Beneath Ceaseless Skies, #56 and #57; November 18 and December 2, 2010
“Fleurs du Mal” by J. Kathleen Cheney
“As Below, So Above” by Ferrett Steinmetz
“The Suffering Gallery” by Matthew Kressel
“A Bounty Split Three Ways” by Peter Kovie
Reviewed by Bob Blough
These two issues of Beneath Ceaseless Skies are an enjoyable read. It is good to encounter so many truly new authors. Some, however, are more certain in their technique than others.
In “Fleurs du Mal,” J. Kathleen Cheney has chosen a very interesting voice in which to tell this story. Bertrande is an unmarried, stuffy botanist from England in the era of Queen Victoria. This, however, is not a steampunk story. It is a horror story that could have actually taken place. Bertrande has come to Paris to free his young, naïve, yet rakish brother from the clutches of a woman named Anne. His meeting with Anne stirs up his major passions: botany and willing, young, beautiful women. She is a mysteriously alluring woman who tends a garden of odd plants unknown to Bertrande. These two sirens draw him into an ever-widening horror that is beautifully suggested by the author while leaving enough for the reader’s imagination to complete the picture. Most is eventually explained by the end; however, the choice Bertrand must make in this situation is left open to the reader’s imagination.
Slick writing, in an interesting voice, and written with subtlety. Cheney is a writer to follow.
The next story in this issue is, unfortunately, not as subtle. “As Below, So Above” by Ferrett Steinmetz begins quite promisingly with an odd kraken-like creature destroying ships with his alpha male of a father. The story is told from the point of view of the son. There is an interesting backstory to his birth—he is the sole survivor of a whole batch of young; his mother wants to devour him; and his father sees him as the favored son of his god, Dismas. His father becomes his protector and teacher. It is an eerie and somehow believable situation. In the end, as the son meets the god Dismas, all is explained. Unfortunately, much of the situation then becomes mundane and the power and mystery of the story are occluded. Also, the emotional connection between father and son is not explained strongly enough to capture the pathos in the situation. The imagination and cleverness in this story mark Mr. Steinmetz as a very promising newcomer, even if all does not seem to work to the best advantage of this particular story.
Issue # 57 begins with an out-and-out horror story by Matthew Kressel: “The Suffering Gallery.” It is a Grand Guignol tale of a demon named Atleiu and a hanger-on named Mielbok, the Billion Tooth Maggot. Atleiu lives off the suffering of sane people trying to cope with her über-painful methods of torture. It is an inventive tale which eventually becomes overlong—until the horrors, instead of continuing to disturb, become boring and banal. Too much is shown; more restraint in the telling would have fired our imagination and the horror would have grown worse instead of “just more of the same” torture. “Less is more” as they say in theater. Again, though, Mr. Kressel’s imagination is wondrous and, as he hones his craft, I’m sure we will be excited by that imagination in the future.
The final story in the issue is a first sale by Peter Kovie. As such, “A Bounty Split Three Ways” is an excellent start. It is an adventure story about two bounty hunters looking for a criminal for very different reasons. One wants the money while the other hopes to win back his beloved from a wizard with whom he has made a foolish bargain. This adventure is full of fun ideas, and the back story of the main protagonist is well done, but I felt I was coming into a pre-existing world without enough background for me to catch up on what and who everyone was. Nice work, though, as straight adventure.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies is another fine internet venue for SF and Fantasy stories. And they are free to the reader. How can you beat that?