REVIEW: “The Augur and the Girl Left at His Door” by Greta Hayer”

Review of Greta Hayer, “The Augur and the Girl Left at His Door”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 306 (June 18, 2020): listen online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

Knowing what lies in store for you versus the perhaps illusory freedom that comes from not knowing is the conflict that lies at the heart of this story. As its title suggests, the story revolves around two main characters, both unnamed. The augur somehow has the ability to foretell a person’s future by examining “every bump and line in his flesh.” The girl abandoned on his doorstep is, from the start, a spirited creature. Each comes to rely on the other, but the relationship is not without conflict. Though the augur has taught his adopted daughter to read and write, he refuses to teach her his way of foretelling the future. When one day he finds the girl reading a priceless volume called The Diviner’s Book of Augury, he rips it from her hands and throws it in the fire. Was this cruel or kind? I have my own opinion, but I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself. 

REVIEW: “The White Place” by Dana Berube

Review of Dana Berube, “The White Place”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Berube’s story drew me in right from the opening paragraph. I felt the cold of the snow, felt Ti’s hunger, want to know more of how he ended up in Berron’s bed, who the Ordermen were and what sort of church law they maintained. It was the perfect balance of engaging characters, poignant description, and a heart-breakingly sweet and heart-breakingly sad plot that I enjoyed all the way through to the end.

REVIEW: “The Midwife” by Carol Scheina

Review of Carol Scheina, “The Midwife”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: Childbirth.

Hannah is a midwife of whom it is told she has never yet lost a mother or child. When she’s called to Emmilene’s childbed (far too late, in her opinion), she must draw upon all of her skill and experience to ensure her streak is not broken.

I found the story weirdly glorifying of the mystical experience of childbirth; it was also uncomfortably exclusionary (falling back into the default assumption that no husband could ever have a place beside his laboring wife). Just little things, but as a result, this story didn’t really do it for me.

REVIEW: “Depth and Meaning” by Jennifer Lee Rossman

Review of Jennifer Lee Rossman, “Depth and Meaning”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Rossman’s stories appear in LSQ not infrequently — but after a couple of years of reading and reviewing LSQ stories, seeing her name attached to one of them is guaranteed to make my ears perk up, as her stories are pretty reliably good ones.

This present story is the story of Emi, a pictomancer like many others in her town, but unlike them, her paintings don’t take on the same magical life as theirs, the potential once seen in her (“People used to tell me I’d be an elder by the time I was twenty.”) trapped and inaccessible.

No one, least of all Emi, talks about what happened to make her this way. But even before she finally articulates it to her sister, it’s easy for reader to fill in the gaps, at least for anyone who has experienced how depression can prevent you from exercising your creative outlets.

That being said, I wasn’t especially keen on the way depression was treated in this story. Dex, Emi’s sister, tells her that it’s a good thing she’s depressed, that suffering is what gives art depth and meaning. Emi’s friend Ronaldo warns her against taking medication for it. Parts of the story felt heavy-handed and preachy at parts, and I’m not sure I liked the message.

REVIEW: “Breath of the Sahara” by Inegbenoise o. Osagie

Review of Inegbenoise O. Osagie, “Breath of the Sahara”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 305 (June 4, 2020): Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

Like its companion piece in the latest issue of BCS, this is a story of transformation—physical for one character, psychological for another. The story is narrated by a girl named Obehi Ehichoya, whose feelings for another girl, Esohe Okhah, deepen as the story progresses. For reasons that are not immediately apparent, Esohe is fascinated by and something of an expert on The Order of the Zephyrs, considered by the people of her village to be “our link to the gods.” Among the most striking creations I’ve encountered in recent fantasy fiction, Zephyrs look odd but for good reason. “Zephyrs were wind lovers, even if the wind shrank them; breathed through their skin so that it became loosened enough that it turned floury. They only came to the surface and gratified their wind lust on first Sabbaths . . .”  When the two girls sneak into the Zephyrs’ temple ostensibly to steal gold, they meet a Zephyr who conveys information to one of them that will forever change them both. This is an excellent story, and one I recommend highly. 

REVIEW: “The Widow” by Emma Torzs

Review of Emma Torzs, “The Widow”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 305 (June 4, 2020): Listen online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

This story of transformation, revenge, and double-crosses takes the form of a confession dictated to a man “in the final hour of his life” by narrator Perrine Mauroy “in the first hour of her own.” As the story opens, Perrine is a battered wife seeking freedom from an abusive husband, but she also yearns for the chance to live a stranger, though—from her point of view—better life. When the blood of a living calf is transfused into her husband, somehow rendering him peaceful, Perrine takes hope, only to have that hope dashed when the transformation wears off. What happens next involves an unusual combination of science, magic, and double-dealing, and ends with an odd, but oddly satisfying, metamorphosis.  

