The Glass Gear

Catherynne M. Valente, “The Glass Gear ,” part of The Omikuji Project.

Have you ever thought of Cinderella as a translucent, clockwork princess? Or as a girl misshapen, not physically beautiful under layers of ash, but used and spent and broken as only the least cared-for objects can be? Have you imagined the moon to be a scientific and exacting goddess, the only truth in a sky full of ghost-fires and hope-inspiring lies?

I can’t say I had either. And, when I heard that Catherynne M. Valente was writing a steampunk version of Cinderella for the inaugural installment of her Omikuji Project, I was somewhat skeptical. Intrigued, too, and I wanted to see if would work.

Inarguably, it did.

Before I could even finish reading the short story, I found myself reaching out to the author:

“You write true fairy tales.”

It was all I could say. A simple statement, unadorned, yet reflective as a deep-bottomed pool. True fairy tales, in my experience, are those tales that pierce me deep, stir something hungry inside me, and (at times) prick tears to my eyes. They get under my skin, turn a key in my heart, and unlock something both beautiful and monstrous: the Wood.

I was not able to afford the paper edition of this gorgeous short, “The Glass Gear.” I received the e-mail PDF, complete with a digital collage Catherynne made to accompany her writing. I have heard, via the Omikuji Project community, how beautiful the physical manifestation of this story was: printed on fine paper, a folded secret, sealed with a waxen seal, a soft kiss direct from author to reader.

One lucky person even received a necklace entitled “Not the Stars, But the Moon,” beaded by Catherynne and inspired by “The Glass Gear” (or, rather, pulled from the same well), as the winner of the “sacred lottery.” Since that’s what omikuji actually are, a sacred scroll secured from a Shinto shrine in hopes of good fortune, Catherynne has promised to send one random subscriber a small and unique gift each month.

In short, Catherynne here created a beautiful and unique experience.

She is doing this again. And again. Each month, for the forseeable future, she will be sending out these small stories to her not-so-modest collection of subscribers. She’s using the funds to supplement her household income between novels, but she’s also using the project as a way to say thank you to all those readers who’ve supported her throughout her still-young career.

Unless given permission by the community, Catherynne won’t be allowing these stories to be published elsewhere. Luckily for you, you can still read “The Glass Gear” if you want to: just subscribe to her project, and elect to download it as a $2 PDF. (This is her set price for back-issues.)

You’ll be glad you did. And, if your heart is pierced as mine was, consider tipping your writer. She’ll be here for a lifetime if we treat her well.

This review was originally published at my blog on April 18th, 2008; you may see it there to engage in discussion, if you wish.