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Walton, Jo

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1964-    ) Welsh author, mostly of fantasy, in Canada from 2002, now a Canadian citizen, who began to publish work of genre interest with "At the Bottom of the Garden" in Odyssey for November/December 1998, though a novel, The Rebirth of Pan (written 1990s; 2015), preceded this. Some of her short fiction, like Escape to Other Worlds with Science Fiction (6 February 2009; 2010 ebook), is sf. She won the John W Campbell Award for best new writer in 2002. The Tir Tanagiri sequence beginning with The King's Peace (2000), a reworking of Arthurian legends, is, however, fantasy, as are her first three singletons.

Tooth and Claw (2003) is a Satirical Fantasy of Manners in which dragons effectively inhabit a sharply conceived world that Anthony Trollope could have described in his own terms; it won a World Fantasy Award. Lifelode (2009) – set in a clement Polder [for Arthur, Fantasy of Manners and Polder see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] whose inhabitants enjoy polyamorous sexual relations as normal (see Sex), and who walk naked – features a young protagonist able to see the past and future lives of those she has lived with through a full life. Among Others (2011), which won both the Hugo award and the Nebula award, is a Young Adult coming-of-age tale whose protagonist, attempting to escape the imprisoning solitude of a childhood dominated by her mother (who is a witch), creates an sf Fandom in her boarding school; her responses to the classic sf books she reads acutely (though at points sentimentally) characterize the experiences of a wide range of readers, not solely of Walton's own generation. A similar breadth of reading is more formally presented in a series of short re-evaluative essays on a wide range of novels and stories published from 16 July 2008 on; a selection from these blog posts has been assembled as What Makes This Book So Great (coll 2014), which won a Locus Award as best nonfiction. More controversially, An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards, 1953-2000 (coll 2018) assembles further columns into a sustained set of comments on the Hugo awards year by year, with short essays on the works Walton herself preferred: sometimes the actual winners, but frequently not.

Taking a fine sonnet by John M Ford as incipit, My Real Children (2014) utilizes the Parallel World topos to examine two "versions" of one woman's long life from 1926 to 2015, the less happy version set in a world distinct from ours, though strongly evocative of this world, the other in a world where "localized" nuclear conflicts have occurred more than once, generating a cancer that kills off some members of the cast; but life in this latter reality, with the protagonist happily married to a woman, is more vigorous and more fulfilling. Though there are no direct echoes of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life (2013), for neither version of Patricia Cowan in any sense replaces or succeeds the other, or transforms her world, both novels share a meditative intensity about how individual lives take their shape. My Real Children shared the James Tiptree Jr Award for a 2014 work.

Walton is of sf interest mainly for the Small Changes series, comprising Farthing (2006), Ha'penny (2007) and Half a Crown (2008), a Hitler Wins sequence set in an acutely described Alternate History England, a Near Future land depicted as a distressingly obedient client state: so obedient, in fact, so complicit, that from the Jonbar Point – a coup initiated by Rudolf Hess (1894-1987) and upperclass English quislings – it is a Dystopia that seems frozen shut, though the large cast experience seemingly unaltered lives. The first volume is structured as a classic crime novel set in a classic stately home; Carmichael, its detective protagonist, solves the case, but as a homosexual (a way of being not only illegal here – as in fact it was in the real world – but subject to increasingly savage persecution) he is blackmailed into letting the murderer, a fascist aspirant to the Prime Ministership who is also gay, gain his ends. In the second volume – featuring the same detective, paired here with the second of three young first-person female leads – Hitler, on a visit to London, is saved from assassination. In the third volume, set in a 1960 still frozen in time, Carmichael uses his new seniority to help Jews escape to America, while at the same time the client regime governing England proves instantly dissolvable though a plot-driven denouement. The overall tale, though intermittently embedded in nightmare, reads as comedic.

