Beneath Ceaseless Skies #119, April 18, 2013
Reviewed by Dave Truesdale
Michael Haynes‘s “The Barber and the Count” is quite short at just over 2,000 words. It opens in a barber shop following the burial of the barber’s elder daughter, who we are given to understand has been murdered by the Count. Dismissing his current barber, the Count now patronizes the bereaved father’s barber shop. The barber, through the aid of a witch’s simple spell, kills the Count. A minor story of simple revenge (or justice) with nothing specifically to recommend it as anything worthy of note. Both the daughter’s and Count’s death occur offstage (the reader is merely told of them), so reader involvement is kept at arm’s length, which is what I recommend you emulate when deciding whether or not to read this mediocre piece of thinly sketched fan fiction.
Rich Larson‘s “The Mermaid Caper” is clearly the more entertaining offering here, as a pair of scoundrels and their female accomplice attempt to defraud a ruthless, cutthroat Baron into believing they have captured a mermaid—a rarity beyond all rarities—and hope to extract an exorbitant price for the legendary creature. A decade prior to this encounter our scoundrels had crossed paths with the Baron under different circumstances and well before he had been elevated to his present status. They have a score to settle and trust the Baron will not recognize them after so long a time. Their plan almost succeeds and when exposed, a bloody denouement ensues as well as yet another motive for their revenge upon the Baron.
The kernel of a decent little tale is present and the author almost pulls it off. Almost, for we can see him struggling to find appropriate adjectives, adverbs, reasonably witty or clever dialogue, and descriptions—all of which more often than not fail in some measure, bringing the reader up short and out of the moment. Clumsy or awkward sentence structure also often brings the reader up short, to the point where we feel sympathy for the author, for this story begged for a competent editorial massage which it obviously did not receive.
If Beneath Ceaseless Skies were a print magazine we might have complained that, at least with this issue, we thought the few dollars we had spent—our money—had been wasted, that we felt somewhat cheated. But since BCS—like many another online professional genre market—offers its fiction free of charge, we cannot make such a claim. Instead, we must now express our dissatisfaction and complain that we feel our time has been wasted if not our money. And time is much more precious, infinitely more valuable than any amount of money. Ask anyone who has spent their money, their fortune—be it modest or great—trying to buy themselves more time on this earth when, for whatever reason, that time seems to be running out. The trouble here is that time is a commodity for which there is no recourse toward obtaining a refund.