Beneath Ceaseless Skies #123, June 13, 2013
Reviewed by Louis West.
“Cold, Cold War” by Ian McHugh, is an excellent alternate reality SF story set near the Caspian Sea during the Russian revolution. Changelings have been emerging from Bolshevik territory for the past year while enormous towers fall from the sky to reassemble, block by block, once they land. Allied forces have fought to turn the war between the Russian Red and White forces, and two bi-plane pilots—Masaru, a tradition-bound Japanese, and Edie, a female Australian wing-walker—carry orders from Astrakhan for troop reinforcements from Baku. But, when they reach Baku, they find it occupied by the Bolsheviks with an enormous whirlwind disgorging changelings and yet another tower, all part of a vast invasion of Earth. The only way to destroy the whirlwind is with more military force than the Bolsheviks have. Unless one of the pilots is willing to load their plane with explosives and fly it into the storm. Masaru chooses to fly, committing honorable suicide. Except Edie has a different idea, one that requires Masaru to rethink a lifetime of prejudice against gaijin, especially women.
I liked this story, particularly its historical accuracy (not counting the changelings or falling towers). But the geography confused me at first because there is a Petrovsk north of Astrakhan on tributaries of the Don River. However, after some research, I learned that the city of Makhachkala, a Caspian Sea port in modern-day Dagestan, was named Petrovsk until the Bolsheviks overran it in 1921, which is when the story takes place. Unfortunately, this uncertainty broke the thread of the story until I figured that out, but then that’s me. Most people might not even bother to look it up. One other nit-pick: Bullets don’t fling bodies back. Not enough momentum. That’s strictly movie stuff. Still, a good read and recommended.
Don Allmon’s “A Sixpenny Crossing” is a tongue-in-cheek western fantasy adventure about Easric Dane. As Warden of the March, he’s tasked to bring criminals to justice, riding the frontier like an old-time American Western ranger. But, he also can detect spirit Crossings embedded in shaman-tended spirit-stones or the great mounds that dot the land. He should know. He’s fallen through them often enough in his 37 years. Except most Crossings are now dead.
But Easric’s greatest adversary is himself, or at least the romanticized, fictional version spun by a bored, Imperial newspaperman whom Easric had never met. Easric’s witch friend, Pearl, sent him one of these novels that spoke of the vast treasures hidden deep in the largest of the spirit mounds, Rose Mound. Except no such treasure existed, Easric knew this as well as he knew that the mound’s Crossing was dead. Could he just ignore Pearl’s obscure hint? No, for she “had a wicked pack of cards (that) brooked none of Easric’s sass.” With a recently captured murderer in tow, Easric reluctantly heads towards Rose Mound, deep into Imperial territory where he’s a wanted man. He must elude the Imperials and survive the escaped murderer’s attempt on his life before discovering the true treasure that lies at the heart of Rose Mound and how he could use the fictional accounts of his life to his advantage.
A fun read and recommended.