the Little Red Reviewer

Among Others, by Jo Walton

Posted on: March 3, 2012

Among Others, by Jo Walton

published in 2011

Where I got it: the library

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Morwenna (who goes by Mori) and her twin sister Morganna can do magic and speak with fairies.  But they have to be careful because their mother is a horrible witch who wants to take over the world. One day, something goes horribly wrong, resulting in Morganna’s death and Morwenna’s leg being shattered.   In a panic, Mori runs away from her mother, ends up in an orphanage, and eventually is sent to live with the father (and his three creepy sisters) she never met. In a new town, in a new school, and dependent on relatives she doesn’t know, Among Others is a diary style memoir of Mori’s life after the death of her twin sister.

It’s not that Mori is an odd child, it’s that she doesn’t care what other people think of her. She doesn’t care if people think that she’s weird, or if people make fun of her limp. It’s nice that she’s so confident and comfortable in her own skin, but it makes it tough for her to make friends at her new school, especially when she goes around looking for fairies to speak to. The fairies in England must be different from the fairies in her native Wales, because she has a tough time talking with them.

Mori escapes into  the books that she loves – science fiction.  Overjoyed to see her favorite authors on her father’s bookshelves, they immediately bond over their shared love for sci fi.  She searches out every bookstore, reads every science fiction novel in the school library and is eventually invited to join the science fiction book club at the town library. Finally, she can speak with people who are passionate about the same things she is, finally she has found a group that won’t think she’s weird! Even better, some of the members of the book group are around her age as well.  If only she could share all this joy with her sister, and if only the fairies would help her destroy her evil witch of a mother.

Among Others takes place in 1979, and is peppered with references to science fiction that came out in the 1970’s.  Some of the references I got, such has her referring to her book club Karass, and others I missed.  I loved when she discovers interlibrary loan, and I especially loved the scenes where she is talking about “new” fiction with her friends at the library, about books that are just coming out, debut authors of 1978, and such. It feels like conversations I have about waiting so long for the next Patrick Rothfuss or George R R Martin novel.  Even better, I got inspired all over again for a vintage sci-fi month.  Mori has plenty of time on her hands and reads unbelievably fast, she’s able to zip through a stack of books every week. I chuckled when she was ambivalent about picking up Dune, maybe it was because it was so long, she was mad it would take her more than one day to read?

Among Others is a love letter to science fiction and to fans of the genre, almost in the way that Ready Player One was a love letter to geek culture of the 1980’s.  If you have read or enjoyed any science fiction that was written between 1950 and 1980 (and I think that’s most of us), you will enjoy Among Others even thought it isn’t really a science fiction story itself. Actually, with all the talk of magic and fairies, this novel  is more fantasy than science fiction.

There is a line somewhere near the beginning of the book where Mori says she’s read so much science fiction that she no longer knows what’s not impossible. I don’t think it’s just the sci-fi that encourages our suspension of disbelief in the “not impossible”.

We all play-acted as children. I remember the fenced back porch being a fortress and hiding behind the tree while my friends lobbed “stuff that’s on fire” (pebbles, which we then had to go pick up before someone unsuspecting mowed the lawn) from the porch.  I remember my plastic dinosaurs and barbie dolls exploring the Lego castle and then becoming friends with the yellow-headed Lego men. But Barbie was too tall to fit in the castle, she had to sit outside.  It was magical, but none of it was real.

Are her aunts really witches, or are they just overly proper British spinsters who have no idea how to interact with a mourning teenager that they are now financially responsible for?  Did her magic work to bring her friends, or was she just very unlucky and then very lucky?   Is her mother a horrible witch who wants to steal the powers of her magical twin daughters, or is she a depressed single mother dealing with the stigma of her husband having left her? Reality sucks and is complicated, and when you are young sometimes magic is the easier and safer explanation.

Among Others has received highest marks and is up for a bunch of awards.  I enjoyed it, but it didn’t blow my mind the way I was expecting it to. It could have been all the hype, but I think it was me: I kept waiting for something to happen. I kept waiting for Walton to tell me what was going on, and to tell us exactly what happened with the car accident and with their mother.

What I didn’t realize until a few days after I finished the book was that this isn’t a book about “stuff happening”, and everything that was important to Mori was explained.  That’s what this book is about: a young woman on the verge of adulthood who does her best to understand a horrible situation that she can’t escape, even with the help of magic.  Even though it didn’t blow my mind, I know a lot of people are going to love Among Others, and I hope everyone who sees this book at the library picks it up.

