01/03/2010. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
pub: Immanion Press. 352 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK), $21.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-904853-59-6).
check out website: www.immanion-press.com
When a popular novelist is also a prolific short story writer, it is difficult to keep track of all their publications. That is when the short story collection comes into its own. Sometimes the author's regular publisher will publish a collection as an interim to major novels in order to keep the readers attention on the author. At other times, a different publisher will produce the collection. The reader who is a fan will want everything. That is where the problems arise as some volumes may overlap. This is the case here.
Storm Constantine, naturally, wanted to please her readers. When mainstream publishers decided not to co-operate she decided to re-issue and publish her books herself. Immanion Press books are all beautifully produced. Once that decision has been taken, another dilemma surfaces: What is the best way of presenting the stories? In some cases, chronologically is an option, though this can expose the reader to the stories that are weaker, when the author was learning their trade. Alternatively, they can be assembled by theme. Constantine's first collection from Immanion, 'Mythophidia', brings together stories of a dark nature. Whether Science Fiction or fantasy, they all have an edge of horror. This second volume, 'Mythangelus', have a supernatural element. Not all of her creations are angelic in nature, according to the general perception of goodness that taints them. Rather, these messengers of higher beings inhabit the edges of darkness. Like aliens, their behaviour is unpredictable and often inscrutable. They cannot be relied upon to tell the truth.
Of the fifteen stories collected here, a number have been collected elsewhere. Constantine is probably best known for her Wraeththu books which take the reader into a future populated by the androgynous successors to humankind. 'Paragenesis' is the story of how this new race began. Thiede is a genetic sport, rejected by his parents and society but who goes on to become the progenitor of the Wraeththu. As he is the first, he can be regarded as an angel and, as those who have read the novels will know, he will be held in awe by members of the new race.
'The Law Of Being' gives us a totally different kind of, possibly, supernatural being. Originally published in the anthology 'Eurotemps' (ed. Gaiman and Stewart 1992), it concerns a case Nina Vivien is asked to handle. The job involves deciding whether the charismatic leader of the band Future Light has supernatural powers and to either recruit or kill accordingly. Certainly the cult, Transmission Of Future Light, that has grown up around him believes that he can perform miracles.
Angels are supposed to be super-human. Sometimes, when faith in them no longer exists, scientists try to manufacture them. In 'The Green Calling', attempts have been made to create a being that will not age. Silva is the experiment and her mentor, Alcestis, is aging normally. Whether the ageing is natural or an apparent sudden decay, effects of losing faculties, mental or physical, taken for granted until now are the same.
Fantasy or alien worlds lend themselves more easily to the generation of supernatural forces. In 'Angel Of The Hate Wind', Jericho is a man obsessed with a woman who is not entirely human. He and Saralan are travelling jugglers and Jericho plans to meet up with his love, Dendria at a Fayre. However, to make sure that she will still love him, he performs a dangerous rite calling on a fickle angel to help him. This, as Jericho is to find out, is not the wisest idea he has ever had.
Most angels are best left uninvoked. Always, they will expect a bargain agreed on to be fulfilled, even if payment is deferred for a number of centuries. In 'The Feet, They Dance' an anthropologist discovers that the new mummy delivered to his museum bears a striking resemblance to a friend of a colleague. As he becomes obsessed with the boy, he dreams about the past live of the mummy, not realising that a supernatural being is reaching out to him from the past to demand payment of a bargain as yet unfulfilled.
Constantine does not do the obvious in her stories. In 'Return To Gehenna', she turns the idea of fallen angels on its head. Lucy leads a humdrum life in an office and, one day on the way home, she becomes aware that there is something else out there. She begins to look for the moments of awareness that could lead her into a different, more exiting, life.
'A Change Of Season' is subtle story as it is not obvious at the start that the viewpoint character is the supernatural being. Arriving in a small, isolated town, he meets a young couple who stand out from the rest of the inhabitants. As his relationship with them develops, he begins to hope that they are like him.
Myths are powerful things and what might once have started as a casual observation can, down the centuries, change from family tradition to a universally held truth. In 'By The River Of If Only, In The Land Of Might Have Been' this is what appears to have happened in the case of the tribe to which the first person narrator belongs. This is a Wraeththu story and for the har of the tribe, any attempt to leave the area they roam will lead to certain death. When Ananke leaves for the Tower of Doon, this is regarded as going to die. When Ananke does not return, the narrator follows him and does not find what he expects.
In some stories, Constantine allows her characters to visit the people of their myths. 'Fireborn' is one such story. When her friend is dying because her man has spurned her for another woman, Pashti decides to take action. To get justice for her friend, she decides to visit the land of the Yazatas, a difficult and dangerous journey.
Some stories have a chequered history. 'Heir To Tendency' started life as an idea aimed at a particular anthology but was transformed to be a prequel to the 'Grigori Trilogy', which begins with 'Stalking Tender Prey'. It introduces the reader to a family which from the start seem to have some strange members, but when Great Uncle Gerhard returns from his extensive travels it is clear that the family is even weirder than first suggested.
Constantine likes playing with folk tales, translating and manipulating them to give added meanings. 'How Enlightenment Came To The Tower' has the story of Rapunzel and starting point with a young man, Saphariel, locked away in the tower, in this case by his own volition. Although many try to tempt him out, they fail until a stranger arrives and shows him that he can leave if he wants.
The stories 'Spinning For Gold' 'The Nothing Child' and 'Living With The Angel' form a sequence based on folk tales. All three appear Constantine's collection 'The Thorn Boy' (Stark House 2002). 'Spinning For Gold' is a Rumplestiltskin story with the main character as a boy, Jadrin, whose father boasts that he can spin straw into gold. In the second of the sequence, has wed his prince but desires a child - an unlikely prospect between two males - but creates one with magical help. In the third, the child, having been claimed by a dark angel as payment for his help raises the boy who falls in love with the angel's own son. All three stories warn of the care needed when making bargains with tricksy supernatural beings and also complete a cycle of tales.
'The Oracle Lips' is the final story in this volume. It was also the final story in 'Mythophidia' and is a story of obsession. When a woman picks up a tissue with the lipstick imprint of another woman's lips, she envies her poise and style. Almost unconsciously, she begins to model herself on this other woman and changes in the process in personality to become more like her idol.
Constantine's stories are often sensual and she is at home writing from the point of view of either sex. Relationships may be opposite or same sex. All these stories are worth reading. Some merit a second reading as the ideas are often packed into them. The more memorable ones tend to be longer as there is space to develop character and motivation.
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