What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton (book review).

January 31, 2014 | By | Reply More

Author Jo Walton is a bit of a reading nut, he says putting it in the politest way as she can read up to six books a day at times. She likes re-reading books on a continual basis. Alas, if there was that amount of time for reviewers here but we’re always seeking new books and miss such luxury.


As she points out in her introduction, ‘What Makes This Book So Great’, this book is the result of blogs she runs on www.Tor.com, although I’m still a little confused why it was released by a different publisher. This 130 part selection is from 2008-2011. It is less synopsises but memories and information that she draws from the books as she re-reads them. Although it says ‘Science Fiction & Fantasy’ on the cover, it is in fact mostly SF that is covered, with snippets of fantasy towards the end.

Periodically, Walton will draw themes together, like with Heinlein’s juvenile SF stories, pointing out how the Earth they leave for adventures in space is hardly that wholesome in the first place.

The examination of the use of swear words in our genre makes for some interesting thoughts. Walton points out that swearing has always been there even with created words, just not expressed explicitly until recent decades.

There are odd topics like what not to say when you meet authors whose books you’ve never read which becomes quite fun. Mostly because they don’t expect everyone they encounter to have done so. Then again, I don’t tend to fluster, neither.

Weirdly, Walton spends an excessive amount of chapters on the works of Lois McMaster Bujold and Steven Brust. Although I’m familiar with most of the authors she notes, these two I wasn’t. Too many books, only one life-time and Bujold has never come our way to review. One topic that gets more attention than most is time travel stories. The puzzle she has over Asimov’s ‘The End Of Eternity’ where women were regarded as too important to be recruited as time agents misses the point that they are needed more for breeding than men. Lose one of them and you destroy a time-line. Men aren’t that useful and expendable in comparison.

Occasionally, I ended up reading behind the lines of what Walton was saying about why she re-reads her favourite books, more to analyse as much as anything. I can’t help but wonder if she’s really a closet conservative reader. Nothing to do with politics, the definition means keeping to a few select authors than branching out into new ones. In Walton’s case, she just has a few more favourites than most.

I share her question marks over some people’s varied reading habits and how they skim over bits that they think are boring. I think the oddest thing I’ve ever heard was when I was at work and someone there read the ending of any book she was reading first just to make sure it had an ending she would enjoy getting to.

Walton resists being called a critic as she thinks they would never point out ‘spoilers’ to those who would read them. Personally, anyone who reviews anything is a critic and declaring ‘spoilers’ is more a way of being nice to your reader in case they don’t want to read second-hand something they would like to discover for themselves if they are determined to pick up a book regardless. Mind you, I also think that readers will go amnesic and forget pertinent details until they read the book as well.

I suspect those of you who read this book will get some grounding in a lot of books that you will add to your list to buy and read for yourself. I’m not entirely convinced many people will do what I did and read from cover to cover. Even if you don’t and just dip into it, both ways will work. About the only question I came away from this book was whether or not Jo Walton read non-fiction with as much vigour.

GF Willmetts

January 2014


(pub: Corsair/Constable-Robinson. 446 page hardback. Price: £25.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-47210-1160-9)

check out websites: www.constablerobinson.com and www.Tor.com

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Category: Books, Scifi

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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