Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fort Freak - George R.R. Martin

Fort Freak is the twenty-first entry in the Wild Cards universe, a long running series of mosaic novels edited by George R.R. Martin. It is not necessary to have read the previous twenty volumes to read this one, Fort Freak works fine as a standalone. There are numerous references to earlier books and cameos by characters that starred in them, but nothing that makes it absolutely necessary to have read earlier volumes. That is probably a good thing. The Wild Cards series is currently published by Tor, the fourth publisher to take on this series. Some of the older volumes are pretty hard to find these days. The original Wild Cards novel (1987) has been reprinted by Tor recently, with a number of new stories added, so if you want to read abut the origins of the Wild Cards universe, it should not be a problem to find a copy of that one at least. I read an announcement a while ago that there would be more reprints of older Wild Cards novels, but so far no publication dates have shown up.

As with the previous three Wild Cards novels published by Tor, Inside Straight, Busted Flush and Suicide Kings, collectively knows ans the Committee Triad, Martin has gathered a mix of Wild Cards veterans and writers new to the series. Fort Freak was written by Paul Cornell, David Anthony Durham, Ty Franck, Stephen Leigh, Victor Milán, John Jos. Miller, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Cherie Priest and Melinda M. Snodgrass. After the events in the Committee Triad, which took us to various places in Africa and the Middle East, Fort Freak returns again to the epicentre of the Wild Card universe, New York City. The book follows the adventures of the officers of New York's fifth precinct, an area also known as Joker Town, New York's ghetto for those deformed by the Wild Card virus.

As with previous Wild Cards novels, each of the authors tells the story from one character, resulting in a novel with a lot of different points of view. Priest has the dubious honour of providing the frame story. Her part of the tale is cut up in no less than 18 episodes. It features detective Leo Storgman, better known by his Joker name Ramshead (now you know who graces the cover of this volume). Detective Storgman is on the verge of retirement, something he looks forward to with a mix of desperation and dread, and is determined to solve one last murder case before his time at the fifth precinct is done. A murder that has haunted him since walking onto the crime scene in 1978. While Leo dives deeper into this old mystery, around him the day to day work continues in what is surely New York's most peculiar police station.

The challenge to the editor is making alls these separate stories come together in a convincing novel of course. Martin has had quite a lot of practice at editing such a volume and he does a very good job of it. Although I pity Cherie Priest, who no doubt had to do a lot of tweaking to make her part into the frame the story needs to succeed, Fort Freak as a whole works pretty well. That is not to say all readers will enjoy that many changes in point of view of course, or that I personally enjoyed each of the contributions in equal measure. Besides Priest's part, I particularly liked David Anthony Durham's creation Marcus (also known as the Infamous Black Tongue) and John Jos. Miller's chapters dealing with Wild Cards veteran Father Squid (a notable character in Aces Abroad). I was less impressed with the unlikely love triangle detective Michael Stevens finds himself in, a section written by Mary Anne Mohanraj.

I can't remember if Martin did this in the previous novels but one thing that struck me about the writing was that first person perspectives, in particular Melinda M. Snodgrass' and Paul Cornell's contributions, were mixed with third person perspectives. The first person perspective fit the story those authors were trying to tell well enough, but they don't really help making Fort Freak into one novel. If you approach this book as a conventional novel instead of a mosaic, it disrupts the flow of the narrative a bit.

The aspect of Fort Freak enjoyed most is the way it shows how much the mutations caused by the virus impact life in Joker Town and the police work that needs to be done there. With both officers and criminals in the possession of odd but sometimes extremely useful powers, it is never safe to rule out the possibility of a Wild Cards talent being involved in a crime. It's a strange combination of solid, old fashioned police work and Wild Card abilities that is instantly recognizable to anyone who's ever read a police procedural and at the same time totally alien. It's a nice twist on the genre really.

