Charles Payseur Reviews Short Fiction: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Hexagon, and Flash Fiction Online

Beneath Ceaseless Skies 9/8/22, 9/22/22
Hexagon 9/22
Flash Fiction Online 9/22
September brought two issues of Beneath Cease­less Skies, the first of which centers isolation and being trapped in bad situations and trying to navigate a way out, sometimes violently. In “Turn To Stone Ourselves” by Marie Croke, a stone Dreamer is living a second life long after their life in flesh ended. It’s as a statue that they meet a young person who sparks in them a hope and friendship, only for that young person to disappear. Or so it seems, until they meet a young man named Mahivo and learn that he holds the same secret that the Dreamer carried in their flesh life – only he’s not willing to live as something he’s not, something the Dreamer did for far too long. Croke does a careful and thoughtful job in building both the setting and the characters, giving them space to struggle with their desires and the pressures to conform and erase their truths for the comfort of others while refusing to let them be crushed by those pressures. The ending finds hope both in the magic the setting features and in the power of people seeing and affirming each other. The second issue shifts to stories where people live in a kind of balance with nature, but with rules that humans have not written, that they must submit to. Both are sharp, with lines of tragedy weaving through them and making for a striking experience.

Hexagon also celebrated a new issue in Septem­ber, and I’m in luck again because there’s a dis­tinct focus on mixing speculative fiction and food. From cheese parties to celebrity chefs, things are by turns serious and raucous. In “Queenmaker Dandelion Stew”, dave ring even tells a story through a recipe, where a mother passes down special instructions to her daughter across the divide of time and mortality. Here, ring builds a setting and circumstance through the rather novel framing of the recipe, where small details hint at a larger history and future for the chosen chef, readying to enter a strange and dangerous world, but armed with the knowledge of her ancestors and the power of delicious food. Ai Jiang tells the chilling story of Yejin, one of a group of siblings who steal time from others, in “Come In, Children”. Evoking folklore of monsters in the woods who feed off children, it’s a rather different kind of food-based speculative fiction, but still very much in keeping with the issue. Yejin has actually sworn off children for the time being, but only to try and win back the regard of her absent sister, who has left her for the human world. It’s a grim piece, and Jiang does masterful work in bringing readers down the winding path of the story, of cycles of lies and how they lead invariably to violation and tragedy, as each person trying to force the other to do something backfires to terrible and terrifying results.

September brought a trio of speculative stories to Flash Fiction Online, all of them exploring dif­ferent flavors of fantasy. Tanya Aydelott’s “The Greenhouse Bargain” tells the story of a narrator who tried to steal from the Whipstitch Man, who brings the ghosts of the dead to the other side, only to be caught and forced to make a deal for their freedom – to take his place after a set amount of time. Aydelott uses the story to explore fate and inevitability, the narrator at first squandering their remaining time before realizing that there might still be a point to trying, to spreading joy and relief and perhaps easing their own burdens later. It shows that the future, even when it seems set in stone, can be moved by compassion, effort, and will, and it’s a beautiful and touching story.

Recommended Stories:
“Come In, Children”, Ai Jiang (Hexagon 9/22)

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 November 2022 issue of Locus.

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