Cold Wind April 16, 2014 Cold Wind Nicola Griffith Old ways can outlast their usefulness. What Mario Scietto Says April 15, 2014 What Mario Scietto Says Emmy Laybourne An original Monument 14 story. Something Going Around April 9, 2014 Something Going Around Harry Turtledove A tale of love and parasites. The Devil in America April 2, 2014 The Devil in America Kai Ashante Wilson The gold in her pockets is burning a hole.
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April 13, 2014
Game of Thrones, Season 4, Episode 2: “The Lion and the Rose”
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Thom Dunn
April 8, 2014
Let’s Completely Reimagine Battlestar Galactica! Again. This Time as A Movie!
Emily Asher-Perrin
April 4, 2014
The Age of Heroes is Here. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
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A Spoonful of Music Makes the Nanny: Disney’s Mary Poppins
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Showing posts by: jo walton click to see jo walton's profile
Fri
May 24 2013 11:00am

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]

Thu
May 23 2013 1:00pm

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]

Fri
Apr 12 2013 11:00am

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]

Fri
Apr 5 2013 12:00pm

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]

Thu
Apr 4 2013 4:00pm

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]

Mon
Mar 25 2013 12:00pm

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]

Mon
Mar 11 2013 9:00am

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]

Fri
Mar 8 2013 12:00pm

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”]

Thu
Feb 21 2013 11:00am

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]

Tue
Feb 19 2013 12:00pm

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?]

Thu
Feb 14 2013 2:00pm

Rothfuss Re-read Speculative Summary 18: A Good Cloak

My obsessively detailed reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles is over, but the speculation goes on. 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: spoilers, speculations, and woman in the frame]

Wed
Feb 13 2013 3:00pm

Magical Goldsmithing: Lois McMaster Bujold's The Spirit RingIf Lois McMaster Bujold hadn’t written books that were so much better, I might like The Spirit Ring (1992) more. Maybe if somebody else had written it and I didn’t have such high expectations? It’s a book that I feel I ought to like more than I do. There are a lot of wonderful ingredients here: the feisty daughter of a goldsmith wizard who has learned both magic and goldsmithing, the miner who talks to kobolds, Renaissance Italy with magic, a giant statue that comes alive and saves the day. The trouble is that they don’t really have the vital spark that makes a book live. I want to like it. I have intellectual admiration for it. But as with The Hallowed Hunt there’s no spark. It makes it very difficult to talk about, and indeed I’ve been putting off writing this post.

[Read more]

Thu
Jan 17 2013 2:00pm

Rothfuss Re-read Speculative Summary 18: A Good Cloak

My obsessively detailed reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles is over, but the speculation goes on. 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: spoilers, speculations, cloaks, eyes and Lanre]

Tue
Jan 15 2013 11:00am

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]

Thu
Jan 10 2013 2:00pm

Rothfuss Re-read Speculative Summary 17: A Break in the LineMy riduculously detailed reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles is over, but the speculation goes on. 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: spoilers, speculations, currency, Caluptena, butterflies and kings]

Wed
Jan 9 2013 2:00pm

Boy Visits Space Station: Arthur C. Clarke's Islands in the SkyIt’s hard to see who would really want to read Islands in the Sky today. It was first published in 1954, and republished in 1972 in the spiffy Puffin edition that I still own. It has a new (for 1972) introduction by Patrick Moore, saying in so many words that when Clarke wrote this book it was all far away but now (1972) space stations where kids can vacation and meet emigrants on their way to and from Mars is just around the corner. Well, we’re sending robots out to do it for us, Clarke never imagined that, and we do have a space station and we have astronauts tweeting from it. Which is really pretty cool, even if the station isn’t quite as Clarke pictured it. What’s wrong with Islands in the Sky isn’t that the tech and the history is out of date so much as that it’s a juvenile in which everyone is nice and nothing really happens.

