Beneath Ceaseless Skies #110, December 13, 2012
Reviewed by Cyd Athens
It would be a mistake to think that this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies doesn’t celebrate the holiday season. The stories, however, are perhaps better suited to Hallowmas than to Christmas. Both exemplify the “less is more school” of writing. They give us only enough to prime our pumps and leave the rest to our imaginations.
There are monsters under the bed, bogeymen, and things that go bump in the night. Then there are “The Storms in Arisbat,” compared to which all other fears are wannabes and poseurs. Therese Arkenberg uses alternate points of view to inform us how a female sailor, Semira, and a male wizard, Aniver, travel to the Arisbat library hoping to learn how to bring back Nurathaipolis-that-was, a land that has been lost to time. Arisbat, with its dark and foreboding tower, and people from whom it seems all joy has been squeezed, torments them. This fear is intangible, permeating, and so debilitating that at one point, Aniver cowers against a bookcase, unable to open a book.
Drawn to the Tower of Arisbat, the adventurers dare to confront the terror there. Aniver is banished by the tower itself after he attempts to cast a spell. Semira isn’t so fortunate. Therein lies the tale. Set near the intersection of fantasy and horror, Ms. Arkenberg manages the latter through insinuating rather than by throwing massive quantities of guts and gore on the page.
In this war of magic and the paranormal, innocents are eviscerated by spells; totems and spiritual relics feast on human hearts; and, some of the winners are relegated to needing sustenance from tears. Such is the world of “Casualties” that Alec Austin gives us. Simon, the hero, has a very different experience of the war than his friends. While they joke or tell stories, he is haunted by memories he cannot share. This is the price of victory.
The casualties here not only befit an event such as the one described, they also mount up. A short list would reveal losses of friends, family, trust, innocence, and patience. Mr. Austin’s story is for readers who enjoy gritty, good-versus-evil boss battles and can appreciate the commitment and sacrifice it takes to win.
Cyd Athens indulges a speculative fiction addiction from 45ø 29 30.65 N, 122ø 35 30.91 W.