Myth Understandings edited by Ian Whates
This weeks post is written by Sam (@SamaelTB). He has kindly provided his thoughts on Myth Understandings. I just want to take an opportunity to thank him.
For me the measure of a short story is really whether it’s a story at all. So many feel like prologues to novels or just don’t make sense in isolation. Others seem to feel it’s okay for to skip out on character development or feel the need to hint at a massively complex world that leaves the reader with more questions than it does answers.
I bought this collection because Ian Whates (the owner of publisher NewCon Press) told me to. He’s a lovely friendly chap and even asked us what we liked to read before pushing the hard sell!
The stories are divided into two themed groups, the first being Myth and the second Understandings. In reality ‘myth’ translates to ‘literary fantasy, fairy tales and stories written in a loose mythical style’ and ‘Understandings’ translates to ‘everything else’.
Storm Constantine – Owl Speak
I found this story both wonderful and frustrating at the same time. It opens with a myth that informs the shape of the story. The characters are therefore bound to their fate. I like my fantasy to be about defying the norm and living for yourself rather than being bound to doom. Also, I wasn’t sure what the owls had to do with anything.
Seaborne – Kari Spelling
This one starts brilliantly. A spirit of some sort finds a survivor of a shipwreck. The relationship between man and spirit develops. Then the story loses its way. Things happen for reasons that aren’t particularly clear and, while the sadness and atmosphere are amped up, it doesn’t make a massive amount of sense.
And Their Blood Will Be Prescient To Fire – Freda Warrington
A vampire story about a vampire who misses her one true love (who is dead). Yes. Collective sigh. There’s also an over-arching narrative about a woman who has somehow figured out that the vampire is a vampire and is obsessed with her, but the whole layer just wasn’t necessary and turned the short story into what feels more like the prologue of a novel.
Do You See? – Sarah Pinborough
This was the story that sold me the book. I knew it won a British Fantasy Award last year and it really didn’t disappoint. The writer manages to tease out the mystery of the monsters identity to the very last page and the whole thing is crammed with more creeping dread than you can shake a stick at.
Queen of the Sunlit Shore – Liz Williams
I love the sea and the idea of monstrous depths, water-bound spirits and all that kind of stuff. Then the writer mixes it in with a seaside ghost story complete with a mysterious figure in a painting. It’s just classic horror that reminds of M. R. James (except in a much more readable style).
Heart Song – Kim Lakin-Smith
This is my kind of story. A myth come fairytale with a dark, heavy metal tinge. Doomed love, guitars (sorry kanteles), weird underwater dwelling women with brain-sucking powers and an ending so very, very bleak. Definitely one of the best in this collection.
The Grass Princess – Gwyneth Jones
A beautiful fairy tale that was let down by a bit of a weak ending. Still, it won a World Fantasy Award so who am I to criticise? I just think the titular Grass Princess could’ve done with a bit more personality or even just a bit more screen time.
Found in the Translation – Pat Cadigan
This one comes with the prefix ‘Tales from the Big Dark’ so I’m assuming it’s part of a series. For an anthology like this, that’s a problem. The world is far too complex and there is far too much unexplained for it to make a lot of sense in isolation. It sounds like a great setting for a novel though!
TouchMeTM: Keeping in Touch – Heather Bradshaw
This was one of the most crammed stories I’ve read in quite a while. It constantly teetered on the edge of too damned much happening. Thankfully it managed to ride that wave and the result is a bizarre and funny story about working tech-support in a time when phone technology has taken a somewhat more personal path.
We Shelter – Leigh Kennedy
Confusing and really not very clear what was going on. There was some kind of group mind and hints at linked pasts, but it never really went anywhere or explained anything.
Dinosaur – Deborah J. Miller
Interesting idea that wasn’t particularly well explored. The author makes the cheap excuse of the main character never exploring her powers or trying to understand them and I found it hard to believe that news teams would fight to be the first to report a dinosaur sighting. The end, while suitably sad, didn’t make a lot of sense given what we knew of the character.
Further Orders – Elizabeth Priest
An awesome little tale about solitude and madness. Unfortunately the ending didn’t quite follow through on this promise. The last page introduction of another character and the revelation that comes with it felt like something I’d read before.
The Tollhouse – Claire Weaver
Souls stored in deep space and weird caretakers cataloguing them! This one had potential, but the writer withholds information about the world for a little too long. The ending isn’t quite deus ex, because we don’t know nearly enough about how or why this place works in order to make that distinction, but certainly feels a little easy. I wanted the character to earn it.
Body of Evidence – Justine Robson
The idea of a device that interprets people’s reactions for you is a good one. However, all the observations seemed very pedestrian and detached, and there wasn’t nearly enough humour. A change of character focus in the latter half makes the reader work that much harder to empathise and, as a device, doesn’t add anything.
The Ecologist and the Avon Lady – Tricia Sullivan
This is a strange one for Understandings to finish on, as I never quite understood what was going on. It was awesome regardless. Batshit crazy, trippy and awesome. The idea of an Avon Lady as an action hero who fights a reality altering monster is fantastic and even though the story itself makes absolutely no sense it was a pleasure to read.
All In All
This was a bit of a mixed bag with the Myth section providing the strongest stories and writing. Recommended for anyone who likes their darkness in short.