Mythcon 46, Days 3 & 4 (Final Report): A Very Avery Adventure

 

Great T-shirts were everywhere at Mythcon; these might have been summed up closing ceremonies as we all went our separate ways

Great T-shirts were everywhere at Mythcon; these might have summed up closing ceremonies as we all went our separate ways

By the third day, Mythcon reaches its difficult phase: The spirit is willing, brimming with undimmed enthusiasm for more thought-provoking fare; but the body is just plain beat. Long hours of panels and presentations and hanging out and staying up late have begun to take their toll. Plus being stuck in a convention center, with virtually no time spent outdoors doing something active in the fresh air, can punish anyone’s psyche. So my tepid response to a few of the day’s events may have had more to do with me, and not the events themselves.

Nobody will ever use the word “tepid” about David Bratman, however. I’m a man of unvarnished opinions boldly proclaimed, but in his presentation “The Problem of Arthur” Bratman dissected different Arthurian tales with such ferocity I felt like a critical wuss. The ’80s comic book Camelot 3000 left Bratman “captivated by its sheer awfulness,” while he deemed another rendition of the legend “supernatural thriller as supermarket checkout filler”…among other rhetorical grenades. I can’t say I agreed with all or even most of his assessments (as when he mentioned his hatred of Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock for being “too perfect”), but it’s safe to say from our laughter that no one in the room was bored. It was like watching a (slightly) toned-down Lewis Black in full-on rant mode. But even Bratman’s acerbic tongue had nothing but praise for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, to which we were treated—specifically the “Arthur Meets Dennis the Anarcho-Syndicalist” scene. On that bit of brilliance, everyone agreed.

We’d soon witness another bit of brilliance, or rather, hear it. I had the pleasure of meeting young Jasmine Edison at her inaugural Mythcon last year and dared to hope she’d be a repeat offender; she not only came back, but did so roaring (in her own demure way!) in her first-ever Mythcon presentation, assessing the Music of the Ainur from the opening of Tolkien’s Silmarillion. She posits that Melkor gets a bad rap; that musical innovation is about pushing boundaries, and that in smacking down Melkor for going too far with his experimental themes, Iluvatar was stifling innovation.

Edison goes on to ask, “How does the creation of Tolkien’s universe sound?” And then, thrillingly, she offers an answer. Edison is a trained musicologist and a composer, so she proceeded to play a recording of an orchestral performance of her interpretation of the Music of the Ainur. I haven’t been going to Mythcons long enough to be able to say if this was a Mythcon first, but it sure felt like something special, and despite volume difficulties that left us straining to hear the audio, the room was rapt.

Here’s the good news: You don’t have to strain to hear it, because if you missed it, you can listen to Edison’s composition (under the title “Sub-Creation”) here:
https://soundcloud.com/jasmine-edison/sub-creation

After lunch (improved from yesterday, thank heavens, but then there was nowhere to go but up), one of this year’s Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature nominees, Sarah Avery, gave a reading followed by a chat with the audience. I believe she read a passage from her nominated book, Tales from Rugosa Coven, about an Asatru (modern-day worship of the Norse gods) ceremony gone awry; if I’m uncertain, that’s because Avery has been completely immersed in Mythcon 46 and generous with her time, attending Bardic Circle every night to join in the sharing of story and song…and so over the course of these several days I’ve had the pleasure of hearing her read many times. I’m still itching to know how the adventure ends for the mom who goes all Ripley-in-Aliens to rescue her abducted son from the faerie realm…

I’d been looking forward to the “Fantasy and Worldview” panel, featuring Brian Attebery, Janice Bogstad, Mary Kay Kare, Ada Palmer, and author guest of honor Jo Walton, but it didn’t work for me. It felt somewhat unfocused and seemed to suffer from a bit of interpersonal tension among some panelists. But at that point in the afternoon, my reactions may have resulted from my faltering constitution (see the first paragraph). Certainly hats off to Jo Walton (pun intended; it seems she always wears a hat) for making every effort to be as clear as possible, even with a befuddled audience member (me).

These experiences with both Avery and Walton highlight one of the enduring appeals of Mythcon: its intimacy. As a small convention, it allows you not just to rub shoulders with folks making their mark in their field, but to exchange ideas with them and to get to know them face to face. (The enduring dilemma of Mythcon: Which of their and many other presentations to attend, when so much interesting stuff is unavoidably scheduled for the same time!)

Rounding out the afternoon, David Oberhelman put Monty Python and the Holy Grail in its 1970s UK political context; although repeating the same clip Bratman used (one can never see that bit too many times), his talk went down smoothly. Tougher to digest was Matthew Rettino’s examination of a Canadian idea of a multicultural utopia in Charles de Lint’s Moonheart, but then, as I’ve never read the book, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised this subject wasn’t thoroughly accessible for me. I still appreciated Rettino for his insight into what makes the Canadian voice in fantasy literature distinctive, and Mythcon for yet another forum where ethnic/racial/cultural diversity figured prominently.

Happily, I got a second wind by the time the banquet arrived. Sadly, it arrived without alcohol—no bar  in the room or wine for the table, the final nail in the coffin for the Hotel (in)Elegante—so several of us quickly rectified the situation with a dash through the hotel’s maze to its Rawhide Bar, where we imported libations back to the banquet hall. Now properly lubricated, we could enjoy the Olympics-style Golfimbul medal ceremony (kazoos were involved…don’t ask); the clerihew contest (poems of a very silly sort…don’t ask); visual puns with food (I can’t even begin to explain); and a sketch by the Not Ready for Mythcon Players (far less polished than the Emerson-Foster-Van Loo musical performance, “Sympathy for the Nazgul,” at the costume contest the night before—and I say that as a Not Ready for Mythcon Player). Jo Walton’s keynote speech offered advice to every writer by doing exactly what she was advising: She let her words show, rather then tell.

