the-melancholy-of-mechagirl

It is not possible to love for long
what is not a girl, sweet nor soft,
nor civilized,
nor trained to tile and mantle-shine,
stray beast in the house,
scolded when she soils supper
with her hunger,
when her rough tongue soils
every cultivated thing,
skin and sewing and lavender bed.
—  The Girl With Two Skins, Catherynne M. Valente

so I came back from France this week and found a whole bunch of books on my dresser… I asked what this was all about, and they were all of my late birthday presents :) my mom looked on my amazon wishlist and just ordered a bunch of them! she said they started coming in the day after i left, isn’t that what always happens!! happy late-by-2-month-birthday to me!! :D 

The Goldfinch By: Donna Tartt
Then They Came for Me By: Maziar Bahari
House of Leaves By: Mark Z. Danielewski
Audition By: Ryu Murakami
Things I’ve Been Silent About By: Azar Nafisi
Grotesque By: Natsuo Kirino
Out By: Natsuo Kirino
The Melancholy of MechaGirl By: Catherine M. Valente
Day of the Oprichnik By: Vladimir Sorokin
The Normal Heart By: Larry Kramer
The Book of Lost Things By: John Connolly
Little Star By: John Ajvide Lindqvist
Harbor By: John Ajvide Lindqvist
Handling the Undead By: John Ajvide Lindqvist
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell By: Susanne Clark

With all of these and the used books that I bought whilst in Europe, I won’t need to get any books any time soon (we’ll see how long that holds true…) 

Do you have a moment to talk about our savior Catherynne M. Valente

I noticed a lot of you totally feeling her poetry the other day and do I have fucking news for you

If I wasn’t the completely non-paid non-official bpal publicist I’m not, I would totally volunteer to be Valente’s priestess publicist because I have so many feelings.

Let me fucking introduce u for a second here.

This woman is a fucking force of nature as an author, okay. I mean I routinely read over 100 books a year, and when I got my hands on my first Valente novel, the heavens opened and the angels appeared and brought me up for a glimpse of the Forever Hereafter, and I was cleansed and never again able to read mediocre fantasy/sci fi/speculative fiction thereafter.

“Oh my god dusken what’s so great about valente”

Let me tell u.

She writes in a glorious blend of poetry and prose, to the point where if you HATE description, well, you might as well back away now. But if you’re like me and FEED on the stuff, you may as well throw your money at a Valente novel right now. 

She is a MASTER of voice. I’m sure you know the feeling of when an author tries to write from multiple character POVS–and it falls flat. You forget who is even talking, because it’s all the same voice. Not so with Valente. EVERY. SINGLE. FLIPPING. CHARACTER. is handled well. She writes Angsty Teenaged Girl Turned Almost Vampire, Tough Midwestern Girl at the End of The World, Half-Trickster Deity, Cyborg with Curiosities, World (astral) Traveler, hell, as you’ve seen, even Dragon That Gives no Fucks–with equal tact. With equal care, equal thought, equal measure and understanding, and because of this, her writing never gets boring. Because you know she has such versatility, it’s like you AREN’T reading the same author. She’s a chameleon, and it’s gloriously good.

She is a master of metaphor, and of blending poetry right into prose without making it sound forced, like a high school Insert X Metaphors assignment. Everything feels purposeful, yes, even the stories in which the metaphor drips all over you and puddles on the floor. Even that part has meaning. Even in Palimpsest when the description gets so intense it feels claustrophobic. All of that was thought out, and delivered to elicit some feeling in the reader. Palimpsest feels like a trap because it is one. The Labyrinth feels like a thick, gross ooze because it is one. Etc etc

She is a master of tropes. She easily twists expected tropes and endings around and SAYS SOMETHING about them, without preaching or throwing it at the reader. You can spend days wondering how she did it, because it’s subtle. She humanizes monsters all day long, and you don’t even realize how well it’s done. She makes you wonder how it feels to grow up as a Minotaur, and that’s pretty fucking cool. 

She’s a hugely feminist writer with a ton of female leads that kick ass, take names, and give no fucks while being eloquent besides. You will never get tired of reading about her protagonists, because they are all beautiful in their own ways. She is constantly challenging and reinventing what sci-fi fantasy authors think a female lead in fantasy should mean.

She routinely writes queer relationships and in most stories it’s not even questioned or Made A Thing, it just is. This is very prevalent in her most recent short story novel, and I was VERY pleased and pleasantly surprised to see it. It was like wait, was that just–it was. Blink and you’ll miss it, because for once representation is handled as Something Else That Happens and not a Major Plot Point, which is refreshing.

And this brings me to my last point. She has a deep, earnest understanding of fairy tale and archetype, which is why she is so good at rewriting and twisting them for herself. She understands that These Are Bad Characters, and These Are Good, and our cultural conditioning means we EXPECT THAT, and that she will turn them on their heads just to do it. She makes you sympathize with the demon, with the villain, with the creatures in the forest your parents told you never to befriend, and she makes it amazing and believable. In this way she challenges also the conventional understanding we have of each other, and ourselves. She understands stories have a Rising Action and a Climax which is why she deliberately subverts and removes them just for the funsies.

