Beneath Ceaseless Skies #100, July 25, 2012
Reviewed by Dario Ciriello
“In the Palace of the Jade Lion” by Richard Parks recounts how Xu Jian, an official traveling the dangerous Northern Road to take up his new appointment, happens upon an old tomb and the ghost of the beautiful Princess Weeping Willow and her two maids.
At first, Xu believes he’s done for, as ghosts are known for draining all the yang out of the living to balance their own excess of yin. But on discovering Green Willow’s gentleness, Xu finds himself falling in love, and begins to wonder if there may not be a way for them to be together and happy.
This is a lyrical, well-told fable which most readers will find absorbing and enjoyable despite its low conflict quotient.
The next story in this issue, Gareth Upshaw’s “Ratcatcher,” could hardly be more different. This grim, gritty tale, set an indefinite distance in our future when the ‘Clankers,’ (which we assume are AI-enhanced, possibly steampunk, robots) have taken over. Humans are forced to live miserable lives hiding in holes and living off vermin. All the while they are trying not to get caught in the Clankers’ traps—which, despite their effectiveness, aren’t terribly good ones. This leads one to play and reverse the central image of traps set for vermin, and wonder at just how low the Clankers’ assessment of human intelligence is.
Our grog-loving hero, Ratcatcher (aka Sam) and his daughter Ashera live by trapping. But when Sam sees Ashera’s suitor caught in a trap, he goes on the offensive, taking ever-greater risks in his one-man resistance against the Clankers.
A strong, convincing story set in an interesting future and told with a distinct, well-crafted voice.
Christie Yant’s “The Three Feats of Agani” begins with a girl attending the funeral pyre of her murdered father. But before she lights the pyre, an old wise woman has to tell the story of the God Agani, and of how he came to be reviled by his own people despite having fought for them and for their Gods as well. The girl’s thirst for revenge on her father’s killers is weighed in the light of Agani’s arrogance and quest for vengeance.
A generally fine story and a well-written one, though I found the rather heavy-handed moralizing ultimately flattened it out for me, leaving me wishing that Ms. Yant had tried for a less predictable, and less Christian, conclusion.
Eight year-old Rose’s Aunt Victoria has a virtue: Silence. In fact, every child in Amanda M. Olson’s story, “Virtue’s Ghost,” is, upon coming of age, given a mage-crafted stone which grants them a peculiar virtue.
Lily lives with her two aunts in a boarding-house run by her mother. When Brandon, a young man who initially comes to steal the family silver, ends up living with them, eight year-old Rose develops a fondness for him; but before long, the police come making inquiries.
Despite an intriguing concept and strongly ironic sidebars, this story didn’t work for me, as its overly narrow focus raises more questions than it answers.