|Art by Alexey Shugurov|
The two stories in the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies are (to the surprise of no one, especially given the recent World Fantasy win) very well paired, circling around the ideas of gods and family and sacrifice. The stories find characters who have lived among the gods, or at least around their believers, and who have found their own way of making sense of the world. That might mean taking a more practical approach to divinity or rejecting altogether, though part of that boils down to the gods and their desires. Are they violent and competitive? Or are they part of the natural world, demanding of respect but only truly frightening when provoked? Both stories have veins of humor and grittiness, and before I give too much away, let’s get to the reviews!
“The Gods Come to Sredna” by T.S. McAdams (5570 words)
No Spoilers: Vasil is a shepherd, part of a family who raise ceratopsids, great animals who, among other things, can house the divine being of Dev-Gemot. It’s for this reason that Vasil has traveled far, not to install a new Mother of the god, but to retrieve the previous Mother, who has outlived her sire, and bring her home. It’s a rather unusual situation, because normally Mothers die before their divine offspring, but it’s no less an honor for Vasil, made a bit more complicated by the attendance of three guards and an errant human incarnation of a god, along to make sure the proper respect is paid to the venerable Mother. It’s a bit of a strange, quiet story, but the world building is lovely, the prose subtly hilarious, and the characters solid.
Keywords: Gods, Incarnations, Religions, Journeys, Herds
Review: I really appreciate the humor in this story, which seems to me to examine the different kinds of divinity and faith at work in this world. Because, for me, each character seems to represent a different way of approaching the divine. For Vasil, belief in the gods is practical and natural, but part of living off the land. His interactions with the gods and their incarnations are largely respectful, but because he knows just how dead he’ll be if he moves wrong among creatures so big and powerful. He doesn’t dress up this faith in an organized religion, really, or at least finds that aspect of it for other people’s benefit. The captain of the guards he’s with, though, Havva, is more devout, scholarly, and serious about. Erdem, another guard, has more of an indifference, though he knows enough to pretend, and is still obedient and careful. Bari, the last of the guards, is more selfish, wanting to leverage the gods into personal gain. And Diaus is a god incarnate, maintaining piety because it’s in his interest that people respect the gods, but also to act as a sort of messenger of heaven, not shy about using his powers to burn people to ash or answer questions like a smartass. And it’s a lot of fun watching it all play out, seeing the mortals squirm a bit under the gaze of actual gods. But really for me it’s a story that elegantly builds this world and the rules of this world and populates it with interesting characters, some of whom get crushed to death by a giant ambivalent dinosaur. It’s pastoral in the sense that it grows a shows the difference between the city and the country, but more than that it captures how faith is shaped around those differences, how it shifts to fit what the people need, and how they live. And it’s a rather lovely piece for all that it also makes giant poo jokes (which I am all here for, ngl), moving slowly but with a driving power. A wonderful read!
“The Two Sides of Home” by Timothy Mudie (7005 words)
No Spoilers: Joyce got away from Twixt years ago, the city with its constant plots and factions always fighting a place she couldn’t escape fast enough. But doing so wasn’t without cost. It meant leaving behind her cousin, Ozzie, who as an intersex child has faced a great deal of abuse and persecution. And now she’s gotten a telegram with a short message. Ozzie is missing, and Joyce might be the only one who can help. The piece captures a gritty cold war that’s about to erupt, with Ozzie and Joyce unwittingly caught in the center of it. The pacing is fast, with an opening that’s a bit like tapping a boulder to send it crashing downhill, threatening to obliterate everything in its path. But through it all it maintains a certain heart, a compassion, and a resilience on the part of Joyce not to leave her cousin behind again.
Keywords: Gods, Cities, Family, Intersex Character, Sacrifices
Review: This piece certainly doesn’t waste any time. From the moment that Joyce returns to Twixt, she’s on a mission and she doesn’t intend to linger. The goal is clear—finding her cousin—and the likely culprit isn’t exactly hard to guess—his father. Joyce isn’t exactly a seasoned hand when it comes to tracking, but things in the city are such that she doesn’t really need to be. The moment she enters into this world that has essentially kidnapped her cousin, she’s become a pawn for whatever side is strong enough to use her. At least, until she can queen herself and get the business of fucking up everyone’s plans. The piece has action, and mystery, and a heavy feeling of a kind of gang mentality that makes everything in Twixt about sides. Whose side are you on, the Bull’s or the Moth’s? Which god will you put your money on controlling the larval god supposedly waiting to be born in the city? Those are questions that always seemed pointless to Joyce, because the difference between the two sides is...kinda null. Both forces are ruthless and flawed and Joyce wants nothing to do with any of them. Mostly what she wants to do is make up for having to leave her cousin to save herself, and she’s willing to do just about anything to do it, which makes for a rather kickass series of events, even if Joyce herself is mostly a passenger for it all. Which is fine, though I would perhaps have liked to see more participation from Ozzie, who barely gets to speak in the story and who remains a victim who Joyce must save rather than having much of their own voice or personality. But the action works well, and the choice that Joyce makes is certainly a bold and affirming one, though by no means an easy one, given what she might have to give up in the wake of it. But it’s a fun story about gods and sacrifices, and it’s well worth checking out!