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

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #98, June 28, 2012

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #98, June 28, 2012

“Death and the Thunderbird” by Michael J. DeLuca  (Part 1 was presented in Issue #97 on June 14, 2012)

Reviewed by Jo-Anne Odell

"Death and the Thunderbird" by Michael J. DeLuca presents a Greek-mythology-turned-western tale in which centaurs take the place of men with horses.  Humans are their slaves.  Bienor, an aging centaur, conspires with another, an old adversary named Nessus.  Nessus tasks Bienor with diverting a train, but their ultimate aim is the death of Nessus’s employer, a power-mad centaur named Eurytus.  After putting together a posse, Bienor heads for the train, but finds a new enemy on board.  It’s a thunderbird, one of the gods of the humans, and a creature that is supposed to be extinct.  It attacks the group, killing some and scattering the rest.

One member of the posse is Five-Legs.  Like Bienor, he survives, but finds himself separated from the others.  Regardless, he continues.  His mission is fueled by guilt and directed by a human elder.  Five-Legs seeks retribution for the damage he’s caused in years of rounding up humans to become slaves.  He, Bienor, and Nessus are all working toward the same end, but not for the same reasons.  Eventually, their conflicting motives bring tensions to a head.

I have mixed feelings about this story.  The premise is unique and interesting.  Even so, I found it hard to stay engaged over the long haul.  Despite its profusion of scene changes, it didn’t offer much in the way of setting.  There’s a large cast of characters, and quite a jumble of mythological references.  Pronoun confusion and some of the phrasing had me re-reading paragraphs.  I suspect that a longer, fuller treatment would do more justice to this tale.

In “Lady Marmalade” by E. Catherine Tobler, Beth travels on a train with a carnival.  From the caboose, she makes treats and sells them.  In her creations, more than flour, fruit, and sugar can be found.  She has the power to retrieve memories and relive experiences, adding them to her baked goods and marmalades.  Beth does her best to help customers find happiness, maintaining their links to what is important to them, but she knows there is a price.  For Beth, who has the knowledge and the power, the choices she makes for herself are the hardest of all. 

This tale unfolds in layers.  Woven throughout, laid bare with powerful imagery, are the threads of Beth’s past.  It’s beautifully written.