ENOUGH BLABBERING, THOUGH

HERE ARE SOME LINKS

I am dividing her books up by difficulty and by type. I say DIFFICULTY because reading some of Valente’s works is like adjusting to a new, rough language you may not be accustomed to. I certainly had to give it a few days, and certain books are much denser, and much less linear, than others. Her roots come from poetry, and while that’s rad, it can be difficult if you like a Nice, Linear Storyline.

POETIC/DENSE

Myths of Origin is a tome, and arguably, the most poetic and least linear of all the books from her I have read. It contains 4 previously published novellas, which are all sort of loose interpretations of existing mythos, beautiful reimagined. But absolutely not linear. The most dense, ironically, is Labyrinth.

Palimpsest is going here and not with the novels, because to me it’s vastly more poetic than linear, and also has the curious feeling of slowly suffocating me to death while I read it, which to its credit makes it a very successful book, writing wise.

A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects 

SHORT STORY

Melancholy of Mechagirl is Valente’s short story collection inspired by the years she spent in Japan, and can I say she NAILS kami in this one. She nails the essence, the feeling, of Japanese mythology, and all I can say is READ IT. READ IT YESTERDAY. And if you’re asking the question “How can somebody anthropomorphize a folding screen” imma need you to read this and we can discuss what sorcery that is.

The Bread We Eat in Dreams is another short story/novella collection, with a few old works and a LOT of new. I LOVED this collection. She is at her best here. There is honestly something here for everyone, including the dragon poem, which was in this volume. I enjoyed every single piece, which never happens to me in short story compilations. Somehow she says something poignant with every story, too.

Silently and Very Fast (included in Melancholy of Mechagirl but also available alone) is so many things it’s hard to describe. You almost need to experience it. On the surface it’s an exploration of a future society and cyborgs and feelings and robot-human interaction and all the cliches you thought you’d had enough of, except it becomes something so much more than that. This is another one that made me feel bizarre, not in a bad or good way, just the same way Palimpsest did.

NOVELS

The Orphan’s Tales: In The Night Garden was my very first Valente book, and the one that made me fall in love desperately. I had never encountered storytelling like this before. It loosely takes inspiration from the structure of the Arabian Nights, which, if you’ve read it, you know the entire idea is the stories in the novel never end–they are nested, one in another, so the stories last years and years. In this novel, you are sometimes around 6 stories deep, meaning character A begins a tale, in which character B begins a tale also, in which Character C begins a THIRD tale…so on until you’re 6 deep. In any other person’s hands this idea could have been a confusing mess, but somehow, someway, it’s perfectly handled. I absolutely loved it. There is also a sequel which actually is BETTER than the first, and when the hell does that ever happen?

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is probably the most novel-like Valente novel so far, partially because it’s kind-of aimed at a younger market. This is the fairy tale you wished you had as a young person, especially if you were surrounded by pretty coiffed princesses in ivory towers. The entire series is a masterpiece, and if you like fae, trust me, you’ll love this. Finally, fae are handled well.

Deathless is to date the one of the few Valente novels I haven’t read, but judging by tumblr, one of the fierecest loved. It’s a reinterpretation of the Russian folktale by the same name, and again, could have gone wrong in another author’s hands; handled fabulously and made SHARP here. She captures the essence of European folktale and makes it grittier.

In MY personal opinion I would always start with The Orphan’s Tales because I think they showcase everything I said up there Valente handles masterfully as an artist, but you can really start wherever.

Now that you have heard the word of our savior, do get back to me on what you pick up.

My body is
               full of holes
where the junkbody metalgirl tinkid used to be
inside me inside it
and I try to go out for tea and noodles
but they only taste like crystallized cobalt-4
and faithlessness.
I feel my suit
all around me. It wants. I want. Cold scrapcode
               drifts like snow behind my eyes.
I can’t understand
why no one sees the dinosaur bones
of my exo-self
dwarfing the ramen-slingers
and their steamscalded cheeks.
—  The Melancholy of Mechagirl by Catherynne Valente
Ceno was eleven years old. She knew very well that Neptune was a hostile blue ball of freezing gas and storms like whipping cream hissing across methane oceans. What she wanted was the Neptune she had imagined before Saru had told her the truth. Half underwater, half ruined, half-perpetual starlight and the multicolored rainbow light of twenty-three moons. But she found it so hard to remember what she had dreamed before Saru had ruined it for her. So there was the whipped cream storm spinning in the sky, and blue mists wrapped the black columns of her ruins.
—  Silently and Very Fast, Catherynne M. Valente (The Melancholy of Mechagirl
"In the beginning

was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was a high-density pre-baryogenesis singularity. Darkness lay over the deep and God moved upon the face of the hyperspatial matrix. He separated the firmament from the quark-gluon plasma and said: Let there be particle/anti-particle pairs, and there was light. He created the fish of the sea and the fruits of the trees, the moon and the stars and the beasts of the earth, and to these he said: Go forth, be fruitful and mutate. And on the seventh day, the rest mass of the universe came to gravitationally dominate the photon radiation, hallow it, and keep it.“- Thirteen Ways of Looking At Space/Time,Catherynne Valente