This issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies is all about stories and gods. About people making sense of the stories that are told about the divine. And finding that those stories, while they might seem simple at first, are definitely not. Because at some point the stories end, and life goes on, and people have to decide how they’re going to shape their lives and their futures. How they’re going to honor their beliefs while leaving room to recognize that the stories about the gods are rarely instruction manuals, and can’t really be applied literally to real-world situations. People have to make their own decisions, using their faith and their wisdom and sometimes their rage and defiance to steer a course through difficult times. To the reviews!
|Art by Alexander Ostrowski|
“It Is Not From Heaven” by Jonathan Edelstein (5776 words)
No Spoilers: Shemaiah is a fisherman who comes across a talking fish one day and knows he has to bring it to show his people. The fish brings a statement, perhaps a warning, that “The are coming.” It also brings stories from the distant path, true stories that can be rendered in images in the air by those with the talent. Aside from the stories and the message, though, the fish brings conflict and argument as the people of the city try and make sense of the fish, some believing it to be a waste of time, some believing it is a divine messenger. The piece deals with all the implications of the fish as Shemaiah navigates the various personalities involved and his own sense of right and wrong. It’s a lovely read, quiet and deliberate, and certainly invites reflection and consideration.
Keywords: Fish, Stories, Faith, History, Festivals
Review: I’m a fan of stories that can make a strong meta-textual statement about stories themselves, the narrative a nesting doll that can be taken apart bit by bit. So, there’s the story of Shemaiah and the fish, and then within that there’s the stories that everyone tells. That the fish tells, that the elders tell, that Shemaiah himself ends up telling. And inside of those is a commentary on texts, on religious and historical texts. And really I like that there’s this random talking fish, and that for a lot of people it’s a sign, because it seems to come at this moment that might be a crisis. One that finds the city wondering if there will be invasion, if it should question the ways that their faith has mingled because of how the people we forced to travel, finally found a home where they’ve intermarried and integrated with the locals to make a people with various traditions, a combined heritage. A fact that some people think is wrong. That some want to be something that needs to be fixed. And those people would use the fish as justification to carry out their desires. Their opinions. Because they are convinced that they have heaven on their side. And I love how Shemaiah comes to see the dangers of that, seeing that assuming on the will of heaven, even when it seems obvious, doesn’t work. Because it takes out the power of human thought and deliberation. It makes things a false kind of simple, when the reality is that things are not simple. And in rejecting that simple, that “this fish is the voice of heaven,” people have to trust their own judgment, their own faith and their own teachings. Because faith is a living thing, not a mandate but a conversation. An argument. One through which people agree on how they want to live. How they want to face the future. And I like how these people decide they want to face it making their own choices. Struggling with the implications of that, yes, but not trusting the voice of a fish rather than the voices of their own hearts. A wonderful read!
“The Black-Eyed Goddess of Apple Trees and Farmers’ Wives” by Erin Eisenhour (8531 words)
No Spoilers: Bi is a woman chosen by the gods, apparently, to help cure a pox. By having her heart cut out of her chest. Which, you know, she’s not exactly keen to experience, despite how the gods will apparently be generous, gracious. She’s angry, in part from the loss she’s already endured, in part because she doesn’t seem to really believe in the gods or their power--they are figures in bad stories, not real things, and she sees the cruelties in the men apparently “chosen” by the gods to do their work and is...unimpressed. She doesn’t really have a choice, though, and the story follows her as she makes a general nuisance of herself, knowing it won’t save her but needing to make a statement all the same. It’s defiant and raw, but finds a kind of peace in the end.
Keywords: Gods, Stories, Trees, Rituals, CW- Human Sacrifice, CW- Abuse
Review: I love Bi’s voice, her anger, her resilience. She’s chosen to die and once it becomes clear there’s really no getting out of it, she systematically goes about proving that she can’t be broken. That she’s not about to just give in because it would be more convenient for everyone. That she’s not going to be grateful for her own murder. And that I think is the biggest thing for me, that this system is so fucked that it’s trying desperately to get her to be grateful for being killed. The shaman who finds her, her family who travel with her, even the guard who seems to fall in love with her, all of them have their own designs for her. All of them want her to think of what’s happening to her as an opportunity. When really, it’s...not. For her, it’s just more loss, more pain, more powerlessness. And I love that through that, she is able to better understand the divinity that she’s not really a fan of. That in keeping herself, she asserts her place in the universe so strongly that the gods cannot refuse her. Because, in the end, she might want to believe a little. That she could do this thing that she doesn’t really believe she is capable. That she is angry that she’s being asked to do. In the end, it’s the gods who have to bend for her, and that empowers her. Instead of breaking her, the shaman must recognize her power. Instead of winning her, the guard has to deal with her independence. And in stepping into her new role, Bi is able to reconnect with her mother and sister, the other women who have lost their lives to the injustice of the system. It’s a moving and defiant piece, with a fantastic, caustic voice that’s not going to give in to the pressure to sacrifice herself. Not on anyone else’s terms but her own. And it gets into the power of stories, Bi writing her own way into the pantheon that demands her sacrifice. She makes it her own, choosing her domains and thumbing her nose at the people disrespecting her while also reaching out to the people who deserve more than they get. A great read!