Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #271

Art by Flavio Bolla
The stories in the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies show once again that the publication (and editor) does a great job in pairing stories by theme and feel. Because here are two pieces that take place in vastly different worlds, but where gender roles and societal outlooks do a lot of harm in how people relate to one another and how they handle loss and grief. Both stories find people desperately trying to push forward their craft, to cheat death. And, well, that rarely works out so well. Through it, though, there are moments when people have the opportunity to push through the prejudices and problems of their times and cultures...and sometimes do, and sometimes don’t. The result is the difference between tragedy and hope, between life and death. So let’s get to the reviews!


“Blood, Bone, Seed, Spark” by Aimee Ogden (9707 words)

No Spoilers: Anell is a scientist in a society that is bent, magic and science, toward the struggle against death—toward the great Victory that is immortality. Anell is driven, relentless, and unconventional, pursuing creating life that will be immortal rather than simply reacting to the ways that time degrades human bodies and faculties. It’s a somewhat isolated life she lives, which mostly works for her, and yet that begins to change as she settles into her residency. The piece is about science and discovery, about life and conflict, and it dives into some dark waters, pressing deeper and deeper towards an unsettling, visceral ending.
Keywords: Science, Mortality, Patronage, CW- Reproduction
Review: This is a difficult read, not least because of the way that Anell approaches science, the way that everyone in this setting approach it, as a weapon against the great adversary of death. As a tool to pry out as much life from the other side of the veil as possible. And Anell is very good at what she does, realizing that with advances in technology it’s possible to revisit old theories that no one bothered to confirm or challenge because they didn’t seem to lead anywhere. And in some ways they still don’t, because as much as Anell learns more from her research, none of it seems to really work. Because she approaches it from the old misconceptions of the past, it takes quite a while for her to figure out what she has to do in order to move forward. In order to advance her understanding of what life is, and what gives people their spark. And the answer she finds is...well, rather horrifying. But it makes so much sense within the world of the story, where life itself is framed as a war against Death. So of course it’s violent, and of course it’s disturbing. Because it reveals that this approach to life is one built upon a mentality of conflict and destruction. Kill or be killed. Without that danger, without the immediacy of mortal combat, it seems like true sentience isn’t possible. It’s a fascinating way of twisting the ways that science works in our world and imagining it as one of the “false leads” that historical scientists had when thinking about reproduction. Only here it’s rendered in all its gory details, the result unsettling and difficult and almost stunned, unsure of what comes next. And it’s a strange, interesting read that I definitely recommend people spend some time with, though maybe be prepared.

“Adrianna in Pomegranate” by Samantha Mills (4295 words)

No Spoilers: Benedetto is a Calligramancer, which is rare for a man, who are seen as not careful enough with the potent, reality-altering power that the magic embodies. And yet it’s something he’s always been drawn to, always loved, and with a grief festering in his heart, it’s what he turns to when he can’t bear any more. So he decides he will seek out the perfect spell, one that can erase his grief, that can heal his emotional wounds. Because magic is supposed to shape reality, and what truly is forbidden to a person with that kind of gift? It’s a heavy story, one that shows the weight that he is carrying and the way that he’s carrying it alone, trapped by the rigid gender roles of his society and not knowing how else to express himself. It’s a powerful, painful experience, and not one that is entirely without hope and healing.
Keywords: CW- Loss of a Child, Writing, Magic, Grief, Resurrection, Marriage
Review: I like what this story does with magic, and with marriage, and with gender roles. It does break out from the traditional set of prejudices, putting men this time in the place where their judgment and temperaments are called into question when it comes to Important Work. And here we see that in some ways Benedetto is falling right into line with those, “proving” that he’s not to be trusted when it comes to using magic, because look at what he’s doing. At the same time, though, I think the piece is exploring how this failure, this transgression, is something that came about not because of his failings, but because of how he is trapped by expectations and oppression. How he’s not given support from his partner, Sidony, because she decides that she can’t show her grief. So the marriage fractures and falls apart, leaving Benedetto able to express but still punished for it. So he turns to magic as a way of trying to undo this damage. To return things to how they were or at least to stem his emotions like everyone else seems to be doing. Only Sidony isn’t exactly handling things either, and I like that she’s not portrayed here as rational or healthy. Not really. Because she’s in a cage, too, where she can’t express herself or else she’ll face the ostracizing that Benedetto faces. And it’s only once they can break down their respective barriers, when they can both fully inhabit their grief and face their loss, that they can walk away from the cliff that gender roles were pushing them towards. And I like that, in the end, they are able to start to make progress not necessarily back towards some point in their past. Not even necessarily back towards a romantic partnership. But that they are able to move forward, towards a kind of healing, is a lovely bit of hope fucked into a very dark situation. And it’s a great read!


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