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STARLINGS by Jo Walton


by Jo Walton

Pub Date: Jan. 30th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61696-056-8
Publisher: Tachyon

Award-winning sci-fi novelist and essayist Walton shares her poetry, a play, and assorted short fiction, accompanied by lengthy insights about writing each work and complaints about not getting paid.

Walton has some interesting and frank insights about her writing process and what she felt she needed to learn in order to compose a short story that works. She argues that it’s vital to match a story length with the appropriate ending “weight." This is true, up to a point; and the selections in the book illustrate Walton's skill at crafting appropriate endings to her intriguing beginnings. However, she might want to devote more attention to developing story middles, many of which come across as either incompletely established or rushed. It’s also true that short stories, particularly in speculative fiction, are wonderful opportunities for experimentation, to say “What if?” and carry the idea forward for a bit and stop. Several of the included works are mainly overt experiments of this kind, almost one-joke sketches, such as a brief correspondence between Jane Austen and Cassandra of Troy. But Walton, as she’s demonstrated in her novels (Necessity, 2016, etc.), is an expert experimenter, and even her weaker efforts are worth a reader’s time. Selections of particular note include “Three Twilight Tales,” three brief and gorgeously enigmatic scenes at an inn; “Sleeper,” about employing Cold War–type subversion in a near-future era of repressive capitalism and constant surveillance; “A Burden Shared,” in which an app allows you to take on a loved one's pain (Walton is correct about these two; they’re both successful, fully formed short stories); and “Three Shouts on a Hill,” a delightfully metafictional and anachronistic play that retells an Irish legend, which Walton accurately claims as the collection's best work. The book also includes several poems, whose shorter length is well-suited to Walton’s idea-tinkering.

An intriguing peek inside a fertile mind.