I recently read Among Others, by Jo Walton, of
Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day fame. (She blogs entertainingly
at tor.com. She
"live-blogged" re-reading the Miles Vorkosigan saga in publication
order, which I found quite
interesting. And I commend her post on The Suck
Among Others came out last year and got such effusive praise
from other writers that I wondered whether it was a case of a book
from "a writer's writer", who (similar to "an actor's actor" or "a
comedian's comedian") is someone doing stuff that is interesting but
not compelling to anyone other than people in the same field. I am
happy to have been proven wrong. Or maybe what it is is that Jo
Walton is "an SF reader's SF reader", and since I'm an SF reader, it
really worked for me. I do fear that it would not work as well for
someone who hadn't been an SF-steeped 15-year-old.
Among Others is the (first-person) story of fifteen-year-old
Mori (Morwenna), who has fled her half-insane mother in Wales after an
accident that killed her twin sister and shattered her leg. In the
summer of 1979, she ends up with her father (who had abandoned them as
children), because British law prevents her extended family in Wales
from being able to take her in. She is sent to an English boarding
school, where she is basically the designated outcast: Welsh,
semi-crippled, academically talented, and constantly reading SF and
fantasy, which buffer her from the pain of her life.
Oh, yeah — there are also fairies and magic. The magic is
(usually) subtle and intertwines slowly through the story.
Half-autobiography (Walton explains in an afterward that getting
her own childhood right was way harder than historical research),
half-fantasy, this setup could have been a twee or treacle disaster.
But Mori's whip-smart, clever-but-not-worldly, astringent voice is a
treat to read. I laughed out loud multiple times and subjected
everyone within earshot to (sometimes extensive) quoting.
You could argue that "not much happens" in the book — most of
the action is interior, but that hardly matters. I enjoyed reading it
As much as anything, the book is a love letter to reading and
interacting with other readers, and to libraries and librarians. A
central part of the plot is Mori discovering an SF reader group in the
town where her school is located; she had performed a small magic to
find herself a group with which to fit in (a karass, in Kurt
Vonnegut's language from Cat's Cradle), and it is an open
question (for Mori herself as well as for us) whether the magic caused
this or if it was just luck, or fate. We get to see Mori read,
discuss, and analyze books that were just coming out (or just arriving
in England), and there are occasional in jokes for those of us who
have read the books she's reading (e.g. Mori wonders about the
implication of some feature of a book that, which that book's
[still-in-the-future for Mori] sequel will address).
If you've ever been fifteen and reading was an escape, or "merely"
a joy, and especially if you were reading SF at that point, I strongly
recommend Among Others.
Also of potential interest: Jo Walton's
Idea" post on John Scalzi's Whatever blog.
Places to purchase Among Others:
(Cross-posted to http://rantingnerd.blogspot.com/2012/03/review-among-others-by-jo-walton.html