When I saw that Jo Walton’s Lifelode was coming out from NESFA Press, I was a bit surprised. I mean, here’s a major writer whose last few novels (the excellent Tooth and Claw and the series starting with the even excellenter Farthing ) have been nominated for, and even won, some major awards. So why is her latest novel coming out from a small press?
After reading it, though, I think I understand. The biggest thing is probably that Lifelode is, by comparison to her previous books, “difficult,” in the sense that you really have to have spent a lot of time reading in the genre to be able to read it at all. (Walton has a great essay at Tor.com about how reading SF is a skillset.) So when her previous novels have been reasonably mainstream-accessible (particularly the Small Change series, which starts off as a standard cosy mystery), coming along all the sudden with a novel set in a world that’s a fantasy version of Vinge’s zones of thought and from the point of view of multiple characters, including one who sees through time... well, that’s a pretty big jump for readers to make. So, I suppose, you publish it instead in a place where only people who want to read SF will find it.
And you should find it. It’s not as good as Farthing or Tooth and Claw, and it has the feeling of a not-entirely-successful experiment; but it’s still well-written, interesting, and certainly unlike anything else you’ve read.