the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Catherynne M. Valente’ Category

Six_Gun_Snow_White_by_Catherynne_M_Valente_200_311

 

I was maybe 20 pages in Six Gun Snow White when I wrote this in an e-mail to a friend:  “spending the morning of my first vacation day reading Cat Valente’s “Six Gun Snow White”.  the words are so pretty i am afraid if I touch them they will shatter into a million pieces and i will never hear the end of the story . . .  e-book words will surely be flatter and soulless, they won’t respond to my petting. might be safer that way.”  Those words on those pages, they were pretty, but they were also knife tip sharp, and with every page they clawed their way into me.

 

If you’re familiar with Catherynne Valente, you already know what she does with words. And if you’ve read other reviews I’ve written of her work, you might know what her words do to me. With every word I read, with every page I turn, a creature takes shape. Something that flies and dreams and takes me with it, a dragon made of velveteen words, and as you read those words, and caress those scales, the dream creature’s shape becomes clearer, this is what you’ve been looking for all this time. And the story is the breath of that dragon.

 

See?  reading Cat Valente makes me talk in ways my vocabulary can’t support.

 

So, “Six Gun Snow White”. No dragons to be found here.  Only a child who is forced to find her own way.  Valente takes the traditional Snow White story, and plunges it into the American frontier, the mines of the Dakotas, the mythologies of the Native Americans. A white man takes a crow woman as wife, and a baby daughter is born. For reasons unknown but guessed, the man treats his own flesh and blood daughter as an adopted ward, a novelty native girl, someone the maid can dress in doe skin and trot out for visitors to view and ask “is she real?” “Where did you find her?”.  The girl learns how to read, write, and be silent.  The name she uses for her father is Mr. H. He doesn’t treat her poorly, or unkindly, he simply doesn’t treat her like anything at all. She doesn’t know any better, she thinks this is love.  And then he gets married again.

 

The new wife, Mrs. H., sees this dark haired, dark skinned girl in braids and leather, and decides to make her into a true lady. Everything that makes the little girl what she is, Mrs. H destroys, even her name.  To remind the child of everything pure she’ll never be, Mrs. H. bestows on her the name Snow White. And she doesn’t know any better, so she tries to tell herself that being treated like this is what love is. This is the point you’ll start to recognize the original fairy tale, and this is also where Snow (who doesn’t remember her own name) takes the story in her own hands and refuses to allow it to be told in anyway except hers.  Mrs. H is a witch, and Snow can only take so much.

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Scattered throughout the month, I’ll be posting reviews of selected stories of The Book of Apex: Volume 4 of Apex Magazine.  If something you read here or on any of the other blogs participating in the blog tour gets your attention, I encourage you seek the story out on the Apex website. And if you like what you see? Consider purchasing a subscription to the magazine, or one of their anthologies.  Consider leaving a comment on their website, or on twitter, or on the blog post. You’ve got an opinion and thoughts? I’d like to hear ‘em.

What I love about the fiction published by Apex is that it’s not straight up scifi, or straight up fantasy, or straight up anything, really. It’s a little bit of this, a little bit of that. It’s true fantastika. Stories that can’t possibly happen in real life, but as you are reading, you so very much *want* it to be happening.  The ultimate in suspension of disbelief. Many of your favorite authors have been published in Apex magazine, along with new authors who are soon to become favorites.  And that’s what Apex does – they take the cream of the crop of the strangest of the strange, scratching that itch you hadn’t known you had until it was relieved.

This is the stuff you can’t get anywhere else, it’s that flavor that’s part bloody sunset, part crystal constellation, part fever dream. It’s like walking into that weird little bar on the corner (you know, the one with no windows? that one.), and playing it cool. You ask the bartender what they recommend, and they bring you a pint of something dark.  You think you know what it is, but that first sip tells you this is something very different. It starts out gentle, even a little sweet, but then ends with an unexpected bite, so sharp you wonder if you’ve bit your lip because you swear you taste blood in your mouth. This is that unlabeled, brewed in the back, only available for people who ask for it by name type of drink.

