Among Others

Among Others

by Jo Walton

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765331724
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 01/03/2012
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 262,421
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Lexile: 850L (what's this?)

About the Author

JO WALTON's novel Tooth and Claw won the World Fantasy Award. The novels of her Small Change sequence—Farthing, Ha'penny, and Half a Crown—have won acclaim ranging from national newspapers to the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award. A native of Wales, Walton lives in Montreal.

Read an Excerpt

Among Others

By Jo Walton, Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2010 Jo Walton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9152-0


Thursday 1st May 1975

The Phurnacite factory in Abercwmboi killed all the trees for two miles around. We'd measured it on the mileometer. It looked like something from the depths of hell, black and looming with chimneys of flame, reflected in a dark pool that killed any bird or animal that drank from it. The smell was beyond description. We always wound up the car windows as tight as tight when we had to pass it, and tried to hold our breath, but Grampar said nobody could hold their breath that long, and he was right. There was sulphur in that smell, which was a hell chemical as everyone knew, and other, worse things, hot unnameable metals and rotten eggs.

My sister and I called it Mordor, and we'd never been there on our own before. We were ten years old. Even so, big as we were, as soon as we got off the bus and started looking at it we started holding hands.

It was dusk, and as we approached the factory loomed blacker and more terrible than ever. Six of the chimneys were alight; four belched out noxious smokes.

"Surely it is a device of the Enemy," I murmured.

Mor didn't want to play. "Do you really think this will work?"

"The fairies were sure of it," I said, as reassuringly as possible.

"I know, but sometimes I don't know how much they understand about the real world."

"Their world is real," I protested. "Just in a different way. At a different angle."

"Yes." She was still staring at the Phurnacite, which was getting bigger and scarier as we approached. "But I don't know how much they understand about the angle of the every day world. And this is definitely in that world. The trees are dead. There isn't a fairy for miles."

"That's why we're here," I said.

We came to the wire, three straggly strands, only the top one barbed. A sign on it read "No Unauthorised Admittance. Beware Guard Dogs." The gate was far around the other side, out of sight.

"Are there dogs?" she asked. Mor was afraid of dogs, and dogs knew it. Perfectly nice dogs who would play with me would rouse their hackles at her. My mother said it was a method people could use to tell us apart. It would have worked, too, but typically of her, it was both terrifyingly evil and just a little crazily impractical.

"No," I said.

"How do you know?"

"It would ruin everything if we go back now, after having gone to all this trouble and come this far. Besides, it's a quest, and you can't give up on a quest because you're afraid of dogs. I don't know what the fairies would say. Think of all the things people on quests have to put up with." I knew this wasn't working. I squinted forward into the deepening dusk as I spoke. Her grip on my hand had tightened. "Besides, dogs are animals. Even trained guard dogs would try to drink the water, and then they'd die. If there really were dogs, there would be at least a few dog bodies at the side of the pool, and I don't see any. They're bluffing."

We crept below the wire, taking turns holding it up. The still pool was like old unpolished pewter, reflecting the chimney flames as unfaithful wavering streaks. There were lights below them, lights the evening shift worked by.

There was no vegetation here, not even dead trees. Cinders crunched underfoot, and clinker and slag threatened to turn our ankles. There seemed to be nothing alive but us. The star-points of windows on the hill opposite seemed ridiculously out of reach. We had a school friend who lived there, we had been to a party once, and noticed the smell, even inside the house. Her father worked at the plant. I wondered if he was inside now.

At the edge of the pool we stopped. It was completely still, without even the faintest movement of natural water. I dug in my pocket for the magic flower. "Have you got yours?"

"It's a bit crushed," she said, fishing it out. I looked at them. Mine was a bit crushed too. Never had what we were doing seemed more childish and stupid than standing in the centre of that desolation by that dead pool holding a pair of crushed pimpernels the fairies had told us would kill the factory.

I couldn't think of anything appropriate to say. "Well, un, dai, tri!" I said, and on "Three" as always we cast the flowers forward into the leaden pool, where they vanished without even a ripple. Nothing whatsoever happened. Then a dog barked far away, and Mor turned and ran and I turned and pelted after her.

"Nothing happened," she said, when we were back on the road, having covered the distance back in less than a quarter of the time it had taken us as distance out.

"What did you expect?" I asked.

"The Phurnacite to fall and become a hallowed place," she said, in the most matter-of-fact tone imaginable. "Well, either that or huorns."

I hadn't thought of huorns, and I regretted them extremely. "I thought the flowers would dissolve and ripples would spread out and then it would crumble to ruin and the trees and ivy come swarming over it while we watched and the pool would become real water and a bird would come and drink from it and then the fairies would be there and thank us and take it for a palace."

