GBR 12: Jo Walton


Jo Walton’s moving,

wrapped in grace,

wrapped in pain

down a flight of improbable stairs:

it has been an unlikely journey.

Jo Walton’s moving.

Words as lever,

thoughts as engine.

Down tumble ideas, improbable stones,

Flowing concepts: the pathways of legend.

Jo Walton’s moving,

understated grace,

understanding silence.

Tradition’s unexpected wild offspring:

fresh steps on a long winding spiral.

Next up in our Great Balticon Readathon is Jo Walton’s Just City, which she informs us we must read first before The Philosopher Kings (Book 2) and Necessity (Book 3). I am happy to note that Necessity has a release date of MY BIRTHDAY, July 12, 2016. Not that I’d do anything like be so crass as to drop a gift hint to my husband in my blog. Oh no. Not me.

Plato’s Republic is a sort of thought experiment on what the ideally just society could look like, written by a man with a great deal of genius, but perhaps not as much practical knowledge as such an undertaking might involve.  In this book, Jo Walton makes her own thought experiment, and places Plato’s theories into a version of our world. Overall concept of the book, or as far as I can go without spoilers: time-traveling goddess Athena actually tries this experiment with real 10-year-olds, and a comparatively small number of intellectuals and philosophers gathered from throughout time.

Other primary characters are Apollo, who chooses temporary mortality as a path to learning about volition, and a young female citizen of this ideal city. Excellent use of changing narrative views. Also strongly present: assorted Famous Personages from History whom you may recognize, robot servitors from the future, and a diverse cross section of young people handily poised to demonstrate a wide range of possible responses to living in such an environment.

I appreciated her deft hand with history, art, religion: informative, but not pedantic. Good characterization, interesting plot, but definitely a work of the mind. The space opera set may not find this to be their book, but it’s a genre-jumper for those interested in history, philosophy, mythology, or the many faces of love.

Just City was inspired by the reading of Plato’s Republic by then 15-year-old Jo Walton. (Wish I’d known her then. She and then 13-year-old-me could have had quite the conversation. I’d have insisted on dragging in Shakespeare, though, so maybe it’s better that it took this long for me to find her.)  30 years, 10 novels, and many awards later, she revisited her early idea and created an engrossing story of the pursuit of justice and excellence. I’m so glad she did.

Jo Walton writes lots and lots of poetry. Lots. She’s more proficient at it than I am. You can see more of it on her blog, as well as links to excerpts from some of her prose works on her author page. If I’m given the opportunity to talk to Jo Walton at Balticon, I’m not sure what we’ll discuss. Perhaps the works of Sandro Botticelli, and the stupidity of humans that makes them destroy art for ideology. Or, if she doesn’t want to engage in the mutual gnashing of teeth, perhaps I’ll introduce the subject of blackberry crumble.

Cat status: undetermined, but there’s a photo online of her comforting a stone lion.



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