Beneath Ceaseless Skies #102, August 23, 2012
Reviewed by Robert Brown
“The Angel Azrael Delivers Small Mercies” by Peter Darbyshire
A fallen seraphim wandering a desert is recruited by some gunmen to help them explore an atrocity and seek out the perpetrator. It turns out that the angel Erafel is cutting a gore-spattered swath of divine retribution across the landscape, leaving her calling card for Azrael to find. The two angels are headed for a gruesome confrontation.
There’s an unevenness of style is this story, not quite hard-boiled Western, not quite stagey seraphimsprach, not quite comix telegraphese: rather an admixture of the three. Though inelegant, it suffices.
Beyond the balm of oblivion I’m not sure exactly what mercy is delivered in this story to the troubled seraphim. Perhaps there’s some backstory, or perhaps one needs to be familiar with the mythlieu in question. At any rate, this seems to be an episode of a series, and perhaps more is explained in further installments.
One sidebar: the construction “from whence” appears in this story. Whence means “from where,” so you don’t need “from.” Not only is “from whence” incorrect, its extra syllable wrecks the rhythm of the sentence in which it appears. This is all quite petty, but if you choose to whip out whence, apply it properly.
“Beyond the Shrinking World” by Nathaniel Katz
A knight of some sort of magical nature on a mission to save his vaguely mystical world conceals his secret mission, which is to assassinate the magical personage named the Mapmaker who has ensorcelled humans into accepting that her means of salvation against an encroaching “Out” is desirable despite the atrocity of its application. In essence, the knight’s mistress considers the cure (eradicating the living population to ensure later populations) worse than the disease (this Out stuff).
Interesting background, but the detail here is so fuzzy that I had trouble engaging with the material. How does it feel to be aboard this ship of steel? Is it a supercarrier, or more like a Vernian schooner? More important, perhaps: what is the nature of this “Out?” How does this “knight” manipulate this material/essence/concept? Is it quantum dreaming? Is it cake batter oozing through a sieve? What is the nature of this threat and conflict? Is it perception versus sensation? Is it imagination pitted against certainty?
I enjoyed the descriptive passages concerning the “demon” Zaius (more like a water elemental), but I’m not certain how Zaius fits into the scheme Katz has contrived. I haven’t nearly enough information to decide what to make of this tale.