Have you read Jo Walton yet? The author, poet, and blogger/reviewer who will be the Guest of Honor at Balticon over the Memorial Day weekend? I am just becoming acquainted with her, literarily speaking, and am bemoaning the past fifteen years that she’s been writing behind my back!
I am starting to make up for lost time: to date, one novel, My Real Children, and a few selections from What Makes This Book So Great, a collection of Walton’s book reviews for Tor.com. That may not sound like much, but it’s more than enough to appreciate her impressive but unstuffy breadth of knowledge and her great talent for complex ideas and depths of feeling expressed in brisk, matter-of-fact language. To say nothing of her unusual story lines, and characters so real you almost hear them breathing. I loved every bit of what I’ve read and am looking forward to more.
Early in Walton’s novel, My Real Children, an old fashioned telephone rings in a girls’ school in a remote area of World War II-era England. The young teacher who takes the call is asked a question. She hesitates, deeply divided over a choice which will determine the course of her life. But the voice demands an answer. “Yes or no,” he says. “Now or never.” She finds excuses for his unusually brusque manner, his coercion. As always, she hopes for the best. “Yes,” she says, unaware that somehow, somewhere inside her, she has also said, “No.”
So begins a divided life, lived in divergent worlds with dramatically different futures. In the telling, Ms Walton examines the extraordinary forces within everyday human reality, while painting one of the wildest theories of cosmology with the colors, textures, foibles and complexities of the human beings who endure them.
What Makes This Book So Great comprises 130 book discussions selected from posts Ms. Walton wrote for a blog by that title on Tor.com between 2008 and 2011. These aren’t new books, but her many-times re-read favorites, classics and should-be-classics and series of the genre, now visited once again with new depths of insight and appreciation. Of the few examples I have read so far — including Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Arthur Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night, Samuel Delaney’s Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, I have begun a To-Be-Re-Read list as well as adding some titles to my Why-Haven’t-I-Read-This list. As some very nice bonuses there are also general genre discussions, such as That’s Just Scenery: What Do We Mean By Mainstream. This is a great book for book lovers, book reviewers, and writers alike. If you don’t believe me, here’s what Patrick Nielsen Hayden has to say about it:
Since 2000, Jo Walton has produced a dozen novels and three books of poetry with an impressive string of awards including, among others, the Campbell Best New Writer Award and the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, World Fantasy, Tiptree, Prometheus, and Mythopoeic Awards. Her novel Among Others won the 2011 Nebula and the 2012 Hugo Awards for Best Novel, and is one of only seven novels to have been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards.
Go read her. Now