My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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 feather from the plumage of the immortal phoenix, and hand the kit over to Da Vinci to sketch a future, the result wouldn’t be quite close to what Catheryn M. Valente has created here.
This is the
story narrative of Elfesis, the one that was, is, and could be. Elfesis is a machine entity, that progresses by emulating and practicing on the family it haunts. It has nothing of its own, except a want: to be.
Neva, the great-great granddaughter of the genius programmer who created Elfesis, is the incumbent in a long line of descendants to take on the burden and bitter gift that is Elfesis.
And so the book weaves in between the past of personal-yet-not fragment memories and glimpses upon the future and explores expertly the age-old taboo of artificial life as well as identity, crumbling down the superficial boundaries of traditional sci-fi, mixing in fairy tales, fantasy, future, philosophy, and a pot of pure genius.
Silently and Very Fast is essentially an exploration of being, not alive, not human, not machine, not here or there, just plain existence. It explores the very fundamental nature of living things and draws out parallels between a human life and a mechanized existence. Ripped apart are the emotions, the things that make us alive, by this book. Finding little chinks in theories and taboos about just why a machine can’t have emotions.
The little monkey copies the big monkey, and the little monkey survives.
And exactly how is it different from being able
To hardwire sensation to information and reinforce the connection over repeated exposures until it seems reliable.
Catheryn M. Valente never gives us a definite answer; the book just remains a silent trek in a maze of a thousand roads. Each one pointing in different directions. Each playing with different beliefs and ultimately contradicting the adjacent one.
The laughable thing is that the narrator is just a programme, a set of codes and yet the
story narrative comes across so personal and emotional.
Basically, this novella of a hundred-and-twenty-something pages is a discovery and a re-discovery, knowing not the why or what, just the is, the be. There is no profound meaning to the book, far as I could see. There is just… profoundness, hidden deep in the words.
The writing is dense but articulate. A little flowery and a little purple and probably not everyone’s piece of cake. Most sentences and even chapters I had to read twice, thrice, multiple times.
Plus, the bonus part is that there are retellings and short stories within this short story, about the prince who had a mind as stark and wild as the winter, a spirit as clear and fine as my window, and a heart as red and open as a wounded hand, the child of humanity that became a victim to its parent’s hunger for everything good and many, many more.
The thing I love most about Silently and Very Fast is the idea of something so impersonal, a house, a jewel, a playframe, something so in-existential, turning and churning the concept of love and feeling, obliterating it at the same time as initiating it. That and the fact that this novella ain’t getting old anytime soon. I’ll pick it up and dust it off, 600-years into the future, when I come out of the cryogenic-chambers, pink as a new babe, and still marvel and cuss my own stupid self for not understanding it all even at the ancient age of 615 or something.