September 30th, 2008


And subtle, too.

1. I am sneaky.

2. At least one of you will enjoy my sneakiness. I hope several will.

3. This is entirely personal sneakiness and has nothing whatsoever to do with my professional life.

4. Obligatory thirtysomething-in-a-stable-marriage disclaimer: no, I am not pregnant. It is much smaller-scale sneakiness than that.

5. I have three Partners In Sneakiness who are reading this right now and know who they are. At least two more will be recruited before my sneakiness comes to fruition.

6. Muwahaha. Muwahaetc.

Jo Walton's Half a Crown

So, full disclosure here: I received this book in review copy from Tor (which is why I can review it on the first day it's out), and Jo is a friend of mine.

But sometimes one's friends write good books, and that's what's happened here. Half a Crown is very much the culmination of a series. I don't recommend that you read it without Farthing and Ha'penny, or that you read them out of order -- this is definitely a series where order matters. But since I strongly recommend that you read Farthing and Ha'penny, this is not actually a problem.

Half a Crown is farther down the alternate history road, set in a 1960 where Britain has been allied with Germany and Japan for more than a decade. Elvira Royston, the child of one of the previous characters, has grown to be a debutante, and she takes her fascist surroundings for granted in a very real, sickening way. Carmichael is still the other point of view character. While I liked the female perspective in each book, Carmichael is the anchor of the series, and he is all too much aware of the ways in which he doesn't -- couldn't -- hold completely solid. And we have a bit more of Jack here, and the ways in which Jack anchors the series, too, interest me, but I don't want to post spoilers of them on the first day the book is available.

So what can I say without spoilers? Half a Crown has a very clear-eyed look at how people get by, how people manage, in their circumstances whatever those circumstances are -- and how difficult it sometimes is to break out of that and make things better. How difficult, but also how necessary. People's relationships really shine in Half a Crown, particularly in contrast with a few other things I've read lately, where the characters seem to start the book as little figurines without any connections to anyone else. Elvira is mostly an orphan, which too many SF and fantasy writers use as shorthand for "I don't want to deal with preexisting relationships for this character," but for Elvira it's the opposite: not only are Carmichael and Betsy important in her life, and Betsy's parents and Nanny, but also the Evanses and the people who ran her school and so on. Elvira's orphanhood does not give her a blank slate of a past, but a rich and complicated one already at the age of 18.

The...let's see, avoiding spoilers: the scene where the characters are celebrating a holiday made me cry, not where you'd think but before that.

Also if British publishers don't want to buy it with the ending it has now, they are not just crazy (which they have been all along, not buying this series, uff da) but also stupid.

This is the kind of science fiction I want when I talk about wanting hopeful science fiction: I don't want the books that pretend that there's no such thing as authoritarianism or prejudice, that decent people never do things they're ashamed of, that standards of decency can't slip so easily. I want books that acknowledge those things and work through them. Half a Crown pays dearly for its happy ending, but it does get there, and rightly so.