Finally, during the banquet’s Mythopoeic Awards, Sarah Avery took home the Aslan for Best Adult Literature! The honor was well-deserved, and since many of us felt like we’d come to know her during Mythcon, we were thrilled. And as with so much of Mythcon 46, it spoke well of the Mythopoeic Society; in a group with a strong Christian presence linked to the Inklings’ own religious tradition, members saw fit to embrace a Wiccan author who reflects her own religious tradition in her writing—an embrace of diversity born solely from a desire to recognize the best work. A complete list of the night’s Mythopoeic Award winners is at mythsoc.org.

Bardic Circle included readings from Avery, fresh off her Mythy win; the soulful poems of Joe Christopher; and lots of drinking songs we all joined in on. Or were the drinking songs the night before? It all blurs together…

By the next morning, Mythcon was drawing to its close, but not without a graphic (as in graphic novel) presentation from Vicki Ronn–a two-time clerihew winner and, considering the mountain of material she waded through in comic books this year and in the complete run of TV’s Once Upon a Time last year, perhaps the most long-suffering presenter at Mythcon. Her guided walk through the most memorable interpretations of the Arthurian legend in comics/graphic novels delighted the eye as much as the mind, and challenged us to consider this unique storytelling medium as a valid form of literature in its own right.

Unfortunately, my flight schedule forced me to skip the members’ meeting and closing ceremonies, a singing of songs that is no less of a bonding experience for being so light-hearted. I’ll have to make up for it next year at Mythcon 47 in San Antonio.

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Mythcon 46, Day 2: Not English, Not French, Not Latin Christian

A towering Gandalf the Grey at the costume contest

A towering Gandalf the Grey at the costume contest

Hotel Elegante? Not so much. It officially cemented its hold on the title of Most Disappointing Mythcon Venue at lunch, which consisted primarily of cold cuts and Wonder bread. Let me say that again: Cold cuts. Wonder bread. I resisted the temptation to compress its squishiness into doughy balls of dubious nutritional value, and instead slathered on enough Gulden’s to choke it down.

Fortunately, Mythcon primarily promises food for thought, and it delivered today in a banquet of surprising diversity. Scholar guest of honor John Rateliff offered remarks at opening ceremonies on the autobiographical key to understanding Charles Williams’ Arthurian cycle of poems. (The fact that my desire to explore Williams’ work remains at basement level absolutely does not reflect on Rateliff, whose remarkable research manages to be both thorough and even a bit racy.) The day of presentations that followed ran the gamut from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Oscar Wao presentation was a work in progress, digging into the use of Tolkien references in Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to create a mythic mirror through which the Dominican experience could be reflected. Presenters Stephanie K. Brownell and Sara D. Rivera have so much fascinating material to work through here (not the least how or even if the Latin American magical realism literary tradition factors in) that they should be busy for quite some time. Their mere presence and choice of material was the beginning of a day that showed that Mythcon is not only open to ethnically and racially diverse interpretations of the Inklings, but is actively encouraging them.

Then lunch. (Hush. We will not speak of it.)

Hats off to Peter Oas, who overcame technical difficulties to give an overview of the evolution of a beloved Tolkien character, Galadriel. She seems to have been one of those creations that we authors find take on a life of their own; she started out not nearly as important or amazing as the great elven lady she eventually became in Tolkien’s mythos. (I’ve experienced this myself, principally with Songs of the Metamythos‘s Chronos, who started off in my work as a glorified keeper of the universe’s stopwatch and gradually asserted himself throughout the narrative as so much more.)

And then–oh deliciousness!–came the presentation I’d most anticipated, and Kris Swank hit it out of the park. Her tour of the very real, historical presence of people of African descent in ancient Britain, in Arthurian literature (usually playing the role of foreign potentate who eventually submits to Arthur and Christianity, only to then be ditched from the story), and in contemporary pop culture interpretations of Arthurian legend (still playing the foreigner, now of lowly  birth, and still getting ditched) was a tour de force of blunt talk, refreshing humor, and interesting revelations. Plus Swank’s sharp, smart speaking style had the room so engaged we were soon joining her in unison for her refrain of “not French, not English, not Latin Christian” (the effective definition of saracen and similar terms that lump different peoples together as “other” in medieval texts).

But don’t take my word for it; read an abbreviated version of her paper for yourself at here:
http://www.academia.edu/2494445/_Black_in_Camelot_Race_and_Ethnicity_in_Arthurian_Legend

Maybe because I lived and breathed TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the day it debuted to its finale, I found Janet B. Croft’s talk on how the character stuck with that name, and no other–and the significance of that–the most clear and well-argued presentation of Mythcon thus far. (Croft has made a name for herself–pardon the pun–by returning repeatedly to the theme of the importance of naming in various fantastical works. She intends to compile all that work into a single book, which should kick ass, to put it in Buffyish terms.) What started as a movie’s extended one-liner–the jokey juxtaposition of a typical valley girl moniker with a deathly dire role–became the essence of the show, as we watched Buffy learn to navigate her two sides, refusing to relinquish either and finding strength in the duality’s dynamic equilibrium. And I learned about the concept of the “female naming plot” for the first time.

So make like a Scooby and do your research by reading Janet Croft’s “‘It’s good to be me’: Buffy’s Resistance to Renaming” here.

By now, someone unfamiliar with Mythcon is no doubt convinced it’s the most wonkish geek gathering ever. The evening’s costume contest will erase that misconception right quick. Since everybody wins, the “prizes” themselves are an integral part of the fun (take, for example, the lovely Sand Snake who won the “Least Bloody Game of Thrones Outfit Ever” award).

As always, we finish with Bardic Circle, where songs are sung, poems shared, and stories told (I tested out some material from my next book, a light-hearted space opera I’ve been working on). I go to bed exhausted, with a head full of crazy ideas, and hungry for more.

 

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Mythcon 46, Day 1: Violation by Any Other Name

The Rocky Mountains of Colorado Springs, CO

The Rocky Mountains of Colorado Springs, CO

For one thing, the Pikes Peak region of Colorado in summertime is Rocky-Mountain gorgeous.

For another, here in Colorado Springs for the 46th annual meeting of the Mythopoeic Society–dedicated to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and other “Inkling” authors and the creation of mythic literature in general–we’re in a hotel and convention center. College campuses boast undeniable charm (last year’s Mythcon unfolded in the old-school East Coast environs of Wheaton College), but there’s something to be said for not having to make your own bed or to share a communal bathroom down the hall. This particular hotel feels rather dated and past its prime, with a maze-like layout that involves 2 elevator rides to get anywhere. But Mythcon isn’t about the facilities.

