Friday, March 30, 2012

More Science Fantasy at Beneath Ceaseless Skies

I've been swamped lately between dayjobbery and trying to finish a novel for review at Futures Past and Present, which is why I've not posted anything for almost a week.  The current issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies went out to subscribers nearly two weeks ago and live on the web a few days after that; I finished reading the stories last weekend.  It's late Friday night and I'm just now getting time to sit down and write it.

Not that you want to hear about my chronological issues.  You want to know if the current issue is worth reading.  The answer is, of course.  The real question is, what are the stories about and how do they compare with the previous issue, which kicked off the science fantasy month?
While I enjoyed this issue's stories, I didn't think they were quite as good as "Scry" by Anne Ivy, which I consider to be outstanding, they were better than what you find in many publications these days. 

The first story is "The Book of Locked Doors" by Yoon Ha Lee.  It's set in an occupied country that could be in Southeast Asia in the future or on another planet.  The author didn't say, and I'm not familiar enough with the mythology and religion from that part of the world to know based on what was included in the story. 

The story concerns a woman who is a resistance fighter.  She carries a book along with her written by her dead sister.  Only this book talks to her.  Sometimes she takes its advice, and sometimes she doesn't.  During a mission, one of the priests, who have been outlawed and killed by the conquerors manifests.  The death and destruction are appalling, affecting both conquerors and conquered. 

It took me a while to get into this one, but before it was over, I was hooked.  As the crisis of conscience the protagonist experiences grows, I was compelled to follow along on her search for answers.  I've not read much of Ms. Lee's work up to this point, but I will gladly read more of it.

The second selection of the issue is "Juggernaut" by Megan Arkenberg.  This one had more of a space opera feel to it.  Normally that would be a big draw for me, but I had trouble buying into some of the setup.  The story is told from the point of view of a young man who, through fear of being arrested and tortured to death by the conquering evil space empire, allows himself to be used as a pawn in a political maneuver by the woman who controls the mines in one of the last free areas of this particular solar system.

I had trouble believing some of the decisions the nonviewpoint characters made.  The villains struck me as being a little too over the top evil for the sake of being evil.  Maybe I didn't pick up on the political details well, but I struggled with suspending my disbelief for this one.

Still, the story was well written, the pacing was good, and to the extent I could buy into the characters' actions, the character development had some depth to it.  While not my favorite, I would certainly give Arkenberg's work another try.  I've discovered that my level of fatigue makes a huge difference in how well I enjoy fiction.  My fatigue levels have been growing for the past couple of weeks, in part due to allergies and in part due to an overload of commitments.  I've been so busy in the evenings that I've not been able to do much reading without staying up later than I normally would, and this has made a difference in more than one area.  My point is that you might have a more positive impression than I did.

So, while I didn't like this issue of BCS as much as I liked the previous one, I still think it was worth the time invested.  "Scry" was an outstanding story, and I know on some level I'm comparing these two stories against it in a semi-subconscious evaluation of the Science Fantasy emphasis this month.  The author interviews were interesting and informative.  And BCS provides some of the most varied and interesting fantasy around. Furthermore, I think the Science Fantasy Month was a great idea and should be done again.

While it's free on the web, I've found I prefer to pay a small amount for the convenience of reading the magazine on my ereader.  All proceeds of subscriptions go to pay authors and artists for their work, which was a major reason why I decided to subscribe.  Subscription information is here


  1. Replies
    1. You're welcome, Charles. I've not read every issue of BCS, but every one I have read has been of consistently high quality. While I've liked some stories more than others, almost all of the stories have worked for me, and even the very few that haven't were not what I would classify as "bad" stories.