Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #225

May is off to a great start at Beneath Ceaseless Skies with a pair of stunning stories that center on the ideas of work and care, love and loss. The worlds that the stories introduce are full of brokenness, full of inequity, full of people dealing with bad situations and the whims of a universe that doesn’t really seem fair. For some, this means using the realities of the world to define what they should and should not expect. For others, it’s about standing in the face of the expectations and declaring that there are some things that cannot be sacrificed, even as some other things need to be. These are very difficult and wrenching stories that focus on hope and healing even as they reach for a place where the trauma might have been prevented entirely. So yeah, to the reviews!

Art by Ashley Dotson

“Carnival Nine” by Caroline M. Yoachim (7222 words)

Well this is a rather devastating story about care and about life and labor and the stretch of days. The story stars Zee throughout their life, from when they are a young child wanting adventures to when they get older and things don’t go quite the way they expect. The setting of the story is breathtaking and tragic all at the same time, the world a closet populated by clockwork people who are each wound up each day, the number of turns dictating how much a person can do that day. It’s a brilliant way to show the ways that not everyone is made equal, the way that the same tasks will take more toll on some than others. That Zee has an abundance of turns is something that sets them apart and yet it’s also part of what makes the story both tragic and hopeful. Because the setting here is one that is rather oppressive, that is dominated by people needing to labor to live, where all people really aspire to do is live out their lives and find what routines they can. It’s something that feels rather real, because it captures the way that capitalism tends to work, where people are either selfless and do their labor without thinking of themselves or selfish and manage to follow what they might want to do more. There is such a pressure to conform, a weight that slowly drags down each character. [SPOILERS] Zee is so pointed outward at the beginning of the story, wanting adventure and to put their turns to great use, and I don’t want to say that they don’t. Their life is hard and defined by their labor, especially when they have a child that has a shortage of turns, who needs to be carried, who Zee has to care for all on their own for some time. And here is where the story gets complex and difficult. Because the tragedy is not the love that Zee has for their son, is not the way that they give so many of their turns to him. Is not the way that they sacrifice so much of their dreams in order to try and give him a life relatively free of pain. The tragedy is in the setting, in the system that means that for their son, Mattan, to be free from being killed, essentially, they have to give so much of themself to keep him from being taken and tortured (effectively). I love the subtle ways that the story is dark and reminds us that the world we live in is not a just one. Because the language of so much of this piece mirrors the language we use to think about labor and love and care. Is the love that Zee shows to their son and their father and everyone beautiful? Yes it is. Is it a sadness that so much of their dreams had to perish just to ensure that Mattan could live? Yes it is. Their life has great meaning and weight and I don’t want to minimize that, but they say many times that they had more turns than their due. Which is very sad because it’s how many people are made to feel now. That they don’t deserve their potential. That they should give it away without thought of themself. Which Zee does. But Zee doesn’t have much of a choice. The pressure to do what they do is immense and the story, while beautiful, while lovely and showing the power of care and love in the face of oppression and systemic injustice, is about that pressure carrying the day. To me it is a tragedy and a brilliant one at that, blending the desire to live and to thrive with the insidious ways the world devours labor and capitalism corrupts the way we value ourselves and our futures. It’s a heartbreaking story in part because it shows the love possible in these situations, while also showing just how much better it could be if we tried a more just way. And fuck, yeah, might be crying some. Definitely read this story. Go now!

“A Place to Grow” by A.T. Greenblatt (6006 words)

This is a sweeping and moving story about loss and rebuilding, about home and finding a place to belong. For Lillian, home is something she’s never really known, something that was taken from her when she was very young, along with her mother. All that remains now is a string of worlds that her uncles build but then grow weary of and discard, her growth measured in the number of places she’s had to left behind. Neither are her and her uncles the only ones living in these worlds, as they have saved many from the void created when the world shattered and life had to be moved into glass jars to keep it safe and sane. Lillian is growing up, though, and wanting a place to stay in, to fix. Her uncles are more interested in chasing the ghost of what they’ve lost, and it keeps them from thinking of any world they create as a home. They push on and on, but Lillian is finally coming into her own legacy, this ability to create worlds, and she has her own garden now and friends and has decided that she’s not giving up this world without a fight. What follows is a deep exploration of what it means to move on, what it means to have a home. For the uncles, the idea of home is one loaded with betrayal and pain, because they were unable to save their sister, Lillian’s mother, and because nothing seems right when they are still so incomplete. They move from place to place but they can never really move on, are always trapped by the thoughts of the past, the ghosts of that perfection before the world shattered. They have their talents but they are still more selfish than not, creating worlds to make their own loss instead of focusing on saving others. For Lillian it’s a bit more easy to move on from the memories of that lost home because it’s so cloudy in her mind. What it’s cloudy, though, is the knowledge that there are people in the here and now who need her and want her to help them. It’s a story about standing up even against the people you love in order to try and find a place for you. For your wants and skills. To move into a future where healing is possible. It’s another amazing read and a fantastic way to close out the issue!


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