Cover image of "My Real Children," a novel about alternate universes

Jo Walton’s My Real Children may be a science fiction novel about alternate universes — or simply a complicated fantasy in the addled mind of an old woman afflicted with advanced memory loss. Since Walton has written other science fiction novels, it’s probably safe to say that she intended this as sf. But it doesn’t read that way.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

The book opens in the present time inside the mind of an Englishwoman who was named Patricia, Patty, Patsy, Trish, or Tricia, depending on which of the two lives she was experiencing at the time and on the circumstances in which she found herself. Born in 1926, she believes she is now nearly 90 years of age. In her mind, history diverged onto two timelines when she was 23 and the man she had been dating proposed marriage.

In one life — that is, in one life along the time-space continuum — she married the man and quickly came to regret it. Suffering under a disdainful and tyrannical husband, she gave birth to four children and now has numerous grandchildren. In the other life, she chose not to accept the man’s proposal. Free from a constricting marriage, she became a successful travel writer and eventually settled into a long-term partnership with another woman. Together with a male friend, they contrived to have three children. As Patricia, Patty, etc., lies near death, she has numerous grandchildren but has outlived one son and one grandson.

My Real Children: One Woman, Two Worlds, Two Lives by Jo Walton ★★★☆☆

If this sounds like a conventional novel, or, better yet, two conventional novels, you wouldn’t be mistaken. What centers it in the realm of science fiction is that in each of the two timelines the world does not develop along the lines in our history. In one, the world is plagued by a number of nuclear exchanges that have killed millions and doomed millions of others to death by cancer from radiation. In the other, first the Russians, then the Europeans, and finally the Americans expand into space, establishing colonies on the moon and Ganymede. Plans for the terraforming of Mars are underway.

Walton’s speculation about two possible lines of historical development is interesting if highly improbable in some ways. For example, she suggests that JFK nuked Kiev in exchange for a Russian nuclear attack on Miami, then declined to run for reelection — and was succeeded in office by his brother, Robert. It’s hard to imagine that if one brother was disgraced in office that the other could be elected to it. Also, Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter, lies 390 million miles from Earth. Surely, given any likely technological development in spaceflight, it would take many years to travel that far. Establishing a colony there would be merely a fantasy for a very long time to come.)

About the author

Jo Walton writes fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. She has won several major awards in both sf and fantasy. Born in Wales, she has lived in Canada for many years. I loved her Small Change trilogy about a real alternate history of Britain beginning with its defeat in World War II. My Real Children is not in the same class.

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