Sometimes I just can't predict where Beneath Ceaseless Skies is going to go with its stories. There are issues that are steeped in blood and tears and darkness. That enjoy looking at the frayed, gray edges of morality and stare boldly into the abyss. And then there are issues like this one, which brings a breath of life and fun and joy into the air. That celebrate how entertaining SFF can be without being sad, without being tragic, without being hopeless. These are stories that are clever and funny, with characters that are plucky and who manage to win some rather unambiguous victories. Especially for people who have noticed the at-times gloom of tragic stories in SFF, this issue might offer a glimpse of some unashamed happiness. To the reviews!
|Art by Geoffrey Icard|
"The Sweetest Skill" by Tony Pi (7436 words)
Yes!!! This is a great and magical adventure of a candy-maker and sorcerer helping out the animal spirits of his city and risking his life against the forces of the Ten Crows Sect. And really this is just a fun, clever story of magic against magic, of Ao and his friends against a plot that he doesn't even fully understand. But the voice of the story is charming, the gods themselves cute and fun and funny. And the world building is solid, establishing not just a history with the character (eluding to a previous adventure that also appeared at BCS) but further diving into Ao's family past and his own place in the city. There is a battle going on, one that Ao is unwittingly (or at least not completely wittingly) set up in the center of. And I love stories like this that keep things a bit mysterious, that hold back on revealing everything. These characters—the gods and the Ten Crows and even Ao's allies—all have something to hide, are playing a long game, and it keeps things tense, interesting. The action is well rendered, the magic unique and rather fun. Caramel creatures and water hounds and a ghost tiger all make for great visuals and there's a humor that pervades. Yes, I did kind of laugh at a place or two, which is great when coupled by the darkness of the world, the powers and at times capricious natures of the gods, the dark and hidden plans of the Ten Crows. All of it is entertaining, compelling. It's not exactly the deepest of stories but it's deep enough and complex enough that I was never bored, and it left me with a smile on my face, which is great. Those looking for happier SFF should definitely not miss this one, and any SFF fan should take the time to check it out!
"Rabbit Grass" by Kelly Stewart (5801 words)
Aww. This is a rather cute story about a Person and a Rabbit and gardens and talking to plants and it's rather sweet. Aril, the main character, lives in a world where Rabbits aren't so different from People, though they still very much want to get into gardens and eat up the plants. Here, though, they are tricksters, trying to lie and cajole and convince people to let them in because they have no talent for growing plants. The setting is, for lack of a better word, incredibly cute and the tone is light and with an innocent sort of air. A world where childhood fantasies are realized (which also makes the story a bit creepy and tinged with darkness but it's balanced well with the plot, with the world building). And is a more innocent sort of story, with a conflict that is imminent and driving but not one that hinges on violence. Instead it's a story of friendship (and maybe a light, immature romance which is well done and fun) and reaching out and finding a kernel of truth even when you're not meaning to tell the whole truth. It's about trust and the relationship between Aril and Picket is endearing and interesting and complex and makes for a great read. Really, for people looking for SFF stories that aim directly at being fun, uplifting, and positive, this month's issue is a great source of stories. Another excellent read!