"But nothing at all happened," she said, and sighed. "We'll have to tell them it didn't work tomorrow. Come on, are we going to walk home or wait for a bus?"

It had worked, though. The next day, the headline in the Aberdare Leader was "Phurnacite Plant Closing: Thousands of Jobs Lost."

* * *

I'm telling that part first because it's compact and concise and it makes sense, and a lot of the rest of this isn't that simple.

Think of this as a memoir. Think of it as one of those memoirs that's later discredited to everyone's horror because the writer lied and is revealed to be a different colour, gender, class and creed from the way they'd made everybody think. I have the opposite problem. I have to keep fighting to stop making myself sound more normal. Fiction's nice. Fiction lets you select and simplify. This isn't a nice story, and this isn't an easy story. But it is a story about fairies, so feel free to think of it as a fairy story. It's not like you'd believe it anyway.

WEdnesday 5th September 1979

"And how nice it'll be for you," they said, "to be in the countryside. After coming from, well, such an industrialised place. The school's right out in the country, there'll be cows and grass and healthy air." They want to get rid of me. Sending me off to boarding school would do nicely, that way they can keep on pretending I didn't exist at all. They never looked right at me. They looked past me, or they sort of squinted at me. I wasn't the sort of relative they'd have put in for if they'd had any choice. He might have been looking, I don't know. I can't look straight at him. I kept darting little sideways glances at him, taking him in, his beard, the colour of his hair. Did he look like me? I couldn't tell.

There were three of them, his older sisters. I'd seen a photograph of them, much younger but their faces exactly the same, all dressed as bridesmaids and my Auntie Teg next to them looking as brown as a berry. My mother had been in the picture too, in her horrid pink wedding dress — pink because it was December and we were born the June after and she did have some shame — but he hadn't been. She'd torn him off. She'd ripped or cut or burned him out of all the wedding pictures after he'd run off. I'd never seen a picture of him, not one. In L. M. Montgomery's Jane of Lantern Hill, a girl whose parents were divorced recognised a picture of her father in the paper without knowing it. After reading that we'd looked at some pictures, but they never did anything for us. To be honest, most of the time we hadn't thought about him much.

Even standing in his house I was almost surprised to find him real, him and his three bossy half-sisters who asked me to call them Aunt. "Not aunty," they said. "Aunty's common." So I called them Aunt. Their names are Anthea and Dorothy and Frederica, I know, as I know a lot of things, though some of them are lies. I can't trust anything my mother told me, not unless it's checked. Some things books can't check, though. It's no use my knowing their names anyway, because I can't tell them apart, so I don't call them aunt anything, just Aunt. They call me "Morwenna," very formally.

"Arlinghurst is one of the best girls' schools in the country," one of them said.

"We all went there," another chimed in.

"We had the jolliest time," the third finished. Spreading what they're saying out like that seems to be one of their habits.

I just stood there in front of the cold fireplace, looking up under my fringe and leaning on my cane. That was something else they didn't want to see. I saw pity in one of their faces when I first got out of the car. I hate that. I'd have liked to sit down, but I wasn't going to say so. I can stand up much better now. I will get better, whatever the doctors said. I want to run so much sometimes my body aches with longing more than the pain from my leg.

I turned around to distract myself and looked at the fireplace. It was marble, very elaborate, and there were branches of copper birch leaves arranged in it. Everything was very clean, but not very comfortable. "So we'll get your uniforms right away, today in Shrewsbury, and take you down there tomorrow," they said. Tomorrow. They really can't wait to get rid of me, with my ugly Welsh accent and my limp and worst of all my inconvenient existence. I don't want to be here either. The problem is that I don't have anywhere else to be. They won't let you live alone until you're sixteen; I found that out in the Home. And he is my father even if I'd never seen him before. There is a sense in which these women really are my aunts. That makes me feel lonelier and further away from home than I ever had. I miss my real family, who have let me down.

The rest of the day was shopping, with all three aunts, but without him. I didn't know if I was glad or sorry about that. The Arlinghurst uniform had to come from special shops, just like my grammar school uniform did. We'd been so proud when we passed the Eleven plus. The cream of the Valleys, they said we were. Now that's all gone, and instead they're forcing on me this posh boarding school with its strange requirements. One of the aunts had a list, and we bought everything on it. They're certainly not hesitating about spending money. I've never had this much spent on me. Pity it's all so horrible. Lots of it is special games kits. I didn't say I won't be using them any time soon, or maybe ever. I keep turning away from that thought. All my childhood we had run. We'd won races. Most of the school races we'd been racing each other, leaving the rest of the field far behind. Grampar had talked about the Olympics, just dreaming, but he had mentioned it. There had never been twins at the Olympics, he said.