Fort Freak is written as a standalone and given the limited availability of the older books in the series, that makes sense. It can be read without having read any of the other volumes but I'm not sure it is a good point to enter the series. There are a lot of nods to other books in the series, and some characters have quite a history. Besides the aforementioned Father Squid, The Sleeper, originally a creation of Roger Zelazny, make an appearance for instance. This novel is a treat for those familiar with the Wild Cards universe, a decent entry in the overall series. For first time readers I would recommend starting with Wild Cards I or Inside Straight though. Martin has mentioned on his blog that a second novel on the fifth precinct cops is in the works. It is tentatively titled Oddball and  expected to be released in late 2012. I for one, will keep an eye out for it.

Book Details
Title: Fort Freak
Author: George R.R. Martin (ed.)
Publisher: Tor
Pages: 464
Year: 2011
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2570-9
First published: 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter - Edward M. Erdelac

My father has an interest in the Old West and Native American cultures in particular. As a result our house was well stocked with books on that topic when I was young. All manner of non-fiction of course, including whole stacks of the tiny anthropological magazine De Kiva. But there was lots of fiction too. I read widely, from Arendsoog to Conny Coll and from Karl May to Dee Brown. It is certainly a period that inspired a lot of literature, from the wildly inaccurate or downright racist to well researched and tragically realistic. I haven't read a lot of westerns in the classic sense of the word recently but the genre does pop up once in a a while in unexpected guises. There is Dan Simmons' western/ghost story Black Hills, China Mieville's socialist wild west story Iron Council, Cherie Priest' steampunk westerns in the Clockwork Century and course Gemma Files' hexslingers in A Book of Tongues. I guess one way or another, I keep coming back to it.

Edward M. Erdelac adds to this stack of unusual westerns with Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter. It's a collection of four novella length pieces of fiction, following the adventures of The Rider, in true western style, a lonely traveller with a troubled past, eternally searching for the one who wronged him. What sets him apart from your average gunslinger is that he doesn't hunt bandits but demons. The Rider is a Jewish mystic, armed to deal with the most severe threats the supernatural world offers, among them his former master.

The novellas are set in the late 1870s and early 1880s. The Rider visits a number of isolated, dusty town, where life is hard and often short, the law has a tenuous hold on the community at best and fear of Apache raiders is still epidemic. Although he faces a different supernatural challenge in each of the novellas, the search for his former master is binding element in all of them. Each of the novellas begins with a scene that places the reader firmly in the western setting, sometimes even existing towns, before moving into what for most readers will be the less familiar terrain of Jewish mysticism.

While the setting is familiar, The Rider's peculiarities are not. He abides by Hasidic law and goes through a lot of trouble to make sure he eats kosher foods, something that in a region where Jewish communities are few and far between, can't be easy. There are lots of references to Jewish customs and text is riddled with Jewish concepts, often referred to by Yiddish or Hebrew words. The author has thoughtfully added an appendix explaining some of them and I must admit that although some of the concepts were not unfamiliar to me, I needed to consult it once in a while. Some readers may feel it complicates the text but personally I found it fascinating reading.The index even led me to read up on the influence of Yiddish on the Dutch language for a bit.

The Rider's beliefs are tied to the harsh god many readers will be familiar with from the Old Testament. A wide variety angels and demons show up in the stories and Erdelac chooses to portray them every bit as cruel and ugly as the more traditional sources describe them. Readers of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel novels, an author who draws partially from the same sources, will scarcely recognize the gentle version of Eisheth in the cruel creature The Rider meets in the final tale of this collection, The Nightjar Women. Where it is popular at the moment to try and fit these myths into a (sexually ) more liberal framework, such freedom is not an option for The Rider.

This last tale in the collection is definitely the one that made the biggest impact on me. It deals with lust obviously, a topic that is something of a minefield in both Christian and it appears, Jewish religious teaching. The Rider has been taught to view it as a sin and he is sorely tempted in this story. Erdelac walks a fine line in this story between lust as a sin and genuine human need for companionship. We know that The Rider's actions are partially lead by a demonic presence but he still challenges some of the more strict rules that govern his dealings with women. Whether or not you agree with The Rider's beliefs, the way he keeps his balance in what is a very difficult situation is a nice bit of writing.

