Shards (2009)

Author Shane Jiraiya Cummings
Illustrated Andrew J. McKiernan
Publisher Brimstone Press
Length 160 pages
Genre Flash Fiction
Blurb Short Sharp Tales
Country

Talk us through it

Shards is a collection of more than thirty flash fiction pieces by author Shane Jiraiya Cummings with the added bonus of each "story" being accompanied by an illustration by Andrew J. McKiernan. The stories range across the whole spectrum of the horror genre ensuring there is something for everyone in the collection.

Cummings is coming at you with splintered tales of the macabre that will reverberate with you long after you have finished the book. Ready to dial into a flash fiction collection that defines the new style of writing?

Review

" the moles are hunting. Just. Don't. Move."

I guess before discussing Mr Cummings new and very welcome collection I should try to define just what the heck "flash fiction" is. You may have run across the term on the internet where the new form of the short story has hacked out major territory for itself. You have probably read flash fiction without realising just what it is. So just what is "flash fiction"? Don't worry if you don't know I had it initially pegged as something to do with the Adobe program when I first ran across the term. The closest analogy I can draw would be with the game of cricket and the Twenty20 format. Non Commonwealth readers can at this stage grit their teeth and flip to the next paragraph with the knowledge that flash fiction is very short, under a thousand words generally for each piece. Still with me? If for the moment we consider that a novel is the equivalent of a five day test match, then the short story form would be the One Day format. Both of these forms of the game allow for the development of tactics and the changing of strategy while a match is being played, and are defined by a start, middle, and finish approach to the game at hand. Flash fiction would therefore be the literary analogy of Twenty20 cricket. You go into the game with a tactic but are simply trying to blast as many runs as possible and bowl as tight as possible, the game doesn't give you many other options. Clearly an Author writing a piece of flash fiction has an idea in mind, his/her tactic in approaching the blank page, but there really isn't room to provide a beginning or ending to a tale. Flash fiction is therefore in the now, its an attempt to capture a feeling, a reaction to a situation, to define what happened, without overly concerning itself with the why. A very good flash writer will of course infer a whole bunch of stuff but relies on the reader to interpret what is inferred and to draw their own conclusions about where a piece of fiction may be going. To draw another analogy, the flash writer constructs a framework and paints inside that framework, it's up to the reader to see the house outside the framework. Shane Jiraiya Cummings is not a good flash writer, he is an excellent flash writer, by the end of a reading of Shards you will be fooled into believing you have read three times as many pages as you actually have. The Author has the knack of allowing his reader's imagination to soar, in directions of Mr Cummings own choosing of course. Lets see if we can't work out the Author's approach to the game.

"Wedged between a dozen coffees and 3am"

Editor's Note: Sorry for the intrusion but as good a place as any to have one. Please note the images included in this review are published with the express permission of artist Andrew J. McKiernan and Brimstone Press. Do not simply copy these images as you are infringing on Mr McKiernan's intellectual property rights. Brimstone Press are infinitely approachable so ask for permission before reproducing. Also note this review is from a "pre-release" version of the collection. Shards will be available from Brimstone Press in June 2009, see end of review for contact details. Thank you for your time.

The Author breaks his collection into seven sections with each section containing pieces that have themes related to the section title. Thus the first section "Sacrifices" deals with personal loss, the titular sacrifice, in the face of a situational requirement. Personal freedom in the face of predetermination in the excellent Prescience, former life in the religious examination Virgin in the Mist, and clearly personally felt by Shane Jiraiya Cummings a writing career in the strangely haunting Revision is Murder. Cummings final section "Apocalyptic Visions" will really rock the socks off even the most undemanding of modern readers, you know who you are get off the net and into a book stat citizen. Memoirs of a Teenage Antichrist explores the thoughts and feelings of the Christian devil's offspring as he comes of age. About every reader with a teenage son is going to appreciate this outstanding tale, please note crows and Dobermans are not required to raise sons. Love in the Land of the Dead touches basis with the shambling undead, and postulates the zombie is cool and really can appreciate the use of brains, (read that one a couple of times it simply rocks in getting to where it's going). Finding a cure for the ultimate plague in Wrack can prove to be a religious revelation, is Shane Jiraiya Cummings on something of a recurrent anti Christian theme in this collection? And finally Genesis Six takes a new approach to the whole Nephilim myth, well according to Sammael anyways.

