Tag Archives: catherynne valente

Galactic Suburbia 128

In which other women are magnificent on the Internet, Fangirls are happy, and something mysterious is happening in Night Vale. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

What’s New on the Internet

Nicola Griffith crunches some data about book bias between winners & shortlists
Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Women and SF blog, and the Vonda McIntyre Starfarers post in particular
Kate Elliott on Diversity Panels: Where Next?

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Fangirl Happy Hour Podcast
Alex: Night Vale; Seanan McGuire, Every Heart A Doorway; Catherynne Valente, The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making
Tansy: Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, Letters to Tiptree

You can buy Tansy’s murder mystery Drowned Vanilla in ebook now!

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook, support us at Patreon and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Galactic Suburbia 109

In which we solemnly swear we will repeat the title of our culture consumed after discussing it. Pinkie promise. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

Update on Gamergate with particular focus on Brianna Wu AKA @spacekatgal

(This episode was recorded before the Felicia Day incident)

Alisa’s con report – Conflux
Tansy’s con report – CrimesceneWA

Strange Horizons fundraising

We read and appreciate all your Twitter comments and emails, even if we don’t reply. We love your feedback!

It’s time to start thinking about the GS Award, yes already, WTF 2014 why are you moving so fast?

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Landline, Rainbow Rowell (NB since recording, Alisa actually finished this book YES SHE DID); Night Terrace S1 1- 5

Alex: Sarkeesian’s XOXO talk; Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen); Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond; Indistinguishable from Magic, Catherynne Valente; Bitterwood Bible and other Recountings, Angela Slatter; The Dish.

Tansy: Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan; Night Terrace S1, Agents of SHIELD S1, The Flash S1 Ep 1-2

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook, support us at Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/galacticsuburbia) and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Indistinguishable from Magic

Sometimes when people talk about an author’s work being ‘raw’, it’s as if they think words just appear on the page and there’s no mediation whatsoever. That these words, ideas, thoughts had been flying across the savannah just minutes before the author brought them down with a flying leap to serve them up still warm for the reader. I’m not silly enough to think that – and even if I were, Catherynne Valente’s excoriating essay against people who think authors are just the conduit for some muse (“she IFMcoverweb-2-200x300wrote it but…”) would have made me rethink my position.

When I say that much of Valente’s work, as presented in Indistinguishable from Magic (provided to Galactic Suburbia for review by Mad Norwegian Press) is raw I mean that she has not hidden her emotions, she has not hidden herself, from the world while writing these essays.

(One presumes. It could all be a very elaborate persona, with a very detailed background and crafted voice. Y’know, I wouldn’t put that past her – she certainly has the mad writerly skillz to accomplish such a feat. And if that’s the case, well, more power to her.)

The essays collected here are variously from Valente’s blog, speeches, and a few other sources. They’re arranged into categories: pop culture and genre; writing and publishing; gender, race, and storytelling; fairy tales, myth and the future; and “Life on Earth: An Amateur’s Guide.” And they showcase the brilliant variety of Valente’s interests passions: Persephone and Doctor Who (… possibly not so much of an antithesis there…), fairy tales, equality in all manner of things, Jane Eyre (see, Tansy? she’s on MY side), poetry, and Single Male Programmer Types managing to have sex (trust me, it’s very a very funny essay).

The pop culture musings range between 2003 and 2011. Valente’s writing is beguiling enough I actually read the entirety of the first essay, which is about Buffy and Angel, despite having watched maybe three episodes of the two shows combined. Her comments on what the show meant to 20-somethings nonetheless resonated – and that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the collection. I’m also not a big Trek fan, and have watched very little DS9, but her musings on what the station would have been like with social media? Priceless. More seriously – no, it’s all serious; more academically, her essay on why World War 2 and the Nazis keeps on popping up in comics and other fantastic culture is deeply insightful.

I read about half of the essays on writing and publishing; not being in the game myself means that I don’t really have the emotional attachment to the issues necessary to connect with much of what she writes here. That said, the first essay – the one about writing actually being hard work – is a glorious piece of writing; her explanation of her love of the term metal makes me itch to use the word more; and her utter dismantling of the argument that ‘traditional publishing is dead = a good thing’ is brilliant.

