As 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.