REVIEW: "John Simnel’s First Goshawk" by Tegan Moore

Review of Tegan Moore, “John Simnel’s First Goshawk”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 297, February 13, 2020, Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

It’s rare that I read a story in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and find it wanting. Nevertheless, while I’ve liked other stories of Moore’s–particularly “The Work of Wolves” in last year’s July/August issue of Asimov’s–this one doesn’t quite work for me. It reads more like a character sketch than a fully realized story. It does, however, offer a striking comparison between the breaking of a young boy’s spirit and that of a hawk’s. As Moore puts it, both involve “the shaping of a free mind into a tamed one.” 

Again, not the best story of Moore’s that I’ve read, but your mileage may vary. 

REVIEW: "The Moneylender's Angel" By Robert Minto

Review of Robert Minto, “The Moneylender’s Angel”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 296, January 30, 2020, Read online, Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

Gareth and the story’s unnamed narrator are dockworkers sharing their lives in a bleak, violent town named Siltspar. Each has had a difficult past filled with violence neither feels able to atone for. To pay off a large debt owed by his father, Gareth was coerced into using his healing touch to torture people. The narrator, given by his parents at an early age to a cruel priesthood, was made to slit a hundred throats in ritual sacrifice.  Both quit these gruesome practices as soon as they were able, but the guilt each feels is unrelenting. When, completely by chance, a magically powerful necklace used in the priesthood’s ritual slaughter falls into their possession, a very different kind of sacrifice is called for. Done out of love, this sacrifice, too, brings guilt, but also the hope of a brighter future for at least one of the two main characters.  

Beneath Ceaseless Skies is one of my favorite magazines. Evocative stories like this are one of the reasons why.

REVIEW: “Star Tipping” by Jonathan Coolidge

Review of Jonathan Coolidge, “Star Tipping”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 163-176 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Contemplation of suicide, explicit descriptions of pain and injury.

This story starts in media res with a crash and a bang — literally: Church, the first-person present-tense narrator is in a pretty gruesomely described car crash. What follows isn’t much more pleasant, as we’re taken on a trip down Church’s memory lane, filled with unhappiness and hurt.

Just at the point where I was wondering “what is speculative about this?” the story takes a sharp turn into superhero-land as Church discovers — via unexpectedly using them — he has achieved superpowers.

This story wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I can still appreciate the quality of its crafting.

REVIEW: “Kankydip & the Kcheevitz” by Taylor Cook

Review of Taylor Cook, “Kankydip & the Kcheevitz”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 149-161 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The prose of this story has a very biblical — or perhaps children’s-story is a better way to describe it — rhythm to it, which unfortunately jars constantly with the names of the main characters, Kankydip and her sidekick Dooble. The story was peppered throughout with characters that sound like they’d be at home in Dr. Seuss — in addition to the titular Kcheevitz, we encounter spantz, blottlebugs, Vorgos, and a Doolyworm.

It was a very strange story.

REVIEW: “Particular Poisons” by Fiona West

Review of Fiona West, “Particular Poisons”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 111-123 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Summary in a sentence: The Warlord-in-Chief of Gartha’s apprentice Frieda is in need of an illusion potion to entrap her erstwhile coworker Jax into thinking she is Violet, whom he is about to marry.

There was a moment when I thought this story was intended to be a love story, but if it was, then it was a very problematic one. When the Warlord-in-Chief reflects,

It is said, really…the lengths she is willing to go to for love (p. 114),

it is really hard to see how this is love, and not obsession. But despite the Warlord-in-Chief’s thoughts here, he clearly does not approve of Frieda’s desires, and he’s going to teach her a lesson. But Frieda has a lesson to teach him in return…

REVIEW: “Sounding Light” by John C. Mannone

Review of John C. Mannone, “Sounding Light”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 125-127 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This was a really gorgeous poem, telling the story of how the poet-narrator, self-described as d/Deaf, makes first contact with an alien species and discovers how to hear the light. I loved how personal the story felt, and appreciated the clear disability representation.

REVIEW: “The Space Traveler’s Tense” and “The Space-Traveler’s Husband” by Benjamin S. Grossberg

Review of Benjamin S. Grossberg, “The Space-Traveler’s Tense” and “The Space-Traveler’s Husband”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 145-148 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I’m not sure if these two back-to-back poems were meant to be read as a set, but given their titles and proximity I decided to read them as such.

As an amateur linguist, I loved the premise of the first poem — a new tense for “nouns in the process of passing”, a tense to speak of dying friends, of dinners being eaten, of “a planet you no longer stand on // but which still exerts on you its // considerable tug” (p. 145). It is also the tense that the space-traveler uses to talk of a planet dweller they once shared their couch, and their years, with.

Nothing more detailed is said of this planet dweller, other than his gender, but I prefer to think that he is the husband that the second poem refers to. This poem was not as evocative as the first one, but the two complement each other well — I would be interested in reading the entire story of the space-traveler and their husband, told through such poems.