Archive for the ‘Catherynne M. Valente’ Category
publishes August 31, 2015
Where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Subterranean!)
Speak Easy is a jazz age retelling of the fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses (a tale you’re familiar with if you’ve read Genevieve Valentine’s The Girls at The Kingfisher Club). Told in a series of vignettes that follow the residents of the hotel Artemesia, we watch as they each see something they want, and are lured to go after it. The final twist, however, involves a magic far older than the Brothers Grimm originally imagined.
The words that best describes this novella are sculptural and musical. The short chapters are titled with the room numbers in which the characters reside. It’s as if, with each vignette, with each character introduction and peek into their lives, Valente is carving the story, word by word and room by room out of a massive, hotel shaped slab of marble. It’s like those ancient temples that have been carved out of stone or into cliff faces. Someone had to carve out all those rooms. Just like Valente is carving out the rooms of the hotel residents. One of the first rooms we visit is the infamous 1550, home of Zelda Fair, Olive Bay, Opal Lunet and Oleander Coy. Four women who live by their own set of rules, share their apartment with a pelican, and keep their own secrets. Although Speak Easy is an ensemble piece, Zelda quickly becomes the celestial body that other characters orbit.
I also mentioned the word musical,didn’t I? It’s the voice of the narrator. Confident, cheeky, and bordering on scat singing, the narrator is having a conversation with the reader, luring you in, teasing you with slang, entendres, and bawdy jokes. The narrator can tell you who in this hotel is sleeping with someone they aren’t married to, wouldn’t you like know what other juicy secrets she might be enticed to share?
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.
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.
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. . .
Curious 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.
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. 😉
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.
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.