Why I Read It: It’s Valente. That’s pretty much all the reason I need to read something of hers, but I really couldn’t pass up a limited edition, signed novella either.
The premise: ganked from publisher’s website: Fantastist Catherynne M. Valente takes on the folklore of artificial intelligence in this brand new, original novella of technology, identity, and an uncertain mechanized future.
Neva is dreaming. But she is not alone. A mysterious machine entity called Elefsis haunts her and the members of her family, back through the generations to her great-great grandmother — a gifted computer programmer who changed the world. Together Neva and Elefsis navigate their history and their future, an uneasy, unwilling symbiote.
But what they discover in their dreamworld might change them forever . . .
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Nay. It’s a novella, so the book itself is short and sweet, and it’d be a shame to spoil something so short.
Discussion: So I have a confession to make. A while back (and I’m sorry, I can’t find the post), I read a blog entry by Catherynne M. Valente where she ranted about the use of “lovely” when describing prose, because it’s so overused that it doesn’t mean anything AND how it’s also inherently sexist. She stated at the time that nobody uses the word “lovely” to describe men’s prose, so why use it to describe women’s, as if it were a pat on the head but not a real, actual description of writing? The post was interesting and thoughtful, and while I’m sure I’d used the descriptor in the past for reviews (though I’m sure I used it for men AND women, but I can’t back that up without research), I decided to try and avoid the descriptor from that point on.
The problem? I can’t read Valente’s prose without thinking the word “lovely.” And there’s the rub: because that’s what it IS (it is also lush and poetic and rich with surreal descriptors and imagery), and I suspect Valente was perhaps getting tired of her work being discussed with a non-descriptor. And it makes sense, she — more than many writers — is a connoisseur of words, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she thinks hard about each and every word she uses in each and every story. Some writers write for cool stories. Others write out of love for the language. I don’t read a whole lot of the latter, but when I do, lovely is usually one of the first term that comes to mind.
So, sorry to all of those who hate lovely as a descriptor. The blog post was the equivalent of telling me not to think of a white elephant, and now I can’t get it out of my head.
But here’s the thing: I don’t just slap labels and move on. One of the things I most admire about Valente’s prose is the language, the choice of words, how the cadence and rhythms and lyricism all combine to create a unique atmosphere and — dare I say it? — lovely reading experience. Some authors, when you read one book, you’ve read them all. They don’t surprise except for cliffhangers. Valente’s prose isn’t like that. Her fiction brings you something new, something differently weird and delightful, every time.
Silently and Very Fast is no different. It’s the first book of Valente’s I’ve read that could actually be classified as science fiction, but the elements of fantastic and weird are so prevalent, so dominating, that you can really get away with calling it science fantasy, despite the fact that really, it’s definitely SF.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but I thoroughly enjoyed and admired the way Valente wove in fairytales into this piece. It works so well on multiple levels that I’m left awed.
And how much more can I say about this without veering into spoiler territory? Not much, so let’s wrap up.
My Rating: 8 – Excellent
Valente’s fascinating mix of fantasy, fairy tale, and science fiction is layered, beautiful tale. I think this might be Valente’s first foray into SF, but I can’t say for sure since I’ve not read EVERYTHING she’s read. Still, this little novella was a delight to read, something to savor and enjoy. The imagery, as always, tickles the imagination and never lets me to take anything for granted. The world-building was very well done, and I can’t stress how well the fantasy and science fiction works together in this piece. Yes, this is a small little collector’s item that’s not in everyone’s price range, but if you can get it, get it now. It’s well-worth having in your collection.
Cover Commentary: Love it. The design and the art and everything reminds me so much of some of my favorite Ray Bradbury covers, like these: Dandelion Wine and The Martian Chronicles, but MOST of all is The Illustrated Man. I don’t know if it’s the same artist (I’m too lazy to compare right now), but I like the similarities, intended or not. And let’s face, Valente’s cover stands on its own two feet. Lovely coloring and compelling artwork. I like staring at it.