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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 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

The Orphan’s Tales: Each story is brilliant and brilliantly told

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 collectio... Read More

In the Night Garden: Delicious and clever (but not for Kevin)

The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne 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 st... 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 something in the real world and are nat... 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

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 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

Deathless: Demands careful reading and close attention

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

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 Read More

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 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 Boy Who Lost Fairyland: Weakest of the series

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland is the fourth in the FAIRYLAND series by Catherynne M. Valente, the second in a row that has been somewhat of a disappointment to me, and the first whose strengths I thought were not enough to fully overcome its flaws.

Valente takes a bit of a risk here in book four, shifting focus from her primary protagonist, September and her friends, to a whole new cast of characters. The titular “boy” of the book is Hawthorn, a young troll scooped up by the Red Wind and dropped off in our world as a changeling, where he lives as a “Not Normal” boy for some years before encountering Tam, another changeling. Eventually, the two of them realize their true selves and make their way back to Fairyland, and it is there that thei... 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 understoo... 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

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

Speak Easy: Dark, scintillating Jazz Age fairy tale

Speak Easy by Catherynne M. Valente

I held off on reading Speak Easy by Catherynne M. Valente for a few weeks after it arrived because I knew once I started reading it, I’d want to do nothing else. When you look at the novella, this doesn’t seem like such a big problem. The advanced reader’s copy is a slim volume, thinner than my pinky finger (the signed limited-edition volumes for sale at Subterranean Press might be bigger; they are hardcovers, bound in cloth). But take a peek into the first page of Valente’s novella, and you get a sense of the denseness and beauty of her language:
There's this ragamuffin city out east, you follow? Sitting pretty with a river on each arm, lit up in her gladdest rags since 1624. She'll tell you she's seen it all, boy howdy, the deep down and the high up, champagne and syphilis, ... Read More

Radiance: A human life is as mysterious as an ecosystem

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

Radiance, by Catherynne M. Valente, tells the story of documentary filmmaker Severin Unck and her ill-fated film project on Venus in the 1920’s. In this alternate history, humans conquered the solar system around the end of the 19th century, and human colonies have sprung up from Mercury to Pluto and everywhere in between. These are not the planets as we know them, though — inhospitable balls of gas, icy rocks, or boiling oceans. Valente is writing in the tradition of Burroughs and Weinbaum; these are the planets of sci-fi’s pulp age, teeming with exotic life, seemingly just waiting for human visitors to make sense of them, to build cities of chrome and glass. In such a solar system the golden age of Hollywood, with its glimmering silent film stars, occurs not on Earth but on the Moon. Read More

The Glass Town Game: A strange, unsettling and deeply personal project

The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente

Any book by Catherynne M. Valente contains both the unexpected and the unsurprising. You can always anticipate clever wordplay, a sense of whimsy, and prose that just stops short of purple, but in regards to content all bets are off. She can write anything, from a Wild-Western Snow White, to a brand new take on Arabian Nights, to a sci-fi, alt-history space opera mystery.

And in this case, the plot of The Glass Town Game (2017) almost defies description. Four children, who just happen to be Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë (yes, THOSE Brontës), are being sent away to boarding school when a mysterious train pulls up and whisks them away to Glass Town. Astonishment reigns since this is the imaginary city of their make-believe games, where N... Read More

The Refrigerator Monologues: A herald of change?

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

In her Afterword, Catherynne M. Valente lays out the inspiration for 2017’s collection of linked short stories The Refrigerator Monologues. Valente was inspired partly by the work of comics writer Gail Simone, who created and popularized the term “Women in Refrigerators” as a way to describe women cape-and-mask heroes, and how they are treated in conventional comics. As for structure, Valente looked toward Eve Ensler’s groundbreaking theatrical work The Vagina Monologues. To no small extent, though, Valente was galvanized into writing this collection because of her anger at how Gwen Sta... Read More

