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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #121, May 16, 2013

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #121, May 16, 2013

“Singing Like a Hundred Dug-up Bones” by Alex Dally MacFarlane
“Our Dead Selves Lie Like Footsteps in Our Wake” by Jeff Isacksen

 

Reviewed by Michelle Ristuccia

“Singing Like a Hundred Dug-up Bones” by Alex Dally MacFarlane submerses the reader into Knowe's private quest to uncover the history of her people by excavating ancient burial mounds. When she meets ghosts who are more than willing to impart their life experiences, her mission subtly transforms from one of discovery to one of sharing her new found knowledge.

MacFarlane strikes a great balance between showing us Knowe and interesting us in the larger history of Knowe's people. I enjoyed Knowe's descriptions of the bones and other materials that she has dug up and the history she has pieced together before meeting the ghosts. The ghosts themselves serve as appropriately verbose vessels of information that real archaeologists would kill for, and so I wouldn't call this a ghost story or a mystery.  Rather, the text focuses more on the intrinsic value of history and how our desire to share stories can transcend even painful shyness.

While this is not a swashbuckling story full of action, many readers will still enjoy following Knowe as she learns from her new ghost friends that singing a song is more important than having a beautiful voice.

“Our Dead Selves Lie Like Footsteps in Our Wake” by Jeff Isacksen is a fantasy told from the first person perspective of Mikale, who begins the tale as a promising graduate student and ends as a disillusioned magician researcher who has sold his values for social status. His lover, Adalia, also changes, from a naïve but impassioned student to a deadly duelist who can't get a foothold in her desired career despite her obvious magical talent. With the picture-perfect love of their past overshadowing them, the two lovers must now face the fact that who they are is not who they want to be.

The story does a good job of covering a long period of time and a lot of character progression in the space of a short story. The gaps of time between each scene allow Adalia and Mikale to serve as contrast to their old selves, which helps the reader sympathize with their mid-life crisis level of dissatisfaction at the end. The magical details are also worth noting because they are interesting without obscuring the main plot of the romance. The result is a focused story with a clean word count.

While I personally dislike the basic premise, the idea that it is necessary to fine tune your individual identity before you can or should commit to a healthy relationship, Isacksen shows an interesting way in which such a couple may attempt to solve their negative interaction by resolving the imbalance within themselves.


Michelle Ristuccia enjoys slowing down time in the middle of the night to read and review speculative fiction, because sleeping offspring are the best inspiration and motivation. You can find out more about her other writing projects and geeky obsessions by visiting her blog.