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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #51, September 9, 2010

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #51
September 9, 2010


Two By Zero” by Garth Upshaw
The Swallow and the Sea” by E. Catherine Tobler

Reviewed by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Issue #51 starts out with a tale by the talented Garth Upshaw, whose “Two By Zero” focuses on Orlen D’Hamilton, a mathematics student of many years whose equation brings to life a dark being. At first, Orlen regards the creature as proof of his scholarly competence, evidence he cannot wait to demonstrate to several key doubters of his abilities. This is especially true of the beautiful, older Katherine Helstrum, the married woman who had seduced him into an affair years before, and for whom he still harbors deep desire. But soon the creature, Tynoch, becomes harder to control and unleashes serious destruction around it. Now Orlen fears his own complicity will reveal further incompetence and sets out to find a way to put a stop to the creature.

Upshaw does a good job with characters. Orlen, Katherine, and several others are drawn well even with few details given about them. Using these details and the narrator’s thoughts on their relationships, we know who they are, what role they play. The story has lots of action and good description. Where it fell flat for me is in Upshaw’s weak attempts to create a sense of his own cultural idioms. For example, apparently “Twin’s balls” comprises cursing in this world, but I never really got why it would and its inclusion added nothing to the story. Additionally, I thought the story ran long a bit in its setup while doing the opposite at the ending, which felt too short to me. In any case, these are minor quibbles. A good, enjoyable mix of horror and fantasy.

E. Catherine Tobler's “The Swallow and The Sea” felt to me like one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The story of two men obsessed with the same woman, Abigail Goodwin, it takes place mostly on board a ship called The Swallow, with the protagonist, Jakob, fleeing with her dead body from her brother, Lewis, who intends to punish Jakob for her suicide and reclaim the body. But although she’s no longer human, Abigail is very much alive and haunts the dreams of all the men on the ship, when she isn’t interacting with Jakob and one very curious demon sniffing dog.

All the characters are thinly sketched here. The most fully drawn, ironically, is the young boy sold to the ship’s captain by his parents and seemingly hardened and experienced for an eight-year-old. But he’s a supporting player at best, one who’s fear of the potential curse of a demon on board the ship puts him at odds with his old friend, Jakob, as he becomes aware of Abigail’s presence. Tobler does a good job of capturing the setting, particularly the realities of life at sea. The story is nicely paced, another mix of horror and fantasy. The problem was it didn’t leave me feeling particularly satisfied. The ending was as happy as one could expect given the premise, I suppose, but the story was dark and depressing and the ending did nothing to lift the mood. Still not a bad story, especially for those who like them dark.