The stories also gradually reveal more about The Rider's background and his motivations. Although the first two stories are well written, the collection does not really get going until the ties between these episodes and the main character's past become apparent. I think development of the Rider's story might benefit from a novel length approach at some point, if only to cut out the inevitable repetitions that crop up in the short stories. That being said, I enjoyed the four stories Erdelac presents in this volume a lot. There are a lots of interesting details in these books to be found for those familiar with the western genre (and, I suspect, fans of the the works of Robert E. Howard). The Rider's unusual perspective on the world around him prevents the stories from slipping into cliché. Erdelac has found a surprising combination, one I must admit I wasn't sure would work when I started this collection, but he pulls if off admirably. The author ends the final story in the collection with some information that makes The Rider's quest even more urgent. I can't wait to find out how this will play out in the second volume, Merkabah Rider: The Mensch With No Name. For fans of a western with a twist, this book is recommended reading.

Book Details
Title: Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter
Author: Edward M. Erdelac
Publisher: Damnation Books
Pages: 294
Year: 2009
Language: English
Format: E-book
ISBN: 978-1-61572-061-3
First published: 2009

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Poll: Reading Classic SF

Recently I read Jo Walton's Among Others, which I don't think anyone can read and not be left with a craving for some classic SF. So I raided my rather formidable to read pile to see what might be hiding on it, to satisfy that craving. I've found five novels that would serve and taken the opportunity to try out the poll feature on Blogger. So my question to you is which one should I read?

The options are:

Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut (1963)
Babel-17 - Samuel R. Delany (1966)
Dying Inside - Robert Silverberg (1972)
Tau Zero - Poul Anderson (1970)
The City and the Stars - Arthur C. Clarke (1956)

The actual poll is on the right hand side, top of the screen. As far as I know Blogger doesn't allow you to integrate them into posts.

All of these authors are referenced in Among Others but Tau Zero and The City and the Stars are not (at least according to this list). I'll leave the poll open for two weeks and read the most popular choice in October.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

When the Great Days Come - Gardner Dozois

Gardner Dozois is probably best known for his work as editor, for which he has won an unprecedented number of Hugo Awards. He was in the editor of Asimov's for twenty years between 1984 and 2004 and has edited an enormous number of anthologies of all kinds, including The Year's Best Science Fiction series, which is up to its 28th annual edition. Recently there have also been a series of cross genre anthologies edited with George R.R. Martin that were generally well received. Dozois' fiction is less well know. He is not a very prolific writer, somewhere between 50 and 60 short stories were published, the first of which appeared in 1966. He has also published three novels, the most recent being Hunter's Run (2007), a collaboration with George R.R. Martin and Daniel Abraham. This book was the only work I have read of Dozois before reading this collection.

When the Great Days Come is the latests of half a dozen collections that have appeared over the years. It is a selection of eighteen stories spanning his entire career and contains an insightful introduction by Robert Silverberg. The oldest stories were published in 1971, while the most recent is a story originally published in one of the cross genre anthologies I mentioned before. Three of them are award winning stories. Dozois got a Nebula for The Peacemaker (1983) and Morning Child (1984) and a Sidewise Award for Counterfactual (2006). The collection contains stories that range from post apocalyptic to alternate histories, first contact and horror/science fiction hybrid. One of the stories even borders on fantasy. They are often very bleak, containing very little in the way of optimism or utopian themes. As such, it took me a while to get though this collection. Although the stories are very well crafted, you don't want to read them all in one sitting. Eighteen stories is too much to discuss them all, so I will just cover a few. I found it very hard to pick favourites, the quality of this entire collection is exceptional.

Counterfactual is the story that opens the collection and is, in my opinion, one of the strongest pieces in it. It's an alternate history, set in an America where the civil war didn't end with General Lee surrendering his army but where the South started a guerilla war that lasted for generations. The main character is a journalist writing a counterfactual (alternate history) on a boring trip to cover a speech by the vice president in one of the occupied southern states. What Gardner does is have the main character examine a future that could well be ours, tugging at Lee's motivation for dispersing his army and wondering how close he came to giving up. He constantly asks the "what if" question letting the reader bounce back and forth between our history and that of the main character. There are some very good stories in this collection but I think I like this one the best.

