Thursday, August 23, 2018

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #258

These two new stories from August’s Beneath Ceaseless Skies turn the action up to eleven with stories of teamwork and fighting against horror and oppression. In both works, the settings are defined by loss, by conflict. In one, people must live above a storm that ravages the ground below because of a war that involved separation and enslavement. In the other, a world must sacrifice its future to an alien creature in exchange for a twisted taste of immortality. And in both, people find that talking doesn’t work, and so resort of fists and blades and magic and flight to fight back against the tyranny and reach for a future that people tell them is impossible. To the reviews!

Art by Piotr Dura

“The Wyvern Rider and Those of the Land” by Jeremy A. TeGrotenhuis (8063 words)

No Spoilers: The Captain is really a four-souled construct—each soul corresonding to each of the (in this case) four elements, Air, Fire, Earth, and Wood/Water. Only their Air soul, Veled, has been taken by a group known as the Machaenum, who have weapons designed specifically to target beings like the Captain, Those of the Land. Now the Captain is on the hunt for the Machaenum, hoping to rescue their missing part, and bump into a wyvern rider on the run both from her former cohorts and the Machaenum, who want to take her wyvern apart in order to study it. Which ends up being an opportunity the Captain cannot resist. The piece is action-heavy and rather dense with world building, giving me at least the feeling of walking into things in the middle. Which is just fine, though there is a bit of a learning curve and a lot to take in all at once. Once that settles, though, the piece is tense and tightly-paced, focusing on the Captain’s need to find reunion with their missing part and the way that this links and separates them from the people around them. The visuals of the piece are memorable, the setting rich and vibrant and just grim and gritty enough while still retaining a great lightness and hope. And the story, though unresolved, promises more adventures to come, which is always nice!
Keywords: Airships, Flying, Non-binary MC, Storms, Imprisonment
Review: I love how a lot of this story is caught up in the ways that the Captain is unique, but also what makes them similar to those people around them. They are different, to be sure, and frustrated that everyone seems to think that they are simple, able to be reduced down into easily-understood and recognizable terms. At the same time, though, their resistance to being defined in the terms of other people partly obscures for them how they _are_ similar to others. Though unique, their drives and desires are not opaque or unreasonable. The people around them might not understand the full depth of who the Captain is, but they also don’t need to in order to like the Captain, to care about them, and to want to help them in their quest. It’s something the Captain struggles with, opting to hide things and hold back out of fear that they won’t be understood. And it leads the Captain very close to complete ruin. Just when everything seems lost, though, it’s the Captain’s different that allows them to alter their perspective and start to see the wider picture, and that gives them the power they need to leverage their escape. The work with the setting is interesting, too, populating a world above a constant storm, where everyone lives in flotillas or mountaintops, and the world below the storm is full of ancient technology now being mined by the Machaenum, who know just enough to be incredibly dangerous. It’s a thrilling and intricate read, and I’m excited to see what comes next!

“Shattered Hand” by Marc Criley (4590 words)

No Spoilers: Tsimmit and Katya are rebels of a sort, intent on breaking a long-standing tradition—a bargain made between her world and a being from beyond, for lives in exchange for a kind of immortality. It’s not a bargain that she supports, though, and in defiance of her people she makes the call to fight back against an adversary that seems insurmountable. Who seems immortal. The piece is focused on action and is gritty as hell, putting these two people first against themselves, then against their peers, and finally against an ancient and hungry force responsible for a great deal of suffering in the universe. There’s a momentum to the piece that arises from the need to complete everything before falling down, knowing that a moment’s hesitation would ruin everything. So it’s a relentless story that commits to what it does and then doesn’t come back up for air until there’s nothing but bodies on the floor and the fate of the world, of a great many worlds, seems to hang by the thinnest thread.
Keywords: Bargains, Hands, Sacrifice, Resistance, Deserts
Review: What brings the story together for me is the effortless relationship between Tsimmit and Katya. They are partners, perhaps not in the romantic sense but in the sense that they work seamlessly together. They share this goal, this drive, and in that they are able to push past the people standing in their way. And they aren’t going into this without a plan—they know just how difficult it is, but unlike most of the rest of the people on their world, they know how difficult it will be. Meaning that they know it’s not impossible, that this creature who has struck a deal with them under threat of wiping them from existence is not actually all knowing or all powerful. They’re still really fucking knowing and powerful, but they are able to make mistakes, and part of the duo’s job is made easier because this creature considers itself beyond threat. And I love that the thing that’s the greatest threat to them is stopping, is pausing in their quest. Because they know that if they pause then there will be every reason to give up, to give in to the voices saying that it’s too great a risk. But they know that they are doing the right thing, know that they shouldn’t bow to a creature who would eat their young and deny them a future. They commit, and from then there’s no looking back, no giving those against them any chance of catching their breath. Once the battle begins there’s no end until they’ve won or been destroyed and that kind of drive is rather fun and exhilerating, in part because there’s always the call to slow down, to negotiate, to compromise. But some things can’t be compromised or given up. Some deals should not be made. And sometimes when your back is to a wall you have to push off and race toward a better future, even if the way is bloody and painful. And yeah, it’s a visceral and exciting and satisfying read!


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