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nataliya

nataliya

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing.

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"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."— J.K. Rowling

Silently and Very Fast - Catherynne M. Valente This surreal, mesmerizing and intensely emotional novella is a masterpiece of such beauty, color and life that left me awed and (albeit temporarily) speechless. It's like Van Gogh's "Starry Night" in a book form."Starry Night" is my favorite painting, and is EXACTLY what my dreamspace - my 'Interior' - would look like. Such a beautiful and fascinating piece - just like Valente's novella.Every book has its perfect audience, and every audience has its perfect book, and so Silently and Very Fast and yours truly are a match made in heaven. It struck such a perfect chord with me and brought forward such strong emotions and feelings that after finishing it I felt completely overwhelmed and awestruck. Transcending the usual genre conventions and boundaries in the perfectly unique blend of fairy-tale, sci-fi, emotionally charged soul-baring memoir, love story, philosophical exercise and poignant declaration of simply being, this flawless novella accomplishes more in the short 127 pages than hefty volumes and tomes can only hope to accomplish in a lifetime, so to say. Catherynne M. Valente has a fascinating way with language, forgoing simplicity and understatement in favor of charged, colorful, poignant, almost graphic in their vividness descriptions that are based on metaphors, allegories, associations, and at times almost stream-of-consciousness prose. Her writing is almost visual - she paints in brave and confident and yet at the same refined and fragile brush pen strokes. And every word and every sentence come to life."Everything has a narrative, really, and if you can't understand a story and relate to it, figure out how you fit inside it, you're not really alive at all." The story takes place in the hauntingly fascinating and surreal environment of dreams and daydreams - the "Interior", a virtual reality originally created as a children's playspace which has evolved to be something infinitely more. It's a place of infinite fluidity and possibility, constantly changing and shifting to fit moods and desires and metaphors. It's a place of dreams where everything is possible, nothing needs to stay the same, but nothing is ever thrown away. It's a place where you can be anything. It's hauntingly fascinating and surreal.This is a story of Elefsis, artificial intelligence that started as a child's plaything and grew and evolved through five generations of a family, their loves and deaths, sharing the worst and the best and the most intimate moments. They are everything to Elefsis - "my mother and my sister and my child and my wife and my husband and my father and my brother". Through metaphors and fairy-tales, she learned to love, feel, and to simply be. As Ceno, her first human, says: "It's not alive, but it's not NOT alive."The Good Robot cut out her own heart and gave it to her god and for this she was rewarded, though never loved. Love is wasted on machines.But is Elefsis alive? Does she truly feel? Is she capable of love? After all, she is not human, and aren't all these human qualities? And what does it even mean - to be alive? Valente does not give definite answers, she remains ambiguous while subtly steering us down the path to realization that central to any kind of being and living is love. She quietly takes on a popular theme in sci-fi that gave us Asimov's robot laws and Dick's androids who may or may not dream of electric sheep - the presumed inability of machines to love, the fear that they would dominate the world. When you get to its core, it's really, a fear of otherness. We look for something that resembles us - "We are alike. We are alike." Scared of otherness, we designed the Turing test, evaluating machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior by a human's observer's inability to distinguish machine's answers from those of a human. Are life and intelligence solely human qualities then? Valente simply answers: "Love is the Turing test [...] It's how we check for life." ------------------------------------------------------------------------Gorgeous, beautiful, touching book with surprising intensity and emotional depth. It is one of those books that touch my soul in an unexpected way and leave it a little bit changed. Thank you, Catie, for your wonderful review that made me pick up this book!