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Catherynne M. Valente

fantasy author Catherynne Valente(1979- )
Catherynne M. Valente is a poet and literary critic. You can see her other works and read and listen to excerpts at Catherynne Valente’s website. The Orphan’s Tales: 2006 Winner of the Tiptree Award, 2007 World Fantasy Award nominee. Here’s the Orphan’s Tales website.

The Orphan’s Tales

The Orphan’s Tales — (2006-2007) Publisher: A Book of Wonders for Grown-Up Readers. Every once in a great while a book comes along that reminds us of the magic spell that stories can cast over us–to dazzle, entertain, and enlighten. Welcome to the Arabian Nights for our time–a lush and fantastical epic guaranteed to spirit you away from the very first page…. Secreted away in a garden, a lonely girl spins stories to warm a curious prince: peculiar feats and unspeakable fates that loop through each other and back again to meet in the tapestry of her voice. Inked on her eyelids, each twisting, tattooed tale is a piece in the puzzle of the girl’s own hidden history. And what tales she tells! Tales of shape-shifting witches and wild horsewomen, heron kings and beast princesses, snake gods, dog monks, and living stars–each story more strange and fantastic than the one that came before. From ill-tempered “mermaid” to fastidious Beast, nothing is ever quite what it seems in these ever-shifting tales — even, and especially, their teller. Adorned with illustrations by the legendary Michael Kaluta, Valente’s enchanting lyrical fantasy offers a breathtaking reinvention of the untold myths and dark fairy tales that shape our dreams. And just when you think you’ve come to the end, you realize the adventure has only begun…
Catherynne Valente The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden, IN the Cities of Coin and SpiceCatherynne Valente The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden, IN the Cities of Coin and Spice


The Orphan’s Tales: Please excuse my handwriting

THE ORPHAN'S TALES by Catherynne M. Valente

I haven't read any fantasy quite like Catherynne M. Valente's The Orphan's Tales duology. This is the story of a young orphan girl who is shunned because of the dark smudges that appeared on her eyelids when she was a baby. She lives alone in a sultan's garden because people think she's a demon and nobody will claim her. However, one of the young sons of the sultan, a curious fellow, finds her in the garden and asks her about her dark eyes. She explains that there are wonderful stories written on her eyelids and that a spirit has told her she must read and tell the stories; Then the spirit will return and judge her. The prince loves stories, he begs her to tell him one, and so she begins.

The rest of In the Night Garden and its sequel In the Cities of Coin and Spice is a collection o... Read More

In the Night Garden: Delicious and clever

In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente

In the Night Garden is the first in a two-book (maybe more?) series and if book one is any guide, this is as delicious and clever a tale-telling as one is likely to run into for some time. With an Arabian Nights feel and structure, we’re introduced to one engrossing story after another as the demon-girl of the garden (that’s the Sultan’s garden of course) spins them out to the enraptured young prince who disobeys orders and decorum to listen. But that’s far too simple a description, for the tales that emanate from the girl’s mouth come themselves from the mouths of the characters in each succeeding story, one after the other, as the main character from story A meets another character who regales him/her with their story (Story B), including the story he/she/it heard from someone else (Story C), including the story they heard ... and on it goes, so that the stories o... Read More

In the Night Garden: Valente is a more satisfying Scheherazade

In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente

[FanLit welcomes new reviewer Alix Heintzman. We know you're going to like her just as much as we do! ]

In the Night Garden is essentially Arabian Nights, if Scheherazade had been a feminist literary critic with a working knowledge of world mythology and a wicked sense of irony. Certainly, this Scheherazade wouldn’t have ended up marrying the Sultan who put his first 1,000 wives to the death.

It starts with a young girl with dark tattoos around her eyes: tiny, black letters spelling out hundreds of fairy tales. A young prince becomes obsessed with the girl’s stories, and very soon the reader and the young prince are both sitting in rapt silence in the night garden, listening. For maybe five pages, you feel you’re in comfortable, predictable territory. The tattooed girl tells of a prince who runs away from home and discovers a witch... Read More

