Catherynne M. Valente's Palimpsest: An Exclusive Excerpt
Fresh off of the triumphant conclusion to her duology The Orphan's Tales, World Fantasy Award finalist Catherynne M. Valente returns with Palimpsest, which is getting blurbed by everyone from Warren Ellis to Elizabeth Bear. Award-winning author Daniel Abraham writes that "Catherynne Valente has once again proved her mastery of the fantastic. Full to the brim with beautiful images and gorgeous prose, Palimpsest belongs on the same shelf with Calvino's Invisible Cities and Winterson's The Passion. Valente is writing the smartest, gentlest, deepest work in the field, and she's good enough to do it. I remain in awe."
What's it about?
Between life and death, dreaming and waking, at the train stop beyond the end of the world is the city of Palimpsest. To get there is a miracle, a mystery, a gift, and a curse--a voyage permitted only to those who’ve always believed there’s another world than the one that meets the eye. Those fated to make the passage are marked forever by a map of that wondrous city tattooed on their flesh after a single orgasmic night. To this kingdom of ghost trains, lion-priests, living kanji, and cream-filled canals come four travelers: Oleg, a New York locksmith; the beekeeper November; Ludovico, a binder of rare books; and a young Japanese woman named Sei. They’ve each lost something important--a wife, a lover, a sister, a direction in life--and what they will find in Palimpsest is more than they could ever imagine.
Amazon's pleased to present an exclusive, what Valente calls "a deleted snippet related to the large-scale war waged between factions in Palimpsest." Also check out the story that served as the inspiration for the novel.
4th and Synecdoche
The windows of Theophania’s shop are incandescent, illuminating the corner of 4th Street long past the hollow hour. The heat of the place radiates rosily into the rain-spattered street, and oh, here and there, here and there the muscled shadow of Theophania herself passes by, her pipe held aloft like a sword, spinning around and around. She is a glassblower, and on the end of her pipe is a glob of fire, a knob of molten sand, growing longer and longer as she spins. Look at her: such massive shoulders, her head shorn, her leather apron stained with splashes of wet glass that hardened and broke off years ago. Her cheek is a great scar, warped and twisted, an old burn, almost as old as she is. She would scold me, she would tell me not to speak of her private travails, but I am profligate. Theophania’s mother was also an initiate in the temples of glass, a beauty with a back like a parade horse. Her broad chest compressed a hundred winds into watery-pale pillars that glowed blue and orange in their moments, and cooled, too, in their time. With tears and grief and resolution, that lady held her child’s face to the vat when Theophania was but six, sacrificing her daughter’s beauty to the monstrous, jealous gods of silicon.
Little Theo was very solemn that night, even though her hands shook. She did not cry at all when her skin grazed the boiling slick. I was so proud of her! I like to think I stand as witness to all their baptisms, but especially this one. Even as her face bled, she comforted her mother: now the maids and lords that rule in the glassine heaven will love me best of all, and you will see, oh, you will see the things I shall make!
I have seen them, as have you, though perhaps you did not know it: crystal banisters curling with frosted fog and tiny swallows, chandeliers of ice and bone, goblets that changed their shade depending on the sort of drink they held—red for wine, white for cream, green for bilberry liqueur. And her tiny fetishes rest still in the pockets of all the young men in feathered hats, Theo’s toads and parrots and beetles with blue antennae. And the balls, those thousand balls that sang through the air. For once Ululiro came here, the shark-general, her steel epaulets jangling. Those were the first days of the war, when everyone was puffed full of flawless plans for supremacy, and all the guns were polished to gleaming, and each soldier felt as though they were on holiday: flags snapped in the breeze, red and green, golden spiders crawled over the coalpacking district, clicking merrily at one and all. Ululiro was not yet half-shark and beautiful as a black tree, though her eyes were as sharp as her teeth would be one day.
Theo tended her ovens, banking the flames and securing the tubs—to another soul it might have seemed as though she was baking bread. Ululiro came to her and said she had a need for ordnance, a great deal of it.
“Certainly,” answered Theophania, for whom a cannonball was but a minute’s work. “But surely you could have a better shot than glass. There are ironworkers; there are silversmiths.”
“I do not want them. I want the girl who ruined her face for the maids of heaven.”
Theophania said nothing to this. She did not like that her private ablution was known; she could not make it unknown.
“Of course you are one of us,” said Ululiro, the lights of the glass-fires sparking in her long, braided hair. “It goes without saying.”
Theophania said nothing to that, either. She had not so brief a space between dinners that she could decline government work.
And so Theo raised her pipe like a trumpet; she drew a long breath through her great bellow-lungs. Each time she passed her breath into the knob of liquid glass, she cried out in wordless pain and a grief like bones breaking. All that was bruised in her passed through her lips and into glass, all that would bruise in days to come. She closed up each ball without letting the cry escape and polished it with soaking cloths until it was smooth, round. One atop the other they sat, her trapped weepings, encased in perfect crystal. For Ululiro she did this three thousand times, and because she was not one of them, and could let nothing go without saying, she did this three thousand times for Casimira also, and had the cannonballs sent to the mistress of vermin on a palanquin of skulls, draped in blue gauze. When this was done. Theophania slept, exhausted for three months, motionless as a princess on her glass bed. All the while she slept her glittering ordnance flew through the air over the Albumen, over the financial district, over the salons and the crowded tenements. And with each cannon-shot, Theophania’s cry screamed out over the bloody concrete, the lymph-stained rails where all carriage traffic was banned. While the glassblower dreamed, her shrieking pierced all those armored ears until every soldier knelt and clutched their heads just to escape her, just for a moment’s peace, and for a space, kneeling in the mud and the broken cobblestones, they grieved together, Theophania, and the city.