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: “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: “Boxes” by Lauren Barker

Review of Lauren Barker, “Boxes”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 107-110 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I found this minimalistic story utterly entrancing. It is a deft example of how a rich and deep world can be built through only a few brief remarks and casual references. I was torn between wanting to know more about the titular boxes and feeling that any more would have ruined the delicate balance Barker managed. Gold star to this story.

REVIEW: “Hell With Friends” by Emily Deibler

Review of Emily Deibler, “Hell With Friends”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 33-48 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Suicide and contemplation of suicide.

Scout has sold her soul to Satan and is now dead in the ninth circle of hell. There’s certain plusses about being in hell — no more grad school, the chance to hang out with Satan’s three spouses, Naamah, Lilith, and Judas — but hell is also a place that magnifies everything that was wrong with you in life, Scout finds. She’s just as angry, just as sardonic, just as scared in hell as she was on earth, and “she needed every friend she could get” (p. 39). But “Hell with friends was still Hell” (p. 39). Perhaps the worst, though, is that Scout still doesn’t know what she is meant to be, to do, with her “life”, even now that she is dead.

This story, like the preceding one, is much more fantasy than science fiction. I found myself wanting more from it than I got. With a fantasy story, one expects either grand worldbuilding or characters full of depth. Here, I learned almost nothing about the nature of hell, or how Scout was able to make her bargain with Satan. Little details were given, but I never got a sense of the overall place. But the characters felt rather flat, though, with stilted, unnatural dialogue. I wonder what the author could have made of the story with the help of a ruthless editor, because there was definitely a kernal of something interesting in there.

REVIEW: “Petrichor” by Hannah Hulbert

Review of Hannah Hulbert, “Petrichor”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 15-31 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I always expect the opening story of an anthology to typify the entire collection, to set the scene, so to speak. This story does not, however, make good on the expectation set by the foreword and introduction. If what makes a story science fiction is the presence of some sort of science in it, then this story is definitely not science fiction, but instead pure fantasy. The story alternates between two points of view, that of Nolauronomailik, an Earth elemental, and Nol his priestess, who worships him as a god.

But while I found it a perplexing choice to open this collection, I did not dislike the story itself. It had some lovely imagery in it, and some poignant moments as Nolauronomailik must balance his fallibility with Nol’s belief in him.