The 24 Hour Brother, by Christopher Barzak – The first thing you need to know about this story is that you’re not going to get through it without crying. Lewis is excited to finally be an older brother. After the complications of Lewis’s birth, no one expected his mother to be able to carry another child to term. But a miracle happened, and little Joe was born.  but Joe didn’t stay little for long. He cut his first tooth shortly after being born. Within the hour they were chasing him around the hospital.  He’d nearly grown out of his baby clothes by the time his father caught him for the taxi ride home. Within 12 hours he was fully grown, and leaving his 15 year old older brother behind when he went out drinking.  You can see where this is going, can’t you? Joe’s mother knew, the first time she saw him, that she was going to lose him.  There’s something especially tragic about stories where you know from the opening paragraph that it’s going to end badly.  Like I said, you’re not going to get through this one without crying.

The Leavings of the Wolf, by Elizabeth Bear – Dagmar runs to get away from her divorce. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.  She runs to lose weight.  If she loses enough weight, she’ll be able to pry that wedding band off her finger, that gleaming golden reminder of everything that went horribly wrong in her life.  And interspersed with her running is a floating story line, a dialog between her and an ex. But the thing is, this extra story line? You don’t know when exactly it’s happening. Was it years ago? a few weeks ago? yesterday?   The weight of these few extra lines here and there are like the mark a wedding band leaves on your finger after years of wear: you don’t know anymore who you are without the mark.  Anyways,  on her morning run, Dagmar often sees the same murder of crows, it’s that group she’s been studying, anklebanding, and researching for the University. The crows know her, she knows the them, and she even makes the occasional Thought and Memory joke.  One day she meets someone who might be a God, it’s not a joke anymore. And he tells her why she’s still running.  We’re all running from something, and sometimes it’s only the fear of losing a mark that tells us who we thought we were supposed to be.  I’ve run hot and cold with Bear’s fiction in the past, and this one hit me hard.  In a good way.

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Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time. If you’ve been paying attention, nothing on this list will be a surprise to you.  If you happened to stumble by because you like “year end” lists,  these are my top ten speculative fiction books I read this year.  Looking for a good read? go find one of these.

Some of them are old.

Some of them are new.

Some of them were borrowed.

None of them are blue.

;)

I’ve linked the titles to my reviews.  In no particular order:

Sky Coyote by Kage Baker (1999) – the second in The Company series, this novel is told from Joseph’s point of view (and yes, Mendoza is still really, really pissed off at him). Joseph gets to do one of his favorite things – pretend to be a God. But this time, he’s got to get even the skeptics to believe his act.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch (2013) – No surprise this one made it to my best of the year list, as this is one of my favorite fantasy series.  It’s true, I ranted a little about a character who really annoyed me, but holy shit, that ending??  holy shit!  Also, I do just happen to have a Cinnamon colored dress/jacket combo and a four cornered grey hat in the making.

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White (2013 )- Secret societies, multiple personalities, sublime prose, metaphysics, unexpected romance, characters that rip each other to shreds.  What more could you possibly want? I got meddled with, my switches got hit, and I never wanted it to end.  Just go read it already. Everything about this book was spot-on perfection for me.

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks (1990) – only the best Culture novel of the best space opera series in existence.  Not the easiest book in the world to read, but the subtlety, and the reveal at the end, and oh god I knew something was so horribly wrong as soon as he said he was going to cut his hair. . .

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clarkesworld4Curious about the original fiction published by Clarkesworld?  This series of posts, reviewing every story published in Year Four should give you an idea of their flavor of speculative fiction. these stories are strange, unexpected, sometimes humorous, sometimes melancholy. Every single one of them will get some kind of reaction out of you.   Check out the Clarkesworld website to get more. Like what you see? Become a citizen of Clarkesworld, get a subscription, spread the world. Speculative Fiction ‘zines like this are a rare beast.

