Tag Archives: Catherynne M. Valente

The SF Bluestocking Spring 2017 Reading List Wrap-Up

Between personal life stuff (my car will not stop breaking down about once a week) and generalized depression and anxiety about the state of the country and the world, I didn’t get around to writing nearly as much as I’d have liked to about what I’ve read in the last three months, so I’ve been looking forward to writing this list and wrapping up this season of stress and frustration so I can move onto other things.

That said, there was so much great stuffed published over the last three months, and I ended up reading most (though by no means all) of my Spring Reading List. It’s been very sad to not have the energy to write about it all, so I’m glad to have begun doing these wrap-up posts so I can squee a bit about everything I’ve missed writing longer posts about.

Best Fantasy Novel – The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

I have unequivocally loved everything I’ve ever read by Catherynne Valente, and The Refrigerator Monologues was always one of my most-anticipated releases of 2017, so it’s no surprise that I adored it. Valente has always had a way with language, and like all of her other work, The Refrigerator Monologues deserves to be read aloud, even if just to yourself. It’s smart and funny and furious and sad, and Valente has crafted a wonderfully original world of superheroes and a marvelous group of heroines with strong voices that are distinctive and familiar in turns.

Best Science Fiction Novel – Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

I’ve been following Yoon Ha Lee’s career with interest since picking up Conservation of Shadows a few years ago because I liked the cover and realizing that it was one of the finest SFF short fiction collections I’d ever read. Lee’s first novel, last year’s Ninefox Gambit, was among my favorite books of 2016, but he’s really outdone himself with Raven Stratagem, which is one of those rare second books in trilogies that is better than the first. Even having read some of Lee’s short fiction set in his Hexarchate universe, I sometimes struggled to follow parts of Ninefox Gambit, but that’s not the case with Raven Stratagem, which is all around a stronger book, more character-focused, with a more easily comprehensible plot and a great cathartic payoff at the end that sets things up for a very exciting third installment in the series.

Best Magazine – Uncanny #16, May/June 2017

Uncanny‘s Year Three has been outstanding in general, but this was an especially excellent issue. Sarah Gailey’s essay, “City of Villains: Why I Don’t Trust Batman,” went almost viral (and deservedly so) as soon as it was posted online, but it’s only one great piece in an issue heavy on wonderful nonfiction. My personal favorite essays were “Missive from a Woman in a Room in a City in a Country in a World Not Her Own” by Mimi Mondal and “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Eat the Eyeball” by Dongwon Song. This issue is no slouch in the fiction and poetry department, either, with new short stories by Ursula Vernon (“Sun, Moon, Dust”) and Chinelo Onwualu (“Read Before Use”), among others, and a pair of lovely poems by Roshani Chokshi (“Dancing Princesses”) and Theodora Goss (“Seven Shoes”). Honestly, just buy the whole thing, and then think about backing Year Four (which will include a People with Disabilities Destroy Sci-Fi special issue) when the Kickstarter goes live in July.

32758901Best Novella – All Systems Red by Martha Wells

I read an above average number of very good novellas in the last three months, but All Systems Red is a true standout even with stiff competition. A sci-fi adventure written from the point of view of a sentient cyborg/robot who calls itself “Murderbot,” All Systems Red has humor, excitement, a dash of horror, and criticism of capitalism–all things relevant to my interests–combined with a strong and unique narrative voice. The best part is that there are at least three more Murderbot stories forthcoming from Tor.com over the next year or so. I cannot wait.

Best Comic Book – Saga, Volume 7 by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan

This seems an obvious choice, especially since I’m not a great reader of comics in general, but Saga is really, really good. This volume is full of all the weirdness one can always expect from this series, but it also comes with almost as much heartbreak (including at least one straight up gut punch) as the six previous volumes combined, so be sure to enjoy it with a box of tissues close at hand, possibly after several glasses of wine to preemptively dull the pain this book is pretty much guaranteed to make you feel.

Best Anthology – Cosmic Powers: The Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies edited by John Joseph Adams

Listen. You’re almost never going to find any collection of short fiction that you like every bit of, but this anthology comes close for me. From the very funny “A Temporary Embarassment in Spacetime” by Charlie Jane Anders to the sharp and wryly witty “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance” by Tobias Buckell to Linda Nagata’s mother/daughter caper, “Diamond and the World Breaker, to a new Yoon Ha Lee Hexarchate story, “The Chameleon’s Gloves,” there’s something here for almost everyone. It’s an anthology with (cosmically) big ideas, a great deal of fun, and an entertainingly retro sensibility without sacrificing forward-thinking messages.