Two stories that offer a nice contrast are When the Great Days Came (2005) and A Cat Horror Story (1994). In the first story Dozois writes about a great change from the point of view from a rat. He very carefully avoids anthropomorphizing pointing out several times that smart as they may be, we can't project human emotions on these rodents. He only hits at the evolutionary path these creatures are about to take, to which the rat is completely oblivious. Somehow Dozois makes this story work without a sentient character.  In a A Cat Horror Story, Dozois does the opposite. It deals with a gathering of cats telling tachometer stories of the horrible faith that may befall each of them. They include such evils as cars, castration and euthanasia. Despite being a cat person, I didn't think it was the strongest story in the collection but in combination with When the Great Days Came, which I like a lot, it works nicely.

Ancestral Voices (1998), written in collaboration with Michael Swanwick is one of the longest pieces in the collection. I guess you could see it as a first contact story. The story contains two points of view. One of a creature struggling to override his survival instincts, the other of an old woman who encounters it. It's a very bleak story, one that could be said to have happy end but one plagued by regrets and suspicions of manipulation. What I liked about this story in particular is the pacing. Dozois and Swanwick build to the climax carefully and deliver a twist I didn't see coming until they wanted me to.

In A Special Kind of Morning (1971), the author explores the emotional scars on a veteran of a brutal war. The story is basically told as a monologue. The veteran is speaking to a younger man or boy but other than that we never learn anything about him. The setting feels like a far future story, one in which reliance on technology has reached such extremes that it leaves society wide open to attacks with the most primitive means. I guess this soldier discovers post traumatic stress all over again during his campaign. Given the publication date I wonder if the Vietnam war had anything to do with writing this story.

I guess A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows (1999) matches A Special Kind of Morning in a way. The main character is also an old man, famous for making a political statement on the desirability of applying all kinds of technology to the human species to lengthen their lives, or to become in effect immortal, as well as the emergence of artificial intelligence. His message was a bit too subtle for the general public but his followers still hold him in high regard when his eightieth birthday approaches. Dozois uses what the main character things of as time travellers to impress the seriousness of the decision the main character will be faced with. Although it takes a few pages for this choice to become apparent, the author already builds the tension early on in the story. I also liked the rather ambitious ending of this story. It fits somehow. A story about the how a decision is made, rather than what the decision is.

As I mentioned earlier, I thought almost all of these stories were very well written from a technical point of view. They were very well paced in particular. Structured so as not to give the twist of the story away too early. The tone of most of them is very dark though, making When the Great Days Come a somewhat depressing read. That being said, I like the way in which Dozois delivers the punch of his stories. The endings are often ambiguous, yet fit the tales perfectly. They leave the reader to mull over the larger theme of the story, rather than the fate of the main character as often as not. Some readers may find his style a bit verbose at some points but that was not something that bothered me in any of these stories. When the Great Days Come is a great collection. It took me longer than I expected to make my way though it, but is was reading time well spent.

Book Details
Title: When the Great Days Come
Author: Gardner Dozois
Publisher: Prime Books
Pages: 359
Year: 2011
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-60701-278-8
First published: 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Green Mars - Kim Stanley Robinson

Green Mars is the second book in Robinson's most well known work, the Mars trilogy. Although many critics consider the second and third volume not quite as good as Red Mars, Robinson won both the Locus and Hugo Awards with this novel in 1994. Green Mars must have been a lot more difficult to write than Red Mars. The planet is no longer empty, vast changes take place in the physical environment and ideologies buckle under the stress of practical application and opposition from Earth. Mars is a mess in this book and Robinson obviously struggled with that.

