Saturday, July 1, 2017

Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

This one already won a Hugo, but it was when I was hatching my current series, so I missed it at the time. I loved this book very much. It is the tale of Morwenna, an angsty teen who has just come to live with her father after losing her twin sister and injuring her leg in some tantalizing catastrophe that is revealed in bits and pieces.

Mor just so happens to be a hardcore science fiction addict. Reading about her reading the books she reads was like a trip through memory lane, full of Zelazny and Silverberg and Le Guin and Vonnegut. She shares this taste with her dad, who keeps her supplied with the hardcore stuff, like Delany. He’s a twisted rich kid who lives with his idle sisters, having abandoned our hero and her sinister Welsh mom shortly after her birth.

There’s an old joke about Wales getting all the consonants while Hawai'i got all the vowels, and as a child of the vowel country, still susceptible to its folk tales and magic, I must say that this tale of fairies and witches in the land of the consonants gave me the same kind of chicken skin that I feel when I find myself in remote slices of tropical beach or jungle in the heart of vowel land.

The narrator has a matter-of-fact way of describing things that are magical, or eerie, or downright disturbing, casting a spell of unreliable narrative as you wonder whether she’s experiencing the onset of schizophrenia, or whether she’s translating painful psychological truths through the language of her colonially-suppressed people, or whether there really are fairies scampering through her reality. 

For all my complaints about the estrogen-soaked nature of a lot of female-character-centric stories, this isn’t one of them, even though it’s about a girl in a world of aunts and single-sex boarding schools. Never once does she whine about her failure to conform to mainstream sexiness, or attempt to hide her intellect, or wallow in negative expressions of femininity, or preach feminist solidarity. She navigates mean schoolgirls and condescending aunts with style and flair.

The narrator also has a disability, in the form of a leg and hip injury stemming from the car accident that killed her twin sister. I like it when people with disabilities get decent roles.

I was reading this book at the same time as the Becky Chambers book I’m supposed to be reading for the Hugos, and it completely occupied my brain, so it’s probably a good measuring stick.  I totally would have voted this for best everything, along with the majority of Hugo and Nebula voters that year.

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