It’s about gathering with like-minded folks from across the country (and other countries) who share an admittedly geeky passion for fantasy literature on two distinct levels: the scholarly, and the playful fun of the fan. It’s one of the few places I’ve found where one can explore unabashedly mythic themes–in works of fiction that have become fantasy classics, in the pursuits of others, and in sharing one’s own writing–and find a receptive and constructively critical audience. That, and the fact that now that I’m on my third Mythcon there’s an aspect of a reunion with familiar friendly faces, keeps me coming back for more.

This first day only qualifies as a half day, what with arrivals in the morning. (Delightful to run into the always smart and dynamic comic-book and role-of-the-crone researcher Vicki Ronn again right as I walked in the door, and to meet Kris Swank, who shares my passion for the overlooked diversity of fantasy’s many human faces…more on both in the days to come.) Everybody plunged right into the afternoon’s presentations…

Megan Abrahamson and Lynn Darga offered a great way to start, treating The Silmarillion as a historical document and highlighting how acknowledging the bias of the particular historian’s perspective gives a more nuanced insight into the characters of Tolkien’s legendarium. In particular, rape and other violations of others’ will in the text are disguised or revealed, depending on the victor who tells the story. (And they “crunched the numbers” on word usage in the text to back themselves up!)

That same duo were later part of a panel with fellow Mythopoeic Society steward Lynn Maudlin and former steward Ellie Farrell discussing how the society can maximize its outreach in the digital age. (They’re working on updating the website…) Everyone grapples with this these days, of course; here are some of the ways you can get to know the Mythopoeic Society if you’re not here at Mythcon:

Website
http://www.mythsoc.org
on Twitter
@mythsoc
@2mythcon
on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/MythSoc
https://www.facebook.com/groups/61115826282/

Janet B. Croft rounded out the afternoon with an examination of the devolution of villains’ names in The Lord of the Rings. The villains become progressively less powerful as their names become less identified with the object of their power. Intriguing parallels to our real world present themselves, a world where the names of places can convey ownership and dominion (e.g., disputed lands in the Middle East; mountains–Mt. Everest/Qomolungma/Sagarmatha–and other landmarks where native and Western claims conflict). Read her analysis for yourself here.

After a social hour of booze and cake (and more booze), the long day ended with Bardic Circle, a sort of exchange of song and storytelling around a conceptual campfire, strictly for those who choose to participate. We were treated to a clever original poem, excerpts from Sarah Avery’s droll Tales from a Rugosa Coven (read by the author herself), and any number of great songs (my rendition of “Blue Moon,” in honor of the one floating outside above us, definitely not among that greatness). Maybe because of the talk of rape earlier in the day, I chose to read the prelude and aftermath of Death’s rape from my own Songs of the Metamythos. Hopefully that was a bit more successful than my crooning.

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Music for a Metamythos

The Metamythos mandala tells the story of Songs of the Metamythos in symbols. How might the story be told in music?

The Metamythos mandala tells the story of SONGS OF THE METAMYTHOS in symbols. How might the story be told in music?

“So was there any particular music you were listening to when you were writing your book?”

It’s a fair question, considering the book’s title: Songs of the Metamythos. In my book of original myths. as the name implies, music serves as the central metaphor. I was thinking I should answer that question, when something happened.

James Horner died.

The composer of numerous excellent film scores (he won an Oscar for Titanic), Horner was cut down way too young in a plane crash, depriving us of what music he had yet to give. It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the blog next door (Your Sacrificial Moviegoer) that I’m a huge fan of good movie music, and of James Horner in particular. By design, a well-crafted score subtly cues emotion and conjures imagery; consequently, much of what I was listening to for inspiration while I was writing Songs of the Metamythos was music from the movies.

So in honor of James Horner, I offer this partial musical tour of the Metamythos. The titles are those of myths from the book, followed by links to YouTube excerpts of the music:

The Singer and the Dragon

In this creation myth, the Song of Diversity, which drives everything that comes after, is first uttered. The essence of that song—from one voice, many voices—is echoed in “Secret Songs” (from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass), a round that starts with one singer, only to be picked up by a growing chorus.

Cue this link up from 3:33 to 5:50 and listen to it in the dark, with the volume cranked up. It’s not from the movies, but it’s no less awesome for it.

Tying the Knot

In this coming-of-age myth, young Lucky is challenged to ride a ghost horse, and in so doing sees visions of the past flowing around him:

…and the world rewinds: Stars whirl, the moon runs away backwards as the sun unsets in the west, blue sky chases dark into day the wrong way around, while the ghost horse trots without ever moving an inch. A flock of sparrows flies in reverse through Lucky’s head as if he too is a ghost, the birds collecting the propulsion of their wings tail first. The wind of it pulls at the strands of his hair and tickles his scalp; he can’t help but laugh, as spent petals everywhere fall upwards to reattach to stems and rediscover their bloom.

John Williams, perhaps the most famous of film composers alive today (Jaws, Star Wars, E.T.) provides the backdrop: “Gillian’s Escape” from one of his less well-known scores, for Brian De Palma’s 1978 movie The Fury. Consistent with events in that film, the music turns abruptly sinister at 2:26, but until then it conveys the thrill and wonder of a wild ride.

The Curse

Fatale, the once proud goddess of death, has been laid low, wronged in the most terrible way one can imagine. Unable to exact revenge with her life-ending touch, Death summons other forces at her command:

She rose up, calling to the dark, the comforting, enveloping dark, and it came running like a river. It flowed over her, washing her beautiful illusions away as she embraced her bitter essence, and it clothed her nakedness in black. Rising to her feet, clad now in robes befitting a goddess of the shadow realm, she turned to face him who had violated her, and remembered who and what she was.

