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

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #259, August 30, 2018

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #259, August 30, 2018

"Cold Ink" by Dean Wells

"Periling Hand" by Justin Howe

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

Both of the stories in this issue feature struggles against dangerous enemies not fully understood at first. The fantastic worlds in which they are set could not be more different.

The setting for "Cold Ink" by Dean Wells resembles a steampunk version of Victorian London. The characters live in the lower depths of a large city. Above them tower the vast constructions of their rulers, blocking out any glimpse of the sky. Technology ranges from the primitive to the futuristic, often combining aspects of both.

The protagonist meets her ex-lover after she has been gone for a year. Her body is now covered with strange black tattoos. A mysterious man pursues her. The protagonist helps her escape. Many people close to her are killed before the truth is revealed.

This is a violent, fast-moving story with non-stop action. The author's style is vivid, creating a complex background that is never confusing. Some aspects of the setting may seem overly familiar to readers of steampunk fiction. Others are out of place, particularly the presence of aliens, who do not play a major role in the plot. In one scene, a priest-mechanic swears to the "sainted mothers of Wells and Verne." This reference to two pioneers of science fiction reminds the reader that this is only a story, ruining the suspension of disbelief.

"Periling Hand" by Justin Howe is difficult to understand. The author creates a very large number of fictional words, many of which are never defined, even indirectly. Certain people are somehow psychically connected to a lifeform that underlies their world. One such person is killed, leading to an investigation by others from another community.

The protagonist is a worker who loses his arm in an accident. It is replaced with a wooden prosthesis. He bonds with it in a way which allows him to use it as if it were part of his own flesh. He becomes involved with the murder investigation, discovers a conspiracy, and helps an intended victim escape.

A passive main character, combined with a confusing background, makes this story uninvolving. Much is made of a fictional card game, but this has nothing to do with the plot.


Victoria Silverwolf had to attend a mandatory two-hour education session at work recently.