Beneath Ceaseless Skies #54, October 21, 2010

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #54
October 21, 2010

“Dying on the Elephant Road” by Steve Rasnic Tem
“Beloved of the Sun” by Ann Leckie

Reviewed by Jo-Anne Odell

“Dying on the Elephant Road” by Steve Rasnic Tem tells the story of unfortunate, foolish Abe, who was trampled by elephants in trying to save the lady Oljon.  Oljon doesn’t know Abe and has no idea that was his aim.  The wizard Philoneus puts Abe back together and sends him on an errand, to retrieve Philoneus’s hat from a merchant named Vangelin.  When Abe is reluctant, Philoneus provides inspiration by turning Oljon into a cape.  He puts it on Abe, sending them together to accomplish the mission.  Together, they steal the hat, and Abe returns to Philoneus.  There, Abe discovers that Philoneus isn’t yet finished with him.

This story had a light tone and some amusing moments, but on the whole, it was long, rambling and dull.  It took forever to get to the plot, and even then, it didn’t make much sense.  Philoneus can bring a person back from the dead and turn another into a cape.  He can’t retrieve his own hat?  My sympathies lay with Oljon, who was thoroughly vilified and punished for having committed the dreadful crime of being found attractive by some idiot she didn’t know.  As Beneath Ceaseless Skies seems aimed toward women, this tale seems an odd choice.

In “Beloved of the Sun” by Ann Leckie, Itet is recovered from the bottom of a river, the victim of a murder attempt by another woman in her village.  Itet was to have been sacrificed, to become the vessel of a god, and the other would have denied her the privilege.  When an ant speaks to Itet, we learn that there are many gods.  Lord Sun, the hawk god, gained supremacy when yet another god, an interloper, made a deal with Schael of the river.  Only one escaped, one who takes the shape of a butterfly.  She vowed revenge on Lord Sun.

A girl arrives on the river, wearing a cloak that resembles a butterfly.  She carries more, payment for schooling she’s to receive further on.  She’s been given safe passage by Schael, and when Lord Sun threatens her, Schael intervenes, speaking through Itet.  Itet learns Schael colluded with Lord Sun because even Schael fears the ancient one.  When that one returns, Itet must choose whether she’ll kill for Lord Sun, who isn’t what he claims.  Itet confronts the ancient one, who offers free will.  When Itet breaks the power of Lord Sun, she discovers her reward isn’t what she expects.

This was a long story with a plodding pace.  As it tries to explain the politics between gods, often without naming them, it becomes confusing.  Even so, little actually happens.  Like Rachel Swirsky, Ann Leckie seems a big fan of the passive victim-heroine.  Personally, I wish they’d wander over to the romance section and leave fantasy alone.