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Ha'Penny

Cory Doctorow reviews Jo Walton's Ha'Penny_:

Ha'penny, haunting thriller about an alternate British Reich: Ha'penny is the sequel to Jo Walton's chilling, heartbreaking novel Farthing, an alternate history about a quisling Britain that makes peace with Hitler and helps create a stable, thousand-year Reich on the Continent....

Ha'penny is a thriller, not a murder-mystery, but it is otherwise the twin of Farthing. It continues the story of New Scotland Yard Inspector Carmichael, a compromised, closeted homosexual who is the pained lackey of the fascist plan to sell Britain out to the Reich. In Ha'penny, Carmichael is called on to investigate a plot to assassinate Hitler and the Prime Minister, a plot that's mixed up with the IRA, radical Lords, and a family of divided aristocratic girls... a Britain that is credibly and horribly transformed, a Britain where fear of terrorists has driven sensible people to believe evil things, such as the need for the ubiquitous identity cards that play a key role in the oppression that is at the heart of this book.

Walton is doing amazing work here, writing a kind of latter-day 1984, a savage blast against the authoritarian opportunists who have cynically manipulated terrorist tragedies to suppress political speech and whip up fear to a high froth of CCTVs and identity papers.... Ha'penny is a literary Guernica.... It doesn't hurt that this is a top-notch thriller.... I hear there's a third in the series, and I can only pray that it brings some hope to Walton's Quisling Britain, some chance of redemption for the all-too-plausible authoritarian alternate history that is such a sharp mirror of our sad present world.

Ha'Penny is highly recommended.

I think Jo Walton has set herself a very, very difficult task here with the third book. A trilogy is too much for dystopia: it is all very well to have a boot stamping on a human face, forever, in theory. But in practice three boots is too much.

On the other hand, to have a happy ending to the trilogy is likely to destroy the artistic, moral, and message integrity of the series. The only out I can see is for Carmichael to die heroically at the end of the third book, and so cause the United States to enter the war...


UPDATE: Oh dear. I appear to have eroded the morale of Jo Walton, which was not my intention. I have enormous confidence in her ability to write her way out of the corner she is in:

papersky: Why one shouldn't pay attention to reviews: I was looking for Ha'Penny reviews (it's been out nearly a week now, surely some more people should have read it, and what about Kirkus?) and I found Brad Delong quoting Cory and saying he doesn't think I can pull off a happy ending at the end of the series -- well, I think it nearly works and I'm fixing it, but what do I know. Hoom, hom. Next year.

I also found Pamela's Eric loving Farthing with spoilers and a stranger in Bristol loving Farthing without spoilers and an Amazon review saying it's worthless and that they stopped reading in the first ten pages because the dialogue sucked.

The dialogue? I thought dialogue was one of those things I could sort of do, not brilliantly but kind of OK and invisibly? Nobody has ever complained about my dialogue since I figured out, rather late but before being published, how to format it properly. I turn frantically to the first ten pages of Farthing, which reassured me that in fact I can do dialogue OK, and also cheered me up somewhat -- and I figured out what the reviewer actually didn't like. He didn't like Lucy's voice. Now I can see that. You either like it or you don't, and if you don't it's going to grate like nails on a blackboard, because it runs on like that for the whole book, with her "Henry the Eighth, or King James, or whoever it was" and all of that. It isn't dialogue in the conventional sense that was worrying me, but it is her voice, and he called it dialogue because what does he know?

Having resolved that to my satisfaction, I have achieved precisely nothing but wasting time. I spent two minutes each being gratified at the good reviews and ten minutes panicking at the one liner put down -- and honestly Charlie, this is me not paying attention to them.

But it's hard not to look at them, because writing is such a solitary thing, and reviews and reactions are one of the things that are reassuring to my sense of it not being quite real. This isn't imposter syndrome exactly, it's more the floating-in-black-space hoping for echoes thing.

The Gazette, our local English-language paper, has a listing inj their Saturday Books section for my "launch" of Ha'Penny on Wednesday at 19h00 in Paragraphe on McGill. (I hope to see some of you...) Seeing it in print on paper in the paper I read anyway was odd. It made it seem no more real, but somehow much more grown up.

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