Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #219

Beneath Ceaseless Skies specializes in second world fantasy as well as some historical fantasy, so it's no great surprise to find that the two stories in this issue build up some incredibly original and visually stunning settings that twist expectations and conventions. From a world that is an enormous cliff to an ocean plain where aquatic-dinosaur riders roam and cause trouble, readers are treated to journeys through strange and at-times unsettling places where violence lurks in every shadow. These pieces feature characters hoping to return home and unable to do so, balancing their weariness at the constant travel and struggle with their resolve to keep going, to keep pushing forward. These are some great stories that mix moments of action with quieter moments of contemplation and grief. So let's get to the reviews!

Art by Florent Llamas
"Gravity's Edge" by Grace Seybold (9073 words)

This is a vividly imagined, dark, and beautiful story about flight and about climbing, about ascent and descent, The story follows Jeone, a woman who has fallen and lived and now spends her time traveling always downward. I love the setting here, which is imagined as a great cliff that goes on forever. In my head it must be some sort of ring-world where gravity pulls in one direction not to the outside but through the ring. So that for Jeone her life has become a climb downward, perhaps hoping one day to loop around to the other side. Even if it's impossible, even if it's foolish. She knows the scope of things, has seen kingdoms pass as she's fallen through the world, and it's just such a great concept in its originality and its visual appeal. The plot finds Jeone coming to a village where things aren't exactly what they seem and finding out what's going on and being horrified by it. And then gets stuck in the middle of it. The plot and scope of the story are well matched, presenting this microcosm of Jeone's life, always moving, always taking risks, always pushing herself forward because the alternative is to give up and stagnate. When she comes across a situation that she feels is wrong she acts, not caring for conventions or rules. She is someone who has seen the vastness of the world she lives in, the endless cliff that she lives on. But instead of being made small by it, she sees the power of the individual, the beauty of one life, of every life. And she refuses to give into the impossibility of her task. For me, she sees the mountain and the endless descent without despair. She knows that she might fall but that as long as she keeps going, keeps believing, she cannot fail. And that's a great point to see, and something that the story builds up quite nicely. It's an action-packed story, too, with a great aesthetic and uplifting message, and you should definitely go check it out. A fantastic read!

"The Last Dinosaur Rider of Benessa County" by Jeremy Sim (5683 words)

This story looks at the weight of violence and the gravity of certain actions and places. It sees Black Jonas return to Benessa County Station after twenty years away, twenty years away because when he left it was with a trail of bodies behind him and a debt he hadn't collected. The story has a certain Western flare to it that I like but also the sense of progress and loss. Jonas is a character defined by this time and by the lasting imprint of it. He's a pleeboy, a dinosaur rider, and his actions in he past were part of that legacy, the death and the destruction, and there is a part of him that just wants to go home now, leave it all behind. Only in going back to his roots he finds that he might not be able to. The setting is an interesting one, very different from the Wild West because it takes place on the ocean, where the desert and prairie are the waves and horses are these swimming dinosaurs. I also like the little nods in the story, that Jonas' mount is named Essie, that the city that Jonas visits is BCS (a bit like a certain publication maybe, though perhaps I'm reading too much into that one…). More than that, though, I like how the story considers Jonas' place as this pillar of the past, stuck there because he's unable to free himself from what he did then. He's a prisoner to his crimes and throughout the story he struggles with this urge to give up, to just let himself fade away. But there are things that keep reminding him that there's still life to live. That there are still fights worth fighting. And that he doesn't need to be defined by the past, that he can define himself and find a way to forge ahead, free and with some hope of maybe finding a way that isn't laced with blood. It's an interesting and complex story and world building and a fine read!


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