Valente is wonderfully, evocatively, angry and sincere and honest and passionate and conciliatory and clinical in her essays about gender and race and why those things matter in storytelling. “The Story of Us” skewers very neatly the whole ‘but why does it matter?’ complaint – and matches nicely with Pam Noles’ “Shame,” which I read in a Tiptree Anthology. She gets dangerously personal in “Confessions of a Fat Girl” – dangerous to herself, I would guess, because of potential backlash (I really, really hope she didn’t get any); dangerous to some readers because of how it might make some squirm at their reaction; dangerous to other readers because it might just call out their own troubles, and make them confront them.

All the essays up to this point have been easy to read – delightful to read. Some have shown Valente’s academic training. With the essays on fairy tales and folklore, though, she gets her academia on. Katabasis in Alice in WonderlandThe Wizard of Oz, and The Nutcracker? Why fantasy keeps going back to the medieval (“Dragon Bad, Sword Pretty”)? The purpose of Persephone, and her multiple faces? Oh yes.

Finally, the last set are more whimsical as a group – they don’t really have a collective theme, aside from ‘some thoughts on living in the world’. Her reflections on why people love apocalyptic literature are fascinating; her frustration at being of a generation told to live as well as their parents without the means to it revealing; and her reflections on Cleveland surprisingly moving. Her essay on her love of the anchorite idea just sings, as does her discussion of “Two Kinds of Love.”

I read this not quite in a sitting, but with nothing else around it. It certainly works like that. It would also work beautifully as a collection to dip in and out of – none of the pieces are very long, after all. There is so much going for Valente’s writing – for those who are writers, for those interested in fantasy and folklore, for those interested in the world in general. And even if you’ve been a faithful reader of Valente’s blog, Rules for Anchorites, I would suggest this is still a great collection because reading these essays in this order, with essays from elsewhere to add depth and piquancy – it just works.

Some Hugo thoughts

I’ve been doing reading towards voting in the Hugo Awards, so these are some thoughts on what I’ve read recently – all in the shorter fiction categories:


“Fade to White,” Catherynne M Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012) – DAMN, man. This novelette is astonishing. Non-linear structure, with advertising copy complete with snarky editorial commentary interspersed throughout the stories of two adolescents living in a post-WW2 alternative America: alternative because things have clearly gone from defeating Germany straight to Hot War with Russia, and that war has come to American soil. Not only is this a fascinating and chilling look at the repercussions for adolescents growing up in such a world, it’s also a frightening and perceptive look at how gender and race issues might play out, too, in an America so threatened. A bit like Handmaid’s Tale in that respect. I should have talked about this one last because much as I liked Pat Cadigan’s “The Girl-Thing who Went out for Sushi” (Edge of Infinity), I think this gets my vote.

“The Boy Who Cast No Shadow”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications) – a really lovely story. One of those stories that uses a fantastical idea but makes it normal (well, ish) in the society: in this case, a boy made of glass. The eponymous character is regarded as a freak for having no shadow; the two form a friendship based on their bizarreness. This is poignant and lovely; I’m very happy I got to read it

“In Sea-Salt Tears”, Seanan McGuire (Self-published) – I read the first October Daye book and was completely unimpressed. I had no idea that this was connected to that series until I saw someone mention it on Goodreads. So, with no background at all, I actually really liked this story. Selkie stories are so hot right now (and it’s pretty funny reading this after recently reading Sofia Samatar’s “Selkie Stories are for Losers,” which I adored) – this one felt like it did something a bit new with the mythology, which I enjoyed.

“Rat-Catcher”, Seanan McGuire ( A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean). Meh. Cat-fae in 1660s London.


After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications) – totally my pick. Again with the non-linear structure, as the title suggests. Bits of the story happen in a world recognisably our own where one of the main characters is trying to figure out a series of kidnappings. Bits of it happen in a very weird future world where some cataclysm has occurred and a small remnant population is trying to get on with. And there’s a bit during the fall as well, of course… and by that stage everything has started to come together, and both of the main characters really make sense and are utterly captivating. Very, very nice.

The Emperor’s Soul, Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications) – haven’t managed to finish it yet. Possibly shouldn’t therefore comment.

