Charles Payseur Reviews Short Fiction: GigaNotoSaurus, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Escape Pod

GigaNotoSaurus 6/22
Beneath Ceaseless Skies 6/2/22, 6/16/22
Escape Pod 6/22

June’s GigaNotoSaurus explores complicity and empire in Sid Jain’s “To Revolt is to be Undone.” The story finds Mythili becoming aware of the atrocities authored by her country and its ruling party. Here ignorance of the terrible truth is not a passive act, and she must decide how much of her own safety to risk as she uncovers more and more about what the empire she’s a part of has been up to. Jain does careful work building Mythili to crisis, revealing the different forces urging her to speak out and threatening her into silence. And it’s a clear and rather damning look at empire and those willing to believe that a government that would abuse and violate international laws wouldn’t also break domestic laws in order to maintain their own position and authority.

June’s Beneath Ceaseless Skies kicked off with an issue focused on war, resistance, and betrayal. It opens with Aaron Perry’s “The Nostalgia Panes”, which features Seneca, a former revolu­tionary who seems to have sold out and accepted a more posh position under the nobility. For them, she helps people to enjoy the past through special glass that allows recent historical events to be viewed again. In truth, though, she’s playing a much different game, and connects with her former resistance friends to pull off one last act, an art installation that might remind people of the government’s cruelty and tyranny. Perry does a fine job in showing the importance of the past as something that can’t fully be erased, that can’t fully be coopted by the powerful and corrupt. It remains, and remains charged and powerful due to the injustices that demand action and change. Seneca, at the center of plots within plots, is first a student of history, and it’s in how she melds that role with both performance art and revolution that she finds her true calling. The second June issue still features tense politics, but shifts focus to combat and, more specifically, to sword fighting. “Different Kinds of Thorn” by Devin Miller finds Kellan traveling from her job as a guard in the city back to her family’s village, following a strange and improbable letter. In between, though, is a forest she should know better than to bring steel into. Miller does efficient work building up the world of the story, but it’s in the characters that things really shine, in the way that Kellan flirts and feints, trying to balance her ambitions of life in the city with her obligations to her home, and the deeper obligations to her heart that she finds on her travels. It’s a fun, romping tale, and heartily enjoyable.

Arturo Sierra opens up Escape Pod’s June with “Universal Archive of Human History: FAQ”. And that framing of the story, as a frequently-asked-questions document for an enormous archive, is a nice touch, bringing something fun to a somewhat dry subject. Sierra does a nice job in interrogating human curiosity and creativity in the face of an archive so massive that it contains something close to the collected thoughts of humanity. How an individual fits into that, and works with that, is handled with a careful hand and subtle wisdom, providing some deep insights without breaking the tone or function of the FAQ.

Charles Payseur is an avid reader, writer, and reviewer of speculative fiction. His works have appeared in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Lightspeed Magazine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among others, and many are included in his debut collection, The Burning Day and Other Strange Stories (Lethe Press 2021). He is the series editor of We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction (Neon Hemlock Press) and a multiple-time Hugo and Ignyte Award finalist for his work at Quick Sip Reviews. When not drunkenly discussing Goosebumps, X-Men comic books, and his cats on his Patreon (/quicksipreviews) and Twitter (@ClowderofTwo), he can probably found raising a beer with his husband, Matt, in their home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

This review and more like it in the August 2022 issue of Locus.

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