Catherynne M. Valente is one of the most versatile and imaginative writers working today. She often has a deliberate pace, but then again, you don't want her books to end. Many of Valente's books have a dreamlike feel, even when dreams are not the subject. While quite prolific, I am going to focus on her latest title and then her award-winning novels.
Valente's latest is Space Opera. In order to save humanity, washed-up glam rocker Decibel Jones and his sideman Oort St. Ultraviolet have to compete in an intergalactic songfest not unlike Eurovision but with laser guns, and not lose. Valente alternates chapters between our unlikely saviors and xenothropological studies of the other participating species. Will Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros rise again, or is Earth doomed? Owing much to Douglas Adams while still being her own author, Valente has some very interesting things to say about earthlings as you chortle to the conclusion.
The eponymous Palimpsest is a city visited only in dreams. In this erotic fantasy, the only way to get there is to have sex with someone who has the map tattoo. This tattoo also allows the bearer to return to Palimpsest. Following four dreamers who have all lost something or someone, this is the story of how they try to make the transition to Palimpsest permanent. Dreamlike in narrative, this book won the LAMBDA Award.
In the two books that make up The Orphan's Tales, In the Night Garden and In the Cities of Coin and Spice, one is treated to fantastically interconnected fairytales for adults. Valente has great fun revising mythic paradigms, particularly gender roles. These books may make arduous reading, but they are definitely worth the work. In the Night Garden is particularly celebrated, winning the James Triptree Award.
While the Fairyland series is aimed at younger readers, Valente has racked up prestige there, too. The first book, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in A Ship of Her Own Making, won a Locus award and an Andre Norton award. In that novel, a girl from Nebraska is transported to a magical place where she is sent on a quest for a witch's spoon. Very much in the style of Lewis Carroll and L. Frank Baum, these books contain asides and allusions that will probably only be completely comprehended by adults, which will make them good for reading to children younger than the middle-grade set who can read them themselves.
What are your favorite Cathrynne M. Valente books? Tell us about them in the comments.