Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Greatest Show...Anywhere

A few weeks ago, when I was doing the series Seven Days of Online Fiction, I looked at what was the then current issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies on Day 1.  Because I wasn't reviewing series fiction as part of the Seven Days, I only examined one story.  The one I didn't look at was "The Finest Spectacle Anywhere" by Genevieve Valentine.  After I posted the review, the editor, Scott Andrews, kindly sent me an email telling me the story was self-contained. 

I'd intended to go back and look at the story.  Then Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus came to town.  They're set up at the coliseum getting ready for a series of performances that start tomorrow.  I've been driving by the elephants going to and from work every day this week.  What better motivation to visit a circus in a fantasy world?

"The Finest Spectacle Anywhere" concerns a small traveling sideshow in a world torn by war for decades.  In addition to performing, they also scavenge the ruins.  The viewpoint character is known as Little George.  He's sort of the roustabout, but he wants to be a performer.  The only way to do that is have Boss perform some type of operation on him to replace his bones with copper.  The trapeze artist, Elena, doesn't want him to have the operation.  There's some uncertainty as who is actually in charge, Boss or Elena.

Little George doesn't get much respect.  He gets even less when juggler Peter joins the troupe.  Of course Peter is up to no good, and Little George seems to be the only one who suspects.  Things proceed in a fairly straightforward manner from this point, so I'll not say anymore about the plot.

This story is rather short, and as a result, we don't learn a great deal about some of the members of the circus.  And by the end, they're calling themselves a circus, not a sideshow.  There's some significance to that.  Sideshows and circuses seem to have different military and political implications in this world.  Valentine implies there will be consequences of this change in title, some good, some bad.

And that in many ways is one of the more intriguing things about the story.  The world. We're not told if this is a future Earth or a secondary fantasy world.  Well, not in this tale at any rate.  There's a previous story, "Bread and Circuses" in an earlier issue of BCS as well as a novel, Mechanique:  A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, which was released earlier this year.  I think I'm going to have to check them out.  Valentine gives just enough hints about the characters that I want to know more about them.  Especially Panadrome, who has some sort of accordion built into his body.  This was a glimpse into a fascinating world, and I'm going to take the opportunity to go back and visit.

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