When it came to shoes, there was a problem. I let them buy hockey shoes and running shoes and daps, for gym, because either I can use them or not. But when it comes to the uniform shoes, for every day, I had to stop them. "I have a special shoe," I said, not looking at them. "It has a special sole. They have to be made, at the orthopaedic. I can't just buy them."

The shop assistant confirmed that we can't just buy them in the school pattern. She held up a school shoe. It was ugly, and not very different from the clumpy shoes I have. "Couldn't you walk in these?" one of the aunts asked.

I took the school shoe in my hands and looked at it. "No," I said, turning it over. "There's a heel, look." It was inarguable, though the school probably thinks the heel is the minimum any self-respecting teenage girl will wear.

They didn't mean to totally humiliate me as they clucked over the shoes and me and my built-up sole. I had to remind myself of that as I stood there like a rock, a little painful half-smile on my face. They wanted to ask what's wrong with my leg, but I outfaced them and they didn't quite dare. This, and seeing it, cheered me up a little. They gave in on the shoes, and said the school would just have to understand. "It's not as if my shoes were red and glamorous," I said.

That was a mistake, because then they all stared at my shoes. They are cripple shoes. I had a choice of one pattern of ladies' cripple shoes, black or brown, and they are black. My cane's wooden. It used to belong to Grampar, who is still alive, who is in hospital, who is trying to get better. If he gets better, I might be able to go home. It's not likely, considering everything, but it's all the hope I have. I have my wooden key ring dangling from the zip of my cardigan. It's a slice of tree, with bark, it came from Pembrokeshire. I've had it since before. I touched it, to touch wood, and I saw them looking. I saw what they saw, a funny little spiky crippled teenager with a piece of tatty wood. But what they ought to see is two glowing confident children. I know what happened, but they don't, and they'd never understand it.

"You're very English," I said.

They smiled. Where I come from, "Saes" is an insult, a terrible fighting word, the worst thing you can possibly call someone. It means "English." But I am in England now.

We ate dinner around a table that would have been small for sixteen, but with a fifth place laid awkwardly for me. Everything matched, the tablemats, the napkins, the plates. It couldn't be more different from home. The food was, as I'd expected, terrible — leathery meat and watery potatoes and some kind of green spear-shaped vegetable that tastes of grass. People have told me all my life that English food is awful, and it's reassuring that they were right. They talked about boarding schools, which they all went to. I know all about them. Not for nothing have I read Greyfriars and Malory Towers and the complete works of Angela Brazil.

After dinner, he asked me into his study. The aunts didn't look happy about it, but they didn't say anything. The study was a complete surprise, because it's full of books. From the rest of the house, I'd have expected neat old leatherbound editions of Dickens and Trollope and Hardy (Gramma loved Hardy), but instead the shelves are chockablock with paperbacks, and masses of them are SF. I actually relaxed for the first time in this house, for the first time in his presence, because if there are books perhaps it won't be all that bad.

There were other things in the room — chairs, a fireplace, a drinks tray, a record player — but I ignored or avoided them and walked as fast as I clumsily could to the SF shelf.

There was a whole load of Poul Anderson I haven't read. Stuffed on the top of the As there was Anne McCaffrey's Dragonquest, which looks as if it's the sequel to "Weyr Search" which I read in an anthology. On the shelf below there was a John Brunner I haven't read. Better than that, two John Brunners, no, three John Brunners I haven't read. I felt my eyes start to swim.

I spent the summer practically bookless, with only what I took with me when I ran away from my mother — the three-volume paperback Lord of the Rings, of course, Ursula Le Guin's The Wind's Twelve Quarters, Volume 2, which I will defend against all comers as the best single author short story collection of all time, ever, and John Boyd's The Last Starship from Earth, which I'd been in the middle of at the time and which hadn't stood up to re-reading as much as one might hope. I have read, though I didn't bring it with me, Judith Kerr's When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, and the comparison between Anna bringing a new toy instead of the loved Pink Rabbit when they left the Third Reich has been uncomfortably with me whenever I've looked at the Boyd recently.

"Can I —" I started to ask.

"You can borrow any books you want, just take care of them and bring them back," he said. I snatched the Anderson, the McCaffrey, the Brunners. "What have you got?" he asked. I turned and showed him. We both looked at the books, not at each other.

"Have you read the first of these?" he asked, tapping the McCaffrey.

