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

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #79 & #80

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #79 & #80, Oct. 6 and 20, 2011

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #79, Oct. 6, 2011

“The Tiger’s Turn” by Richard Parks
“The Calendar of Saints” by Kat Howard
 “A Spoonful of Salt” by Nicole M. Taylor
“The Judge's Right Hand” by J.S. Bangs

Reviewed by Jo-Anne Odell

In “The Tiger’s Turn” by Richard Parks, Lord Yamada has been awarded an imperial commission, a prosperous estate.  Its rice and hemp production will provide him with a welcome income.  Although Prince Kanemore is a friend, Lord Yamada knows he shouldn’t have received such a prize.  He soon learns the reason for the honor.  The previous stewards have all disappeared, or been killed.  It’s suspected that warrior monks living nearby want the property for themselves.  When he arrives at the estate, Yamada uncovers a secret, and uses it to advantage.

I really enjoyed the last story I read from Richard Parks.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for this one.  There are too many players, and a murky plot.

“The Calendar of Saints” by Kat Howard chronicles the life of Jeanne, a Sacred Blade, who champions the righteous with her sword.  She’s offered a commission from the Ingatians.  They want her to defend a cause that pits the church against science.  For Jeanne, this is a problem.

If you’re a fan of pure literary fiction, you may enjoy this story.  I found it remarkably bloodless.  The structure was interesting, but not captivating.  By the time Howard revealed why I should care, the tale was near done.

In “A Spoonful of Salt” by Nicole M. Taylor, Naomi is sure her husband, Marco, is dead.  Though he appears in their house, he isn’t right.  Marco is a sailor, and she believes he’s died at sea, and returned only to fulfill her wish for a child.  Nine months later, Mala is born, but the islanders don’t welcome her.  The place is rife with rumor about her origins.  Mala knows things, things she shouldn’t have any way to know. 

Generally, I like stories told in voice, but I can’t recommend this rambling, amateurish tale. 

Henry knows he’s guilty in “The Judge's Right Hand” by J.S. Bangs.  He killed Cate’s abusive first husband.  They ran off together, and had six good years before they heard the ring of the Judgment Bell.  When Henry submits himself, he is found guilty, both of adultery and murder.  He’s consigned to death, but in the sentence, he finds a surprise.

The voice used in this tale is very similar to that in the previous story.  I liked the ending of this one, although I found the rest to be pedestrian.  It robbed the climax of much of its power.  Even so, putting this tale right after “A Spoonful of Salt” is doing it a disservice. 

This is one of BCS’s longest offerings, but not one of its strongest.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #80, Oct. 20, 2011

“Held Close in Syllables of Light” by Rose Lemberg
“To the Gods of Time and Engines, a Gift” by Dean Wells

Reviewed by Jo-Anne Odell

In “Held Close in Syllables of Light” by Rose Lemberg, Vendelin sets out on her heirship rite, her first voyage alone to Niyaz.  She’ll trade there on her own, but in her mother’s name.  Vendelin is well out to sea when she discovers that her friend Taemin has stowed away.  She defends him to the captain, and agrees to look after him.  When they arrive in Niyaz, Vendelin finds more than she ever imagined -- love, a myriad of dangers, and unexpected truths about her family. 

I’m willing to work at the beginning of every story, to give it every opportunity to draw me in.  There is a point, however, after which I expect it to carry me through to the end.  This story is very long, and I found it work to keep reading, the entire way.  The interesting bits are only window dressing, while Lemberg dives into the mundane. 

I’m rapidly losing patience with the number of tales that revolve around gender-based abuse or gay relationships.  This one manages to stuff both in.  By comparison, sword-wielding mercenaries in taverns are starting to look like fresh material.

“To the Gods of Time and Engines, a Gift” by Dean Wells tells us of Cecily, who likes to hurt things.  She doesn’t know why.  Nor does she care.  Cold, mechanical voices, the ghosts of warped clockwork deities, tell her what to do.  When she kills Oliver, it’s not out of spite, but simply because she chose to act.  She knows what the machines crave.  Cecily runs for the basement of her house, following the voices, willing to offer herself.  There, she learns the whole, horrible truth. 

I’d recommend reading this one.  Wells writes extremely well, almost too much so, in that the Cecily feels small, submerged in a sea of dark imagery.  That, however, may be exactly what Wells intended.  Like power held just out of reach, it gives me the sense it could be more, and yet, also meshes beautifully with Cecily and her story.