I’m going through Year Four in no particular order. Click to read the first, second, and third posts in this series.  In the stories in today’s post, we have virtual reality gone wrong (or maybe very, very right), reincarnations who kill their originals with the best intentions, the downside of discovering a new intelligent species, and Cat Valente has fun with creation myths.

ready? let’s go!

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Spacetime by Catherynne M. Valente – I recently had the pleasure of reading this in Valente’s latest collection, The Melancholy of Mechagirl. In that review, I didn’t go into much detail of Thirteen Ways, so I’m thrilled to have received another chance to talk about this wonderfully odd tale.

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Yesterday my review of Catherynne M. Valente’s The Melancholy of Mechagirl posted over at SFSignal. this is her latest collection of  short stories, novellas, and poetry, all with a connection to Japan.  Head over to SFSignal to read the review and leave any comments.

 

 

random unconnected fun story: last night a family member excitedly says that someone sent him a picture of this cute Siamese cat, but it looks grumpy, and there’s a funny caption! isn’t that cute! I reply with where have you been? go google “grumpy cat”.

it’s nice to know I’m not the only one living under a rock.  ;)

Grumpy-Cat-Book-Cover

 

 

 

I’m slowly making my way through more Hugo nominations.  The nominations for best novelette are:

  • “The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
  • “Fade To White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
  • “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
  • “In Sea-Salt Tears” by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
  • “Rat-Catcher” by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)

Today I’ll  talk about The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Dutch friends! Please help me with the correct pronunciation of his last name!) and Fade to White by Catherynne M. Valente.

boy who cast no shadow

The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Look is an especially odd child. He has no shadow. It’s not just that a shadow doesn’t form behind or under him, there isn’t one under his nose, or his chin, it’s that no darkness forms around him, as if the sun refuses to acknowledge his existence. He doesn’t have a reflection either, and can’t be filmed or photographed. The original invisible boy. Unless of course, you’re in the same room as him, and then there’s just a lonely child, seen by everyone but himself.

Look is the only weird kid at school until Splinter shows up and gives the bullies a new target. Splinter can’t help being the perfect fragile target for their verbal and physical abuse; he’s a boy made of glass, a child who reflects everything except himself.

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Remember my book haul from the other day?  shortly after I posted that, I picked up this beauty:

Why yes, that is Charles Vess artwork on a Subterranean Press limited edition of a new novella by one of my favorite authors!  It’s so pretty I almost don’t want to touch it.  almost.

And yes, yes there is more:

I want to trace that signature over and over again, learn the shapes and patterns my hands and fingers make, and memorize the order, turn the movements into a mantra.

and then the logical part of my brain starts ticking. . .

number 56? Maybe she got to this one before her hand got tired.  Do authors sign all the books all in one day of wrist wrenching carpal tunnel risking signature scrawling? Or do they do a dozen at a time? Do the pop in the extended edition of Star Wars to stave off the boredom? what if the author messes up or the pen runs out?

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It’s that wonderful time of the year again! When we bake cookies and get cards in the mail and forget that we need extra time to warm up our cars in these cold, cold mornings.

It’s also time to talk about the best books we’ve read this year. I confess, I cheated a little on my list, I didn’t limit myself to books that came out in 2012, I’ve even got a reread on the list. Mostly space opera, a little fantasy and time travel, even a YA book made the list! In no particular order, here are my top  books that I read this year, with review excerpts and links to the  review should you feel so inclined to learn more about the titles that rocked my world this past year.

Redhead’s Best of 2012

224_large Faith

Faith, by John Love (2012)  – I read this all the way back in February, I knew right then it would make my best of the year list.  An amazing debut from author John Love, Faith is a dark and tense stand alone science fiction novel. The pages drip with a danger and fear that doesn’t quickly dissipate after you’ve put the book down.  This isn’t a book for everyone (that’s a polite way of saying it has lots of violence, amorality and swear words), but for those of us that like this sort of thing, Faith is quite the hidden gem.