Best Collection – So You Want to Be a Robot and Other Stories by A. Merc Rustad

I only discovered A. Merc Rustad in January when I read their lovely story, “This is Not a Wardrobe Door,” at Fireside, but I loved that story so much that this collection was at the top of my to-read list as soon as I found out about it. So You Want to be a Robot and Other Stories collects that story and twenty more in a showcase of Rustad’s consistently good ideas and solid execution. Personal favorite stories in the collection include: “The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie,” “Where Monsters Dance,” “Finding Home,” and “BATTERIES FOR YOUR DOOMBOT5000 ARE NOT INCLUDED.”

Best Sin du Jour Novella – Greedy Pigs by Matt Wallace

We’re up to book number five in this seven part series, and I am already getting sad about it ending. I’ve enjoyed this series since day one, and each installment continues to be better than the one before. In Greedy Pigs, the Sin du Jour team finds themselves accidentally catering an event for the President of the United States. Things get weird, obviously.

Best Non-SFF Thing – Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 Original Broadway Cast Recording

Not a book, I know, but I’m slightly obsessed with this musical right now. It’s based on about seventy pages from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, and it scratches basically all my itches. It’s ambitious. It’s funny. It’s literary. It’s gorgeously written and produced. It’s got accordions. It’s got Helene Kuragina, who is played by Amber Gray, who is a treasure and gives us this earworm:

Honorable Mentions:

  • Reenu-You by Michele Tracy Berger – Not the best written novella I read this spring, and it could have used another pass with a copy editor, but it’s a story that has stuck with me. Even weeks later, I still find myself thinking every couple of days about these characters and the way they bond through a shared trauma.
  • Victor LaValle’s Destroyer #1 – A promising first issue with a fresh take on classic source material.
  • “Beauty, Glory, Thrift” by Alison Tam – A delightful sci-fi adventure novelette.
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire – I only liked Every Heart a Doorway, but I loved Down Among the Sticks and Bones. I think if I’d read this one first, I’d have liked the other better as well.
  • The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis – I didn’t think I was in the mood for a book about a woman having to deal with sexist garbage, but this one is a good, fast read.

Biggest Disappointments: 

  • Ladycastle #4 – After this limited series started off strong, it ends with some baffling plot developments and a too-easy resolution.
  • River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey – This novella was fine. I like the hippos. But I think it’s a case of it being extremely over-hyped. I’m not sure what I expected, but it doesn’t seem near exciting enough on its own merits to earn all the superlative praise I’ve seen for it.
  • The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett – By about five chapters in, I’d predicted the book’s big “twist” and couldn’t even be bothered to finish it.

Book Review: The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente

Catherynne M. Valente’s first Fairyland book, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, established this series from the very start as a superbly written and sublimely beautiful story for children, and The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home is a totally fitting conclusion to the story of September and her friends. It would perhaps be too much to ask for every installment of the series to be as good as the first one, and the fourth one (The Boy Who Lost Fairyland) stood out as decidedly different from the rest. Still, it did help to set up this finale, which is every bit as good—and even a little more polished—as the rest of the series.

As with all of Valente’s previous Fairyland books, The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home is both remarkably beautiful and remarkably fun to read. Having started off reading these books to my daughter as bedtime stories before she got too grown up to let me do it (and I’m convinced the only reason I got to keep reading to her until past her eleventh birthday was this series), I always suggest that those who can read the book aloud to the nearest child in their life, and that’s as true of the last volume of the series as it was of the first. Valente’s way with words only gets more refined with every novel she produces, and her gift for gorgeous near nonsense is on full display here.

Spoilers below this sentence. Continue reading Book Review: The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente

Book Review: Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

I’m always torn, when reading anything by Catherynne M. Valente, between feeling just incredible awe at her skill as a wordsmith and storyteller and being overcome by crushing feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing because she’s so brilliant and talented and only a couple of years older than me. I’m always happy when she’s written something new, and Radiance was perhaps my most-anticipated novel of 2015. Even better, it’s everything I dreamed it would be.

The most wonderful thing about Valente’s work is that it’s all the same, but also that it’s all remarkably different and unique. Radiance is like nothing I’ve ever read before, but it’s also very reminiscent of Valente’s other recent work. Earlier this year, I read her novella, Speak Easy, and Radiance has much in common with that shorter work, to the point where I get the feeling that both stories grew out of some of the same research. What is certain, though, is that these two works represent a sharp shift in Valente’s adult work. Radiance, in particular, seems to represent a decided shift away from some of the author’s fairy tale themes, in favor of gothic romance, noir, and proto-sci-fi influences.

