Saturday, October 6, 2012

Beneath Ceaseless Skies Celebrates Another Anniversary

Beneath Ceaseless Skies celebrates its fourth anniversary this month.  To mark the occasion, the current issue (105) is a double issue, with the first and third stories available now and the second and fourth on October 11.  But of course if you have a subscription, you already have all the stories, hint, hint.

Let's take a look at them, shall we?

Richard Parks leads off with "Three Little Foxes", the latest installment in his series about Yomada Monogatari, the Japanese ghost hunter.  These tales are smart, sly, and a joy to read.  This one is no different.  Here Yomada is asked to investigate three ghosts who are haunting the garden of a prominent courtier.  Of course, things are not exactly as they appear.  The more I read of this series, the better I like it.  The good news is that next year Prime Press is bringing out a collection of the Yomada stories while PS Publishing will publish a Yomada novel.

"Cursed Motives" by Marissa Lingen examines some of the ways in which the power of a curse can be a blessing.  It's a clever tale about a princess with the power to speak curses who is shipwrecked with her governess on an island when two castaways from an enemy kingdom wash ashore in a lifeboat.  At the heart of this one is the old axiom about being careful what you wish for.

The third story is "Luck Fish" by Peta Freestone.  SPOILER ALERT:  I have some real problems with this story, and to discuss them, I'm going to have to give away much of what happens.  Skip down to the next story if you don't want to read them.  The setting is reminiscent of Africa, which was a nice change from the usual fantasy setting I usually read, and Ms. Freestone puts her words and sentences together at a professional level.  Unfortunately, exotic settings and pretty words alone do not a story make.  The situation is this:  Long ago the goddesses of the moons (there are three) hid fish underground to protect them from the heat of the sun god.  The fish eggs hatch when it rains, and the villagers run out and collect the fish, which they dry for food during the hottest part of the year.  The problem is that the rain only falls one day a year.  The plot is this:  Masozi is best friends with Themba, a girl who happens to love him, but he is in love with the village beauty Manyara and oblivious to Themba's feelings towards him.  Children become adults with permission from their parents when they are allowed to travel to a festival.  Manyara pledges her love for Masozi, but when she becomes an adult and his father forbids him to, it's so long, boy.  There's more lovesick teenage angst, the nature of which you can probably guess.  Boy, I've never seen this plot before.  (I've really got to find the sarcasm font on this keyboard.)  Obviously there's a market for this sort of thing, or else we wouldn't be up to our armpits in glittery vampires.  It's just not the subgenre I want to read.

There's another problem I have with this tale, and that's the logic.  If the fish come out of the ground when it rains, and it only rains once a year, why doesn't someone just pour water on the ground anytime they want fish?  Themba even suggests this early on, but no one else seems to have thought of it, and Masozi dismisses her suggestion.  Of course, at the end of the story, when Masozi is sitting on the ground outside his hut feeling sorry for himself and crying, a tear (a single tear, mind you) hits the ground.  The result is a fish squirms out.  This defies all logic.  If you can get the fish to come up by pouring water on the ground, it should have been done before.  Is the whole village so dense that someone can't think of this?  Why hasn't Themba tried it already since she did think of it?  That whole part made no sense to me because I just can't buy that no one had tried to draw up the fish that way.  While I realize some of my objections, particularly to the romance, are matters of personal taste, I've come to expect better than this from BCS.  END SPOILER.

Fortunately, the best story is the last one; my liking of it more than offsets my dislike of the previous one.  "Unsilenced" by Karalynn Lee starts out like many other fantasies we've seen, with an unprepared girl assuming the reigns of empire upon the death of her father, but it soon moves in fresh and new directions.  This story reminded me very much of Patrica A. McKillip's work, and she's one of my favorites.  This was a complex, moving story about the ways we destroy what we love by trying to hold onto it.  The characters, the young Empress and her brother as well as the mages, are fully flawed and fully realized people.  There's a depth and complexity to the story, the themes, and the characters that you usually don't see in short fiction.  It's one of the strongest stories I've read in a while, and I've read some good ones this week.  See previous posts for examples.  I expect this one to be in at least one Best of the Year anthology next year and hopefully on some award ballots.

While not the strongest issue, I still think the fourth anniversary issue of BCS is a good one.  You should check it out, especially the Parks and Lee stories. Congratulations to Beneath Ceaseless Skies on reaching this milestone.  May the magazine reach ten times that many.

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