Multiple award-winning science fiction and fantasy author Jo Walton’s first short fiction collection is a captivating array of fairy tales, mythology, space fiction, machine sentience, alien encounters, heaven, and more. Easily a third of the stories in this collection are 5-star worthy. Here are my absolute favorites:
- Three-Twilight Tales, about three separate magical encounters in a rural fantasy village
- Unreliable Witness, in which an old woman with dementia describes her encounter with an alien
- Relentlessly Mundane, about several adults who discuss their secret trip to the magical land of Porphylia when they were younger
- Escape to Other Worlds with Science Fiction, in which several slices of life in 1960 New York have little to do with what’s in the papers
- At the Bottom of the Garden, my absolute favorite tale of book, which captures the lack of empathy we teach our children in a world that could be full of wonder
- A Burden Shared, in which a mother shares the burden of pain with her daughter through technology, at unseen costs
Some of the short stories, like the ones mentioned above, are perfect combinations of form and idea and execution. I love that this collection is so diverse. There are stories, plays, poems, and sonnets, and each contains such different subject matter, from pure fantasy to magical realism to hard science fiction to Norse and Greek mythology. Some are disturbing. Some are funny. Some are clever. And all of them are interesting.
Even the stories that aren’t my favorites are quite memorable, lingering because of their unique subjects. Interestingly, in the introduction Jo Walton mentions that the art of short fiction did not come naturally to her like novel writing. I understand what she means—she has a wide range of intriguing ideas, and she presents them in new and unusual formats, but often the final stroke, the proverbial period at the end of the sentence, does not pack the punch I expect from the set up. In fact, I often wonder if I missed something, that maybe I didn’t quite get it.
It’s a mix, but one I highly recommend. Specifically recommended for fans of literary scifi and fantasy!
Thanks to Netgalley and Tachyon Publications for a free copy in exchange for an honest review!
“What makes you want to carry on living? I mean, here are you are in this horrible place with yellow and brown wallpaper, eating tasteless mush, hardly seeing your family, never seeing your friends. I know it isn’t your choice. But why don’t you just give up and die? What makes your heart keep beating?”