Birthday Reviews: Catherynne M. Valente’s “A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica”
Catherynne M. Valente was born on May 5, 1979.
She began publishing poetry and fiction in 2004 with the appearance of the poem “The Oracle Alone” and the novel The Labyrinth. She has won the Hugo Award twice for her work on SF Squeecast and won the Andre Norton Award for The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which had only appeared on her website at the time.
Her novel The Orphan’s Tale: In the Night Garden received the James Tiptree, Jr. Memorial Award and, along with its sequel Orphan’s Tale: In the Cities of Coin and Space, the Mythopoeic Award. Her short story “The Future Is Blue” earned Valente a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. She won the Lambda Award for her novel Palimpsest and her poem “The Seven Devils of Central California” was recognized with the Rhysling Award. Valente has also won five Locus Awards, two each in the novella and young adult book category and one in the novelette category.
“A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica” was originally purchased by Neil Clarke and Nick Mamatas for Clarkesworld issue 20, published in May 2008. David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer selected the story for Year’s Best Fantasy 9 and Rich Horton reprinted it in Unplugged: The Web’s Best Sci-Fi & Fantasy: 2008 Download. The story was also used in Realms 2: The Second Year of Clarkesworld Magazine and Valente reprinted it in her collection Ventriloquism. It was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction.
Maps are cool, and although Valente doesn’t include any actual maps in “A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica,” she does provide detailed descriptions of six fictional maps of Antarctica and the South Orkney Islands. Her descriptions, written as if they appeared in an auction house catalog, go far beyond simply providing details of the map.
Valente’s catalog entries paint a picture of two very different cartographers whose lives and interests intertwined. Nahuel Acuña is a serious cartographer who does his best, often under trying conditions, to accurately map the edges of the world. His quest is aided by his ability to garner funding from a variety of sources. On the other hand, Villalba Maldonado, who was on the same initial voyage as Acuña, and scrambles for any money in pursuit his interests, seems to relish depicting the world as he would like it to be, as well as trolling his rival with his creations.