What Makes This Book So Great

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 1/21/2014
  • Publisher: Tor Books
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As any reader of Jo Walton's Among Others might guess, Walton is both an inveterate reader of SF and fantasy, and a chronic re-reader of books. In 2008, then-new science-fiction mega-site Tor.com asked Walton to blog regularly about her re-readingabout all kinds of older fantasy and SF, ranging from acknowledged classics, to guilty pleasures, to forgotten oddities and gems. These posts have consistently been among the most popular features of Tor.com. Now this volumes presents a selection of the best of them, ranging from short essays to long reassessments of some of the field's most ambitious series.

Among Walton's many subjects here are the Zones of Thought novels of Vernor Vinge; the question of what genre readers mean by "mainstream"; the underappreciated SF adventures of C. J. Cherryh; the field's many approaches to time travel; the masterful science fiction of Samuel R. Delany; Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children; the early Hainish novels of Ursula K. Le Guin; and a Robert A. Heinlein novel you have most certainly never read.

Over 130 essays in all, What Makes This Book So Great is an immensely readable, engaging collection of provocative, opinionated thoughts about past and present-day fantasy and science fiction, from one of our best writers.

Author Biography

JO WALTON won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2002, and the World Fantasy Award for her novel Tooth and Claw in 2004. Her several other novels include the acclaimed “Small Change” alternate-history trilogy, comprising Farthing, Ha'penny, and Half a Crown. Her novel Among Others won the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 2012. A native of Wales, she lives in Montreal.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


1. Introduction

2. Why I Re-read

3. A Deepness in the Sky, the Tragical History of Pham Nuwen

4. The Singularity Problem and Non-Problem

5. Random Acts of Senseless Violence: Why isn’t it a classic of the field?

6. From Herring to Marmalade: the perfect plot of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

7. That’s just scenery: what do we mean by “mainstream”?

8. Re-reading long series

9. The Dystopic Earths of Heinlein’s Juveniles

10. Happiness, Meaning and Significance: Karl Schroeder’s Lady of Mazes

11. The Weirdest Book in the World

12. The Poetry of Deep Time: Arthur C. Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night

13. Clarke reimagined in hot pink: Tanith Lee’s Biting the Sun

14. Something rich and strange: Candas Jane Dorsey’s Black Wine

15. To trace impunity: Greg Egan’s Permutation City

16. Black and white and read a million times: Jerry Pournelle’s Janissaries

17. College as magic garden: Why Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin is a book you’ll either love or hate

18. Making the future work: Maureen McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang

19. Anathem: what does it gain from not being our world?

20. A happy ending depends on when you stop: Heavy Time, Hellburner and C.J. Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe

21. Knights Who Say “Fuck”: Swearing in Genre Fiction

22. “Earth is one world”: C.J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station

23. “Space is wide and good friends are too few”: Cherryh’s Merchanter novels

24. “A need to deal wounds”: Rape of men in Cherryh’s Union-Alliance novels

25. How to talk to writers

26. “Give me back the Berlin Wall”: Ken MacLeod’s The Sky Road

27. What a pity she couldn’t have single-handedly invented science fiction! George Eliot’s Middlemarch

28. The beauty of lists: Angelica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial

29. Like pop rocks for the brain: Samuel R. Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

30. Between Two Worlds: S.P. Somtow’s Jasmine Nights

31. Lots of reasons to love these: Daniel Abraham’s Long Price books

32. Maori Fantasy: Keri Hulme’s The Bone People

33. Better to have loved and lost? Series that go downhill

34. More questions than answers: Robert A. Heinlein’s The Stone Pillow

35. Weeping for her enemies: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honor

36. Forward Momentum: Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Warrior’s Apprentice

37. Quest for Ovaries: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Ethan of Athos

38. Why he must not fail: Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Borders of Infinity

39. What have you done with your baby brother? Lois McMaster Bujold’s Brothers in Arms

40. Hard on his superiors: Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Vor Game

41. One birth, one death, and all the acts of pain and will between: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayar

42. All true wealth is biological: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Mirror Dance

43. Luck is something you make for yourself: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cetaganda

44. This is my old identity, actually: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Memory

45. But I’m Vor: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Komarr

46. She’s getting away! Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign

47. Just my job: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Diplomatic Immunity

48. Every day is a gift: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Winterfair Gifts

49. Choose again, and change: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga

50. So, what sort of series do you like?

51. Time travel and slavery: Octavia Butler’s Kindred

52. America the Beautiful: Terry Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain

53. Susan Palwick’s Shelter

54. Scintillations of a sensory syrynx: Samuel Delany’s Nova

55. You may not know it, but you want to read this: Francis Spufford’s Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin

