Saturday, November 12, 2011

Catherynne Valente: Fairyland and other works

I have a suspicion that someday Catherynne Valente will write my favorite book in the world. For all I know, she's written it already and I haven't read it yet, actually.

I just finished The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making, which Valente published online - and which won the Andre Norton award from the Nebulas. It was later picked up by a traditional publisher; I checked it out of the library. You can still read the first eight chapters of it online.

It was pretty good. It's a little bit Alice in Wonderland, and a little bit Wizard of Oz. It's not the favorite book that I'm sure exists/will exist someday, but I liked it.

Valente has this beautiful, lyrical voice, and she doesn't shy away from exposing life's suffering. This is a young adult book, and there are places where it addresses some of the difficult issues kids face as they grow up, that I was always surprised to see anybody acknowledge, like: Life isn't fair, or when they told you that the rules apply to powerful people too, they lied, or sometimes it doesn't matter if you're right, you're still going to lose the argument, all of which happen when the little girl, September, tries to retrieve a stolen Spoon from the evil Marquess:

“Where…” September cleared her throat. Her hands shook. “Where I come from, if a person has a Spoon, no one can come and take it just because they’re the governor or something.”

“I think that’s very naive of you, September. Tell me, what does your father do?”

September felt her face flush. “Well, he was a teacher. But now he’s a soldier.”

“Oh! Iago, did you hear that? You mean to say that one day the governor or something came and took your father even though you were quite sure he was yours and yours alone? Well, that is certainly different. A father is nowhere near so valuable as a Spoon! I can see why you prefer your sensible, logical world.”

There are comfort-food books that I go to when I'm having a bad day and just want to escape to a pretty world with beautiful magic. Valente's stories are not this kind of book; they're a different kind of comfort. They're for when you're having a bad day and the world sucks and you want to go have drinks with your sister, and have her tell you that you're not wrong; it's not your imagination; you're not overreacting, no matter what the boys or the grown-ups or whoever might claim. Your pain is not nothing.

I had trouble reading another of her novels, Deathless, in a timely manner, because Marya's love life - or rather, who Marya became because of her first love - was a little too much pain for me to shoulder all at once. But that one's going in my archives, so that I can preserve a paper copy of it into my elder days even if the e-book Singularity occurs. There were a few lines in that book that had me hugging it like a teddy bear given by a sister.

There's a list of her stuff that's free to read on the web here; I particularly like her epic Persephone poem (link leads to part 1 - it's being published serially, seasonally, and it's not complete yet). Also being published serially, and not yet complete, is Silently and Very Fast (part 1)(part 2), which I've been enjoying; I really like the idea of an AI that still thinks of itself as a house.

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