Startling unusual and yet irresistably readable Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and science fiction and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantmentRaised by a half mad mother who dabbled in magic Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds As a child growing up in Wales she and her twin sister played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins but her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions When her mother tries to bend the spirits to dark ends with deadly results Mori is sent away and must try to come to terms with what has happened without falling prey to the darkness

10 thoughts on “Among Others

  1. says:

    Now and then I come across a book that is a distillation of what I like in fiction genre fiction in particular I previously raved about Jonathan Strange Mr Norrell and then some people told me they think it's a load of ol' crap It puzzled me a bit that some people don't see the greatness of the books I deemed to be great but then I realize that such things probably puzzle most of us we are all arbiters of good taste in our own little universe So given that after reading this book you may not agree with my assessment of it much to my astonishment I am going into rave mode againFirstly I am going steal SF Signal's one sentence synopsis A teenaged girl in 1979 deals with her witch of a mother faeries a difficult boarding school life and the joys of discovering science fiction and fantasyAny mention of boarding school and fantasy in the same sentence will tend to trigger the name Harry Potter in people's minds well you can fuggedaboudit it's just an ordinary boarding school no Defence Against the Dark Arts classes here In fact the setting of the boarding school resonates with me very much as a former pupil of such a school It is a tough environment for geeky sci fi loving kid that I was and Morweena— the protagonist and narrator of this book—is The loneliness the bad food the discovery of like minded friends all ring very true to meFrom the synopses of this book at Goodreads etc fantasy fans are probably unsure whether this really is a fantasy novel at all and not just some rambling of a delusional girl Well the author has stated clearly in interviews that the fantasy element is not meant to be ambiguous even if it may seem that way You see Jo Walton has done something very different with the so called magic system trope here In the universe of this book the magic is very discreet and always has plausible deniability in that the effect of the magic may look like a normal coincidence This makes the magic even dangerous than in your average fantasy epic the effect can be devastatingly wide ranging with everybody none the wiser about the cause I am not going to give any example of this it is really worth discovering by yourselfThe most important aspect of this book is that it is a love letter to science fiction and fantasy books I have never seen so many books and authors mentioned in a single book and they are mostly books I am very familiar with Like Asimov's Foundation Delany's Babel 17 Tolkien's LOTR etc At the time the story is set in late 1979 and early 1980 fantasy was not the massively popular genre it is today and the fantasy books were far outnumbered by the sf books so interestingly this book is actually about a science fiction reader in a fantasy world Most of the books mentioned are sci fi classics with only the odd LOTR and Narnia books thrown in The little comments about the books and the love the author via her characters show for the books make me want to read sff until my eyes fall outThe book is beautifully written in eloquent yet fairly simple prose in an epistolary format diary entries the characters are very well developed and believable I can actually imagine what it feels like to be a teenage crippled girl in spite of my many disqualifications for identifying with such a character As I understand it the story is partly autobiographical in that many of the key events are based on Ms Walton's own experiences as a teenager I found the climax to be oddly conventional in its spectacularity and it does not seem to conform with the relative quietude of the preceding chapters Still no real harm doneJo Walton clearly loves the sff genre and reading in general with a passion a feeling I share and this book is another one to be cherishedA solid 5 stars for a well deserved 2011 Nebula Awards WinnerFurther readingJo Walton's QA at Io9Bibliography for Among OthersJo Walton's The Big Idea articleUpdate September 4 2012 Among Others just won the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel a few months prior to that it won the Nebula Award It has also been nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel That should be enough accolades for anyone considering reading this book

  2. says:

