A Review of Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente

Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. ValenteA Beautiful View of The Singularity

Imagine if you could go anywhere, do anything, and never be alone. Would it bother you if your closest companion and co-creator was a machine? You might think so, but then again you might change your mind after reading this gorgeous, evocative novel, narrated by Elefsis, the machine in question.

The Turing Test and other criteria for sentience lurk at the periphery of Elefsis’ consciousness and world-view. But by making Elefsis the narrator, this novel shows the question to be moot. Ipso facto, a being this sensitive, this capable of love and appreciating beauty cannot be denied personhood by anyone worthy of that title themselves.

At the beginning, Elefsis is merely an intelligent house, concerned with heating and cooling, cooking food, and monitoring the vital signs of the occupants, especially the children of  Cassian Uoya-Agostino, the house’s eccentric creator. Read more »

A Review of lost boy lost girl: a novel, by Peter Straub

lost boy lost girl: a novel, by Peter StraubThis novel, which won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel, is part murder mystery, part ghost story and part family drama, with an unexpected, transcendent ending.

The story follows Tim Underhill, (a character from earlier novels by Straub), as he attempts to cope with a series of tragic, mysterious events afflicting the family of his dour brother, Phillip.

First is the seemingly inexplicable suicide of Nancy, Phillip’s wife. Next, their teenaged son, Mark, becomes obsessed with the abandoned house across the alley, with its labyrinthine secret passageways and seductive, dangerous former inhabitants: a pedophile, a serial killer, and the ghostly lost girl of the title. Read more »

Classic Literary Fantastic Novels by Elizabeth Hand, Released Digitally

Elizabeth Hand

Elizabeth Hand, www.elizabethhand.com

For those of you not familiar with Hand’s work, she is one of the titans of what (for simplicity’s sake) I call the literary fantastic, with an artistic stature large enough to gracefully straddle that silly, artificial divide between literary and genre fiction.

Hand’s work, which she calls visionary and semi-autobiographical, explores themes of spiritual transcendence and the artist’s life, set against the backdrop of human frailty and violence. Her stories are complex, powerful, and beautifully written. I highly recommend that you check them out, whether in hardback or your favorite digital format.

From Open Road Media:

This month, Open Road Media is pleased to add five titles from popular fantasy writer, Elizabeth Hand, available in digital format, along with brand new cover art. With the reissue of these five titles, fans alike can explore the imaginative worlds and seductive plotlines Hand has created.

** WATCH THE BOOK TRAILER on: OpenRoadMedia.com**

The full title list includes:

more literary fantastic fiction book recommendations from the Metaphysical Circus

About the Magazine


See the Elephant Magazine, launched in 2015, is dedicated to short fiction that is progressive, humane, and explores the metaphysical, mythic, visionary or spiritual through complex characters and compelling plots.

See the Elephant Magazine is published annually in ebook formats and, as of issue 3, print. See the Elephant Online offers free short fiction from the magazine, reprints of stories not elsewhere available on the web, reviews of recommended books, and reviews of short fiction available in other quality online magazines.

We are especially interested in publishing works by women, people of color, indigenous, LGBTQ, writers from non-mainstream cultures, and international writers. To learn more about our style, go here.

We believe that pro and semi-pro authors should be paid. We also run annual New Voices contests with awards of cash prizes and publication to support new writers.  

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Follow the Circus and receive an email with links to our latest fiction, reviews and news, once a week (or less). When you sign up, you can get a copy of Issue One, free! Please also follow us on Twitter and Facebook, if you’re hanging out there.

Buy the Magazine here: Issue One, Issue Two, Issue Three

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A Review of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

Jane Austen Dreams of Harry Potter and Writes 1000+ pages.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna ClarkeJonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was Time Magazine #1 Book of the Year, Winner of the Hugo Award and the World Fantasy Award, as well as making about a dozen top fiction lists in 2004, the year it came out. In short, it is one of the most respected works of the literary fantastic to come out of Britain in recent years. With a pedigree like that, of course I had to read it.

This novel centers around two English magicians in the early 1800s, who spearhead the reemergence of practical (as distinguished from theoretical) magic. In this alternate history, magic was once a common and accepted practice in England.

Its greatest practitioner was a mysterious figure, known variously as John Uskglass, the Raven King, the Black King, the King of the North, and a faery name, which no one could pronounce. According to legend, Uskglass was stolen as a child and raised in Faery, where he learned the skills that made him a magician of unparalleled skills (and possibly, a demi-god), before returning to rule England for many years. Read more »

A Review of The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier

The Illumination by Kevin BrockmeierThe Illumination is a literary novel with only one fantastic element, but it’s a doozy: one day, inexplicably, the bodily pain of each and every human being on earth begins to manifest as a white light. Everything from a headache to leukemia shines out of the body like a beacon for all to see.