A Dirge for Prester John

A Dirge for Prester John — (2010-2012) Publisher: This is the story of a place that never was: the kingdom of Prester John, the utopia described by an anonymous, twelfth-century document which captured the imagination of the medieval world and drove hundreds of lost souls to seek out its secrets, inspiring explorers, missionaries, and kings for centuries. But what if it were all true? What if there was such a place, and a poor, broken priest once stumbled past its borders, discovering, not a Christian paradise, but a country where everything is possible, immortality is easily had, and the Western world is nothing but a dim and distant dream? Brother Hiob of Luzerne, on missionary work in the Himalayan wilderness on the eve of the eighteenth century, discovers a village guarding a miraculous tree whose branches sprout books instead of fruit. These strange books chronicle the history of the kingdom of Prester John, and Hiob becomes obsessed with the tales they tell. The Habitation of the Blessed recounts the fragmented narratives found within these living volumes, revealing the life of a priest named John, and his rise to power in this country of impossible richness. John’s tale weaves together with the confessions of his wife Hagia, a blemmye — a headless creature who carried her face on her chest — as well as the tender, jeweled nursery stories of Imtithal, nanny to the royal family. Hugo and World Fantasy award nominee Catherynne M. Valente reimagines the legends of Prester John in this stunning tour de force.
Catherynne Valente Prester John 1. The Habitation of the Blessed 2. Catherynne Valente Prester John 1. The Habitation of the Blessed 2. The Folded World
Forthcoming: Book 3


The Habitation of the Blessed: Perfect source material for Valente

The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente

[Note: I listened to Brilliance Audio’s version of The Habitation of the Blessed read by Ralph Lister. It took me a while to adjust since I have recently listened to Lister read three installments of The Gorean Saga and I at first had a hard time hearing the priest Prester John instead of the sadistic misogynist Tarl Cabot. But I got over this soon enough and thought that Mr. Lister did a great job with this one.]

In The Habitation of the Blessed, Catherynne M. Valente lets her extravagant imagination loose on the 12th century legends of Prester John, the Read More

The Habitation of the Blessed: A rich phantasmagorical tale

The Habitation of the Blessed  by Catherynne M. Valente

If, in The Habitation of the Blessed, Catherynne Valente had only invented the wild and amazing world of the fictional “three kingdoms” of Prester John, the mythical priest-king of the east, she would be a rock star. If she had created the kingdoms and used them to provide a critique of colonialism with prose that is by turns lyrical, concrete, incisive, lucid and funny, she’d be a queen of words. But to do that and create the powerful, dreamlike image of trees that bear books as fruit, you’d have to be a goddess, and that’s what Valente is: a prose goddess.

The Habitation of the Blessed is the first book of a three-book series called A DIRGE FOR PRESTER JOHN. In my opinion, there are probably three writers on the North American continent who could do justice to the legend of Prester John: Read More

The Folded World: So many thoughtful ideas so beautifully spoken

The Folded World by Catherynne M. Valente

Prester John has been king in Pentexore for many years now, aided by his wife Hagia the blemmye. He loves the creatures he rules and has spent his time teaching them about Jesus Christ and trying to reconcile the creation story in Genesis with his new knowledge of the world. When one of John’s daughters brings a letter from Constantinople, asking John to bring his army of monsters to fight the Muslims in Jerusalem, he decides that they’ll go. Although he is happy with his new life in Pentexore, he is still a faithful Christian and he feels that it’s his duty to clear the sacred city of infidels.

The creatures of Pentexore, though they claim to be Christians to please their beloved King John, think the whole Christianity thing is a game involving silly hand motions and recitations. When they agree to fight on John's side, they have no idea what they’re in for. To them, war means “... Read More

The Folded World: As many layers as anyone would want

The Folded World by Catherynne M. Valente

The Folded World is the second book of Catherynne Valente’s DIRGE FOR PRESTER JOHN series. In Volume Two, much has changed. In the seventeenth century, Hiog is no longer transcribing the books that fall from trees like fruit. His apprentice, Alaric, is. In Pentaxore, Prester John’s wife Hagia and the crane-girl, Anglitora, who is John’s daughter, are in hiding in the land of the cranes, while Hagia describes what happened when, at John’s urging, the Pentaxoreans left their home and went to war.

In the other half of Pentaxore, beyond the diamond Wall of Alisaunder, another explorer named John appears. John Mandeville is a rascal, a vagabond, a thief and storyteller, who has stumbled into a world even his active imagination could not have conjured. The book has two princesses: Anglitora, and Selafet, the daughter of John and... Read More

Fairyland

Fairyland — (2011-2014) For all ages. Publisher: Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t… then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday. With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online. For readers of all ages who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, here is a reading experience unto itself: unforgettable, and so very beautiful. Some of this story can be read online.