REVIEW: “Calm Face of the Storm” by Ramona Louise Wheeler

Review of Ramona Louise Wheeler, “Calm Face of the Storm”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June (2020): 119–131 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

In a planet orbiting twin suns, Bret is a flying man that has strayed away from his home while chasing a strange looking lizard. On the way, a violent storm almost kills him, knocking him unconscious. Bret wakes up in one of the lighthouses that populate the edge of his people’s territory. There he finds out that the lighthouses are maintained by a set of “transparent” flying people, not as technologically advanced as his own culture, living a more natural way of life. Bret falls in love with Mornell, the daughter of the lighthouse keeper, and with her help, adopts their way of life. However, he soon realizes that he can’t stay with them forever and must return home.

I always try to not be a stickler about “genre purity,” but I was nevertheless surprised this story was included in Analog. While it has some elements of science fiction (twin suns, spaceports, possibly aliens, etc.) it reads a lot more like a fantasy story — or at the very least, a convoluted hybrid of the two (I could not stop thinking of Avatar). It doesn’t matter so much, since most of the story takes place inside the main character’s head, but it is nevertheless something that stood out to me.

Genre nitpicking aside, I was rather disappointed with the story. The world that the author creates, while rich in detail, is nothing new or original, drawing on many preexisting tropes. At times I was impressed with the author’s prose, but much of it felt padded with one unnecessary description after another, making the story rather painful to read. Similarly, the plot offers little more than a standard coming of age story with the addition of some serious holes in its logic. For example, Bret comes from a somewhat technologically advanced society, yet nobody knows what lies just a few miles outside their city. This sounds highly implausible to say the least.

Overall, I found very little to enjoy in “Calm Face of the Storm.”

REVIEW: “The Honey of the World and the Queen of Crows” by Dimitra Nikolaidou

Review of Dimitra Nikolaidou, “The Honey of the World and the Queen of Crows”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 304 (May 21, 2020): listen online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

Ever hear the one about the nun and the soldier who enter a bar and can’t see their reflection, or that of the bartender, in the mirror on the opposite wall? Neither had I until I read this wonderful story. Magdalene is the nun and Leandros the soldier. He and a fellow soldier he loves (Yiorgos) have just suffered mortal wounds in battle and now Leandros finds himself on what Magdalene describes as “the border.” While they sit there, drinking honeyed raqi (him) and whiskey (her), Magdalene offers him a chance to live again and escape the war with Yiorgos. Leandros can’t help thinking of the offer as a bargain with the Devil. To convince him otherwise, the nun magically stops time and tells him the very unnunlike story of her life and death and the price she paid for the opportunity to tell it to him. It’s a remarkable story, told in a compelling narrative voice, marred only slightly by the somewhat jarring, though ultimately satisfying, point-of-view shift toward the end.  

REVIEW: “Clever Jack, Heavy with Stories” by R. K. Duncan

Review of R.K. Duncan, “Clever Jack, Heavy with Stories”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 304 (May 21, 2020): read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

This enjoyable adventure in the land of the fairies is well worth reading, even though the ending is a bit predictable. It primarily centers around the close relationship between two childhood friends. Rowland, the son of Lord Robert, is the stronger of the two, while Jack, the son of Lord Robert’s cook, is smarter and wiser than his friend. Class differences should force the two to part company, but in spite of the difficulties, their companionship continues into their fourteenth year. That’s when a magic spell transports Rowland to Fairyland against his will. Jack is determined to rescue him and—with the help of an old witch, some gifts from his mother, and his own quick wits—he does so, gaining more than he bargained for by story’s end. 

REVIEW: “Fox Red, Life Red, Teeth Like Snow” By Devin Miller

Review of Devin Miller, “Fox Red, Life Red, Teeth Like Snow”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 303, May 7, 2020: listen online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

In this brief but interesting story, a changetroll named Hryggda is returning home to her wives shortly before dawn with a human baby she secretly “traded” a changeling-babe for. Along the way she meets a wolf hungry for more than animal prey. Somehow, “wolves have been hunting the sun since her autumn waning, but she has escaped, hidden herself in a den to sleep until spring like a bear. And now, it seems, the forest’s hunters aim to eat the moon.” Hryggda is determined to protect the moon, much as the moon protects her during her late night excursions. She is, however, hampered by her even greater need to protect the newborn she carries. 

I won’t tell you what happens, but I will say that the story ends too quickly and too conveniently for my taste. It would have benefited from a deeper examination of the lives of the changetrolls and the world they inhabit.