They started with fairy tales. Then, they moved into the worlds of machines and magic. And now, after their first two anthologies won Shirley Jackson Awards, they venture further, into the world of myth. For their newest anthology, The Mythic Dream, recent Hugo winners Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien revisit myths of our past and explore how they can teach us about our present and future. With an incredible line-up of authors, Wolfe and Parisien have crafted another gorgeous anthology, full of stories that speak to the heart of why these tales have persisted for centuries, why they resonate with people of all times, and what they still have to teach us.
There are two main flavors of story in this collection: the first are those stories that stay in the original worlds of their myth, but bring new perspectives to the fore, grounding them in characters we’re not meant to sympathize with, or were not meant to understand.
Jeffrey Ford brings us sympathy for Sisyphus, who through eternal labor, finds the gifts of clarity and understanding. Stephen Graham Jones tells of the great king who fed his son to Zeus, and was turned to a wolf in punishment, who then yearned and struggled up to two legs to fight back against the god. T. Kingfisher’s lovely and gleeful tale talks of the Labors of Hercules through a fisher-bird who’s wondering what all the racket in the swamp is about anyway. Naomi Novik writes of Ariadne and Minotaur, as we see a sister’s pain at watching her bull of a brother locked away, and the measures she’ll go to to keep him safe. Leah Cypess’s young rabbi bargains to find an answer to the sorcerer killing the Jews of his country, but may have to turn against his greatest hope for an answer. Amal El-Mohtar tells us a story of a young woman born from flowers, made solely for a man, who finds true love and agency from the love of a book-loving, young woman, who helps her craft her escape. These tales are given new teeth, new claws, with which to pull the reader away from the classic renditions of these myths, and show new sides, new perspectives, and introduce new takes on old tales.
The other kinds of stories in this collection are where classic myths are propelled into new worlds, new genres, new futures and pasts, and through the lens of artificial intelligence and folk lore and starships and much more, are given new life.
Seanan McGuire tells us of Hades and Persephone meeting amid the glow of carnival lights. Arkady Martine takes Inanna to the stars, for a tragic tale of vengeance and family. John Chu turns Idunn’s golden apples into therapy that can rewrite a body’s language, and help you become who you’ve always meant to be. Alyssa Wong examines the relationship of Artemis and Arcturus as re-interpreted through the terrifying lens of Gamergate. Indrapramit Das brings Kali to life as an AI, fighting millions of digital trolls online. Achilles’ mother, prophesized and tossed aside, finally gets her due in Sarah Gailey’s tragic, triumphant tale. Rebecca Roanhorse turns a Native American myth of love and obsession into a cyberpunk story of how when grief and technology merge, the results can be bittersweet. Carlos Hernandez spins a beautiful story of parenting, mental illness, AI, and coconut heads; Kat Howard speaks of swans and stories and grief; J.Y. Yang weaves a world of celestial princesses cast down to hellish earth, working to rise up against those who’d deny their love; Ann Leckie gives us a world of hierarchy and retribution, immortals fighting immortals while the rest of the world looks on; Carmen Maria Machado cuts deep with the man who is cursed to eat and never grow full, drawing it out to its terrible, logical conclusion. These authors embrace the hearts of the myths they’ve chosen to work with, but instead of burrowing deeper, they spin outwards, grabbing at the what ifs, and the maybes, and the supposed.
These new myths champion queer stories and characters, don’t shy away from the political, and celebrate a wide variety of stories from many cultures and backgrounds. And these retellings are so enthralling because of what they affirm, or reaffirm, from the original myths: Love matters between everybody. Stories matter everywhere. Hubris will cost you. Justice can be found. Miracles can happen. Vengeance can be won. We can fight back against cruelty.
Wolfe and Parisien’s The Mythic Dream is a triumph of an anthology. Under their care and guidance, the eighteen stories interrogate why these myths persist, and how they can be effortlessly shifted into a reflection of our world today. Because myths don’t just teach us about how or why things came to be; at their core, they help us affirm who we are, and where we are.
The Mythic Dream is available from Saga Press.
Martin Cahill is a contributor to Tor.com, as well as Book Riot and Strange Horizons. He has fiction forthcoming at Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Fireside Fiction. You can follow his musings on Twitter @McflyCahill90.