The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

September’s father has gone off to war and her mother works all day building airplane engines while September stays home and washes the china teacups. Life in Omaha is disappointingly dull for such an imaginative and adventurous (and heartless!) 12-year old girl... until the day September looks out the kitchen window to see the Green Wind perched on his flying leopard and beckoning her to Fairyland.

There are many wonders to see in Fairyland: witches, werewolves, fairies, flying bicycles, animated furniture, spriggans, glashtyn, marids, a fabric city, a golem molded from soap, and a red wyverary (a wyvern whose father is a municipal library). If you have read Catherynne Valente before, yo... Read More

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making: Wildly inventive and original

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is her first foray (I think) into YA fiction and it is a wildly inventive and original debut, one which I’m happy to say has already been followed up by the equally inventive The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There.

September (and tell me that isn’t a great name for a character — the cusp of change, the move from summer to fall) is left to her own devices around the house because her father has gone off to war and her mother works during the days at the local aircraft factory. What would have been another dull day is wonderfully transformed by the arrival of the Green Wind, who, seeing that September appears “an ill-tempered and irascible enough child,” ... Read More

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making: A unique, bold, intriguing modernist fairytale

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Reading through Catherynne Valente's first children's book, I found it increasingly difficult to imagine what my review for it would be like. It almost defies categorization, even as it's hugely reminiscent of various other stories: not only myths and folklore, but also the likes of Alice In Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan, as well as authors such as Eva Ibbotson, E. Nesbit and a dash of Read More

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There: Practically perfect in every way

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente

September returns to Fairyland to find that her shadow, which she sacrificed to save a child in the previous book, has become the Queen of Fairyland-Below. Worse, the shadows in Fairyland are disappearing into Fairyland-Below, where they enjoy the freedom to be the masters of their own fate. But the shadows are the sources of magic in Fairyland, and as more of them leave for the underworld, magic is disappearing from Fairyland. September has to solve this problem before Fairyland disappears forever.

I was really tempted to just write a review that said, “This book is awesome and you should all go buy it now. Stop wasting time reading this review.” However, out of a sense of professional responsibility, let me explain why this book is so wonderful.

Catherynne M. Valente is the true heir to Read More

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There: Read it aloud to your children

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There is the more-than-worthy follow-up to Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. It continues the story of September, returning her to Fairyland, or more precisely, to underneath it, where she once again adventures amongst strange and wonderful people and places.

September’s story opens up back in Nebraska, but along with September, we’re quickly whisked out of our dull, mundane world of school and mean girls and back to the world of Fairyland. But Fairyland has changed since September was last there, and not for the better. Worse, the change seems to be due to something September herself did on her first visit there. And as September is “quite a practical child,” ... Read More

The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making: A braver and more clever Alice

The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

I never really trusted Alice, as a young reader. Partly, that’s because the blonde vacancy of the Disney version was lodged firmly in my brain, and I could only read her lines in that breathy, 1950s voice. But it’s also because Alice always seemed like the wrong little girl to fall down the rabbit hole. She’s continually surprised at strange things (you’re in Wonderland, for godssake), she never makes any real friends or real enemies, and she hopes she’ll be home in time to feed her cat. September, the heroine of Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, is a bit more adventurous. Read More

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two: A bit of a disappointment compared to previous books

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente

I’ve been a big fan of Catherynne Valente’s first two FAIRYLAND books, each one full of more imagination than the entire oeuvre of some fantasy authors, to say nothing of the lushly vivid and starkly original language, the wry self-aware humor, and the sharp insights into the joys and pangs of growing up. And all of that returns in the third installment, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairylandand Cut the Moon in Two. But these elements didn’t quite gel in the same manner for me in this one and whole felt less than its parts, despite those parts often being quite wonderful in their own right.

