When I started reading fantasy, I was very clear on what I wanted from it. I wanted to meet characters I could identify with, who I could cheer on in their fight against titanic evil. I wanted a plot that wouldn’t leave me bored by page 53 or leave me and my sixth-grade certainties confused. And if there were some interesting ideas or fragments of other stories in there as well, that was just fine.
Most of all, though, I wanted a new world. Somewhere else, somewhere that people could summon fire or call forth strange and terrible creatures, where the laws of the universe were mutable and the stars were both balls of fire and separate, sentient beings. I wanted magic and a world that could accommodate that magic.
As you can probably guess, my tastes changed as I grew up; nuanced characters trump cardboard any day, I can follow more tangled plots and (depending on the story) remain patient well past page 53, and the elements of old stories in a new one can add a depth that I’d otherwise have missed. But what hasn’t changed, what I still crave, is that experience of a new world. There’s something about being drawn fully into a strange, beautiful world that hits me on some deep, almost unconscious level.
Luckily, there’s a lot of good secondary-world fiction out there.
I confess, this is all by way of drawing attention to the magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Headed by a fellow Viable Paradise alum, Scott H. Andrews (seen here in his safety gear for dealing with the Internet), the magazine runs biweekly and takes as its mission “literary adventure fantasy.” I won’t attempt to define any of those three terms — better writers than I have fallen in such debates — but what that means in practice is that Beneath Ceaseless Skies features well-written stories set in a multitude of new worlds. (Full disclosure: one of my stories was published by Beneath Ceaseless Skies way back in January.) More about their upcoming stories below the jump.
The magazine is a year old tomorrow, and they’ve put together a double issue for their anniversary. The first story, “The Pirate Captain’s Daughter,” by Yoon Ha Lee, is one of those stories that, for me, casts what Tolkien called Enchantment: complete immersion in the world of the story. I don’t pretend to know the mysteries of the Unwritten Sea, nor the interactions of piracy and poetry that drive the story; what’s important is that I believe them, and that belief draws me through to the perfect climax of the story.
“Songdogs,” by Ian McHugh, could be set in a reflection of Australia but to me seemed even more remote (particularly the painful magic that pulls its sheriff and her prisoner along). There’s also a brothel stocked with clockwork Dollies — and yet that is not the greatest mystery — in Sara M. Harvey’s “Six Seeds,” and duels, arms of stone, and a song unlike any other in the first half of Michael Anthony Ashley’s “To Kiss the Granite Choir.”
While these stories won’t be up till tomorrow, go take a look through the archives today. And then come tell me what worlds you’ve found…or what worlds you want…or what makes a world real for you.