She was Fatale, child of Night, daughter of the dark; she who prowls the pitiless chill of winter and the wilting, scorching climes, leaving famine in her footsteps and plague in the path behind. The sweat of her toil waters the roots of every poisonous herb, and the gore of every predator’s kill drips as the lacquer on her fingernails. The venom of viper’s fang and spider’s bite is the blood of her veins, the stench of decay her reeking perfume, her breath the musty exhalation of an unsealed tomb. And in her eyes, the deep dark pits of her blackened eyes, she holds the thing most feared: inescapable, irrefutable nothingness. She was magnificent. She was horrible. She was Death. And she would have vengeance, such as the world had never known.

And then, with a few words, she lays a curse upon her foe that forever alters the course of human history.

Thank you, James Horner, for the only music that matches these moments; from the soundtrack of Brainstorm comes “Lillian’s Heart Attack”:

Truth and Consequences

This allegory sends a young woman named Peregrine on a quest for truth. To find it, she must follow the child goddess Aeriel on a dizzying trip through Night’s fantastical palace of Umbra:

So they ran, deeper and deeper into the house, through room upon room as Peregrine unlocked more doors with her obsidian key. Behind one door, a parlor of dancing invisibles; behind the next, a city by a sea of glass, its smooth surface shattering at the shore into a million glittering shards. They ran through a room that kept folding and unfolding on itself in elegant, ever evolving symmetry; she heard the true name of the Great Goddess echoing here and wanted to chase it to its final syllable, but with Malus hot on their heels she couldn’t keep running around in circles. They ran into a room that was all sky, yet she didn’t fall; instead she floated effortlessly, permeable and white, her gentle margins shifting with the wind…in the next room she was herself again, and her lover (“Here I have a lover!”) was waiting as always on a mossy hill; they kissed as they had for years, whenever Peregrine found her way back…and then the two rooms collided, and she was snatched from her lover’s arms and hurled into the sky. She reached to restore their embrace and came down as summer rain, her wetness splashing her love’s contours. By the time she’d soaked through the ground and come out the other side, Aeriel leading her to the next room, she was Peregrine again, only with the memory of another’s touch embedded in her skin.

Alexandre Desplat composed something that sounds like a cross between Philip Glass and Richard Wagner, as prologue to the controversial film Birth. It captivated me from the moment I first heard it, sitting in a darkened theater; to me, it will always be The Journey Through Umbra.

After Dark

Prophecies abound in this myth of things foretold. I won’t spoil its revelations; suffice to say its tale of nightfall appropriately centers on Night, the Lord of Things Unseen—a strange and forbidding god, full of mystery and magic, whose motivations and machinations are known only to him.

The shifting, sinuous main theme of Alien by the late, great Jerry Goldsmith (the original Planet of the Apes, Star Trek: The Motion Picture) carries the menace and otherworldly beauty that is the elusive essence of Night.

And the theme’s end title reprise and expansion (inexplicably not used in the film) hints at what more Night might become.

 

 

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And Now for Something Completely Different…

starfleet-250w

Someone asked me recently about one of my old projects, Star Trek: Starfleet Academy. To answer their question, I’m posting the timeline that Paramount approved for the comic book series, before the plug was pulled by Marvel’s loss of the Star Trek license. These are effectively concise overviews of the issues we never got to publish…the further adventures of Matt Decker, Pava, T’Priell, Nog, and Edam Astrun…young Starfleet cadets trying to find their way in a very big universe.

Not really new myth…or is it? Some argue that Star Trek presents a mythic universe, complete with archetypes (Klingons as violent but honor-bound warriors, Romulans as sneaky schemers, etc.). You be the judge, and see if you can find some mythic themes in what we had planned for the series.

 

revised

STARFLEET ACADEMY timeline

(20-29)

 

Issue #20

Time out of Mind 1: Decker

The cadets are more intrigued by the Viator artifact than ever when it survives being plunged into a star. But when Pava and Decker come into contact with it, with Edam nearby, gene-interfacing properties of the artifact are triggered, interacting unexpectedly with Edam’s telepathic abilities. Decker & Pava drop to the floor, their minds apparently wiped clean.

As it turns out, the artifact accidentally combined with Edam’s telepathy to hurl Decker’s and Pava’s consciousnesses back in time, into the bodies of their genetic ancestors. What follows is a lighthearted “Back to the Future” issue: Decker finds himself trapped in the body of his great-grandfather, Matt Decker, during his Academy days, when he met and wooed his great-grandmother…and now our Decker must fumble his way to seducing her to ensure his own survival! And to make things worse, he has a rival–a lothario cadet by the name of Christopher Pike! Matt manages to win the lady for his ancestor, just in time to be retrieved by Edam, who’s been working laboriously with T’Priell to right things (and sparking unusual romantic fireworks along the way, as her Vulcan side says stay away, but her Romulan side says come hither). Decker, who’s always been intimidated by his family legacy as glorified by his father, realizes from his experiences that his ancestors were human and flawed just as he is.

 

Issue #21

Time out of Mind 2: Pava

Our “Xena, Warrior Princess” issue: Pava finds herself back on Old Andor, where survival is a daily struggle. The men guard the geothermal hot springs–tropical oases that are the key to the long-term survival of the cluster–with their lives, while the cluster’s women go forth aboard ice schooners, hunting and warring among the snows blanketing most of that world. In the body of an ancestor, Pava is the captain of just such a vessel, committed to slaughter hundreds from a rival cluster under a long-ago vendetta. She must, or she alters history…but if she does, she must live with that atrocity staining her soul. She returns to her own life, thanks to Edam’s and T’Priell’s efforts, finally understanding the futility of vengeance, and how some Andorian customs are better left in history’s dustheap.

 

Issue #22

Q=X

Charlie Evans comes crashing in on the Academy, turning to the only people he knows–Omega Squad–for help, with Q hot on his heels. Q has made Charlie an offer he can’t refuse: Join the Q Continuum, or die (there’s somewhat of a precedent for this, from the TNG episode “True Q”). The problem is, joining the Continuum is the last thing Charlie wants, because all he’s ever longed for is human contact. Q agrees that Charlie can stay among humanoids–if he can get Omega Squad to accept him. Weird situations abound as Q throws them curveballs, Charlie gets them out of it, and the squad faces the reality that life with an omnipotent Charlie may not be possible, despite the best of intentions on both sides. (Also, a rivalry starts to develop as Charlie is drawn to T’Priell, making Edam a wee bit jealous.) Finally, Charlie gets Omega Squad to accept him by apparently using his powers to wish his powers away permanently. Q is foiled…

…but having seen the artifact, now locked in a physics lab, Q cryptically tells the squad that they’re in for more than they can handle soon anyway!