This time around, September’s destination isn’t quite Fairyland, but as the title informs us, somewhat higher. Having followed a Model A out of our world, September eventually finds herself driving it ... Read More

The Grass-Cutting Sword: An exquisite metaphor

The Grass-Cutting Sword by Catherynne M. Valente

The Grass-Cutting Sword is a metaphor, comprised almost entirely of exquisite imagery, and every single word has obviously been chosen with a poet’s eye for sound and sight. It is a creation myth and a Grendel for the nuclear age, a story of beginnings and endings, of beauty and hideousness. The images Catherynne M. Valente chooses in The Grass-Cutting Sword will haunt your nightmares and inform your dreams. Close your eyes, for instance, and envision the monster of the tale from this excerpt of its self-description:
I am Eight. We are Eight. Lying on my side, if you prefer the symbolism. Eight heads, eight tails, eight snakes susurring against each other like auto-asphyxiating lovers, joined at the torso — circus grotesque, unseparated octuplets in a jar of formaldehyde, jumbled trunk a snaggletoothed muscle with the ... Read More

Palimpsest: Gorgeous

Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente

The first thing that strikes you about Palimpsest is the gorgeous prose. Every sentence is crafted with the utmost care, resulting in a novel that almost reads like poetry. It simply begs to be read out loud. I've read many books that attempt this kind of lush prose, but Palimpsest is one of the most successful and most beautiful.

Palimpsest is a sexually transmitted city. People who have been there have a small tattoo — a piece of the city's map — somewhere on their body. Sleep with them, and you are transported there. When you wake up, back in the real world, you will find a small tattoo of another part of Palimpsest on your body — and you will want to go back.

The story follows four people who are all newcomers to Palimpsest — a young Japanese woman, a beekeeper, a locksmith, a bookbinder. They all have lost s... Read More

Palimpsest: Absolutely fantastic on audio

Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente

Palimpsest, by Catherynne Valente, adds to the growing list of urban fantasy books whose setting isn’t mere background but plays a major role in the story. Valente brings the same lushly poetic style and sense of myth and fairytale that characterized The Orphan's Tales, creating a more abstract and surrealistic version all her own. As well, rather than do a simple job of world-creating, she also plays with a more traditional staple of fantasy — the other world some lucky few in our own get to enter, whether it be via a rabbit hole, a wardrobe, a magical book, or some other rare portal.

The eponymous city, Palimpsest, is reached not through any of these randomly benevolent and neutral “doorways” but instead through sex; the doorway to Palimpsest is basically an STD, and like some STD’s, it leaves its mark, in th... Read More

Under in the Mere: Inaccessible, maddening, rewarding

Under in the Mere by Catherynne Valente

Catherynne Valente’s novella Under in the Mere is about as inaccessible a book as I’ve read in some time. That doesn’t mean I’m not recommending it, but it’s fair warning to any who attempt it. Under in the Mere is a poetic, surrealistic “retelling” of several Arthurian tales (a mix of the better and lesser known ones), although “retelling” is really far too pedestrian and prosaic a term for Valente’s dense, imagistic and poetic language here, and far too limiting with regard to how she plays with the tales and with language. Perhaps “recreation” is a better description.

Here’s a short taste of the language from the opening of the first story, involving the Lady of the Lake:
Perhaps I am nothing but a white arm. Perhaps the body which is me diffuses at the water’s surface into nothing but ... Read More

Deathless: Has a charming fairy tale-like quality

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

CLASSIFICATION: Weaving together fairy tales and history, Deathless is kind of like Pan's Labyrinth, if it was told by Hayao Miyazaki and Neil Gaiman. Highly recommended for fans of adult fairy tales, Russian folklore, and Catherynne M. Valente.

FORMAT/INFO: Deathless is 352 pages long divided over a Prologue, 6 Parts, and 30 numbered/titled chapters. Narration is in the third-person, mostly via the protagonist, Marya Morevna. Deathless is self-contained. March 29, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Deathless via Tor. Cover artwork is provided by Read More

Silently and Very Fast: Fairy tales for your sentient robot

Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne Valente

I read the first few chapters of this novella as an act of faith, because Valente has earned my trust as a reader, and because Silently and Very Fast has an award and nomination list longer than most people’s entire short stories (it won the Locus Award for Best Novella, and was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards). So I waded through dense cyber-fairytale imagery on the assumption that it would resolve itself into a story. It did. A very, very good one.

