Full disclosure: I’m doing this as part of a series for BookRiot.com, and I’m entering Book Riot’s START HERE Write-In Giveaway.
I’m also doing this because Catherynne Valente is one of my favorite writers ever, and I want to share the love.
Cat Valente is one of the most poetic modern writers I’ve ever come across. Her work is dense with imagery, fascinating characters, and world-building that I can only aspire to. She draws from mythologies all over the world and takes a careful mortar and pestle to them, keeping the flavor, but altering them to suit her stories. My first exposure to her work was in an anthology called Ravens in the Library, and while there are big names aplenty in that lovely charity work, it was Cat Valente’s short story ‘The Ballad of the Sinister Mr. Mouth’ that I remember best. I read the story in a breathless state of wonder, and ended up weeping at the end of it. It wasn’t necessarily a sad story, but it touched me in that artist’s place and managed to lay me raw. Since then, I’ve been buying everything she writes, in hardcover.
The woman is incredibly prolific. She writes short fiction, poetry, and novels. I’ve decided to recommend one of each.
1) Short Fiction – Silently and Very Fast
This novella is up for a Hugo this year, and I can see why. It’s a gorgeous dreamscape that slowly shows you its underpinnings until you realize you’ve been reading a treatise on how we may treat other forms of intelligence, how the human race may slowly become redundant, how the smallest of families can protect themselves in such a world. Both plot and prose are artfully constructed.
2) Poetry – Mouse Koan
This one is available free on Tor.com, and is well-worth the read. It starts out with a bit of humor, a bit of the start of the universe, and then focuses down on a particular part of our universe. The imagery – I can’t say enough about it. This is brilliant modern poetry, and it’s available for free, people.
3) Novel – Palimpsest
Now, Ms. Valente has written many novels, and they’re all worth mentioning. This one, however, grabbed me by the shirt collar and dragged me into its world, hauled me along with characters I cared about desperately, and made me believe in a central concept I would have laughed at if introduced without the supporting language. I wept at the end of this book, and came out of it gasping for air – hell, gasping for more of Cat Valente’s fiction. It was nominated for the Hugo for 2011. Read this book.
I could recommend more – her Orphan’s Tale duology, her Fairyland novels, her Tales of Prester John series – I could go on forever, or at least until I ran out of her work. But these are good places to start.
And a quick reminder – my own Kickstarter is running, at about the halfway point timewise. Please take a look, and pledge and repost if you can!