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Jo Walton

Fiction and Excerpts [13]

Fiction and Excerpts [13]

Alike in Dignity: Feuding Houses in Romeo and Juliet

 People always talk about Romeo and Juliet as if it’s a romance, as if it’s a great passionate play, the greatest love story of all time. Seen that way, I’ve always found it a little disappointing. There’s certainly a romance in it, but it’s actually much more a play about a feud between families. What’s most interesting to me is the way that the whole thing is set up like a comedy, where you can safely expect a happy ending, the lovers reunited and their families reconciled, only to see Shakespeare pull the rug from under you. Only King Lear does more of a switch, where it looks as if even the terrible events can be patched up, and then surprises us with worse.

Romeo and Juliet is truly a tragedy, with the inevitability of Greek tragedy where everyone is undone by their tragic flaw. And we’re informed of this at the beginning, so we know what we are headed for, and still, as the story goes on we want it to end differently. I like Romeo and Juliet for the narrative dissonance, and of course as always with Shakespeare, the beautiful language.

[In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…]

Series: Shakespeare on

Shakespeare’s King: Some Thoughts on Henry V, Part 2

On the one hand Prince Hal, who became King Henry V, is undoubtedly England’s greatest king, so it’s perfectly reasonable that he’s the only person Shakespeare used as a protagonist in four plays. On the other hand, would anybody remember him today if Shakespeare hadn’t immortalised him? Hal’s empire lasted a mere four hundred years. Shakespeare’s work is going with us to the stars.

It wasn’t the greatness that drew Shakespeare to Hal. If it had been, he wouldn’t have written two plays set before Hal even achieved the throne. It was his complexity, the combination of his greatness and his tricks—he’s drawn to Falstaff and his foolery, and when he becomes king and turns his back on that he continues to play tricks on his lords and ministers and on his enemies. The first play (Henry IV, Part 1) ends with Hal having done what his father wanted and conquered Hotspur, the first of his victories. The second play (Henry IV, Part 2) ends with his father’s death and Hal turning his back on Falstaff. (And that’s an amazing scene. “I do not know you, old man.”) The third play (Henry V, Part 1) ends after the triumph of Agincourt with Hal winning the daughter of the king of France and being made heir to France, at the cusp of his real achievement. If it had been his glory that drew Shakespeare he’d have gone on to make his “cockpit” show the rest of Europe and the Middle East and all Hal’s conquests there. Instead, he begins again with Hal an old man himself at eighty-five, king of all he surveys, but with nobody to love, both his sons dead, tricked to the last, and his grandson and heir afraid of him.

[Read more]

Series: Shakespeare on

There’s Not Been Enough of Samuel R. Delany

Samuel Delany was born in New York on April 1st 1942, which makes today his seventy-third birthday. Happy birthday, Chip!

I could write a considered post about Delany’s significance to the field, but I’m just too enthusiastic about his work to do it in a properly calm way. Delany’s just one of the best writers out there, and he always has been, from his emergence with The Jewels of Aptor (1962) and The Fall of the Towers. (1963-5) to last year’s Through The Valley of the Nest of Spiders. His major work—Babel 17 (1966) (post), The Einstein Intersection (1967), Nova (1968) (post), Dhalgren (1974) (post), Tales of Neveryon (1975), Triton (1976) and Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) (post)—is right at the top of what science fiction has ever achieved.

[Read more]

Series: On This Day

Rothfuss Reread: The Slow Regard of Silent Things Part 1: A Seemly Place

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.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a novella published in book form. It is about Auri, Rothfuss himself says that this is not the place to start with his work, and it absolutely is not. This novella is strictly for the fans. That would be us then.

Spoilers for all of The Wise Man’s Fear andThe Name of the Wind and for The Slow Regard of Silent Things—these discussions assume you’ve read all of the 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: OCD magic, and I’m not kidding about spoilers]

Series: Patrick Rothfuss Reread

Sir Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015, a Reminiscence

I met Terry Pratchett at the second convention I ever went to, Albacon in Glasgow in 1988. He wasn’t Sir Terry then, indeed he’d only written a few books at the time, and I had only read The Colour of Magic. I hadn’t written anything. I was a twenty-three year old nobody. The friends I was with knew him, and we all had a drink together in the bar. He was friendly and warm and welcoming, and we had a wide ranging discussion—I remember he was talking about the Bromeliad books which he was planning at the time, and some of the things that we brainstormed in that conversation later showed up on the page. He was incredibly interesting and fun to talk to, and immediately ready to take me and my ideas seriously. While we were chatting, he kept being interrupted by people coming up to have books signed, or to tell him shyly how much his work meant to them. Even though they were interrupting the conversation, he dealt very kindly with them, doing his best to gently put them at their ease.

I’ve often thought about that conversation in the years since. I’ve thought about it as I was published myself and was in that same position with being interrupted by fans, and dealing with it as much as I can in the same way. I’ve thought of it as I’ve been in other great brainstorming conversations in fandom, whether Terry was there or not. It was one of my first great fannish conversations, and one of my first experiences of how writers and fans interact. It was literally exemplary, and I’m sure Terry never knew how much it meant to me, then and now.

