Starlings

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 15 May 2018

Member Reviews

Absolutely wonderful. It isn't a completely traditional collection of short stories, which she freely admits in the introduction. It's more satisfying than just a sampling of experimental fragments, though. I always love Walton's voice, and the way she argues so passionately for creativity and expression and compassion through her writing - that's how I feel it, anyway. I received an ecopy of this through NetGalley.

Goodreads review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/239099525

Amazon review submitted
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Starlings was overall an enjoyable read. Most of the stories are fairly short, almost all of them have really thoughtful prose, and many ruminate on humanity and identity. Not all of them worked for me, but the ones I enjoyed I expect will stay with me for a long time. 

Contents: 

Fiction:
Three Twilight Tales - super sweet fairy tale-ish story. If you enjoy the tales within the text of The Name of the Wind, this is a great story for you.
Jane Austen to Cassandra - mixed up correspondence between Jane and the seer Cassandra. Induced a wry smile. 
Unreliable Witness - poignant story about dementia, or aliens.
On the Wall - a rather bleak retelling of Snow White, from the mirror's POV (I'd be into more stories from the perspective of inanimate objects, because this was compelling)
The Panda Coin - the path of a single piece of currency, how it impacts the lives of the people (all working poor on a space station), and what it knows.
Remember the Allosaur
Sleeper - a rather creepy tale that's a mix of time travel weirdness and the worst of social media
Relentlessly Mundane - when portal world travellers return to our world, and have to try to live on Earth again. People's reactions vary, as one might expect. 
Escape to Other Worlds with Science Fiction - alt history told through newspaper and periodical headlines. I don't like this timeline.
Joyful and Triumphant: St. Zenobius and the Aliens
Turnover - a generation ship means change, but what if some folks prefer the ship to the end goal? The consensus-building in this was really a treat. 
At the Bottom of the Garden - children who pull wings from fairies are awful. The moral may be that children are awful?
Out of It - when you make a deal with the devil, do you keep the deal even if you're offered an out? 
What a Piece of Work - AI has a crisis of identity. I don't like this possibility either. 
Parable Lost
What Would Sam Spade Do? - twist on gumshoe tropes, with a cloning lens. 
Tradition
What Joseph Felt - biblical tale from Joseph's (rather modern) point of view
The Need to Stay the Same - a book review written by an alien about a human book. A bit odd. 
A Burden Shared - I really hope the future of medicine is not the opportunity to share pain among loved ones, rather than better healing. 

Script
Three Shouts on a Hill (A Play) - bizarre little piece that had rude characters, a very tongue in cheek referencial feeling, all leading up to ridiculous wordplay. 

Poetry
Dragon’s Song
Not in this Town
Hades and Persephone - I find I like retellings of this story where there's shared love and respect between the two gods. 
The Death of Petrach
Advice to Loki - kinda clever advice for the trickster god, about revenge. 
Ask to Embla
Three Bears Norse - verse retelling of Goldilocks with an abrupt ending
Machiavelli and Prospero
Cardenio
Ten Years Ahead: Oracle Poem 
Pax in Forma Columba
Translated from the Original
Sleepless in New Orleans
The Godzilla Sonnets - silly mashup
Not a Bio for Wiscon: Jo Walton - I like this format for speaker/presenter bios, would request similar if/when I run a con
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Short pieces of writing that draw from both mythology and an imagined future - this collection gives insight to the writing process of Walton and her Thessaly series.
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Jo Walton never ceases to amaze me with her gentle and comforting writing. I've read her back list and was so looking forward to a collection of short stories. I was in now way disappointed. My favorite underrated (woefully so) author does it again with this poignant collection of stories from who I consider to be one of the greatest story tellers of our time. 5/5
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DNF'd at 17%

