The first story in this issue, “Everything Beneath You” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, is a kind of a faux-Chinese fairytale, a genre (well, sub-genre, I suppose. Or even sub-sub-genre?) that I am somewhat fond of, at least when it is well done. And this one is very well done indeed – while not as mindblowingly brilliant as last issue’s “Until the Moss Has Reached Our Lips”, it is very solid and enjoyable to read, featuring an interesting reader and some thoughts on gender issues, which however are treated within the story’s framework rather than forced upon it.
The same unfortunately can not be said of Tamara Vardomskaya’s story “The Metamorphoses of Narcissus.” It is about the question whether art is more important than life – a question which I personally is well debatable, with the conclusion not at all foregone. The author of this story obviously disagrees with that, as she does not even attempt to present the “art over life” side but casts her artist as a unabashed villain whose art consists of nothing but manipulating and exploiting others. To call this story heavy-handed would be a euphemism, and overall it is quite forgettable. Which is a pity, as Tamara Vardomskaya writes well – hopefully she’ll curb the didactics in her further efforts.
This issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies is unusual in that it contains not just the usual two stories but also a novel excerpt, namely from Galápagos Regained, by James Morrow. I do not like novel excerpts and therefore skipped this one for the most part – but since Jamess Morrow has been on my “I should really check this out” list for quite some time now, I took a brief peek, and it did indeed look quite promising. Don’t be too surprised if the author’s name pops up on this blog again in the not-too-far future.