorization of and social box or binary. I simply adored this story.

REVIEW: “The Moon, The Sun, and the Truth” by Victoria Sandbrook

Review of Victoria Sandbrook’s, “The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth”, Shimmer 38: Read online. Reviewed by Sarah Grace Liu.

Truth riders in the West race through the desert and carry data chips on horseback—data that preserves what the Directorship would kill to eradicate: the last images of their hostile takeover.

Sandbrook’s tale is vivid, plausible, and engaging. She seamlessly blends a wild west atmosphere with nuggets of technological detail that take us beyond the here and now to a place where we are at once comfortable and disoriented.

If I were to lodge one minor complaint, it’s that the story doesn’t seem to be in complete control of psychic distance at points. It opens with a classic tale or fable narrative distance—with Andy’s perspective, yes, but at a far enough remove that the narrator has a distinct presence. Yet we sometimes get Andy’s immediate thoughts in a way that doesn’t jive with this narration. It’s an easy thing to overlook and doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it pulls me out of the story.

Sandbrook offers a perfect balance of details that gives us a sense of the larger world behind the story without bogging us down in lengthy passages of exposition. I enjoyed “The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth” thoroughly, and will keep an eye out for more of Victoria Sandbrook’s work.