Valente’s work has always skewed literary and is often avant garde, and this is her most ambitious and experimental (or at least most successfully so) novel yet. In Radiance, Valente eschews traditional prose forms in favor of presenting the story in the form of found objects: newspaper clippings, movie scripts, interviews, and so on. While this decision can be occasionally frustrating and even confusing at times (mostly in the first third of the book), it pays off in the end as Valente creates a haunting portrait of a mysterious woman that also functions as a love letter to a part of cinematic history that many readers may not be familiar with.

Radiance is a masterpiece of non-linear storytelling, and Valente deftly weaves together numerous threads to build a world that is beautifully surreal and create characters who are wonderfully compelling. Every detail Valente includes works towards the overall effect of the book, which is whimsical and melancholy and epic in scale and deeply personal all at once.

There are no words to adequately encompass any Valente novel, though. You’ve simply got to read it for yourself. When you do, I highly recommend opting for print over the ebook, as this sort of found object style is highly tactile and benefits from being read on dead trees. My only complaint is that Tor Books didn’t print the book particularly well. It’s fine, and I do love the cover, but the interior design is average at best. I would have loved to read this in a format that utilized page layout and typography to enhance the reading experience. It would have been just that much more magical.

Book Review: Speak Easy by Catherynne M. Valente

Speak Easy is every bit as weird and wonderful as I could hope for or expect of a new novella by Catherynne M. Valente. As is characteristic of the author’s work, Speak Easy is a lush tapestry of beautiful prose, full of cunning wordplay, richly detailed descriptions, and a cast of eccentric characters.

My favorite thing about any Cat Valente book is the sense of space she achieves in every world she creates. The hotel Artemisia is no different. Reading Speak Easy is like walking into the hotel and taking a guided tour with someone who has lived there their entire life. They know all its nooks and crannies, but there’s really no end to the secrets of the place. Every page of this book is full of life and color and drama, and Valente seems to almost effortlessly weave a picture of a vibrantly wonderful world.

Speak Easy is being sold as a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, but you may not see it unless you know the original fairy tale very well. Valente is a shrewd scholar of fairytales and mythology of all kinds, and she has a keen talent for adding her own embellishments and twists. Her deep love, appreciation, and understanding of the form shines from every single page.

At the same time, though, there’s an awful lot packed into this slim little story. It’s not just an old fairytale; it’s also A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a particular moment in America’s literary history. It’s tragedy and comedy and heaven and hell and the exploration of these dualities. It’s a story about creativity and what it takes to be an artist. It’s a story about stories and where they come from and who they belong to.

It will break your heart in the best way. Not gently, though.

My first exposure to Valente’s work was her Fairyland books for young readers, which I read aloud to my daughter until she finally decided she was too old for bedtime stories any longer. I’ve since decided that every single thing Cat Valente writes deserves to be read aloud, just for the sheer joy of feeling her words roll off one’s tongue. Read it to a baby (goodness knows they don’t know any better) or to your pet or just to yourself in the privacy of your own home. Just do it, because it’s beautiful. Then go do the same with all of Valente’s other work.

The only negative of this book is that the hardcover is extremely expensive. Unless you are a collector of books, I’d suggest opting for the ebook, which is the best $5 you could spend this year.

Book cover and synopsis for The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home

TheGirlWhoRacedFairlandIt’s no secret that I adore Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series, and I am beyond thrilled (and also a little devastated) about the release of this final volume in March 2016. I love the color of this one, and I can’t wait to have the whole series lined up on a shelf looking gorgeous.

Here’s the synopsis via Amazon:

Quite by accident, September has been crowned as Queen of Fairyland – but she inherits a Kingdom in chaos. The magic of a Dodo’s egg has brought every King, Queen, or Marquess of Fairyland back to life, each with a fair and good claim on the throne, each with their own schemes and plots and horrible, hilarious, hungry histories. In order to make sense of it all, and to save their friend from a job she doesn’t want, A-Through-L and Saturday devise a Royal Race, a Monarckical Marathon, in which every outlandish would-be ruler of Fairyland will chase the Stoat of Arms across the whole of the nation – and the first to seize the poor beast will seize the crown. Caught up in the madness are the changelings Hawthorn and Tamburlaine, the combat wombat Blunderbuss, the gramophone Scratch, the Green Wind, and September’s parents, who have crossed the universe to find their daughter…