On a Red Station, Drifting, Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press) – I don’t know anything about this universe of de Bodard’s, so I have no idea whether I’ve missed important character references or whatever. Nonetheless the story was highly engaging, and made basic sense – war isn’t hard to understand, and the repercussions for refugees are of course familiar. The intricacies of family entanglements are taking to an extreme and fine degree, but again the basic notion isn’t hard to grasp. It’s beautifully written and very absorbing.

San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats, Mira Grant (Orbit) – have not read, won’t bother because I haven’t read the Newsflesh series (and don’t like zombies).

“The Stars Do Not Lie”, Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012) – interesting idea. Would have been a whole lot better if it wasn’t transparently a Galileo/scientists in general vs Catholic Church story, with little effort to develop an interesting take on the religion.

So, for what it’s worth – those are some of my thoughts!

Spinning a darker stair (review)

Firstly: oh my goodness look how CUTE this is! Seriously, this itty bitty 50-odd page bookling is so cute. Does this count as a chapbook? I don’t know the official definition of chapbook, but part of me thinks this should be one, while part of me thinks no! Chaps won’t read this! This is a ladybook, or a dreamerbook, or something.

Yes, well. Anyway.

This delightful product, whatever it is, comprises two short stories that riff off different fairy tales. Catherynne M Valente’s “A Delicate Architecture” is the first, and I know I read it in Troll’s Eye View but my memory is bad enough that I had forgotten the kinks in the tale. Which was good and bad, since it got to break my heart all over again. This is Valente at her best, spinning an impossible and impossibly beautiful story about a girl and her confectioner father and the dark dark things that can be done in the name of hunger (in all its many variations). This story is complemented by Faith Mudge and “Oracle’s Tower.” While it wasn’t clear to me which fairy tale was being meddled with by Valente until very near the end, it’s clear relatively early on who Mudge is playing with. This does not, of course, prevent the story from working in dark and sometimes sinister ways. This is not a nice story. It is very clever, though, and very nicely told.

Both of the stories are given that extra something by the illustrations of Kathleen Jennings.
The front and back covers are hers, and within there are four more pictures of the women featured in the stories. They’re line sketches (… I am no artist, so forgive me if I get the terminology wrong), and they are delightful and beautiful and add a great deal to the overall feel of the package.

Also? my copy came wrapped as a present. That definitely adds to its specialness.

Full disclosure: I am friends with Tehani Wessely, owner/editor of Fablecroft (the publishing house responsible for this book).

The lottery: Catherynne Valente’s Omikuji Project

Oh my goodness I loved this collection so much.

I’ve had a hit and miss record with Valente over the last few years. The novel Palimpsest did absolutely nothing for me – I found it impossible to get into and the premise didn’t interest me that much either. I could, though, appreciate the beauty of her language, which made it perhaps more frustrating not to enjoy it as a piece of writing. I’ve liked her short stories more, although again not all of them – there have been a few which frustrated me, a couple because I think they were trying too hard and a couple of others because I just didn’t GET what she was trying to do.

And then there’s this collection.

I signed up for the Omikuji Project recently, because I found out about it when Valente was considering shutting it down for having too few subscribers. The deal is, you pay a certain amount and you get a short story – written just for the subscribers – every month, on beautiful paper with an envelope sealed with wax (apparently; haven’t got my first one yet). This collection is the first two years’ worth of those stories, made available via Lulu, and I figured I would buy it to have nearly the full set.

Many of these stories are riffs on fairy stories, which can be a dangerous thing to approach, but I don’t think Valente hits a bum note with any of them.

I would normally just talk about my favourites in a collection, but I feel like I want to mention every single one of them… so the TL; DR version is just: it’s beautiful. Well worth getting from Lulu.