"Out of the library," I said. I have read the entire science fiction and fantasy collection of Aberdare library, from Anderson's Ensign Flandry to Roger Zelazny's Creatures of Light and Darkness, an odd thing to end on, and one I'm still not certain about.

"Have you read any Delany?" he asked. He poured himself a whisky and sipped it. It smelled weird, horrible.


Excerpted from Among Others by Jo Walton, Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Copyright © 2010 Jo Walton. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Thanks and Notes,
Begin Reading,
The Just City Preview,
Tor Books by Jo Walton,

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Among Others 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 65 reviews.
PhoenixFalls More than 1 year ago
I love so much about this book. I love that it's character-driven rather than plot-driven. Nothing particularly happens in this novel -- a girl goes to boarding school, is shunned, writes and reads a lot, and eventually finds a few friends; the "reckoning that could no longer be put off" takes place within the confines of the last few pages, and feels. . . on the whole, slightly unnecessary. Anyone who wants action should look elsewhere. This book takes place almost entirely within the confines of Mori's head, and I love that. I love that it's about grieving, and that it's about identity, and that it's about making the best of your seriously messed up family. I love that it's about books, and that Mori engages with books, has forceful opinions about them that the reader is clearly allowed to disagree with. I haven't actually read most of the books Mori talks about (somehow I've read lots of stuff from the 60s and from the 80s on, but precious little from the 70s) but my background knowledge of the authors was enough that I didn't feel like I missed anything. Probably the only work any reader has to be familiar with is Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, because Mori uses the terms "karass" and "granfalloon" a lot before she explains them to an outsider -- but even those terms are fairly clear from the context. I love the way the magic works. . . no flashes or puffs of smoke to let you know something has happened, just a sudden string of coincidences (going back long before you cast your spell) leading to the outcome you wanted. It's the sort of magic I think makes sense in a contemporary setting with our history, and it's the sort of magic I wish there was more of in fantasy, because it seems so much more magical than the magic-by-numbers currently popular. And yes, it IS magic: Mori thinks so, and the author says so, so I see no reason to question that fact. But somehow. . . I did not quite love this book. Maybe it's because I wasn't particularly alienated as a teenager. Maybe it's because I wanted just a little bit more. . . magic, in Mori's voice, to carry through some of the boarding school drama. Or maybe this is one of those books that will hit me harder the further I get from it -- it certainly has that potential. I expected to love this book, and maybe that's why I didn't; very little can live up to the level of expectation produced by the knowledge that there's a new book by a favorite author that's getting tons of praise from other favorite authors. Whatever the case. . . I will absolutely recommend this to anyone who likes the stuff I laid out above. It's absolutely going on my keeper shelf, and I'm glad I bought it in hardcover. But it isn't quite a book that immediately carved out a place in my soul.
pklausler More than 1 year ago
I have no idea why this book has been awarded the Nebula and Hugo awards. These prizes are a disservice to the author and to the reader of this novel, for they set high expectations that the book utterly fails to satisfy. This is not a book with a plot or any big ideas. It's a story of a teenage fascination with science fiction of the late 70's. Those readers who, like me, are contemporaries of the heroine will enjoy the many references to the fun books that were published then -- but they'll also notice that the book is way more of a bibliography, for apart from the odd quote, it doesn't really seem as if the heroine has actually learned anything thought-provoking from her reading. Dune is a clash of cultures? Gosh, that would never have occurred to me. If you are 45 or older, you may enjoy being reminded of all those great books that didn't survive to the ebook era. If you are 15 or younger, you might relate to the heroine or author. And those of you in that big gap in between are going to be left scratching your head at the awards this two-star book has received. It says more about the state of science fiction than anything else, I suppose.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Wales their single mother's spell goes terribly wrong when her daughters interfered by trying to thwart the incantation. Teen Morwenna survives but is severely hurt; her twin sister was not as fortunate as she dies. Mori flees her raging mother's wrath seeking shelter with her father in England. He welcomes his daughter by immediately shipping her off to a boarding school. Feeling alone, Mori employs a spell seeking souls like her own who escape their troubles with literature. This leads her to a science fiction readers club, but Mori has no time to make friends. She senses her irate mother searches for her to kill her. Mori concludes she has no way to elude her mother much longer and has no place to hide; as her father made his feelings perfectly clear when she first arrived at his home seeking shelter and protection. Mori makes the tale with her journal focusing on her loneliness and her obsessive need to belong especially since her only friend, her twin, is dead. The teen is realistic and believes she can never truly belong though she yearns for such; as anyone who befriends her becomes instant fodder for her insane mother's wrath. That is why books are her friends. Readers will be hooked by Mori's lament that she will never really belong Among Others though that is her strongest need (Dr. Maslow would have loved to interview Mori, but her insane mom better had not found out); in many ways more so than surviving the anticipated showdown with her mother. Harriet Klausner
