Beneath Ceaseless Skies #168, March 5, 2015

Note: This post was imported from an old content-management system, so please excuse any inconsistencies in formatting.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #168, March 5, 2015

Steady on Her feet” by K.J. Kabza
A Screech of Gulls” by Alyc Helms

Reviewed by Clancy Weeks

This issue is heavy with the lesson that the poor can be, and usually are, more noble and moral than their so-called “betters.” It’s a lesson that is often buried in the false statistics of the daily news and politicians alike. Too often, people look at groups and judge them harshly without ever once seeing an individual belonging to that group. It’s for this reason, among many others, that prejudice is such a useless, and ultimately counterproductive, concept.

Humans are clever creatures, and should never be underestimated. This is a lesson that despots and oppressors the world over forget with alarming regularity. In K. J. Kabza’s “Steady on Her Feet,” Holliday is a thirteen-year-old girl, born into poverty in a highly stratified class-based system, living like all her class in the bowels of the city’s sewers, and living a life scrounging what she can from the refuse of the upper class. She is also intelligent, honest, loving, resourceful…and angry. Dr. Svartlebarrt and Dr. Mortleaus are in the business of surgical character augmentation, and each would have been well-served to both learn, and heed, the lessons of history. They are about to find out first-hand what happens when a poor little girl realizes she has been duped out of what little she possesses. This is a very nice fantasy with complex characters that fairly jump off the page, along with some meaty world building. Good stuff.

Bent, worn, and disenchanted… but never broken. “A Screech of Gulls” by Alyc Helms introduces us to Tutti, an old, impoverished, besotted, and gentle seller of birds working in an open-air market in an unnamed land. Each of his birds is named for a particular bit of odds and ends he is left with after the loss of his wife and all his worldly possessions. Tutti is about to be dragged into an act of thievery by one of his few remaining loves, forced to steal a quasi-sacred substance that is both drug and light source. A man’s character is not measured by what he owns, or how he makes a living, but by his ability to take the daily beatings life dishes out and still get up every morning to meet them. The world building is dense and layered with details of a realm that is not quite our own, and the characters (other than Nico) are people we care about. The sad life of Tutti is filled with unexpected joy when seen through his eyes, and there is much to be learned from someone like him. This is a great story that leaves me wanting to read more, if for no other reason than to see if Tutti carries on even after a bit of disillusionment. Definitely worth the read.

Clancy Weeks is a composer by training, with over two-dozen published works for wind ensemble and orchestra, and an author only in his fevered imagination. Having read SF/F for nearly fifty years, he figured “What the hell, I can do that,” and has set out to prove that, well… maybe not so much. He currently resides in Texas, but don’t hold that against him.