Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Gold, anOther Mythology (2023)

Maxwell I. Gold, anOther Mythology. Interstellar Flight Press, 2023. ISBN 978-1-9537-3624-6. $14.99.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

anOther Mythology is a collection of horror prose-poetry re-imagining myths from a queer perspective, penned by Maxwell I. Gold, a five-time Rhysling Award nominee, and twice Pushcart nominated Jewish American author of prose poetry and short stories in cosmic horror and weird fiction. Gold’s books include Oblivion in Flux: A Collection of Cyber Prose from Crystal Lake Publishing and Bleeding Rainbows and Other Broken Spectrums from Hex Publishers. With this background, it’s not surprising that he is able to craft a compelling collection that is often humorous, sometimes darkly so. Publisher Interstellar Flight Press is an indie speculative publishing house that aspires to spotlight “innovative works from the best up and coming writers” in science fiction and fantasy, so this different approach to mythology is right up their alley.

In the “Author’s Note,” Gold notes that his intention in creating anOther Mythology was to “reshape the lens” of mythology. He observes, “there are many ways the old myths from Homer to the Prose Edda convey a heteronormative worldview.” Gold wasn’t content with the status quo. What mattered, he states, wasn’t “how we as queer people were seen,” but rather “how we saw ourselves.” Thus, his attempt to take “those old gods and monsters” and turn them on their heads is also an effort to reclaim mythology, and therefore reclaim ourselves.

This intention plays out in the themes of the 28 poems included in anOther Mythology. The “closet,” a familiar trope for the queer community, makes an appearance in a number of the poems, including “I am Dead (Hades’ Plea)”: “I’ve been here for countless millennia, waiting, watching, witness to the birth of stars though forever misunderstood and still stranded in my own closet of shadows.” It’s also front and centre in “The Myth of the Closet”:

Falling into the wide mouth of wood, regret, and silvery teeth, I watched the creation of stars like false expectations fill the sky, filtering the night with dim shadows and glittery lies, sprinkled o’er the flat faces of billions who knew nothing else.

Gold challenges heteronormative assumptions in poems like “False Expectations.” “Hetero Never-After” contains the lines “no more Old Binaries. No more straight connections from edge to edge as if things were meant to be.”

In “anOther Theogony, anOther Mythology,” Gold speaks of being different as a place of beauty and potential: “The Other stood taller and more imposing than the stars, anomalous and beautiful, and ripped the ancient chains from the cracked foundations as the System fell, piece by piece.” The potential that lies in what-could-be and what-if is another common theme. Again, from “Hetero Never-After”: “soon I’d watch their world smolder and hear new beginnings rise from the ash, bubbling, hissing with the crackle of new stars whose spectral radiance would cover the heavens in glitter and gold.”

Many of the poems contain a lyrical quality paired with compelling imagery. There is a wistful tone to some of the lines. In “Croesus’ Coin” the title object “slept forever with the bones of a sad, lonely king.” In “I am Yawn,” “A billion lights flickered in and out of existence, countless pains insinuated but never felt, and even gods were lost to me,” while in “Phobos Oneiroi: Into the Mouth of Fear,” “I followed the ruined road where not even Jupiter dared to tread.”

Gold weaves in humor, sometimes dark and sometimes sly. In “I am Death (Thanatos’ Arrogance),” Death notes, “I’ve been taught not to play with my food,” while in “False Expectations,” Gold observes “Maybe that was the drag, not me.” Even the titles of some of the poems, like “Drag, Queen of the Underworld” show Gold’s facility with word-play.

For those who may have found the old mythologies too confining, or dismissive of their own truths, Gold offers an opportunity to rise above pre-conceptions. As the poem “Drag, Queen of the Underworld” notes, “Stories get old after a few thousand years.” Gold invites the reader to envision a new start, as described “Hetero Never-After”: “With the final crunch and clamor of stone and staunch-hearted body tumbling over the rubble, this was their end and the beginning of anOther mythology.”

My own first real explorations into mythology occurred while I was in high school, a time when I was still figuring out who I was and who I wanted to be. One of my English teachers, recognizing that I had an appetite for more than was offered on the curriculum, was kind enough to suggest a reading program, and by my recollection (it’s been awhile) that program included a lot of mythology. I remember really enjoying the Norse myths, though the notion of Ragnarök was a bit of a downer. On the other hand, I felt a slight dissonance with the Greek pantheon and the stories told. Much as I enjoyed the myths, there was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on that created a disconnect. In university years, I might have realized that the heteronormative assumptions (highlighted by Zeus’s philandering) were part of that dissonance, but the notion of rewriting mythology to fit my own circumstance never occurred to me. Hence, I found Gold’s interpretations intriguing and empowering. There is strength to be found between the pages of anOther Mythology, particularly in its notion that difference can be a source of beauty and power, and that we need not be defined by old mythologies, created in another time.

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