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Silently and Very Fast

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,622 ratings  ·  304 reviews
Fantastist Catherynne M. Valente takes on the folklore of artificial intelligence in this brand new, original novella of technology, identity, and an uncertain mechanized future.

Neva is dreaming. But she is not alone. A mysterious machine entity called Elefsis haunts her and the members of her family, back through the generations to her great-great-grandmothera gifted
Hardcover, 127 pages
Published October 14th 2011 by WSFA Press
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Average rating 4.11  · 
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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
Jessica ❁ ➳ Silverbow ➳ ❁ Rabid Reads-no-more
Reviewed by: Rabid Reads

Here's the thing . . . this is a fantastically clever and beautifully written story. Valente tackles the subject of "what does it mean to be alive?" and if she left it at that, this would have easily been a 4.5 or even a 5.0 star read.

But she didn't.

What I liked:

She created an almost magical world called the Interior which is really a place inside a software program where anything can exist, where entire worlds can be created on a whim, where everything is utterly fluid
Apr 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I feel so completely in awe of this book right now. Im just so grateful that I got to experience it in my lifetime. I know that sounds like so much reviewer hyperbole but its not. This reviewers fangirling is 100% free of exaggeration. I am still so swept up in all of the intense emotions that this book cultivated in me. I know this high is fleeting and I want to pass it on to all of you while I still have it. Catherynne M. Valente deserves all the small attention that I can nudge in her ...more
mark monday
Oct 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to mark by: Nataliya
hello gorgeous! i am amazed. such a tender story of an AI trying to grow up, such luminous prose, glowing pearls of prose, layers of myth and fable and parable and dreams and dreaming and dreamscapes and science like magic. a tale retold in so many ways, characters like archetypes but real, so real! a child trying to grow up. parents who are brothers and sisters and lovers and children. such yearning! such emotion! such simple emotions, and such complexity. such brilliant clarity. an author ...more
Mar 13, 2015 rated it really liked it

Like the best of Ray Bradbury the reader asks, Is this prosaic poetry or poetic prose? Like the poetry read and described in Robin Williams film Dead Poets Society, the words drip like honey from the pages and an appreciative reader will savor each page like he would a superb wine.

Catherynne M. Valentes 2011 publication, which won the 2012 Locus Award for best novella, is an exploration of what it means to be human, to be alive, to be sentient, simply: to be.

Featuring an artificial
Apr 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tatiana by: Catie
4.5 stars

Silently and Very Fast should be a part of our She Made Me Do It blog feature, because Catie practically forced me to read this novella, claiming that I would love it (some begging was involved too) and, what do you know, she was right.

This is not my first Valente work, but she astounded me again with her wild imagination, command of the language, and her ability to tackle, it seems, any genre. Fairy tales, poetry, fantasy inspired by numerous cultures, and now - science fiction!

In a
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jim by: Catie and Nataliya
I was introduced to this incredible, genre-shattering novella (and its amazing author) by my friend Catie and her spectacular review. Fortunately for me, Caties review was followed by Nataliyas beautiful and complementary take. Together, their guidance was essential for me as I navigated the dreamlike currents of this amazing, but challenging story. Yes, there are some mind-bending developments here, and readers should be prepared to work for their rewards. I strongly recommend reading both of ...more
May 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fifty years from now, this will be held up as one of the all-time classics of Science Fiction Literature. Even if The Singularity occurs (and it is knownable that it occurred, which is debatable), this exploration of what it means for an artificial intelligence to achieve that mysterious spark we call "life," will be ever bit as compelling. Not because of the notion that a machine can live and have self-realization, but because of the poetic way it explores the interface between man and ...more
May 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been a Valente fan for a while now. It started with a fantasy series mostly for younger readers. Since then, I've also read her take on women in refrigerators and the Eurovision Song Contest (in space!) and can honestly say that she is one of very few authors that can write about anything and everything and always make the stories their own.

Here, we get a program that grows to be an AI that then spends several lives being a child, lover, partner, parent, sibling ... all facets of being
This is actually my second time reading this story and it's just as good this time as the first.

Let me back up. This Hugo winner for best novella a few years ago may not have taken the world by storm, but Valente herself has been taking a lot of us that way. You know. Blown away.

She has a fantastic talent with words, always lyrical, rife with ideas, and most importantly, beautiful.

This particular story starts with a parable about Inanna and Ereshkigal and Tammuz and draws it right into a tale
Apr 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Trudi by: Catie
This novella (enthusiastically and awesomely reviewed by Catie here) is available online for FREE from Clarkesworld Magazine. It's not downloadable to an ereader, but I printed it off and the formatting is extremely readable! I forgot to mention that it is available through Amazon for a mere 2.99!