“The Glass Gear” is a delightful, wistful and bittersweet spin on Cinderella, while the three parts of “A Hole to China” are about a child who attempts to dig just that, and what she discovers at the centre of the earth (hint: not what you were expecting. Whatever you were expecting, not that). “The Kunstkammer of Dr Ampersand” is a travel guide explaining a curio cabinet and OH I WANT that novel! Love triangles, heart-of-darkness experiences… it would be poignant and beautiful, like the cabinet. “How to Build a Ladder to the Sun in Six Simple Steps” takes the idea of planetary spheres of influence in intriguing directions, while “The Pine Witch Counts her Knuckle Bones” takes the idea of natural witchcraft and makes it… greener. Valente gets vicious on Chaucer and Boccaccio with “The Legend of Good Women,” and although I’ve not read all of either of the male-authored accounts I know exactly what she is stabbing at here, and she does it well. “Mullein” is one of the most poignant of the collection, a rather heart-breaking little story about the lengths someone might go to for love, and the reader is definitely left wondering whether it’s worth it or not (although I don’t think the characters are). “That Which lets the Light In” is probably my least favourite, perhaps because I am not as familiar with the Russian stories that she is playing with. A story, or set of stories, I am more familiar with feature in ” A Postcard from the End of the World,” which combines Norse and Greek myths into a homely little story about apples (kind of), and “How to raise a Minotaur” sees your Cretan labyrinth, picks it apart, and puts it back together again with added nuance, contemporaneity and a little bit more hope. “The Economy of Clouds” reverses the traditional perspective of Jack and the Beanstalk; “The Still” is a slightly creepy story about girls and plums. I adored “The Wedding” – the idea of the mismatched couple, or mismatched families, is a banal staple of romantic comedies but this – a human and a rime giant? Delightful. “Reading Borges in Buenos Aires” reminded me that I have been meaning to read more Borges – I’ve only read one collection, and that many years ago – and it also connected in a weird way to The Dervish House, because of its ideas of cities as books with social geography that can be read. “The Folklore of Sleep” didn’t work particularly for me, although I appreciated what she was doing both with the idea of sleep as fundamental but more deeply with the idea of what makes individuals and how others react to that. I think the only clearly SF story in the collection is “Oh, the Snow-Bound Earth, the Golden Moon,” and it would make a wonderful novel too: children and an abandoned lunar colony, where they’re all given lunar names and don’t understand the Earth. Two of the stories in the collection are actually first chapters of novels finished over this period, from Deathless and The Habitation of the Blessed. As a result of reading them here, I must read the former and will be avoiding the latter studiously (which I already guessed based on their blurbs). I only understood the title of “The Opposite of Mary” as I was looking back over it today, and that because last week at church the sermon was about Mary’s response to the annunciation. In this story, there is no announcement of imminent divine arrival, but rather just a divine presence… in the shed, with the tools. And the human interaction is humanly motivated. It’s quite an interesting take, for me, on the idea of such interactions. Valente apparently wrote “Blue with those Tears” almost as a challenge to herself because she loathes other stories of Atlanteans so much – and in typical Valente fashion she cannot leave the idea unproblematised. “The Consultant” was inspired by a friend suggesting the need for a fairy tale consultant, and showcases Valente’s depth of knowledge about the subject. And finally, “Grandmother Euphrosyne” is a wonderful, slightly cranky story – just like a grandmother – that brings in Greek myth and family relationships in a beautiful, beautiful way.

The last thing to say about this collection is that aside from the glorious prose, there are pictures to go with every story – which I believe are largely from the community of Omikuji recipients (can’t wait to join them!), and also the beginning of the letters that Valente sends with each story, which contribute to the larger meta-narrative. This is a really special set of stories.

Galactic Suburbia 47!

In which we bid farewell to the queen of dragons, squee about 48 years of Doctor Who, dissect the negative associations with “girly” fandoms such as Twilight, and find some new favourites in our reading pile. We can be downloaded from iTunes or got at Galactic Suburbia


RIP Anne McCaffrey (also some tributes)

48th anniversary of Doctor Who!

A website devoted to The Weird and created by Luis Rodrigues. The project is the brainchild of editing-writing team Ann & Jeff VanderMeer.
Critiquing the Bigotry of Twilight-haters, not the same thing as defending Twilight

Call for contributions/suggestions for our GS Award.

What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa: Once Upon a Time; The Courier’s New Bicycle, Kim Westwood
AlexThe Steel Remains, Richard Morgan; Blue Remembered Earth, Alastair Reynolds; The Glass Gear, in Valente’s Omikuji Project; also watched Thor.
Tansy: All Men of Genius, Lev A.C. Rosen; God’s War, Kameron Hurley. Comics: Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman (abandoned); Batgirl the Greatest Stories Ever Told

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!