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Mythanima by Storm Constantine

01/05/2007. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

Buy Mythanima in the USA - or Buy Mythanima in the UK

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pub: Immanion Press. 317 page enlarged paperback. Price: 14.99 (UK), $25.99 (US). ISBN: 1-904853-32-3.

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There are a number of reasons why an author will publish a collection of short stories. In a few rare cases, the author may had many excellent stories published in a multitude of magazines but has not completed a novel. The collection thus raises the profile of the author in readiness for the publication of the to-be-produced novel.

It gives the publisher something to hang the forthcoming hype on to. Other authors are at the opposite end of the scale. They may have a large body of work, mostly novels, in the public domain but it becomes expensive for fans to track down every single short story. Thus collecting them together in one volume is a sensible idea.

While Storm Constantine falls largely into the latter category, she has also used this opportunity to restore some of the stories in 'Mythanima' to their original format. Constantine has never felt the need to assume a conventional sexuality for her characters, something which has sometimes made potential editors uneasy. 'How Enlightenment Came To The Tower' and 'Priest Of Hands' are two stories in which the gender of one of the main characters had to be changed for the piece to sell. Here, they have been published as Constantine originally conceived them.

The first, 'How Enlightenment Came To The Tower', is a fantasy that has elements in common with the fairy story 'Rapunzel', in that the main character lives in exile in a tower. A stranger is drawn there by stories of the beauty that dwells there. This story, though, is a journey into the exile's inner self. By confrontation with the stranger, who may also be his alter-ego, he begins to understand that exile is not the only option.

'Priest Of Hands' is another fantasy but very different in approach though it, too, partly contains a journey towards enlightenment. Ays, the priest of the title, has the job of easing the terminally ill into a peaceful death. When a woman he tries to help does not die, he begins to realise that there is more on the world than his flying city. She is a traveller and, as he takes responsibility for her, begins to change his attitudes.

'Dancer For The World's Death' was changed for different reasons. The market for which it was originally written did not take it and has been altered to distance it from the original inspiration. This is fantasy and relates the events when an apprentice is taken to be tested at a strange temple.

A number of the stories are set in the same worlds as some of Constantine's novels, reflecting, when they were written. 'An Elemental Tale' is such an example in which the soulscape appears which is an important feature of the novel 'Burying The Shadow', which she was working on at the time of writing the story.

'The Pleasure Giver Taken', however, is an example of the story coming first and the setting re-used for other stories and two novels, including 'The Monstrous Regiment'. It is also the first story Constantine sold. Tavrien Guilder is for hire. His job is to provide whatever his hirer pleases. In this case, he is asked to stop the spread of a religious cult. It is Science Fiction and has many twists and turns. Like many of the stories in this volume, there is a feeling that there is something bigger within the piece trying to get out. This is perhaps why it spawned the novels that followed even though the main character does not re-appear, just the ideas that shape the story.

Some pieces Constantine admits in the prefaces to the stories are fragments of larger works that never quite got written, such as 'Time Beginning At Break Of Day'. This is a story about lucid dreaming where the boundaries between dream and reality have become frayed.

'The Silver Paladin', written with Sian Kingstone, is actually the opening chapter of a novel that is yet unwritten. It has potential.

Although many of the stories belong very clearly to the Science Fiction or fantasy genres, some are rooted in reality. 'Did You Ever See Oysters Walking Down The Stairs...?' is one in which over-worked imaginations associate a curse with a piece of furniture when the reality is much simpler. The bad consequences are a result of the main characters missing the obvious.

The range covered by the twenty-two stories collected here reflects the interests and styles explored in Constantine's novels. The writing itself is good but often they feel cramped as she is a more natural novelist than a short story writer. Sometimes she finds it difficult to keep distracting ideas out which leads to frustration in the reader by creating an appetite for more.

The biggest drawback of this particular volume from Immanion Press is the tiny print size. It may have been chosen to make the physical size of the book handable but it does make the print more difficult to read, especially for those of us who are getting older.

Pauline Morgan

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