|Art by Andis Reinbergs|
It’s sci-fantasy time at Beneath Ceaseless Skies! In the interest of getting to things in a timely manner, I’m splitting up the review of this issue, as two of the stories are free to read in February while the other two aren’t going to be out until March. The first two kick things off a little soft, a little slow, but with some lovely visions of worlds and characters reaching for their hearts’ desires. Characters who didn’t think they could really hope for the freedom they wanted, but find that maybe, just maybe, a visitor from the stars will open doors that would otherwise have been shut tight. To the reviews!
“The Mermaid Astronaut” by Yoon Ha Lee (5998 words)
No Spoilers: Essarala is a mer who has named herself after the desire to visit the stars. To explore the galaxy. Which comes closer when a spaceship visits her planet and begins a short cultural exchange with her people. But their ship doesn’t have water for her to live in. And that dream, which seemed to draw closer, seems more distant and unbearable than ever. But with the help of her sister and a witch living in the inky depths of the sea, she might just have a way to follow her heart. The cost of it, though, is something she won’t come to understand until much later. It’s a light and lovely read, the prose full of competent energy amid and wondrous universe and a truth that it takes Essarala a while to figure out.
Keywords: Space, Merpeople, Physics, Family, Bargains
Review: I love the pacing of this story, which might seem strange because it is not a fast story, nor one anchored by action, by battle, or even by interpersonal drama or conflict. The conflict is one of yearning, and indeed it’s one of a person getting exactly what they want. Which is rather lovely, especially because the prose reveals it in this wonderful manner, showing the sweep of starbases and planets, the slow way that Essarala learns her plaec among the stars, more and more until she arrives at a realization that maybe has been waiting all the while for her to find. It’s a story that doesn’t minimize or detract from Essarala’s desire to go into space, however unlikely it seems at first. And it’s not one that shames her for chasing that dream. The bargain she makes is not to give up anything that she doesn’t want to, and ultimately it’s about coming back to what she wants to do, to help people, to prepare them for a universe that is larger than they might suspect. And I love how the story follows Essarala out into space, finds not exactly the romantic vision of it but the work of it, the way that she has to fit into the crew, has to learn things that aren’t beyond her, but that take time and dedication and work to figure out. And, just as she’s really getting to know about the system, she learns something that makes her turn back. And that, too, isn’t framed as a loss, but as merely something that she’s ready for. Because in going out into the stars and holding to her dream, she’s obtained this fuller understanding of what she wants and her place in the universe. So that she can go back home without it feeling like a prison, without feeling like she’s strictly grounded (watered?). And it’s a beautiful sentiment that the story reveals in that, one that she could only have gotten out among the stars, as a crew member on a ship, but one that doesn’t require her to stay out there to be where she wants to be. And it’s a lovely, powerful story even without the immediate danger or shattering conflict. It’s quiet, but that doesn’t mean what it has to say isn’t important. Rather, it makes it up to the reader to listen, and engage, and learn what wisdom Essarala did, so that we, too, can carry with us. A fantastic read!
“The Glassblower of Galilei” by Katrina Smith (5318 words)
No Spoilers: Dim is the assistant to Master Damon, a man responsible for enthroning a king after some sort of conflict that has left Damon the sole person with the power to create those like Dim--constructs whose purpose is to serve. Dim isn’t quite so dim as Master Damon insists, though, and when a mysterious being comes into Master Damon’s workshop with a very special order, Dim just might assist in something that could change the course of the planet. It’s another story that tends on the quiet side, though there is a bit of action and violence. And it centers a sense of justice, and freedom, and an ambition twisted into a vehicle for something strange and new.
Keywords: Constructs, Eggs, Revenge, Wings, Music
Review: For me a lot of what the story plays with is the idea of purpose. Dim is supposed to be defined pretty much for what they do, as an assistant and as a servant. It’s supposed to give them a kind of contentment because they know their purpose, because they have been designed and built to do something, to be something. But from the start Dim isn’t quite as obedient as they might seem, is more curious than might be strictly useful to their master. And their connection to their work, to the clandestine work that Master Damon picks up, allows them to imagine something they hadn’t ever really considered--freedom. I like the feel of this story, the way that it takes place in the aftermath of something terrible. And Damon himself is captivating, something of a genius but one who has authored the destruction of a people. Egotistical and arrogant and superior and convinced of his own might. And I like how that gets used against him, to make something that he can’t handle, something that isn’t loyal to him but to justice. Through it all Dim is rather passive, waiting and nurturing. They have been told one thing all their lives, have lived in the shadow of conquest and with the prejudice of the masters to now rule. Their very name is an insult, and their work is questioned and interrogated, belittled despite the fact that they were designed for their tasks. For all their hesitation, though, the urge to rebel seems to burn in them, and I like how that comes to the surface, how they are able to sort of take command of their destiny when the opportunity comes, and how they are able to forge their own purpose, decide their own fate. And how they let that shape their choices going forward. Choices that will avoid the pitfalls that Master Damon fell into, that will allow the Kind to grow and change and figure out what they want to do. It’s a neat bit of world building and rising, joyous ending, and it’s all well worth checking out!