[Read More]

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

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]

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]

A Library In Your Pocket: How Having an E-reader Has Changed My Reading Habits

I bought an e-reader almost two years ago. My son had one first, but he’s a technophilic early adopter. I on the other hand am a panda who likes to stick to my one comfortable grove of bamboo. But when my son came with me my signing tour in January 2011, he took his Kindle and I took eleven books. Then I bought more on the way and had to post some home from San Francisco. Even I could see the advantages of an e-reader for travel. There never was a more reluctant purchaser though.

[Read more: But now I love it]

The Just City (Excerpt)

Created as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future—all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.

The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer’s daughter sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge,  ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome—and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her. Meanwhile, Apollo—stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does—has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of the children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human.

Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives—the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself—to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect. What happens next is a tale only Jo Walton could tell. The Just City is available January 13th from Tor Books—check out an excerpt below!

[Read an excerpt]

Awesome Aliens: Jim Cambias’s A Darkling Sea

What’s better than a first novel with awesome aliens that includes really well done alien points of view? A first novel with two lots of different awesome aliens that includes two different alien points of view!

I’ve been enjoying James Cambias’s short work for years, and I was excited to hear about A Darkling Sea. When I was asked to read it to see if I wanted to blurb it I agreed—and at that point I didn’t know anything about it but the title and author. Then I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I enjoyed it even more reading it again now. I’d have loved this book when I was twelve, and I still love it. This is an old-fashioned science fiction novel with today’s science—biology and physics and astronomy.

[Read more: no spoilers]

After Paris: Meta, Irony, Narrative, Frames, and The Princess Bride

I am not the intended audience for William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. Likely you’re not either, as you’re reading this on We read fantasy. We love books about heroes and villains and giants and princesses. We are not so cynical that we have to be coaxed into a story about true love and a wicked prince and a masked pirate. Goldman isn’t a fantasy writer. He’s a literary writer, and his imagined readers are literary readers, and he wrote The Princess Bride with no expectation that it would fit on my shelves between Parke Godwin and Lisa Goldstein. It’s possible he’d be slightly embarrassed if he knew he was rubbing shoulders with them, and he’d be happier to see his work set between William Golding and Nadine Gorimer. He wrote The Princess Bride in 1973, after Tolkien, but before genre fantasy was a publishing phenomenon. And it’s not genre fantasy—though it (or anyway the movie) is part of what has shaped genre fantasy as it is today. Goldman’s novel is a swashbuckling fairytale. I think Goldman wanted to write something like a children’s book with the thrills of a children’s book, but for adults. Many writers have an imaginary reader, and I think Goldman’s imaginary reader for The Princess Bride was a cynic who normally reads John Updike, and a lot of what Goldman is doing in the way he wrote the book is trying to woo that reader. So, with that reader in mind, he wrote it with a very interesting frame. And when he came to make it into a movie, he wrote it with a different and also interesting frame.

[Read more: You’re in the Pit of Despond]

Love as Contest in the Work of Mary Renault

Mary Renault (1905-1983) wrote six contemporary novels between 1938 and 1955 and then The Last of the Wine (1956) and the other Greek novels that are what she is best known for. Like most Renault readers I’m aware of, I came to her Greek novels first, and read her contemporary novels later. For most of my life her Greek novels have been in print and easy to find, while her contemporary novels have been almost impossible to get hold of. Now they are all available as e-books, and this makes me really happy as it means it is possible to recommend them in good conscience.

The Greek novels are historical novels set in Ancient Greece, and I love them. It’s possible to argue that they’re fantasy because the characters believe in the gods and see their hands at work in the world, but that’s a fairly feeble argument. They do however appeal to readers of fantasy and SF because they provide a completely immersive world that feels real and different and solid, and characters who completely belong in that world. I recommend them wholeheartedly to anyone who likes fantasy not because they are fantasy but because they scratch the same kind of itch. I’ve written about The Mask of Apollo and The King Must Die here on before.

[Read more]

A Day in the Life of Bast: Patrick Rothfuss’s “The Lightning Tree”

“The Lightning Tree” appears in the anthology Rogues; it’s a novella, 58 pages long, and it’s about Bast. The idea of an anthology of stories about rogues is fascinating—rogues themselves are such an interestingly ambiguous kind of character. A rogue isn’t a villain—or isn’t necessarily a villain, but is inherently up to something. What we have here seems to be a story about a delightful charming person who is doing some things for mysterious reasons.

It’s interesting to consider how “The Lightning Tree” would appear to somebody who hadn’t read The Name of the Wind or The Wise Man’s Fear, and who was discovering Rothfuss for the first time with this story. It would be such a different reading experience that it would be hard to say whether somebody doing that would even have read the same story I did. For them, it would be the story of a young man who works in an inn and who is powerfully attractive to and attracted to women. He also helps out children in a complicated system of exchanges, all of them fascinating and some of them obviously magical.

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