Zyphre More than 1 year ago
A coming of age story with magical realism. I really enjoyed it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anyone who has lived a period in which books are your only friend and guidance will understand the protagonist...imagination can be both magical and terrible at the same time and books give yoibyhe intellectual and emotional tools to take it either and both ways at the samw time.
101010mdy More than 1 year ago
I thought this was going to be a great read. Quiet suspense, maybe? A whole paragraph about a bus? Really? All these book names became very tiresome. I realize the plot is supposed to be about this girl, her losses, struggles, love of SF and fairies, but wow. "The Sisters Grimm" was more exciting. Half way thru and putting it down to read something else. Maybe just skip to the end to get it over with. Something I NEVER do, by the way.
nolenreads More than 1 year ago
The story unfolds from the point of view of a young girl who manages to tell it in such a sympathetic and believable manner, yet with an added element of surprise. It is riddled with flights of fancy, literally, flights of fairy fancy. I love fairies, but not silly stories about them. This isn't a silly story. Here, the fairies are incorporated into the telling as if they are 100% part and parcel to every day life and can be seen by anyone who doesn't have body piercings. (I laughed aloud at that. I do attend the comic-cons.) The fairies are hard to see because they can be mistaken as a knot on a tree, or a misshapen rock. They have a language that can be understood as words, but they don't talk like we do because they rarely use nouns. (Another giggle. I've always thought of fairies in this way, too. Don't repeat that.) The girl is one half of a set of twins. In trying to escape their witch of a mother, one twin gets knocked down and killed by a car (because they were so used to the mirages their mother would inflict them with to mix them up, they didn't realize until it was too late that the car was real.) Now the surviving twin is crippled. She has been sent by social services to her father whom she has never met. He lives in a mansion with his three sisters who hold the "purse strings". They want to send (read get rid of) Morwanna to boarding school. She knows she's going to hate it. Plus, the fairies aren't very cooperative in this part of England. I could go on. Love it. No wonder it has won so many prizes. I recommend it as a good escape read.
spksmom More than 1 year ago
I didn't know what to expect, but found this book captivating. The prose is gorgeous. There was enough suspense to keep to turning the pages. It's an affirmation of literature, friendship and life, with a bit of SF thrown in.
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crayolakym More than 1 year ago
This cover is absolutely captivating. The bold orange tones softened just a touch with white draws the eye to the book and raises ones curiosity to its contents. Orange is a stimulating color, one of change between two mediums and is quite a sociable also, invigorating people to think and talk. My first impression was a book about a girl swept up into a fantasy world of magic. After reading the book, the cover captures the story of Morwenna perfectly.  Essentially, it's a book about a girl who loves books, who basically writes a book (journal).This book is about struggles, personal battles, and a family torn apart. When Morwenna's (Mori) half-mad magic wielding mother pushes the limits of the dark arts to far, she is left crippled and her twin sister dead. Succumbed to living with the father she never really knew, she is shipped off to boarding school at the discretion of her Aunt's only to find that some impoverished crippled Welsh girl doesn't really fit into the aristocratic-like society of Arlinghurst. Plunging deeper into her love of reading science fiction, Mori quickly discovers she can't hide from the world, magic, or even her deranged mother. Written in first person narrative as a journal, readers relive five key years of Mori's life. Author Jo Walton has brilliantly sculpted Mori's story into one that is endearing. Enchanting. Cruel, intoxicating, and wraps it up complete with a happy ending. While there seems to be an ongoing issue with questionable content that was included into the reading, but then seemed to go nowhere or was left unanswered, this was still a very pleasurable read and I only wish she had added a bit more content, or left the ending hanging to continue this story. I would recommend this book to someone looking for a heartfelt drama that's not the norm. There's no real action, no sultry love scenes, and no real shock and awe. You just have to read it to understand.
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I was really looking forward to reading this book because it won the Hugo and Nebula. However, I was deeply dissapointed. Not for me at all.
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David_LaFerney More than 1 year ago
I'm not quite sure why this book was so engaging for me - me being a 50+ year old man - but it was.  It kept me interested from beginning to end, and I finished it rather quickly.. Among others doesn't get on my  "Greatest Books I Ever Read" list, but it does make the second tier of those I enjoyed reading and would recommend to others.  The main character is a socially isolated teenage girl who is Magical.  The thing is that even she admits that any of her magic can be explained by completely natural phenomena - and for most of the book you don't know if she really is magical or just delusional.  But it probably doesn't matter - either way it's an enjoyable read..
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