The always interesting, often excellent Beneath Ceaseless Skies has just hit its one-hundredth issue. To mark this anniversary the fine editors have released this issue with four outstanding stories.
The first is "In the Palace of the Jade Lion", a ghostly tale by Richard Parks. A young, newly minted Imperial censor, Xu Jian, falls in among ghosts while journeying along a poorly chosen road to his first posting. It's a splendid bit of chinoiserie with adventures both romantic and dangerous.
"Ratcatcher" by Garth Upshaw is apocalyptic steam-punk. I'm not overly fond of the modern iterations of the sub-genre (I don't mean to sound snobbish but Moorcock/Jeter/Blaylock/Powers have pretty much mined out the field for me) but it's a taut, grim adventure that seems to reference the future sequences of the Terminator movies.
In Christie Yant's "The Three Feats of Agani" a young girl is told three stories about a ancient god called Agani. Normally the stories are told at maturity, marriage and finally when a loved one dies. The story opens with an unnamed nine-year old girl facing the funeral bier of her father accompanied by an older woman of no relation. The woman has decided the time to tell the girl all three stories is at hand and the reader hears them in her voice. Each concerns the brutal interactions of Agani with the world of man.
The final story in the issue is the intriguing "Virtue's Ghosts", the first published story by Amanda M. Olson. She's created a world where on passing from childhood each citizen is given a pendant containing a virtue that counters its wearer's greatest weakness and greatly defines them for the rest of their life.
Narrated by a landlady's daughter, we learn more about her world and her society. With them live her aunts, Lily who cannot lie and Victoria. Victoria has been "gifted" with silence. She is a woman who once dreamed of being a singer and is now mute. Her rage and general strangeness leave her niece wondering if she's actually a ghost. The reader learns much more about the pendants and Olson's world when a boarder named Brandon comes to the house. He is revealed as a thief only to be hired on as a male "governess". This is easily the most original story of the issue and ends on a note of hope and new beginnings that could easily lead to a deeper exploration of its world.
Congratulations to the talented editors at Beneath Ceaseless Skies for reaching a remarkable milestone and for assembling such an issue. It's a great time to be a fantasy reader when you can read consistently fun stories online for free. Of course you can pay a couple of bucks and get it for your kindle which I should do if I actually want to support this sort of stuff.