Among Others

I just finished Jo Walton’s lovely Among Others, last year’s Hugo Award winner. It’d been on my list ever since I heard about it on The Incomparable’s pre-Hugo podcast last summer, but for some reason I didn’t pick it up until a few days ago. I had, in the meantime, read her Small Change trilogy after hearing it, too, reviewed on The Incomparable.1

Although Among Others is more than just an ode to libraries and science fiction, that’s the hook: readers like books that celebrate reading, genre readers in particular. For me, it was especially fun that the book is set in the late 70s, when I was myself a voracious reader of science fiction. I can’t say that I read all the books referred to in Among Others, but I certainly recognized all the titles, even if I thought little of them. Like the heroine, Mori, I had zero interest in The Sword of Shannara or any of the Donaldson books that wasted precious inches on Kroch’s and Brentano’s shelves.

A small thing I found particularly delightful was Walton’s use of the terms SF and sci-fi. I’ve noticed sci-fi being used without distain or irony among the youngsters on The Incomparable,2 so I guess the stigma of that term has worn off, but in the 70s, no self-respecting fan would’ve used it. In Among Others, Mori says SF, as does Greg, the town librarian who invites her to join the SF book club. Tellingly, the school librarian, Miss Carroll—a wonderful person but not a fan—says sci-fi. Walton doesn’t point any of this out; she just has her characters speak the way they should and lets the reader enjoy the results.

  1. I agreed with their assessment that the first book was definitely the strongest, followed by the third. I was more forgiving of the second book than they were, but agreed that it was the weakest. 

  2. I consider everyone on The Incomparable to be youngsters—even Fleishman.