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Letters from Proxima Thule

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A Rose in Twelve Names
So over coffee and Proukies (Madeleines--aren't I clever?) this morning I was babbling about how there is a weird kind of trend among a certain kind of writer these days--often young, often female, (though not always) almost always small press, something that were we older, and male, and middle-press, might be called a movement. Fantasy writers who were over Tolkien by roughly second grade, and start instead in folklore and myth and from there layer in postmodern fantastic techniques: urban fantasy, confessional poetry, non-linear storytelling, linguistic calisthenics, worldbuilding, academic fantasy, etc.

I'd easily name Sonya Taaffe, Dora Goss, Holly Phillips, and myself in this group, and call us the spiritual children of Greer Gilman, and I might add in Yoon Ha Lee, Erzebet Yellow-Boy, Jeanelle Ferreira, and Vera Nazarian if they wouldn't be upset by inclusion. I'm forgetting people, I'm sure, but it's morning. But I think there's a reason you find a lot of us in the same anthologies and collections. I think we start in a different place than traditional fantasy, which is ironic considering that Tolkien himself started there, back in the primal stuff of the human psyche, as screwed-up and psychedelic and labyrinthine as it is--it's just that 20th century fantasy started from Tolkien, and saw him as the source himself, not as one branch on the tree. We tend to start in myth and branch out into incredibly varied stylistic and emotional takes on the source material, and though of course all of us produce original material not based in or relating at all to folklore, (I, for one, cracked up laughing to find that Goss's "Sleeping with Bears" is not actually about Goldilocks) it often feels like folklore, or fairy tales, or myths, or young wives' tales, even when it isn't, which is kind of an accomplishment in itself.

I was standing over the sink talking to justbeast and grailquestion--who sadly get to hear most of my writerly thoughts in rough form before the internet gets them, and pity the poor souls--and I said, "But what the crap would you call that, if you wanted to call it a movement? Ballet Folklorica? Infernofolk?"

And they went to work, and I stood there in my kimono getting ready to start work myself, holding a cup of coffee, and looking at the kitchen door, when I cracked up laughing and said to the empty room:

"Dude. It's Mythpunk*."

*Best part? I google this term to make sure I'm sufficiently clever, and find it's a semi-obscure gaming term. So on top of this we get to have "reclaim the vocabulary" leetness. Rawk.

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Talk about random connections! My name is Dev, the guy responsible for the only extant "Mythpunk" stuff on the internet right now, and found your articles while googling.

I think the ideas are truly awesome, so I'd be very pleased to drop my own usage of "mythpunk". I think it's too cool an idea (and too catchy a phrase) for me to just use as a self-publishing imprint. (I was thinking of rebranding my stuff differently anyway...)

I do want to mention that a certain game designer, Jon Walton, has been doing some interesting experimental stuff in storygames that might be similar to a more "mythpunk" ideal. Do you think so?


Hi, Dev!

I think it's totally awesome that you're willing to drop the term, though probably unecessary. Let's just form up and call it all mythpunk. I'm going to propose a panel at next year's Wiscon on it, and hey, there's steampunk and cyberpunk gaming, so why not? It's just that there is a genuine new movement in fantasy, and somebody's got to call it something.

You should give some of the writers I mentioned a read--I /may/ actually be in talks with a gaming company about licensing some of my poetry, so my mythpunk might meet your mythpunk after all!

Just to be clear, I picked up "mythpunk" just because it was a cool sounding name, and the games I was trying to write weren't closely related to the cool ideas you're talking about. (Of course, some games I write in the future may well touch into actual mythpunkish materials.)

In any case, I'll definitely try out some of those authors you mentioned. Thanks for the suggestions!

Myth punk

I followed a link over here from Strange Horizons magazine, and it's an interesting discussion. I like the name mythpunk, at least in a tongue-in-cheek way. And yeah. I can see where y'all could be considered the spiritual children of writer Greer Gilman -- but in that case I'd say you're also the fairy godchildren of Terri windling. Hasn't that gal done everything but stand on her head to promote the use of myth and folk lore in fiction and poetry for a couple of decades now? Particularly among women writers? Just sayin'.

I guess I see mythpunk as a distinctive subset of the wider catagory of Mythic Fiction and Mythic Arts. It's a useful term, to designate those of you working with myth in a less linear, more experimental, more stylistic and poetic way than, say, Neil Gaiman or Charles de Lint, the latter being more interested in storytelling than language and style.

I would absolutely agree with you on all counts. :)

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