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Myth-Understandings edited by Ian Whates

01/03/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy Myth-Understandings in the USA - or Buy Myth-Understandings in the UK

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pub: New Con Press. 219 page enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-9555791-2-7.

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This anthology features all women authors. Like all women short lists and preferential treatment for ethnic minorities, I incline to think this is a bad idea. I reckon the so-called minorities are capable enough to get ahead on merit and women are certainly well represented and well regarded in fantasy fiction. In fact, apart from crime, our genre is probably the one where the sex of the author is most irrelevant. In mainstream fiction, the girls tend to write romance and the boys do thrillers.

Politics aside, the book is split into two sections, namely ‘Myth’ and ‘Understandings’. The first eight stories are meant to be mythic and the second eight are meant to deal with the theme of communication. So it’s misunderstandings with a lisp. On to the stories.

‘Owlspeak’ by Storm Constantine is about an arty, sophisticated girl in a fantasy land who is mysteriously drawn to a plain man, a member of a very sober, uptight cult. They have difficulty in sustaining their relationship because of their very different outlooks. Love doesn’t conquer all. In ‘Seaborne’ by Kari Sperring, a mysterious female creature whose nature is never fully revealed finds a man washed up on a beach. Something happens with a wolf and love fails again. Both of these stories were emotional and vague – not my type of thing, which is a shame because the last Kari Sperring story I read was wonderful.

‘And Their Blood Will Be Prescient To Fire’ by Freda Warrington is about a vampire ballet dancer and a besotted fan whose sister the vampire meets and finds fantastically alluring. This was better fare for a plain speaking fellow because I could tell what was going on. Hot lesbian vampire sex is a good subject, too. I look forward to the film.

‘Do You See?’ by Sarah Pinborough is about a woman who hangs around a children’s park and sends a monster to get them sometimes at night. It was all right, as was ‘Queen Of The Sunlit Shore’ by Liz Williams about a mysterious pale female who is a sort of grim reaper by the sea. In ‘Heart Song’ by Kim Lakin-Smith, a female creature comes out of a well to lure an innocent chap sat there with his lute. More ghouls.

As it happens, the first section finished on a high note with ‘The Grass Princess’ by Gwyneth Jones which won the World Fantasy Award for best short story in 1996. It’s a reprint, the only one in the book, but well worth reprinting. A baby princess is laid under a tree by her handmaids while they go off and frolic nearby. When they come back, grass has grown over her and holds her in a steely embrace. The court magician can’t fix it and she ends up growing there in a sort of catatonic state. Heroes are invited to come and save her but to prove their worth they are first sent on quests to get stuff the king wants This story had almost a novel-length plot and was leavened with touches of wry wit. Excellent.

‘Myth’ had let me down and I hoped ‘Understandings’ would be better. It started promisingly with ‘Tales From The Big Dark: Found In The Translation’ by Pat Cadigan. The narrator, Hannah, lives and works in the Big Dark where sentient beings, abducted by aliens, are bought from all over time and space. She herself was abducted long ago and has settled in to the new environment with assorted aliens. It is rare to meet anyone from your own time and world but there is one chap, Jean-Christophe, who is near enough to it that they can understand each other. She needs a universal translator to communicate with the other sentient beings. The story was a sort of slice of life but the strangeness of the setting made it interesting. The powers behind the Big Dark and the purpose of it were not clear but not much is in this collection.

‘TouchmeTM: Keeping In Touch’ is apparently the first published story by author Heather Bradshaw. It’s an amusing tale which perfectly captures the working atmosphere of a call centre and its organising bureaucracy. I hope more is forthcoming from this promising new writer. ‘We Shelter’ is by Leigh Kennedy and the title gives a hint of the confusion to come. The narrator uses the first person plural throughout as ‘we’ rescue a shipload of sick people who have just landed near the shelter. We moved our arms and legs and some of us got stretchers. Probably some kind of collective consciousness at work but clarity was not a priority again. Is this obfuscation art? In the kind of Science Fiction I like, the obscure references at the start are explained later.

‘Dinosaur’ by Deborah J. Miller is alluring largely because it features those fascinating creatures, albeit in an odd way. The protagonist was an interesting woman though the basic premise was a bit far-fetched even by fantasy standards. As Miller Lau, the author wrote the ‘Last Clansman’ trilogy which I enjoyed.

‘Further Orders’ by Elizabeth Priest is about a female warrior hanging about in a meadow all alone awaiting further orders from her masters. Not a lot happens. ‘The Tollhouse’ by Claire Weaver is about a menial worker in some metaphysical warehouse where all the things people have sacrificed to get on in life are stored by God? Who can say? They include the child sacrificed for the career, the brain sacrificed in the search for a better party drug and so on. The notion is intriguing and the story is sort of fun.

'Body Of Evidence' by Justina Robson is about a gadget called Mind’s eye. It is a body language and energy reader consisting of a chip and a little microphone you put in your ear. The chip analyses the body language and energy readings of both the wearer and other people and the earpiece tells you what they and you are really thinking. Rachel and other volunteers are well paid to put it in and try it out for twelve hours on a working day. Disillusionment ensues. This story takes a look at the human condition in a way that could only be done in a Science Fiction or fantasy setting. The best of the genre does this. In ‘The Ecologist And The Avon Lady’ by Tricia Sullivan, a government agent is sent to kill a shape-changing monster that lives on a mountain and murders occasional tourists, though it gets on pretty well with the locals, especially an ecologist who lives on the mountain. The monster changes reality so much that the story gets very fantastic indeed but it remains interesting until the end. Philip K. Dick might have written this.

With the notable exception of ‘The Grass Princess’, I preferred ‘Understandings’ to ‘Myths’ by a big margin. For some readers, it might be the other way round but until they release this as two separate books you’ll have to buy the whole thing.

Eamonn Murphy

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