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15 Responses to "Among Others, by Jo Walton"

Your review of this kind of puts me in mind of The Book of Lost Things – which is about a boy who is struggling to come to terms with his mothers death and dealing with a new step mother – magical things happen in this book and it retells a lot of fairy tales as the boy takes a strange journey through a magical place hidden beyond his garden walls. It all sounds a bit fantasy but really it’s a coming of age book. I do quite like the sound of this one. Maybe I’ll wait for the library to have a copy.
Thanks
Lynn :D

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it’s very much a coming of age book. I think I wasn’t expecting that (although come on: main protag is a 15 year old who just lost her sister? of course it’s a coming of age book!), and it threw me off guard. I need to learn all those code words in book blurbs that mean “coming of age”, just so I know what I’m getting myself into.

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I really enjoyed this book. I have more by her on my TBR pile and I really need to give them a try!

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I want to try another Walton, as everyone else says she’s amazing. Which others of hers do you have? Let me know which one looks the most interesting so I can look out for a copy.

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I have this on my shelf and I’ve been meaning to read it. I had heard that it was a love letter to classic sci-fi, and I feel bad that I haven’t read as much of it as I should (or could) – but I think I’ll enjoy the book anyway. It’ll come up sooner rather than later on the reading list now.
Nice review!

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I’m sure you’ll still really enjoy the book, even if you don’t get all the references. in fact, it might be easier to latch on to story if you’re not all distracted by all the SF conversations, like I was.

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That’s an interesting review, and just from your summary, I think I’d likely agree: interesting concept, but not mindblowing – though I can say nothing for execution! I’ll pick this up if I see it, but I’m not sure i’d get the references – my fantasy reading only gets really extensive around the past two decades of publications, I’d say. Oh! and while I remember, I got the blogger tag post up – thanks for the tag. ;)

Also I only just saw Curiosity Quills have got the interview up – so I hope you don’t think I’m dreadfully rude for not having replied! Not seeing things is annoyingly obstructive that way… And thank you. I’m really enjoying doing the subgenre/author introductions, so I think that’s going to be a long term thing. And you totally deserve the shout out. :D

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it kills me to diss on Among Others, Walton is supposed to be totally awesome, the book is up for a ton of awards, and I’ve really enjoyed her Patrick Rothfuss posts on the Tor blog.

maybe i was too focused on the SF references, and totally missed the forest for the trees. :(

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Well, I’ll definitely give it a go if I see it in the library or bookshop – got too big a TBR pile right now to go ordering, unfortunately. :p

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I’m sorry to hear that you weren’t blown away by it. It certainly could have been the hype as this book has received lots of it. Heck, the hype from me alone could be considered excessive, LOL! I actually enjoyed not really knowing for sure whether the magic was real or was just part of a child’s imagination as she learned to deal with the horrible situation she was raised in and the aftermath of her mother’s actions. It was somewhat Inception-like in that manner. Being the person that I am I always choose to believe that the magic is real: Ofelia really was a lost princess in Pan’s Labyrinth, Sarah really did travel to the castle of the Goblin King to retrieve her brother, Di Caprio’s character did come home to his real children, and Mori really could speak with faeries.

You are right in your later assessment that the important things that happen in the book are not the resolution of the main story, but the journey itself. The proliferation of fantasy and science fiction books in the story are like crack for SFF geeks like us. And the importance of having a group of friends with whom you can discuss those books cannot be understated.

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I’ve read promising reviews about Among Others before, but none have made me go out and read the book. Despite your comment that you weren’t blown away, I think this is the most convincing argument for reading Among Others that I’ve encountered until now. The notion of a love-letter to sci-fi, and a bit of nostalgia for the older school of science fiction intrigues me. That the story itself is more fantasy-esque is also very interesting…

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[...] UK) The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss (DAW; Gollancz) Deathless, Catherynne M. Valente (Tor) Among Others, Jo Walton [...]

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[...] UK) The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss (DAW; Gollancz) Deathless, Catherynne M. Valente (Tor) Among Others, Jo Walton [...]

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[…] spending the better part of three weeks at my childhood home. I had a great time, reading a lot. Among others by Jo Walton and Zoo City by Lauren Beukes were two of the books I looked forward to reading the most and I am […]

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[…] Reviews: Jenny’s Books, The Literary Omnivore, The Little Red Reviewer, Page247, Stella Matutina, Things Mean a Lot and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine. Have you […]

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