SUBPLOT: Somewhere in deep space, a Borg vessel encounters a massive alien mother ship strangely resembling our artifact. Borg attempts at assimilation are futile, and the ship completely ignores them–except to abduct a dozen or so Borg, all the drones between the ages of 16 and 19.

 

Issue #23

In Search of Kamilah Goldstein

A quiet character study as Edam reaches a crisis. His on-again, off-again relationship with T’Priell is maddening, his psi talent messed with his teammates’ heads and nearly got them lost in time, Zund has been acting weirdly removed since the Romulan affair, the parents he lives to displease are now pleased that he’s at the Academy…all of which puts him one step away from deciding to resign. He’s never quite blended with the other cadets anyway, so before he quits he decides to investigate the one thing they all have in common that he doesn’t share: friendship with the slain Kamilah.

So Edam goes to Jerusalem and, via Edam’s telepathic journeys through the minds of people who knew her, he and we get glimpses of the woman and her life: what was it about this girl that could inspire Pava to turn her back on Andorian vengeance, Decker to find it in himself to forgive T’Priell’s betrayal, T’Priell to struggle to get her personas to work together? In the process, Edam actually discovers the truth about himself–that he’s ready to run from the Academy because, for the first time in his life, there are people he cares about and a place to call home. And that scares him. But rather than run from that, Edam decides to take on Kamilah’s mantle as a unifying force and work to preserve the team…even if he won’t admit that publicly to his teammates!

SUBPLOT: A fleet of Jem’hadar ships attack the massive alien mother craft. It abducts every single Jem’Hadar from one of the vessels–only to spit them back out as unwanted genetic ooze. It then continues on its way, ignoring every other Jem’hadar vessel that uselessly attacks it.

 

Issue #24

Face of the Reaper

Halakith gets a signal from her people and is lured to a distant world, accompanied by Yoshi. Along the way, the two manage to reach an accomodation, only to discover that the signal is a deception of the beings who built the mystery artifact: the Viators. A powerful humanoid constuct–a Golem–sent by these enigmatic beings relentlessly pursues Halakith; apparently because she’s the last of her kind, her uniqueness somehow makes her valuable to them. With the Viators’ actions confirming that she’s the last one, she turns herself over to the Viators so as to meet the fate of all the other Halakith saurians. In doing so, she saves Yoshi’s life–bartering her own for his–and gives a gift to the Federation by hiding a probe on her person when the Viators take her aboard their massive mother ship, sending the first telemetry on who or what these mysterious beings are.

And I’ll find a way to work in Omega Squad, too.

 

CHIP: This issue is deliberately vague, since I want to be able to pop in a “How I Spent the War” story, depending on developments on the DS9 TV show regarding the war with the Dominion.

 

Issue #25–DOUBLE-SIZE

Dark Harvest

Based on the information coming in from every part of the Alpha Quadrant–Kovold’s warning, Murg’s condition, Omega Squad’s mental time-tripping via ancestors, Halakith’s fate and the Viators’ selective kidnapping of other sentients–a pattern begins to emerge. The Viators’ activity centers around genetics. But the abducted sentients have nothing in common genetically; in fact, the only link is that they were all young adults.

The Federation’s attempts at peaceful communication go ignored, just as the attacks of a Klingon fleet go ignored.   But the danger the Viators pose, deliberately or not, becomes obvious once Starfleet figures out that the agonizing, grotesque fate of Murg and Halakith–total genetic instability–has been the fate of everyone the Viators have kidnapped. And worse, the massive Viator vessel is working its way towards Earth.

Viators–mammoth silicon-based lifeforms with chrono-phase technology–are so different from virtually everything previously encountered, that Starfleet fears they may not even realize that the beings they kidnap are sentient. So in a final, desperate attempt to make contact, they bring Edam, a Horta, and Vulcan priestess T’Lathne together in a three-way mindmeld, trying to create a consciousness capable of telepathically reaching the Viators. For a moment, they succeed–and come out of it terrified.

The Viators, it turns out, are “trans-sentient”–their consciousnesses are unknowable to us, as far above our own as ours is above the simple electrochemical “thoughts” of an ameba. They know we’re sentient…and they don’t care. As far as they’re concerned, we’re raw material: Our DNA is the microchip of their organic computing system, its genetic mutations and permutations ideal for solving complex equations. The best of all possible DNA comes when an organism’s biochemistry has stabilized after puberty, but before advancing age causes replication errors and DNA degradation–in other words, young adults. Like Starfleet cadets. And the best sampling of young adults would include lots of different species, offering a terrific variety of DNA. Like at the Academy.

Which is where the Viators will arrive in 24 hours.

Starfleet attempts to evacuate the cadets, only to have one of the Viators’ Golems, sent to scout ahead, set up an isolation field around San Francisco to hold everyone there until the mother ship arrives.

An armada of starships to defend the Academy is utterly ineffectual and gets completely ignored.

And a last scheme to use Omega Squad, partially “invisible” to Viator sensors thanks to their previous exposure to Viator tech, backfires. The cadets penetrate the mother ship’s defenses long enough to release an organic virus, hoping it will destroy the organic computer and thus the Viators. But the computer’s immune defenses wipe out the virus, and the Viators strike back with a chrono-beam that instantly disintegrates Omega Squad.

The Viators then proceed to obliterate the Academy and digest virtually every cadet there is.

