Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #198

Anchored by a rather hefty nearly-14,000-word story this issue, Beneath Ceaseless Skies offers up a dense and rather complex look back at the growth of America and the exploitation that has gone hand in hand with the colony-turned-nation. Both stories look back at different times (and take place on opposite coasts), giving magically-infused visions of American history from the first colonies to discovery of crude oil. And whether it’s the witch hunts or the whale hunts, the stories dwell on the ways that people exploit. That they harm each other. That they destroy. These are not the happiest of tales, but then they probably shouldn’t be, given the subject matter. These are careful and deep stories about magic and cost and place. So to the reviews! 

Art by Geoffrey Icard


"Or I Wil Harrie Them Out of This Land" by Thomas M. Waldroon (13,776 words)

This is a long and dare-I-say pastoral piece about the early English settlements in what is now America, a story that focuses on two brothers, Henry and James, as they navigate faith and war and fortunes and deviance and change. The trip from their home in England is supposed to be to a better world. A New World. And yet when they arrive they find the same old divides, find that the world they hoped was new is anything but, and that they fall into old patterns of hate and violence and pain and persecution. The brothers make an interesting contrast as they move, Henry a soldier and then a many concerned with debts and ownership; James an importer and into freedom and expression and trying to use the law to get his way. There’s a strange feeling that pervades the story, that links the brothers, visions and experiences that they share. It’s a bit of a slow piece, perhaps made more so by the way it divides itself over time, showing a life’s worth of story, of small pockets of events. How religion can be used to turn people against one another, how scarcity and hardship sometimes poison people’s hearts. And it’s a complex story, one that doesn’t offer an awful lot of explanation, with a voice out of time and a structure that defies modern conventions. It paints a picture of early colonial life and it’s not always a pleasant one, though not always an ugly one, either. It shows a deep connection among people and places, the ways in which the times people live in molds them and gives the future a lens through which to examine them. The speculative elements are light and subtle, a magic that is one of the few no one recognizes. The settlers see magic in innocence, and refuse to see that magic might not be dark at all, might be something almost divine shining through like candlelight through vellum. A fine and interesting story!

"Whale-Oil" by Sylvia V. Linsteadt (4622 words)

This is another strange one, and another slow one, though once it does get moving there is a weight to it, a momentum that’s not to be denied, that shifts the very Earth with its power. The story shows Altair, a young man with a talent for seeing things (and not much else) discovering the ghosts of whales and seals fueling the lights of San Francisco and trying to do something about it. Something to free them. The story revels in the feel of ghosts, of loss, the rampant hunting of whales and seals, the exploitation of natural resources. The story looks at the practices of the day and shows one person sees the cost and wants it to stop. The price that is required, though, is not exactly cheap, and it’s not something he thinks too much about before acting. In that he has a sort of innocence, a separation from the hurt being done, but at the same time the story takes a look forward and…well, it’s not exactly a happy ending. It’s about the cost, about the dark and the desire for easy illumination. The character of Old Iris is an interesting one and a rather neat one to me, linked to Altair by the ability to see. And I love the magic of the story, the way that the ghosts are present but are also unable to do much. I like that Altair decides to take action, and also that ultimately he can’t accomplish too much, because even as he does manage to end the subjugation he can perceive there are wrongs yet beyond his sight. That while Whale-Oil is a wrong for how it is produced so is natural gas and oil, because the burning of such fuel for power causes all sorts of imperceptible harm. The story does a nice job of exploring sight and blindness, outrage and ignorance, showing the failure of people to really look until they can’t look away. Calling on people to open their eyes, even if it seems too late. It’s a nicely magical story with a great cast and some stellar imagery. Certainly a story to check out!

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