Thursday, March 22, 2018

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #247

Beneath Ceaseless Skies is back to its regularly scheduled fantasy with two new stories exploring memory and nested narratives. In both, a character tells a story about a war. About battle. About death. And about a decision. A shift. A rebellion. Perhaps not always a huge one, but one that has far reaching consequences. In both stories there’s a focus on the decision to step away from following orders and embrace something different. Something uniting. Be it food or a faith in people, the stories show characters putting down their weapons and striving for a deeper understanding and compassion for those who would otherwise be their enemies. It’s a wonderful issue, and one I’m excited to review!

Art by Stefan Meisl

“The War of Light and Shadow, in Five Dishes” by Siobhan Carrol (6902 words)

No Spoilers: Cooking SFF is one of my very favorite things, and this amazing story combines those two things in glorious fashion, framed as a meal prepared by a master chef for their apprentices and telling the story of Leu, a man who lived in the middle of a great war and whose passion for food ended up having a large impact on the ultimate outcome of that great conflict. It’s a piece that celebrates food and memory and lingers on the flavors of loss, violence, fear, and the audacity of people coming together over a meal in peace and hope. The frame is at turns conversational, brutal, and eloquent, and the overall effect is both shattering and healing. It’s...well, it’s already one of my favorite reads of 2018, and I have a feeling it will remain so.
Keywords: Food, War, Rebellion, Flavors, Teaching
Review: This story speaks to me so much of conflict and loss and exhaustion and, well, food. The power of food to evoke and to move. Leu is a man who just wants to cook, who is driven by the desire to reach people with his cooking. When he is captured by an “evil” army destroying its way through everything, things look a bit grim for him. And yet...and yet he approaches working for this army just as he would anyone else—he’s driven from an internal desire to live and, well, to cook. And it’s that passion that he brings to his dishes, that begin to work on the army that is supposed to be bent to the will of a tyrant, that is supposed to ravage and destroy. But Leu gets them to collect leaves, to connect with the places they march through by way of the flavors of each place. And I love how the story accomplishes this, how it finds Leu through no more than food teaching these soldiers that there are better ways to move through the world than behind the thrust of a blade. Slowly they begin to see that by destroying a place they are taking away its flavors. And by making them face those flavors, by making them want to face those flavors, what Leu does is allow them to recognize and remember the loss that they have wrought. The story is beautiful in its framing, too, told by someone who lost so much from this war and yet who was inspired by the same muse that moved Leu. Who knows that to feed someone is to form a connection. And that to foster connections is to foster peace. It’s moving and it’s sweeping and it plays with Classic Fantasy tropes in a wonderful way and I really cannot say enough good things about this story. Just read it!!!

“Braving the Morrow Candle’s Wane” by J.W. Alden (1917 words)

No Spoilers: Adia is an older woman with a lifetime of service to her country mostly behind her. As a soldier she helped to fight in foreign wars prompted by those in power, believing her work to be that of God. Much older, her faith has been shattered and shifted, and she finds herself actively hiding someone whose very presence is criminal. The piece is quite short for the venue, but it packs a lot into the small space, visiting the immediacy of injustice and the ways that faith can work—the faith in a infallible divine as complicated by the faith in the very fallible humanity. The piece explores how faith and cruelty and violence can all feed each other, and also how faith can push people toward empathy and compassion.
Keywords: War, Refugees, Faith, Candles, Searching
Review: The story is minimally populated, with only three players—Adia (the old woman), Cyra (the refugee), and a young unnamed knight. Of those, Cyra and knight never really interact, so the story really becomes about Adia, who is a sort of lens between the two other characters, who see through her the other more clearly. Because at the opening of the piece the two character have no faith in each other. They are enemies based solely on indoctrination on the knight’s part and immense loss and personal hurt on Cyra’s part. She has no reason to trust him because of what people like him have done to her personally and to her people more generally. And he has no reason to trust her because of what her hurt might provoke her to do. It’s not by any means an even or fair distrust, with him wielding so much more power, so much more violence. And so it makes sense that he’s the one who must make the larger step, the larger gesture. He must be the one to trust first, and the story does a wonderful job of showing the first part of that. Not that by the end all is forgiven and okay, but that the story shows the power of, well, refusing to be the absolute worst. Refusing to strike first. For the young knight, it means disobeying orders, means rethinking and reexamining his faith. For Adia, it means being willing to put herself between a defenseless person and trouble. And I like how the story brings them all to a place where maybe they can start to have faith again. Not in some greater power, but in each other. In people. Which makes for a fine read!