Beneath Ceaseless Skies #284, August 15, 2019

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #284, August 15, 2019

“The Mirror Dialogues” by Jason S. Ridler

“Elegy of a Lanthornist” by M.E. Bronstein

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

Two stories that take the form of scholarly articles about imaginary documents appear in the latest issue of this magazine of fantasy.

“The Mirror Dialogues” by Jason S. Ridler is presented as a series of partial documents recording conversations between a mentor and a young girl destined to become a ruler. The child thinks that the city over which she will reign is entirely beautiful and joyful. The mentor shows her the poor, ugly, and violent side of her realm, in order to make her a wise and benevolent monarch.

The structure of this story, with many gaps in the narration, makes it difficult to follow. Certain concepts, such as the girl’s obsession with counting, and how this relates to her ability to make accurate deductions, are unclear. The mentor’s duty is to create a mirror for the child, but whether this is literal, metaphoric, or both is impossible to tell.

“Elegy of a Lanthornist” by M.E. Bronstein consists of the journal of a vanished scholar and numerous footnotes added to it later. The scholar studies the works of a poet who wrote tributes to the woman he loved. In particular, she investigates the incomplete elegy he left after her death. The work suggests that the poet was able to preserve his beloved in some strange fashion. A visit to the woman’s tomb reveals the truth.

The fate of the scholar is easy to predict early in the story, so there is little suspense. The footnotes, written in a convincing manner by an author who is obviously very familiar with scholarship, provide a skeptical, ironic contrast to the journal, which clearly relates supernatural events. This technique is reminiscent of that used by Vladimir Nabokov is his 1962 novel Pale Fire. In that book, however, the footnotes were necessary, as they served to narrate the plot. Here, they serve only as decoration to an otherwise ordinary fantasy story.

Victoria Silverwolf has also read Lolita.