    A love letter to science fiction and fantasy to books and to librariansWe never looked anything like anyone in our family but apart from the eye and hair color I don't see anything It doesn't matter I have books new books and I can bear anything as long as there are booksA support letter to adolescence and to girls alienated from their familiesSo then I realised guiltily how my very presence in his car was actually a huge reproach For one thing there is only one of me when he abandoned twins For another I am crippled Thirdly I am there at all I ran away I had to ask for his help and worse I had to use the social services to ask for his help Clearly the arrangements he made for us were far from adequate In fact my existence there at that moment demonstrated to him that he is a rotten parentand to girls alienated from their schoolsIf the school was going out of their way to try to detach us from magic they couldn't organize things better I wonder if that was someone's original intention We don't have our own plates or our own knives and forks or cups Like most of what we use they're communal they're handed out at random There's no chance for anything to become imbued to come alive through fondness Nothing here is aware no chair no cup Nobody can get fond of anythingWalton's writing is astonishing it impeccably captures the voice of a 15 year old Welsh girl Morwenna Markova after she is sent to England to live with her estranged father and then immediately dispatched to boarding school Books have been a life long source of enjoyment and solace and sustain her through the loss of her twin She is both naive and worldly with that bookish sort of experience that is not backed by the experience of real lifeA Polish Jew I am part Polish Part Jewish? All that I know about Judaism comes from A Canticle for Leibowitz and Dying Inside Well and the Bible I supposeFans of fantasy and science fiction will love the multitudes of references to genre classics from LeGuin to McCaffrey to Zelazny and Vonnegut Literary references are veiled Mor and her sister call factory near them Mordor as it looked like something from the depths of hell black and looming with chimneys of flame and overt Mor frequently interprets the world according to authors she has read Robert Heinlein says in Have Spacesuit Will Travel that the only things worth studying are history languages and science Librarians become allies in Mor's adjustment to England and through them she discovers other like minded soulsHowever there is also something about the writing that is distancing perhaps because of Mor's own emotional distance perhaps because the narrative about the fairies is enigmatic or perhaps because the overtones of fear in dealing with her mother that aren't realized There is an awkward exploration of sexuality perfectly age appropriate but uncomfortable and relationships that doesn't quite weave in as smoothly as I would have liked Whatever it was it prevents me from that emotional connection that characterizes my five star readsWalton is an interesting writer and is content to leave questions lying around unanswered If you are the sort of reader that likes wrapping with neat bows this may not suit you Still it is intriguing and will undoubtedly win a second or third full read down the roadQuite a surprise and one of the unusual pieces I've read Four and a half unreliable starsCross posted at

  3. says:

    This is one of those books that I think of frequently it has stayed with me Walton has blessed this work with a strong female lead and is minimalistic meaning that most of the action what little there is is subtle and underplayed Yet it is a hypnotic book to read Jo Walton does a great job of characterization economically describing the cast in such a way that the reader knows the populace yet there are few one dimensional characters Of course the aspect of the book that gets so much attention rightfully so is the ubiquitous references to science fiction literature Akin to Ernest Cline's novel Ready Player One the narrative at times takes a back seat to Walton's streaming sci fi reminiscences Whereas Cline took us back to the 80s Walton waxes nostalgic through a list of science fiction and fantasy greatsNo wonder now looking back that this won the Hugo it's that good 2018 This is a book for readers Walton's ongoing list of cool SF books weaved into the storyline and the themes of reading akin to magical realism makes this a very special and fun book I may need to re read some time

  4. says:

