Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Magazine Monday: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issues 171-173

The most recent issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, No. 173, dated May 14, 2015, opens with “Out of the Rose Hills” by Marissa Lingen. It starts promisingly, with a merchant’s daughter and her companion coming through the title hills on an unexplained but apparently urgent mission. The first person she sees when she comes out of the hills and into the city asks her if she is the princess, as prophesied for generations. She denies it, but a voice comes from behind her (where there should have been nothing but rose-covered hills). A shadow woman has followed her, who contradicts everything she says. It’s an interesting set-up, but the story doesn’t move forward much from that point, and seems to be just getting under way when it abruptly ends.

I’m not usually one for humorous science fiction, but I found “The Punctuality Machine, Or, A Steampunk Libretto” by Bill Powell amusing. It’s a mash-up of G... Read More

Magazine Monday: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issues 169-170

Carrie Vaughn opens Issue 169 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies with “Sun, Stone, Spear,” a story about as different from her KITTY NORVILLE series as it seems possible to get. Two young women, Elu and the narrator, Mahra, have decided to leave their home village; Mahra seeks adventure, while Elu wishes to be the chief astronomer of any village in which she lands — not a position she is likely to get in her home village, where there are four apprentice astronomers ahead of her. Their travel to a new village is one frought with danger, from bandits, from demons, even from gods. Though they seem reasonably well-prepared and sufficiently cognizant of the dangers about them to fight them, it is a difficult journey. And always the question hovers over them: have they done the right thing by leaving their home village? The story made me think of dozens of stories starring youn... Read More

Magazine Monday: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issues 167-168

K.J. Kabza opens Issue 168 with “Steady on Her Feet,” in which two men who purport to be physicians advertise that they are able to provide a surgical augmentation of one’s character. Holliday, a poor child, is induced to enter their shop by a shop boy who promises a free consultation, though Dr. Mortleaus isn’t too keen on helping a mudlarker — one of those who makes a living pulling valuable materials the river leaves behind when the tide goes out. But his partner, Dr. Svartlebarrt, persuades him to examine Holliday, and what they find surprises them: she is of excellent character, despite her humble circumstances. They induce her to become a shop employee, but it is evident immediately that they have ulterior motives. The story is a trifle inconsistent in that Mortleaus and Svartlebarrt have the aura of snake oil salesmen, and Kabza clearly means them to be do what they purport to be able to do. Still, it’s merely a mix-up about what sort of evil they’... Read More

Magazine Monday: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issues 162-163

The last issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies for 2014 begins with “Alloy Point” by Sam J. Miller. It is a steampunk story of Ashley, who has a talent with Lustrous Metallics like gold and silver, and her forbidden affair with Gabriel, whose strength resides with Base Metallics. They are discovered by the City Fathers, who send a metalman to kill them both. As the story opens, Ashley is in flight from the metalman, who is pursuing her with single-minded determination. Ashley makes some uncomfortable and frightening discoveries as the chase goes on. It’s an old story in new clothes, told well. The use of metals and their importance to the lives of the characters caught my interest so much that I would ejnoy reading a novel in this world, and I’m not even a fan of steampunk.

The other story in issue 163 is “Until the Moss Has Reached Our Lips” by Matt Jones. This story is almost hallucinatory in its strang... Read More

Magazine Monday: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 157

The sixth anniversary edition of Beneath Ceaseless Skies is a double issue, with four excellent stories.

The first is “The Sorrow of Rain” by Richard Parks, one of his Lord Yamada stories. Lord Yamada is a demon hunter in medieval Japan who tells his stories in the first person. On this occasion, he has been asked to stop incessant, late season rains; if the rains do not stop long enough to allow for a harvest within the next three days, the rice will spoil in the fields, leading to famine. Yamada sees a rain spirit almost as soon as he arrives, but she is neither a ghost nor a demon, and doesn’t seem to be the source of the rain. And the headman isn’t telling him everything. Parks tells gentle stories full of an ancient culture, usually involving a mystery, as here. His gentleness usually has a soft sting in the tail, though, a lesson about life that the characters have forgotten and about which Parks reminds us. A Lord... Read More

Magazine Monday: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issues 150 and 151

Issue 151 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies opens with “Rappaccini’s Crow,” by Cat Rambo that works with the mythology created by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his marvelous short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” Hawthorne’s classic tale is one of the finest American short stories ever written, so Rambo is setting a high bar for herself by recalling it to her readers’ minds. She clears the bar easily in this fantasy about a world at war over phlogiston, a power source that is, ironically, being depleted by the war for control of the stuff. The story takes place in a long-term care facility for soldiers injured so grievously that they can’t be patched up and shipped back out to the battleground. The narrator is a Native American woman who has served in the war disguised as a man; the disguise is natural to her, as she has always believed herself to be a man born in the wrong body. Rappaccini is the equivalent of the medical director of the fa... Read More

Magazine Monday: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issues 142 and 143

Issue 142 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies is a special double issue for BCS Science-Fantasy Month 2, which, according to the magazine’s website, features “stories that combine the awe-inspiring fantastical settings of BCS fiction with futuristic details like spacecraft, laser rifles, and advanced scientific concepts.” It makes for the best issue of the magazine so far in 2014.

