Jan 18 2011 5:23pm

Among Others

Among Others by Jo WaltonAs a senior editor at Tor Books and the manager of our science fiction and fantasy line, I rarely blog to promote specific projects I’m involved with, for reasons that probably don’t need a lot of explanation. But every so often a book compels me to break my own rule. And Among Others by Jo Walton, officially published today, is such a book.

Like many novels that are a little hard to describe, Among Others is a lot of different things, some of which wouldn’t seem to work together, and yet they do. It’s a coming-of-age story. It’s a classic outsider tale. It’s at least partly autobiographical—yes, an autobiographical fantasy novel. It’s about solving a fantasy problem through science-fictional modes of thought. Most of all, though, it’s an absolutely incandescent depiction, through its first-person protagonist Mori, of what it feels like to be young, smart, a bit odd, and immersed in the business of discovering great science fiction and fantasy—and rewiring one’s consciousness thereby.

I am not Welsh or female, I do not walk with a cane, and I do not have a dead sibling or a parent who wants me dead. I never attended a boarding school, my family is far-flung and American, and I have never (to the best of my knowledge) conversed with fairies. And yet to a startling extent Among Others feels like a book about the experience of being me when I was, like Mori, fifteen. This turns out to be a fairly common reaction to reading Walton’s novel, at least among the kind of people I tend to know. It is quite possibly the best thing I have ever read about the way people of our ilk, when young, use books and reading to—in the words of Robert Charles Wilson—“light the way out of a difficult childhood.”

Wrote Gary Wolfe in Locus:

I don’t believe I’ve seen, either in fiction or in memoir, as brilliant and tone-perfect an account of what discovering SF and fantasy can mean to its young readers—citing chapter and verse of actual titles—as in Jo Walton’s remarkable and somewhat autobiographical new novel Among Others. Late in the novel, when the spirited 15-year-old narrator Morwenna Phelps is assigned Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd in her English class at the English boarding school to which she’s been more or less exiled, she concludes her somewhat snarky response to it by commenting, “He could have learned a lot from Silverberg and Delany.” By this point we’ve already gotten accustomed to Mori’s precociously sharp running commentaries on the SF novels she reads voraciously and uses to construct a safe haven, a kind of culture in exile both from her problematical family and from the staid adult world—including Hardy—for which she feels the disdainful impatience of the bright adolescent. What is remarkable is not only how Walton evokes the capacity of fiction to preserve wonder and hope in a dispiriting world, but how she conveys this, as with the Hardy comment, in the opinionated but not quite fully-formed voice of a teenager discovering these works at the tail-end of the 1970s, which comes across as a kind of Golden Age of SF in Mori’s narrative, with Tolkien already established as canonical, Heinlein just entering his cranky late phase, and Le Guin, Zelazny, and Tiptree, along with the historical novels of Mary Renault, coming as astonishing revelations to a young British reader. [...] Among Others is many things—a fully realized boarding-school tale, a literary memoir, a touching yet unsentimental portrait of a troubled family—but there’s something particularly appealing about a fantasy which not only celebrates the joy of reading, but in which the heroine must face the forces of doom not in order to return yet another ring to some mountain, but to plan a trip to the 1980 Glasgow Eastercon. That’s the sort of book you can love.

Among Others is available as of today, in hardcover and (alas, only for North Americans or those capable of electronically emulating North Americans) as an e-book on the various platforms. If any of the above sounds interesting to you, I ask you most humbly: Please buy this book and make it a success. The book deserves it. The world deserves it. But most of all because you will love this brilliant, perceptive, utterly transformational book.

(The above also posted to Making Light. Excerpt of Among Others available here on Tor.com)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden is a senior editor at Tor Books and, with Liz Gorinsky, one of the two fiction editors of Tor.com. Read more about him on the Tor.com About Us page.

Sylvia Wrigley
2. akaSylvia
I can emulate an American! Where can I purchase the e-book? I don't see it on the MacMillan page nor on Amazon.com.
Steven Halter
3. stevenhalter
Sounds great--just got the Nook edition. So, Barnes & Noble has it.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
4. pnh
Sylvia, try actual Amazon.com, as opposed to Amazon.co.uk. Or the dot-com (i.e. US) version of any of the other big e-book vendors.
5. RobinM
I'm number 5 on the hold list at the library where I work. This sounds great I can't wait.
Sylvia Wrigley
6. akaSylvia
Oops, sorry. The search results on Amazon.com initially showed hardcover only but now I've shifted my address, it has magically appeared.

I've got it now, hurray!
7. Farah Mendlesohn
Hear, hear.

My copy is taking a while to get to the UK but the draft I read was just amazing.

