There must have been some memo I missed about making the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies as violent and uncomfortable as possible. Valentine's Day is over, I can tell you that. It's a dark issue, circling around ideas of violence and religion, faith and punishment, sacrifice and salvation. And it is a rather shocking issue that requires quite a few trigger warnings. Otherwise it also features bad-tempered mounts, which really doesn't add much to the stories but is all I can think of to put a brighter spin on this pair of deeply disturbing works. To the reviews!
|Art by Leon Tukker|
"And the Blessings of the Angels Came Upon Them" by Dean Wells (4366 words)
Well okay then. You know what, here: [SPOILERS TO FOLLOW ALONG WITH TRIGGER WARNINGS] Okay, there's that out of the way. This story features a rather graphic dismemberment of a child (a disabled child what's more) and…well, just kinda have to put that out there. The story is dark, and oppressively so, building a setting where a group of scientists has been cut off through their home, through the Earth that nurtured them. Instead they live in scarcity, living close to the bone, and as such there are a lot of things that have…changed. A new religion has risen and the people rush to it to sate them, to give them hope, to keep them safe. The story flits between the present, the day of a great feast and tournament, and the past, during the arrival to the volcanic crater and subsequent efforts to survive. Peavey is an old man who bridges the divide, the last to have lived before the crossing. The story does a good job of showing how scarcity can impact people, how survival can come to be the only thing people care about. In many ways this could be an apocalyptic story set on Earth in a time of scarcity, though the fantasy elements give the story a nice alien feel and a few really interesting visuals. The story is about the failure of reason in the face of loss and in the face of the unknown. Of how religion and belief and ornamentation can lead to abuses of power and a loss of sight of what is important. The people who make their lives in the barren waste are interested in survival, which is a terrible motivation (in my opinion). Because when things become about survival corruption and abuse becomes pretty common, and here is no exception, a story about ugliness in the face of loss, and Peavey's complicity with it all because his first urge is to sate his hunger. An uncomfortable story, yes, but one that's probably worth sitting down with. Indeed.
"Salt Circles" by Andrew F. Sullivan (3924 words)
Um…well this issue certainly doesn't sugar coat anything, does it? Here is another unsettling, violent, and ugly tale, and one definitely purposefully so. Once again it takes a look at religion fear and sacrifice. Here again the TRIGGER WARNING applies because there is murder, murder in a cold way that gets under the skin. The main character, Dennis, is one of three men come from Europe to America to cleanse, to root out evil and witches. To kill. It's a strange story of affliction and madness and pervasive ugliness. And really I'm not sure that I'm all that suited to examining the story. It obviously plays with repulsion and revulsion, with disgust, both the disgust that the character fails to feel at his actions and the final disgust he feels at the climax of the story, not of sin but of nakedness. There is a motif of covering up. Of distance. Putting on gloves, affliction hidden by clothing but still present, still lurking, the shadow of the terrible actions the men take infecting them in ways that is inescapable. What I'm a bit less sure of are the strange villages and what they might represent, either the darkness that they bring with or that they look for or something actually there, actually…evil? But I did like the way that the characters' mission became their test, became their undoing. Without giving too much away, at least there is a sense that in the end their faith is not enough, that their actions are not free of consequence, though it's a hollow sort of thing, a lingering and haunting promise of things to come. Another rather difficult story to read, but for those wanting to tackle violence and faith, this one's probably for you. Indeed!