Recent Reading: What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton

So, I picked up a e-copy of Walton’s WHAT MAKES THIS BOOK SO GREAT because I thought it would be interesting to see what she thought of AN INTERIOR LIFE and also, of course, because short little snippets about books are a handy thing to have around for reading during breakfast or whatever.


I get why someone or other (on Goodreads? I don’t remember and don’t care enough to look it up) was disappointed in this book. The columns Walton wrote for are completely unchanged from the versions that appeared online, but lack the comments on each post, so they do feel more suitable for blog entries than for essays collected in a book.

On the other hand, it’s not too annoying to google “Jo Walton Teckla” (for example), if you want to see whether commenters agree with Walton that this book is good and grows on you with re-reading (she did dislike it the first time she read it), or with me that it is not only fundamentally and unsalvageably unpleasant to read but also that the broader political situation is simplistic and unworkable.

(The answer is, lots of people apparently like TECKLA, but at least one commenter agrees with me about it.)

I do think that Brust partly saved TECKLA by writing PHOENIX, but still, I doubt I’ll ever re-read the former.

It’s interesting to me that Walton included in the book ALL of her posts on Steven Brust’s books; also all her Bujold posts. I don’t think any other author got this treatment. Cherryh got about four posts, for example, not thirty. Walton does point out things in Brust’s books that I never noticed, and after reading through her posts on the series, I re-read DRAGON. I’ve always liked that one and I haven’t re-read it so often that I have it memorized. I’d like to go back and re-read more of them, but later, later. Haven’t gotten nearly as far with my WIP this weekend as I should, but you know, I did actually come to Indy to gaze at the dogs and chat with friends — not to immure myself in my hotel room for hours and hours.

Anyway! Walton’s book has pretty much worked well for me. So far I’ve stuck pretty much to reading her posts about books I’m familiar with. They’re short and thought-provoking; not reviews but comments and thoughts — you probably knew that — and in general chock full of spoilers. In case you didn’t know that, I thought I’d mention it.

One other entertaining thing I’d like to mention: Walton has one essay about how she always goes on with series even when they go sharply downhill. Wow. I sure don’t. It’s always interesting to see how other people react to stories, but I’m having a hard time even imagining that. If everyone tells me “No, no, stop with DUNE, don’t read any sequels,” then I’m happy to stop with DUNE and don’t at all feel compelled to go on. Same with movies: If someone I trust says, “It’s almost as bad as “Highlander II”, I don’t require personal experience of the fact.

So now, I’m curious: do you all feel compelled to go on with sequels even if people you trust beg you not to?

Also, what did you all think of TECKLA? Was that a thumb’s-up or thumb’s-down experience for you? This was the single post (so far) where I disagree most adamantly with Walton’s take on a book.

I do wish she’d specifically reviewed more of Cherryh’s books, btw. The ones I’d most like to see her post about are the Chanur series and CUCKOO’S EGG.

Please Feel Free to Share:


10 thoughts on “Recent Reading: What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton”

  1. I will stop a series when I realize I’m not interested any more. I quit GRRM’s series with #1, and am very glad I did. Jordan lasted at least two books, maybe three.
    If people tell me not to read sequels…. I actually can’t remember anyone ever doing that with anything where I hadn’t already encountered the problem… I’d probably pick up the sequel from the library or flip through it in a bookstore, or (nowadays) sample it the Kindle, to see whether I agreed.

    I’m close to dropping Miller & Lee’s LIADEN series as I’m just not interested in Theo, whom they seem to think is a fascinating character – to me she comes off as someone pretending to be human, but really just moving to the puppeteer’s commands. But I’m interested in the other plot threads where she’s not involved so I’ll at least look at the next.

  2. If you go to and enter Jo Walton Atevi or Foreigner into the box you’ll get her series on those books. I commented on my disappointment that those weren’t chosen when the collection was announced and Jo answered that there had to be choices made – which fair enough. But I bet you that TOR decided what to include based on the current popularity of authors, to some extent. And C.J. Cherryh has been ignored in recent years. Much like other female authors of a certain age :P. In that LMB is actually an outlier and exception.

    I also think some of her best general reread essays aren’t in there… but then they can always be found by going through her posts at

  3. Forgot to say, I hated TECKLA. I did pick up the sequel, but had basically lost interest in the story.

  4. Estara, you know what I hate most at is those “Barnes And Nobles’ Top Ten Picks” types of posts. Give me a break: those aren’t anybody’s list of what’s new and great, they’re just a list of the marketing department’s view of what ought to sell best. Same names every time.

    CJ Cherryh as been putting out a lot of series continuations in recent years — what with the Foreigner books and the Fortress book and REGENESIS. I suspect that that’s one reason she’s not getting all that much buzz; people who are invested in the series are going to pick them up, people who aren’t probably won’t, buzz is not really relevant. If she wrote a new space opera or a new fantasy, I think she would get more of a push from the bigger reviewers. On the other hand, I personally want her to go on with the Foreigner series and don’t want her to delay that for something new . . .

  5. Elaine, I agree, I wouldn’t have put it quite that way, but I’m not interested in Theo’s story, either. For me one big problem is the way the pov switches every couple of pages. It’s hard to get interested in anybody’s story if you don’t have time to get into their life a bit better than that.

    I read several of the GRRM books, but then I thought I’d wait till it was completely finished and now I think I probably won’t ever go back to it. I’ll read someone’s review just to find out if my expectations are right for how it’s all going to come out in the end, but that’s it.

  6. I looked to see what I thought of Teckla, and apparently didn’t register much of anything. I read a three-in-one omnibus of Jhereg, Yendi, and Teckla, and thought they were “solid, original, and fun.” But I also stopped reading the Taltos books largely because they were feeling bleaker and bleaker, and less interested in what I am interested in as a reader.

  7. “And C.J. Cherryh has been ignored in recent years. Much like other female authors of a certain age :P”

    It’s probably *authors* of a certain age, actually, “female” not necessary. At least, I don’t think Cherryh’s male peers get more attention — John Varley, say, seems to be a reasonably close analogue, and has slightly fewer hits on

  8. I think the only series I’ve stopped reading because of a warning was the Thousand Cultures by John Barnes. I loved A MILLION OPEN DOORS and would definitely have gone on to EARTH MADE OF GLASS. However, Mike was pretty sure that I would hate it and that it would ruin DOORS for me retroactively. Since he knows me well, I haven’t regretted skipping the rest of the series.

    When I first read TECKLA, I hated it with the fury of a thousand burning suns. I tried re-reading it fairly recently, and I didn’t hate it with the same passion, but I still wasn’t thrilled with it. Even leaving the politics aside (as you said, he more or less fixed that in PHOENIX), I found Cawti’s character arc intensely annoying.

  9. Maureen, I think your “bleaker and bleaker” feeling was probably created by TECKLA. I really enjoyed most of the other books, though yes, not as light-hearted as the first several.

  10. Craig, you could be right, and actually Varley is a guy whose name should come up A LOT MORE in discussions of gender in SFF. I can’t imagine why he’s been forgotten — except of course that SFF does indeed seem to have left so many of the older authors behind.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top