Beneath Ceaseless Skies #101, August 9, 2012
Reviewed by Chuck Rothman
“The Heart of the Rail” is set in a world where trains are still used but being phased out. Henry Durant’s job is to inspect them and to decide whether a particular train will still be allowed on the road, or retired, by removing its “key,” a device that allows it to run. And in this particular case, he becomes emotionally attached to a particular train and begins to wonder if he will be making the right choice. Mark Teppo is clearly enamored of the romance of the rails, but the story did not engage me. It went over well-worn ground about an evil corporation and an attempt at subverting it, but never really came to life for me. You might like it better if you love trains.
Jack Nicholls contributes “The Tale of the Aggrieved Astrologer,” a story set in a version of ancient China. Ho Bian is the title character, also a wizard. He notices that his spells aren’t as effective as they once were, and his ability to predict is also going just a bit wrong, affecting his status with the empire. He discovers the cause, and works to fix what is going wrong. I like the idea of fantasies set in China, and this is cleverly written, with some humor amid the adventure. I think the story could have benefitted if the resolution had been a bit more complicated, but overall this is a very strong story.
Chuck Rothman recently sold to the anthologies Unidentified Funny Objects and Futuredaze.