The first story is “The Mote-Dancer and the Firelife” by Chris Willrich. It’s the story of I-Chen, a widow who has journeyed to the homeworld of the aliens who killed her husband on what appears to be a mission of revenge. Of course it’s much more than that. Willrich comes up with an interesting alien culture, and while we don’t get a great deal of detail about how that culture works (this is short fiction, after all), what he does show us is original and intriguing. For instance, in order to determine who picks up the check in a restaurant, patrons solve a puzzle of dried noodles, and the one who makes it collapse buys.
I’m not sure I would have labeled this one as science-fantasy if the story didn’t involve an application of Clarke’s Law. There are remnants of alien technology, and one of these is dust that creates a telepathy like state. It’s common affect in the Spinies, the aliens in the story, but rare in humans. I-Chen is one of the rare cases of the dust having this effect in humans. It’s the reason why she can still see and talk to her dead husband. And that’s the driving element in the story.
Willrich is a writer whose name I’ve seen, but I don’t recall having read anything by him. I may have, but nothing comes to mind at this point. I’ll be keeping an eye out for his work in the future. Hopefully we’ll see more of this universe. The Glyph Lords, the aliens who’ve left the relics and vanished are intriguing. And the division among the Spinies between the Sanchos and the Quioxites is clever and original. And totally believable the way it’s presented. There’s also a podcast version of the story available.
The second story is “Scry” by a collaborative sister team writing as Anne Ivy. This is the tale of Eyre Isri Esthe, a woman with the ability to see the future who is abandoned by her husband when he flees with the prince from an invading warlord. He leaves her in the house thinking he has provided her with a way out. Instead, he leaves her a vial of poison while takes off with the prince and his mistress.
Esthe decides that just because she is going to die doesn’t mean her death can’t be on her own terms. What follows is a dark and surprisingly moving story of a strong but damaged woman making the most of a difficult situation. There are multiple layers to what one sees in the future, as well as what one doesn’t see. This is one of the more powerful stories I’ve read in quite a while. The authors are working on a novel featuring the warlord, Karnon Dae. He’s not human, but what exactly he is, well, we’re given hints but never enough to make an exact conclusion about him. I’m looking forward to the novel.
This story clearly falls into the science-fantasy camp, what with the scrying, even if it does seem to have a scientific basis of some sort.. It’s never stated upon what world the story takes place. It could be a future earth, but I don’t think so. Some of the hints about Karnon Dae make me think this is a far future tale. Whichever, it’s still a top-notch piece of short fiction.
Also included in this issue are interviews with the authors of both of the stories. The interview with Chris Willrich is only available in the subscription edition. Speaking of which, although the stories are available for free, you can subscribe to Beneath Ceaseless Skies. It’s available in both epub and Kindle formats. The convenience of having it on your ereader more than makes up for the cost. If you like what BCS publishes, then consider supporting them so they can continue to do what they do. I consider Beneath Ceaseless Skies to be one of the top fantasy publications, print or electronic, currently in existence. Subscription information is here.