Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #181

Two stories make up this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and both make a fairly interesting contrast to the last issue, where violence dominated the tales. Here there is one story that is almost entirely free of violence and one story where the violence is...well, quite present but also rather hilarious. Quite a shift from last issue, and yet the stories are filled with a sense of fun, a lightheartedness that makes them charming. Both stories manage to remain mostly light, very hopeful, and left me smiling. So time to review them!

Art by Tyler Edlin


"Bent the Wing, Dark the Cloud" by Fran Wilde (6916 words)

About a young woman finally coming into her own, finally taking hold of her inheritance, this story does a fine job building a relationship between father and daughter. The daughter, Liras, is a bit of an ass, a gambler who squanders the family's money, who nearly ruins his business as a wingmaker in a society where flying is as natural as walking. And yet his daughter, Calli, does not fly, something that is shameful not just to her but to her entire family. Her mother, finally tired of staying around with Liras, leaves with Calli's younger brother, leaves Calli to deal with Liras, to watch him and lie for him and try to find a way to save him. Which becomes quite a literal thing when he's taken for his debts and Calli is given a simple, if cruel, deal: fly to retrieve him and fly away with him and she can have him. The world building in the story is very well done, the visuals striking with a place filled with wings, people gliding and towers made of bone and everything just very interesting. The relationship between father and daughter is built well, though I wish it didn't sort of come at the expense of relationship between mother and daughter, mother and father. [SPOILERS] The mother in this situation does get the short end of the stick, shown as impatient and unreasonable and, in the end, also the cause of Calli's fear of flying. Which did strike me as a little unfair. It opens more of a path for reconciliation between Calli and Liras, though, and shows Calli as finally being able to fly really when free of both parents. Free of their disapproval and attempt to goad Calli into flying. The ending is uplifting, though I'm not sure entirely where it leaves Calli. In many ways she's shown that she doesn't need her parents, that she's grown beyond them, and yet I didn't get the feeling that all that much was going to be changing, aside from her now being able to fly. I really liked the setting, loved Calli's triumph in flying, the way she did it for herself only, and this is definitely a story I can enjoy on a cold morning, while looking at the sky.

"Moogh and the Great Trench Kraken" by Suzanne Palmer (4995 words)

This is a rather charming and fun story about Moogh, a barbarian in the classic sense (meaning from people who consider themselves barbarians, in a setting where such things are common), on a quest to...somewhere. It is an incredibly fun story, not exactly a head-scratcher but definitely not unclever. The story follows Moogh, who's a bit of an idiot. He's a barbarian, and when things don't go his way he either bungles forward despite or prepares himself to fight. It's what he knows, it's what he is, and there is a stark, spartan wisdom to him. He is what he seems to be, and there is definitely something to be said for that. It helps that the story is funny, that is plays with the old Conan tropes, where there are water people and Kraken and monsters and everything works with a sort of logic that defies deep readings. Monsters are made to be defeated. Barbarians are made to fight and not fear. These little gems are the ways the story work, and the banter between the characters is great, the way people talk around Moogh because he's not the brightest and because they sort of plan to kill him. At the same time, it's refreshing that in this story Moogh is surrounded by the rather problematic tropes of the time and genre that he's both in the tradition of and a critique of. Women show up without clothing, are temptresses and villains (after a fashion) and yet it's all played so well in the story, managing to avoid the misogyny of the tradition while still being very much of the tradition. It's a carefully and superbly crafted tale that has an effortless feel to it, and for that I highly recommend going to check it out, smiling and perhaps chuckling as Moogh tries to find a way across the Tricksy River. A fine story!

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