Honestly, it really just isn't my thing. I usually like short stories but these just don't feel genuine.
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Jo Walton is an auto buy author for me.  A wonderful writer whose love of reading and genre fiction keeps every single piece of her work different and delightful.  A fantastic author for our students to study and enjoy.
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Really wonderful. Each story has a whole mini world created, and the characters are fantastic. I loved so many of the stories in this collection, and the poetry too. Walton’s humour had me smiling quite a bit whilst reading. I think this collection has cemented her as one of my favourite authors.
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Jo Walton does it again in this beautiful compilation. Even her story fragments are beautiful and startling. These poems and tales are little glimpses into one of the richest and most powerful imaginations at work in fantasy today.
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These stories prove what a versatile and original writer Jo Walton is. I could easily see myself using some of these stories in a creative writing class to demonstrate narrative voice, or perhaps using one as part of my introduction to literature class.
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At times I struggle with short story collections, as usual, there are some I loved, and some I skipped through. Overall I enjoyed this collection
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This collection was hit or miss for me. I really enjoyed the longer stories, but the shorter ones didn't quite work for me.  My favorites were probably Three Twilight Tales, Escape to other worlds with science fiction, and Turnover. I also really liked the play and would love to see it performed, I feel like it would work so well on stage. The poetry wasn't really for me, as I like more modern free-form poetry, rather than rhyming poetry. But I definitely want to check out Jo Walton's other works, this being the first book of hers I've read.
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Jo Walton is a beautiful writer, and this book is no exception. A stunning work that I will no doubt return to in the future.
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First of all, thank you to NetGalley for an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I first came across Jo Walton when her book Among Others came out, and I absolutely adored it. Like that novel, this collection reads like an homage to SFF. I loved that she admitted from the very start that most of the selections in this collection were "failed" starts at longer works. With a lot of the stories that was made extra apparent by their abrupt and inconclusive endings. I thought I'd be annoyed by this; that it would feel like I was reading an authors private notes. But really, I never lost the sense of needing to know what happens next! As for the two stories that were fully fledged and finished "stories," I loved them. She seems to think that she has no skill for short fiction, but I disagree.

As with all short story collections, most of the stories were a perfect 5 stars to me, there were several 4s, and a few that just didn't quite hit the mark. 

View all my reviews
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Jo Walton, Starlings (2017)

What if one of Jane Austen’s letter wasn’t sent to her sister Cassandra but Troy war’s Cassandra?

What if the old woman didn’t really suffer from dementia but was actually visited by aliens?

What if Joseph told his own version of the Annunciation?

What if Google’s search engine wanted to act morally by orienting some of its answers to our questions?

What if people sent a spaceship to colonize another planet in a few generations, but that their descendants no longer wanted to go there?

What if kids who had saved the world with magical powers during their childhood (Narnia style) grew up to become accountant, art historian and fake fortune tellers?

What if a fairy was discovered in the garden by an unimpressed 5-year-old?

What if the magic mirror from Snow White’s evil queen could speak for itself?

What if aliens did write SF books about a weird world full of creatures called “humans”?

What if clone technology had permitted anyone to give birth to a baby Jesus (and what would they grow up to become)?

These are a few of the numerous questions that Jo Walton set about to answer. The book is a mixed bag of short stories (some flash fiction), poetry, even a play and a writer’s bio in verse (that one is a keeper). A lot are funny, a few are set in dystopian worlds, a few are rather dark but not many. I chose this book on Netgalley a bit randomly, because the name rang a bell and I wanted to read some short story in genres that I don’t usually read. I’m glad I took this chance, because it was worth it, and the stories never took themselves too seriously (something I often fear when it comes to SF). Between the time I started and finished the collection, I read another Jo Walton, Farthing (which I reviewed first) so I’m now convinced that this prolific writer can indeed write great stories in a wide range of topics and tones.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.
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As with any story collection, there's generally stories you love and stories you aren't quite so in love with. There's an added dimension here though, with some stories I can easily comprehend, and some that I'm not exactly sure what I just read. I love the melding of myth and fantasy in the stories, and much of the writing is very beautiful. However, it's sometimes hard to parse what exactly Jo Walton is going for in these tales.
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This was an interesting collection. It made me want to find more of Walton's writing, but it made me want to seek out novels or short stories. The essays and poetry were interesting, but it more an odd rhythm. This was not a book that I read through, but put down and picked up later.
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Thank you for giving me the opertunity to read and review this book prior to its publication date. Do events in my personal life, unfortunately I was not able to read this book prior to the Publication date. When I initially asked to read the book I found the premise to be interesting. I am looking forward to the release of other titles in your upcoming publican catalog. I would love to have the oppertunity again to read future publication titles. Thank you for your generosity and the time you spent reviewing my request to read this book. 

