Thursday, October 22, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #184

The second issue of the month from Beneath Ceaseless Skies is (much) shorter than the first, but still manages to pack in a lot to think about. These are some challenging stories, both addressing (among other things) the way societies stifle women, and how women struggle against the constraints that grow to imprison them. Some dream of the sky, and some dream of alien worlds. For many, though, the stories are fraught with loss and tragedy, as these two stories show so well. To the reviews!


"A Careful Fire" by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (4331 words)

This is…well, a rather disturbing read, really. It centers on Mabella, a woman under the employ of her Master, who might also be her father? There's a lot to the story that's not exactly told, a lot about Mabella's situation that isn't revealed, and doesn't really need to be. She's used and discarded by her Master, and she's drawn to the wingéd, who see her as only an ugly creature, not one to associate with. Mabella is drawn to wings, though, and desires more than anything to possess them. Of course, to do this she has to do some very violent things. The prose of the story is flowing, almost gothic, focusing on Mabella's isolation and her growing conviction to act. Her conviction to take what she wants. Only to find that what she wanted isn't as sweet as she had dreamed. This is a difficult story in many ways because it's as hard not to sympathize with her as it is not to sympathize with those that she hurts. [SPOILERS] There is a mirror here, for her, in the wingéd woman who replaces her, and who she tries to kill away but only succeeds in further cementing the replication. Instead of killing the Master, Mabella focuses on the wingéd woman, and in so doing creates layers of victimization, layers of prisons from which there is no escape. It is a complex story, one that's rather uncomfortable, that almost asks the reader to flinch away, but one very worth working through all the way to the end, to the sound and song of tragedy, the lingering impression of the voiceless and the voiceless. Quite good.

"Unearthly Landscape By a Lady" by Rebecca Campbell (3561 words)

This is a very methodical story, slow and serene on the surface but, like one of Flora's teacups, filled with moments of uneasy recognition, with light from an alien world. It seems an innocent enough tale, with a tutor, Mina, and a young girl, Flora. Only Flora's mind is sharper than most, and her pastimes include painting intricate designs and scenes on teacups. Designs which seem benign until Mina looks into the detail and sees alien landscapes, alien battles, false angels and instectoid people and flowers and secrete a delicious nectar as they hurt and die. There is such a sense of realness to the scenes, a moving darkness that can't be shaken free from. The story builds so smoothly, Flora moving on into society, marrying, but always still with an eye on a different world. And it's that difference in her that marks her, that makes her different, that dooms her as well, because here is a woman who must seem the teacup, something to be admired and handled only gently, something to put behind glass. Only she has depths as well, a mind and imagination, horrors that cannot be fully faced, that no one really cares to see except for Mina, and then only too late. It's not a very happy story but it is a deep one, where more detail emerges the more is examined, and it's a lovely piece as well, strange and a bit haunting. Definitely one to take a magnifying glass to enjoy to the fullest. Indeed!

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