Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #183

Well Beneath Ceaseless Skies is celebrating again! What exactly? Being around of seven years! But I don't need an excuse to drink--I mean, celebrate. It means some extra fiction. I'm skipping over the reprint but the rest of the fiction is...well, there's a lot of it. About 30,000 words of original fiction. So no joking. And it is emotionally devastating. Devastating. I am in ruins over here, trying to type this. It''s good. But wow, I don't know how much my heart can take. I better get to the reviews.

Art by Feliks Grzesiczek


"The Four Schools" by Naim Kabir (10349 words)

Well that’s…sad. Like really, wrenchingly sad. It’s a very interesting setting that’s built up, a world where people are reborn, where after a certain age they remember their past lives. Where killing someone breaks the murderer from the cycle. It’s…also a very uncomfortable read because it brings up a lot of ideas that problematize such a system, where being murdered is a virtue. And really, the story does a great job of showing the brutality of such a world, such a structure. Because at the same time that there would seem to be some architecture, something to hold onto, it also shows that there can be no real order when tricking others to murder you is rewarded. Where tricking others to kill themselves is rewarded. The main character, Arzey, is reborn a few times in this story, and each time is tasked with tracking down a Provoker, one who gets others to kill them so that they can benefit and so that they can study what happens. It’s a striking story because it’s so stacked, morally. What is better, to kill to prevent murder, or to let someone else do it? Is redemption possible, or reform, in such an infinite system? How does it work? The story really offers no answers, in part because curiosity in the setting is often punished, is what pushes people to create but also what pushes the main antagonist to Provoke. There are no easy answers but there is plenty of sadness, of tragedy. I as a reader didn’t want the story to end where it did, with that crushing finality, but it fits with the story, with the setting, with the plot. It all works and is good but damn is it bleak. Pointedly so, and beautifully so. Definitely go read this one.

"Geometries of Belonging" by R.B. Lemberg (17359 words)

Well that was…intense. It’s almost strange to say, because of the character of Parét, who wants nothing more than to not act, to avoid action and by extension causing harm. And yet, and yet…wow. This is the second story I’ve read in this setting, and this one only gets more complicated, more rich and more fleshed out. It follows Parét, who is a healer of the mind, a man with power but with a deep sense of shame, of guilt, of worthlessness. There is a sense of deep grief that pervades the story, a history that has informed the characters, a series of tragedies that pulls at them. They are not young, and their adventuring days are mostly behind them, but here they are still trying, with really just each other for comfort, for companionship. There is regret that runs through this, mostly Parét’s who never wanted power, who understands only too well that when one tries to bend the world to your will that there is harm done. And yet they do harm. They act, and they continue acting, not because they are corrupt but because sometimes there are reasons to act, to risk the harm and try to heal it later. Because some things are worth trying for. But getting to that point involves political intrigue and magic and rage and pain. There is so much good here. So much good that I can’t hope to capture it all in this review, but the landscape is so solid, and the setting is magic and raw and Parét is an amazing character to capture it all, to have to examine those things he doesn’t want to. For all that he’s a passive character, a submissive character, he is alive and vibrant and I want more of this. All the more of this, please. Yes. For now, I will have to content myself with waiting for more stories set in this world to come out. Because so far they are amazing. Onward!

"The Sons of Vincente" by I.L. Heisler (2838 words)
The last story of the issue weighs in as by far the shortest for this issue, but it’s not exactly any less dense or difficult. It’s about revenge, as a young male Gorgon named Calvino finds at a young age that the world is a cruel place. I’m always a bit iffy on revenge stories, and this one does have some problems for me personally (namely, it casts as just the slaying of people to punish someone, making this people into objects, here literally, instead of seeing them as individual people divorced from whatever conflict the revenger and revengee have), but it is a rather interesting piece, the setting crisp and clear and the idea of art, of sculpting, working in effortlessly and well. And I do think that the story complicates to some degree Calvino’s mission to punish the man, the king who killed his mother. It’s a dark story, born from murder and monsters and breathed to life, but as much as Calvino can be sympathetic, there seems nothing exactly just about what he does. He proves himself the monster, becoming the thing that perhaps his mother could have prevented him from being. In that the story is about cycles, how violence leads to more violence, tragedy to tragedy, how of Calvino’s two parents he ended up taking much more after his father. It’s a bit of an unsettling story, but one that is crafted well and that impacts powerfully. The story is worth reading for the detail of the art described, the feeling of loss and pain captured in stone, captured in words. Indeed.

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