If you have an independent bookshop near you, 'persuade' them to order one for you, and several for their shelves.
8. Bradford DeLong
OK. Why did Bron lie to Audri?
Beth Meacham
9. bam
I have to second everything Patrick said about Among Others. It is an amazing book, and if there is any justice in the world (there isn't, I fear) it will transcend genre and become a bestseller.
10. Lis Carey
Bought the Nook edition this morning, and I"m really looking forward to reading it.
11. Colleen Mondor
I loved this one - it's in my Bookslut YA column this month as I think it is an outstanding novel for teens. I have to say though, I was not a huge SF fan as a teen (other than Bradbury, of course) and yet even though I was reading different books then (from L'Engle to Louisa May Alcott), AMONG OTHERS still spoke completely to me now. It transcends genre in a way - if you love books and reading, then you will love this.

It's just truly amazing.
Nick Eden
12. NickPheas
Please try and let the rest of the world at the ebooks. What I've read of Jo's work is amazing and really should be available in her native country.
(Can it just be me thinking that the BBC could do a very fine adaptation of Farthing?)
Jo Walton
13. bluejo
NickPheas: I'd be delighted if the rest of the world could have the eBooks, but British publishers just aren't interested in me. (And my British agent agrees with you about the BBC too, but the BBC don't.)

Bradford DeLong: Ha! The actual question is why did Bron notice lying to Audri when s/he hasn't noticed lying to anyone else all along? Bron's levels of self-deception are amazing -- and go straight over a fifteen year old's head. I think I have a Triton post around here somewhere, it's probably findable.
Nick Abadzis
14. Nick_Abadzis
I look forward to reading this. Not only because of the top-ed big-up - if Colleen Mondor says it's good, it's great.
Pamela Adams
15. PamAdams
Squeeeee!!! I am doing my best to avoid the excerpt- after all, my copy should be in hand quite soon.
C Smith
16. C12VT
I just finished reading it, and loved it. Absolutely amazing book.
Clifton Royston
17. CliftonR
Found my copy at a B & N and I am devouring it... except that I keep putting it down for a bit to make it last longer. You only get to read a book like this for the first time once.

I used to stand in bookstores and read all the way through a book when I couldn't afford to buy one, as Mor does.
Pamela Adams
18. PamAdams
Like CliftonR, I kept putting off the end. I was just a few years older than Mor in 1979/1980, but her journey to escape childhood through science fiction paralleled mine in many ways.

That 'Squeee!' that I let out on hearing the book was available? Raise it by a few powers for the delight that I found in actually reading the book.
Tudza White
19. tudzax1
Somebody forgot to tell the librarians in Seattle about this. It's not listed as being in the system or being availble in the near future.

I will be waiting for the Audble.com version.
20. kitten
among others is superb. I stayed up all night reading it and it has made me want to go back to the books I loved so much when I was a teenager.

The only flaw is that I bought it for my kindle, so I am going to have to get a second copy in paper so I can loan/give it to my granddaughter. She's 14 and a half.
Chuk Goodin
21. Chuk
Yes, it was most excellent. Too short -- one of those books I really didn't want to get to the end of.
Steven Halter
22. stevenhalter
I enjoyed it quite a lot. Good recommendation Patrick.
23. TimeWas
Just read it. Have to say that I found it extremely disappointing--barely a novel, ultimately, weak in plot and characterization. Overly focused on self-referential SF eleements, a long listing of reviews and reactions to different speculative fiction texts. What in the end is the point, beyond contributing to the strain of SF that's more and more insular and self-contained? That believes simply having a set of particular tastes makes a story compelling? I disagree with the review's claim that the book offers a particular effectiveness of growing into maturity because the character doesn't make any sense as a fifteen year old. I'm probably a bit hampered in this by coming to the book after Walton's posts on this site, but that also makes it very explicit that these are real-world tastes of the author explored at length through an awkwardly framed story. The elements of darkness and psychological function hinted at early in the story, with a recognition of how bad it would be to actually relate to the whole world only through a scifi lens, don't catalyst effectively. There's nothing really here beyond the not-at-all-subtext that SF is awesome.

Ultimately I found the book self-indulgent to an immense fault, and thoroughly lacking in substance. For the gain it offers, I'd suggest just reading Walton's posts on tor--they're generally intersting, amusing and fun. That applied to a novel makes for a very weak experience, in my own humble opinion. I have similar issues with a lot of Stross, Scalzi, Butcher and Doctrow--rather than extrapolating or exploring alternatives to the present some authors are content to write only to and of fandom. And many of these works become very popular in the SFnal community, since isn't it nice to be complimented?

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