 

Issue #26

Homeless

Welcome to the world of Reno Sanchez. She’d be real sexy if she didn’t spend her days eating out of dumpsters and her nights sandwiched between passed-out drunks on lower Broadway; now that December has arrived, it’s getting awfully cold on New York’s mean streets, and she’ll take any warmth she can get. She’s hoping all the hoopla over the coming New Year–going from 1999 to 2000–will bring lots of stupid tourists to Times Square so she can pick their pockets. That’s the extent of her hopes for the future. Besides, it’s not like it’s the start of a new millenium–unlike most people, she knows that won’t come until 2001. After all, she’s pretty smart; in fact, she’s a genius, one who couldn’t fit in, fell into some bad stuff–heroin–and the rest she doesn’t like to think about. Now, even though she’s clean, she knows she won’t make it much past 2000 anyway. So she lives day to day. Maybe this chick passing by will give me a handout, she thinks.

Except this chick’s naked. And confused. And blue.

Things really get crazy for Reno as others, just as weird if not so obviously so, keep popping out of nowhere around her. Finally, there are four, only one of whom speaks English. Scared shitless, she runs; they pursue, thinking they must be here for a reason, that she must somehow be important to them. Then they realize that she’s homeless, a derelict…useless. They move on, thinking of their own problems, and, under the circumstances, ignoring hers.

Omega Squad figures out that, because of chroniton resonances from their first experience with the Viator artifact, they weren’t killed by the Viator chrono-disintegrator; instead they were thrown back in time–just them, not their clothes or equipment (Decker is without an eye). But why here, why now, why all drawn by the timestream to that unfortunate girl?

And now that they’re here, how do they get home?

Edam has worse news. Because his consciousness is shifting temporally back and forth between his own body and that of his “ancestor,” his father, in the 24th century (just like what happened to Decker and Pava in issues #20 & 21), he knows what’s happened in their own time. The Academy’s destroyed, and the Viators threaten the rest of the Alpha Quadrant; the cadets have no home to return to, even if they could. They’re trapped in a hostile, primitive world, with no place to go.

They’re truly homeless.

And they discover everything that means as, without money or friends, they’re forced into a hard-scrabble life on the streets. Just when those streets threaten to overwhelm them, Reno steps in and gives them the help they were too preoccupied to give her. She shows them how to survive on the streets.

The issue ends with that survival in serious question, as a Golem arrives back through time and confronts them all, looking to slaughter Reno. And if they could barely defeat a Golem when they had 24th century tech, how will they do it now?

That’s when Gary Seven shows up.

 

Issue #27

Seven of ’99

Gary Seven (from TOS’s “Assignment: Earth”)–older, grayer, but still a prime specimen of humanity–has been drawn to the scene by the surges in chroniton particles. He and the cadets work desperately to save Reno. The biggest problem, however, is Reno herself. She keeps deliberately putting herself in harms way. Only after the Golem is defeated does Reno explain.

She wants to die, because she has AIDS, and unable to afford life-prolonging medication, she faces a slow, horrible death. She figures this is quicker.

After overcoming initial shock (“You’re denied essential medical treatment…because of money?!?”), the cadets are more perplexed than ever. Through Edam’s telepathic time shifts, they’ve been able to check Federation databases, and there is no record of Reno making any significant contribution to history, nor of her having any descendants. She does indeed seem to die as just one more statistic. So why are the Viators out to kill someone unimportant? Why were the cadets drawn here?

The only explanation Gary Seven can provide is that, for some unknown reason, Reno is charged to the max with chroniton particles. “Oh, and by the way,” he adds, “I think I can use my transporter to send you all home.” The cadets, convinced that Reno is significant against the Viators even if they don’t know why, prevail upon her to make the trip with them; she’s got nothing to lose, after all.

 

Issue #28

Second Chances

The cadets and Reno arrive back in the 24th Century a split-second after their “disintegration,” back aboard the Viator mother ship, before the Academy’s destruction. And after much conflict, Reno finally puts two and two together…

…and drops some of her HIV-infected blood into the Viators’ genetic computer matrix.

Confronted with not just a virus, but one that attacks the immune system itself, and one that hasn’t been seen on Earth in centuries, the Viators’ countervirus defenses are overwhelmed. The system shuts down, and the Viators are destroyed–but not before they dispatch a lone Golem into the past to destroy this menacing girl at her point of origin.

Hours later, Reno is cured of AIDS with a simple injection, a cure from the 21st century buried in ancient Earth files. But she can’t go back, because to do so would be to change history, for now she’d live, maybe have children…so she stays on as a special participant/observer attached to Omega Squadron.

She’s left with a lot of ironies to ponder: the time paradox that brought her here (she was a magnet for the others because of her chroniton polarity, yet she ended up polarized in the past because of being sent to the future; the Viators dispatched a Golem to destroy her at her point of origin, yet it was that Golem’s presence in the past that convinced the cadets that Reno was important to bring her to the future)…that a disease that was a nightmare in her day ends up saving humanity’s future…that the Viators, to whom we are primitive biological artifacts, were brought down by a microbe, what WE would consider a primitive biological artifact…but most of all, that she’s gone from being a doomed, homeless lowlife, to being a dreamworld’s savior with a new lease on life, in the blink of an eye. And this time, she plans to make the best of it.

 

CHIP: I think the possibilities inherent in the Reno character are ripe–adjusting to her new world, dazzled by her swift change in fortune, dealing with the legacy of her sordid past, and how her backwards primitivism conflicts with and challenges utopia.

But best of all, she gives us a fresh perspective on the Star Trek universe. Through Reno’s eyes, readers will see that universe again as if for the first time–an ideal way to continue with this book’s introductory spin without alienating longtime fans. In fact, I think it’s longtime fans who’ll love this the most.

 

Issue #29

Men in Gray

A lighthearted issue as “Mutt & Jeff” from Temporal Investigations hound Reno and make her life a living hell!

 

 

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For Gabriel Fernandez, 2005-2013

Gabriel Fernandez

Gabriel Fernandez

Why do we need myth? Because sometimes it gives us a slim chance to bear the unbearable.

In the mythos I write, Fatale, goddess of death, must bear and in turn causes terrible suffering. But also, as often as not, she appears as a woman of incredible beauty. I look to her now, because I need something to hold on to, after reading the story of Gabriel Fernandez. Be warned: This is not an easy story to read.

