Thursday, August 07, 2014

What We're Reading: Fantasy about Sci Fi

Morwenna Phelps has had an interesting--and challenging--childhood. She and her twin sister, Morganna, grew up in Wales searching for, and playing with, the fairies who live in the local industrial ruins. Their mother, Liz, is a witch. She’s also mad. When Liz attempts to take control of the fairies, the twins attempt to stop her. Morganna is killed, and Morwenna is gravely injured. She is then sent to live with the father who abandoned them as babies, who promptly packs her off to a girls’ boarding school in western England. There’s no magic in England (or so little as to be not worth mentioning). The only joy left in Mor’s life is found in the science fiction and fantasy books that she consumes at an incredible rate. 

In Among Others, author Jo Walton allows readers to peer over the shoulder of Morwenna Phelps from September, 1979 through February, 1980. The novel is told through Mor’s almost daily journal entries. Mor’s voice is clear and is full of both the conviction and doubt held by most 15-year-olds as they struggle to make sense of the world around them. The plot progresses at a leisurely pace (as life often does), with countless small and seemingly insignificant occurrences, some of which build in resonance and significance. 

The magic in Among Others is both fascinating and frustrating. Unlike the magic encountered in most books/movies/television shows, the magic in Among Others is indirect, uncertain. It may provide the results you want, but not in the way you were expecting. And you may never really know if it was magic that brought something about. Like the idea that fairies would move into human ruins as they are reclaimed by nature, it is a wonderful premise. 

One of the joys of Among Others is Walton’s exploration and review of what is now viewed as classic science fiction and fantasy novels. Like Jim C. Hines in the "Magic Ex Libris" series (Libriomancer and Codes Born), Walton lets her “geek flag fly” naming authors and titles that range from the well known to the somewhat obscure. Unlike Hines, whose stories have required him to create titles using dramatic license, all of the books Walton lists are real. Well-read SF/F readers will find her commentary interesting and/or frustrating. (As when Mor decides that she will not read Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen Donaldson because it has “the temerity to compare itself. . . to 'Tolkien at his best.'" She goes on to say that the source of the quote, The Washington Post, “will always damn a book for me from now on. How dare they?”). Those who are not as well read could use the titles listed in the story as an excellent introduction to their own pursuit of sci fi and fantasy. While the story told is both charming and insightful, Among Others is foremost a love letter to the authors and SF/F fandom of the late '70s and early '80s.

Among Others is a quirky, gentle novel. Almost everyone who values the company of books and derives pleasure from reading will find a bit (or possibly more) of themselves reflected in Mor and her journey. 

Among Others won the 2012 Nebula Award for Best Novel, the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and the British Fantasy Award. It was a nominee for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.

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