Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #273

Art by Flavio Bolla
The first Beneath Ceaseless Skies issue of March features two stories (one short and one novelette) about boys fighting back against the traumas and restrictions of their pasts. Seeking to gain some semblance of freedom from the harsh realities that seem to require their suffering and subjugation. And yet both resist the pressure to conform to the toxic and abusive cycles that they are unwilling parts of, seeking instead to break the systems and free themselves and those with them to reach for something better than they were given. These are two rather dark stories made light by the hope the characters manage, and the cages they escape. To the reviews!


“Through the Doorways, Whiskey Chile” by S.H. Mansouri (7893 words)

No Spoilers: Jeremiah is a bullfrog. And despite the unlikeliness of it all, he’s a good friend of Brady, a young man whose father left him with a tainted legacy of magic and the need for revenge. The piece unfolds in a very strange, maybe historical setting with touches of what I’d guess are Appalachia. Brady is a boy whose mother died when he was young and whose father used magic to sell a whiskey that made him powerful. Until the still burned down and everything in Brady’s life was thrown into chaos. Now mostly what Brady has is his anger, two guns, a smattering of magic, and the friendship of a mostly-loyal frog, who acts as narrator for this journey of Brady to confront the shadows of his past, his rage and his guilt and his fear. It’s dark and often violent, strange to the point of being surreal and dreamlike, but punchy and exhilarating and, ultimately, rather freeing.
Keywords: Frogs, Family, Loss, Fire, Magic, Doors
Review: This story has such an interesting and weird feel to it. Not just that the narrator is a bullfrog who belches fire, but that the entire world is filled with a kind of dangerous magic, one that carries with a feeling that the landscape isn’t really tamed. This is a land with rules and with plenty of ways to die, and in some ways for me that gives it an almost Western feel, because of how there really isn’t a human law that is reigning supreme. Rather there is magic and there is violence, and Brady and Jeremiah find themselves in the thick of both, trying to find Brady’s father in order to get some answers about what happened to Brady’s mother, and maybe to get a bit of payback for the life that Brady might have had instead of the hell he lives with. For me it’s a story about cycles of abuse and masculinity and absent fathers. Brady’s father set him up to follow in his footsteps, to pass along the legacy of pain that had been given to him along with his magic. And Brady sees that but manages to reject becoming his father, refusing to give in to the pressure to conform and live by glorying in the power to exploit and hurt others. And all along Jeremiah is there, something between his friend and his conscience, trying to help him avoid the pitfalls that his father has left for him, trying to guide Brady toward a future where maybe he can have peace and healing. It’s a strange story, I don’t think I can say that enough, but it’s also hauntingly beautiful and very much worth checking out!

“New Horizons” by Alexander Stanmyer (4079 words)

No Spoilers: Chester is a boy on a train crew in service to an Empire but really more accurately in service to his captain, who saved him from slavery aboard a pirate ship and has given him the only relative security he’s ever had. Now that’s all changed as the captain has gone rogue and all the sure things in Chester’s life turn to ash and blood. The piece is front loaded with action, with battle and death and loss, and finds Chester having to make some hard decisions, and step into a role that he never really wanted or expected. It’s a grim read in some ways, set in a world of empire, slavery, and exploitation. At the same time, though, it features a push toward something better and a determination that the chance at freedom, especially one dearly bought, should not be given up on, and for all that it’s also a very fun read.
Keywords: Trains, Traitors, CW- Slavery, Ships, Orphans
Review: This story has a great energy to it, opening in the middle of the action as Chester and the rest of the crew are running from the empire they used to work for, chased by a destructive god bent on their destruction. And the way the story unfolds builds up a brief but powerful picture of this group, something of a family under the leadership of the captain, who is something of a legend, and who can’t seem to help being decent and trying to do the right thing. And that ends, well...not great for her. But it’s an example to go by, because she’s who Chester looks up to, the person who saved him when he needed it, and he’s never forgotten that. When the time comes when he’s alone and other people are relying on him to act, to keep them safe, to save them as he was saved, I like how complex and loaded the story makes that moment, not that he’s instantly (or ever really) comfortable with that role but that he sees there’s this thing to do and there’s no one else to do it. And when he acts he does act decisively and with an eye toward trying to protect himself and others. It’s a very fun story, with action and a lot of uncertainty of what’s going to happen to these children in a setting where things are so grim, where they seem destined for a bad end because any attempt to try and protect or help them is harshly punished. Which is why they end up having to protect themselves, all while not giving up on the principles by which the captain lived and died. The story resists being a tragedy despite the death and destruction it features because the children retain hope and retain their freedom, looking at the horizons as holding for them the possibility of safety, as long as they stick together and keep pushing back against the abuses of the world. A wonderful read!


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