RogerBW's Blog

Hugo 2015: Beneath Ceaseless Skies 157, Scott H. Andrews 26 June 2015

For this year's Hugo awards there are three semiprozines in contention that satisfy my voting criteria. One didn't bother to provide a sample in the Hugo packet. This is one of the other two.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #157 proclaims itself a Sixth Anniversary Double-Issue, but all we get is four short stories. Looking at the web site, it appears that the original issue also contained two "audio fiction podcasts" (author readings) and one story from the archives. OK, so it does seem to come out every two weeks rather than monthly or bi-monthly. In any case, there's no editorial content here, just brief author bios.

There does seem to be a theme, even so: all these stories are fantasies, and all of them are set in non-European mythologies.

The Sorrow of Rain (Richard Parks) has Lord Yamada (whose status seems unclear) dealing with a troublesome rain spirit in fantasy-Japan. The obvious explanation is not a full explanation, which is pleasing, but there's no room to do much with it. Reminded me slightly of the anime series Mushi-Shi, which is a good thing. Apparently there's already a short story collection dealing with Lord Yamada, which may explain why he's not actually introduced here.

Heaven Thunders the Truth (K.J. Parker) is set in a fantasy-Africa: the narrator, a doctor, has a snake living in him that's the source of his power, such as it is. As usual with Kathy Jo's stories, it's all rather more complicated than it appears, and the problem of a disobedient daughter gradually leads our hero into treason as the best of a bad lot of options. I like her in person but I'm not a great fan of her writing; it's just a bit too unrelievedly dismal.

The Moon Over Red Trees (Aliette de Bodard) is in a fantasy-Vietnam, where a native woman living as "local wife" to a French plantation owner realises the reason she is there. It's a Be Careful What You Wish For story, subclass Consider the Price; well-written, and the setting is obviously one that de Bodard knows well, but there isn't really much new here.

Butterfly House (Gwendolyn Clare) is in a fantasy-China: the protagonist is a butterfly-keeper to the Empress, sent out to the site of a recent battle to gather "corpsewings", the only butterflies that feed on flesh. Why? Well, we won't be told that of course, but we do have her struggle as she decides whether to obey. This feels as though it ought to be the opening of a novel; it's pretty slight on its own.

So four unremarkable stories, really, and with no other content there's not much to recommend. Does BCS only do fantasy? Judging by the web site, it appears not. Compared with Lightspeed there's much less here, which means fewer chances to include a story that impresses me.

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