When I finished Jo Walton’s Among Others this afternoon, my first thought was: “Now I know how people who imprinted on mainstream comics feel about Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude.”
I loved Fortress of Solitude, but I was often aware while I read of references passing me by, or simply detonating with less force than they would have if the comics Dylan Ebdus pores over had been part of my mental adolescent landscape.
Whereas in Among Others, Jo Walton is loaded for bear and I am the bear. Robert Heinlein! J.R.R. Tolkien! Ursula K. LeGuin! Susan Cooper! Mary Renault! It’s as though she surveilled my bookshelves circa 1985.
And I know her protagonist Mor. There’s a particular sharply intelligent pragmatism, juxtaposed with utter dismissiveness about anything she doesn’t respect (such as social mores and pop music), that I’ve encountered numerous times in the sf/f community.
But it isn’t simply the shock of recognition that made me love the book, though it absolutely contributed. It’s the precision with which Walton evokes the way Mor experiences her world, and how she keeps just enough obscure and unstated for the reader to draw her own conclusions about certain events.
I’ve already mentioned Fortress of Solitude; it also reminded me a little of The Saskiad, another book with a protagonist who is deeply influenced by her reading.
I don’t know how Walton chose Among Others as a title, but one thing it makes me think of is a crowded bookshelf, where you can’t look at an individual title without also seeing nearby spines, each book always among others. I’m happy that Among Others will join my own crowded shelves.