In this marvelous, truly wonderful, collection of poetry and short stories, “The Melancholy of Mechagirl”, Catherynne Valente demonstrates she should be viewed as the “[Ray] Bradbury of her generation”, as dubbed by noted literary critic and fantasy writer Lev Grossman. Moreover, she should be regarded as the leading female writer of her generation irrespective of genre, with tales as remarkable as the exquisite novelette “Silently and Very Fast” that concludes this collection, replete with prose that is far more poetic and lyrical than any I have read from some other, more highly touted, female writers who are recent graduates of some of America’s elite MFA programs in creative writing. Another gem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time”, is her unique take on the Biblical Creation myth, coupled with autobiographical fiction. As Japanese critic Teruyuki Hashimoto notes in the introduction to this collection, Valente takes readers to parts of Japan not seen in other works of “Anglophone science fiction”, of which the most memorable is William Gibson’s vast megacity of Chiba City in his seminal debut novel “Neuromancer". Instead we visit much smaller cities like Yokosuka, the home of a United States Navy Base, in two other gems, “Fifteen Panels Depicting The Sadness of The Bokai And The Jokai” and “Ink, Water, Milk” – written for this short story and poetry collection – in which both feature yokai, imaginary creatures, and lonely U. S. Navy housewives (which, in real life, Valente was before she began writing). Those who know Valente only from her child/Young Adult speculative fiction novels may be surprised by her substantial range as a poet and a prose writer, though this won’t surprise anyone who has read her memorable debut novel “Palimpsest” and her other short stories and poetry. “The Melancholy of Mechagirl” should be viewed as required reading for anyone interested in Valente’s literary output, which should include both mainstream literary fiction as well as speculative fiction readers and writers.
This is a tightly linked and often poetic series of short stories based around a central 'Japan' theme which we will discover is semi-autobigraphical. Defintely worth a read if you appreciate material that's a little different.