Where the Trains Turn November 19, 2014 Where the Trains Turn Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen His imagination runs wild. The Walk November 12, 2014 The Walk Dennis Etchison Creative differences can be brutal. Where the Lost Things Are November 5, 2014 Where the Lost Things Are Rudy Rucker and Terry Bisson Everything has to wind up somewhere. A Kiss with Teeth October 29, 2014 A Kiss with Teeth Max Gladstone Happy Halloween.
From The Blog
November 21, 2014
Never Wait for a Sequel Again: 17 Standalone Fantasy Novels
Stubby the Rocket
November 18, 2014
The Hollow Crown: Shakespeare’s Histories in the Age of Netflix
Ada Palmer
November 17, 2014
In Defense of Indiana Jones, Archaeologist
Max Gladstone
November 14, 2014
An Uncut and Non-Remastered List of Star Wars Editions!
Leah Schnelbach
November 13, 2014
Why Do We Reject Love as a Powerful Force in Interstellar?
Natalie Zutter
Showing posts by: jo walton click to see jo walton's profile
Jan 21 2014 11:00am

Waking the Dragon: George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire

What Makes This Book So Great Jo Walton Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin

Jo Walton’s new book What Makes This Book So Great (U.S. / U.K.), is a collection of some of her best Tor.com posts honoring, analyzing, and reassessing science fiction and fantasy. The full collection, featuring over 130 essays, is out on January 21st and includes great opinion pieces like this, originally published in September of 2009.

Re-reading these books right now is a mistake. Before I picked up A Game of Thrones again, I had only a calm interest in Jon Snow’s true parentage, I’d forgotten who Jeyne Poole was, and best of all, I only mildly wanted A Dance With Dragons. I sagely nodded when I read that George R. R. Martin is not my bitch. I have every sympathy for this position. All the same, I know that by the time I get to the end of A Feast for Crows I’ll be desperate, desperate, desperate, so desperate for my fix that I’ll be barely able to control myself. I will be A Dance with Dragons–seeky, and is it out? Is it even finished? Like heck it is. And I know I’m not entitled to it but I waaaaaaaaaant it! If I were a sensible person, I’d have waited to re-read until it was ready and I could have had a new installment to go with the old. But now it’s too late.

So what is it about these books that makes me talk about them in terms of a two-year-old snatching at sweets in a supermarket?

[Read more, no spoilers]

Jan 20 2014 10:00am

A Great Castle Made of Sea: Why Hasn’t Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Been More Influential?

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell What Makes This Book So Great

Jo Walton’s new book What Makes This Book So Great (U.S. / U.K.), is a collection of some of her best Tor.com posts honoring, analyzing, and reassessing science fiction and fantasy. The full collection, featuring over 130 essays, is out on January 21st and includes great opinion pieces like this, originally published in July of 2010.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was published in 2004. When I first read it in February 2005 I wrote a review on my Livejournal (full review here), which I shall quote from because it is still my substantive reaction:

It’s set at the beginning of the nineteenth century, in an England that is the same but distorted by the operation of magic on history, and it concerns the bringing back of practical English magic. What it’s about is the tension between the numinous and the known. The helical plot, which ascends slowly upwards, constantly circles a space in which the numinous and the known balance and shift and elements move between them. It’s a truly astonishing feat and I’ve never seen anything like it.

I’ve just read it again, and I could pretty much write that post again. In summary—this is terrific, it reads like something written in an alternate history in which Lud in the Mist was the significant book of twentieth-century fantasy, and it goes directly at the the movement between magical and the mundane.

[Read more: questions, no answers]

Jan 16 2014 10:00am

Rothfuss Reread: Making a Mask for Patrick Rothfuss

Pat Rothfuss Kingkiller Chronicles My obsessively detailed reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles is over, but we want to keep on talking about the books. I’m going to post the occasional continuation post when the last one gets too long or if there’s something to say. Spoilers for all of The Wise Man’s Fear and The Name of the Wind—these discussions assume you’ve read all of both books, and frankly they won’t make the slightest bit of sense if you haven’t. But we welcome new people who have read the books and want to geek out about them. This post is full of spoilers, please don’t venture beyond the cut unless you want them.

[Read more: Making a mask for Pat]

Jan 1 2014 11:00am

The Book You Don’t Know You’re Looking For

The Mindwarpers Eric Frank RussellI was in Chicago for Chicon 7, the World Science Fiction Convention in 2012. It’s a huge gathering of fans, it’s full of my friends, everyone is talking about books, it’s wonderful. There’s this sense of coming home to fandom you only get when you’re absolutely surrounded by people who are about the same things you do—a three hundred person convention is in a city, Worldcon is a city, and sometimes it feels like the shining city on the hill with spaceships taking off just over the horizon. Chicago is great too. You should be here, that’s all that’s lacking.