    “This is for all the libraries in the world and the librarians who sit there day after day lending books to people” I'm not quite sure how to describe this book what precisely it is but it has that something that is making me read it for the third time in as many years and each time it finds a new way into my heart “There are some awful things in the world it’s true but there are also some great books” This is a love ode to books and libraries and the magic of stories and the unashamed homage to so many science fiction classics and the perfect understanding that If you love books enough books will love you back “Half way” Glorfindel said and he didn’t mean I was half dead without her or that she was halfway through or any of that he meant that I was halfway through Babel 17 and if I went on I would never find out how it came outThere may be stranger reasons for being alive” It is also an offbeat story of a girl who grew up seeing fairies in Wales walking a thin line between magic and mundane or perhaps just playing it all in her overactive and slightly unstable imagination “And it was the landscape that formed us that made us who we were as we grew in it that affected everything We thought we were living in a fantasy landscape when actually we were living in a science fictional one” It is a story about adjusting to the life in which you are an outsider where you stick out like a sore thumb an outsider still stripped raw from the death of the twin sister who was a part of you than others could ever understand and from the shattering your life took both physically and emotionally Twins are clones too If you looked at an elm tree you’d never think it was part of all the others You’d see an elm tree Same when people look at me now they see a person not half a set of twins“I have finished with saving the world and I never expected it to be the slightest bit grateful anyway” It's a story of learning to live with the physical and mental pain and learning to redefine a new normal for yourself burying all the possibilities from before and trying to focus on the realities of now “It’s too late for that now I’m going to grow up and she isn’t She’s frozen where she is and I’m changing and I want to change I want to live I thought I had to live for both of us because she can’t live for herself but I can’t really live for her I can’t really know what she’d have done what she’d have wanted how she’d have changed” It's a story of painful search and longing for people who are yours your karass who will understand you and accept you and be there for you even when everything is crashing down around you Being left alone—and I am being left alone—isn’t quite as much what I wanted as I thought Is this how people become evil? I don’t want to be“Bibliotropic” Hugh said “Like sunflowers are heliotropic they naturally turn towards the sun We naturally turn towards the bookshop” And it's a story of the aftermath of what happens after climax of the 'before' story had been achieved and the survivors are left to pick up the pieces of their lives “ When I needed someone somehow that net of family that I counted on to be there for me the way you might bounce down to a trampoline disappeared and instead of bouncing back I hit the ground hard” Don't look for much of conventional plot here that's been left behind in the story that Mori only alludes to the story after the climax of which we join in This is Frodo's life after the Scouring of the Shire as Mori notes “Tolkien understood about the things that happen after the end Because this is after the end this is all the Scouring of the Shire this is figuring out how to live in the time that wasn’t supposed to happen after the glorious last stand I saved the world or I think I did and look the world is still here with sunsets and interlibrary loans And it doesn’t care about me any than the Shire cared about Frodo” Don't look for conventional magic or fantasy or you'll be sorely disappointed Mori's world is full of very vague very subtle 'magic' that you can easily rationalize as either the remnants of magical thinking of childhood or perhaps a way her traumatized mind comes to rationalize the trauma that left her broken or if you want to be cruel perhaps some of the seeds of madness that if we believe Mori possess her mother the woman who persistently burns one of her daughters out of the photographs that she sends to herDon't be frustrated by the constant name checking of endless pre 1980 science fiction and the entire journal entries comprised of little but Mori's precocious thoughts and impressions of them “One of the things I’ve always liked about science fiction is the way it makes you think about things and look at things from angles you’d never have thought about before” Yes it does help if you have read at least some of them Yes it's precisely the wealth of books that remains at the heart of this story about finding self in the world that is not rushing to meet you with open arms Yes there will be about books and Mori's impressions of them than any other plot strands It's the strange beauty of this book and it's the heart of it “Interlibrary loans are a wonder of the world and a glory of civilizationLibraries really are wonderful They’re better than bookshops even I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts” Mori Phelps Morwenna? Morganna? You tell me I'm still confused by the implications of a couple of seemingly throwaway and yet deeply significant lines in the book needs to pick up the pieces of her shattered life and learn to live with the aftermath and not just simply live but be herself find friends thrive find new things that matter make new post aftermath hopes and fears come to peace with her losses and move on while still keeping what's dear to her in her heartAnd if sometimes the reasons to pick yourself back up and keep going are strange and unusual well so be it “And here I am still alive still in the world It’s my intention to carry on being alive in the world well until I die I’ll live and read and have friends a karass people to talk to I’ll grow and change and be myself I’ll belong to libraries wherever I go Things will happen that I can’t imagine I’ll change and grow into a future that will be unimaginably different from the past I’ll be alive I’ll be me I’ll be reading my book” Wonderful book unusual subtle and memorable a tribute to the time of searching for books in the bookstores and libraries and not knowing what will come your way and forever a tribute to the times of searching for yourself in life and really having no idea what will come your way 5 stars

  5. says:

