Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #252

Competition can bring out the worst in people, but as this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies proves, it can also bring out the best. Both stories this issue are about races, and magical ones at that, featuring women who find themselves squaring off against their lovers (former or current) for the chance to win a great prize. In both stories, though, the actual prize might not matter as much as the competition itself, as the thrill of the race. Because when these characters are faced with what they’d do if they won, the results are...interesting. It’s a wonderfully fun pair of stories, expertly paired, and I’ll stop yammering on in introduction and just get to the reviews!

Art by Jereme Peabody


“The Wild Ride of the Untamed Stars” by A.J. Fitzwater (2917 words)

No Spoilers: Cinrak is a capybara (as well as a pirate and a dozen other things as well) who joins a race in hopes of being offered the Queen’s hand. This is no ordinary race, and requires competitors to harness and ride sentient stars to a distant finish line. And Cinrak is no ordinary competitor, bold and with a slew of tricks up her sleeve. Unfortunately, she’s up against the very best—Lquolchi, a marmot and diva and one of Cinrak’s lovers. It’s a fast paced, tense read, where everything could go wrong and even if things go right there’s a strong possibility that someone’s getting hurt. Only the story maintains its aim and direction towards fun, building up this rodent race that’s thrilling and entertaining full of fantasy, wonder, and love.
Keywords: Racing, Rodents, Stars, Bargains, Queer MC
Review: Okay so I love how the story takes this initial fantasy element of a court of talking animals and just runs with it. I especially like that here is this collection of rodents all vying to a prize that none have ever won before—the hand of the Queen. It’s a premise that speaks of a sort of fantasy usually full of energy and fun, and I’m super happy to report that the result is just that. I feel that often when dealing with these kinds of settings, there is a trend to make them dark, to make them “mature” in ways that speak more of bleakness than they do age or maturity. Here I read no attempt to make the setting gritty or violent. The whole point of the race, after all, is to ride the stars without hurting them, to perhaps recognize their sentience and their value and further realize that the first star that the ancient queen had won is now a prisoner in need of being freed. The story is written for adults, casting Cinrak as a pirate with a number of lovers, but it doesn’t seek to equate being an adult (as Cinrak is) and requiring the story to be especially dark or tragic. There are violent elements, but the wonder of the piece remains, as does the hope and fun of it. Here are rodents that value consent and communications, who race out of love and out of wanting to defy convention by subverting it. It’s a wonderfully refreshing story, and I definitely recommend people check it out!

“The Ghostpotion Games” by Christian K. Martinez (2748 words)

No Spoilers: Erinia is competing for a wish. The competition is a race, though not one that she herself must run. Instead, the contest is about who can create the best avatar to run through a maze devised by nine empresses whose power is great enough to bend the rules of reality. And Erinia is determined to win, not least of all because she’s up against a former, lover, Isidore, whose skills are very much a match for Erinia’s. The piece is quick and rendered with a kinetic rush of action and banter. Erinia knows what she wants, and for all Isidore seems to have the edge because of the complexity of their creation, Erinia’s own ghost has some serious surprises. It’s a piece that introduces enough of the world for the competition to have a weight and importance to it, without bogging things down with too much explanation about the specifics of the magic of the rules of the game. The goal is simple and understandable—a wish. And the competition itself it fast, thrilling, and brilliantly magical.
Keywords: Competition, Mazes, Winning, Queer MC, Ghosts, Magic
Review: Magical competitions are often right up my alley. It might not be a magically cook-off (my personal weakness), but there is something wonderful about seeing practicioners crafting their very best to pit against each other in magical (but not physical) combat. It’s not about muscles and not about raw power, but rather about who can be more clever, more devious, and more skilled. In those things, Erinia and Isidore seem to be fairly equal, which is what makes so much of the competition thrilling. A good rivalry enhances all sides, after all, making the bout more entertaining to watch and infinitely more personal as the stakes shift from being only about the prize to becoming about pride and attraction and the satisfaction of a game well played. I love the flow of the piece, and the flavor of the world. The ghosts that the characters create are strange and visually interesting, really capturing the potential of magic to amazing and astound. It’s a bright piece, darkened only by a lingering question at the end, that for as much fun and enjoyment as the characters are getting out of this, how long has it been going on? Whatever the answer, the story provides a gripping read and a wonderful showcase of the magic possible in this world, and the play betwen Erinia and Isidore is wonderful and complex. It’s a really fun read, and it’s another I do not hesitate to recommend!


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