After the revolution of 2061, the few members of the first hundred that are still alive are forced into hiding. Taking refuge with Hiroko's group in a dome habitat under the south pole of Mars, they bide their time. A whole new generation of Martians grows up around them in the small world under they ice. The remaining First Hundred members know they cannot stay hidden forever. The Martian underground is too extensive to suppress and the Transnationals that currently run the planet, too preoccupied with their own struggles to take notice of the social tension that are rising on the planet. Another revolution seems inevitable. Only the question of how to make sure this one succeeds remains to be answered. As usual, the first hundred disagree and they are by no means the only players in this political game.

The novel is divided in ten parts, each told from the point of view of a single character. As if to underline the changes taking place on Mars, Robinson first introduces us to Nrigal, the son of Hiroko and stowaway Desmond, and Art Randolph, Praxis employee sent to Mars to make contact with the underground. Nirgal in particular, is an interesting character. He and and John Boone's granddaughter Jacky, represent the new Martian human, tall, healthy, expecting to live for centuries and supremely ignorant of the planet that was the cradle of their species. The other parts are filled in by characters we have already met. First Hundred members Ann, Sax, Maya and Nadia, each of them using their fame as the first settlers of Mars to pursue their own agendas.

The plot of Green Mars is messy from start to finish. Robinson tries to tie a lot of political, social and scientific developments into the novel and this makes the story a lot more complicated than Red Mars. I guess a confrontation between Sax and Ann shows this most clearly.
Most of the people there had seen de famous videotape of Ann and Sax's argument in Underhill, and certainly their story was well-known, one of the great myths of the First Hundred - a myth from a time when things had been simpler, and distinct personalities could stand for clear-cut issues. Now nothing was simple anymore, and as the old enemies faced off again in the middle of this hodge-podge group, there was an odd electricity in the air, a mix of nostalgia and tension and collective déjà vu, and a wish (perhaps just in herself, Nadia thought bitterly) that the two of them could somehow effect a reconciliation, for their own sakes and for all of them.

Nadia witnessing an argument between Ann and Sax - Part Seven - What Is To Be Done?
Ann and Sax, thesis and anti-thesis in the Hegelian sense (with the synthesis yet to come in Blue Mars) arguing over a point that is essentially moot by this time. Rehashing an old argument while waiting for the right moment to launch a bid for Mars' independence. In a sense a lot of this book is waiting for the 'trigger' ans Sax puts it later on in the novel. Personally I think Robinson draws this out a bit too long. He has a lot to say on various political positions, scientific developments and social experiments, most of it very interesting, but all together it is probably more than the plot can carry.

Much of the Martian problems in this novel stem from Robinson's vision of late 21st and early 22nd Earth. With the effect of gerontological treatment beginning to make an impact, the planet seems to be heading towards a Malthusian crisis of huge proportions. The treatment is still only available to a (substantial) minority of the people however. Although some states guarantee the procedure as a basic human right, in practice only the privileged receive it regularly. Nevertheless, the population is booming and the pressures on Earth's already overstretched ecosystem become enormous. Earth is desperate for a way to take some of the pressure off and the empty red planet looks tempting. Even if it is quite clear Mars will never be capable of supporting a population large enough to make an impact back on Earth.

Through newsflashes received by the Martians, Robinson effectively shows us an Earth on the edge of complete ecological breakdown, a process helped along by the power of the Transnats. These organizations are conglomerates of the Metanats of Red Mars. Their turnover dwarfs the budget of any government save the few largest economies on Earth and their power is ever increasing. Using their capital to gain more and more political influence, they have effectively reduced Mars to their private property. It is not a pretty picture of capitalism Robinson is painting in this book. At the very least it appears incapable of finding a market incentive to respect the ecological limits of the planet. Most of Robinson's work is political very left wing (particularly by American standards) so the failure of capitalism to deal with the crisis should come as no surprise. Still, if neo-liberal economics are your thing this book is going to be painful to read.