The Los Angeles Times reports (the full story is here):

“Before 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez was allegedly beaten to death by his mother [Pearl Fernandez] and her boyfriend [Isauro Aguirre], they doused him with pepper spray, forced him to eat his own vomit and locked him in a cabinet with a sock stuffed in his mouth to muffle his screams…

“Fernandez and Aguirre hit Gabriel with a belt buckle, a metal hanger, a small bat and a wooden club, Gabriel’s brother said. Their mother once jabbed Gabriel in the mouth with a bat and knocked out several teeth…

“The abuse worsened in the months leading up to Gabriel’s death, according to testimony from two of his siblings, both of whom are minors. They said Gabriel was forced to eat cat feces, rotten spinach and his own vomit. He slept in a locked cabinet and wasn’t let out to go to the bathroom. Fernandez and Aguirre called Gabriel gay, punished him when he played with dolls and forced him to wear girls’ clothes to school, the siblings said…

“[On May 22, 2013,] When paramedics arrived, they found Gabriel naked in a bedroom, not breathing, with a cracked skull, three broken ribs and BB pellets embedded in his lung and groin. He died two days later.”

There has to be another ending to this story.

In that ending, in those final moments, Gabriel sees what no one else can. She smiles at him like he’s just been born, the kind of smile he’s been aching for; and from that smile he is certain of two things: She understands suffering, and she means to take his away for good. After knowing only horror from the woman who was supposed to love him best, he is folded into arms that have waited for him his whole life. At last he has found the mother he should have had all along, who loves him for who he is, no matter what. And the pain and horror melt away.

That’s my myth for Gabriel, and I choose to believe it was so.

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Mythcon 45: Days 3 & 4 (Final Report)

At Mythcon, Camelot comes to the costume contest: Chris Gaertner as King Arthur and Sørina as Morgause.

At Mythcon, Camelot comes to the costume contest: Chris Gaertner as King Arthur and Sørina Higgins as Morgause.

I should have learned from last year, but I suppose there’s no way around the exhaustion on Day 3 that comes from so much stimulation from dawn until the wee hours. I win the struggle to keep my eyes open, mostly, by force of will and by keeping my hands busy scribbling notes as I gobbled up the day’s sessions:

  • An analysis of the distinctions that separate genre fiction–fantastic fiction, high fantasy, and science fiction–in the U.S. and France (to probably no one’s surprise, STAR WARS straddles the high fantasy/SF boundary but, push come to shove, lands more in the fantasy camp)…
  • How the Harry Potter series fits squarely into a tradition of dystopian literature, alongside such works as 1984 (I’d say HP has a strong dystopian element, but that’s not the major thrust, as evidenced by the very different outcome for the protagonist)…
  • Janet Brennan Croft’s look at the use of the names taken by and given to characters and things in The Lord of the Rings (it’s a great technique for reinforcing themes, underscoring character, and reflecting plot developments)…
  • …and a search for Darwinian influence on The Hobbit and LotR. (I have to admit, I didn’t get this one; Tolkien’s work shows little evidence of any influence of evolutionary theory, IMHO. It’s not a natural fit for most works of high fantasy, let alone one prominently featuring a race that’s immortal, slow to reproduce, and unchanging–making elves completely removed from Darwinian forces of natural selection.)

But my favorite presentation of the day was grad student John Polanin’s dissection of Hell in the works of Neil Gaiman. (Full disclosure: Despite my long history with comics, until a month ago I’d never read Gaiman, deliberately avoiding both his prose and his comics because, based on what I knew of his work, it verged close to my own, and I didn’t want any undue influence. Now that my own book of original myths is finished–coming soon!–I finally read American Gods…but that’s the subject for a blog post all its own.) For one thing, Polanin has an engaging, conversational style that injects easygoing humor in the right places. For another, Gaiman holds a fascinating place in our pop culture. And best of all, Polanin’s talk led me to another “eureka!” moment…but I’ll save that for another blog post, about superhero comics and myth.

MY BAD: In my previous post I should have mentioned two more events. On Saturday morning, scholar guest of honor Richard West, a truly lovely guy, gave a truly wide-ranging talk on the theme of this year’s Mythcon, “Where Fantasy Fits”; and that night, a collaborative reading of Beowulf (in part) brought the sounds of Old English to remarkable life, each passage followed by the newly released Tolkien translation. The passion of both the poem and the readers came shining through.

On this Sunday evening, the last night of the convention, focus shifted to fan fun, with a dinner banquet where people play with their food (you had to be there), a small everybody’s-a-winner costume contest, a firmly tongue-in-cheek drama from the Not Ready for Mythcon Players (yours truly was drafted), and a clever poetry slam. On the less frivolous side, this year’s author guest of honor, Ursula Vernon (creator of the graphic novel series Digger), humorously reminded us of our duty as storytellers, and the winners of 2014’s Mythopoeic Society awards were announced. Congrats to all!

More socializing, more Bardic Circle, more getting to bed way too late…

…and the wrap up this morning. The sole panel I attended, on interpreting Jung’s archetypes through the lens of C.S. Lewis, triggered all sorts of feedback and follow-up questions; as someone who trades in archetypes regularly, I devoured the ideas offered and, even when I found some of them lacking (need we accept that there’s a connection between the numinous and moral law, just because Lewis says so?), they left me hungry for more.

That’s the general state that Mythcon fosters: It leaves you hungry for more. I realize now that for me, Mythcon offers a brief return to those voracious college days (without the exams!), when a rich stew of intellectual stimulation, new friendships, and quips and insights traded over mealtime conversation (all in a tranquil campus setting) had yet to be backburnered by the daily grind. As we sing a farewell song to Mythcon 45, I find I can’t return to this banquet soon enough.

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Mythcon 45: Day 2

The most fascinating presentation went straight to the seam that runs through the middle of Mythcon and ripped it open. Generally speaking, the Mythopoeic Society’s focus on the Inklings draws two types of people: those who approach the material from a Christian perspective (of the Inklings, C.S. Lewis in particular infuses this into his work; Tolkien to a lesser or less obvious extent), and those who don’t. Those (like me) who don’t can have a view of the world rooted in solid science. These differing viewpoints aren’t necessarily opposed, and by and large one won’t even be aware of these differences running beneath the surface at a Mythcon.

