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What Makes This Book So Great
by Jo Walton
TOR, $26.99, 446pp
Publication Date: January 21, 2014
An interesting compendium of blogs by author Jo Walton on SF and fantasy novels. This is a selection of blogs Walton wrote about rereading SF and fantasy novels, even ones she disliked the first time around. These blogs were written between July 2008 and February 2011 on

There are a lot of authors mentioned I’ve never heard of and that in itself is a good reason to check this out. Her opinions are well-supported and interesting (even on books I didn’t care for at all).

She does several blogs on authors she is very fond of: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series and several of Steven Brust’s novels, for example.

Here’s a quote that succinctly states what she expects from the novels she rereads: “What I want is stories well written and characterized as “Middlemarch,” but with more options for what can happen. That’s what I always hope for, and that’s what I get from the best of SF.” And what she goes on to say in conclusion about George Eliot is this: “But I wish she invented science fiction instead, because she could have, and it would have been so amazing if she had. “

Middlemarch of all novels holding the possibility of great science fiction if only Eliot had gone in that direction!

She writes about Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” as well as “The Worst Book I Love: Robert A. Heinlein’s “Friday,” to “The Joy of an Unfinished Series.” So her interests run the gamut.

There are lots (more than 125) of wonderful succinct blogs.

I enjoyed a lot of the thoughtful ones, like: do you read in gulps or sips.? Do you skim? (She cannot fathom the reason to skim. I can: “Les Miserables”: the battle scenes went on and on and it is hard (as it was in War and Peace for me to imagine the scenes for some reason. And so I skimmed them to get back to focusing on the characters. At least, that’s my reason!)

There’s a great blog on her thoughts about Bilbo’s character and how well The Hobbit was written to be read aloud. One of my very favorite blogs concerns the Suck Fairy. That is who has attacked a book you remember with great fondness and love and when you reread it, it is thin, colorless and badly written. That’s the work of the Suck Fairy—she also mentions the fairies whose footsteps are obvious when you reread a novel from your youth and discover The Message hidden in its pages, among other things.

As commentary on what works for her and what doesn’t in great Science fiction and fantasy this is fascinating. ~~ Sue Martin

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