Catherynne M. Valente. Silently and Very Fast. (The Year’s Best Science Fiction 29th Annual Collection).

So, after a hideously busy work week chained to the laptop, a self-imposed staring at a screen ban finally cleared the way for me to sitting down quietly in a corner at home and getting round to reading this multi-award nominated/winning beauty.

The nominations and awards I’d picked up on, but as I eschew online forums and reviews, I’ve been able to savour the anticipation of reading this for a little while. And I wasn’t in any way disappointed.

It came out in three parts on Clarkesworld last year, so if you haven’t read it and have a couple of hours to spare – head over to their site and read it, or have the pleasure of Kate Baker reading the story to you.

It’s a deep, complex, classy story, multi-layered and multi-faceted, that requires, nay demands, close attention to the detail that has gone into the writing. It covers tropes pretty much well covered in the past, but does it in a far more sophisticated manner, and with the perspective (an ‘AI’ ‘descended’ from a house AI). Except that the narrator clearly is as human as can be, and the story investigates the issue of whether learnt responses from chemical stimula, emotions, are really any different from learnt/taught responses from digitally observed and delivered stimula.

Valente brings her extensive fantasy writing experience in to play extremely well, with an overlaid/underlaid/intertwined series of fantasy stories, and the nature of narrative, and of love, and of loss, also covered. But it’s fundamentally sfnal, and is one of those rare stories that comes along every so often that you feel would be a shoo-in for a Decade’s Best SF Collection, something that takes the genre another step forward. And a must for any self-respecting Year’s Best collection…

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