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

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #86 & #87, Jan. 12 & 26, 2012

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #86 & #87, January12 & 26, 2012

(#86 reviewed by Sherry Decker and Jo-Anne Odell)

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #86, January 12, 2012

“Calibrated Allies” by Marissa Lingen
“The Lady of the Lake” by E. Catherine Tobler

Reviewed by Sherry Decker

There were a few things to admire in Marissa Lingen’s “Calibrated Allies” but the formal writing style tends to hold the reader at arm’s length. The story is told in first person by the protagonist, Okori, a black freed slave from ‘the colonies,’ spread across a group of tropical islands. His owner has freed and sent him to the fatherland to learn how to build and maintain automata--robots--for which he has shown a natural and remarkable talent. Okori has a true gift when it comes to comprehending their construction and maintenance.

Okori meets a group of white and privileged-by-comparison students at the university and befriends some of them. One student acts superior and seems to disapprove of Okori joining their group. They have many political discussions, mostly as dissenters against the emperor, whom they consider a tyrant. They all realize rebellion is brewing. Okori offers up a strategic plan for the rebellion.

Good writing:
But if a life of servitude teaches nothing else, it teaches us to recognize futility when it rears its head.

The emperor’s palace guard are each a work of art, made of just the right mix of electrum that they will not deform as gold would but will shine forth with all the riches of the emperors mines.


Bad writing:
. . . snorted derisively.
He laughed incredulously.
I said meditatively.
I laughed mirthlessly.
I repeated cautiously.
He looked at me incredulously.      


The story is a clichéd, heavy-handed portrayal of racism. There is nothing new, nothing that makes this story stand out. Except for the automata this tale could have happened at any large university or college town today. It ends with a foretelling of Okori’s plans once he returns home. He has become as cold and calculating as the automaton he brings with him. A mediocre tale.

“The Lady of the Lake” by E. Catherine Tobler

Reviewed by Jo-Anne Odell

Min is the lady in “The Lady of the Lake” by E. Catherine Tobler.  Her island is visited by local villagers, in anticipation of Susanoo’s impending nuptials.  Susanoo is the god of storms and seas.  He has a task to complete before he can claim his bride.  Though he doesn’t like Min, he asks her help to reclaim a sword from a dragon.  They journey together, until Min becomes the dragon.  Both battle to take the sword, but the sun goddess intervenes. 

Take a Japanese folktale and dump in a liberal dose of Camelot.  The result is a disjointed rendition with a well-worn feel.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #87, January 26, 2012

“The Last Gorgon” by Rajan Khanna
“The Castle That Jack Built” by Emily Gilman

Reviewed by Jo-Anne Odell

In “The Last Gorgon” by Rajan Khanna, Naima tracks down a gorgon, and shoots it with a revolver.  Except it isn’t the last of its kind.  It’s protecting a child.  Naima ignores the infant.  She cuts off the Gorgon’s head, slips it into a sack, and carries it away.  Her aim is to use it to kill her father.  One of the Blood Olympos, he’s part god.  He’d also like to be her lover, and he poisoned her mother for trying to protect her.  Killing him is a death sentence, but Naima has a plan.  It doesn’t go quite as she’d intended. 

This tale gets off to a good start, but loses all its tension in the first few pages.  After that, it meanders, loose and slow.  The weak plot develops late.  

To keep their secret, a group of bears turn Jack into a scarecrow in “The Castle That Jack Built” by Emily Gilman.  The wind blows him back out, but fails to restore his memories.  Wandering, he meets Greta.  She’s looking for her lost love.  As Jack tags along with her, his memories return.  He has the ability to build special, magical houses.  He remembers his own sweetheart, Nancy, but not what became of her.  Jack also recalls time spent with the bear prince, in the palace Jack built for him.  The bear prince has the ability to change into human form.  Jack believes he recognizes Greta, and that the bear prince is the one she seeks.  The prince is dying, under a curse.  The palace Jack built is his only protection.  If Jack can trust Greta, she may save the prince.  If she’s false, she may destroy him.

Jack plods to self-discovery in this awkward fairytale mash-up.  

If you take pleasure in rambling narrative, loose structure, and weak plot, you’ll enjoy this issue.  I like stories that offer character depth and insight, but I refuse to sacrifice everything else.