Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #185

I have climbed the mountain of October SFF short fiction, and at it's peak is the third issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies out this month. Released just before Halloween, the stories are full of monsters and people, and sometimes monsters who are people and sometimes people who are monsters. The two tales offered up are filled with things lurking in the night, shadows that might be innocent but rarely are. Halloween might be over, but these stories do a nice job of pointing out that monsters don't go away just because the holiday has passed. To the reviews!


"Demons Enough" by Ian McHugh (9606 words)

I was promised a monstrous issue, and this story certainly lives up to the name, to the idea. Switching between Thorfinn, gruff head warrior of a small village, and Freydis, his sister, the story builds a Nordically-flavored world where monsters and witches stalk the nights. The village has an uneasy peace with a group of monsters, the leeches, though the peace is strained because the village has no real weapon that is effective in battling their supernatural enemies. Meanwhile a strange woman has surfaced, a woman with a secret and a mission that put everyone in danger. Thorfinn and Freydis make pretty standard choices, the former the practical soldier, the later a parent out for revenge. They aren't the newest of tropes, especially for the kind of story being told, but they're used to good effect and the emphasis is more on the monsters, on the horror of what happens and the shadow falling across the village. I liked the way the monsters worked, too, the logic of them, the way they are nearly recognizable but shifted slightly from the expected. The story has a feel of the inevitable, the tragedy out in the open like a train bearing down on a person tied to the tracks. And for all that there aren't that many surprises in the story, it's still a lot of fun to see how it gets there, to experience the struggle, the grim march toward blood. Definitely a fine read for those looking for a little monster mayhem to enjoy around Halloween.

"Bloodless" by Cory Skerry (3897 words)

Carrying on the theme of monsters, this story also evokes a creature that is almost familiar but different enough to be new, original. The bloodless are like vampires, like zombies, are the once-living who are transformed and who thirst for blood. Some can be used as guards, bound to a certain area in order to protect, to keep other monsters at bay. Kamalija has been such a bloodless for a long time, generations, and her mission has always been to defend, to kill. But when a strange bloodless appears who claims to be like her, but emancipated from his bondage to a specific place, Kamalija questions what is true and what are lies. The visiting bloodless is tempting, seductive, and obviously wants to convince her to turn her back on her duty. I liked the layering of the story, though, the way that Kamalija is bound both to her family and her place. Is bound by responsibility, literally bound by her blood to serve and eventually die. The visiting bloodless offers her an alternative, and seeing Kamalija's choice is great, a way of striking out on her own without betraying who she is. Her moral certainty is what keeps her from giving in to the drive for blood, and it is that which guides her down a path that is not at all certain, one that frees her without turning her back on her mission, on her duty. The ending is framed as celebratory, but there's a nice danger to it as well, the possibility that things will not go as planned, that the line between hero and monster might not be an easy one to walk. It's a fun story, and a nice exploration of the monstrous. Indeed!

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