Sometimes when I'm reading, a passage is so elegantly written that I feel the need to stop and reread it out loud. Tolkien makes me do this occasionally. Ursula LeGuin often does. I just came across a story by Catherynne M. Valente, "The Harpooner at the Bottom of the World", which I felt compelled to read out loud the entire way through.
That makes for an automatic and immediate story recommendation of the week, even if I've already done one this week. (I need to make up for a couple weeks I missed with flu and strep anyway.) Catherynne Valente thus becomes the second author to garner two different story recommendations, joining Paolo Bacigalupi.
"The Harpooner at the Bottom of the World" originally appeared in Spectra Pulse, a promotional magazine issued by Bantam, which it supposedly gives away at conventions, although I've never seen a copy. Thankfully, "The Harpooner at the Bottom of the World" is now available through Valente's web site.
"The Harpooner at the Bottom of the World" illustrates the strengths of Valente's writing, particularly her amazing use of language and her wonderful knack for the story-within-story framework, which she successfully employs here in only a couple thousand words. The framing story tells of a remote archipelago where women inscribe a story on their bellies during pregnancy. The story-within-a-story is that ritual tale, about a woman harpooner "who had known both of the sorrows which are deepest" -- which Valente never identifies -- who travels to the upside-down archipelago at the bottom of the world, where "the dead and the unborn dance together in the blue and black shadows, hand in hand."
Read "The Harpooner at the Bottom of the World," fall in love with it, and then go buy Valente's new novel Palimpsest.