“The Breath of War” by Aliette de Bodard takes place at the end, or at least near the end, of a war, on Voc, the planet on which the story is set. The characters in the story do not appear to be human. Rechan, the viewpoint character, is pregnant, and she and her family are engaged in their usual spring migration to the mountains. But their flyer breaks down and strands them halfway up the mountain, and finding repairs or a replacement is difficult. Rechan must meet up... Read More

Magazine Monday: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issues 134-137

Issue 134 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies opens with “A Death for the Ageless” by Margaret Ronald. Swift, the narrator of this story is a sort of police detective in a world filled with many species. The world is torn by war, and the city in which the narrator lives is a refuge for many from another land known as Poma-mél. Elariel of the Ageless has died, which humans had thought was impossible up until this murder; stab wounds to the Ageless would normally close with no more effect than an annoyed expression from the one stabbed, but this time the result is a corpse. When Swift’s supervisor arrives, he immediately notifies the victim’s wife, who appears almost instantaneously and makes away with the corpse. It doesn’t appear that there will be much for Swift to investigate, but with the help of a kobold (who repeatedly is forced to insist she isn’t a goblin), he figures out an enormous mystery. It’s a well-written piece, even if it ... Read More

Magazine Monday: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issues 131-133

Issue 131 is the fifth anniversary issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and it has five extraordinary tales.  The first is “Cherry Blossoms on the River of Souls” by Richard Parks.  Parks’ tales, usually set in an unnamed Asian country that bears a close resemblance to Japan, often deal with characters who need to find themselves.  This tale is no different.  Hiroshi, a boy, tends to stare down a dry well in much of his free time, for to him the well is full of music.  No one else can hear it, though.  Hiroshi’s uncle tries to dissuade him from listening to the well, instead encouraging him to engage in usual childhood pursuits, but Hiroshi finds the games of children tedious, unchanging and, well, childish.  Hiroshi finally decides to go into the well to find out what is there.  His experiences can be summed up in a thought he has again and again:  “This is a very strange cave.”  There is much for him to learn there, however, and we learn those ... Read More

Magazine Monday: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issues 128 and 129

Issue 129 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies opens with a tale by Alec Austin and Marissa Lingen entitled “On the Weaponization of Flora and Fauna.” Told in a faux-19th-century style, this piece is about characters who live in a foreign and wild colonial land to which their king has recently been exiled. New fauna and flora are being discovered daily, and exploration and discovery are the pastimes of the nobility, who have as their servants the native peoples of the land they now occupy. The only somewhat original aspect to this tale is that a woman is the protagonist, an explorer and a naturalist in her own right, as well as one who is canny in the ways of politics and war. Overall, it’s a disappointingly stale story.

The second story is better: “The Goblin King’s Concubine” by Raphael Ordoñez. It begins with the destruction of a crew of mutineers on a ship of exploration, leaving only Cap... Read More

Magazine Monday: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issues 112 through 116

Issue 112 (January 10, 2013) of Beneath Ceaseless Skies begins with “Death Sent” by Christian K. Martinez. It’s a science fictional story, or at least steampunk, and depicts the end of the world — or at least the end of the works of the human race. As the story opens, a great star lens, the last of them, has fallen to the earth. It’s a moody piece that paints a picture of this world, but there is almost no plot.

The second story in this issue is better. In “The Stone Oaks” by Stephen Case, a novitiate to an order of nuns is instructed to work with the oaks near the nunnery, huge oaks that are bigger than anything she’s ever seen. She is told to persuade the oaks to grow stronger, to take bedrock up into their heartwood to make them able to hold a great weight. She works this magic daily, but without any notion as to why this task is essential. Early in the season, a contingent of knights from the... Read More

Magazine Monday: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 100

Beneath Ceaseless Skies has just published its 100th issue, and it’s a double issue in celebration. That means there are four stories instead of two, and they’re very good stories at that.

The first, “In the Palace of the Jade Lion” is by Richard Parks, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite short story writers. It’s set in the Kingdom of Zhao, which seems an awful lot like China. The protagonist is a poor young scholar named Xu Jian, who has won a posting as an Official Censor in a remote northern province. His travel is necessarily by foot, and largely dependent on the kindness of strangers, as he has no money. He has no choice but to take up the post after an arduous journey, however, as the alternative is to starve where he is. So he sets off walking. On the morning of the seventh day of his walk, he turns off the main road and onto a smaller trailer for no particular reason except that it runs alongside a stream, and he feels ... Read More

Magazine Monday: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issues 83 through 86

My favorite email every other week is the one containing the new issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Each issue contains two stories of what the online magazine calls “literary adventure fantasy.” The quality of the stories has been high throughout the year or so I’ve been reading the magazine, but it seems to be getting even better with recent issues.

Issue #83, published December 1, 2011, opens with “The Gardens of Landler Abbey” by Megan Arkenberg. The tone and setting of the story remind the reader of Jane Austen or other Regency fiction, and the tale’s emphasis on issues of manners and class reinforces this initial impression. The major difference between this tale and anything Austen conceived of, however, is that a woman is the principal actor here, and more than that, she is a woman who served honorably in the military in her country’s recent war. Gethsemane von Reis has purc... Read More

Magazine Monday: Adventure Fantasy and Literary Fantasy

Beneath Ceaseless Skies is a bi-weekly online magazine that publishes literary adventure fantasy. Each issue contains two stories. Each issue is available for free online, or can be downloaded to an e-reader for a mere $.99. I read the two issues published in February 2011 for this column, but there are already two March issues available. Fortunately, past issues are available in all formats. In addition, Beneath Ceaseless Skies has published two “best of” anthologies.

Issue #63, published on February 24, 2011, contains “The Ghost of Shinoda Forest” by Richard Parks. Its first-person narrator, Lord Yamada, meets Kenji, a “reprobate priest,” in the forest of the title, near the remains of Enfusa Temple. Oddly enough, Lord Yamada has not been drinking sake, and doesn’t even want to, which Kenji finds somewhat frightening. But apparently something in Yamada is keeping him off the sauce and ha... Read More