The novel contains several attempts to offer an alternative. On Earth, the Transnat Praxis is trying to implement more ecologically sustainable business practices. Founder of the company, William Fort, is aiming for a kind of eco-economics (looking at the etymology of economy and ecology it sounds a bit like a tautology is you ask me ). Back on Mars, the underground is running a kind of gift economy that is partly based on an energy source as currency and party on preventing the stockpiling of resources by allowing a portion of the earnings to dissipate into the environment as either heat of nitrogen (both of which aid the terraforming process and therefore the long term goal of making the surface habitable). It's a system that knows a lot of problems. Robinson mentions some in the book but the most obvious, what to do if the long term goal is not terraforming, in other words the Reds' political position, is not tackled here. It's a great source of tension in the Martian underground. Economics have never been my forte but it appears there are a great number of problems still to be worked out. I can't help but feel this part is much more speculative than the hard science fiction elements in the book.

Of these there are still plenty. One of the things Robinson describes is the building of a new space elevator. He also goes into detail on the changes in the Martian landscape. Where in Red Mars, we mostly saw the planet as it was then known from the photographs returned by various space probes, Robinson is now actively trying to describe the impact of higher temperatures and a thicker atmosphere. With such a huge vertical dimension to the planet, the highest point on the surface is some thirty kilometres above the lowest, erosion is taking on dangerous proportions. Like in Red Mars, there are plenty of descriptions of people travelling across the planet and seeing interesting geological formations and fascinating meteorological phenomena (Robinson pays attention to the colours of the sky in particular). Even more than in the previous book, Robinson impressed the acute danger the planet poses to its new inhabitants. The terraforming effort, which can be charitably described as somewhat disorganized, is wreaking havoc on a massive scale. I'm still in awe of Robinson's ability to make this landscape come to life in his books.

On the whole I think Green Mars is not quite as good and Red Mars. I feel that Robinson tried to put too much information and too much very rapid change in the already compressed time-scale of the series. That being said, the attractions of the first novel are still present in this book. Robinson's vision of the colonization of Mars in frighteningly plausible in some respects and very well thought through. Despite the huge challenges being faced by the characters, there is a sense of optimism about these novels that human ingenuity and common sense will be able to overcome them. Although the situation is bad at times, there are always people working on ways to improve it, usually with very innovative ideas. I'm not sure all of it is equally realistic but it certainly makes for fascinating reading. It'll have to wait for a bit, but I already look forward  to my reread of the novel that got me hooked on Robinson's work  in the first place, the final volume in this trilogy: Blue Mars.

Book Details
Title: Green Mars
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Publisher: Voyager
Pages: 781
Year: 1996
Language: English
Format: Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 0-586-21390-2
First published: 1993

Friday, September 2, 2011

Among Others - Jo Walton

Among Others is one of the novels that was suggested for review number 200 earlier this year. I decided to go with another book eventually, because I was looking for something I was unlikely to pick up spontaneously. Among Others looked so interesting that I ordered a copy of it as well and it has been waiting on the to read stack ever since. I've read an awful lot of Walton's writing but none of it is actually fiction. She writes a column on, lots of reviews on older works of science fiction and fantasy as well as a discussion on the Hugo Awards nominees and winners. Next Sunday 1999 will be discussed. I don't always agree with Walton but her reviews are usually well worth reading and she has added more than a few titles to my to read list. I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that Walton added to the list again with this novel.

Fifteen year old Morwenna has grown up in a town in South Wales. When we first meet her, she has recently lost her twin sister and has run away to a father she barely knows. He is sending her to Arlinghurst, a boarding school in England, something that is not going to be easy on Morwenna. She is an outsider. Everything sets her apart from her fellow students; her accent, her bright intellect, he peculiar family and the fact that she is a cripple. As a child, Morwenna used to find refuge in two things. Her connection with the spirit world, something her mother is completely caught up in, and reading science fiction novels. The library become a refuge, but there is no magic at Arlinghurst however, and attempts to introduce it, only leads to unwanted attention from her mother. A reckoning with her past in unavoidable for Morwenna. She will have to come to terms with her loss and settle affairs with her mother.

