Among Others by Jo Walton is Twilight for Fandom
Hello neglected blog. Sorry I haven’t been posting – will try to write more. Alas, I’m not here to praise a woman writer. So it goes.
Of all the novels in the Hugo voters packet, only one of them is in epub form, so that meant I would be reading it first before the dreaded PDFs. (Ok, I’ve already read Embassytown, but first among the books I got from the voting packet.)
Here is a quick plot summary of Among Others by Jo Walton for those who haven’t read the book: Mor leaves Wales because she doesn’t want to live with her crazy witch mother and to her dad is the only place she can go – she’s also suffering because her twin sister died in a car crash while she and Mor (Morganna to her Morwenna) were thwarting her mother’s nebulous take-over-the-world plans at the request of fairies (or possibly just running away.) She gets shipped off to a posh boarding school where she’s unpopular because she has a limp and is from Wales and is middle class. Books are her only solace, and pretty much her only friend. But then she performs a bit of magic and suddenly she learns of an SF book club and it’s all puppies and kittens – she gets friends, a boyfriend, a chance to talk about all the books she loves, makes plans to go to Worldcon, faces down her mum and makes peace with her sister’s death.
So how is Among Others like Twilight? There are spoilers!
1. The overarching story is basically the same – A young girl (Bella/Mor) who leaves her home in a place she loves (Arizona/Wales) to go live in a place she hates (Forks/Oswestry) to go live with her estranged father, who she calls by his first name, (Charlie/Daniel) and finds her OTP (Edward/Fandom.)
2. The only reason why the magic exists in the story is so that we know that Bella/Mor is special. (And by extension, so is fandom – special snowflakes ahoy!) Walton has gone on the record as saying that Among Other is unquestionably fantasy. I think it is a more interesting book if the fairies are simply the way Mor’s PTSD manifests, so it’s disappointing for Walton to confirm that yes, Mor sees
sparkly vampires fairies. In fact, since Mor did magic to find her OTP, it’s possible the entirety of fandom was created just so Mor could find it. (Of course, Walton also said it was unquestionably fiction but then let loose the dogs of fandom when Jonathan McCalmont suggested Mor was a bit of a psychopath, so maybe we’ll not trust her word so much.)
3. Both Meyer and Walton seem realize late in the book “oh yeah, books need conflict” and there’s an almost entirely superfluous scene where Mor has to battle fairies because they think she should kill herself (which she had already made the decision not to once earlier in the book because she wanted to read some Delany. It’s nice to know Delany can save lives with his fiction, but that’s not going make doing that scene over again very interesting). And then hot on the heels of that, Mor faces down her mother. It’s really rubbish closure that feels completely unearned.
4. Any tension in the big facedowns is undercut by the use of a first person narrator – it’s never in any doubt that Bella won’t get eaten by the evil vampire, just as it is never in any doubt the Mor will kill herself or fall back under her mother’s thumb.
5. Oh the creepytimes. Edward is a creepy stalker and Mor seems to take the things she reads in dodgy SF as without a whit of skepticism. There is a disturbing scene where Mor’s father climbs into her bed and tries to get it on with her. Mor muses that she knows that incest isn’t always bad because Heinlein said so but her dad is drunk and icky and she’s not on the pill. And then it’s never brought up again. I had to pick up the pieces of my head after reading this scene, so this review is later than it might have been.
6. This is the real kicker: They are both boring in exactly the same way. Oh the topic is different, so in Twilight you get:
“What’s your favorite color?” he asked, his face grave.
I rolled my eyes. “It changes from day to day.”
“What’s your favorite color today?” He was still solemn.
“Probably brown.” I tended to dress according to my mood.
He snorted, dropping his serious expression. “Brown?” he asked skeptically.
“Sure. Brown is warm. I miss brown. Everything that’s supposed to be brown — tree trunks, rocks, dirt — is all covered up with squashy green stuff here,” I complained.
He seemed fascinated by my little rant. He considered for a moment, staring into my eyes.
Actually, James Tiptree, Jr.’s Warm Worlds and Otherwise gives The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, Vol II a run for its money. I’d say the Le Guin is still ahead, but it’s not as clear-cut as I thought it was. The other two books in the package from my father today are both Zelazny. I haven’t started them yet. Creatures of Light and Darkness was awfully peculiar.
Teen girls squee at the idea of all-consuming love and fans squee at the mention of books they also love. Which is to say neither book has much interesting to say about the one they love. In fact, they are pretty darn tedious. SF may have been a touchstone to Walton when she was young, but she’s basically cashing in with people who already find it interesting – the mere mention is enough, rather than doing the heavy lifting of making the discussion interesting in and of itself.
That Among Others would be so awful was an unpleasant surprise – considering how much praise it’s gotten and that Walton is a really excellent book blogger, I’d really hoped for more. Apparently fans (and SF critics) really wanted a Twilight of their own.