By the power vested in me as some random reviewer on the internet, I declare the theme of this Beneath Ceaseless Skies issue of be: walking. Which might seem odd but really, both stories focus on walking. On air. Through the desert. But walking forward and not looking back or looking down. They are about bridges and distances, but not necessarily about maintaining those bridges. More like building them from now to the future. Escaping islands of solitude and stagnation with a drive to move forward. To keep walking even when it defies convention and possibility. To step into the clouds, and the future. It's a great issue and I'm going to get to my reviews!
|Art by Geoffrey Icard
"Clowd Dweller" by E. Catherine Tobler (8295 words)
The show must go on! This is not the first story I've read in this setting, and each time I enter into the world I am struck by the magic and fun of it. Circuses are not exactly the least popular of settings for SFF, but this world continues to mix just the right amount of wonder and weird with compelling characters, stunning visuals, and layered emotional beats to keep me glued to the page…er, screen? Here we have the story of Vasily, wire walker and sky walker, a man with a past but who refuses to look back at it, who knows that who looks down is often doomed to fall. I love how his story is one of loss, one of movement, but that he's not really defined solely by his past. Instead he is defined by his certainty, by the way he puts one foot in front of the other, sure of the wire under his feet, even when others cannot see it, even when it seems that he must fall. The cast is large but juggled well, Vasily related to the people around him, to Maria who knows his secret and Jackson who runs the show and Cookie and everyone else. Each defines themself by a talent, by a way of seeing the world that is there own, that they can't explain because it's too much a part of them. And Vasily's talent is to walk on air. To rise. It's a fun story and one that mixes a traditional conflict (the disappearances at the hotel and the cause of it) and something more ethereal, more personal (Vasily's confrontation with his past, with himself). And it works. For me it works, leaving me with a feeling of loss but not sadness, that something is ending but something else is beginning, no less magical or wondrous. A great read!
"They Said the Desert" by A.T. Greenblatt (5031 words)
Aww. This is a great story about distance and hope and tradition and progress. The progress both of a desert that seems to grow larger and larger each year, pushing two towns that rely on each other for supplies apart, and the distance between people, between ideologies, between the past and the present. It follows Jade, a Crosser, a woman dedicated to bring supplies across a sort of living desert filled with dangers. A desert that is growing and that will eventually kill all those tasked with crossing it. Unless. And that is where I think the story shines. Tradition becomes corporeal, or nearly so, with the ghost of the man Jade loved, Dominic, who appears to her in the desert. The two argue though Dominic is mute, and I love how even mute he is a weight to be carried, a burden. A voice arguing for a continuation of a status quo that isn't working, that never really worked. The tension of Jade's decision, especially in the face of the ghost of her dead love, is striking and moving, as is the rage of the desert which is a sentient force here, hungry and angry. It then becomes a way to view customs that are passed down even when they are destructive. They can be defining of culture, of people, of identity, and yet if they are actively harmful they have to be examined, because they can lead to bigger and bigger problems, and people unwilling to change "the way it has always been" just because it's all they know risk choosing pain and death over innovation. It's a story with a great sense of distance and longing, of looking forward and trying to find a way through a difficult situation. And it's very good and you should read it. So there.