|Art by Noah Bradley|
Two nested stories make for a nicely dense and meta issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Both are framed as found texts, stories that have been uncovered that give added context to some mysterious events. They provide their settings with more history, with more philosophy, and with some deep truths to grapple with. Both look at the ways that narratives can influence the ways people view history. Can erase people, or ensnare them. And how scholarship can be necessary to see the difficult truths and seek to fix persistent problems. These are stories with layers and nested narratives that invite readers to dig deep after justice. to the reviews!
“The Mirror Dialogues” by Jason S. Ridler (3592 words)
No Spoilers: Framed as a found text, a series of conversations between a woman who would become a great queen and the teacher who was trying to prepare her for rule, this piece is somewhat fractured. The text, it turns out, isn’t complete, and while it is one extreme historical importance, some bits are indecipherable and some are missing. What remains, though, is a compelling and dark look at governing and history, where the narrator of the nested text, Marrow Jakku, both teaches and is taught by a student who has lived a very sheltered life. And through their talks some revolutionary thoughts begin to coalesce, leading to some big changes for not only both women, but the city and country that they live in. It’s a complex and intricately built story, one where the absences are just as important as the inclusions, and where the whole lives carries the context of its history, its conflict, and its legacy.
Keywords: Mirrors, Lessons, Governments, History, CW- Torture, Calculations
Review: The framing of this story, a found text that has been broken and translated in pieces with large hunks missing, is a fascinating one, in large part because of how meta it becomes, how much it comes to reflect (heh) the way the story treats mirrors, and specifically the young queen’s thoughts on the mirror of her city, which is broken but visibly so, so that all can know its cracks and, together, seek to mend them. It’s a great way to capture this feeling of brokenness that still provides a whole. And in a very meaningful way it seems to argue for the necessity to show that brokenness, to recognize it. Like in a city that has its problems, its corruptions, its inequalities. Its history of violence and injustice. Those aren’t things to hide or deny or run away from. Those are things to be grappled with very consciously. And so, too, with the story, the breaks and the lacks and the history are things that have to be grappled with, that have to be examined and poked. The story might work as a bit of a puzzle on its own, as just a collection of conversations. There might be something to be said for just piecing it back together to figure out what “factually happened.” But for me that’s only a fraction of what the story can do, because there’s also realizing that the story is itself a mirror, and in putting that puzzle together, there’s a new layer that opens up, that allows the reader to see not just how the characters are reflected in their world, but to examine how they, the reader, is mirrored into the story, and how our world is reflected in the setting of the piece. It’s just the kind of framing that I appreciate, one that really expands the experience and adds to an already interesting read. It’s a wonderful read that I definitely recommend people spend some time with!
“Elegy of a Lanthornist” by M.E. Bronstein (6704 words)
No Spoilers: This is another found text story, framed as being the journal of a scholar of a certain foundational poet, a man known as the Latern Poet, who wrote a lot of his love for the mysterious Lady Firefly, Damma Lundzolin. This scholar, though, Isabel Hayes-Reyna, begins poking into the figure of Lady Firefly, trying to find the person among the glowing words of this ancient poet, and in so doing begins to understand more the nature of the poetry and the island that it came out of, the place she also calls home, that was once full of magic and lights that have since dimmed, but not entirely gone out. It’s a bit of a layered mystery, from the identity of Lady Firefly and her relationship with the Lantern Poet to the nature of time and the traps that literature and history can become. It’s another rather meta and intricate story that takes some reading between the lines but reveals a whole lot to think about and experience.
Keywords: Translations, Scholars, Light, Consent, Bees, Honey
Review: I do love these kinds of stories that use the form of the text to play with the text. That show how important framing and interpretation are, how importance authors are, and how wibbly history and truth can be when taken hundred of years out of time. Isabel here is a scholar, and perhaps the leading scholar on the texts in question, and it was a love for them that drew her to them. It’s something else she finds as she begins to dig deeper, though, and search for the woman at the heart of the work who nonetheless never gets her own voice heard. And so much of the reading for me comes down to that voice, that it’s the voice of the Lady Firefly that Isabel is searching for (and eventually finds), but to get there she has to shatter in some ways everything that has come before her. Every version of history that believes the words of this poet who claims that he’s been commanded by this woman to tell her story, try to capture her beauty. When the reality is much different, that this wildly popular and foundational text was actually structured around a violation. A wrong. A violence that no one really knows about or wants to see. But one that she uncovers in a way that changes her perspective on it all. And I love the way the story explores that, this great wrong that has been covered over because people wanted to believe this poet. And how the hard isn’t done but ongoing, the lie a wound that cannot heal, a prison that needs to be dismantled before real understanding can be had. Only it seems from the commentary of her contemporaries, people are resisting the truth that should be obvious. That their Lantern Poet was an asshole who effectively ensnared a woman who didn’t want him, who turned down his advances, locking her eternally both in spirit and word, so that her voice can never rise above his. It’s a powerful and careful story, and another that deserves plenty of time and attention. Fantastic work!