It’s difficult to find the beginning of Silently and Very Fast; it’s one of those Ouroboros stories which loops and curls until it’s eating its own tail. At some point, it becomes clear that your narrator is Elefsis, a self-aware program that lives in the consciousness of the Uoya-Agostino family in a future version of Hokkaido. Elefsis is passed down through the generations in a surgically-i... Read More

Six-Gun Snow White: A beautifully told feminist fairy tale

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente

C.S. Lewis once wrote his goddaughter, “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” It seems an odd statement at first, that one is ever not the right age to read fairy tales, but I think there is something truthful about that assessment. We read fairy tales to our youngsters, to teach them the way of the world, to be wary of strangers, that dragons can be defeated if you are brave enough, to keep your word and to guard your tongue. But after a while, the children grow up enough to go out and fight their dragons and they have no time to sit and read. It is only after the fight, while the burn marks are scarring over and the weight of broken promises rests heavy upon their shoulders, that they have time to come back and read these stories again, and find for themselves a deeper meaning that they wouldn’t have unders... Read More

The Bread We Eat in Dreams: A mythological menagerie

The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne Valente

The Bread We Eat in Dreams contains thirty-five of Catherynne Valente’s short stories and novellas, caught out in the wild and arranged neatly for the paying public. Ranging from delicate, herbivorous poems to novella-sized megafauna, these creatures display the ecological diversity of the Phylum of the Fantastic and the continued resonance of the Kingdom of Myth. For gentlemen-scientists and enthusiastic students of all things speculative, Valente’s story-menagerie is worth the visit.

Thirty-five stories cannot be summarized in any meaningful sense, particularly when they are such willful, strange, and wild stories. There are warped retellings of fairytales — at least one witch plucks an apple from a tree, and little red riding hood has grown awfully postmodern and bitter over the years (“The Red Girl”). There are dystopian future-worlds ruled by women with a hundred ha... Read More

Mythic: Quality makes up for quantity in this anthology

Mythic edited by Mike Allen

While a relatively short anthology, what Mythic lacks in quantity is more than made up for with the quality of its selections. Each poem and story stands out as well as fitting the "mythic" tone the book is attempting to capture. Right from the very start, I was already enamored by the opening poem, "Syllables of Old Lore" by Vandana Singh and Mike Allen keeps the interest, flow, and beat consistent throughout the volume.

There are some editorial choices I'd like to highlight. The first is the sequencing. The poems alternate with the short stories and, if you're like me who reads anthologies in the sequence they're presented, this formula works. I can imagine my interest waning if I was barraged with poems initially followed by short stories and vice versa. As it is, Mythic gives r... Read More

Mythic II: Compact and precise

Mythic II edited by Mike Allen

Much like its predecessor Mythic, Mythic 2 feels compact and precise. Both the prose and poetry (and everything else in between) are easy to read and have a lyrical tonality. The anthology is even and consistent, with no sudden drops or spikes in the quality. Editor Mike Allen also continues the format of alternating between both mediums, which makes the book work.

For the most part, I found the poems to be decent and the fiction enjoyable. Mythic 2 continues the tradition of weaving or re-inventing fairy tales, legends, and myths and infusing them with the sensibilities of the various authors. This isn't a long anthology, but the quality more than makes up for the brevity. I really liked all of the prose and appreciated the poetry but I think the former wins out overall, at least in this volume of ... Read More

Salon Fantastique: More uneven than most of Datlow and Windling’s anthologies

Salon Fantastique: Fifteen Original Tales of Fantasy by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling are the two greatest short fiction editors of fantasy and horror of our time. Their annual collections of the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror provided us, for 16 straight years, with the best short genre and slipstream fiction from all sources. Their anthologies have defined cutting edge fantasy.

Salon Fantastique is more uneven than most of Datlow and Windling's collections. This themeless anthology, containing stories intended, as the introduction states, "to evoke the liberating, creative spirit of a literary salon," contains some very fine stories. It also, oddly enough, contains some very bad stories.

Delia Sherman's "La Fee Verte" opens the bo... Read More

The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2007

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007

In many ways, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007 anthology is a difficult book to review. For one thing, to me and a lot of my reading/writing circle, this is easily the definitive bible when it comes to short stories of the genre. For another, many of the stories that are included in this collection have been featured in other anthologies as well, so there's an overlap in terms of stories featured. But I'll try and talk about what makes this anthology unique from other similar anthologies.