So, Worldcon has a dealers room, and the dealers room has people selling all kinds of things from dragons to spaceships, and also books. I was looking along one of the many stalls of second hand books, the same kind where last year I picked up a Poul Anderson I hadn’t read since I was fifteen. There were some volumes of Eric Frank Russell, and I was looking at them and I thought “Why are you even looking, Jo? It’s not like there’s going to be any new Eric Frank Russell. He’s been dead since before you knew he was alive.” And there was a new Eric Frank Russell. I’m not joking. It’s called The Mindwarpers, and I bought it but I haven’t read it yet. I am delighted to have it. But I had no idea I wanted it because I had no idea it existed.

[You can only search for things you know exist]

Dec 29 2013 11:00am

Have We Lost The Future?

In July of 2012, I was on a Readercon panel titled “Have We Lost the Future?” The description of the panel was:

Where science fiction once looked to the future as the setting for speculation, nowadays the focus seems to be on alternate pasts, fantasy worlds, or consciously “retro” futures. We’re no longer showing the way to what things might be like. We discuss whether this is connected to the general fear of decline and decay in the English-language world—or has science fiction simply run out of ideas?

Jim Cambias, the moderator and proposer, had stats from recent Hugo nominee lists compared to older ones that did show a decline in actual future-based SF. I think this combines with futures we can’t get to from here—steampunk, John Barnes’s The Sky So Big and Black, Ken MacLeod’s The Execution Channel, Stirling’s Lords of Creation series, etc.—to reflect an actual problem in current SF.

But of course, it’s more interesting than that.

[I have a question for your twelve-year-old self]

Dec 27 2013 9:00am

Is There a Right Age to Read a Book?

Is There a Right Age to Read a Book?

Claire of The Captive Reader, one of my favourite book blogs, has a post about reading books before you are ready for them. She quotes Sheila Kaye-Smith on not reading books when you are too young for them and goes on to explain how she read much Great Literature as a teenager without it doing her a lick of harm. It never did me any harm either, and I’ve talked before about starting to read something and realising it’s too old for me and leaving it for later...and how I’m still doing this with E.R. Eddison at the age of forty-eight. It’s a good habit, because it blames myself and not the book when I can’t get into something. It’s quite distinct from thinking “this is awful,” which I think often enough, it’s “this is beyond me right now.”

But is there a right age to read a book?

[Read more]

Sep 2 2013 4:37pm

On learning of the death of Frederik Pohl

Frederik Pohl The Way the Future WasI was just sitting in the bar of one of this year’s Worldcon hotels, enjoying the end of LoneStarCon 3, the 73rd Worldcon, when bad news came through on Twitter. Frederik Pohl’s granddaughter announced that he had died. As soon as this was read aloud the whole group fell silent. This was a group of writers, editors and fans, and all of us were immediately struck with a sense of shock and a sense of loss. We didn’t want it to be true, and as it became clear that it was true we didn’t want to come to terms with it. Frederik Pohl was almost the last of his generation, one of the last people to remember the birth of science fiction as a genre with an identity and a community. We felt colder and closer to the grave, the way you do when you lose a grandparent or a parent.

It’s impossible to over-estimate the importance of Frederik Pohl to the science fiction genre.

[Read more]

Jun 28 2013 10:00am

Eight Books From the Last Decade that Made Me Excited About Fantasy

Eight Books From the Last Decade that Made Me Excited About Fantasy by Jo Walton

It was easier to think of the science fiction list, because science fiction gets me more excited than fantasy does. I’m not sure why this is. It may be because I write fantasy, so there’s a certain element of “If I can do that, anyone can do it.” Nevertheless, once I started thinking about it, it was quite easy to think of things. Oddly though, much more than with the SF list, these are series. Fantasy lends itself to series, I suppose?

Again, these are not intended as a “best” or a “favourite” list, they’re simply books that got me excited about the possibilities of the genre.

[Read more: eight books, no spoilers]

Jun 20 2013 8:00am

Eight Books From the Last Decade That Made Me Excited About SF

Eight Books From the Last Decade That Made Me Excited About SF

A friend who used to read a lot of SF but who hasn’t read any for a while asked me for recommendations for recent science fiction books that I was excited about. These aren’t meant as anybody’s “best,” least of all mine, they’re just science fiction books written in the last ten years that have made me excited about the possibilities of SF all over again. The “sense of wonder” is easy to get when you’re twelve, because everything is new, but books that can give it to me now are valuable.

