Review: Among Others

(Cross-posted to Seven Deadly Divas)

Last week, I asked why our heroes and heroines are all big fans of the classics, but very rarely read books that are contemporary.   Shortly thereafter, I got my grimy paws on Jo Walton’s Among Others — a book in which the science fiction of the late 1970s and early 1980s is very much a character itself — and ohmy.

This is a book in which the ultimate showdown between good and evil has already happened.  Mori Phelps and her twin sister saved the world from their mother’s evil ambitions a year ago.  Her twin died — not during the showdown itself, but in the frantic moments after — and Mori is left behind.  She walks with a cane, now.  We come into her life after she’s survived those first horrible months of grief, after she’s run away and been found again, after she’s been reunited with her estranged father. Her diary picks up as she’s being sent to boarding school in England, where her classmates make fun of her Welsh accent and call her Hopalong for her dependence on her cane and Commie for using her father’s Russian-sounding last name.

Mori still sees faeries and still knows how to work magic, though neither thing is as straightforward as they seem in books.  And, speaking of books, she goes through several a week — what else is there for her to do when her classmates are playing sports?  She loves sf.  It’s the one bit of common ground she has with the father she barely knows.  She picks her classes based on Heinlein’s assertion that “the only things worth studying are history, languages and science.”  (She admits math was on his list as well, but Mori doesn’t have the head for it.)

Among Others is a quiet book, a sort of coming-of-age tale even though our heroine has lived through events that forced her to grow up before we ever met her.  It’s a love letter to sf, a pitch-perfect retelling of how books make you think, and how they can change how you think.  I’ve said before that I came to sf late, and I’m still catching up.  There were some references to books and authors that went right over my head while I read, but Walton (and Mori) never leave the reader behind.  You might not be familiar with the characters she mentions as she reads, but she fills in the blanks for you.

It’s a book for book lovers.  Mori’s excitement when she finds a new Zelazny (and later a new Heinlein — Number of the Beast, which was the first Heinlein I ever read) could have been my own reaction at an unexpected new release.  She finds kindred spirits in a local sf book group, where for the first time, she can discuss the books she loves with people who Get It.

Among Others is also a tribute to fandom.  Mori finds out about Worldcon and Ansible, and makes plans to attend a con over Easter.  The library group is a microcosm of the amazing sf community — which I also came to late, and experience these days through lurking on blogs and fora more than going to cons.  But oh, did I love attending Worldcon when it came to Boston in 2004.  I very much want to go to another, someday soon.

Lest I misrepresent it, there is more to the book than, well, books.  Mori’s mother is still alive, and looking for her.  She sends pictures of Mori and her sister, with Mori’s image burnt away.  The faeries still talk to Mori, and still have tasks they want her to undertake on their behalf.  She’s trying to heal, both physically and from the emptiness in her life where her sister used to be.

Jo Walton has left me with a huge reading list.  I have a feeling I’ll be picking Among Others up again and again, as I make my way through Mori’s favorites.

I have a lot of catching up to do.

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