I didn’t start enjoying, or even really reading, short stories until last January. In general, I need an emotional connection to my characters to care what they’re up to, and I want my characters to stick around for long enough that building an emotional connection is worth it. For the same reason, I prefer watching a TV series rather than movies. I cry ridiculously easily when I’m reading or watching something; like, if someone’s crying on screen and there’s dramatic music playing, then there’s a 100% chance that I’ll have tears trickling out too, even if I know the conflict or whatever eventually gets resolved.
Last January though, I read Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and realized that short stories can pack really thoughtful, clever plot twists in a way that a lengthier work wouldn’t support. And since the entire work can center very cohesively on one theme, a short story passes along a less muddled version of the author’s message.
Starlings by Jo Walton
Jo Walton is an incredibly prolific author (this is her 14th work!) who has stated that her plan is “to live to be ninety-nine and write a book every year” (ahem George R.R. Martin please take note). I’ve heard many praises about her various novels, but haven’t had a chance to purchase any of her works yet. Fortunately, I recently received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Starlings is an eclectic, playful collection of short stories and poems, as well as a play. Walton’s strongest stories start out mundane, but then rapidly reveal worlds full of whimsy. My favorite stories were “Three Twilight Tales” and “Turnover”. “Three Twilight Tales” weaves three deliciously ephemeral stories set in the same village. I felt like I was tiptoeing through a fairy tale and catching fleeting glimpses of its inhabitants. In contrast, “Turnover” is set on a glistening metropolitan spaceship as a scifi dinner-table debate about the ethics of fulfilling the current generation’s desires versus leaving the choice open to their descendants.
Mixed in are shorter pieces best described as story beginnings; they read like first chapters. These short shorts were intriguing, and I would have liked to live in them for longer; but, as a format, they soon lost my interest. There weren’t really snappy conclusions to these, and like I said earlier, these characters weren’t with me long enough to build any emotional connection, so I stopped caring what each new protagonist was struggling with.
An intimate first flight of short fiction from award-winning novelist Jo Walton (Among Others, The King’s Peace).
A strange Eritrean coin travels from lovers to thieves, gathering stories before meeting its match. Google becomes sentient and proceeds toward an existential crisis. An idealistic dancer on a generation ship makes an impassioned plea for creativity and survival. Three Irish siblings embark on an unlikely quest, stealing enchanted items via bad poetry, trickery, and an assist from the Queen of Cats.
With these captivating initial glimpses into her storytelling psyche, Jo Walton shines through subtle myths and wholly reinvented realities. Through eclectic stories, subtle vignettes, inspired poetry, and more, Walton soars with humans, machines, and magic—rising from the everyday into the universe itself.