I thought I’d share my thoughts.

[Ten books, no spoilers]

Jun 7 2013 10:00am

Superheroes and Life Going On: Susan Palwick’s Mending the Moon

Mending the Moon Susan PalwickSusan Palwick’s Mending the Moon is a very hard book to describe. It’s about life and death—but isn’t everything, when you come down to it? I’ve raved about Palwick before, her amazing SF novel Shelter, her fascinating fantasy The Necessary Beggar, and her disturbing collection The Fate of Mice. Mending the Moon is like and unlike these. It’s like them in being terrifically well-written, but it’s not like them in that it is, I suppose, a mainstream novel. It’s about people in the real world. It doesn’t have fantastical elements, except in the superhero comic book that many of the characters read, “Comrade Cosmos.” It’s really wonderful and I recommend it highly, but I find it remarkably hard to describe.

[Read more: no spoilers]

May 24 2013 10:00am

Three Short Stories With Stranded Time Travellers

Three Short Stories With Stranded Time TravellersI’ve been writing a lot and not reading much that isn’t research and so not posting much—though if you want to hear about my research books I could go on for a long time! I thought I’d look at some short stories, because they’re shorter.

A long time ago I wrote about five short stories with useless time travel, and today I was thinking about three short stories that are all about stranded time travellers. The first is H. Beam Piper’s “He Walked Around the Horses” which is free on Project Gutenberg, the second is Poul Anderson’s “The Man Who Came Early,” also old enough to be free online, and the third is Robert Silverberg’s “House of Bones.”

[Read more]

May 23 2013 12:00pm

Rothfuss Reread: Speculative Summary 20: Watching his Master

Rothfuss Re-read Speculative Summary 20: Watching his Master

My obsessively detailed reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles is over, but we want to keep on talking about the books. I’m going to post the occasional speculative summary of cool things posted since last time. Spoilers for all of The Wise Man’s Fear and The Name of the Wind—these discussions assume you’ve read all of both books, and frankly they won’t make the slightest bit of sense if you haven’t. But we welcome new people who have read the books and want to geek out about them. This post is full of spoilers, please don’t venture beyond the cut unless you want them.

[Read more: speculations, spoilers and human oddities]

Apr 12 2013 10:00am

Australian Fantasy: Justine Larbalestier’s Magic or Madness

Magic or Madness Justine LarbaliestierWhat makes Justine Larbalestier’s Magic or Madness so distinctive and memorable is the protagonist, Reason Cansino. Reason is Australian, and half-Aborigine, and she has grown up in extremely peculiar circumstances which, naturally, seem completely normal to her. She has grown up on the run, with her mother, Sarafina, but cut off from the rest of her family—especially from her grandmother, Esmerelda. Sarafina has told Reason that Esmerelda believes she’s a witch, but of course there’s no such thing as magic. All the same, she’s taught her some tricks for how to deal with it, like counting Fibonacci numbers in your head. Now Sarafina has been hospitalised and Esmeralda has control of fifteen year old Reason, and the way magic works and whether it can be benign is about to become a huge problem. Reason knows how to live in the desert and how to keep moving on, but she knows almost nothing about the way normal people live....

[Read more: mild world spoilers, no plot spoilers]

Apr 5 2013 11:00am

Fantasy, Reading, and Escapism

JRR Tolkien, on fairy storiesOn the subject of reading as escapism, Tolkien asked C.S. Lewis who was opposed to escape, and answered “Jailers.” Yet seventy-five years after the publication of Tolkien's “On Fairy Stories” where he relates this anecdote, people are still trying to make us feel guilty about our reading.

“What are your guilty reading pleasures?” “Why do you read escapist books?” “Is there any merit to that?” “Is there something wrong with you that you're reading for enjoyment instead of taking your literary vitamins?”

[Read more: I love reading]

Apr 4 2013 3:00pm

The Net Before the Net: John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider

The Shockwave Rider John BrunnerJohn Brunner wrote four major novels, each of them set fifty years ahead of the date when he was writing. In each of them he extrapolated different social and scientific trends and problems he could see in the world of the time in which he was writing and projected theml forward. In Stand on Zanzibar (1968) it’s overpopulation, in The Jagged Orbit (1969) it’s race relations and violence, in The Sheep Look Up (1972) it’s pollution, and in The Shockwave Rider (1975) it’s society speeding past the point where people can keep up—the title is a direct reference to Toffler’s Future Shock.

What people remember about The Shockwave Rider is that it predicts ubiquitous computing—in 1975—and some of the problems that come with it. It’s pre-cyberpunk, and it’s cyber without the punk. Reading it now, it’s impressive what it got right and what it got wrong.

