Mythic, edited by Mike Allen (Mythic Delirium Books, 2006)

Mike Allen may be best known at present time for his work editing the SF poetry magazine Mythic Delirium, but every so often he turns his attention to the fiction side of things, both as a writer and an editor. In Mythic, the first volume of a new anthology series, he brings several aspects of the SF/fantasy field together, creating something that’s neither fish nor fowl, but an enjoyable blend of both, kind of like a literary platypus: rich, strange, comical, confusing, thought-provoking and definitely memorable. In Mythic, over a dozen talented writers bring unique visions of fiction and poetry to life.

As far as fiction goes, my favorite tale was the haunting story of love and revenge amidst the coal fields in 30s West Virginia, “Cemetery Seven,” by Charles Saplak. In it, a young man, the son of the town doctor, discovers just how far some people are willing to go to exact justice, when a member of the most powerful family in the area victimizes a vulnerable girl. This is a campfire story, best told after dark with a superstitious audience, and the mood it conjures up just feels right. Were I to choose a story to best represent Mythic, this would likely be it.

Not all of the fiction is straightforward, though. Ian Watson’s “Saint Louisa of the Wild Children” is described as an “annotated hagiography,” following a straightforward incident as it passes from reality, into legend, into myth, the details getting as confused as the source over the centuries. It’s an intriguing piece, especially how it blends truth and fiction and flings it into the far future. What will the future make of us? Read this, and get a vague notion. Watson draws from all sorts of sources to suggest how time may erase a great many distinctions we take for granted in today’s popular culture.

Erzebet YellowBoy turns several popular fairy tales upside-down and inside out with “Misha and the Months” which discards all the most recognizable elements and keeps the core themes. You have a good child, a bad child, a wicked stepmother, some mysterious figures out in the woods, and a bizarre system of reward/punishment that leaves all the right people happy, but not always in the right ways. It’s clever, thoughtful, and manages to feel just like a classic fairy tale even though it’s brand-new. Or is it?

Richard Park’s “The Last Romantic” looks at things from the viewpoint of a dragon as he guards a princess and waits for his inevitable end. It’s rare that you’ll see the dragon as the tragic, vulnerable one, but Parks does just that, weaving elements of Native American mythology, classic fantasy, and modern life together.

Bud Webster turns in a truly unusual story, in “Of The Driving Away of a Certain Water Monster by the Virtue of the Prayers of the Holy Man, or What Really Happened at Loch Ness in the Summer of 565 A.D.” In short, it’s all about how the newly discovered diaries of the mythical Wandering Jew shed new light upon historical events. In specific, this story addresses how an abbot once chased away the Loch Ness Monster through prayers… and shows us how it really went down. I suspect that were there really immortals keeping diaries, they’d poke the air out of the balloons of history in exactly this fashion. Frankly, I hope so; Webster’s account is amusing, wry, and worthy of being read aloud for effect.

I will admit here that honestly, I don’t have much experience with poetry. At least, I haven’t had much experience with poetry since college, so in general, I don’t consider myself nearly as qualified to talk about it. But a good half of this collection is comprised of poetry, so let me try anyway.

First off, Larry Hammer’s “Pgymalion’s Marriage” is my favorite piece of poetry in Mythic. It follows the well-known story of Pygmalion, the sculptor whose statue of a beautiful woman came to life one day. Here, though, we see how Pygmalion and his creation differed, one a mortal man with mortal limits, the other a divinely-inspired statue made for love. It’s certainly a take on the story I never would have expected, and a wonderful use of classic myth.

Joe Haldeman’s “god is dead short life god” addresses humanity’s tendency to outlive its own gods, to replace them with increasing frequency over the centuries. Indeed, he asks how long the current crop of gods will last until replaced, and how short a reign their replacement(s) might have. Insightful and even provocative, it’s a memorable piece.

Lawrence Schimel’s “Kristallnacht” blends fairy tale (Cinderella) and history (suggested to be 40s Germany) in a beautiful, terrible manner, with layers of meaning there for the interpretation.

Hamlet’s doomed lover has her say in “Dissecting Ophelia” by JoSelle Vanderhooft. An ancient creation myth is blended with a tale of family in Cathrynne M. Valente’s “The Eight Legs of Grandmother Spider.” Theodora Goss evokes Christina Rossetti in “Goblin Song.”

All in all, I found quite a lot to enjoy and admire in Mythic. It’s not your average everyday collection, and I’m sure the balanced mixture of fiction and poetry is enough to confuse some people and turn away others, but it possesses a lot of appeal. There’s something for everyone, and who knows? Maybe you’ll find something you weren’t expecting. This is a strong start to a new anthology series, and hopefully we’ll see a lot more down the road.

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