Monday, June 6, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #200

Beneath Ceaseless Skies is officially 200 issues old! Which wow, is quite the accomplishment, and the celebration means a double issue filled with fantasies that reveal worlds distant and magical or much closer to our own (and still, yes, magical). Characters struggle with guilt and moral dilemmas where there are no good options. People try to heal in the midst of conflict and violence and history and people come together, find comfort in the press of bodies, in moments of small compassions. It's a great collection of tales, well worthy of a celebration. To the reviews!
Art by Martin Ende


"The Judgement of Gods and Monsters" by Kameron Hurley (9020 words)

This is a very neat story about war, peace, violence, and people. It comes at an interesting time and I love how it fits into the political landscape of the US right now, a choice I'm just maybe guessing (though I could just be making misreading great again) is intention and quite well done. The story shows Zin, a former soldier and current justice officer tasked with tracking down war criminals. Through her eyes the story does a beautiful job of complicating the logic behind war, behind the acts that get committed in war, and behind cycles. It's a story that doesn't offer many concrete answers, that shows a people wholly dedicated to peace, and it kinda surprises me that I didn't end up feeling like it was much of a dystopia. It flirts with it, certainly, but I think more it challenges the thinking that there can be only tyranny in power. [SPOILERS] And yes, I'm sure some would argue that the government here, which asks its citizens to fight a war knowing that they will be punished for fighting the war, is a dystopia. Oh no, the Trump-man gets arrested and executed because he does terrible things that he was asked to do and then is betrayed. Hypocrisy! But I love how the story sets up consent, how it actually looks at that, how before these soldiers are asked to fight they are trained not just in how to kill but in ethics and philosophy. This is not a blind choice. And while the other voice I can imagine in reaction to this story is "It's completely unbelievable! People wouldn't do that" I rather think that this system is one that holds a definite allure. It doesn't deny that there is violence and that it needs to be fought (and I am SO GLAD that the government wasn't revealed to secretly be behind the Enemy, which I thought might be coming, like this was all a giant test to kill off the 10% of people who would pull the trigger on someone else no questions asked), but it does require those committing violence to know that it's a crime, and there will be a price to pay. And I seem to have a lot to say about this story. So yes, go read it. It's a fascinating story and there's a hell of a lot going on and it's a great read!

"Laws of Night and Silk" by Seth Dickinson (7308 words)

This is another story of war and choices and the conflict of competing ideologies and the pain that's caused by fighting. The morality might seem a bit easier here, because the side given the most space, the side of the main character, Kavian, is pretty clearly doing so fucked up shit. In true "The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas" fashion, they send children down into the dark to become weapons, weapons necessary to keep a vast invading army at bay, an army that preaches fraternity and collectivity instead of individual heroism. What unfolds is an emotional and complex look at the price of conflict and the hope of healing. [SPOILERS] The story focuses on one of these magic children, alone and damaged in ways that are profound and meant to make them weapons. The story examines consent here, where Kavian wants this girl, Irasht, to make the decision of what to do next. To decide if it is right or wrong. To absolve her of responsibility. It's a fascinating moment because it weighs Irasht's ability to make the decision against the harm being done. But it fits very well with the mentality of the character, with the ideal of individualism, that a person can decide for so many what is right and wrong. And perhaps that's where I personally think the story gets a little muddy for me, because while I love the language and the setting and the characters I think the ending is a bit conflicting to me because, in my mind, even if Irasht chooses to free all the other children trapped and waiting to be made into weapons, that's still giving one person the power over others. It's a point the story brings up but I'm not sure what to think of it. Probably this is a story worth reading a few times to really dig into what's going on, and probably a lot of the point is that there's no easy answer, even if that's what a person really wants. It's certainly well written with a great magic and tension and tragedy to it. Indeed!

"The Limitless Perspective of Master Peek, or, the Luminescence of Debauchery" by Catherynne M. Valente (9640 words)

This is a rather interesting story, told in a dark and cruel style, one that reveals a character fluid and mercurial and charming and quite dangerous. And it's a story that I struggle with on a personal level because of how it treats gender and sexuality and history, everything seen from this one perspective of Cornelius/Perpetua, which is not an objective one. Which, in a story about eyes, about seeing through other people's eyes, I doubt is unintentional. The story is about the movement of time, about deception and about power and about a sort of voyeurism. Cornelius is a glassmaker, formerly the youngest daughter of a glassmaker and now an artisan in his own right whose glass eyes are more than even he expected. [SPOILERS] And I think it's the deception aspect of the story that both gives it depth and makes it something I'm not entirely comfortable with. The characters in the story (both Cornelius and his first wife) are set up as kind-of actors deceiving those around them and kind-of maybe trans. Cornelius, assigned female at birth, decides to become a man, to pull that shroud around her, and finds that she likes it more than being a woman because of the freedom and the power it affords. This unfortunately puts the story close to a "transitioned for the privilege" trajectory, which is a dangerous place to be. The deceptive trans person is still alive in media and literature. But I do think that the story is trying to work with that, to subvert that, and is trying to give Cornelius a voice and a place in history, a context and a bearing that fits his position. The story itself moves well, is rather fun and aristocratic and witty. This vision of the past is interesting, complex, and emotionally resonant, and probably worth taking the time to grapple with.

"Shadow's Weave" by Yoon Ha Lee (5696 words)

And here's a story that speaks to me of harm and recovery, love and longing and guilt. The characters in the story, Tamalat and Brio, are on a quest, though not exactly on the same one. Brio has been effected by war, by exile, by the loss of his shadow. And Tamalat, his closest friend, the only one who hasn't died or given up on him, is trying to get that shadow back. To offer him some chance at healing. What follows, what the story reveals, is that that healing has just as much to do with Tamalat as it does with Brio, that this is a hurt that can only be balmed together, and that even so it's not something where the scars will ever go away. And I love the quiet of this story, the familiar way the characters talk and the sadness that permeates the air around them. They have been through so much, seen so much pain and death and grief, that it takes these moments away from it. These quiet moments of knitting, of creating, even as Brio resists he comes to see through Tamalat the value that he retains as something more than a killer. [SPOILERS] And it's a sweet story once all the attempted suicide and sacrifice is seen to and the characters can finally begin to move on. When they touch at the end there is a relief there, a joy, that they have built something together. Not the igloo and not the shirt. But a relationship that is stronger than it all, that is warming and protective and redemptive. A great read!

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