The latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies brings two novelettes about invasion, about resistance (or lack of). About two queer characters dealing with the prospect of their home being conquered. Of having to make hard decisions between what their heart wants and what’s expected of them. In both cases, what’s expected might win out, but the two stories have two very different takes on what that means. In one, that means a character submitting to the need to sacrifice for a cause, for justice, for the hope of a future. In the other, that means a character submitting to corruption, to lies, to a betrayal of what and who they are. It’s some emotionally powerful and devastating work, and I’ll get right to the reviews!
|Art by Vladimir Manyukhin|
“Girls with Needles and Frost” by Jenny Rae Rappaport (8265 words)
No Spoilers: Roza works in a dressmaker’s shop, the dressmaker herself something like her mother, the other young women she lives with like her sisters (though one of them is also her lover). Things aren’t well, though. Not with a foreign power occupying her nation. Not with most of the men having been sent to labor camps. Nots with soldiers in the streets and in their homes trying to make sure that they can’t make the color purple, all because of a story, a myth, a promise that if every window has a purple star in it, a dragon will come and will drive off the invaders. And Roza finds herself in the center of the movement to make sure that happens. That, while she’s also somewhat compromised by a soldier who suspects what she’s doing. A soldier that might feel more for her than is proper, and that she in turns cares more about than she should. It’s a wrenching story about loyalty, about resistance, and about sacrifice.
Keywords: Dragons, Sewing, Occupation, CW- Executions, Queer MC, Resistance
Review: I love the messy, wrenching feel of this, the way that Roza is pulled in so many directions, unsure of what she wants, sure at least that it probably doesn’t matter, that things are beyond her, and that her duty, as much as it’s nice to pretend it might be otherwise, is pretty well set. Because from the start she knows about the price, the cost of the dragon’s assistance. And from the start she knows that she’s the heir to her Mistress’s role, the leadership of the resistance, the organization of summoning this dragon that will crush whatever fragile peace she has, whatever joy she can steal from this occupation, this war that is not a war. The story does a beautiful job of world building and character building, setting Roza up as someone who rebels in ways against the role she’s fallen into as the smart one. It’s as if to me she yearns to be foolish, to not worry about things, to act impulsively and selfishly. And yet, even so, she has little choice in any of this. If she doesn’t go along with her fling with the soldier, he might expose her and ruin everything. If she doesn’t step into the void left when her Mistress is executed, then the resistance might fail. It’s on her to hold it all together, and I feel so hard that feeling of telling so many lies, feeling so many lies, that it becomes all there is. None of it is “truly” Roza because the possibility to be true to herself was taken by the war. By the necessity that she be all these different things to all these different people. Now it’s all who she’s pretending to be, who she might at times wish to be, but the question of who she would be can’t survive. Can’t stand up to the reality of the situation. And in the end it feels like to me she knew where she’d end up. She hated it, resented it, because it’s not fair, because she wants a life, a hope, but she never ran from it. Never rejected it. She only ever worked toward that fate, that end, knowing that it’s her choice, knowing that she’d make it again. A fantastic read!
“Degeneration” by Dominic Wright (7592 words)
No Spoilers: Pyat-Nyar-Khun is a scribe in the Eternal City, the capital of an Empire led by a God-Emperor. The city is fighting a war that according to the news they are winning even as they are ceding ground. As the narrator of the work, Pyat-Nyar-Khun reveals the complex mess that is his being. A loyal subject of the empire rather desperate for success and promotion, jealous of the good fortunes of others, while nursing in his heart a secret love and identity that explains why he’s never started a family or had grandchildren. With his mother dying of a cancer, with the city falling around him, the piece follows what he clings to, what he decides, when he has to finally chose between what his heart wants and what would be the proper course of action.
Keywords: Calligraphy, Scribes, War, Queer MC, Family, CW- Cancer
Review: This is a tragic read, following a character who believes the myths about his home, his city, his emperor. Who has internalized the values of the system--it’s corruption, its brutality. Despite the way he yearns for something different. Despite how much he wants something that’s kinder, softer, where he can be out and open. And it’s so hard to read, because of how he’s compromised, how much the system twists him away from being able to be happy. Because a part of him is convinced of his own wickedness, and in that belief he is tormented, becomes paranoid, distrusting. And in that he resembles the Eternal City, with walls that he thinks are indestructible, that he thinks cannot be breached. His faith, his ambition, his self-denial. All the while the ruin that he’s denying, that he can’t fully imagine, is breaking through. Is tearing down those defenses. And still he clings to them, unwilling to see that they might be built of paper instead of stone. Unwilling to trust that he might be able to escape, that he doesn’t need to be subject to those things that make him a monster, that make him a failure. That maybe he could embrace being happy for once. But no, the training goes too deep, the belief too ingrained to doubt. He holds to the belief in this system even as it destroys him, and in that yeah, his troubles are self-authored (like the story itself, through the framing of this being an account of this time). He’s brought it on himself, and turned away from the one opportunity he had to maybe start fresh. Worse, he might have condemned the man who he yearned to love, who was willing to offer him that way out. And it’s heartbreaking and painful because of how real it is, because of how little room it leaves for anything but grief and loss. It’s a deep and heavy story, powerful and shattering, and I definitely recommend giving it a read!