Beneath Ceaseless Skies #178, July 23, 2015

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #178, July 23, 2015

The Scale-Tree” by Raphael Ordoñez

The Insurrectionist and the Empress Who Reigns Over Time” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Reviewed by Joshua Berlow

The Scale-Tree” by Raphael Ordoñez is a competent, pleasant story. It reads like an adult fairy tale, with a Biblical twist. At the beginning, Ordoñez has the father Zeuxis tell a story to his son Phoenix. This story within the story is skillfully done and is a good way to quickly draw the reader into the tale.

The setting is another winning element. We’re not explicitly told if this is another planet or a future Earth, but it doesn’t matter. The family lives in a decaying high-rise building in a deserted part of town. The air of decay lends a Gothic quality to the proceedings.

I have one quibble. At one point the wife/mother declares to the husband/father that the family’s poverty could be assuaged if they joined the Collective. This seems to be an important plot point, but the Collective is never mentioned again. It does serve to give us an insight into the father’s character, as he’s anti-Collective. He wants to be his own boss, his own man. That is the take-away from the fact that he doesn’t want to join the Collective. However it still seems strange that this is the first and last mention of the Collective.

The father as lone artist eking out a living in a decaying world while trying to support his small family is a compelling character. Although what happens to him is predictable (as is the rest of the plot), the interesting setting and the skill with which the tale is told makes for a worthwhile read.

Many disparate elements come together to make Benjanun Sriduangkaew‘s “The Insurrectionist and the Empress Who Reigns Over Time” such an outstanding tale. What makes a winning story is hard to define, but you know one when you see one. It’s a poetic use of words, an inventive use of plot, and other creative flourishes.

One such flourish is that the captured insurrectionist is imprisoned in a castle which is the reflection of the castle where her captor lives. Such is the skill in the telling that the reader doesn’t question how the insurrectionist could be held captive in a mere reflection. It’s just the way this fantastic world works.

In addition to the lyrical prose, the plot is inventive. It’s not predictable; instead it’s consistently surprising. If I was to find a quibble (and I always manage to find one) it’s that the tale suffers slightly from what I call EES (Excessive Empire Syndrome). This syndrome seems to be common in “adult” fantasy tales. If there are more than two empires, cities, religions or languages, it’s hard to keep them straight. The clash of empire is supposed to add weightiness to the proceedings but I find too many empires confusing. However, the setting, plot, and poetry of this tale are so outstanding that I could ignore the slight EES. Also worth a mention is the narrative focus, which is kept sharply on the title characters. This limiting of major characters keeps confusion at bay and reader interest engaged.

From the very start, “The Insurrectionist and the Empress Who Reigns Over Time” is a tale with which to be reckoned.

To sum up, taken together these two tales provide a very strong issue. Beneath Ceaseless Skies is clearly a leader in the field of short fantastic fiction.

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