Apatt's Reviews > Among Others

Among Others by Jo Walton
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Feb 02, 16

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, fantasy-top20, fantasy
Read from June 29 to July 05, 2012

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" again.

Firstly 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 fantasy."

Any 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 me.

From the synopses of this book at Goodreads, Amazon 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 more 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 yourself.

The 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 sf/f until my eyes fall out.

The 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 done.

Jo Walton clearly loves the sf/f genre and reading in general with a passion, a feeling I share and this book is another one to be cherished.
A solid 5 stars for a well deserved 2011 Nebula Awards Winner.

___________________________________

Further reading:
Jo Walton's Q&A at Io9
Bibliography for Among Others
Jo Walton's The Big Idea article

Update, 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!
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Quotes Apatt Liked

Jo Walton
“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 more than the Shire cared about Frodo.”
Jo Walton, Among Others


Reading Progress

07/01 page 121
40.0% "I have a feeling I'm going to rave about this book, so much love for sf/f and reading!"
01/31 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-31 of 31) (31 new)

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message 1: by Elaine (new) - added it

Elaine well I adore Johnathon Strabge and Mr Norrel and agreed with your great review so the chances are I will like this too. I will buy it next Amazon book purchase I make :)


Apatt Elaine wrote: "well I adore Johnathon Strabge and Mr Norrel and agreed with your great review so the chances are I will like this too. I will buy it next Amazon book purchase I make :)"

Thank you for your kind words. Chances are you will like Among Others very well, if it should turn out that you don't please let me know.

(I think Johnathon Strange still comes up on top though! :)


June Seghni looking forward to this..loved Jonathan Strange ..also I was a very bookish 15 year old in 1979..!


Apatt June wrote: "looking forward to this..loved Jonathan Strange ..also I was a very bookish 15 year old in 1979..!"

Great! Let us know what you think afterwards June. The author herself is also quite friendly and approachable if you comment in her blog.


message 5: by Guillermo (new) - added it

Guillermo  Nice review as always! Looking forward to reading this hopefully this month.


Apatt Guillermo wrote: "Nice review as always! Looking forward to reading this hopefully this month."

Thanks Guillermo! I posted it a while ago, just dotted some Is and crossed some Ts! :D


message 7: by Ivana (new) - added it

Ivana Apatt wrote: "Guillermo wrote: "Nice review as always! Looking forward to reading this hopefully this month."

Thanks Guillermo! I posted it a while ago, just dotted some Is and crossed some Ts! :D"


Yes I remember reading it before...great review, probably what made me press that "want to read" button.


Apatt Ivana wrote: "Apatt wrote: "Guillermo wrote: "Nice review as always! Looking forward to reading this hopefully this month."

Thanks Guillermo! I posted it a while ago, just dotted some Is and crossed some Ts! :D..."


Thanks Ivana, I hope you get around to reading it soon so we can compare notes :)


Kady Ambrose I loved "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" and "Among Others" as well. You've got some company!


Apatt Kady wrote: "I loved "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" and "Among Others" as well. You've got some company!"

Thanks Kady, always very pleasant to find somebody agrees with me! :D


Merel Here's another one who loves Jonathan Strange and found Among Others a truly amazing book as well! Any other recommendations for great books? :)


message 12: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya Panika Great review. Adding to my 'to read' list.


Apatt Maya wrote: "Great review. Adding to my 'to read' list."

Thanks Maya! :)


Apatt Merel wrote: "Here's another one who loves Jonathan Strange and found Among Others a truly amazing book as well! Any other recommendations for great books? :)"

Hi Merel, so sorry for very late reply, I missed your comment in my notifications. I have many books I can recommend. Let me check my notes and get back to you :)


Susan I loved "Among Others" but could not get in "Johnathan Strange...". Makes me think I should give it another go.


Apatt Susan wrote: "I loved "Among Others" but could not get in "Johnathan Strange...". Makes me think I should give it another go."

The writing styles and plot structures are very different so I guess it doesn't follow that you should like both :)


message 17: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul I just bought this one from Amazon.


Apatt Paul wrote: "I just bought this one from Amazon."

I hope you like it Paul, or I will feel very guilty for recommending it! :D


message 19: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue I loved this book so much and I'm happy to discover your review. Have you read her Farthing series (alternate WWII history of England)? I also thought Jonathan Strange was excellent, especially as an amazing alternate magical world. Both 5 stars from me.


Apatt Sue wrote: "I loved this book so much and I'm happy to discover your review. Have you read her Farthing series (alternate WWII history of England)? I also thought Jonathan Strange was excellent, especially as ..."

I haven't read her Farthing series yet, Sue. Do you recommend it? If you do I'll give it a shot, just so many books to read you know :)


message 21: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue If you can, I do recommend the first book in the series which is actually titled Farthing. I think it's a really good cautionary tale.


message 22: by Cecily (new)

Cecily "oddly conventional in its spectacularity"

I want to frame that sentence.
Or plagiarise it!


Apatt Cecily wrote: ""oddly conventional in its spectacularity"

I want to frame that sentence.
Or plagiarise it!"


How about you "451" it? ;)


message 24: by Melora (new) - added it

Melora "we are all arbiters of good taste in our own little universe" ... Love it!
Excellent review -- thank you! This sounds excellent.


Apatt Melora wrote: ""we are all arbiters of good taste in our own little universe" ... Love it!
Excellent review -- thank you! This sounds excellent."


Thank you Melora! Your kind comment made my day! I hope you like the book after all the outrageous hype by me :)


message 26: by Kim (new) - added it

Kim Kaso My son, best friend, and I all think JS&MN is a wonderful book, and this one by Jo Walton felt as if she lived my reading life as a teen-ager. It was as if someone used my reading shelves to write a book. There will always be people who decry and dismiss the books we love, & they are often the loudest voices in the room, does not make their voices true. Often I think they simply don't "get" the magic books, or the magic in books, and that is their loss.


Apatt Kim wrote: "My son, best friend, and I all think JS&MN is a wonderful book, and this one by Jo Walton felt as if she lived my reading life as a teen-ager. It was as if someone used my reading shelves to write ..."

Very well put Kim, my parents always thought I read a load of nonsensical rubbish but that never stopped me :D


message 28: by S.K. (new)

S.K. Rizzolo I read Among Others just recently. The fun part was in writing down all the classic science fiction titles. Also loved the reading group at the library!


message 29: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Apatt wrote: "How about you "451" it? ;)"

Well, it's good, but I'm not sure it's THAT good!
(Anyway, it's not long enough for that.)


Apatt Cecily wrote: "Apatt wrote: "How about you "451" it? ;)"

Well, it's good, but I'm not sure it's THAT good!
(Anyway, it's not long enough for that.)"


At least I just coined a verb. So are you 451-ing the book you are reading?


message 31: by Cecily (last edited Feb 02, 2016 10:57PM) (new)

Cecily Ha ha. Have you SEEN my status/progress and comments on the book I'm reading?
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


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