(full review here, and I got to interview the author here)

Silently and Very Fast, by Catherynne M. Valente (2012) – has anyone been putting out short stories, novellas and full length novels as fast as Valente? she’s the hardest working writer I know, and this year she got to walk away with Hugo for Best FanCast to show for it.  it’s no secret that Valente is one of my favorite authors, and the Hugo nominated Silently and Very Fast is certainly her most science fictional piece.  With her signature flair for poetic metaphor and lyrical storytelling, this novella follows the life of Elefsis, a house AI who was told fairytales by the human children in the house. To Elefsis, life is a fairytale, and it should have a happy ending.

(full review here)

Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht (2012) – I don’t read a lot of urban fantasy, but when I do it’s a treat for it to be a beautifully written as this series (the 2nd book And Blue Skies from Pain came out later in 2012).  Northern Ireland, the 1970s, Liam Kelly would prefer to live a normal life. He’s not interested in getting arrested or learning secrets about his heritage. But all of those things are very interested in him, and in destroying everything in his life that he cares about.  Leicht spoiled me for urban fantasy.  I am eagerly awaiting future novels in this series.

(full review here)

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I’ve been doing a lot of traveling for work lately, so MP3 player and free short story downloads to the rescue!  Here are a few that proved very enjoyable, maybe you will like them too. These are all less than an hour, so perfect for your commutes, holiday travels, or if you are stuck waiting somewhere, or would just like to listen to something nice.

These are from Lightspeed Magazine and Podcastle. do you listen to them? which other short story podcasts do you listen to?

The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species, by Ken Liu, from the August issue Lightspeed magazine (click here to download)
read by Stefan Rudnicki

I don’t know what I was expecting with this story, but I never thought so much imagination could be put into something that on the surface, sounds so very simple. This story is about what the title implies: book making habits. Of  aliens. All creatures record events and thoughts, perhaps the desire to make recordings is a sign of civilization.  With softly sure descriptions, Liu talks about a handful of alien civilizations, both organic and inorganic, creatures who record entire streams of consciencness, creatures whose records are slowing destroyed through use, and all sorts of other amazing, imaginative methods in which beings who are completely different from humans, but delight in the same things we do – storytelling.

This story had a surprisingly large impact on me.  We communicate more than we can possibly know through storytelling, and the methods of that storytelling is a communication unto itself. I couldn’t get this story out of my head. As a lover of books, stories, and the methods we use to record our stories for future generations (and the speed at which those methods are changing), this story struck me in a very personal way.

A Hole to China, by Catherynne Valente, from the May Issue of Lightspeed Magazine (click here to download)
read by Stefan Rudnicki

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Hubby and I spent the weekend away and had a delightfully nerdy and book-wonderful weekend.

Saturday was a board gaming party, where much Vegas Casino building, nun chasing, alien blasting and monster slashing fun was had by all. Also pies. I never realized there was such a thing as too much pie.

Sunday we found ourselves on the outskirts of Michigan State University. Had someone told me the MSU campus was that lovely, I’d have ended up there instead of my alma mater. so many brick buildings! We went to Curious Books, where I picked up a Steven Brust, some Cordwainer Smith, some Neal Asher, a Peter Watts, and a few other goodies. Great bookstore. if you are in Lansing, hit up Curious Books. Nicely organized store, friendly and helpful staff, and half the basement was old scifi magazines and anthologies, how sweet is that?  North edge of campus, down the street from the super awesome bubble tea place and the very strange looking art museum, you can’t miss it.

After Curious, we hit up Schuler’s books and music. not much of a scifi section, and very much with the vibe of a chain bookstore, this isn’t my usual hangout.  Ahhh, but this afternoon at Schuler’s was so very different.  they bring in plenty of authors, but the woman they brought in this past Sunday, is someone very special and dear to my heart. Her books have held my heart in their pages, have caressed my face with their imagery, and they usually make me cry at the end. tears of agony, tears of happiness, tears of beauty, sometimes all at the same time. She’s an amazing author, and a friendly, funny, snarky, darkly brilliant person.

here’s a hint:

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2014 Hugo Awards

I reviewed some Hugo nominated stuff. Click here for the list.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.