Space Opera: An overdose of whimsy and wonder

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

This is the kind of review I always dread writing — so many people loved Space Opera (2018), either becoming brand-new Catherynne M. Valente fans or cementing their appreciation of her talent. I can see why they would like it, I really can. The novel bears all the hallmarks of a Valente project: an overabundance of whimsy and wonder, intricately wordy sentences that sometimes become whole paragraphs, an aggressively manic-cute species, and much more. And there’s the acknowledged, heavy debt owed to Douglas Adams’ ground-breaking novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; much of your personal enjo... Read More

The Future is Blue: Life, and this collection, is like a box of chocolates

The Future is Blue by Catherynne M. Valente

Fans of Catherynne M. Valente who especially love her line-by-line prose will be pleased with her 2018 story collection, The Future is Blue. Fifteen of Valente’s shorter works are showcased here. The title piece is a novelette. The similarity they share is the priority of narrative voice and prose above other story elements, even those of character and plot.

I recommend that readers who love Valente’s prose consider this book as a box of gourmet chocolates, rather than a meal. It is possible to overindulge on Valente’s fascinating and fantastical conceits if you try to read this one sitting — and since it’s a story collection, you don’t have to.

The stories included are:

“The Future is Blue”
“No One Dies in Nowhere... Read More

Comfort Me With Apples: All happy families are (not) alike

Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente

Sophia’s life is perfect. She adores her husband, her company is much sought-after in the luxurious gated community she and her various neighbors share, she has endless tasks and joys to fill the long days while she waits for her husband to return from his various freelancing jobs. So why does everyone keep asking if she’s happy? Why has her husband forbidden her from breaching their home’s basement? Everything is perfect … right?

It would be easy to call Comfort Me With Apples (2021) a retelling of the “Bluebeard” folktale, and that’s part of what Catherynne M. Valente is doing in this slim novella, but that’s not where the story ends — Valente’s also drawing from other, older, darker source... Read More

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 thing... 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 magi... 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 syphi... Read More

Magazine Monday: Subterranean Magazine, Summer 2013

Editor's note: We now know that K.J. Parker is author Tom Holt.

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 e... Read More

SHORTS: Thomas, Foster, Valente, Turtledove

There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. 

The Sea of Ash by Scott Thomas (2014)

The Sea of Ash is a wonderful little novella. It's creative, creepy and oh so very 'Lovercraft.' My only complaint is that it's too short. So much of the Lovecraftian world is in short stories and novellas; I’m not quite sure why there isn’t more in a longer form. This story follows a modern researcher investigating the strange happenings and disappearance of Dr. Albert Pond, using his Pond’s unfinished journal as a guide. Regarding the journal:
His was a documentation of a journey into an unknown New England, into an unmapped reality.
This is a story of a reality just beyond one's view. Something of the natural world, just not from our own. I highly recommend this r... Read More

SHORTS: El-Mohtar, Miller, Cooney, Pullman, Bear, Valente

Here are some of the stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. This week we continue focusing on 2015 Nebula-nominated short fiction, along with some other stories that caught our attention.

“Madeleine” by Amal El-Mohtar (2015, free on Lightspeed magazineKindle magazine issue), nominated for the 2015 Nebula award (short story)

Madeleine is in therapy after the death of her mother from Alzheimer’s. She and her therapist, Clarice, are discussing the loss of her ... Read More

SHORTS: Barthelme, McGuire, Hurley, Wong, Vaughn, Anders, Headley, Shawl, Bolander, Walton, El-Mohtar, Valente, Dick

Our weekly exploration of free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. 

“Report” by Donald Barthelme (1967, originally published in the New Yorker, free at (reprinted by permission), also collected in Sixty Stories)
“Our group is against the war. But the war goes on. I was sent to Cleveland to talk to the engineers. The engineers were meeting in Cleveland. I was supposed to persuade them not to do what they were going to do.”
“Report,” by Donald Barthelme, was published in the New Yorker in 1967. Th... Read More

SHORTS: More Hugo and Locus Award finalists

In this week's SHORTS column we wrap up our reviews of most of the 2021 Locus and Hugo award finalists in the novelette and short story categories.

