“Silently and Very Fast,”, by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld Magazine, October 2011).
I read this back when it first came out, and I wanted to re-read it again before writing this post in my series on the Nebula nominees. It is a far more ambitious work than many novels. It is the story of an “AI” named Elefsis and the family that gave birth to it (or perhaps it is the other way around). I put AI in quotes because … well, by the end of the novella you’ll question that label.
It is a story about love, growing-by-learning, having children, Otherness, Self, and the yearning for authenticity in a world inevitably succumbing to the forces of more artificiality, more created-ness. It is beautiful, moving, and alien, much like the Auden poem from which it takes its title.
Be forewarned that this is not an “easy” work. Valente’s style is justifiably famous, and much of the novella is structured as a series of recast myths and fairytales that hint at or echo events in “the real world.” I think the technique works. The way the story is told is very much part of the point.