- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Subterranean; Deluxe Hardcover edition (July 31, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1596068744
- ISBN-13: 978-1596068742
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #314,198 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Future Is Blue Hardcover – July 31, 2018
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Subterranean Press is thrilled to present a major new collection from one of the most dazzling, distinctive voices in the literary world. Catherynne M. Valente, the New York Times bestselling and multiple-award-winning author of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and other acclaimed novels, now brings readers thirteen stories unlike any others.In the title story, Theodore Sturgeon Award-winning novelette The Future Is Blue, an outcast girl named Tetley lives on floating Garbagetown, in a world that dreams of the long lost land. Lovecrafts Cthulhu mythos is explored and reinvented in style in Down and Out in Rlyeh. In the novelette The Limitless Perspective of Master Peek, or, the Luminescence of Debauchery, Perpetua masquerades as a man in order to continue her fathers business as a glassblower and must fashion a special eye for a queen. And in The Beasts Who Fought for Fairyland Until the Very End, the wyvern A-Through-L, the warrior Green Wind and his giant cat the Leopard of Little Breezes cope with their broken-hearted disappointment over politicks as the evil Marquess ascends to rule. Of her previous collection, The Bread We Eat in Dreams, the New York Times said, Valentes writing DNA is full of fable, fairy tale and myth drawn from deep wells worldwide. With The Future Is Blue she continues to build and invent unforgettable worlds and characters with lyrical abandon, creating stories that feel old and new at once.The Future is Blue also includes three never-before-printed stories, for almost 30,000 words of work exclusive to this collection: Major Tom, Two and Two is Seven, and the long novelette Flame, Pearl, Mother, Autumn, Virgin, Sword, Kiss, Blood, Heart, and Grave.
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As it turns out, I’d also already read a number of the stories in this collection. I only reread two of these here (“Snow Day” and “Badgirl, the Deadman, and the Wheel of Fortune”), both because I couldn’t remember them well enough to immediately recognize them. I can see why. Both stories did nothing for me. “Snow Day” follows a woman who was raised in an isolated house in Hawai by her mother, a professional mistress of politicians. The speculative elements are subtler than in a lot of the other stories, as they come in later on. I don’t think that’s the reason why I didn’t care for the story. I just didn’t have a lot to latch on to. Nothing about the characters or situations interested me. “Badgirl, the Deadman, and the Wheel of Fortune” is a fairy tale retelling (of “The Armless Maiden”) I first read in The Starlit Wood anthology. It was one of the weaker entries in an overall great anthology. The protagonist is a young girl who lives with her drug-addicted father and is under threat from his dealer. It’s relentlessly depressing.
I reviewed “A Fall Counts Anywhere” in the anthology Robots vs. Fairies. Basically, it’s the transcript of wrestling matches between robots and fairies. I didn’t care for it the first time around and so skipped it this time. Maybe you need to be a wrestling fan…
On a more positive note, my favorite already-familiar story in the collection is “The Lily and the Horn,” which I read back when I did a short story column for a queer science fiction and fantasy website. In this world, battles are no longer fought on fields but instead at the dining tables. The Lily constructs a meal of poison, and the Horn seeks to provide her family’s proxies with protection from the deadly substances. As in my favorite of her works, the writing is absolutely gorgeous.
I was also an established fan of “The Limitless Perspective of Master Peek, or, the Luminescence of Debauchery”, although considering it afresh I think it falls into some tired tropes as to how characters are shown to be trans (AKA the naked reveal). The narrator is a rather odious man living in Elizabethan England. He’d be a key example that while characters don’t have to be likable, they do have to be interesting. I read this story a year ago, and it’s still quite fresh in my mind, which speaks well as to its staying power. The same is not true of “Planet Lion,” but I at least remember it as an okay story.
Then there are two stories in this collection that I’d previously read part of and DNF’d but decided to read in full for this review. I listened to the first half of “The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild” on audio but never felt compelled to track down the second half. The writing style and world were very similar to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, which I’ve already mentioned bouncing off of. It’s just too… self-consciously strange and cutesy? It’s largely a matter of personal tastes, and I know plenty of other people like her Fairyland series.
Oh, on that note, I had similar problems with “Two and Two Is Seven,” “The Beast Who Fought for Fairyland Until the Very End” (an admirable attempt at political commentary but the combination of that with the twee setting is nauseating), and “The Flame After the Candle” (a Wonderland type thing). I’m not going to go into them any further, just know that they’re included in the collection.
