Monday, October 7, 2019

Quick Sips Beneath Ceaseless Skies #287 [part 2]

The latest special anniversary issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies continues, and this second part opens my October reviews. The stories take on a rather different feel, with one story a retelling of an epic of religion/mythology through the lens of one of the slightly less traditionally prominent and the other looking at a pair of sisters separated in some rather tragic ways. The stories deal with life and rebirth, with finding meaning and finding the will and determination to push for something that seems impossible. In both, characters deal with the whims of the gods, pushed to sacrifice themselves in order to fight injustices and right wrongs that cannot be defeated otherwise. It's a fascinating way to close out this issue, and I'll get right to the reviews!


“Sankalpa” by Marie Brennan (3416 words)

No Spoilers: Bhishma is a great man, favored by the gods, a force of nature who helps to rule one of the greatest kingdoms the world has known. And yet at the heart of his surrender to the hands of the gods, to the fate of his birth, there is also a way that he is paving the road for his own destruction. Planting the seeds that by necessity will lead to his fall. It’s a story very much about cycles, and destruction. The piece itself has been chopped up, and yet the patterns are clear regardless, the enormity of the tragedy easy enough to trace to small acts, small impossible situation where by trying to do the right thing, a wrong is done. And it’s a sweeping and magical experience.
Keywords: Reincarnation, CW- Suicide, Transformation, Revenge, War
Review: For me I think the story does a great job of sort of subverting the idea of divine authority and wisdom, not in a mocking way but by sort of showing that here is this situation brought about precisely because the system isn’t really just. The tragedy, indeed, comes from the fact that everyone here is acting according to what they’re supposed to be doing. They are all trying their best to be virtuous, but because the whims of the gods seem to favor some over others, because the gods answer multiple, often conflicting prayers, mortals are just sort of stuck trying to navigate the result. And if it means that the might dynasties fall and an age passes from the Earth, it also means that the foundation those dynasties are cracked. Namely, they leave women woefully under-protected, prizes to be won and controlled. It is literally mistreatment of women that dooms the fated Bhishma. That he took one (the narrator) and then abandoned her. That he would not fight even the man who she became. How he would rather die that consider a woman he equal. It’s that toxicity that ends up doing in this grand civilization blessed by the gods. Because at its heart there is something rotten, and nothing with that at its heart can last forever. It’s a wonderfully written piece, out of order but still completely coherent, and with a momentum that builds through the events and their organization. The character work is focused and strong, and I like the resilience of the character, no less pure of heart than any of the men around her but forced into a much different role, cast as a villain in the grand scheme though no less bound than anyone else. More bound, in fact, by the added limitations heaped on her. But no less a tool of the gods, and a person who does great things. And I will admit I don’t really know if this was taken directly from myth or religion (that the events remind me of a different series of stories out somewhat recently actually enhanced my enjoyment, because it complicates and does some interesting things those stories did not, and hey, Wikipedia tells me this is indeed taken from something, and there went like an hour of falling into a research vortex). But knowing the specifics of the original story isn't necessary to understanding this retelling, though it does add some extra depth and complexity. Whatever the case, I find it a great read!

“One Found in a World of the Lost” by Shweta Adhyam (6598 words)

No Spoilers: Pavitra has just witnessed her sister, Gayatri, die in a hunt. Gayatri, who has always been brave and eager. Who has always known exactly what to do. Who has always given Pavitra confidence, a person to follow, as well as providing leadership for their pack. In the aftermath, Pavitra’s place, and her future, seem dim and hopeless. She is certain that there has been a mistake, that somehow she should have prevented the death or been the one to perish instead of her sister. It’s an emotionally powerful and ultimately uplifting story about grief and confidence and value and action.
Keywords: Family, Death, Guilt, Grief, Snakes, Gods
Review: The setting that the story introduces is interesting, something that might be a post-apocalypse but then swings around to having a more fantasy feel, made moreso by the fact that magic seems to be real here, evidenced by the strange creature that shows up looking to make a deal. And it’s a complicated story for one that seems almost geared toward younger readers. Which I say not because the prose isn’t challenging or complex but because the message is one that seems aimed more at younger people who are in that place where they are still growing, still learning, and still very much comparing themselves to everyone else around them. Which isn’t uncommon for adults either (plops is it not uncommon in adults) but really strikes me as something that Pavitra’s age makes her well suited to interrogate, just coming into skill not just for a child but as a full person. And for Pavitra, who has always been something of a follower, and whose natural tendencies were never for hunting or other things most consider vital for the pack, she’s stuck wondering what about her has value. Is it just that she followed, was directed by her sister. It takes a while for her to realize that she has value in herself, and that her talents, though more support oriented, are no less vital, or honorable, or requiring bravery. And I just love that part of the story is her sort of becoming her sister, trying to exactly replace what has been lost, and finding that it might not be best. That Gayatri’s death was in part because Gayatri was rash and aggressive, and those things aren’t always the best. So it’s a lovely and careful story that really brings Pavitra to a place where she can see herself around the confidence issues she’s always had and struggled with. And it shows her that outside of her sister’s shadow isn’t the terrible place she had imagined. Even that it gives her a chance to try new things in ways that her sister wouldn’t have allowed. It’s a great story and a fantastic way to close out this anniversary issue!


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