|Art by Rytis Sabaliauskas|
It’s the second Beneath Ceaseless Skies issue of the year and it’s just as well-paired as the first, only this one might be even more My Jam than before. Fun is still very front and center, but here we have characters finding and holding to each other despite the limitations of the places they are in. Despite the distance between them, either physical or otherwise. The characters here all need to take risks to be together, to find a life where they can be free and, if not safe, at least joyous and able to watch out and protect each other. It’s a heartwarming and exciting issue, and before I gush too much I’ll get to the reviews!
“Every Tiny Tooth and Claw (or: Letters from the First Month of the New Directorate)" by Marissa Lingen (3457 words)
No Spoilers: The story unfolds in a series of letters between two professors, Aranth and Pippa, separated as one does their sabbatical abroad while the other remains stuck in the middle of an increasingly authoritarian coup that threatens not just their work but their life. The piece involves layers of both magical research and application, a clever attempt to slip under government scrutiny, and a wonderfully warm and romantic exchange between partners and friends. It’s fun and it’s triumphant and it shows a resilience in the face of dire political movements.
Keywords: Letters, Academia, Magic Animals, Governments, Trans MC, Water
Review: Well the format here, the framing of the piece as letters, allows for some great moments, and some great ways of playing with form and function. I particularly liked the way that the story took on a code once the writers realized they had to be extremely careful with their correspondence, once it became so very dangerous for especially Aranth, who is still in the a city that is undergoing some alarming events, the formerly democratic government being replaced by a totalitarian triumvirate. It impacts everything but especially the research that the characters are doing, robbing it of funding and also subverting it to try and work it into the interests of this new regime. Aranth has to deal with one of their students suddenly being marked for death and their own position shaky, fragile. They have to work with Pippa to try and save themself, their student, and as much of their work as they can. The piece in many ways features a loss of home, and that aspect of the story is sharp, speaking to the very real fears that exist when there is political change, when authoritarian regimes come to power. More than the loss, though, I feel the story is a rather wonderful look at the real homes the characters have in each other. The love that burns and shines on the page. These are two people who have such an easy rapport and deep connection, who can read between the lines even when the government censors cannot. It’s that which allows them to continue to work and to save what they can while planning a larger resistance, a way to maybe turn back the terrible influence of this government. And it’s a wonderfully built world and delightfully rendered story, complex enough and even with the danger and violence of the coup in the backdrop, always bright and hopeful and breathless and fun. A fantastic read!
“The Candle Queen” by Ephiny Gale (2258 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story has been training most of their life to become the Candle Queen, the person who bears upon their head an apparatus on which sits three candles. If ever all three go out at once, the world will end. And so someone needs to always carry them, surrounded by attendants, never let out of their dress or the weight of the candles and stand on their head. It’s not the loneliest of lives, but it’s one that involves a strict sense of duty and a lack of privacy, which makes intimate connections not just taboo, but rather difficult. Except that the narrator finds themself drawn to one of the handmaidens, to a woman named Anne, and it’s a connection that might save her or destroy the world.
Keywords: Duty, Candles, Magic, Queer MC, Wax
Review: This is one of the shorter ones to appear at BCS, but it manages a lot of world building all the same. I think the whole situation is weird, kinda messed up, but wonderfully magical. That there is this magic wax that bubbles up out of the earth that is involved in this...prophecy? Or religion? Or warning? That if these candles all go out the world will end. It has the feeling of something that has been in place so long that people don’t really remember the why behind it exactly. Or if they do they don’t share it to the people directly involved. The narrator is girl raised to be this role. Raised to be...not a sacrifice exactly, but essentially one. Told to treat it as an honor, when really it’s just a weight, and a weight that holds them prisoner in many ways to this system that really doesn’t work for them. That they have to give up everything for, sewn into a dress, touched only by handmaidens. It’s a good thing, then, that Anne is there to awaken in the narrator all the desires they were supposed to have suppressed in order to accept the role. Except that they were a child then, coerced and brainwashed, and as a budding adult they really start to see that this duty isn’t really what they want. That the fear of ending the world isn’t enough to keep them from trying to reach for freedom. And that’s the best part for me, that there is this deep “truth” that they’ve been taught, that the world will end if the candles go out. And they have to learn that...if the world ends, it ends. That they still should reach for what they want because if they don’t all they’ll ever be is a prisoner. Pampered, maybe, but unfulfilled and never able to shrug off the weight and restraints put on them. It’s a wild, freeing moment at the end, and wonderfully romantic and fun. Go check it out!!!