Friday, April 26, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #276

The two latest short stories from Beneath Ceaseless Skies provide an excellent one-two punch of women with power dealing with ghosts, family, and hope in settings touched by devastation and twisted magic. Both stories find characters on journeys who come across situations that maybe they should have just left alone. But, drawn into the intrigue, danger, and violence of them, they choose to move forward and through, fighting their way to a place where maybe justice can mean something again, where they can be helped and healed by family (even those not related by blood). These are some thrilling and epic reads, and I’ll get to my reviews!


“Fury at the Crossroads” Troy L. Wiggins (7059 words)

No Spoilers: Furious Jackson is one of the last agents of divine justice in a world where humans went to war with their gods—a conflict that has left most places blasted and scorched. Fury travels with a bit of power and an old ghost named Junebug who acts in part as her mentor, in part as her friend, and as a connection between her and her ancestors. The setting is gritty and the situation decidedly dark when Fury investigates a strange supernatural stank and ends up getting pulled into a bloody feud. The action is visually stunning and the conflict complicated, Fury’s own role pulled in different directions as she must face the truth buried under the layers of lies fouling up everything, preventing justice from cleansing the land once more. It’s nicely paced, intriately imagined, and with just enough hints at the larger setting to make me hope to revisit Fury and her journey.
Keywords: Ghosts, Post-Disaster, Music, Justice, Ancestors
Review: I love the introduction to the world and the setting that this story gives, a look at a place that has been torn apart by a greed for power, one that led humans to challenge the gods themselves. It’s hard to say exactly what the level of technology was before this conflict, though it seems to have been rather advanced. Currently, though, it’s something of a waste, and Fury’s movement through the world seems in some ways like she’s trusting to be where she needs to be when she needs to be there. It’s a subtle show of faith that might be mistaken for directionlessness, but I rather think that part of going without the strongest of destinations in mind is that she’s showing that she does still believe in the vanished gods, in their power, and that’s where she draws her own from, the music and the spark that allows her to confront supernatural forces and put them to rest. Of course, the story also shows how much can be left to faith and how much requires human effort and human intention to do good and make right. Fury is pushed into acting in what could be justice, but really isn’t. And without taking the time to look beneath the appearances of things, she would have missed the truth and the need to do real justice, to actually get at the taint cursing the land, of which the supernatural stank is only part of a larger evil. And I like how the story brings Fury to a place where she can see that, where she can realize what has to be done in the face of what has happened, the wound that violence puts on a place and people. That in order to clean the wound and make sure the infection is gone, she has to cut some more of the flesh away in order to remove the source of the taint. It’s a visceral story, quickly paced and with a gravity pulling Fury toward a confrontation she might not be ready for. The voice is strong, the world powerfully rendered, and the characters kickass. Definitely go and check this one out!

“Hangdog” by Dayna K. Smith (6772 words)

No Spoilers: Grinn and young Buddy are on a journey when they come across a hanging man who isn’t quite dead. From there things only get worse as thieves, strange transformations, and a storm that bring the ghosts of the dead into the material world all combine to form what is without question an awful day. But it’s also one hell of a ride, the action coming fast and loose and the characters (especially Grinn) having to constantly shift (both figuratively and literally because, I might have forgotten to mention, she’s a werewolf) to stay one step ahead of bullets and the hungry dead. The piece focuses a lot on found family, on loss, and on people helping people. Well, that and werewolves fighting humans, ghosts, and nature itself in a push to tear from the tragedies they destined for.
Keywords: Alt History, Transformation, Ghosts, Werewolves, Family
Review: This story has a great alt-history feel to it, imagining a post-Civil War America that contains shifters of various sorts. Grinn is a werewolf, on a trip with a younger member of her pack, Buddy, who has been bitten but doesn’t really know what kind of shifter she is yet. They come across Jonah, who seems about the unluckiest SOB you’ll ever meet, and thanks to his terrible luck seeming to be a bit contagious, Grinn and Buddy end up being dragged into a situation bad and quickly getting worse. There’s an energy and a saltiness to the prose that I appreciated, though at times I struggled to figure out exactly what was going on. There’s a sort of fluidity to the prose that perhaps reflects the way that Grinn is a shifter, and her senses get a bit messed up from time to time as she transforms and deals with the violence and action around her. And I like that the piece centers found families and how vital they can be, especially for those those biological families have been...well, not exactly great. For me, it takes the idea of a pack and makes it into a way for people to help people, for those who have been lone and isolated to build spaces where they can stop running, where they can feel at home. And it’s fun and just a bit sexy to watch that play out with Grinn and Jonah, where there’s definitely a chemistry I felt and a hope that maybe together they can start to banish the ghosts haunting them and find a way to be more at peace with themselves, more comfortable and less afraid. And it promises to be a bit of a slow process, but seeing that process start is rather great and freeing and sweet. It’s a fun story, full of twists and bumps to keep things interesting and moving without being able to really catch your breath. Which all adds up to a great read!


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