The Whole Kitchen: Jo Walton’s Starlings

“For the longest time I didn’t know how to write short stories,” Jo Walton notes in the oddball introduction to her first full-length collection, Starlings. And indeed, while Starlings is a collection, calling it a short-story collection is something of a misnomer: the book is instead a jumble-sale assemblage of jokes, opening chapters to unwritten novels, poetry, point-of-view exercises, and speculative fictions interspersed with Walton’s commentaries on her own work—which are as likely to be complaints about permanently delayed payments as they are insights into her work.

As a result, Starlings is an inconsistent, eccentric little book, where luminous windows into other, startlingly beautiful alien worlds mingle with half-baked ideas and LiveJournal posts, punctuated by Walton’s charmingly crabby and acerbic assessments of each piece. (“You’ll notice that [this story is] very very short, contains one idea, and no plot,” she observes of a rather nasty anecdote that is very very ...