I am required to give a star rating on netgally but will not be posting a review or giving a star rating for a book I have not read in its entirety on other patforms.
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I would normally write a review of a story collection by touching briefly each of the stories, marking out my favorites and least favorites, and then speaking to how the collection as a whole coheres. I find I can't quite do that with Jo Walton's Starlings because I don't have much to say about a number of the many pieces in this collection, and by and large it DOESN'T cohere. But that's actually part of its charm, oddly enough... if you go for that sort of thing.

The title comes from one of Walton's poems, which is printed at the beginning of the book. It employs the double imagery of starlings as birds, but also as newborn stars. Little stars, baby stars... starlings taking flight across space and time. In the introduction, Walton admits to not having been a natural in the short fiction format. She spent years experimenting with the form before feeling like she'd started to get it right, and some of that experimentation is what's on display here. This is a book full of starlings, each with an idea and a cosmic spark, but few of them bright enough to really stand on their own as true stars.

You can see a number of Walton's academic fascinations threading their way through this book, such as theology, myth, and the arts. More of these stories probably fit under the umbrella of science fiction than fantasy. A couple ("The Panda Coin" and "Escape to Other Worlds with Science Fiction") paint sweeping portraits of societies without ever offering a real narrative. Several others are jarringly short, but often clever, single images of scenarios that are over almost as soon as they begin. Some examples: In "Jane Austen to Cassandra," Austen writes a letter to her sister Cassandra, and receives one in reply from the Trojan prophetess, because why not? "Remember the Allosaur" is just the monologue of a Hollywood jerk insisting to a movie star dinosaur that no, he can't play Hamlet because he's a dinosaur. (Ouch.) And "At the Bottom of the Garden" is a brief, disturbing image of children callously dismembering fairies because of course they would. Whether this sort of unpredictable reading experience is enjoyable or not will, I suspect, depend greatly upon the reader.

One of the stories that stood out to me as most complete was "Turnover," a generation ship story about a character who dances a form of ballet called "Ballette" that's meant to be performed in low gravity, and what happens when she comes face-to-face with the idea that the art form she's dedicated her life to will not survive the ship's eventual arrival at its destination. I'd say this was my favorite in the collection. Another that made an impact was "A Burden Shared," a more tragic family story about a near future where loved ones can use a technological invention to undertake each other's physical pain.

Oddly enough though, one of the longest pieces here is a not-so-short play entitled "Three Shouts on a Hill." It's an experimental, mythos-jumbling quest story, and it reads like the enthusiastic work of an amateur playwright out of her medium. I cannot imagine staging it. The play comes after the stories in the sequence of the collection, but precedes the poems (yes, there are poems). I am a genuine fan of Walton's poetry, and I think that the examples on display here are wonderful. I don't know why they were all tacked on the end like an afterthought... I usually find it more successful when poems are interspersed throughout story collections.

I am generally a fan of the eclectic in speculative fiction, and so I enjoyed a lot of the eccentricity on display here. But while I found much of Starlings charming to read, there wasn't much of a take-away for me, and I wouldn't recommend it broadly as a strong single-author collection. I've read many that left more of an impact.
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I love Jo Walton’s previous book, Among Others so I was very excited to read this one. This is a short story collection ,all very magical and surreal. 


I read one before going to bed every night, and while I did not enjoy every single one, there were quite a few nice ones. I tend to not be the biggest fan of short story collection and sadly this did not change my mind, 

The ideas were unique but something about the expectation was off. 


If you love short story collection maybe you will enjoy this one.
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Walton's novels are engrossing. The pieces in this collection, though, aside from a truly interesting dramatic short story in the form of a play, don't really get off the ground. It could simply be, though, that this reader doesn't have a wide enough frame of reference to make these works meaningful (i.e., Walton is too smart for me and would require me to have been much more widely read to get some of what she's saying).
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