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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

The Minotaur in Pamplona, Books I & II, edited by Neil Ayres

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ImageBook I
"Monemvasia" by Brian Aldiss
"Dancing the Labyrinth" by Liza Granville
"By the time I get to Egypt" by Andrew Hook
"The Minotaur in Pamplona" by Rhys Hughes

Book II
"The Fire Sermon" by Lavie Tidhar
"Ascent is not Allowed" by Catherynne M. Valente
"Circe's Choice" by Steve Redwood
"The Mermaid's Song" by Kara Kellar Bell

The proceeds from the sale of these two slender chapbooks, edited by British writer and editor Neil Ayres, are gifted to ADDA, the Spanish animal welfare society that was instrumental in the ban of bullfighting in Barcelona. Personally, I find it a reason enough to buy these books; additionally, the fiction within is well worth spending a few bucks on. The focus on Minotaur is not incidental—he symbolizes the bridge between animal and human. The books also feature other familiar monsters and characters of Grecian myths.

The opening poem by Brian Aldiss, "Monemvasia," sets the tone with its rich imagery. Monemvasia, one of the many tourist attractions in Greece, comes alive in this evocative poem that juxtaposes the tourists' hunger for present excitement and the eternal quality of Greek history.

Liza Granville's "Dancing the Labyrinth" continues the theme of a tourist who encounters something outside of her experience. Melissa, who has moved to Greece with her archeologist husband, realizes that her marriage is falling apart, while she remains an outsider in Greece. She meets a handsome local man, who introduces her to Greek mythology and local customs, including fertility rites dedicated to Demeter.

This story makes a good use of Greek myth and its transplantation to modern day. I enjoyed the transformation of hero's journey to the underworld to a trip "down under." The myth is disguised but recognizable, and the story comes to a predictable but satisfying ending.

"By the Time I Get to Egypt" by Andrew Hook is a powerful tale, told from the perspective of a Phoenix—a near-immortal bird who spends his days in his comfortable nest. He had long delayed a journey he was supposed to undertake ages ago; finally, he can procrastinate no longer. On his journey, Phoenix sees how much the land has changed, how much went by as he avoided his duty. The imagery of the land torn by human conflict becomes painful as recounted through non-human eyes, and the resolution is inevitable but still jolting.

Rhys Hughes' "The Minotaur in Pamplona" delivers a powerful impact, especially so for such a short story. It recounts the journey of the Minotaur who comes to Pamplona to participate in the Fiesta de San Fermin, and its famous annual 'encierros' (running with the bulls.) This is a poignant tale, saturated with rich imagery, scents, and sounds, beautiful and sad, and not soon forgotten.

Image"The Fire Sermon" by Lavie Tidhar is about Polyphemus, the Cyclops of the Odyssey, who is now aging quietly, and eking out a living by selling chronometers, sextants, and other old-fashioned implements of sea-faring. Still, he is lost in his memories of the days bygone, and his present is occupied by conversations with a friend. This is a quiet story that doesn't offer a twisty-turny plot; I very much enjoyed its contemplative tone, as well as the common theme of many of the stories in this collection—a contrast of the past and the present, of the timeless and the transient.

Catherynne M. Valente's writing is easy to recognize—it has a musical cadence, and reads like poetry. "Ascent is not Allowed" is no exception. But besides beautiful language, there is a real strength in this tale, my favorite of the bunch. It is the story of the Furies that are forced to live in the shadows, almost forgotten, reduced to bitterness from their former status as protectors of wronged women. This story is tragic and vicious in turns.

Ms. Valente uses Greek myth to explore how the belief systems are used to canonize injustice toward women. The birth of Athena, one of the central themes in this story, parallels a great travesty of science—the belief that sperm contains a complete human, and that a woman's womb is just an incubator. This idea originated with the Ancient Greeks and persisted well into nineteenth century. Ms. Valente dissects the role this doctrine played in robbing women of their power, their protection, their Furies.

"Circe's Choice" by Steve Redwood opens with a quote from Ovid's Metamorphoses, and follows the bitter love triangle between Scylla, Circe, and Glaucus. It is written in alternating viewpoints of the sorceress Circe and Scylla. Glaucus, a handsome merman, spurned Circe in favor of Scylla, and Circe's revenge turned Scylla into a monster. Now, as Circe is weary and losing her magic, Scylla finds her to avenge her broken life.

The writing is skillful, and the thoughtful treatment of Circe and Scylla deserves high praise. Neither emerges as completely innocent or completely guilty—even though Scylla was the victim, years of monstrosity and bitterness have exacted their toll. Both of the protagonists are sympathetic, and the resolution of the story is heartwrenching.

"The Mermaid's Song" by Kara Kellar Bell seemed out of place in this collection. It did not have as strong a connection to the Greek myths as all the other stories, and overall it felt like a traditional Romantic "old mariner falls in love with a mermaid" yarn. It was more reminiscent of a 19th century mermaid story than The Odyssey.  Nonetheless, it is a well-written story, with some lovely imagery and poignant ending.

Overall: a very worthwhile collection. While I liked some stories more than others, all fiction offerings were enjoyable and well-written.

Publisher: D-Press (May 1, 2005) 
Price: $6.00/ea, $10/collection
Chapbook: 32 pages/ea