Archive for the ‘Beneath Ceaseless Skies’ Category
(sorry, still behind and trying to catch up.)
So this felt a lot like the first chapter to a novel. I wouldn’t mind particularly if it were because I enjoyed the concept and the story.
Who can resist a house with rules of its own?
You may pass through as many of them as you like and not arrive where you think you ought to, because you cannot leave the House except through the door you entered in by, and you cannot exit the House unless it be in the same state you came in.
Sure, it’s got your standard fantasy bits – the plucky urchin who becomes apprentice to a powerful magician (sortof), the corrupt magical society who use their power for their own gain. There’s a bit too much of “you can do whatever you want to women if you are powerful” for my tastes. (Seriously, I’m just done with that. You know what? Don’t make it a plot point. You don’t have to. Think different, people! Ahem.) There is also my super-pedant complaint that second world fantasies should not mention places in our world, so Mad Russian, no thank you.
However, although this danced in familiar shoes, they are comfy shoes and I like them. I like how earnest Ghost is about trying to learn, but not quite able to teach himself how to read. I like the strength in him and how he doesn’t fall for the beautiful woman, but for her baby.
Much like dragons, circuses make everything better, so I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t an actual circus in Bread and Circuses. However, there was quite enough here to like even without an actual circus.
Instead, there is only a refugee from a circus, Valeria who becomes a walled town’s new baker. The narrator, Tom, is the one who stokes the fire for her over, is her jailor, and belatedly her friend.
This town is a prison that locked itself in a cycle of fear – their greatest fear being that someone will steal their wheat and attempt to sell it to the neighboring town. Sadly, there is no theft, there is simply not enough to go around. (That’s how they lost their last baker, in a year of famine she was made the scapegoat. Tom and Valeria have been set up to fill this role again.) Their community is a fragile, suspicious thing.
This story reminds me of one of my favorites from SCI FICTION, The Water Master” -the shortage in the water master is water, not food, but both the water master and the baker take a similar spot in the society – the outsider who fills a role that’s essential to the community well being but at the same time is demonized for it.
The narrator here is a bit naïve and oblivious. He was the last to realize that he has been made her jailer. One day he watches her sift dirt into the dough and does not comment. Then:
The third day when I looked up at her, waiting, she shook her head silently, made little pockets in the bread so it looked bigger than it was. (I was too crushed by her silence, I didn’t think much of her doing it; I didn’t realize that her worries had begun in earnest.)
He wraps his hopes into the circus – the thing that he experienced only briefly and from the outside, it is a childlike and melancholy hope, but Valeria tries to protect him:
Her hands were shaking as she turned back to the dough, and I knew she wouldn’t speak another word about the circus—not even for her own sake, but for mine.
The story ends with escape and death, but also with defiance.
If I jumped, I would land outside the city walls. That would be enough; whether or not I lived, I would have been even once outside the gates.
(The aerialists had done the same—you held your breath and jumped as far out as you could, and hoped the wind would carry you.)
Each year a girl is chosen to be burned alive as a sacrifice to the sungod. She believes she will be reborn as a goddess. Itet was the latest of these girls to be chosen, but someone has attempted to drown her and now she does not speak.
But another god, the ant, speaks to her every night and tells her the way of gods:
There are many gods, but all share this one characteristic—their words must be truth. If a god says what is already true, it spends no power. If a god says what is currently untrue, its speaking must make those words truth. If making that truth takes more power than a god has, that god will be drained, injured, even possibly killed.
She is not the girl she once was-in addition to losing her voice, she has lost her memory. All she knows of the world are things she is told and skills known so well that they are instinctual.
She is the vessel the ant has chosen to overthrow the sungod and bring back the nameless one and to free the other gods.
I enjoyed this story – it has very solid worldbuilding – the world feels larger and longer than this small part we inhabit in this story. Animals as gods is a familiar mythology, but here it feels fresh.
Hey, did you know it’s BCS’s second anniversary? Well, it is and it’s a bright spot in SF short fictionland.
The Girl Who Tasted the Sea is in many ways the opposite of yesterday’s story. (It’s twice as long, so comparison’s are a bit unfair but it is still only a brief 1500 words.)
There isn’t really enough plot to satisfy- it’s just a girl Abby who is exploring the edges of her world. But there is enough to immerse us in her experience.
There is the stryke who seems both hawk and human:
The stryke’s eyes flashed even wider and yellower when it saw her, but it didn’t screech, and when she opened the napkin and held out the first sardine it took it with one hook-nailed hand, tossed it, and snapped it from the air with its hooked beak.
Abby makes a bargain with the stryke to go to the sea, a bargain to free a slave though really she doesn’t know what she’s promised. The stryke does and honors the promise of it and Abby is ever changed because of it.
The Guilt Child very nearly lost me when I read the word airship. As much as I like airships, they need a rest nearly as much as vampires. But Ronald won me back when I read:
“The Gestenwerke line’s Tram #41 woke up,” the man said, but an airship descending into the station drowned out his next words. “—headed east,” he went on, unperturbed. “They’re trying to get the passengers out before it leaves the city.”
This was not quite the story and the setting I was expecting. This is a world where machines eventually become sentient and when they do, they flee the city and start a life on their own.
This is a lonely giant story (where the giant is a machine parts press named Stamper) who befriends the lonely child who at first found him fearsome, but then loves him. The story itself isn’t anything terribly new, but the trappings charm and it is well told.
Carla was sold off by her father to a wealthy uncle. She is needed to preserve the family fortune. The heart of their fortune, the printing press, became sentient some time ago and the family still prospers by emotionally blackmailing Stamper into staying by making Stamper think they are poor and starving. This is a ruse he had seen through long ago, but loves the family he toils for and remains, until the day he able to escape and preserve the family fortunes at the same time.
It’s a sentimental story, unabashedly so, because sometimes that’s exactly what you need.