Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Last year, in order to make nominations for awards, I relied on other people reading extensively and making recommendations. This yea, I thought maybe I should do some of the hard work. So I’ve just read the first six months of Beneath Ceaseless Skies which I picked because it gets less coverage than some of the other online magazines, I appreciate its specific remit and I’ve clicked with their stories before. Turns out that the three best stories published were from the usual suspects:
- ‘The Bonedrake’s Penance’ by Yoon Ha Lee
- ‘Golden Daughter, Stone Wife’ by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
- ‘Women In Sandstone’ by Alex Dally MacFarlane
If you are looking for award fodder, these are the ones to read and I think the Lee is the best. But whilst it is obviously no bad thing that this generation of young, talent writers are regularly turning out high quality work, all three stories share a mythic, poetic tone that is quite a way from the magazines strapline of “Literary Adventure Fantasy” and could easily have appeared in other magazines such as Strange Horizons. As well as this type of story, what I also want from BCS is the best sort of epic fantasy novel condensed into short form. The beginning of the year saw a trio of strong core genre stories that nearly fit the bill and I’d particularly recommend the Austin:
- ‘Atonement’ by Alec Austin
- ‘The Year Of The Silent Birds’ by Siobhan Carrol
- ‘The Face In The Window’ by Brian McClellan
I’d also love to see a really well-executed pulp appear in BCS. Sadly the two pulp pastiches present, ‘Sweetwater Notion And The Hallelujah Kid’ by KC Ball and ‘The Goddess Deception’ by Dean Wells, are almost fun but ultimately fall flat on their faces (Wells has another much worse story in another issue).
Reading the stories in one go also makes it easy to identify two editorial weaknesses. Firstly, a fondness for Americana. Partially this is just a matter of taste as I really don’t care for it but I do think the bar is set a bit lower for these stories just because they scratch an editorial itch. ‘Engine Song’ by Nathaniel Lee and ‘The Use And The Need’ by M. Bennardo are truly terrible (although Lee has a much better story in another issue). Secondly and more fundamentally, far too many of these stories are just too short. This isn’t necessarily a question of word count but rather that they are simply slices of larger stories. Time after time, stories either stop abruptly or reach the next, non-existent, chapter. Short fiction is hard and making a satisfactorily self-contained story is hardest of all.