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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Analysis of "Midnight at Valdosta's" by Jay Lake

First appeared in The Steampunk Megapack* (?).

Hemp Cumin drives his mule, Salt, into Triune Town to make his midnight appointment at Valdosta's.  In exchange for found objects that have stories to tell, the protagonist will live another year.

This may be Jay Lake's best tale.  It resonates beyond itself, especially knowing that Lake, like the protagonist, struggled to stay alive [fighting cancer], hoping for another of life and of telling stories.

According to, salt is "An element that gives flavor or zest."    This interpretation is backed up by  the protagonist's last name, Cumin.  The mule is probably an extension of its owner, relating to its also meaning, "a stubborn person" (same source).  The protagonist's first name, Hemp, on the other hand, denotes a coarse, tough fiber (same source) often used to make rope. It also has a humorous connotation, which the author may or may not have intended.  Triune--meaning "three in one. Used especially of the Christian Trinity"--town makes it clear that death is meant.  Valdosta is a border town (in Georgia on the Florida edge).  Although some irony may be intended [from Wikipedia]:
"...named after the Valle d'Aosta in Italy. The name Aosta (Latin: Augusta), refers to Emperor Augustus. Thus, the name Valdosta can be interpreted literally as meaning "Valley of Augustus' City". Originally, a long-standing rumor held that the city's name meant "vale of beauty."[9] The land around Valdosta is flat."
This shows some of the protagonist's uncertainty of whether he wants to live or not, yet he does go on, chooses to live another year.

This tale has given more insight into Lake's process than I've previously found.  Although Lake's organic work tends fall outside of "design" [link gives a nice summary], it reminds me of Edgar Allan Poe's use and definition of a story ("Philosophy of Composition") where the effect or the conjuration of the reader's emotional response is primary.

* I'm not sure why this is considered steampunk.

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