“Silently and Very Fast” by Catherynne Valente

I can’t say enough good things about Catherynne Valente.  After reading Deathless, I’ve been trying to read other books.  I’ve been disappointed by most of them, not because they aren’t good, but because no other author is able to live up to Valente’s prose.  It’s exponentially phenomenal.

“Silently and Very Fast” is no exception.  In this Locus award winning novella, Valente tells the story of a robot named Elefsis.  Elefsis began as a Smart house interface, but then evolved into a robotic creature with sentience and even feelings.  And of course Elefsis usings the word “feelings,” because robots aren’t allowed to have “feelings” like a human being.

The brilliance of “Silently and Very Fast” isn’t the story itself.  The difference between man and machine has been explored in other works of fiction, but never like this.  Elefsis’ journey to consciousness is framed through various fairy tales and memories, and when put together they explore Elefsis’ relationships with her former human masters and mistresses over the course of several generations, and explore the depths of the unique form of non-human thought and perception that Elefsis develops.  Elefsis’ mind contains an ever-expanding world known as the Interior which is limited only by imagination.

The storytelling in “Silently and Very Fast” is fragmented and non-linear, but poetic and oh so beautiful in every way.

Most everyone lived twice in those days.  They echoed their own steps.  They took one step in the real world and one in their space.  They saw double, through eyes and monocle displays.  They danced through worlds like veils.  No one only ate dinner.  They ate dinner and surfed a bronze gravitational surge through a tide of stars.  They ate dinner and made love to men and women they would never meet and did not want to.  They ate dinner here and ate dinner there–and it was there they chose to taste the food, because in that other place you could eat clouds or unicorn cutlets or your mother’s exact pumpkin pie as it melted on your tongue when you tasted it for the first time.

Valente crafts a world of Machine Princesses and monocles, of crystals and Turing tests, of doormice and dreambodies.  The world that exists within Elefsis’ mind is filled with great joy and a childlike form of innocence, despite also containing the wisdom and experience of generations.  As Elefsis grows, she (he?  it?  all of the above?) begins to understand the darker history of what’s been going on in the outside world at the same time as she and her owners had been exploring the Interior in their dreambodies.

Valente has an irresistible imagination, and as I mentioned with Deathless, her writing makes everything else seem bland and watery by comparison.  The vividness of “Silently and Very Fast,” is remarkable, and I’m rooting for it to win a Hugo.

It was even more brilliant than I’d expected.  If you haven’t read it yet, you should do so immediately.


I read this book as part of the Award Winning Books Challenge.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on ““Silently and Very Fast” by Catherynne Valente

  1. Pingback: Review: Catherynne M. Valente – Silently and Very Fast « Sci-Fi & Fantasy Book Reviews

  2. Just a quick, much belated comment on this to say I read this book entirely based on this review and it was brilliant. Thanks!

  3. Hi Grace! I don’t do well with sci-fi, or steampunk stuff but maybe, only because i haven’t found a good one under the genre. I am thinking of starting with Ender’s Game or maybe this one? It sounds like a great read. But I am particularly interested in Valente’s Deathless and The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland since I love fantasy and fairy tales. 🙂

    • Ender’s Game is a good start if you like linear storytelling. “Silently and Very Fast” is amazing, but it’s also very poetic in style, which I loved but might not be for everyone. 🙂

  4. L

    great review! this sounds wonderful–I am going to make a point of reading this one!

  5. Authors like this astound me and frustrate me. I love reading them but I know not many can surpass them. And to be honest, they make me jealous.

    • Mhm. On one hand, I’m loving that her writing is so amazing, but on the other hand, her writing is so good that most other books aren’t quite as enjoyable as I know they otherwise would be.

  6. I’m glad you enjoyed Valente’s writing. Fats has read and written a review of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. I didn’t realize that she was so prolific and that she has written this as well, amazing! Our July database is up here, you may want to link up your review: http://main.gatheringbooks.org/?page_id=331

    • Fairyland is on my list of books to read at some point in the near future. I got to see Valente do a reading from the sequel to Fairyland while I was in New York earlier this summer, and it pretty much made me fall in love with her writing. It’s fabulous, and so vivid and imaginative. 🙂

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