“50 Things Every AI Working with Humans Should Know” by Ken Liu (2020, free at Uncanny magazine)

One eventually gets the list the titles implies, but first the story opens with an obituary of the list’s author — “WHEEP-3 (‘Dr. Weep’), probably the most renowned AI AI-critic of the last two decades.” The obit explains how WHEEP was created/trained by Dr. Judy Reynolds Tran, the odd and at times controversial relationship between the “strange pair who whose lives were inextricably entwined,” the three phases of WHEEP’s career, culminating in “advice aimed at advanced artificial intelligence,” and finall... 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 readers enoug... 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 & 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. 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 Urba... 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 coul... 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

Twenty-First Century Science Fiction: Packed full of excellent SF stories

Twenty-First Century Science Fiction edited by David G. Hartwell

Twenty-First Century Science Fiction is packed full of excellent science fiction stories. I've been reading anthologies lately, partly to improve my own short story writing, and this is the best I've found so far. It contains stories by authors such as Paolo Bacigalupi, Cory Doctorow, Catherynne M. ValenteJohn Scalzi, Jo Walton, Charles Stross, Elizabeth Bear... Read More

Magic City: Recent Spells: A solid urban fantasy anthology

Magic City: Recent Spells edited by Paula Guran

Things you should know:
1. This is a reprint anthology. If you read a lot of anthologies in the field, you will probably have read some of these before. I had read three, though two of them were among the best ones, and I enjoyed reading them again.
2. It still has some worthwhile stuff in it, especially if you're a fan of the big names in urban fantasy (Jim Butcher, Carrie Vaughn, Patricia Briggs) and haven't read these stories before.
3. It isn't just "urban fantasy" by the usual definition (our contemporary world plus the supernatural). There's a sword-and-sorcery story from Scott Lynch, an... Read More

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy: “Best” sets the bar high and these stories clear it

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016 edited by Karen Joy Fowler & John Joseph Adams

Karen Joy Fowler is the guest editor of the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016. This is the second book in the annual series, which John Joseph Adams conceived of, and he still plays a large role in the selection process.

It is worth reading both Adams’ and Fowler’s introductions. Fowler’s is brilliant because she talks about the world, fiction, fantasy and language. Adam’s is instructive. He walks us through the selection process. This is where I discovered that the title, “best of science fiction and fantasy” is quite literal. It’s not “science fiction/fantasy” or “science fantasy” or “science fiction or fantasy.” The book contains twenty stories. Ten are fantasy, and t... Read More

A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers

A People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers edited by Victor LaValle & John Joseph Adams

In reaction to the Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States as well as to the rhetoric spewed by his far-right supporters such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham, Victor LaValle & John Joseph Adams wrote to a diverse set of speculative fiction authors with this charge: “We are seeking stories that explore new forms of freedom, love, and justice: narratives that release us from the chokehold of the history and mythology of the past… and writing that gives us new futures to believe in.”

The “mythology” they refer to is the history we learned in school which taught us about all the great white men who accomplished all the significant events in American history. This idea has b... Read More

Fifth Annual FOGCon + Giveaway!

Last month Marion and I attended FOGCon 5 in Walnut Creek, California (in the San Francisco Bay area) where I served on a panel called “When the Setting is a Character.” FOGCon, which stands for Friends of the Genre Convention, has a literary bent. Marion and I are going to discuss our experience here, and we've got a book to give away to a commenter.

Marion, what did you think of your first FOGCon?

Terry, I expected FOGCon to be fun because you recommended it, but this conference exceeded my expectations! From the Walnut Creek Marriott Hotel staff – consistently helpful, friendly and cheerful – to the thoughtful and varied panels, this was a great weekend. And I love that they had a “Ghost of Honor,” Joanna Russ, devoting an... 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.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThis 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.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe 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.