beamjockey (beamjockey) wrote,

Higgins's Lives of the Fans #5: Jo Walton

[Another in a series of essays about science fiction fans I know.

Previous Leon Higgins's Lives of the Fans:
Introduction. Alice Bentley. Phil Foglio. Steve Collins. Mary Lynn Skirvin Johnson.

Written in 2006 for the program book of Duckon 15, a convention near Chicago, which invited Jo Walton to be Literary Guest of Honor.

Literary Guest of Honor: Jo Walton

by Bill Higgins

You're a fortunate person.

Since you are attending Duckon this weekend, you have the opportunity to make the acquaintance of Jo Walton.

You may hear her read from her books, poems, or stories. You may meet her at a party. You may attend one of her panel discussions. You may pick up one of her novels in the huckster room. By all means, do these things.

Jo Walton, contemplating a new fantasy Ceres.

I first became aware of her as a distinctive voice in the sprawling conversations on Usenet. Her writings were learned, witty, and wise. I began to seek out articles bearing her her "bluejo" handle.

Blue is her favorite color, or I should say favourite colour.

Gradually I learned that she was steeped in knowledge of Britain's past. That she was an ardent gamer. That she had a literate and clever son, Sasha. That she had been writing fantasy and science fiction, and trying to sell it, for many years. That she had once lived in Greece. That she loves to cook, and to swap recipes.

Above all, she is a Book Person. You know what they are like.

Being a Book Person colors one's whole outlook on life.

Once, in a discussion of the rules for prison libraries, Jo said: "And you only get two books a week. Two books a week, and no net access. Now that's deterrence."

She married Emmet O'Brien in the legendary English town of Hay-on-Wye, which is just crammed with bookstores. Wedding guests (most of them Book People themselves) loaded up. I have the impression some of them departed town pushing wheelbarrows full of books, though this is probably not true. The wedding cake was in the shape of a book. Jo wore blue, of course.

I remember expressing doubt, before I met her, that I could possibly keep up my own side of the conversation with someone of such erudition and wit. I needn't have worried. She is delightful company. Knowing Greek, and having co-authored a book on Celtic myth, she was able to coach me in pronouncing the names astronomers have given craters and other features on Jupiter's moon Europa. Now I look forward eagerly to every opportunity to visit with her again.

I mentioned she wrote fiction for years. One day, while she was vacationing in Ireland, Jo received word that Tor Books wanted to buy her novel, The King's Peace. She wrote, "I never have quite fainted, and I didn't then, but my legs felt very wobbly and my head didn't feel as if it was attached to the rest of me very well. I sat down."

The King's Peace is a memoir told by Sulien, a cavalry officer, about waging war and building peace in a land that is, in interesting ways, not exactly like 6th-century Britain. King Urdo is, in interesting ways, not exactly like Arthur.

As an aside, one thing I liked is that military logistics figure into the story. To move 168 mounted knights into combat, with all their grooms, cooks, farriers, and doctors, plus pack horses and spare horses, requires 1,994 horses. If you are lord of a coastal domain, and worried about fending off invaders from the sea, you will be very glad to see the King's soldiers and their retinue appear on the horizon. But you will also be worried about rounding up enough turnips to feed all those horses.

Before I read The King's Peace, I hadn't really thought about that.

On the strength of this fine book, the World Science Fiction Convention attendees voted Jo the John W. Campbell Award for the best new writer of 2001.

The King's Name tells the second part of Sulien's story. The Prize in the Game relates some intriguing events on the next island over.

Tooth and Claw, a very unusual novel about dragons, won the World Fantasy Award in 2004 for best novel. Later this year, Farthing, an alternate-history mystery set in the 1940s, will hit the bookshelves. Even more books are in the pipeline.

Emmet's work took him, Jo, and Sasha to Montreal. I gather they find it a very pleasant place to live.

While you have the chance, do enjoy Jo Walton's visit to Duckon.
Kelley, Jo Walton, WSH
Jo breakfasts with Kelley and with someone who likes to mug for the camera.

[2011: Jo has since published more novels, most recently Among Others, about which, Critics Rave. She has also become a popular columnist writing about SF and fantasy books for, where she covers the re-reading beat.]
Tags: higgins's lives of the fans

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