Whoah ... just ... whoah. I sense there is much beauty and truth contained in this story, the understated power of which danced across my neurons and tickled my neocortex several times, with mischief
Joe Izenman
Oct 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Cat Valente writes fairy tales, and her foray into science fiction, Silently and Very Fast, is no different (except when it is). It is not a retelling of an existing fairy tale in a semi-modern context, like Deathless (except when it is). Nor is it an original fairy tale of childhood discovery, like The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (except when it is).

Instead (in addition), it is an interweaving. It is a story of stories. A labyrinthine matryoshka of fairy tale,
I love this book.
But I'm not sure I know what it's about. Or what it was trying to tell me. I'll have to think about it, even re-read it, before anything is clear. But I still loved it.

The writing style reminded me of Green Heart. It's poetic, it's beautiful, it's brimming with imagery and colours. Like Green Heart, it gave me a feeling like I was breathing underwater. The sensation of being completely engulfed by something - but never choking on it.

It's original, too. It's very very
Sep 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Machine princesses, good robots
When I became Elefsis again, I was immediately aware that parts of me had been vandalized. My systems juddered, and I could not find Ceno in the Interior. I ran through the Monochromatic Desert and the Village of Mollusks, through the endless heaving mass of data-kelp and infinite hallways of memory-frescoes calling for her. In the Dun Jungle I found a commune of nereids living together, combining and recombining and eating protocol-moths off the giant, pulsating hibiscus blossoms. They leapt up
Dec 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2012, read-2013

5 Stars

I do not want to be human. I want to be myself. They think I am a lion, that I will chase them. I will not deny I have lions in me. I am the monster in the wood. I have wonders in my house of sugar. I have parts of myself I do not yet understand.
I am not a Good Robot. To tell a story about a robot who wants to be human is a distraction. There is no difference. Alive is alive.
There is only one verb that matters: to be.

This is a powerfully thought provoking and extremely well written
Amy (Other Amy)
I still think of myself as a house. Ravan tried to fix this problem of self-image, as he called it. To teach me to phrase my communication in terms of a human body. To say: let us hold hands instead of let us hold kitchens. To say put our heads together and not put our parlors together.
But it is not as simple as replacing words anymore. Ravan is gone. My hearth is broken.

This is, quite simply, beautiful. It is the breaking of myth and story to find the shards and slivers that will explain the
Really very beautiful and available to read for free online!
Read the story HERE.
And read Nataliya's amazing review HERE (she says it so perfectly it makes any further words on the subject kind of redundant).

After this I read: Redshirts
Foz Meadows
Nov 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Some books resonate at the exact frequency of the human heart. Silently and Very Fast is one of them.

Elefsis is a machine intelligence who first learned to speak in similes, whose habitat is the internal brain- and dreamscapes of five generations of the same family, and who now has now found itself bound to Neva the final angry, secretive scion of the Uoya-Agostinos under circumstances it does not fully understand, and which Neva herself is reluctant to explain. Who is Elefsis? How deep a
Jenny (Reading Envy)
"Inside, Neva is infinite. She peoples her Interior."

This is a line from the last few pages of Silently and Very Fast, and to me describes Catherynne Valente's inner creative world, the world that she is somehow able to communicate to the rest of us through lush language and quirky-beautiful settings and characters. I deliberately read this Hugo-nominated novella last because I always expect to enjoy the worlds she creates, and I guess I'm just a delayed gratification girl.

I loved the
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
May 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012

A hard SF novella told from the point of view of an artificial intelligence, in the language of fairytales and myths. The form is not accidental, it is think the deep belief of the author that these timeless narratives form the basis of learning - of developing intelligence, morality and self awareness through the way we respond and position ourselves in relation to them. "We are what we learn" says David Mitchell in another book I am reading now, and I find it interesting how the same
Tom Negrino
Jul 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
Read as part of the Hugo 2012 Voter Packet.

I appreciate Valente's craft. She can write beautifully; hence the two stars for this story, rather than one. But it wasn't a good story for me. I prefer science fiction, and usually hard SF; I'm not much of a fantasy reader. Valente has essentially written an SF story as if it were a fairy tale, which doesn't work for me (I could not in any way describe this as "hard SF"). And it is one of the distressing number of popular stories in which hardly
This was so interesting! I feel bad about giving it only three stars because it's really something, and good stuff, but not really my cup of tea. Basically, I'm this person, who doesn't understand how phone calls work. Sure, you can explain it to me in great detail and I can technically understand it, but I'll never understand it. I will know how it works but I'll still think of someone in Australia being able to hear someone in England and think it impossible and get a headache. Now, even ...more
Dec 22, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf
DNF. So, so, so not for me. Elaborate metaphors, dreamy talk, undecipherable prose.

