Thursday, December 12, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #292

Art by Alexey Shugurov
It’s no surprise that the two stories in this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies are incredibly well paired—it’s just sort of what I expect from the publication. And they are, both dealing intimately with names, and with flowers, and with violence and expectation. With ignorance, and characters dealing with that ignorance. Because without knowledge they can’t make informed decisions, can’t give informed consent. Being asked to take everything on faith, they see how that system allows for their exploitation and unhappiness, their marginalization and, ultimately, their death. It’s not an easy issue, and both stories deal with gaslighting and abuse in some visceral ways. So definitely be mindful the content warnings. But there’s also a power and a beauty to them that’s worth sitting down with. To the reviews!


“Nameless in the Winged Court” by Rowenna Miller (4186 words)

No Spoilers: The main character of this story is a flower person who grew up alone in the northlands, a place of winter that really isn’t suitable for a flower. They were raised by a giant (possibly a human) and then worked for a mouse, but fled rather than be married to a mole (and to escape winter) thanks to the help of her friend, a swallow. Brought to the Winged Court, she meets other flower people, including a king, who immediately decides to marry her. The piece is difficult at times, informed by the very many ways that the main character is isolated, is stripped of their name, their ability to make decisions because no one will tell them anything, because they have to move forward in ignorance. But for all the unsettling squirminess of the piece, there’s also something deeply resilient, a feeling that it’s not too late to start learning, or living, or making decisions.
Keywords: Names, Flowers, Wings, CW- Rape, Marriage
Review: It’s interesting to me how the story picks up in the middle or even the end of one chapter of the main character’s life. It’s a time of transition, of loss and gain. They lose their name even as they put behind what seem to be a series of trying adventures in the northlands. Those events are related in memory and in summary, so that we can get this next chapter, of them in the Winged Court. And it’s an unsettling piece for me because of how this is supposed to be a homecoming, a moment of empowerment and hope, and instead it’s more people trying to make decisions for them. It’s telling that they fled a forced marriage but end up married anyway, raped because the king is desperate for offspring but can’t produce them. And it’s the way that the main character goes through everything isolated, alone, and ignorant. And not because they can’t understand or don’t want to, but because the people who should be teaching them just don’t. It’s a rather brilliant example of how missing stairs work, where the main character keeps on trying to step out of their hole, their ignorance, and instead only falls back down. Everything in the Court seems to be constructed out of missing stairs, and it quickly becomes obvious that it’s no less toxic, no less cruel. And they are pushed to make decisions they aren’t comfortable with because it’s always framed as something they need to do. The damage has already been done so what’s the harm? It’s difficult but it feels very real, how a person is so at the mercy of others when they are an outsider, and for the main character, who has always been an outsider, who has always been exploited, there seems nowhere to go, no way out. Except that for their ignorance they aren’t content to just follow orders, knowing from their experience that whatever is being told to them is likely just to benefit the teller. So they rebel, and find...not an answer, really. But the start of a new chapter, one that they get to choose more freely, and one that might completely reframe their place in the world. It’s fragile and wrenching, but also a wonderful and magical read!

“The Petals of the Godflower” by Kyle Kirrin (4050 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is also unnamed, though the reasons for that are much different than in the last story. In this setting, names are something of a taboo, because they anchor a person as distinct from the Godflower. The Godflower, which only speaks to certain people, turning them into Priests or Mothers who live as long as they can. For everyone else, twenty years is seen as something of a maximum. Before then, you’re expected to kill yourself with a ritual blade and become fertilizer for the Godflower, living on in the stalk that grows from your corpse. Only the narrator doesn’t believe. Doesn’t believe and doesn’t want to die. It’s a decision that it causing plenty of grumbling in the village, and might just escalate beyond that soon enough. The piece is dark and deals carefully with faith, with belief and, perhaps more importantly, with disbelief and doubt.
Keywords: CW- Suicide, Family, Names, Flowers, Sacrifice, Belief
Review: I really do love how this story deals with religious doubt. That it’s not exactly a choice that the narrator is making, because in many ways they want to believe. They want to be comforted by the things that comfort everyone else. But they can’t. They are not capable because it doesn’t make any sense to them, and the harder people try to convince them, the less it ends up making sense, the less it ends up feeling right. And there’s this overwhelming pressure all around them to conform, which here means to kill themself. Which is a big thing. A thing it’s easy to feel resentful of because some people don’t have to die. And because there’s no real proof that the story they’re being told is really true, there’s no way to quiet the voice in their head that doesn’t believe, that urges them to reject all the teachings. And fuck, it speaks very much to the ways that religious upbringings can completely fail someone. Because no matter how many ways a kindly priest tries to sell it, for some people it just doesn’t take, because they feel deep within that it’s not right. The narrator feels the absence of the people who die, remembers even when that remembering is considered a sin. And, like some toxic religions, the consequences for not believing are severe. Because this one person can become a different kind of seed. One that grows questions that act as a rot on the roots of the organization, of the faith. Which is why they’re targeted, why they realize that they’re not going to be allowed to walk away or disagree or choose to live. So they act first. And I like the way the story closes, without really answering what happens. Because technically it leaves room for the priests to be right. For the Godflower to be a pathway to eternal life. But the narrator has their suspicions and I have mine as well, that the reason it’s so important to never test the tenants and rules of the faith is because they’ll turn out to be something much less than truth, because what justice is built on the dead bodies of so many children? A wonderful read!


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