This most recent issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies is the first I’ve found throughout disappointing. As usual, it contains two stories, the first one being “Sweet Death” by Margaret Ronald. It’s not a bad story per se, but does suffer from being part of a series – while it is understandable that the author does not wish to bog her story down by repeating things about the world and the characters’ back story that she established in previous stories (all the more as apparently all of them have been appearing in BCS), for the reader who is not familiar with them the story will ineluctably feel lacking. I realise that this is somewhat my own fault for not subscribing to the magazine earlier, but it still remains that the story does not stand well on its own. While reading it, I was constantly nagged by a feeling of missing out on the significance of the events depicted or alluded to by the characters, and with that resonance missing, the story just felt flat.
While “Sweet Death” was at least somewhat nice, Yosef Lindell’s “We Were Once of the Sky” was, I’m afraid to say, outright bad. It presents the reader with an Alternative History where some aliens got stranded on earth somewhere in the past, but by the time the story takes place (in the 15th century) have been more or less assimilated. The story’s problems start with the world building: the author just plops a bunch of aliens right into human history and then has nothing change at all as consequence of that. Instead, he uses the setup to launch a sledgehammer-driven allegory about minorities which (to say at least something positive about it) could be used to illustrate the difference between “well-meant” and “well made.” Conceptually, there is nothing wrong with the story – Lindell has obviously given the subject of minorities some thought and gets it all right, showing not only the injustice of excluding minorities from societal participation but also how that breeds self-doubt in the minority itself. But as a story, “We Were Once of the Sky” fails utterly – everything is just so blatantly obvious, a flimsy packaging of narrative wrapped around a message, with no care given to and possibly no interest at all in character, structure and language. From the short biography that BCS appends after each story I gather that this is Lindell’s first published story, so there’s at least hope that he’ll be improving with practice.