Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #319

Art by Avant Choi
The penultimate issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies that I’ll be covering in depth brings two stories about cities. Cities that couldn’t be more different from each other, but cities all the same. And the decisions that people make in leaving, or approaching those cities. In one, the city is complicated by a spell and a grim bargain. In the other, the city is a living being, able to long and to love. The pieces find the characters weighing their options, deciding whether to take the safer route or strike out into the unknown. It makes for a fascinating issue, and I’ll get right to the reviews!


“And The Ones Who Walk In” by Sarah Avery (7299 words)

No Spoilers: Crocus is one of the ones who walk away from a city made lucky through the suffering of a child. Thought she’s spent her life benefiting from the arrangement, it’s only now that she’s allowed to leave, and she goes without much in the way of preparations. Sending affluent children (or young adults) out into a world that is ripe with conflict, corruption, and carnage, though, isn’t exactly a recipe for success, and Crocus’ road gets dicey fast once she’s outside the influence of the city. And she meets someone from that outside, from the greater world...who’s trying to do the opposite of her--who’s trying to get into the city. The piece is complex, exploring where the boundaries of safety, privilege, and corruption all spill over a messy and imperfect world.
Keywords: Omelas, Cities, Luck, Bargains, War, Loss
Review: I like the way the story complicates its source material, Omelas here a city that people leave only to find that the world outside is decidedly unfair as well, and dangerous, and for some that’s reason enough to give up their principles and return to that safety. Not for all. Not for Crocus, who remains true to her ideals and to her anger, who is resolved never to return, who just wants to do her work and not be involved in causing harm to anyone. Paper, the woman she meets out in this world, the woman who saves her when she’s attacked, gives her some things to think about, though. The ugliness of this world is no joke. Paper has a lot of misery, and for her the promise of the city is one where the ends justify the means. Where the safety of her child is all that’s important to her. And I like that the story is compassionate to that, recognizing how strong a force that is. I feel the story doesn’t condemn anyone, really. Not Paper for wanting safety after the horrors she’s survived. Not Crocus for wanting to get out, to get away, to reject what has been her life. Though in some ways I feel the story treats Crocus’ ignorance, which she never really chose, as something on balance with the decisions that Paper is making. And...in some ways the story feels like it’s trying to find a way to justify seeking out the city. And...what I feel is missing is that in the city it never felt like the majority of people left. If it’s as simple as just entering that city and asking to stay, I don’t really get why more people wouldn’t. Paper seems to imply that people know about the city but most don’t want to make that deal but that, too, feels...like in this setting it wouldn’t be the case. And I do just kinda dislike that the walkers get sort of cast as these...misery tourists, almost. Again, their ignorance is part of an abuse against them, something their parents chose to keep from them. Here that makes them naive, and makes them easy to victimize, easy to mock. Even as it also leaves in them something to respect. But for me there’s less interest in making the Omelas situation “more realistic” when it kind of falls apart when trying to apply realism. And while I like a lot of what this story is doing, there are elements that I am just not incredibly comfortable with. but I definitely recommend people read it and make up your own minds about it. Indeed!

“The City Still Dreams of Her Name” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (5031 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a city-soul, a being who was once an actual city, but who also took physical form like a human. Who had a human body, and multiple as the original, the narrator, One, came to forks and made decisions that took her away from the other versions of herself. There are three others, though Four has disappeared, and as her city-self now exists only in dreams, One resolves to try and seek either salvation, or a hastening of her end. This means teaming up with a kind of seer, one who can hopefully help One track down the missing Four. What they don’t know as they begin the journey, though, is what they’ll come to mean to each other, and how One will react to finding herself on a path that her sibling-selves have mostly already walked down, to rather tragic results.
Keywords: Cities, Split Selves, Searches, Maps, Queer MC, Bargains
Review: I love the way the story builds around these two characters, separated by so much, one a literal city as well as a person and the other blessed by a different god, able to see paths that others cannot. For all that, though, neither of them really know what’s down the line for their relationship, their attraction and affection. The story builds that so well, the flirting, the desire, the way they draw near. The story takes them on this branching journey as they move after One’s missing sibling. As the two deal with being what many would consider past their prime. One a city without a city. Hanyia fifty years old and aware she’s not as conventionally attractive as she might once have been. But the two see things in each other, beauties that are both at the surface and beneath it, and I really do like how the characters don’t discount beauty but rather see it in each other in these deep and profound ways that are simply different from what most would consider “normal.” They’re hot in their own ways, and it comes through int he heat of their interactions, the smoldering touches, the respect and admiration holding in check the fire of their passions. And I like where the journey brings them, revealing how people aren’t stuck on a track, that for all One’s sibling-selves seem to have made this choice that ultimately condemned their loves, One is able to make the choice to let her go, to let her live, is able to keep herself apart, for all that she wants, for all that it would bring her the closure she desires. And while she expects that to be the end of their story, she also underestimates Hanyia’s power, and her mortal resolve to get things done. And it’s a beautiful story of love and cities, of two people who meet in dreams that seem over but who, through determination and no small amount of magic, manage to pull that dream into reality. To live it, risking everything, for the joy of reveling in their beauty and life. A wonderful read!


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