Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #196

Beneath Ceaseless Skies does not always make life easy for a reviewer. Releasing an issue on the last day of the month is sort of a low blow, especially in a month that has seen two larger-than-normal releases. As always, though, the quality of the stories means that I can't exactly be upset. Really, more great stories to read? I guess I'm okay with that. Seriously, the stories of this issue are all about losing power and living in the aftermath. Balancing the crushing loss with hope for the future. Tending to your own mental health with care and with compassion and finding that you still have something to give, still have love and still have dreams. The stories are about life, and getting old, and are sweet and very good. To the reviews!
Art by Geoffrey Icard


"Sea of Dreams" by Alter S. Reiss (2829 words)

You know what, I rather like this story. For its sense of age and youth, hope and cynicism, dreams and lies. For the idea that not all that glitters is gold, but that sometimes some of what glitters is. The story features Ierois III, a former Emperor living out his exile alone on an island that makes dreams seem real. That makes bits of rock look like diamonds. But when another deposed Emperor, a young relation of Ierois III, arrives to share in the exile, things start to slowly change. The relationship between the two men is interesting, the way that Ierois III has largely given up, become hardened by his life in exile, the way that his grand-nephew doesn't give up hope. And the ending is just so deliciously ambiguous that I can't help but love it. The story makes a subtle point, one about hope and in some ways about the audacity of hope, not that it's worth it to always see diamonds in stones, but that dreams aren't stupid. That sometimes dreams are all you have and you have to take the chance they might be real. And that sometimes, even when trust seems like a terrible idea, like it will just lead to heartache, you have to take the risk. Otherwise you'll never get out, never escape that island. And even if what you're doing is helping someone else with their dream, there's a power there as well, a way to repair your own hope through another. It's a touching story and very short (especially for BCS), but it doesn't linger more than it has to, letting the last doubt and wonder linger in a great way. A compelling read!

"The Stone Garden" by C.A. Hawksmoor (4841 words)

This story is actually a sequel to a story that I read a while back and was a little on the fence about. This one, though? Great! Indeed, now that I've read this the first story feels better to me as well, in part because it answers and alleviates a number of my fears/hesitations about the characters and because I get a richer picture of what's going on. Part of it's as easy as a perspective shift, but it's also that there's isn't the strange triangle going on between Mercher, Gwyn, and Gwyn's brother. Now that the relationship between Mercher and Gwyn is established, the at-each-other's-throats business isn't around and they're able to be more stable, more caring, more supportive of each other. And the setting is as vibrant as ever, still rather grim but with a greater sense of magic with the addition of the idea of stone gardens. More, I think the mood finally clicked for me with this story, with the slow exhaustion tied with the idea of creating, with building, with patience. If Gwyn has a story it is to learn when to wait and when to act. To build something and nurture it. And that requires him to allow himself to heal. To confront the buried feelings of his past, to dredge them up and deal with them. It's not always the smoothest of prospects, and doesn't erase the harm he's done, but there's a nice sense that he's finally dealing with it and learning to forgive himself the things that weren't his fault. The prose here is a bit disjointed but nicely so, the past cutting into the present, intruding into Gwyn's life because he's let himself become like the broken stone garden, waiting for some care, some patience. It's a melancholy story but a beautiful one as well, quiet and subtle where the first story was a bit more action-oriented. They balance each other well, though, and while I like this one a bit better, I think both are definitely worth checking out!

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