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

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #118, April 4, 2013

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #118, April 4, 2013

The Crows Her Dragon's Gate” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
Blood, Stone, Water” by A. J. Fitzwater

Reviewed by Dave Truesdale

Ms. Benjanun Sriduangkaew's beautiful prose sings in “The Crows Her Dragon's Gate,” as does her wonderful imagery; unfortunately there's not much of an imaginative story here, but more of a simple recasting, a transference of an all too mundane contemporary marital situation where the husband spends more time trying to get ahead than he does with his wife, so she splits and heralds her freedom—when she knew all along what she was getting into before marrying her man but in her youth was more concerned with superficial beauty.

To be more specific, this is the story of a young goddess newly wed to Dijun, a handsome young god who enjoys neither status nor wealth. He soon catches the emperor's eye with one of his achievements and this leads him to concentrate ever more diligently on furthering his position in society, and paying more attention to his status than his bride. Realizing she has been foolish in her youth, the young goddess—now older—spends the remainder of the story in “finding herself” (words and emphasis mine), to the point where, near the very end before she splits, she tells the husband she hates:

I live for myself, Dijun. For that I have been made; for that I have been born—for myself, not for you, not even for my sons.”

(Anyone else hear strains from the feminist anthem of the 70s--"I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar"--running through their heads after reading the line above?)

This selfish admission, following on the heels of the rest of the story particulars, leads me to this summation: young girl makes early mistake in life and gets married for superficial reasons she now admits making. So she (in essence) says to heck with her husband and sons because she wants to be free. Okee-dokee. That really expanded my horizons. Next?

Ms. A. J. Fitzwater's “Blood, Stone, Water” could easily (well, with somewhat of a stretch) be the next chapter in the first story's husband-hating, wanting-to-be-free female protagonist, as Fitzwater shows the sensitive side to a lesbian relationship and unrequited love now gloriously fulfilled. In what appears to be close kin to a Polynesian-type setting we have the lovely Nhia and her keel-woman Tau paddling a canoe to the Stone Moon gathering, a sacrificial ceremony where a maiden is selected to die in a fertility rite. The author makes us aware early on of Nhia's nice brown breasts and Tau's large ones, that Tau has a secret thing for Nhia but knows it will never be, and so has resigned herself to the fact. They banter and bicker during the entire trip, getting to know one another.

Through story circumstance and as luck would have it, Nhia is not chosen as the sacrifice (she's said something not in line with prevailing thought and was dismissed), and she and Tau find they love one another and want to mingle their seed in order to procreate. Just how this is to be accomplished is never stated, but I guess it doesn't really matter if you're in love. I can only theorize that somehow their seed is “special,” but it isn't discussed.

As far as this being a genre story, it qualifies only if you grant status to a borrowed polynesian-type setting set somewhere else, for there is no magic or science of any sort. It's just an emotionally sensitive little tale about two same-sex lovers and how they get together in the fictional society given. Nothing wrong with this, per se, but there are no true fantastic or imaginative genre elements as we commonly use the terms. This love story could easily have taken place on Earth somewhen in the past (except for the unexplained little business about the seed from two females being all that's needed to procreate, but we'll give this a 24-hour pass since this is obviously a fantasy and anything can happen, right? ...even if the reader is left to make stuff up and fill in the blanks).

And so it goes with this issue of Beneath Maleless Skies.