Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #256

It’s an art-focused issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies that I’m looking at today, featuring two short stories that look at family, loss, and art. In both, artists struggle with both the limitations of their gifts and systems that seek to exploit and control what they create. In both, the artists also must balance their power and magic and the good they can do against the harm that they can cause. To very different effect. And the two take very different approaches to setting, the first building up a vivid fantasy world and the second bringing a spot of magic to what feels a more historical look at our own world. But regardless, these are two interesting pieces that I should just review!

Art by Mihály Nagy

“Drawing the Barriers” by Tamara Vardomskaya (7380 words)

No Spoilers: Nonar is a mage, a status that makes her an incredibly controlled individual, because the laws on mages, meant to protect those without magical abilities, are strict and pervasive. They keep Nonar living in fear, unable to innovate or improve upon the methods that she’s forced to work with as a demolitions expert. Still, she finds small ways to rebel, to try and make her work safer and more efficient. When she’s approached by members of a certain clandestine Group, though, she finds herself pulled between her fear and her desire to do something more than what she’s allowed to do and be. The world building here is expansive and effortless, painting a vibrant world that is kept gray at its core, washed out by the suppression of magic and the policing of those who could work for the betterment of everyone.
Keywords: Magic, Art, Colors, Resistance, Loss
Review: I love how this story weaves the various colors of Nonar into this complete and complex picture. She’s someone who grew up in a loving household, her parents defying the law by not reporting her magical aptitude at a young age, allowing her to experience passion and life outside of state control for as long as possible. Only it cost them their lives, and that loss shapes so much of Nonar’s outlook. She’s rebellious while also knowing full well the weight and power of the government. She does small acts of resistance in order to try and help people, because she sees how the fear of magic holds everyone back. And I love how that is framed, how the story reveals a government using the damage mages could do as a cudgel to control, suppress, and kill those whose power could threaten the government. Who could succeed perhaps at actually making things better. And that’s what I like about how the story treats the Group, as shadowy and perhaps working toward something good, but something that she cannot trust, not only because it flaunts the rules she’s had to live by, but because she knows that a careless and well intentioned mistake can be fatal, and she feels so reluctant to be put in a position where she could get other people killed because of who she is and what she does. At the heart of the piece, though, I feel is the need for expression and creativity and passion to help guide power. That where power is codified in rigid laws, made separate and dependent on state control, corruption flourishes. That caution is important, but so is inspiration, synergy, and reform. And the piece itself captures this in a rather compelling way, focusing on Nonar’s struggle and dilemma, her warring emotions about embracing her interests and skills or allowing a mediocre system to remain that only benefits those the state wants to benefit. It’s a fun and spirited and great read!

“Flesh and Stone” by Kathryn Yelinek (4670 words)

No Spoilers: Perrin is a sculpture of some renown who has gone and gotten married to a mysterious woman in a great hurry. There’s only one problem: she doesn’t love him. The nature of the woman, and Perrin’s relationship to her, create a situation where they are both eager to try and please the other, until they find out what that might mean. There’s a soft tragedy to the whole story, a slow descent into pain and loss. At the same time, though, I feel the story does a nice job of capturing how relationships built on idolatry and worship and beauty are not built on the strongest of foundations. And that sometimes that sort of love and beauty can only exist when captured in cold stone.
Keywords: Sculpting, Art, Marriage, Love, Transformations
Review: So the premise of this story is a bit uncomfortable for me, not gonna lie. Because it involves an artist essentially creating a woman to love. Though for him the idea is more that he found her inside the stone, the truth seems to be a bit more complex, that she’s a reflection of his desire, an object and in that not capable of feeling something as complex or consensual as love. And it’s almost painful having to watch her struggle with that, with being an object to him, loved because of her beauty and her silence and her presence but as art, not as a person. In that, it’s a story that I struggled with, because while it is lovely, and moving, it also left me wondering how much Marie, the statue-turned-human, is ever really considered a person. Even when she is being transformed back to stone, even when that’s what she wants most, it’s not in Perrin to really listen to what she’s saying. She wants him to have someone who can love him and who he can love, in all the ways that means, and he refuses, chooses instead to freeze himself to her. And there’s no real revelation as to what she feels about this. Once more, his desires are put above hers, here permanently, and while I like the idea that you can’t be god of the person you love—that being the creator, the artist of a person means that you’re taking a place above them, always untouchable—I don’t really like that it ends with Perrin giving up, refusing to try. Of course, this goes deeper still, and the ending really twists this, perhaps implying that Perrin too was a sculpture (done by his father?), and that his reversion to stone is only right. And I’m not sure what to think about that. It’s a very tragic story, and a beautiful one, and one that I definitely recommend people spend some time grappling with.


No comments:

Post a Comment