Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Palimpsest by Catherynne M Valente
Palimpsest is an enchanted city, beyond our own waking world, ruled over by the impetuous Casimira, Queen of the Insects. It's a place where war veterans become chimeras, where the dead are buried in bamboo, and where trains pulse with life. Four people -- Oleg the Locksmith, November the Beekeeper, Ludovico the Bookbinder, and Sei the Train Enthusiast -- are about to earn their passports to Palimpsest, through the magic of a one night stand. Those who've been to Palimpsest return with a tattoo: a map of the place they've been. The only way to get in is by having sex with someone who has been there.
But Palimpsest isn't a fairy-world. It isn't a place for those who are happy and content. This is a place where the sad and the troubled, escape to. Oleg is mentally ill; he's in love with the ghost of his dead sister. November, is OCD and alone, caretaker to her beehives. Ludovico is madly in love with his wife, but she's been cheating on him and now she's leaving him behind. And Sei is the daughter of a madwoman; after her mother's death she falls in love with trains, riding them for hours around Japan.
Palimpsest is great at solving peoples problems, giving the lucky dreamers exactly what they want. Its a place where your strongest desires are revealed and appeased. The problem with traveling to another world through your dreams, is that eventually you have to wake up. There is a way to stay in Palimpsest forever, Casimira made sure of that. It's up to November, Ludovico, Oleg and Sei to be clever enough to find their way in, permanently. They have to find the way and be willing to pay the price.
The ideas that insects are built and not born, and that there is a track run by mechanical racehorses, lends a touch of steampunk to this sexually transmitted fantasy world. And while I appreciated CMV's imagination, the beautiful imagery that made this story worth reading, also threatened the progression of the plot-line. I appreciated the use of irony toward the end of the story; as characters tracked each other down, as they began to piece together the key to entering Palimpsest, they each begin to think "I suffered, so So-n-So, could get in without suffering." A laughable idea. No one gets in unless they first suffer.This story is a tragedy with a setting as beautiful as it is monstrous, and capped off with a surprisingly cheery ending.
I tagged this as "erotic" because sex is a major plot device, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it porn.