"I just asked the genie for smouldering eyes."

Shane Jiraiya Cummings individual flash pieces range in length from a couple of short paragraphs to tales taking full advantage of the full 1,000 words availble. to the format. Notably there's no padding anywhere and you will not at any stage be checking how much more you need to read before you get to the finish of a particular piece. Personally I love that in a Writer, there's nothing worse than reading a novel and thinking it contains about enough for a short story, or reading a short story and wondering how the Author managed to stretch things beyond a single idea. Cummings seems to have an innate understanding of how long his pieces should be, when they should finish, and what should be left to the Reader's own imagination. Cleary the Author is comfortable with the chosen length of each piece here and never overstays his welcome through the entirety of the collection.

"Ten final breaths, punctured by sobs."

While admitting Cummings isn't shying away from the dark and sinister, the pieces making up the section "Under the Skin" are going to induce nightmares for some readers, there's a broad hint here that the Author was chuckling away to himself while writing some wicked prose. The aforementioned Memoirs of a Teenage Antichrist certainly had me smiling, Postcard From Paris (A Reply) will have you grinning and maybe checking your gloves just in case, and On Dark Clouds Borne dials into Michael Leunig material with it's theme of televised reality. As stated the Author has thrown on a smorgasbord with something for everyone regardless of dark genre taste.

"Stains are the washing machine's concern"

The centrepiece of Shards would undoubtedly be the section titled "Dread Seasons" that brings together two cycles of Cummings dark meanderings. Cruel Summer tackles a day down the Aussie beach with pieces covering Sand, Sun, Sky, Surf, and Shadow. A typical Aussie family finds the sand hides a lonely unnoticed death, the sun will lead the unwary to unattended ice cream vans, the sky is mesmerising, the surf conceals seaweed you really don't want to know about, and all that remains for sole survivor Stacey is the reaching shadows. Divergent tales of the macabre are tied together in an excellent evocation of darkness. The Dread Seasons Quartet intermingles with Summer pointing out all seasons of the year are dangerous for the unwary. Shards is worth the price of admission for this section alone, hey the rest of the book is a bonus friends and neighbours.

"What does he need two ears for anyway?"

Shane Jiraiya Cummings with Shards shows he is not only a master of the flash fiction style of writing but has pretty much written the definitive statement on how it should work. The collection is a strong statement on the validity of an internet driven writing style and is a must have for any collector of Australian Dark Fiction. If you love dark fiction or have ever wondered what flash fiction is about then Shards should speak to you in language that you will understand.

"Does the world really need an Antichrist? It's doing a fine enough job killing itself without some supernatural power twisting the knife"

Complimenting the prose of Shane Jiraiya Cummings is a wealth of artwork by Andrew J. McKiernan. In fact every single piece in Shards is accompanied by an interpretation by McKiernan of either what the writing contains or the overall feeling the artist takes from the piece. The art ranges from the nave style, that's not a bad thing in terms of art think "still life", to surreal in concept. Spend sometime with each work as you will pick up on additional details that aren't apparent on a quick glance. McKiernan draws in black and white, always an advantage if wanting to hit stark themes without overly cluttering the visual with colour, and clearly has a grasp on what Shane Jiraiya Cummings is after in Shards. It might be just me but I took a sort of 1930s film noir art deco feeling away from McKiernan's work in the book. Hey I'm not an art critic but McKiernan's stylings were working for me here.

Shards is available from Western Australia's Brimstone Press and all decent genre outlets.

Final couple of thoughts and I will close this review out, unlike Mr Cummings I have no problems in overstaying my welcome. All quotes used in this review come from different pieces in Shards and are Shane Jiraiya Cummings work. Ironically considering the maximum length of flash fiction is around a 1,000 words I've headed north of 1,500 in the review. ScaryMinds would like to thank Brimstone Press for the preview edition of Shards.

ScaryMinds Rates this read as ...

Drop your linen and start your grinning, go grab Shards today folks!