Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #223

The stories in this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies both have an almost video game appeal to me. In one, the conventions of gaming and fantasy are definitely in full swing, revealing a world where Fate is capitalized and an adventuring party are nearly at the end of their mission. In the second, a person travels a blasted landscape killing gods with a special weapon. From these beginnings, though, the stories branch into newer territory to tell stories of people made into victims and reacting to that. Finding that they are unwilling to stay down and accept what’s happening. In both there is a sense of community and broken promises, and in both there is a moment when the main character has to face a sudden revelation. The pair is nicely matched and creates a moving, magical experience. So to the reviews!

Art by Ward Lindhout

"I Have Drowned in Rain" by Carrie Vaughn (3407 words)

This story examines some of the tropes of fantasy. The stage is set, after all, with a knight, a mage, a thief, and a princess all on the brink of ending a long and dangerous journey. Oh yeah, and I guess there’s some other woman there. Probably not important, though. Not Fated. And I do like how the story deals with the idea of Fate (big F!) with regards to this woman, Kat. The main character is the knight, his mission to return to the princess to her throne, and his world view is shaped by the cliches of fantasy, the way that things are supposed to work. The adventuring party is supposed to restore order. Is supposed to succeed. He doesn’t know what to make of Kat. No one does. She seems a bit unhinged. Nonsensical. And yet it turns out that much about her is taking advantage of that conception, of that prejudice that they have against her. That she’s common. That she’s been a victim before. And so she is characterized as below note. As an NPC, essentially. And I like how the story complicates that. It doesn’t throw away the conventions and cliches. Not really. The plot of the story is still steeped in Fantasy (big F!) but there is an attempt in my opinion to update the conventions and cliches. To finally put some of them to rest without losing what makes these sort of adventures and quests fun. The story seems to say look, see, it’s easy to defy the “rules” of adventure fantasy, is easy to imagine a way that even works within the confines of what people want in “classic” storytelling. And in doing that the story hints at further subversions, of being able to present fantasy where the roles and the rules aren’t so rigid. And it’s a fun piece with a familiar feel with that added twist to it. A fine read!

"When We Go" by Evan Dicken (5064 words)

This story speaks to being consumed. It features a people who are slowly being eradicated, driven from their land and killed. They face an invader that they cannot win against. At least, not without help. The story is also about gods who do nothing to protect their worshippers, and one person who is determined to make them pay for it, to wipe them out, too, so that if the people die, the gods die as well. With a blade made from the tooth of the world Serpent, the main character has killed most of the gods, and all of the major ones. All that remains is the smallest and weakest—Coyote. The setting here is interesting and in my opinion at least seems to echo some Native American imagery and ideas. The invasion and prospect of genocide are heavy weapons to use but they do create some high stakes for the tale. That this mission has taken its toll on the main character, too, is an interesting choice, making their memory spotty, their identity lost to the haze of the revenge they’re seeking. Other things are slightly less clear, and the invaders, the Bronze Skins, are little more than a specter of colonialism, literally faceless warriors pushing their way in with apparently no chance of negotiating. Which does for me lose a bit of something because everything is happening so fast, because there’s no communication between these peoples, and because that seems to miss some of the true horror of history, that when genocide happens it is rarely done with any sort of anonymity. But still, the story is full of action and a sense of loss—of memory, of home, of family. The main character is hurting and seeks to bury this pain under the weight of the dead gods they pursue, and it’s a neat aesthetic with a sinking, tragic feel. Definitely a story to spend some time with.


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