Sunday, July 1, 2018

On Genevieve Valentine's short fiction

Genevieve Valentine has been publishing short fiction since 2007, as well as several novels. She is very possibly my favorite current writer of short fiction -- if she isn't at the very top, she's definitely in the conversation. I've reprinted six of her stories in my Year's Best anthologies: "Bespoke", "The Sandal-Bride", "The Grave Digger of Konstan Spring", "Aberration", "This Evening's Performance", and "Everyone From Themis Sends Letters Home"; as well as "The Nearest Thing" in Robots: The Recent A. I., and "Carthago Delenda Est" in War & Space: Recent Combat. She hasn't yet won a major award, but I honestly can't understand why -- in particular, "Everyone From Themis Sends Letters Home" was by a fairly wide margin the best novelette of 2016 and its failure to even garner a Hugo nomination is an indictment of the Hugos, not of that story.

As sort of a signal boost for this excellent writer, here are a few of my Locus reviews of her stories. (I know I also reviewed "This Evening's Performance", but my copy of that review seems to have disappeared.)

From my Locus review of John Joseph Adams' anthology Federations:

Genevieve Valentine’s "Carthago Delenda Est" is set on a space station where a wild mix of ambassadors from a number of species have been waiting for centuries for a particular ship, from Carthage, with a message of peace. But, the story suggests, peace can arrive in different ways, for different reasons.

From the October 2009 Locus:

Genevieve Valentine’s "Bespoke" (Strange Horizons), about a shop devoted to properly outfitting time travelers. I say charming, and the stories do charm, but that perhaps shortchanges them -- each has a deeper background, and each, though short, hints at depths and pasts and wants in the characters that make them seem very real.

From the March 2011 Locus:

Then in March, John Joseph Adams’s first month as editor of Fantasy Magazine, I was blown away by one story, Genevieve Valentine’s "The Sandal-Bride". It is a fairly simple story, and quite uplifting. A merchant is approached by a woman with "the ugliest face I have ever seen". She wants his escort to the next town on his route, there to meet the man she has agreed to marry. To make the escort proper (this is a church state), they must marry temporarily: she will be a "sandal-bride". She has a dowry to make it worth his while, and he agrees almost against his will. On the way, of course, she changes him, and his view of the world, and, perhaps, of ugliness. But there is no conventional ending -- simply a moving depiction of the characters of a few quite ordinary people, and of a man finding something to make his life worthwhile. I just thought it lovely.

From the August 2011 Locus:

Genevieve Valentine is outstanding again in the August Lightspeed. -- she’s been producing a rush of outstanding stories. The problem of AI rights, and particularly the feelings of an AI created in some sense "for" a human’s pleasure, has been treated often, and often very well, in SF (as with Rachel Swirsky’s magnificent 2009 story "Eros, Philia, Agape"). "The Nearest Thing" is another outstanding entry in that field. Like several stories this month, it is told at a slight angle from the ostensible center of the story: Mason Green is a top programmer for a corporation that makes lifelike androids, first as mementos of dead loved ones. His new assignment, from a hotshot executive, is to make an even more lifelike "mind" for a new model. As the title signifies, the android, called Nadia, will be lifelike enough for the executive to fall for -- perhaps by accident. As for Mason? -- well, that’s a key question of the story. And what does Nadia feel? That of course is the central question.

From the October 2014 Locus:

Valentine’s "Aberration" (from Jonathan Strahan's anthology Fearsome Magics) could be read as SF, about time travelers who have lost connection with the people in the places (times) they visit, and who barely can maintain connections with each other -- or, in the context of this anthology, perhaps they are something like the Fae … certainly dangerous to those mortals who notice them, certainly timeless. It's a powerful story, very well told, sad, dark, disconnected, atmospheric -- excellent work.

From the July 2016 Locus:

In for April 27 Genevieve Valentine has a really pointed story about fashion, "La beauté sans vertu", about a modeling industry which, as we learn in the arresting first sentence, replaces its models’ arms with arms from teenaged corpses. The story, told absolutely coolly, savages the obsessions of the fashionistas and their enablers and even to an extent their opponents as it follows the short brilliant career of Maria, mostly from the POV of the likes of Rhea, the head of her fashion House. The details -- of dialogue, of dress, of choreography, of the business, are precise and telling.

From the December 2016 Locus:

Clarkesworld’s October issue is another strong one. The standout story is "Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home", by Genevieve Valentine.  It opens with a series of journal entries from the small advance team on Themis, a planet of Proxima Centauri that they are trying to help colonize. These are intriguing, but then the story opens up to reveal that in fact these people are prisoners, recruited to beta test an extremely immersive game, and that Themis is an invention of the gaming company. Problems have ensued, and lawsuits are on the way. But Themis was, well -- a wonderful place to be. And one of the prisoners in particular only wants to go back -- but there’s no there to go back to. Achingly moving, and in a sense as well a depiction of the way a reader sometimes feels after finishing a story.

From the December 2017 Locus:

"Intro to Prom", by Genevieve Valentine, is the standout in the October Clarkesworld. Jack and Celandine and Mara and Robbie are four young people who were abandoned in a domed (and now underwater) habitat when it was evacuated. (But why the evacuation, and what happened elsewhere, are fraught questions that lurk powerfully in the story’s background.) They have plenty of food, and nothing to do but wait for the dome’s inevitable collapse. One thing they do is re-enact prom, over and over again, in different combinations, with different mini-plots -- who goes with who, who leaves with who, etc. The story’s sections cycle points of view between the characters, and we learn who they are, and why they are there, and a bit of what happened before.

1 comment:

  1. What a great way to remember short stories. And a lovely birthday present for Ms. Valentine.

    I've also got to admire your prodigious reading and reviewing productivity. You must read with a book in hand and a computer on your lap.