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The Melancholy of Mechagirl Kindle Edition
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The whole book is an excellent assemblage, and I especially loved the poem at the beginning, about the titular mechagirl.
~Boys won’t do; the memesoup is all wrong. They stomp when they should kiss~
Silently and Very Fast is a singularity story without being the kind of singularity story that makes me want humanity to just go ahead and never transcend. Thirteen Ways of Looking at Spacetime made me cry a bit, because the language was so tuned to my frequency, because the pain was familiar. It was like hearing an old sad lovesong you thought you knew, and hearing the lyrics in a different way all at once.
~Hermes breached the matter/antimatter boundary and found Persephone hiding herself in the chromodynamic garden, her mouth red with the juice of hadron-pomegranates. She had eaten six seeds and called them Up, Down, Charm, Strange, Top, and Bottom. At this, Hades laughed the laugh of unbroken supersymmetries. He said: She travels at a constant rate of speed and privileges no observer. She is not mine, but she is not yours. And in the end, there is nothing in creation which does not move.~
But Fade to White, ah, this one haunts me, because it is close to the dystopias of my childhood, the radiation and the fear of infertility, and all of the things you would grow up with if you knew that you would have 2 minutes from the flash bright as the sun. And she takes all of that and filters it down into a coming of age story that keeps me up at nights.
Read if: You are ready to let go of what you think you know of Japan, and learn some fairy tales, and some horror stories, and about the souls of machines.
Skip if: You are not at all amused by artsy meaningful short stories. These stories are probably super annoying if you don't like layers.
Also read: Palimpsest, for more of Valente's longing stories.
Many of the stories felt more like extended poetry than narrative and were so heavily influence by Japanese myths and culture that they were very hard for me to follow, some didn’t feel like stories at all. Once I fell into the rhythm of her writing though, and accepted the lack of a straight forward narrative I began to really appreciate the beauty and flow of her words, I got a sense of place, color and feel for what she was writing even when I didn’t fully understand what she was referencing.
I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite story out of this collection, there were a few I didn’t like at all but of the others each one I liked I liked for completely different reasons. I would have to pick three. The first is One Breath, One Stroke, reading it felt like being inside a Japanese myth or a Miyazaki film. The second would be Story No. 6, it is harder to explain why. It’s sort of eerie without being creepy or unsettling, a mystery that never really gets answered. And lastly is Silent and Very Fast. I guess you could call this a Singularity story, it had a cyberpunk feel without the cynicism and the most beautiful imagery and ways of expression.
The one thread through these stories that stand out once you are done is that they all feel so personal, like you got a peek into the authors mind in a more intimate way than I’m used to, there was not “story” or character to distract and hide behind. Some of the stories were unsettling and uncomfortable, all were well worth reading.
This book is a collection of thirteen stories. Most of the stories are somewhat science fiction in theme and have a very Japanese feel to them (they deal with Japanese mythology or culture).
There were a few stories I absolutely loved, some I liked, and a couple that were a bit too far out there even for me. Valente’s writing style is absolutely beautiful and sparkling, but it is also something best read in small doses (like eatingn a rich chocolate). You do have to concentrate as you read and really pay attention because some things can be a bit ambiguous and have multiple meanings.
I’ll go through my favorites first. I really enjoyed Ink, Water, Milk that tells the story of scroll and a paintbrush and a woman lonely and alone in Japan. This story starts out as three stories that all tie together in the end. I also loved The Ghosts of Gunkanjima; which gives a little history lesson about Battleship island and tells a story about the wind on the abandoned island...it was absolutely beautiful and melancholy and interesting.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at SpaceTime was probably the most ironic and funny story of the bunch. I enjoyed the way Valente blended creation mythology with scientific terminology in this story….it was very cleverly done. One Breath One Stroke was my absolute favorite of the whole bunch and is about a man who lives in a house where he is human in one half of the house and a paintbrush in the other half. This was just such a bizarre, creative, and magical story that I absolutely loved it...just wonderful imagery throughout.
Fade to White was a well done, yet absolutely hopeless feeling, post-apocalyptic story about two young people who each desperately want opposite places in this futuristic society and neither of them gets what they want. It turned a lot of standard societal perceptions topsy-turvy and was easy to read and engage with.
Now onto the stories I didn’t enjoy as much. Killswitch was an easy read about an ironic sort of video game, but ultimately seemed a bit shallow and unfinished. Story No 6 was about a goddess hiding in films and was very forgettable. Silently and Very Fast, was by far the longest story and the hardest to read of the bunch. I had trouble figuring out what was going on here and really struggled to stay engaged with the story.
All the poetry in between the stories was well done and beautifully written. Of the poems I think my favorite was The Melancholy of Mechagirl; a poem from the perspective of a female robot.
I also really enjoyed the Afterword in which Valente explains the situation she was in when she wrote these stories and her own struggles with being a stranger in a strange land. This is definitely an adult book, most of the stories have at least some reference to sex. Just FYI.
Overall I really enjoyed this collection of science fiction short stories blended with Japanese mythology. It’s a unique blend of sci-fi and mythology and Valente’s writing style is rich, prose-like and beautiful. Like with the majority of anthologies there are some absolutely spectacular stories in here and some not so spectacular ones. If you are new to Valente I would recommend reading her The Girl Who/Fairyland series first, that series has Valente’s beautiful writing style but is a bit more accessible than her more ambiguous works like this one.
The collection opens with a poem, the same title as the book itself, a frantic and synesthetic perspective piece that I could probably read a dozen times over and still fail to fully grasp (though I’d appreciate it in new ways every time). It’s a compelling beginning to the book, really; short and fast-paced, giving you a taste of what’s to come without requiring much in the way of time or pages.
Some of the stories in The Melancholy of Mechagirl were not new to me, but they lost nothing in the rereading, and it was good to revisit stories that I’d read elsewhere and enjoyed. I’d heard the story of Killswitch elsewhere, in a collection of gaming urban legends, so it was good to be able to read the story in its entirety instead of just a summary. Most of them, though, were new stories to my mind, and I just drank them up. Valente’s skill with prose, her ability to meld metaphor and myth with solid science and sci-fi is amazing, and not to be missed.
"Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time" is one of the stories worthy of particular note, as it rewrites classic creation myths with a scientific bent in an amazingly complex way, while including autobiographics scenes and blending the whole thing into a seamless back-and-forth narrative that is so beautiful to read. This is a prime example of what you’re going to get when reading The Melancholy of Mechagirl. Some stories are better than others, as will forever be the case in anthologies and collections, but all are superb and all will impress you.
This is definitely a collection for fans of sci-fi and speculative fiction who enjoy playing with atypical ideas , and who want something new and fresh and their reading. It’s for those who enjoy good SFF fiction about Japan (in the time of Japanophilia, there’s a lot of Japan-centric fiction out there but a lot of it doesn’t exactly have a stamp of quality). It’s for those who, like me, are just addicted to Valente’s writing! It’s a book that has wide appeal, and is filled with stories and poems that all bear reading at least twice to fully grasp, which means it’s one of those uncommon books that I can identify early on as having great reread value. A gem to grace the shelves of SFF fans everywhere!
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