Among Others, by Jo Walton

8706185I tried. I really tried. I love Jo Walton, but Among Others is so dreadfully dull that I couldn’t finish it.

The book is a series of diary entries from a young schoolgirl who makes her way through a difficult school transfer and a move-in with her father by reading tons of speculative fiction. Like all diary novels Among Others is meandering and reflective but here the faults of the form are at an extreme. Well over a third of the way through there was no conflict and no semblance of a plot — really nothing but nostalgia for old books (with weirdly detailed descriptions of specific titles and authors) and a concededly convincing portrayal of a tedious and trying school year.

I should add that the book is technically “fantasy” but that angle is so slight (at least at the beginning) that it’s basically nonexistent.

Now this is Jo Walton so notwithstanding my inability to abide the book as a whole, there were occasional passages where she just crushed it. My favorite bit is where she (or rather her narrator) discusses the nature of magic:

You can almost always find chains of coincidence to disprove magic. That’s because it doesn’t happen the way it does in books. It makes those chains of coincidence. That’s what it is. It’s like if you snapped your fingers and produced a rose but it was because someone on an aeroplane had dropped a rose at just the right time for it to land in your hand. There was a real person and a real aeroplane and a real rose, but that doesn’t mean the reason you have the rose in your hand isn’t because you did the magic.

N.B.: I’m fully aware of the irony of praising this passage while criticizing the seeming absence of magic in the plot. But there’s a big difference between explaining something beautifully and forcing readers to live through it for hundreds of dull pages.



Farthing, by Jo Walton


Jo Walton’s new alternate history novel Farthing manages the incredible, heart-rending trick of being a quiet little story about quiet, brave people while simultaneously conjuring the kind of haunting dystopia that rips your guts out.

Farthing is clearly a parable about Britain and America in the wake of the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks, when commonsense, humanism, and a commitment to liberty and justice has been easily set aside in a fury of bloodlust and a dismal, shrugging apathy. Walton’s deft touch is like Orwell’s, tender but unflinching, and it’s easy to see why she won the Campbell Award and the World Fantasy Award.

(via Farthing: Heart-rending alternate history about British-Reich peace – Boing Boing)

I have a huge backlog of books that I just don’t have time to review. To take the lazy way out, I’ll try to find reviews that I agree with and highlight them.

This is one example. I loved Jo Walton’s Farthing — a successor of sorts to 1984, transplanted to our modern paranoias. The murder mystery in this book (and similar mysteries in its two outstanding successors, Ha’penny and Half a Crown) is really peripheral to the book’s main achievement, which is the chilling depiction of comfortable accommodation to fascism. Better than any other recent book I’ve read, Farthing shows how easily prejudices insinuate themselves into polite society, leading otherwise ordinary people to support the most shocking atrocities — and a brave few to resist.