The last issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies for 2014 begins with “Alloy Point” by Sam J. Miller. It is a steampunk story of Ashley, who has a talent with Lustrous Metallics like gold and silver, and her forbidden affair with Gabriel, whose strength resides with Base Metallics. They are discovered by the City Fathers, who send a metalman to kill them both. As the story opens, Ashley is in flight from the metalman, who is pursuing her with single-minded determination. Ashley makes some uncomfortable and frightening discoveries as the chase goes on. It’s an old story in new clothes, told well. The use of metals and their importance to the lives of the characters caught my interest so much that I would ejnoy reading a novel in this world, and I’m not even a fan of steampunk.
The other story in issue 163 is “Until the Moss Has Reached Our Lips” by Matt Jones. This story is almost hallucinatory in its strangeness, opening as it does with children digging up graves in order to ride the coffins — with the occupants of the coffins still residing therein — through a flood. Slowly, we learn why the flood has come, and what has happened to the adults, and what future there is for the children. The story has the feel of a parable, so that one wants to know what the moral is — but there is none. Instead, this story seems to be odd for the sake of oddity alone.
In issue 162, Marissa Lingen’s “A House of Gold and Steel” tells the tale of a girl hired out of an almshouse to be a lady’s maid. The fifteen-year-old is perplexed by the request for her services, as she has heretofore performed only more menial, physical work, and her hands are rough and gnarled. She soon learns, though, that her charge is not a fashionable debutante who needs her hair fixed and her clothes laid out, but an invalid who is never conscious. Obviously this work requires someone strong enough to turn and clean a body. She wonders why her charge never improves, and soon comes to learn that the unconscious girl has a power that is being exploited by others, including her own mother. Not only that, but exercising the power is plainly something that the girl does not wish to do. And so her maid lays plans. I enjoyed the picture of a plucky maid who isn’t seeking her fortune of the favors of a prince, but to make someone else’s life better.
Shanzi, the first person narrator of “Goatskin” by K.C. Norton, has just been purchased by Lady Uduru when the story opens. Despite her desperate circumstances, however, Shanzi is plainly a smart young woman; but even her smarts can’t tell her why the most beautiful woman in the world would want a two-skinned girl like her. For Shanzi can shapeshift, and is only human when she wants to be. Her shapeshifting allows her to figure out what it is that Lady Uduru does, exactly, and Shanzi approves. It is good for Lady Uduru that Shanzi has reached this decision, for the worst sort of adventure presents itself. I enjoyed this story; like LIngen’s, it shows us a girl who is a member of the lower class only because she has no opportunity to be otherwise, but who does not let her circumstances prevent her from doing what is right.
If you haven’t been reading Beneath Ceaseless Skies in 2014, you’ve missed out on a lot of good stories. Make it your new year’s resolution to give this inventive and enjoyable periodical a try.