    I tried to write this review without spoilers but it depends on what you consider to be spoilers I think it's a book based on characters than events and I don't think knowing some of the events will spoil the whole but you might want to exercise a bit of cautionAmong Others feels like a book written just for me The protagonist Mori is Welsh disabled synaesthetic listens to folk music reads SF and fantasy reads anything and everything She says early in the books that It doesn't matter I have books new books and I can bear anything as long as there are books She speaks casually and without bigotry about LGBT people thinks about religion and thinks positively at least mostly so about sex She's at an English school a private school with traditions and expectations and such a very middle class air And her world is a world with room for all of this for everything we know in our everyday lives and also for magic It's a book written after the climax of the story really Mori's fantastical adventures have come to their climax and now she has to live with the consequences She says that it's like life after the Scouring of the Shire And she does have huge consequences to live with she has her own injury and the death of her twin sister to come to terms withIt's a book about an ordinary girl in many ways and most definitely about an ordinary world Magic comes through the cracks but most of the time Mori has to live with things just the way we all do catching buses and trains and being excited about the latest books by her favourite authors coming out And about being attracted to boys too though in many ways this book is as much a love story about a girl and the interlibrary loan system as it is about a girl and a boy It's a book about books as much as anything else maybe than anything else Mori talks about everything she's reading often with astute comments about it all I want to find and read some of these books and try to find the same magic in them as the protagonist of Among Others doesThere were two things I didn't connect with as well and they don't detract from it enough to deduct a star even though they seem to be the things I have the most to say about One is that the final confrontations feel very abrupt Part of that is Mori's matter of fact narration and part of it is that it does come up very suddenly after a lot of real world concerns and preoccupations it seems to jar against the rest there I would almost prefer the book without closure without climax because it is a story written after the world didn't end and Mori is living with the consequencesThe other thing which I think is well articulated by this review is that Mori's mother is a complete stereotype of a neglectful mentally ill mother As I said to that reviewer part of that could be that Mori is only just learning about shades of grey it is in the last fifty pages or so that she says that children are better tools for fairies because they don't see in shades of grey for most of the book she doesn't see in shades of grey she is in the process of learning to do so Mori sees the world in the way it might be seen in children's fantasy a point she makes for herself about Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising although she is somewhat wrong there are shades of grey in that sequence too where things are black and white and there is a definite bad guy She's fifteen years old not an adult yet and she is just growing toward a nuanced view of the world So I think it is partially that which informs the portrayal of her mother and there are some subtle things maybe that you only see when you know them from the inside that hint at Mori's fears and the things her mother has done to her The ones that I mentioned to the other reviewer are what particularly struck me the way she disguises taking a book from the shelf fearful of her mother's knowing and also the way she says that she makes sure not to give anything away at school because it will be used against her Those are thought patterns you get from being bulliedabused in my experienceAt the same time it takes work to see the potential subtleties in the portrayal of Mori's mother it's all too easy to just take Mori at her word and it is discomforting to wonder about how much of that is intentional and how much is just internalised by the authorOverall though I loved the book I read it with my teddy Helen at all times because it felt somehow wrong to read something that spoke to my teenage self without her this book really felt written for me and I could talk about it for hours if given the chance One of my favourite things though was the very last line it feels almost bathetic and yet at the same time so perfect for Mori so perfect for the story and so perfect for me The whole book was immensely easy to read and I wish I'd been able to just set aside a few hours and blast right through it most of what happens in it is just ordinary life but Mori's voice is well done and it's all quite magical even the parts that aren't meant to be because there's magic in reading and talking about reading and reading about reading

  6. says:

    BibliotropismExcellent YA reading with acute relevance to us oldies as well A fifteen year old girl from the Welsh valleys learns about life death sex love and friendship Handicapped in mysterious circumstances estranged from her mother for equally mysterious reasons Morwenna has to cope with everything from family blending to the trials of social isolation at an English girls’ schoolBut mostly Among Others is about Morwenna’s irrepressible attraction to books especially to the imaginative construction of alternative worlds in sci fi These take up where her younger fantasies of faeries leave off “We thought we were living in a fantasy landscape when actually we were living in a science fictional one” Faeries after all are very knowledgeable but they can’t do much in the world of people not without help Morwenna loves fantasy but despises allegory Things are what they are and are degraded by being made to stand for other things “Fiction’s nice Fiction lets you select and simplify” she says Fiction in other words explains things It helps a person get from a magical view of the world of a child to the realism of adulthood without the loss of one’s imagination including one’s moral imagination “One of the things I’ve always liked about science fiction is the way it makes you think about things and look at things from angles you’d never have thought about before”Books are the centre of Morwenna’s existence “Sometimes it feels as if it’s only books that make life worth living” Her judgment has been honed by reading all the best writers and understanding what makes them the best Through her reading she also finds others who are sympathetic to her tastes and ways of thinking By understanding them she understands herself and her situation It is not an overstatement to say that she is redeemed through her readingWalton’s epigram for Among Others is a subtle mis quote from Virgil’s Aeneid “et haec olim meminisse iuvabit” that is “it will be a joy to remember these things some day” She has left out the important first word of Virgil’s original ‘Forsan’ in Latin ‘Perhaps’ in English For Walton there is no perhaps about Morwenna’s life She will always find joy in what she has read and what it has done for her life

  7. says:

