Adult · Book review · Short fiction

Review: The Future is Blue by Catherynne M. Valente

38768896The Future is Blue is a collection of short fiction written by Catherynne M. Valente. She is of my favorite authors (I’ve read three of her novels and loved all of them), so I wanted to see if I liked her short fiction as much.
Valente’s writing is unique and beautiful, but it’s also very heavy and, I have to say, it’s almost too much sometimes. There are so many layers and hidden meanings that you can’t enjoy the story unless you’re deliberately looking for them, and this seems to become more blatant in her short fiction.
In The Future is Blue I found some stories I loved, some that were just weird, and some I had to DNF.

The Future Is Blue – ★★★★★
This is a short post-apocalyptic story set on an island made of garbage, and Catherynne M. Valente makes it feel beautiful. The story was tragic and hopeful at the same time.
I loved seeing how humans adapted to life on the island, their new traditions, their fascination and disgust for the life of before. (The humans who ruined the Earth are called “the Fuckwits”.) It’s political, in a way, because it’s about climate change, but it’s not only about that.
My second favorite in the collection.

No One Dies in Nowhere – ★★
This story is set in a monastery near a mountain, and in a city inhabited by bird-like people. Nothing ever changes. It’s about the purgatory, and there’s Girolamo Savonarola. The characters were bored and so was I. It was bleak and unsettling and not in a way that worked for me.

Two and Two Is Seven – ★★½ 
Maribel lives in a neglected nonagonal nunnery in the valley of N, where everything has to start with the letter N. The king hasn’t visited for a while and Maribel misses him, but she doesn’t actually know what he’s looking for when he returns.
I didn’t get the point of this one. There were a lot of machines with Polish names for some reason, and I liked the ending – but at the same time, what was that supposed to mean?

Down and Out in R’lyeh – ★ DNF
About Cthulhu. I’m not sure this one even works if one isn’t familiar with Lovecraft’s works, and I’m not.

The Limitless Perspective of Master Peek, or, the Luminescence of Debauchery – ★★★½
I’m conflicted about this one.
It starts out in Venice and it continues in London, and while I liked some aspects of it – the magical glasswork, the way Master Peek used it to influence politics, or the fact that this plays with gender in a historical setting – I wasn’t completely convinced.
It’s that kind of Italian story. The kind that is written in a way that makes you feel like the author thinks your culture and country are oh-so-exotic: they feel the need to put random italicized words in your language when an English one would work just fine – and not in the dialogues, in the narration.
English-writing authors, 90% of the time you can just say “palace” instead of “palazzo”, it’s not a perfect translation (almost no translation is!) but it saves all the awkwardness. Also, it’s Samaritana, not “Samaritiana” – what is the i even doing there?
And why is literally every Italian story written by Americans set in the ultimate tourist trap Venice? Try something more original!
However, I liked how every name had a meaning that was relevant to the story.

Snow Day – ★★
I didn’t get this one. I liked the beginning and what it said about “bad art”, what we consider bad art, and the role of erotic novels. I didn’t understand anything else, ending included.

Planet Lion – ★★★★
This one was fun, and also humans ruin everything. I’m not sure it was supposed to be and I’m not sure that was what I was supposed to get out of it, but I’m fine with what I got.
It’s about a lion named Yttrium, telepathy gone very wrong and a weird alien planet where human intervention changed everything in a way humans didn’t anticipate at all (…as usual).
(Nitpicking Taxonomy Brain Time: the “thylacoleo” in Thylacoleo carnifex needs to be capitalized.)

Flame, Pearl, Mother, Autumn, Virgin, Sword, Kiss, Blood, Heart, and Grave – ★ DNF
This one starts out with deformed children and continued with my boredom.

Major Tom – ★★★
A… cubist story? This follows a man who became the Aspera Orbital Surveillance Satellite after his death. We get to know his life in fragments, twisted and rearranged until they make almost no sense together but in a way they do. Really interesting, even if I was really confused at the beginning.

The Lily and the Horn – ★★★★★
War is a dinner party.

I had already read this one a few months ago, and I loved it even more on reread. It’s my favorite in the collection. It’s both an exploration of venom as a weapon “for cowards” (a woman’s weapon, while war is considered “noble” and for men) and a bittersweet f/f story. In this fantasy world, conflicts are sorted out with a dinner, and I would read a whole book set here – this set up is so interesting it almost feels wasted for just a short story. The food descriptions are wonderful and they managed to make me hungry even when the main character described how she had poisoned everything in the same paragraph.
The ending was as heartbreaking as it was powerful and I loved every moment of this beautiful story.

The Flame After the Candle – ★★★
An Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking-Glass retelling. Parts of it follow Olive in Wonderland, the others follow real-life Peter Pan as he meets real-life Alice.
This falls in the “interesting, but too long and I don’t feel like I understood what it was trying to do” category. I liked what it said about the obsession with childhood, and I managed to guess the ending even though I didn’t really know what was going on.

Badgirl, the Deadman, and the Wheel of Fortune – ★ DNF
From The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales. It’s about addiction and drug dealing and a child in a difficult situation. I think it was meant to be a modern retelling of The Girl without Hands. Didn’t work for me at all.

A Fall Counts Anywhere – ★★★½
From Robots vs. Fairies, and it’s literally about a fight between robots and fairies narrated from two announcers, a robot and a fairy. Really interesting idea and execution, but the constant all-caps were irritating.

The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild – ★★★★★
This was very weird, but just my kind of whimsical weird. It’s about Violet Wild, a nowgirl (just like a cowgirl, but her herd is made up by squirrels pregnant with the present. They’re very aggressive.) who lives in Purple Country until the boy she was in love with dies. She teams up with her sorrow and a mask and tries to find him in the Red Country, but she has to cross all the rainbow and escape a shapeshifting emperor to get there. It’s a beautiful story about growing apart and finding each other again.
Also, stories are dinosaurs. The imagery was great because it was almost nonsense and I like that.

The Beast Who Fought for Fairyland Until the Very End and Further Still – ★★★★★
This is set in Valente’s middle grade Fairyland universe (I think it’s a prequel), which I’m not familiar with at all, but I loved this story, and now I understand why the Fairyland series is recommended for both adults and children.
Fairyland has been conquered by the Marquess, who is now killing some creatures for no reason apart from the fact that she needs someone to blame for every bad thing that happens (or, as it’s said, the story of her own greatness doesn’t work without a villain).
The protagonist is a Wyverary, son of a Wyvern and a library, and he has a conversation with two other characters about the power of stories and using words like weapons. Loved the message and the world.

My rating: ★★★

This was the third book I completed for Marvel-A-Thon (“read an unpopular book” challenge).


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