In the markedly Equipoisal Just City sequence comprising The Just City (2015), The Philosopher Kings (2015) and Necessity (2016), all assembled as Thessaly (omni 2017), the goddess Pallas Athene creates an ideal Island city in the ancient Mediterranean under the influence of Plato's The Republic (fourth century BC), recruiting educable children and their tutors from various eras (including Robots from the Far Future) by means of Time Travel. In the second volume, set twenty years after the events of the first, five discordant (but conversing) states have sprung into existence, but are transported bodily by Zeus to the distant planet Plato. In the third volume, the god Apollo emerges full-grown from the mortal chrysalis known as Pytheas while at the same time a Space Opera element is introduced with the arrival of a ship from Earth. The use of an epigraph by Ada Palmer underscores Walton's focus in this sequence on the creation and maintenance, both baroquely conceived and executed, of Utopia.

Lent (2019) shares peripherally some characters with Thessaly, but essentially stands as the first volume of a new non-series enterprise focused on versions of Florence. The begins as a dramatic presentation of the real Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498) in a richly conceived fantasy City (here actually called Florence) where supernatural creatures and true Predictions exist; eventually, an Equipoisal fissiparating of this seemingly central version of reality into a series of Alternate Worlds, in each of which Savonarola – whose personality and acts have been subject to radically different interpretations – experiences different fates. Or What You Will (2020), whose complexly storyable narrative transacts a range of venues and realities common to twenty-first century Fantastika, is either narrated by motile male voice, or by the contemporary fantasy novelist perhaps nearing the end of her career who houses that voice as a kind of Avatar inside her skull. In this novel, Florence (here called Thalia) is most engagingly understood as a fantasia on two plays by William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night; Or What You Will (performed 1602 or earlier; 1623) and The Tempest (performed circa 1611; 1623); the Alternate History Renaissance enclave of Thalia delights in internal torments, is visited by time travellers (see Time Travel), and is threatened by a transfigured Caliban.

The skill and compassion of Walton's work is vividly present throughout her work; but there is some sense that, perhaps through over-kindly instinct, she has occasionally held back from the extremities of her premises. This cannot be said of Lifelode, nor of the Just City sequence. Her career, which only began at the start of the twenty-first century, has already seen high success; it should be of intense interest to see her next storytelling moves. [JC]

see also: Eastercon; Forgotten Futures.

Jo Walton

born Aberdare, Glamorgan, Wales: 1 December 1964



Tir Tanagiri

Small Change

  • Farthing (New York: Tor, 2006) [Small Change: hb/Howard Grossman]
  • Ha'penny (New York: Tor, 2007) [Small Change: hb/Howard Grossman]
  • Half a Crown (New York: Tor, 2008) [Small Change: hb/Howard Grossman]

Just City

  • The Just City (New York: Tor, 2015) [Just City: hb/from Raphael]
  • The Philosopher Kings (New York: Tor, 2015) [Just City: hb/from Raphael]
  • Necessity (New York: Tor, 2016) [Just City: hb/from Raphael]
    • Thessaly (New York: Tor, 2017) [omni of the above three: Just City: pb/]

individual titles

collections and stories

  • Muses and Lurkers (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Rune Press, 2001) [poetry: chap: edited by Eleanor J Evans: pb/nonpictorial]
  • Escape to Other Worlds with Science Fiction (New York:, 2010) [story: ebook: first appeared 6 February 2009 na/Gary Kelley]
  • Sybils & Spaceships (Framingham, Massachusetts, 2009) [poetry: coll: chap: pb/Geri Sullivan and Michael Benveniste]
  • Turnover (Birmingham, England: The Birmingham Science Fiction Group, 2013) [story: pb/David A Hardy]
  • The Helix and the Hard Road (Seattle, Washington: Aqueduct Press, 2013) with Joan Slonczewski [poetry: coll: includes some nonfiction: in the WisCon Guest of Honor Offerings series: pb/various artists]
  • Sleeper (New York: Original, 2014) [ebook: na/Wesley Allsbrook]
  • Starlings (San Francisco, California: Tachyon Publications, 2018) [coll: pb/]



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