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror is quite comprehensive about its subject matter, not just featuring short stories but poems and articles. The first dozen pages are articles summarizing the important events that happened in the two genres including the obituaries of the previous year. That’s really quite valuable from an archiving standpoint, an... Read More

Paper Cities: Diverse anthology

Paper Cities by Ekaterina Sedia

Bring up urban fantasy nowadays and most readers will probably assume that you’re talking about such authors as Laurell K. Hamilton, Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, Kim Harrison, Charlaine Harris, Sherrilyn Kenyon and so on, but in this new anthology from Senses Five Press, which is edited by Ekaterina Sedia, Paper Cities reveals that Urban Fantas... Read More

The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2008

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2008

For me, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2008 has been a two-headed beast. On one hand, it's an eagerly anticipated book by people involved in the industry, usually for the summation at the front of the book and the honorable mentions list at the back. The various editors are quite thorough and detailed when it comes to this part. The other aspect is, of course, the story/poetry selection, which is what will likely attract the casual reader.

So, how does it actually fare? Well, with regards to the first aspect, there are no disappointments. When covering the highlights of the previous year (and alas, the obituaries) and the various media (comics, movies, and music) in which either fantasy or horror plays a part, the book has it covered. The writing is functional and achieves what it sets out to do.

With regard to the stories and poems, this is a wel... Read More

Troll’s Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales

Troll's Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Fairy tales were my first love when I was a child. My mother introduced me to the joys of stories with The Golden Book of Fairy Tales long before I learned how to read. My early reading included the first three volumes of The Junior Classics and Andrew Lang’s colorful fairy tale books. When Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling started editing anthologies of new takes on the old tales for adults with Snow White, Blood Red, I was delighted. And when Datlow and Windling started editing a series of original fiction for young adults based on fairy tales, I couldn’t resist t... Read More

Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded

Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded is the second steampunk anthology edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, following 2008’s first installment. It contains about twice as many stories as its predecessor, but unlike the first collection the quality is more uneven here, resulting in a less impressive but still fascinating anthology that should please fans of the genre.

While the first anthology only contained one story I was less than happy with, there are at least four or five in Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded that I could have done without. There are also a few stories here that are at best marginally connected to steampunk, although that probably depends more on how you define steampunk. After all, there are probably as many definitions of steampunk as there are readers. Maybe the best way to defin... Read More

More fantasy from Catherynne M. Valente

Catherynne Valente: The Labyrinth, Yume No Hon: The Book of Dreams, The Grass-Cutting Sword, PalimpsestThe Labyrinth — (2004) Publisher: Here Monsters are hidden… A lyrical anti-quest through a conscious maze without center, borders, or escape — a dark pilgrim’s progress through a landscape of vicious Angels, plague houses, crocodile-prophets, tragic chess-sets, and the mind of an unraveling woman, driven on by the mocking guide who seeks to destroy as much as save. Enter the world of the Labyrinth, where Doors do not wait to be opened, but hunt you in the night. This is Zarathustra in Wonderland, a puzzle which defies solution, a twisted path through language and madness… But where will you hide?


Catherynne Valente: The Labyrinth, Yume No Hon: The Book of Dreams, The Grass-Cutting Sword, PalimpsestYume No Hon: The Book of Dreams — (2005) Publisher: In the mind of Ayako, an old woman in exile on a mountain in medieval Japan, nothing is certain, and nothing holds a familiar shape for long. This is a map of a psyche exalted and destroyed by solitude, and on its contorted surface Shinto philosophy, Greek mathematics, Hawaiian goddesses, Egyptian legend, quantum physics, and Babylonian myth meet and merge… In Catherynne M. Valente’s second novel since the critically acclaimed The Labyrinth, language and myth construct a strange new geography of the self. This is The Book of Dreams: open it and walk the shadowy paths of this extraordinary landscape.


This Is My Letter To The World — (2010) Publisher: For two years, acclaimed novelist Catherynne M. Valente has been sending stories out into the wild. Every month, for twenty-four months, a new tale has appeared in mailboxes all over the world. Here, for the first time, these stories have been brought together in a single anthology. Two years of detectives, fairy tales, frost giants, lost moon colonies, furies and minotaurs. Two years of magic. Accompanied by fantastical illustrations created by the subscribers of the project, these hitherto unpublished stories paint a landscape of fiction, family, and a new kind of connection between author and reader. Open the book and become part of a secret world.


