Monday, September 12, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #207

The two stories in the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies drive for mixing the magical with the mundane. Showing young characters reaching for some escape from rather oppressive situations and finding portals (of sorts) into different worlds. Whether the portal is mathematics or a hand-built raft, and whether the magic involves is fairy-related or steampowered, the stories show how the greater world is waiting for these characters, though it's not always what they imagined. And for some of them, it's not at all welcoming. But these tales bring a more classic feel to the issue, blending in styles that evoke the literary traditions of bygone years. And they're both rather fun to read. So to the reviews! 

Art by Marek Hlavaty


"To Rise No More" by Marie Brennan (5437 words)

This is a lovely story about difference and harmony, dreams and mathematics, the mortal world and the much more magical world residing within and around it. The story focuses on Ada Byron, daughter of the poet and as a child a great student of mathematics. A girl who wants nothing so much as to fly, and who is a friend of a fairy who can transform between the shape of a girl and the shape of a swam. The voice of the story nicely evokes the time period without being too formal, maintaining the hope and wonder of childhood, so long as it lasts, and exploring the space between supposed opposites. Between her parents, for example, or the fae and the humans. The story does a great job of showing what joy and advancement lies in the intersection of these supposed opposites, how the greatest leaps forward come from these marriages that seem doomed to fail. And Ada is a great character, competent and stubborn and dealing the pressures placed on her not just because of her father but because of how people treat her gender. And I love that the story is about a sort of loss and a gain, about growing up but realizing that the dreams of childhood aren't so mad as they might seem. That sometimes it takes a child to realize what is possible out of everything that people assume is not. It's a story of magic and alchemy but of a more figurative variety, the combination of unlike things to create something immensely valuable. This is summed up nicely in the Difference Engine, with calculating the differences between things, not so much to merely assign a number, but in order to work and closing the gaps, bridging the differences. It's a great story with a nicely magical setting and a charming set of characters!

"George & Frank Tarr, Boy Avencherers, in 'Beeyon the Shours We Knowe!!!!'" by Thomas M. Waldroon (16,972 words)

This is a long and rather strange story about adventures and about brothers and about running away. George and Frank are running. Not exactly from an awful home life, though there seems to be a bit of that. They're running from the crushing weight of their futures, from the prospect of being stuck in this one place their entire lives without ever having done anything, without having tried to escape. And in many ways, for me, the story is about that rush to escape, that trying to find a better place, and finding only lots of the same. George and Frank start off thinking that they can just raft away and not look back, or at least George does while Frank follows with a naïve trust. They flee hoping for adventure, and the story is structured as a sort of running serial, with the boys getting into more and more trouble as the story goes. It's an interesting and fast-paced story that reads for me like an old pulp adventure, the boys together and facing these huge threats and these weird characters and getting in way over their heads, where magic abounds and takes them to places they couldn't possibly be, and all the while there is the sense that their American spirit will get them through, that they will be fine, that despite everything it will be back home later where things will magically resolve themselves. [SPOILERS] Only that doesn't happen. The story plays to the pulp feel of this to a point, and then veers sharply and violently and really drives home that for these boys there is no going home. That adventures aren't just jaunts through exotic locales. It's a stark message in the end and makes for a bit of a disquiet ending to a rather raucous story. It's a complex piece, and definitely lives up to the publication's push to adventure fantasy. A fine read!

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