Beneath Ceaseless Skies #88 & #89, February 9th and 23rd, 2012
“The Empire of Nothingness” by Geoffrey Maloney
“A Proof of Bravery” by David Milstein
Reviewed by Bob Blough
This interesting e-zine exists to publish literary genre work, usually by newer authors. They have done exactly that in this issue, but somewhere along the way the excitement that makes genre fiction enticing has been lost.
Take “The Empire of Nothingness” by a an author I have not heard of – Geoffrey Maloney. It is a very well written historical fantasy about the empire of Britain under Queen Victoria. But, happily, this does not take place in England nor does it involve steampunk. It is, instead, a “Brigadier Ffelows” type of tale about seeking the end of the known world (in what seems to be Australia) and claiming it for the Queen. There is, of course, a fantastical component but I was so lulled by the forgoing that when it appeared I was not that interested. It is well written but dull, perhaps a bit overlong. Maloney’s promise is evident but I have to say that it felt as though I had read all this before and there was nothing really new or interesting said about the situation.
The second story was much the same – a well written immortality fantasy called “A Proof of Bravery” by David Milstein. The narrator of the piece is more interesting than in the first story. It begins as Napoleon Bonaparte commences his disastrous campaign against Russia. The narrator, telling this story from a future time (sometime before the civil war in America from a college in South Carolina) is a Marshal of the French Army under Napoleon. He meets up with two fantastical beings as he is dying on the field of battle who grant him his life for whatever meant the most to him. Unfortunately, even with all this historical work and the well conceived narrator the story seemed inert to me and lacking in anything but academic interest.
If you are a devotee of historical fantasy these are both well written pieces by promising newcomers and you will be well rewarded. But for me there is more exciting fare to be found elsewhere this month.
“A Place to Stand” by Grace Seybold
“Shadows under Hexmouth Street” by Justin Howe
Reviewed by Bob Blough
This issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies has two stories by newer writers as did the previous issue. They show some of that same raw talent and new writer’s struggles in each story.
In reading “A Place to Stand” by Grace Seybold I was pleasantly surprised at the ease of her flowing prose, her introduction of the main character and the situation that her protagonist, Sharide, encounters. It is a fictional fantasy kingdom – but far off in a humble section of the world, rendering the outside world intangible while the small town she lives in begins to breathe and have its being. This is an interesting coming of age story that you feel is going to continue along in a most satisfying direction, but then changes course. This rather surprising change of direction isn’t out of the blue but still feels sharp enough for it to strictly ring true. That said, it’s a fine story that shows great promise not only for the author, but for the world she has created as well.
I was of two minds after reading the first paragraph in “Shadows under Hexmouth Street” by Justin Howe:
“Yengen noticed dust motes tumble across the empty apartment. No question about it – Hjel Lotspiech, Longmere’s polisomancer, had disappeared.”
My two minds were – given the title’s relationship to Lovecraft’s “Shadows over Innsmouth” and that first paragraph – is this homage or satire? After reading the whole piece, I believe Mr. Howe’s intention was homage but the purple prose and the style were a haphazard blend of Lovecraft’s very overdone prose and Fritz Leiber’s honing of his master’s writing. It sat somewhere in between these two writers and was not as wholly satisfying as either. Again, I have to praise the creativity of the author but the execution sat clumsily between the two styles. Once he finds his own voice Justin Howe could very easily become a writer to contend with in the genre.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies remains an interesting magazine to find well written early sales by author’s new to the genre.