[Read more]

Fri
Dec 21 2012 1:00pm

The Last Gigot in England: Elizabeth Gaskell's CranfordElizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford (1851) is one of those books that makes you smile whenever you are unexpectedly reminded of it. Think about that, think about smiling whenever you’re reminded of it for the rest of your life, and then consider: not only is it very short but it’s absolutely free on Project Gutenberg. It’s also probably in your library, and if not then you can probably find an old copy lying around second hand for very little. Maybe you don’t believe me about the smile, though I assure you it’s true—I’ve seen it on an astonishingly wide variety of faces when Cranford comes up in conversation. Indeed you can test it right now by wandering up to acquaintances and mentioning it to them. If they smile, they’ve read it, if not then they’re part of today’s lucky ten thousand and you can point them at this post.

Whether or not you believe me, you should read this gentle charming Victorian novel because I want to explain how it’s actually utopian.

[Read more: No, really, utopian.]

Mon
Dec 17 2012 6:00pm

eDiscover is a new series on Tor.com that highlights sci-fi/fantasy titles recently brought back into print as ebooks.

eDiscover... Agyar by Steven BrustBack when paperbacks were first invented, Penguin used to sell their books with orange covers that told you nothing but the name of the book and the name of the author. A little later, when they got more sophisticated, they started to use different colours for different genres, black for classics, turquoise for non-fiction, orange for literature, purple for travel and green for crime. They never had one colour for SF and fantasy, but Gollancz did: yellow—the sight of a yellow spine still makes me happy. The original Penguins didn’t have back cover blurbs or anything, just the author’s name and the book’s title. I suppose they thought that would be enough for anyone to know whether they wanted it—if you think of old leather bound books, that’s what they were like, after all. You’d probably heard of them, and if not, and if you wanted to know what they were about, you read them.

[Read more: with spoilers]

Fri
Dec 14 2012 2:00pm

Not Saving the World? How Does That Even Work? Jo Walton discusses Locke Lamora

Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora books made me notice something. Nobody saves the world. Now, they’re not the first fantasy novels where nobody saves the world, but it was such a given of fantasy for such a long time, post-Tolkien, that there was a time when if you’d told me there was an epic fantasy novel where nobody saved the world I’d have wondered how that even worked. There’s a whole set of fantasy series which are under the shadow of Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books, which take a particular kind of realism and a particular level of discourse from Martin. But in ASOIAF there’s no question that the world is in the balance. Winter is coming, and it’s because winter is coming, because ice and fire are out there that we’re interested in the “knights who say fuck.” We expect the books to end in an epic confrontation, and if they do not we will be disappointed. But A Game of Thrones was published in 1996, and The Lies of Locke Lamora in 2007. There has been a change in the kind of stakes we have in our fantasy, and although there were always fantasy novels that were on a smaller scale (Swordspoint positively leaps to mind, 1987, and the Earthsea books are on a very interesting cusp) they were very much the exception, and I don’t think that is the case any more.

[Read more: where did saving the world come from anyway?]

Mon
Dec 10 2012 5:30pm

Sleeping Beauty: a review of Robin McKinley’s Spindle’s EndThe first chapter of Spindle’s End (2000) is one of the most beautiful pieces of prose ever written. The first time I read it I wanted to hug it close and wrap it around me and live in it forever. I wanted to read it aloud to people. I didn’t much want to go on and read the second chapter. The problem with wonderful lush poetic prose is that it doesn’t always march well with telling a story. The requirements of writing like that and the requirements of having a plot don’t always mesh. Spindle’s End is almost too beautiful to read. It’s like an embroidered cushion that you want to hang on the wall rather than put on a chair. Look, it goes like this:

The magic in that land was so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like chalk dust and over floors and shelves like slightly sticky plaster dust. (Housecleaners in that country earned unusually good wages.) If you lived in that country you had to descale your kettle of its encrustation of magic at least once a week, because if you didn’t you might find yourself pouring hissing snakes or pond slime into your teapot instead of water. (It didn’t have to be anything scary or unpleasant like snakes or slime—magic tended to reflect the atmosphere of the place in which it found itself—but if you want a cup of tea a cup of lavender and gold pansies or ivory thimbles is unsatisfactory.)

I read it when it came out, and I kept thinking about re-reading it, completing my read of it, to talk about here. Sometimes I got as far as picking it off the shelf, but I never actually read it again until now, because when I thought about actually reading those gorgeous sentences I felt tired and as if I wasn’t ready to make that much effort again yet.

[Read more: no spoilers]