Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #208

The stories in this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies carry with them a heavy dose of darkness. From madness on an isolated island to being hunted through the heart of a swamp, they're about pursuit, about pursuing and being pursued. They're also about stories, about narratives, and the power of knowledge and ignorance. Often, those who hold the narratives are those with power, and when the stories become lost, the dangers they were illuminating become active and aloof once more. It's an interesting issue and it's time to review! 

Art by Marek Hlavaty


"Teeth, Tapestries" by Alex Dally MacFarlane (2222 words)

This story weaves around a midwife traveling to a remote and sparsely populated island to help a woman give birth. And to me it's also about stories and lost histories and anger. About the ways in which especially women are hurt and silenced and twisted after they decide to act for themselves. It's the story of Gort, the main character, and Beill, the woman giving birth, and Ruis, Beill's husband who seems obsessed and a bit deranged because of everything. And through it all it's also the story of Stey, a woman who acted in anger, who did…something. Who was full of teeth and who made tapestries and whose story has seemingly disappeared. There's a heavy isolation in the piece, as well, a gothic fantasy of Gort and Beill running from Ruis, from his sudden rage, if that's what it is. From his sudden obsession with teeth and with the story of Stey, at least. And Gort works to keep Beill and herself out of harms way while navigating this island which is like a prison, which has stories but has not kept them. The tension is palpable and keeps the story moving quickly, as does the mystery of what has happened on this island and what is happening now. They are not really questions that the story seeks to answer, either—instead, for me the story centers on the lack, on the erasure, on the silencing. The anger of Stey is present only as a ghost while the anger of Ruis is present and immediate. Yet it is Stey's story which lasts longer, haunting the island and the characters even after the story closes, and I like how the story uses the lack of stories to embody that erasure, that the lack is a wound that has not healed. It's an interesting story with a darkness and a voice that make it well worth checking out!

"Abere and the Poisoner" by Jonathan Edelstein (3507 words)

This is another story that looks somewhat metafictionally at stories themselves. About how missing stories can be a problem, and a very big one. Especially when you're a poet trying to gain an ingredient for a magic potion to enslave someone to your love and didn't know the history of the ingredient in question and so end up being trapped and hunted by something hungry and powerful. And I love the way the story uses the idea of giving and receiving, the idea of power and leadership, and the idea of poison and poetry. There's a lot going on in this story and a lot of layered narratives, the poet, whose situation is central to the story, silent throughout, voiceless as he is forced to listen to the stories of someone else. The role reversal is nicely done, from the original sin that created the situation, that created the injustice and the hunger that ends up consuming everything, to the way that the poet becomes audience and the poisoner the storyteller. And through it all the poison ends up being ignorance and a lust for control, for dominance. [SPOILERS] Because the hunger that is awakened in Abere from the voiceless violation that she endures until she can gain her freedom comes from the lust of the man who raised her to be his. The assassin Folau, likewise, lusted after power, after prowess, and paid the price for it. And the poet, silent and in some ways the voiceless presence of the reader, is undone by the desire to take his love by force. And it undoes them, destroys them. It also shows them something beyond that, though, shows them a way through ignorance to a different sort of power. And it's an interesting twist and a strangely powerful moment in the story, which creates an interesting and vivid world and a dark and layered narrative that's quite an enjoyable read. So check it out!

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