I also had previously read part of “Down and Out of R’lyeh” before getting bored and deciding to quit. I faired better this time, I think because I focused on imagining the story read aloud — the narration is very distinctive and one of the more memorable aspects of the story. I’m still not a big fan of this one, and it probably doesn’t help that I have a very limited interest in Lovecraft. I’ve liked a couple of books using the mythos, but my knowledge is cursory and I have no interest in reading the original canon.
At this point, you may be wondering how this collection got three stars if I disliked practically everything. But good news, there’s three more I actually liked! The title story, “The Future Is Blue,” teetered on the edges of being too twee but didn’t ultimately go there for me. The protagonist is a girl living in a future where there’s no land left. She lives on a floating island of trash, which is divided by type (electrical parts, candles, ect). I think what helped balance out the cutesy bits was some of the underlying darkness of an ecological apocalyptic future and the mystery of why everyone was legally encouraged to harass the protagonist.
In a different vein, “No One Dies in Nowhere” is an elaborate, ambitious story taking place in the afterlife. Maybe purgatory? It’s unclear, but life isn’t happy or miserable. It’s boring more than anything else. One story arc follows a woman newly arrived, which gives much necessary information on how the world works and the experiences of the human souls. The other story arc follows one of the supernatural beings tasked with policing the place (to make sure the human souls don’t go about committing crimes). He has no understanding of others but wants to be a novelist. He has no story, but one is handed to him when the impossible happens: someone is murdered in the afterlife.
“Flame, Pearl, Mother, Autumn, Virgin, Sword, Kiss, Blood, Heart, and Grave” is a novelette original to this collection. Like the previous story, there are different narrative strands that eventually intertwine. I don’t want to say too much, but it uses the elegant, beautiful prose style I love, and it involves a small European country whose nobility are known to be born with fantastical birth defects. The story centers around a girl who has a tower for her torso.
There is one last story in the collection, “Major Tom,” but I don’t think it’s that notable. It’s using a lot of standard sci-fi story tropes but not doing much new with them.
If you’re a committed Valente fan, you may enjoy this collection. If you’ve got differing reactions to her styles like I do, this collection could go either way.
I received an ARC in exchange for a free and honest review.
Valente covers a wide range of topics, worlds, and concepts in this collection, veering between magical realism, fantasy, science fiction, dystopian, and even cosmic horror with ease. A girl with a tower for a torso holds the fate of a kingdom in her hands in "Flame, Pearl, Mother, Autumn, Virgin, Sword, Kiss, Blood, Heart, and Grave," while another young woman living in a "Waterworld"-style dystopian future must destroy her colony's hope for a better life to ensure their future in the title story, "The Future Is Blue." A trio of rebellious teenage Lovecraftian horrors set out to bother Old Man Cthulhu in "Down and Out in R'lyeh" (this story is MUCH funnier and makes more of an impact if you've read or are at least familiar with some of H. P. Lovecraft's writing), a professional wrestling match between robots and fairies has dire consequences for humankind in "A Fall Counts Anywhere," the real-life inspirations for Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland have a fateful meeting in "The Flame After the Candle," and a newly deceased woman seeks an escape from a dreary and mysterious afterlife in "No One Dies In Nowhere." "Planet Lion" gives us a world of carnivorous cats who take on the memories of those they eat, "Major Tom" chronicles the loneliness of an intelligent satellite seeking solace and companionship, and "The Beasts Who Fought For Fairyland Until the Very End and Further Still" is a return to the world of "Fairyland," and has the Green Wind and A-Through-L struggling to hold onto hope even as the Marquess secures her stranglehold on this once-wondrous land.
All these stories show Valente's gifts for vivid wordplay, fantastic imagery, and fascinating deconstructions of fiction and real life alike. She gives us worlds of green memory-absorbing lions, squirrels that give birth to time itself, bird-headed guardians of the afterlife, noblewomen with towers for torsos, rebellious cosmic horror teen punks, abandoned robots who see their human guardian as a mother figure, sheltered politician's daughters, wars fought via poisoned dinners, and far more. There are a few of these stories I wouldn't mind seeing expanded into future novels, while others stand very well on their own -- sometimes a glimpse of a fantastic world is all we need, but sometimes we want that glimpse expanded...
Of all these stories, I believe there's only one that I did not enjoy -- "Badgirl, the Deadman, and the Wheel of Fortune." It's one of her bleakest stories yet, and while I'm not against bleakness in fiction, this story felt like a relentless slog and an exercise in misery with no respite or even much meaning. It ends without resolution, and left me going "where was she going with this?" Still, one dud in an otherwise beautiful collection isn't bad...
I dearly hope Valente keeps writing, and "The Future Is Blue" is a dazzling collection that's only whetted my appetite for more. It's a gorgeous collection, and it's a shame it had such a limited print run... though at least the Kindle version is readily available...