Tuesday, December 21, 2021

NewMyths issue # 55 (2021)

New Myths, ed. Susan Shell Winston. Issue 55 (June 2021). Online at newmyths.com.

Reviewed by M.L. Clark

NewMyths’s latest issue offers fiction, poetry, and nonfiction with an overarching connection to science-fiction and fantasy; and yet, the work ranges widely across traditional genre set-ups.

“The Dryad’s Books” by Rachel Ayers starts us off with the tale of a dryad taking human form and wandering into a bookstore, where the forest-spirit offers an unusual gift with the owner’s paper, strikes up a relationship with her son, and in time comes to seek a better personal harmony between their distinct worlds.

D.A. D’Amico’s “Roots of Forgiveness” then finds a time-shifted deep-space colony crew trying to make sense of and preserve a plant-based alien lifeform it doesn’t fully understand—but then, it also doesn’t fully understand itself, either, and hasn’t yet fully addressed the wounds in its own relationships: the sacrifices, the losses, the sense of abandonment over time. All these tensions come to the fore as the alien mystery deepens.

Next up, Ronald D. Ferguson’s “The Sháńdíín Message” offers a military-SF exploration of Proxima Centauri b, complete with a first-contact mystery involving alien eggs, failure to communicate, and a classic struggle to fight the knee-jerk, trigger-happy inclinations of fellow human beings when faced with the possibility of something as frustrating as it is new.

Elana Gomel’s “Tree House” then gives us a fantastical world within an immense tree, a place of Worms, Larvae, Beetles, and Humans, all living together under a precarious set of customs and continuities that are revealed to us through the death rites for our protagonist’s dearest companion. The fact that death marks the only real hope for transcendence here, especially for our lead, speaks volumes about the real-world struggle that this allegorical tale reflects.

“The Mistress of Tea” by Joshua Grasso gives us a teenager in training as an object of adoration, who veers a touch from her expected destiny as a companion who would rise above her station in marriage, by growing in fondness instead for an old ascetic, and striving to win his favour. The ascetic has magic and temporal displacement woven into the mystic wisdom he shares with her, and her fealty to him offers her a different path to love than she expected.

Katherine Yelinek’s “Heart in the Woods” goes in the opposite direction, offering us a protagonist fed up with connection. Still, the woods hold their mysteries, which can ensnare us despite all personal protestations, so when a mysterious creature takes an old wolfhound to play out a centuries-old compulsion, our protagonist follows this spectre of mountain folklore, and ultimately fights a creature with an even more damaged sense of connection than his own.

The issue then turns to flash fiction with Daniel Ausema’s “Triptych of the Final String,” which tells its story in three “panels”: first, involving a weaver of strings and teacher of how to play them; the next, depicting an heir to the strings, and how an influx of new peoples made richer music upon them; and lastly—in between the other two—outlining the quest for a single missing note, which will provide an even fuller harmony to the whole.

Next, Addison Smith’s “Reflection” is a solid transition-piece before the poetry, because it takes on a highly poetic tone to describe a voyage through the cosmos—Europa, beyond the galactic plane, in other galaxies, and beyond the ether of the universe—to find and reconnect with a lost beloved in whatever ways the ebb and flow of eternity might allow.

From there, “Skull Cups” by Colleen Anderson gives us a warrior’s poem, Celtish and brutal. Jay Caselberg’s “Anthropos” then estranges us with memory-capture as ancient dreaming. F.J. Doucet’s “The dead in their own time” also explores distance, death, and the curious act of memorializing one’s embrace of love for life. John Reinhart’s “Gnomeville” gives us a hint of an encounter with the supernatural closer to home. “Canem Roboto” by Lisa Timpf is more playful than the rest: a piece about robot dogs on distant worlds and the haiku (not rigidly metered, more in keeping with traditional brevity) that their explorations inspire. Gene Twaronite’s “Future Portrait of Dark Matter” then ends the section with a study of distortion, presence, and light, around whatever constitutes what little we know of this element of space.

The issue’s nonfiction then opens with Darrin Bright’s “SCE to Aux,” a reflection on how the Apollo 12 mission was saved by the unassuming John Aaron, who figured out that the crew needed to flip a switch manually when an electrical system seemed to be giving out “bogus numbers” in a pattern that felt vaguely familiar. “Speculative Fiction in Early Sanskrit Literature” by Brishti Guha next offers an overview of Sanskrit stories from around the first millennium BCE to the 12th Century CE. These stories involve the character of Death, as well as technological marvels that absolutely serve as ancient robot stories. Time dilation, space travel, parallel universes, fantastical realms, ghosts, and magic round out a wealth of other speculative narratives outside the Western paradigm.

Paul Schilling closes out the issue with “The Mandalorian: Joyful Simplicity vs. Beautiful Complexity,” a meditation on the recent Disney+ Star Wars series that explores why its simplicity makes for such good immediate viewing, while also leaving unfulfilled a host of opportunities for philosophical nuance. Schilling offers some examples from other episodic TV shows, which illustrate how The Mandalorian could have made other choices.

Taken as a whole, this NewMyths issue shows the most tonal and thematic synchronicity in its poetry section; otherwise, its stories, flash-fictions, and non-fiction run a broad spectrum of some familiar science-fiction and fantasy conceits and curiosities. The majority of the content is straightforwardly but also accessibly told.

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