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

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #207, September 1, 2016

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #207, September 1, 2016

To Rise No More” by Marie Brennan

George & Frank Tarr, Boy Avencherers, in ‘Beeyon the Shours We Knowe!!!!’”
by Thomas M. Waldroon

Reviewed by Kat Day

To Rise No More,” by Marie Brennan, is set in 1828. The story begins with Ada, a young girl who has run into the woods after giving her governess the slip. While there she meets a mysterious, magical character called Alarch and measures her wings; we learn that Ada, having studied mathematics, has plans to build a flying machine. As we learn more about her background it becomes clear that she is, at least a version of, Ada Lovelace.

This is an intriguing premise, and poses lots of questions. Is Alarch real, or imagined? Is Ada suffering hallucinations as a result of a mental illness? Will she ever build her flying machine? How will she manage to be taken seriously as a mathematician in a time where women were not often successful in professional contexts? I was very excited to see where the story might go. It is beautifully written (and, for those that prefer it, also narrated by Liz Duffy Adams) and conjures up a fully three-dimensional world.

For those who know Lovelace’s history, this story follows it quite closely. There are many allusions to things that are known to have happened to her. Sadly, though, some of the most interesting parts of Lovelace’s life are reduced to a passing mention, and instead the story focuses on her illness and then, eventually, her first meeting with Charles Babbage, with whom she famously worked. There are messages here about loss of childhood and giving up childish things, and perhaps about a perceived battle between irrational flights of the imagination versus the cool rationality of science and mathematics. These ideas are layered nicely and with a subtle touch. But personally I would have liked it so much better if we had seen Ada forced to take on, and resolve, these conflicts for herself – something she must surely have done during her lifetime.

In “George & Frank Tarr, Boy Avencherers, in ‘Beeyon the Shours We Knowe!!!!’” (fear not, readers, the spelling improves) by Thomas M. Waldroon we meet two brothers called Benjamin Franklin Tarr and George Washington Tarr. However, unlike in this issue’s other story, the names are where the similarity to historical figures ends. The boys have built themselves a raft and, disobeying their mother, they head off down the river on a fantastic adventure.

I was slightly perturbed, as I started reading this tale, to find that Waldroon had not used any type of quote marks to mark out speech. However, I soon stopped noticing (by the end I was asking myself why we bother with this piece of punctuation at all) and got into the story, which in many ways is a good, old-fashioned tale of adventure, derring-do, inscrutable strangers, mysterious treasures, and even pirates! I hasten to add that it is not, however, some sort of Peter Pan clone. This is a clever piece of steampunk fiction with plenty of unique touches and, without giving too much away, a not entirely happy ending. The characters are well-developed, the dialogue is natural and believable with many humorous touches, and the world is built in absolutely glorious three-dimensional Technicolor. Coming in a little short of seventeen thousand words this wasn’t the quickest of reads, but it was exciting and well-worth the time. Definitely recommended.

Kat Day writes the award-winning, non-fiction science blog The Chronicle Flask, which you can find at thechronicleflask.wordpress.com. She’s also recently started a fiction blog, at thefictionphial.wordpress.com.