What Makes This Book So Great: Re-Reading the Classics of Fantasy and SF
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Jo Walton is an award-winning author of, inveterate reader of, and chronic re-reader of science fiction and fantasy books. What Makes This Book So Great? is a selection of the best of her musings about her prodigious reading habit.
Jo Walton’s many subjects range from acknowledged classics, to guilty pleasures, to forgotten oddities and gems. Among them, the Zones of Thought novels of Vernor Vinge; the question of what genre readers mean by ‘mainstream’; the under-appreciated 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 engaging collection of provocative, opinionated thoughts about past and present-day fantasy and science fiction, from one of our best writers.
of morons. I laughed, I always laugh at Sheckley’s tall tales, no matter how thin he stretches them. The Monsters and Other Science Fiction Tales collects some of his best. Jerry Pournelle is here with a story called “Free Enterprise” in which NASA pretty much abandons space to robots, the shuttle fleet is allowed to decay, and prizes are offered for the first private companies to meet various space goals. This has the usual Pournelle style and flair, but this is a very familiar subject for
changes reality will tend to wipe itself out by changing reality so it isn’t invented. Asimov specifically says that it’s a terrible idea because with the power to change things, however benevolent you are, you’ll change things in a cautious way, to make things safer. Space flight dies out every time because of the changes they make. In swapping Eternity for Infinity, time travel is expressly rejected in favour of space travel. One change is made—and not one that would be made today to bring
has none, absolutely none. I think the only mentions of women are Belladonna Took, Bilbo’s mother (dead before the story starts), Thorin’s sister, mother of Fili and Kili, and then Bilbo’s eventual nieces. We see no women on the page, elf, dwarf, human, or hobbit. But I didn’t miss them when I was eight and I don’t miss them now. I had no trouble identifying with Bilbo. This is a world without sex, except for misty reproductive purposes, and entirely without romance. Bilbo is such a bachelor that
know. She’s wonderful shorthand for a whole complicated process. In her simplest form, the Suck Fairy is just pure suckitude. You read a book you used to love, and—something’s happened to it! The prose is terrible, the characters are thin, the plot is ridiculous. Worst of all, that wonderful bit you always remembered, the bit where they swim into the captured city under the water gate at dawn, and when they come out of the water in the first light and stand dripping on the quay, it all smells
than “Terran.” His sexual preference—heterosexuality—is mentioned, and his gender essentialism is very much dated from the world the book was written in, not the world in which it is now read. The character I’m ridiculously fond of is Estraven. I’ve loved him since I was a teenager. He’s not a man or a woman, he’s in exile always and everywhere, and he always sees the big picture and tries to do what he can. He tries to be as good a person as he can, in difficult circumstances. He’s one of my