Beneath Ceaseless Skies #124, June 27, 2013
Reviewed by Michelle Ristuccia
Once again, Beneath Ceaseless Skies brings us two stories that vary widely in tone and style, though both, at some level, deal with death.
“Gods of the Lower Case: a new tale of the Antique Lands” by Noreen Doyle is a dark comedy that follows a gaggle of college students as they play ‘god’ with the lives of two separated young lovers, who are both complete strangers to them. Their actions pose the question: is it possible to help someone whose situation you know almost nothing about, and, furthermore, how can you judge the effectiveness of your help? In some ways this is the question posed by every homeless person on the street. Should you give them money, what becomes of that money, and does it matter? For in this steampunk world of telegraphs, trains, and sysdaimons, appearances can be baffling, especially when put through the conjecture of undergraduates.
I found Doyle’s writing to be intelligent and enjoyable, though a bit difficult to follow along. The humor is akin to Evelyn Waugh’s style of comedy, especially his Decline and Fall. The tale was darker than I expected.
“The Girl Who Welcomed Death to Svalgearyen” by Barbara A. Barnett takes place in an isolated town where people whose time has come must walk to the town border to meet death. Adda, a young teen who has spent most of her life outside of town, is puzzled as to why Grandma Marit suddenly thinks it is her time to die. Even more frustrating is that Grandma insists on walking out into a snow storm to meet Death. Unable to accept her grandmother’s sudden, ominous departure, Adda rushes out after her to try to stop – or at least, better understand – Grandma Marit’s journey out of town and out of Life.
I love the literalness of this to-the-point folk tale. The text is efficient and clean while still imparting plenty of character and adventure. The opening draws us in and presents the setup with enviable clarity. I recommend this story for a fun study on how to outwit trolls and talk with Death.
Michelle Ristuccia enjoys slowing down time in the middle of the night to read and review speculative fiction, because sleeping offspring are the best inspiration and motivation. You can find out more about her other writing projects and geeky obsessions by visiting her blog.