The novel is entirely written in the form of a diary, with entries set in late 1979 and early 1980. Among Others is not an autobiography, but Walton seems to have put quite a lot of her own life into the novel. She was born in South Wales for instance, turned fifteen in 1979, did attend an English boarding school and read science fiction novels voraciously. Morwenna also shares a lot of opinions with Walton on novels. She's no fan of Philip K. Dick for instance, and has reservations about some of Heinlein's later novels even if she loves his earlier work. I haven't read any of Walton's other novels but I can't imagine them being as personal as this one. For people who are interested in the question to what extend this novel incorporates events from the author's life, I'll refer you to a a very interesting piece Walton wrote for John Scalzi's Whatever blog.

There is no denying it, Among Others is a book for geeks. There are lots and lots of references to science fiction classics. Morwenna reads Silverberg, Le Guin, Delayny, Zelazny, Heinlein, Clarke, Niven and Tiptree just to name a few (a complete list of novels mentioned in Among Others can be found here). It makes the novel something of a gamble. I read a lot but I don't come close to even having read half the titles Morwenna mentions. Walton mostly sticks to the more well known works so I pretty much recognized everything she mentions. Still, a fantasy novel that relies this much on science fiction titles, will put some readers of. In 1979 it might not have been the case yet, but the two genres have developed their own groups of readers with only limited overlap. Still, as a love letter to science fiction and fantasy, the book is a very good read. Morwenna's diary entries are full of entrances that show just how much her thinking is influenced by what she reads. One nice example from early on in the novel:
Robert Heinlein says in Have A Spacesuit, Will Travel that the only things worth studying are history, languages, and science. Actually, he adds maths, but honestly they left out the mathematical part of my brain. Mor got all the Maths.
Morwenna deciding on the subjects she wants to take - Thursday 6th September 1979
The list things Morwenna finds in these novels that connect with this young girl's world is very impressive. It makes you think twice about labeling science fiction as a genre for teenage boys. The fantasy element in the novel is provided by a subtle kind of magic. It's very easy to deny its existence, which is why not many people believe in it in the first place. Magic that Morwenna hasn't quite figured out how to safely use yet. Most of her magical exploits have been linked to the fairies Morwenna sees in the abandoned industrial sites of South Wales. They're nothing like the elves described in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, although Morwenna has a theory on how Tolkien might have arrived at his image of these creatures.With the novel being written from the first person and the fact that magic never really seems to impact anything directly, there is always a slight feel of the unreliable narrator in these sections but at the same time she makes you want to believe Morwenna. Especially since she has her reservations about the ethics of trying to influence events that way.

Under all the magic and science fiction references, Among Others is still mostly a story of a girl trying to find her balance again. When we meet her, things can't possibly get any worse. Gradually, Morwenna decides that despite the pain in her leg, the hole left behind where her twin used to be, her difficult family and being an outsider everywhere she goes, there is still reason to go on. Sometimes she is suborn or plain unreasonable but Morwenna is not given to self-pity or excessive displays of emotion. Her diary entries show a girl whit a more rational mind than most teenagers display, an inquisitive mind, constantly asking questions about what she encounters in the world. Some readers my find it hard to get close to Morwenna, in her diary she usually takes a bit of distance from the situations she describes. Personally, I thought to development from despair and a sense of loss to mild optimism and self-confidence is very well done.  

Among Others is one of those novels I'd like to see pop up in next year's awards shortlists. I'm not sure if it is the sort of novel that has a large enough appeal to actually win one, but I agree with a lot of the critics that it is definitely one of the books 2011 that one ought to read. I can see why some readers might not like it, but for me, it is absolutely one of the most interesting and well-written 2011 publications I've read. For fans of 1960 and 1970s genre fiction, it has a certain nostalgic appeal. Remembering reading a favourite novel for the first time definitely adds to this story. But even if, like me, you haven't read that many of the novels Walton mentions, the novel is very much worth reading. I'd say, give it a try.

Book Details
Title: Among Others  
Author: Jo Walton  
Publisher: Tor  
Pages: 302  
Year: 2011
Language: English  
Format: Hardcover  
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2153-4
First published: 2011