Saturday, June 30, 2012

Among Others by Jo Walton

Jo Walton's Nebula award winning and Hugo nominated novel Among Others is not the sort of book I would generally read. It came to my attention because it was nominated for the Hugo and as someone who is eligible to vote for the award I thought I should read all the nominated novels.

It's a very personal story and it's hard to classify. The inclusion of the fairies and the magic makes it fantasy, but their existence is rather ambiguous and the reader is left at the end of the book wondering if in fact they do exist or they were something that the story's protagonist; Morwenna Phelps, came up with as some sort of coping mechanism in order to deal with the loss of her twin sister, her mother's descent into insanity and the rather joyless existence she has at her strict and anachronistic boarding school.

Among Others is extraordinary for a fantasy novel, it doesn't concern any great quest or really have a conventional plot, there are no heroes or heroines as such. The book is presented as Mor's diary written  between September 1979 and February 1980 (with the exception of the prologue which is set in May 1975).

Mor is a precocious, bookish girl, she's highly intelligent and reads voraciously, almost exclusively science fiction and fantasy. During the period the diary covers Mor tries to deal with the loss of her twin sister Morganna, an injury which leaves her lame in one leg and the life at her school, which she hates. Most of the students don't much like her and those that she is close with she really only tolerates because they're outsiders like her.

Aside from the fairies, which only Mor can see, and the magic that only Mor knows how to perform, she escapes into books, largely classic science fiction and fantasy. I saw a lot of myself in Mor, which may be why I connected so much with Among Others. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy at her age. It was weird enough for me to read unassigned work for pleasure, but to compound it by reading SFF, well that just made me into an oddball. Even my parents; keen readers themselves, always referred to SFF as 'that stuff you read.' Mor's in a very similar situation, although her estranged father, with whom she is trying to build a relationship, is also a fan and understand's his daughter's interest.

When the town library tells Mor that they have a Tuesday night book club, and that they discuss SF work, the girl's life changes and for the better.

Among Others is a love letter to classic SF and to the libraries and librarians that stock it and recommend it to people. It is a book written by a reader for readers. I hadn't read a lot of the books that Mor had and talked about in rapturous tones, but I understood where she was coming from and her love of reading and books.

This is one for the fans and I encourage anyone who likes reading, and especially SFF fans, to read this and fall in love with it as I did.


  1. I think my favorite thing about Among Others is all the bookish convesrations that she has with people at the book club. Us scifi/fantasy fans are a pretty rare bunch, so to have a dozen of us in one room (every week!!) sounds heavenly!

    You're right, this book is very hard to classify. I think it's an excellent gateway book for people who aren't into SciFi because it's a wonderful coming of age book that's about scifi, but not in a scifi environment.

  2. Thanks, Red. Another thing that I loved about the book was the fact that Mor was a very different heroine, even for a teen and she was remarkably like a real teenager, rather than someone's idealised version of one. I thought her naivete about sci-fi and fantasy conventions was charming and when she got all fan girly because she was with someone who had actually spoken to Robert Silverberg, I laughed out loud and thought 'I've spoken to Robert Silverberg!'

  3. This is the favourite of the Hugo noms this year (haven't finished one of them yet, but I can't see it being more favourite).

    I loved all the stuff avout the classic (to us now) Sci-fi and fantasy books, and the conversations she had with both herself in the diary, and other people. The one that made me laugh the most was the Stephen Donaldson being compared favourably to Tolkien, which she had a couple of fits over (I have very similar reactions).

    I'd read - or at least heard of - most of the books she talks about, which was even more fun to read about. And it has inspired me to read/reread the ones she wtalks about.

    And I'm definately going to look out more of her work to read!