    I keep going back and forth between 2 and 3 stars I should have really loved this book but I found myself annoyed than charmed Although it appears we're supposed to take the main character's story at face value and believe that the magic and fairies and her evil mother are real I found myself writing it all off as her way of coping with a mundane unstable mother and car accident I think what pushed me over the edge into disbelief was the scene with the aunts and the earrings I mean what was that except some belligerent child who's playing make believe and throwing a tantrum? And we're supposed to believe she's 15 And as much as I love books read and eat and breathe books I wanted her to get her head out of them and be in the real world for a bit and have conversations that were real There's something to say for being a well rounded person with multiple interests I realize I sound awfully harsh regarding a fictional girl whose twin just died maybe it was the over use of the word brill to describe everything she liked You'd think someone who read so much would have a larger vocabulary

  8. says:

    Morwenna grows up in Wales hanging out with faeries Nothing extraordinary about it loved the matter of fact telling and how they're precisely as I imagined they’d be Illusive “They’d moved in with the green things after people had abandoned them” and unfathomable Some are pretty little things with gossamer wings others creatures ripped from the pages of Grimm’s Fairy Tales “Fairies tend to be either very beautiful or absolutely hideous” She's 15 with a ton of issues a mother who’s crackers the death of her twin the appearance of her father who’d dropped into her life after years without a whisper then shipped her off to an English boarding school A misfit who walks with a cane talks funny comfortable in the company of faeries than people immersed in the world of books fantasy sci fi in particular Friendless lonely she’s also clever and surprisingly grounded A strange gentle story that I should have loved and did for the most part “Away with the faeries” a Gaelic phrase my parents used to describe me Grew up lost in my own little world so coming across Morwenna felt a bit like finding a soul mate I’m not daft never actually spoke to any but whereas Santa left me cold I truly believed in faeries spent hours hunting for them in neglected places overgrown fields derelict buildings Books were a refuge for me as well a pint sized immigrant with a Glaswegian brogue that sent my Canadian classmates into hysterics every time I opened my mouth cons Why oh why didn’t she stick with the style she began in the subtlety of magical realism Instead you get this outta left field epic ending unnecessary and jarring Dropped to 3 ½ stars and rounded to 3 meanderings All the references to ‘obscure’ sci fi fantasy novels whet my appetite Roger Zelazny top of my list to try memorable “I should never have tried to talk to that fairy Let someone else do something about Dutch elm disease It isn’t my problem”

  9. says:

    i am at a total loss about how this book got published this is not a book in the sense of a novel i mean it's the diary of an articulate well read sci fi diehard teenager talking about what she did and what she read every day for a year this account of her every day life is sprinkled with unimpressive encounters with fairies because apparently in this world welsh people are kinda down with spirit creatures the other reason this isn't a book is that it's an epilogue to a story we never get to hear mori our main gal is living with a father she barely knows and in boarding school having fled from her evil witch literal not metaphorical mother why? well sometime before mori's boring daily diary begins there was a huge magical battle between good mori her twin sister and evil the mother which left mori with a bad leg and a dead sister you'd think that at least some of the book would explain why the mother was evil why she hated her kids why she waged magical war on them and just generally what kind of magic we're talking about but nada no explanations of any sort for ANYTHING instead this is what we get school sucked today my classmates are so lame today my mother tried to kill me in my sleep that sucked too my leg hurts i went to the woods and talked to a fairy but they're really cryptic wow ursula le guin's awesome this lesbian is hitting on me but i'm straight how can anyone think heinlein is authoritarian? i wish i knew my father were better i touched this guy's dick at a party and he called me a slut so guess i won't be seeing him again my grandad's pretty cool though i miss my sister but i want to live let me go re read lord of the rings for the six hundreth time sci fi book club yay my aunts keep trying to get my ears pierced but you can't see fairies if your ears are pierced i think my aunts are evil i am not exaggerating this is the entire book WTF i'm really kind of bitter because i kept a journal growing up maybe if i added the occasional gnome on the side i could get that published too?

  10. says:

    I know what I was expecting before I had read this novel I knew it had won last year's Hugo and I've been working my way through every hugo and runner up since they started What I hadn't expected was an unabashedly delightful review of so many great science fiction novels from the last 75 years most of which I've also read and delighted over I loved Mor and was always very proud of her and who wouldn't be? As long as you are a science fiction fan using magic as easily as breathing thinking magic as easily as reading you and I are her She is our Everyman So yes I do normally hit a lot of ratings at the five star level but is that because I research novels before I read them and only aim for the best? Or is it because I always find something brilliant in everything I read? Maybe both but I don't care I love books I love books I love books and my kinship with Jo Walton even though I have never spoken with her or even read any of her other novels is one of karass Thank You Jo