There seems to be mythology being used but I have no idea if it's mythology that I've been exposed to before and have forgotten, you know the stories that have stood the test of time, or something the author made up.

I'm pretty sure there is no need for me to ever attempt to read another story by this author.

My first exposure had been The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making which is a
Dec 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
The Good:
The writing was very good, with some amazing imagery and excellent use of tone and mood. There are also some cool ideas, including the decision to write from the point of view of a self aware AI.

The Bad:
This book was confusing early on, and lacked a coherent story arc. I didn't turn the pages to find out what would happen next so much as to find out what was happening right now.

'Friends' character the protagonist is most like:
Elefsis is super intelligent, needy and almost human, which
Mar 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
My book friends all know that I am a HUGE fan of the novella format. I love that they tend to be a bit experimental, push the limits of storytelling, and often task the reader to make a leap of faith. Novellas almost always require your full concentration, and to be read in a single sitting. They are stories you are meant to fall deeply into, and suffer from being put down.

This is the quintessential novella. Find a quiet span of hours, at your full concentration, and sit down to an exquisite
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Oh! This is beautiful. This is the kind of beautiful that makes me shake my fist and despair that I may never write anything as good. It feels abstract and a little bit removed at first, but gradually reveals its inner workings. The structure is complex, but the questions at the core are delicate and beautifully handled. It has science-fictiony parts and fantasyish parts and fairytailish parts and love stores and artificial intelligence and gods and machine dreams. I haven't read all of the ...more
Stuti (Turmeric isn't your friend. It will fly your ship
Apr 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: nobody. i'll kill everyone else who has read it and preserve it for myself
Recommended to Stuti by: butterflies plus rusted gears rock indeed

I believe that as of right now, I am a hundred years too young and a hundred reads too early to fully grasp this novella.

If you could capture the essence of surrealism, and the cold and fiery beauty of electric current, along with the simple complexity and stubbornness of a kaleidoscope, then grate it between two granite stone, quietly humming the tunes of Bach and Muse to produce the finest ink of a color way different from the ones in our visible and invisible spectrum, then pick the oldest
Aug 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This novella hit me by surprise. A positive one!

From a narrative point of view, it feels like the dreamy, versatile, slow Little, Big which I love. Or like some Samuel Delany, e.g. The Einstein Intersection with it's sometimes psychedelic and experimental pictures. The very visual narrative feels like some expressionist's or surrealist's painting:

"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
Ruby  Tombstone [With A Vengeance]
Glorious. Just glorious. Once again, I've been seduced by Valente's writing. Damn her!
Turns out this is one of the best science fiction stories I have ever read.

Proper review to come when I get my thoughts in order..
..okay that's not going to happen. So I'll review it now. This is the rarest of rare things: A science fiction novel with real heart and charm.

No, wait. It's another rare thing: A fresh take on the theme of artificial intelligence striving for a human soul.
Silently and Very Fast is a new genre for Catherynne M. Valente in one way -- it's sci-fi, essentially, about the creation of an artificial intelligence which has (or seems to have?) feelings and desires. In another way, it's not new at all: as with most of her other work, she draws on myth and fairytale to enrich her story.

I enjoyed it a lot: the slow unspooling of the background of the story, the way Elefsis grows and changes, and of course Valente's skill with words. It took me an hour to
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Beautifully Writt...: New Weird and Blurred Lines 10 20 Sep 30, 2015 04:55AM  
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Catherynne M. Valente was born on Cinco de Mayo, 1979 in Seattle, WA, but grew up in in the wheatgrass paradise of Northern California. She graduated from high school at age 15, going on to UC San Diego and Edinburgh University, receiving her B.A. in Classics with an emphasis in Ancient Greek Linguistics. She then drifted away from her M.A. program and into a long residence in the concrete and ...more

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“I do not want to be human. I want to be myself. They think I’m a lion, that I will chase them. I will not deny that I have lions in me. I am the monster in the wood. I have wonders in my house of sugar. I have parts of myself I do not yet understand.

I am not a Good Robot. To tell a story about a robot who wants to be human is a distraction. There is no difference. Alive is alive.

There is only one verb that matters: to be.”
“[...] 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.” 28 likes
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