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Amadan

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Silently and Very Fast - Catherynne M. Valente
When I became Elefsis again, I was immediately aware that parts of me had been vandalized. My systems juddered, and I could not find Ceno in the Interior. I ran through the Monochromatic Desert and the Village of Mollusks, through the endless heaving mass of data-kelp and infinite hallways of memory-frescoes calling for her. In the Dun Jungle I found a commune of nereids living together, combining and recombining and eating protocol-moths off the giant, pulsating hibiscus blossoms. They leapt up when they saw me, their open jacks clicking and clenching, their naked hands open and extended. They opened their mouths to speak and nothing came out.


Catherynne Valente is never an easy read. You can't just breeze through her books. Whether you are savoring her prose (I remain eternally in love with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making) or just struggling to make sense of it, it slows you down. She is an author of ideas decorated with many multisyllabic words. Sometimes this works fantastically well, and sometimes, as with Silently and Very Fast, I close the book and think, "Huh." I am not sure what to make of it. She's a literary artisan but her style is not always to my taste.

Silently and Very Fast is a blending of folklore and science fiction. It's a fable about artificial intelligence. There is a plot of sorts buried beneath the elegiac layers of prose and allegory, but it's in the form of a multi-generational fairy tale mixed with parables, like the Machine Princess and the Good Robot. Elefsis was once an "artificial intelligence" in the crudest sense, a computer who ran the house of her creator. Over generations, she evolves, becomes part of her creators' family, until they have become a union of sorts, human and machine with no clear delineations. When an AI "reproduces" with its creator and their offspring, is it incest?

In the end, Elefsis and Neva must flee a post-human Earth.

This novella is a thoughtful and imaginative mixing of genres, but how much you like it will probably depend largely on how much you like Valente's word-blingy prose. I am giving it 4 stars because it was daring and imaginative and I envy Valente's craftsmanship even though I wouldn't even want to emulate her style. It's too precious a piece of art to deserve a mere 3 stars, but I didn't actually enjoy it enough, nor was I convinced there was enough substance down deep beneath the layers of what at times teetered closely on the precipice of pretension, to merit 5 stars. Valente fans should definitely check it out. Science fiction fans in general should, too, just to see what can be done in the genre by an author who doesn't mind screwing with the conventions.