Thursday, September 21, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #234

This issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies features two stories about hunting and about violence. In each, there are two sides, hungry and in many ways brutal, who move through the world with certainty in their own worth. Caught between them, though, are legions of victims whose only crimes seem to be being in the wrong place at the wrong time, caught between larger forces who want something. Who want war, mostly, and conquest, whether on a more intimate scale or on the scale of empires and cultures. The stories are dark and uncomfortable, offering no easy answers and really no heroes, just those with power and those who must try to survive being without. These are pieces about victims, and about predators, and I should just get to the reviews already!

Art by Jordan Grimmer

“Dire Wolf” by Michael J. DeLuca (3347 words)

Staggerlee is a man (stag?) looking for a brief distraction from life. Looking for something or someone that can give him a challenge, that can get his mind off of an inner hollowness that he doesn’t like being left with. It’s something that has pushed him through life, always in trouble, death always following on his heels, pushing him away from a city where his violence peaked in a night of fire and death and into the relative wilderness where he spends his days getting into bar fights and playing cards. Until, of course, his past catches up to him with a Wolf in tow. A Wolf that’s supposed to kill him but instead does something very different, though perhaps much more painful. The story is fast and tightly paced, shorter than I’m used to at the publication but still full of a sense of this world that resembles America during the height of logging, where people pushed into the wilderness to tame it, to exploit it, to bring it to heel. The nature of the characters seems to imply there’s some anthropomorphism going on, that these might be literal animal-people as well as people driven by their more animal-impulses, to hunt and to posture and to kill or be killed. Staggerlee isn’t exactly a character to root for. He’s violent and unapologetic of it, seeing those he hurts as lesser and unworthy of notice. He feels no remorse or regret exactly for what he’s done, which is something that returns again and again in the piece. When his ex shows up in hopes of hurting or killing him, she thinks she fails when things don’t go exactly to plan. And yet the story sets up a different path to a way to get Stag to regret, to get him not to be sorry for what has happened, but rather to feel bad in a way he’s never experienced. It’s a strange kind of revenge story, and a bit of an uncomfortable one, and I’m almost unsure what to think about the ending. It captures a good amount of grit and blood, ugliness and hunger, and it maps violation and violence quite well. It’s certainly a story to spend some time with to make your own mind up about.

“Corpus Grace” by William Broom (6845 words)

This story is about faith and acceptance, possession and ritual. Like the last piece, it’s also one that features pursuit, and something like revenge, and a healthy dose of violence. The action is split into three parts, the first two mainly balanced and opposed. In the first, A priest moves across a land openly for the first time in a long time, compelled by a dire threat to his religion, to the body of the last saint of his particular branch of faith that is viewed as a heresy by the greater Empire. Spurned to action by the possible loss of the last of the saints of his faith, saints who are able to spiritually enter his body in order to perform blessings and inspire followers, he is accompanied by a young scarred girl who assists him. The feel for me of the story is one of competing religions in an area where both are colonizing forces. The faith of the priest, though, seeks to co-opt the existing rituals of the place while the religion of the Empire, similar in all other regards, considers such outside the one true path to salvation. The second section, then, focuses on an inquisitor from the Empire’s religion, tasked with tracking down this heretic priest and the last of his saints. The differences between the characters is clear and intense—the inquisitor in a much more aggressive situation, using saints for martial purposes rather than just to administer blessings and peace. And it’s an interesting look at how faiths can fracture and lead to violence, the way that Christianity did time and again as it settled and expanded. At the same time, it’s hard for me personally to feel too good or bad about what happens to the priest’s religion, to this faction that really only prides itself on being a little better than the alternative, but that still views the beliefs that came before as superstition and sin. It’s a story about how the violence of religious imperialism really just crushes those caught in its wake, creating a cycle of conflict that can easily spill over into genocide. So it’s a rather complex and stark story that I certainly recommend checking out for yourself.


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