[Read more]

Mar 25 2013 11:00am

A Lifetime Burning In Every Moment: Rumer Godden’s A Fugue In Time

Rumer Godden A Fugue In TimeYou won’t believe how delighted and astonished I am to see A Fugue in Time back in print. It’s been out of print and impossible to find for my whole lifetime. I’ve only owned it myself for a relatively short time (thank you for finding it for me, Janet!), and it’s probably the book I have most frequently read from libraries. It’s in print! And I can therefore recommend it in good conscience!

A Fugue in Time is one of those books I could easily talk about without re-reading, because I love it so much and know it so well. But as soon as I thought about doing that I realised that no, I could give myself the treat of reading it again. It’s not a very long book, after all.

It’s genuinely hard to pin down as to genre. It was published in 1945 and set in 1941, but it covers the years from 1841 to 2000. It’s arguably science fiction and contains science fictional assumptions about the future, though it was published initially and republished now as standard mainstream fiction. What makes it especially interesting is the way it is written as if all that time is taking place at the same moment—the use of tenses and of interwoven plots in different generations of the same family is really quite amazing.

[Read more]

Mar 11 2013 8:00am

Mermaid Science Fiction: Kit Whitfield’s In Great Waters

In Great Waters Kit Whitfield Novel Mermaids Jo Walton ReviewKit Whitfield’s In Great Waters is a truly unusual book. It’s hard to describe—it’s an alternate history where there are merpeople and that has changed everything. The merpeople—or “deepsman” to give them their proper name—are like a missing link between people and dolphins. They only need to surface to breathe every thirty minutes or so. They have tails. They are immensely strong. They have language but they are sub-sapient, they’re at a very interesting cusp of alien that we don’t see explored very much. They can cross-breed with humanity, and we first see them through the eyes of Henry, who is a cross-breed, or “bastard.” He has a bifurcated tail and can only stay underwater for fifteen minutes, but he can lie and say a shark is coming when he’s being bullied by the other children. It’s a lie that always works, and it works on the adults too. Henry has more cunning than the rest of his tribe but has less strength and power. Then he comes out of the water and begins to discover the world of landsmen and how he can relate to them. We discover it all with him, how similar and how different that world is from our history, what a difference the deepsmen have made.

[Read more: no spoilers]

Mar 8 2013 11:00am

What’s Reading For Part 2: Books Do Furnish a Mind

What’s Reading For Part 2: Books Do Furnish a Mind

My post What’s Reading For? developed a lively comment thread in which the majority endorsed my Epicurean view that “Reading is usually the most fun I can have at any given moment.” But there were some very interesting dissenting voices, and I’d like to have a look at them too. There’s a way in which I do read in all of kinds of different ways, and in which they are interesting ways to think about how and why we read.

[Read more: “What’s reading for, part 2”]

Feb 21 2013 10:00am

What’s Reading For?

In the comments to my post “Is There a Right Age to Read a Book,” I noticed an odd thing. I’d written it mostly thinking about the comment that you shouldn’t read Jane Eyre until you’re thirty or Middlemarch until you’re forty, and I was thinking about reading pretty much entirely for pleasure. I was talking about spoiling the enjoyment of a book by reading it too early—or too late. In the comments though, people started talking about prescribing childhood reading and talking about books as if they were vitamins that you should take because they’re good for you. There were comments about the immorality of re-reading because it causes you to miss new books, and comments about learning morality from reading. It all became surprisingly Victorian.

I think this may have happened because I had started off discussing classics, and lots of people have these kinds of feelings about classics, as if they’re things you “ought to” read, educational reading, rather than things you read because you want to. And this led me to think about what I read for, and how that might be different from what some other people seem to read for.

[Read more: what I read for]

Feb 19 2013 11:00am

How Can This Be So Gripping? Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time

How Can This Be So Gripping? Josephine Tey's The Daughter of TimeYou probably heard that they found the bones of Richard III a few days ago, under a car park in Leicester. Actually they found them a while ago, but they’ve now been confirmed to be his bones from forensic and DNA evidence. Naturally, this immediately led me to pick up Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, a book I’ve read so many times that I’m now on my third copy. It’s about Richard III, of course, but it’s not about Richard III in any normal way. It’s not a historical novel, it’s a detective story, and when you think about it it’s very odd. I first read it as a teenager. It was my first Tey. I went on to read and re-read everything she wrote. I find her compulsively readable. Whatever it is that makes me get completely sucked into a book and keep on reading and come out blinking hours later when I need to put the lights on to keep seeing the page, that thing Heinlein has for me, Tey has it too.

[Read more: So, a detective novel about Richard III? How does that work?]