Then came Joshua D. Reichard and his presentation on “Matter, Myth, and Meaning: Science, Fantasy Literature, and the Spiritual Quest,” the thesis of which was that “scientific materialism,” in the view of Lewis, is a pathology as extreme as religious fundamentalism; it’s a mythos that has taken hold of the collective Western consciousness with a stranglehold grip.

Well.

To Reichard’s credit, he presented the thesis in as neutral and accessible a way as possible. That didn’t stop the room from quickly polarizing into those nodding in agreement (not me) and those raising their eyebrows (and some, their voices) in objection. One of the problems with Reichard’s approach, IMHO, is the definition he and Lewis employ; by this definition, scientific materialism is a reduction of the universe to mechanistic processes devoid of hope or joy. This last part is so contrary to the lived experience of us science-oriented folks that it immediately renders Reichard’s premise suspect. Reichard fares better with his suggestion that fantasy literature may provide a means to reconcile the science-oriented and religion-oriented viewpoints. That line of thought deserves further exploration.

Less controversial but no less dynamic was Vicki Ronn’s examination of the role of fairy tales in reflecting the concerns of contemporary culture, as reinterpreted in Vertigo’s Fables comics and ABC TV’s Once Upon a Time. (Pity poor Ronn, who had to binge watch the entire multiseason run of OUAT; that’s dedication to one’s research…or a new form of psychobludgeoning torture.) She easily merited a full hour to present her work, but crammed in what she could–including some of the delicious visuals from Fables–into half that time.

I have no one but myself to blame for my glazed eyes during a presentation and related panel on bringing Tolkien’s works to digital life. As I should have anticipated, this focused on online gaming, and as I’m not a gamer, meh. But a tip of the hat to Christopher Crane, Jr., and his brother, Elliot Crane, who in an earlier presentation surveyed fantasy literature to explore the power of naming–doing so at the tender ages of 13 and 11, respectively!

The night that followed the day-long conceptual stew was soaked in too much alcohol and went way too late, which is to say, I had a blast. At Bardic Circle, I even sang; no one hemorrhaged.

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Mythcon 45: Day 1

The bad news: I’m spoiled.

Last year’s Mythcon–my first time attending the annual meeting of the Mythopoeic Society, dedicated to the works of J.R.R.Tolkien, his literary contemporaries (commonly known as the Inklings), and the creation of myth and mythic storytelling in general–took place on the campus of Michigan State University, where an entire hotel and conference center was devoted to our needs. This year we’re at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and it’s everything you would expect from an old, traditional New England school: lovely quadrangle ringed with stately trees and Georgian architecture…and dorm rooms with spartan decor and shared bathroom facilities. Not to mention food that’s just passable, compared to last year’s multi-cuisine feasts!

But we’re not here for the meals. As before, there’s a surfeit of thought-provoking riches in the various simultaneous presentations, and choosing which one to attend can lead to some maddening choices. I start with Chip Crane’s analysis of Tolkien’s careful use of ambiguity in his prose style (scribbling notes madly as I get ideas for my own writing); followed by an examination of the Hugo Award-winning graphic novel Digger (note to self: get hold of this and read it); and then Elise McKenna’s passionate linkage of Tolkien’s ideas to those of mythologist Joseph Campbell. Many (most?) current folklorists find Campbell’s approach, especially his monomyth, very problematic, and while I find some of his ideas interesting, I share the folklore community’s qualms…but it was hard to resist McKenna for her sheer exuberance and dynamic presentation style!

Then came my big blunder: Exhausted from overnight travel and craving outdoor time on a spectacular August day in such a lovely locale, I skipped Michael Drout’s overview of the hot topic around here, Tolkien’s newly published translation of Beowulf. By all accounts (and I mean all), it was the highlight of the day and packed to the rafters.

The many overlapping and fascinating conversations over meals and social gatherings, which are so much of Mythcon, can’t be summarized. But I finished my night, tired as I was, with a few rounds of Bardic Circle, the sharing of story and/or song that’s one of the best things about Mythcon, IMHO. And luckily, I’ve got two more nights of that…hopefully when I’m less bushed!

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Myth vs. Reality

Few myths are as enduring as that of Hercules. (The legendary strongman’s frequent cinematic revivals–two this year alone–leave little doubt about that.) But is any of it real?

The latest film version of his exploits (reviewed next door by Your Sacrificial Moviegoer) at first blush seems a standard recounting; certainly the trailer (above) seems to position it that way. But that’s where the movie gets interesting:

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Virtually everything seen in the trailer is dispensed with in the first minute or two of the film. It’s a visual tease, merely illustrating the over-the-top yarn a storyteller relates to inflate the reputation of the real flesh-and-blood guy named Hercules. He allows (indeed, encourages) all these crazy stories to spring up around him because it helps him do his job. Hercules doesn’t buy his own mythic hype, but he lets the hype prepare his way. The rest of the movie may not have satisfied, but that initially disorienting twist–a theme that permeates the rest of the tale–tasted delicious.

Why? Because it goes to the heart of myth’s importance. Myth isn’t literally true; it’s the truths about ourselves and our world that we glimpse through these fantastical tales that are important: the interrelationships delineated, the essences distilled, the emotional connections forged, in a way that no other genre can communicate. In a sense, the truths of myth constitute something hyperreal, more real in all the ways that matter to the human spirit than the empirical, quantifiable reality of the mundane world.

This new HERCULES goes further, suggesting that by our belief in these myths, we make them come to life. (A quantum physics parallel comes to mind; to oversimplify, current theory suggest that the characteristics of many fundamental particles exist in a state of flux until the moment the particle is observed by someone, at which point the myriad possibilities of its existence collapse into one defined state.) Or at the very least, our belief in myth transforms our perceptions and actions in a way that dramatically alters outcomes. Whether the myth is literally true becomes irrelevant; our belief in the myth holds the key.

An idea to which I can only say: I believe.

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About This Blog

Myths are stories that explore the Big Truths of our lives and our world through larger-than-life metaphors. Unfortunately, new myths are in short supply today. This blog aims to fix that, by talking myth, encouraging mythmakers, and looking for new myths in all the wrong places.

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