Myths of Origin: Four Short NovelsMyths of Origin: Four Short Novels — (2011) Publisher: Live the Myth! New York Times best-seller Catherynne M. Valente is the single most compelling voice to emerge in fantasy fiction in decades. Collected here for the first time, her early short novels explore, deconstruct, and ultimately explode the seminal myths of both East and West, casting them in ways you”ve never read before and may never read again. The Labyrinth — a woman wanderer, a Maze like no other, a Monkey and a Minotaur and a world full of secrets leading down to the Center of it All. Yume No Hon: The Book of Dreams — an aged woman named Ayako lives in medieval Japan, but dreams in mythical worlds that beggar the imagination… including our own modern world. The Grass-Cutting Sword — when a hero challenges a great and evil serpent, who speaks for the snake? In this version of a myth from the ancient chronicle Kojiki, the serpent speaks for himself. Under in the Mere — Arthur and Lancelot, Mordred and le Fay. The saga has been told a thousand times, but never in the poetic polyphony of this novella, a story far deeper than it is long.


The Melancholy of Mechagirl — (2013) Publisher: Science fiction and fantasy stories about Japan by the multiple-award winning author and New York Times best seller Catherynne M. Valente. A collection of some of Catherynne Valente’s most admired stories, including the Hugo Award-nominated novella Silently and Very Fast and the Locus Award finalist “13 Ways of Looking at Space/Time,” with a brand-new long story to anchor the collection.


Magazine Monday: Weird Tales

Weird Tales celebrates “Uncanny Beauty” in the Summer 2010 issue (No. 356, and the most recent issue available as of this writing). The best story in the magazine, though, is one that is off-theme. “How Bria Died,” by Mike Aronovitz, is the tale of an unorthodox teacher who may well have taken his unusual teaching methods a step too far for the universe to abide.  This horror story is fresh, original and written from a position of real authority:  Aronovitz teaches English in a school much like the one in which his story is set.

Kat Howard’s “Beauty and Disappearance” is a surreal tale of disappearing bits of statues, soon followed by the disappearance – at first intentional, and later not so much – of other bits and pieces of other things. The reader is pushed to consider that beauty might lie in absence, and then precisely what th... Read More

Magazine Monday: Hoorays for Valente as Editor, Kessel as Writer

Apex Magazine is an online journal published on the first Monday of every month, edited by Catherynne M. Valente. Valente’s submission guidelines give you a clear idea of what to expect to read within Apex’s pixels: “What we want is sheer, unvarnished awesomeness.… We want stories full of marrow and passion, stories that are twisted, strange, and beautiful.” The January issue definitely meets those requirements.

“The Itaewon Eschatology Show” by Douglas F. Warrick is a story that cries out to be labeled “New Weird.” It’s about an American in Korea – though why he is there is a complete mystery – who is a “night clown.” This means that every night he, along with his friend Kidu, dresses up and mounts stilts to perform magic for the ex... Read More

Magazine Monday: 2012 Nebula-Nominated Novellas

I do not envy the awards panel for the Nebula Awards this year. There are two excellent novellas equally deserving of the award in that category.

The first of the novellas I refer to is “The Man Who Ended History:  A Documentary” by Ken Liu.  This story concerns the Pingfang District in China and the infamous Unit 731 maintained there by the Japanese for biological and chemical weapons research before and during World War II. I had never heard of Unit 731 before reading this novella, and was shocked to learn of its existence and the role of the United States in hushing it up after the war in order to profit from the research. It sounds so innocuous to refer to “the research”: in fact, the Japanese used Chinese peasants for their research, including amputating limbs, infecting them with syphilis, and vivisection without anesthesia. But Liu hasn’t written ... Read More

Magazine Monday: Subterranean Magazine, Summer 2013

The Summer 2013 issue of Subterranean Magazine has a special K.J. Parker section, which is a treat for anyone who has read any of Parker’s work. This author (gender unknown) writes from the perspective of a military historian, and appears to have a special interest in ancient Greek and Roman warfare. All of his/her stories have the flavor of ancient days.

“The Sun and I” is the first of two Parker stories in this issue. It is a take on the statement attributed to L. Ron Hubbard: “If you want to get rich, you start a religion!”  Five friends, all from wealthy and educated backgrounds, but all presently out of funds, decide to start a religion. It seems a better way to raise funds than to beg as unemployed and disabled veterans, and besides, they don’t have and can’t afford the red lead they’d need to g... Read More

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