Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Mythaxis #29 (Spring 2022)

Mythaxis Magazine, ed. Andrew Leon Hudson. Issue #29 (Spring 2022). Online at mythaxis.co.uk.

Reviewed by Christina De La Rocha

Mythaxis Magazine, if you haven’t previously had the pleasure, is currently a quarterly online magazine of speculative fiction that feels like a glimpse into the internet we could have had, had we not allowed it to turn into a virtual shopping mall, a brewer of bullying, and a weaponized spreader of disinformation. Free to read and free from advertisements, Mythaxis is a labor of love that will take you strange places and feed you amazing ideas just because excellence is an excellent endeavor. The stories that Mythaxis serves as a portal to are exactly the sorts of stories you hope you would be true enough to your ideals to produce, if you had that kind of talent. Or, at least that’s how it feels to me. People with talent should be doing great things with it, not just the same old thing, averagely, already done by everyone else.

Unsurprisingly, then, if I was allowed only one word to describe the seven stories in the Spring 2022 issue of Mythaxis, I would choose beautiful. And I mean that in several ways. Visually, for starters; each story is kicked off with its own custom illustration and each story ends with a truly cool headshot of its author. But, more importantly, I mean beautiful in terms of the writing. The stories are not blunt thrillers, nor full of gory horror, nor blossoming with romance, but captivate with their words and the worlds that they conjure up. They’re also fresh and interesting. None of them made me feel like I’d read them all before.

But beauty is not all that the seven stories have in common, although there is no intentional theme to this issue #29. Perhaps it is just that stories—especially speculative fiction stories—are, by their nature (or perhaps by the nature of their writers), often about outsiders confronting the tyranny of normality. Whether they’re fairy tale, fantasy, or science fiction set in some distant solar system, each of the seven stories in this issue of Mythaxis involves people (human or not) who, through happenstance or intention, operate outside of the boundaries respected by—and limiting—everyone else. In “Fractured” by Gunnar De Winter, it is easier for the neuroatypical character to relate to space aliens than to the rest of the spaceship’s crew, who in the domineering, conventionally attractive overconfidence of their neurotypicality, can’t see that they can’t see some of the wonder of the universe, not even when it speaks to them via the medium of lightning. Likewise, in Celine Low’s “Xorai’s Hand,” the heroine of this story, which is set in the steppes of a mythical Mongolia, is the heroine not just because she is brave and strong, but because she refuses to be kept squashed inside the box of traditional gender roles and is willing to leave her people behind when she realizes that their way of life requires the enslavement of others. In “Gold Plumes on Daoodhi Hills” by Mandira Pattnaik, it is only by refusing the rules of her mother and rejecting the complicity of her people, who have been crushed several times over by colonialism, that the main character helps the hills to regrow, aiding them in their fight for their trees. Similarly, in Erik Mann’s “Unincorporated,” which takes the campuses of big tech companies to their logical conclusion by detailing a world where to be an employee is to be the obedient citizen of a company, the character who escapes is the one who could not bring herself to participate in the doublespeak and lies of profits over people.

But being the being who blasts through the boundaries can be more bittersweet than steeped in victory or attached to personal growth. In a fairy tale such as “The Woodcutter and the Witchwife” by Owen G. Tabard, the secret to your success is also very likely to be the key to your undoing, especially if you’re a poor woodcutter using enchantment to join the royalty that could not otherwise conceive of you being a member of their club. At least in B, the protagonist, in his dark and lonely quest for knowledge, does not succumb to the dreadful temptation to have it all and know everything. Meanwhile, in David Whitmarsh’s “In the Weave,” daring to push beyond the limits of your people’s knowledge, combined with all the learning of an enormous number of simultaneous lifetimes, is only enough for you to discover that you and your people (and almost certainly your entire race) are doomed.

In case you haven’t yet caught the drift, I loved this issue of Mythaxis and I most heartily recommend it. I especially love that it reads like everyone involved in the issue pitched in with talent and for all the right reasons. I find that inspiring. For what would the world be like if, like the writers and the staff responsible for this issue of Mythaxis and like the outsiders in these stories, we all aimed to create wonders simply for the sake of how wonderful they could be, rather than for power, prestige, and profit?

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