Thursday, February 11, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #192

The two stories that take up this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies are about price and cost. The cost of freedom, the cost of morality, and the cost of wealth. In both, the main characters struggle in some way with their position, with their power, with rising in wealth and privilege. And in both they are faced with a drastic change in that and how to deal with it. Where to bend and where to stand and what to sell and what to buy and through them both there is a subtle commentary on culture and on money and on power. So yeah, time to get reviewing!
Art by Leon Tukker


"Told By An Idiot" by K.J. Parker (10989 words)

Well this is a rather cute story involving theatre, deals with a devil, and an interesting take on contentment and luck. In some ways it can be read as an examination of privilege, as the main character is a wealthy man who has been lucky his entire life. Things have come fairly easily to him. He has talent, yes, but talent without luck won't necessarily get you far. There's a bit going on in the story, as well, lots of allusions to Shakespeare and other plays from that time period, and the voice of the story is clever, sarcastic, and mostly fun. But the story is also softly subversive, because it plays with the idea of privilege and power and contentment. [SOME SPOILERS HERE] Stories about deals with the devil, or genies, or anything like that, are not that uncommon. After all, the story pulls on the tradition of Job, which is sorta old. But instead of showing the main character as overly moral, the story instead shows him as especially privileged, as not having to try. As not being overly greedy, perhaps, and coming from humble origins, yes, but not especially deserving or moral. When his wealth is taken away, when his good luck turns to bad, his morality fails as well. Unlike Job, who suffers and still glories God, the main character here switches allegiances the moment he is offered the chance to get back his stuff. And it's an interesting message because it seems to be saying that people who have privilege are really only as good as they have stuff. Those that are greedy or those that lose what they had become just as bad as everyone because they still have a line to get it back. And I'm not entirely sure if the story is saying that everyone would do the same, but I do think it's saying that those who start off with such an easy time aren't really being all that "good" for not actively screwing everyone over. That it's basically the least they can do. But yeah, it's a rather entertaining read and one worth checking out.

"The Three Dancers of Gizari" by Tamara Vardomskaya (6303 words)

This is an interesting and challenging read about art and about oppression and about joy and freedom. The story focuses on Bethenica, a woman with a head for figures who runs things for an extremely wealthy heiress intent on making things better for women. For showing the world a woman's joy. The plot involves Bethenica being sent to buy a certain statue that does just that, that shows three women free and unworried and happy. It is a story of seduction and of money and of art. And I love the way the story moves around Bethenica, out of place among the incredibly wealthy, people who've never had to do their own work. And yet the women she works for are engaged in paying her, in righting some wrongs of the world, in raising awareness of women and their power. And yet none of Bethenica's bosses truly gets the statue they seek, are intent rather on possessing and using it. While the sculptor of the piece, a man with a certain charm, has other intentions and plans. It's a tightly plotted story that complicates so much, the pull of art and power and also how best to do good and also cost. The story does an excellent job of Bethenica always thinking about cost, normally in monetary terms but not always. Not always because there are costs that she has to weigh and measure. That have no set amount but that are more important than currency. And I love, absolutely love, the ending of the story, which I will not spoil but to say that it halts at a moment of decision and doesn't show it, leaves it up to the reader to decide at that point the various costs, the prices that are being considered, and whether or not they should be paid. It is a powerful piece and a fun one, but tinged with a sort of sadness and pain because of the history of Bethenica and the way that cost and wealth rule so much so fully. An excellent story!

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