56. Faster Than Light at any speed

57. Gender and glaciers: Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness

58. Licensed to sell weasels and jade earrings: The short stories of Lord Dunsany

59. The Net of a Million Lies: Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep

60. The worst book I love: Robert Heinlein’s Friday

61. India’s superheroes: Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children

62. A funny book with a lot of death in it: Iain Banks’s The Crow Road

63. More dimensions than you’d expect: Samuel Delany’s Babel 17

64. Bad, but good: David Feintuch’s Midshipman’s Hope

65. Subtly twisted history: John M. Ford’s The Dragon Waiting

66. A very long poem: Alan Garner’s Red Shift

67. Beautiful, poetic, and experimental: Roger Zelazny’s Doorways in the Sand

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

69. Who reads cosy catastrophes?

70. Stalinism vs champagne at the opera: Constantine Fitzgibbon’s When the Kissing Had To Stop

71. The future of the Commonwealth: Nevil Shute’s In the Wet

72. Twists of the Godgame: John Fowles’s The Magus

73. Playing the angles on a world: Steven Brust’s Dragaera

74. Jhereg feeds on others’ kills: Steven Brust’s Jhereg

75. Yendi coils and strikes unseen: Steven Brust’s Yendi

76. A coachman’s tale: Steven Brust’s Brokedown Palace

77. Frightened teckla hides in grass: Steven Brust’s Teckla

78. How can you tell?: Steven Brust’s Taltos

79. Phoenix rise from ashes grey: Steven Brust’s Phoenix

80. I have been asking for nothing else for an hour: Steven Brust’s The Phoenix Guards

81. Athyra rules minds’ interplay: Steven Brust’s Athyra

82. What, is there more?: Steven Brust’s Five Hundred Years After

83. Orca circles, hard and lean: Steven Brust’s Orca

84. Haughty dragon yearns to slay: Steven Brust’s Dragon

85. Issola strikes from courtly bow: Steven Brust’s Issola

86. Dear Lords of Publication, Glorious Mountain Press of Adrilankha, (or any appropriate representative on our world)

87. The time about which I have the honor to write?: Steven Brust’s The Viscount of Adrilankha

88. Dzur stalks and blends with night: Steven Brust’s Dzur

89. Jhegaala shifts as moments pass: Steven Brust’s Jhegaala

90. Quiet iorich won’t forget: Steven Brust’s Iorich

91. Quakers in Space: Molly Gloss’s The Dazzle of Day

92. Locked in our separate skulls: Raphael Carter’s The Fortunate Fall

93. Saving both worlds: Katherine Blake (Dorothy Heydt)’s The Interior Life

94. Yearning for the unattainable: James Tiptree Jr.’s short stories

95. SF reading protocols

96. Incredibly readable: Robert Heinlein’s The Door Into Summer

97. Nasty, but brilliant: John Barnes’s Kaleidoscope Century

98. Growing up in a space dystopia: John Barnes’s Orbital Resonance

99. The joy of an unfinished series

100. Fantasy and the need to remake our origin stories

101. The mind, the heart, sex, class, feminism, true love, intrigue, not your everyday ho hum detective story: Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night

102. Three short Hainish novels: Ursula Le Guin’s Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile and City of Illusions

103. On reflection, not very dangerous: Harlan Ellison’s The Last Dangerous Visions

104. Why do I re-read things I don’t like?

105. Yakking about who’s civilized and who’s not: H. Beam Piper’s Space Viking

106. Feast or famine?

107. Bellona, Destroyer of Cities, Jay Schreib’s play of Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren

108. Not much changes on the street, only the faces: George Alec Effinger’s When Gravity Fails

109. History inside-out: Howard Waldrop’s Them Bones

110. I’d love this book if I didn’t loathe the protagonist: Harry Turtledove and Judith Tarr’s Household Gods

111. Screwball comedy time travel: John Kessel’s Corrupting Dr. Nice

112. Academic Time Travel: Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog

113. The Society of Time: John Brunner’s Times Without Number

114. Five Short Stories with Useless Time Travel

115. Time Control: Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity

116. Texan Ghost Fantasy: Sean Stewart’s Perfect Circle

117. The language of stones: Terri Windling’s The Wood Wife

118. A great castle made of sea: Why hasn’t Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell been more influential?

119. Gulp or sip: How do you read?

120. Quincentenniel: Arthur C. Clarke’s Imperial Earth

121. Do you skim?

122. A merrier world: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit

123. Monuments from the future: Robert Charles Wilson’s The Chronoliths

124. The Suck Fairy

125. Trains on the moon: John M. Ford’s Growing Up Weightless

126. Overloading the senses: Samuel Delany’s Nova

127. Aliens and Jesuits: James Blish’s A Case of Conscience

128. Swiftly goes the swordplay: Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword

129. The work of disenchantment never ends: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Icehenge

130. Literary criticism vs talking about books


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