The story follows a sequence of people who come into possession of a journal of love notes, transcribed by a woman named Patricia, from the notes her husband left her on the fridge every day of their marriage. She and her husband get in a car wreck just before the phenomenon called the Illumination begins. Thinking that her husband is dead, grieving and fatally injured, Patricia gives the journal to her hospital roommate, Carol Ann. Read more »

A Review of Freaks’ Amour, by Tom De Haven

Mutants on the Outside, Looking In

Freaks' Amour, by Tom De HavenHardcore. That’s the word that comes to mind. But not just because Freaks’ Amour refers to a XXX rated show where Normals go to watch mutant men rape their wives and girlfriends (and for a finale the Normals pelt them with rotten fruit). The sex scenes are not particularly graphic, and they don’t need to be. The idea itself is hardcore enough… and that’s just the beginning.

This powerful novel takes place in a world where a small nuclear explosion in Jersey City has created a race of mutants with a wide variety of bizarre attributes: fur, gills, bird claws, misshapen skulls and limbs. Animals, too, mutated, including giant gold fish that produced tiny, hard-shelled eggs…Death Eggs, so named because they seemingly kill anyone who consumes them. Read more »

A Review of Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, by Genevieve Valentine

Mechanique- A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, by Genevieve ValentineThis novel, which received a Nebula nomination for Best Novel, takes place in a post-war landscape. The particulars are left vague: we know that there were bombs and radiation, followed by smaller wars for control, and the creation of city-states. Outside of these, borders have become fluid, and life brutal.

To stay out of trouble, the Circus Tresaulti travels a wide circuit; the towns they visit may not exist by the time they return. Those who join the circus are looking for a measure of security, or a job that doesn’t involve killing. Most were soldiers once.

In this world, people don’t live long. So, for a select few, the idea of having boss (the powerful woman who runs the circus) replace their body parts with metal gadgets seems like an attractive option, even if that means becoming something no longer quite human. Read more »

A Review of The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

An Alien Anthropologist Visits Planet Earth

The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.I’ve read quite a few of Vonnegut’s novels now, and I’ve decided he is, in fact, an alien observer of a strange and dangerous race: humans.

Vonnegut’s stories show us our every shortcoming without rancor. Like a good anthropologist, he’s neither angry nor particularly compassionate. He doesn’t make excuses about how some of us have our hearts in the right place, but are undone by this group or that group. He simply observes and reports.

You might think his dispassionate narration is a stylistic decision but I’m pretty sure it’s not. Under Vonnegut’s impartial gaze, humanity as a whole has been fairly assessed — and found desperately lacking.

So thoroughly did The Sirens of Titan expose our collective failings, a thoughtful reader might be forgiven for falling into a nihilist funk and concluding that we should be done away with as a species, immediately and for the greater good.

The one redeeming factor, the only finger in the leaking dyke of our despicability is the power of friendship and loyalty. Unfortunately this is demonstrated by only three of the main characters in the book, and one of them is a robot.

The novel does not leave us without a beacon that might lead us out of the darkness, however. That beacon is found in the prologue. Here the narrator, speaking presumably from the future, informs us:

“Less than a century ago men and women did not have easy access to the puzzle boxes within them…Mankind, ignorant of the truths that lie within every human being, looked outward—pushed ever outward…These unhappy agents found what had already been found in abundance on Earth …empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death…Outwardness lost, at last, its imagined attractions. Only inwardness remained to be explored. Only the human soul remained terra incognita.This was the beginning of goodness and wisdom.”

Though Sirens depicts a technologically advanced culture capable of deep space travel, multi-dimensional beings, and super-intelligent machines, the morals and behavior of humans still reflect all the bumbling evil and poor judgment of a people with “their souls as yet unexplored.” Sound familiar?

Many people call this science fiction; I call it metaphysical fiction.  We have seen the enemy and they are us.

Though this Hugo Award nominated novel was published in 1959, it is a spiritual call to action that is as relevant today as it was then. Technology, or as Vonnegut puts it, “pushing outward” will not save us; our only hope is to journey within.

more literary fantastic fiction, recommended reading from The Metaphysical Circus

A Review of Illyria, by Elizabeth Hand

An Elegant Explosion of Repressed Creativity and Desire

Illyria by Elizabeth HandThis is beautifully written, Romantic (in the 18th century sense, not the Danielle Steele sense) novella about soul mates, forbidden love, and being a magical child in a family that’s lost its mojo. It’s also about talent, both the kind that emerges full-blown and the kind that must be cultivated.

Maddie and her first cousin Rogan have been in love since they were children. Their connection, though sexual, seems to be less about incest and more about the Platonic idea of twin souls. Heightening this impression, Maddie and Rogan are the children of identical twins, born on the same day, and in love since they can remember.

Now in their teens, Maddie and Rogan’s forbidden love comes to fruition. And in their love nest they discover a magic relic hidden in the wall. Read more »