In this excellent story on the origins of compassion and empathy, The Patron is a woman who cares more deeply than she realizes about the people who come to her seeking vengeance on others. She has spent seven years as a prisoner negotiating, day after day, the terms for such retribution. But the chain that binds her ankle to her chair—as well as to the need to negotiate these vengeful transactions—is largely symbolic. The Patron believes she is imprisoned and controlled by daemons who thrive on physical and psychic pain and who perform the vengeful acts. She’s wrong, though, and her eventual recognition of the genuine nature of her imprisonment gives rise to a selfless act that ultimately frees her (in a sense). In turn, hope is born, where previously there had been only darkness and despair.
The story had a strong fairy-tale quality to it; it’s the sort that I could see myself reading aloud to a child not for the strong characters or fast-paced plot but for the beautiful language and the pictures it draws, of a little girl who makes friends with a man who walks the line between day and night, and shares some toast with him dipped in the yolk of the sun.
Content note: Abortion.
First off, I love this title. It’s basically a story all on its own!
Second off, the story lives up to the title. It’s 10 little vignettes, each centered on a different member of the Glasbläser family, saying something about the spell each won’t share, where it comes from, what it does, and — perhaps more importantly — why each individual considers their spell so precious. In the end, the story says just as much about what we need from our family as it does the secrets that we keep from each other.
Loved, loved, loved this story. Sweet, sad, funny, pragmatic.
Everyone fears the mine-owner William Dawes but the only thing that Dawes fears is the outlaw Dead Katherine. Everyone, that is, but Dead Katherine herself, who has returned to the mine to exact her revenge.
But revenge for what? And why is she called Dead Katherine? These were the two questions that drove my reading of the story, but it took long enough for them to be answered that I read less in anticipation and more in frustration because I couldn’t understand how she had ended up where she was and doing what she was doing. When the answers did finally come (but only to the first question, not the second), it felt a bit too late.
Though the title of this story talks of the family “recipe”, in truth, it’s recipes: The star of the story is a cookbook collated and then handed down from generation to generation. Some recipes get lost through sticky mishaps; others are written down and added; the entire life of the cookbook a repetition of losses and additions. I liked the cyclic structure this forced onto the story, which was otherwise remarkably devoid of plot in a way that did not make the story feel deficient. My only complaint is that I found the ending weak; I would probably have stopped with simply “Everyone knew that it was never just a cookbook.”
Review of Lisa L. Hannett, “Deep in the Drift, Spinning”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 312 (September 10, 2020): listen online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.
I found this to be a rather frustrating read. Though the story is certainly well written—Hannett has won four Aurealis awards, so that’s no surprise—I find it difficult to muster much enthusiasm for it. Mostly that’s because I don’t find the point-of-view character, Winnifletch, very engaging. She’s a witch, of sorts, living a solitary, regret-filled life outside the sea town of Baradoon, whipping up magical broths to help her neighbors-in-need. Her daughter Shales is, or perhaps fancies herself, a harpy, while her mother pictures her more as a sailor on a galleon crewed by mermaids. Unfortunately, we don’t actually meet Shales; we learn about her and her desires only from her mother’s somewhat meandering perspective. That’s too bad. I would have liked to learn more about the lives of harpies and mermaids in the world of Baradoon, and what tugs a person more in one direction than the other.
Detective Angie Ferguson has been assigned to investigate the death of Henry Van Patten, a case in which “nothing in the account, detailed by an Officer Benton, appeared abnormal.” Except, of course, that would be too easy…
And so what we have here is a fun little mystery/SF story as Angie solves the farmer’s mysterious death. Goyan captured perfectly the way a mind can flit from one subject to another, seeing strange patterns, identifying connections (even if those connections aren’t really there) — it’s not often I read a character and think “oh, she thinks like I do”, so I really enjoyed this. But don’t read it if you’re squeamish about graphic descriptions of bugs.
Review of Jeremy Packert Burke, “Doorway, Smile, Kiss, Fox”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 311 (August 27, 2020): listen online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.
In this lovely and compelling story, Themis—a character presumably named after the Greek goddess of justice, wisdom, and good counsel—is his king’s sole mnemosyne. By some “obscure alchemy,” a mnemosyne is able to “take on, in their entirety, the memories of generals, scientists, poets, doctors—any citizen marked great by the king’s council.”
In theory, a mnemosyne is able to search this “living archive” of information and provide solutions to whatever catastrophes befall his city, and the king who rules it. Unfortunately, in this case the city is plagued by a catastrophe for which there is no solution. Buildings have seemingly taken on a life of their own, growing “the way trees, and love, and cancer do: too slow to see but constant.” Over time, however, the rate of growth is nothing short of alarming. Knowing there is no solution, Themis is convinced the king will soon have him killed. Where he finds consolation, even joy, in the face of imminent death, I’ll leave you to discover.
Julia visits an AI that can allegedly read a person’s brain patterns and produce their perfect version of a work of art. But when Julia goes through the process, all she gets is a blank painting with nothing but layers of white on it.
Reading “True Colors,” I got the impression that there’s a deeper meaning in the painting metaphor, but I’m not entirely sure I get it. Something about the “deeper layers” of Julia’s personality, perhaps. I don’t there’s enough there to really come to a conclusion. Still, it was an a neat story and I enjoyed the idea of the artistic AI using something akin to machine learning to generate someone’s “perfect” work of art.
Review of Marissa Lingen, “The Past Like a River in Flood”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 311 (August 27, 2020): read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.
A school for magicians is hardly a novel concept these days, but what raises this fast-paced fantasy to a high level is its narrator: a forty-something former student who has reluctantly returned to her alma mater for a reason that terrifies her. When Ellis was a student, the school’s original Vault of Potions was destroyed in a flood. Now, twenty years later, two students are “mysteriously dead, found sitting against the Vault wall without a drop of blood or a bruise on them.” At least two people suspect how the deaths relate to the long-ago flood: Ellis’s mentor, still a professor at the school, and the school’s provost. Now they need Ellis’s skill as a geomancer to neutralize the “nasty forces” in the Vault that have been allowed to build unchecked for two decades. Before the story ends, Ellis will be betrayed and witness a murder, but she’ll also have an opportunity to teach an important lesson on what it really means to put the past behind you.