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Among Others by Jo Walton is Twilight for Fandom

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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.

You get:

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.

Written by Chance

May 27, 2012 at 2:56 pm

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Happy Bloggaversary!

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Wow, I can’t believe it’s been a year already.

Written by Chance

September 18, 2011 at 5:50 pm

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It’s Christmas Time

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And if you are anything like me, you probably have been scrambling for ideas on what to get people for Christmas. So this year, why not get your loved ones some books by women? Here’s a few of my favorites:

Shirley Jackson has long been on of my favorite writers and one of the things I love about her writing is that she writes to the correct damn length (modern novels are so bloated.) Which is why I want to highlight her two masterpiece short novels – The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. You’ve probably read them already, but they are definitely worth passing on to someone else.

I’ve always wished that I lived while Jackson was publishing so I could experience the discovery of her work as she was writing. And I bet you do too. So run, don’t walk and buy M. Rickert’s two short story collections. She is the writer you want to say in twenty years that you were reading now. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

Kelly Link is one of those unique voices that comes along once in a generation. (And spawns masses of imitators – far too many imitators.) For my money, her first collection is the one you want. Her later ones are more polished, but I think this one shines for the sheer raw genius.

One of my favorite childhood memories is watching The French Chef on Channel 2. I think I started watching because my aunt liked it, but there was something mesmerizing about Julia Child, vibrant and alive like few people are. I didn’t know what a hollandaise sauce was, but watching her, I wanted some. I think it is hard to understate her influence on American cooking. (Heck, she basically invented the TV cooking show.) None of these are fiction, but I make the rules and you won’t go wrong buying any of them.

I was surprised when I learned the author of I Capture the Castle was also the author of 101 Dalmatians. I’ll admit I’m not familiar with her other writing, but even with these two books, it’s a hell of a legacy.

Ok, more later.

Written by Chance

December 19, 2010 at 12:01 pm

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“The Night We All Had the Grippe” by Shirley Jackson

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This is a short story that was published in Harpers back in 1952 (Subscribers can read it online) and this is not the side of Shirley Jackson that I think most modern readers are familiar with, and that’s a bit of a shame.

It’s a simple enough story – everyone in the family has the flu (and why don’t we call it the grippe any more? That sounds much more ominous than plain old flu) and they are all having a restless night which involves much swapping of beds as the kids migrate to their parents bed and people move on as it gets crowded.

It’s a funny piece, one that has the sharpness that’s shown in her horror writing, with a wry amusement that makes me think she was thinking “Yep, this is life” when she wrote it.

Written by Chance

December 6, 2010 at 5:59 pm

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Interim report on the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

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I picked this up at a Christmas dinner over the weekend and started reading on the train home. I’m a bit surprised at how much praise this book has been receiving. (I forget who suggested she was getting paid by the asterisk, but I see what they mean.)

Anyway, I’m mostly posting because I’m pretty sure Jemisin just telegraphed the ending when has Yeine refer to people as “mortals” and of course shortly after we find out she shares a soul with a god. Which pretty much means that I can expect the climax of the book to involve her becoming the dead goddess Enefa.

Which doesn’t sound all that interesting to me. (I shall hold out hope Yeine will become the goddess sooner rather than later and the do some goddess ass-kicking. Probably won’t happen because I’ve heard the second half of the book Yeine getting a lot of nookie.)

Written by Chance

December 6, 2010 at 8:31 am

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The Replacement by Brenda Yovanoff

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Why do I like this book? Simple, three reasons:

1. Tate. I like a girl who can kick ass, a girl who is the one who saves the hero from the big bad but at the same time isn’t a girl with superpowers. She’s not Buffy. She’s just a regular girl who’s angry and ready to kick some ass. And smart enough to bring some cold iron (a crowbar) when she goes to kick some Fairy ass.

2. You know how in Twilight Edward was all mopey because he was so very very lonely (so lonely!) and there was no one special enough for him to love? And he’s rich and gorgeous and young forever and that’s totally not good enough for him? I bet you wanted to kick him in the nuts too.

Anyway, Mackie might be a Fairy changeling and he might be good looking, but he’s also got real problems like he’s dying from all the iron in our world. And even then? He doesn’t make with the emo moments. He’s also a big dork who is dorky enough that he really can’t tell when a pretty girl likes him, and enough of a real kid to do stupid things (like kiss a girl with a steel tongue stud) that almost kill him.

3. But really most of all it’s the interaction of Mackie’s family. Maybe their original son was stolen and killed, but that wasn’t Mackie’s fault and they love him just the same. That doesn’t mean that their isn’t baggage or guilt because of all that, but they seem like a genuine family.

For me, that was enough. I’ll tell you now that the plot isn’t any great shakes. (Remember the subplot from American Gods about the small Midwestern town? Yeah, that’s pretty much our plot here.) But it’s handled well enough and I found the characters interesting enough that they carried the day.

(And how ugly is the UK cover on the right? I think the US publisher played it right by going for the creepy.)

Written by Chance

November 23, 2010 at 7:22 pm

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Zoo City by Lauren Buekes

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Zinzi December is a former junkie, Nigerian 419 scammer, and generally not a terribly pleasant person – oh, and she also may or may not have killed her brother.

Because of her brother’s death she became one of the “animalled” – a physical manifestation of her guilt and a source of magical powers. In Zinzi’s case she can find lost objects.

She’s not quite the PI of old fashioned detective fiction, but she’s close enough for this novel, which has a definite noir feel.

She’s sucked into a missing persons case she really doesn’t want to take, and honestly I didn’t want her to take either because it wasn’t very interesting. The ending feels rushed and at the end it feels like she’s turning over a new leaf in a way that feels incredibly forced and not very believable.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit for about the first 50 pages – shortly after she gets dragged into the central missing person case I mostly stopped caring what happened. And then when you get to the big reveal/climax, I was pretty much “Really?” and not in the good way.

So yeah, that’s pretty much my thought on this book: “Really?”

One thing Angry Robot does right is the pricing of their ebooks. Zoo City was a real bargain in the Kindle store – only $3.99 and definitely worth the money. If only they published more women.

(Sorry for the paucity of posts – I have been reading, but life has been lifelike and so I am far behind on writing up thoughts.)

Written by Chance

November 22, 2010 at 6:06 pm

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