Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hugo Winner and WOGF review: 2012 Among Others

Jo Walton
Completed 5/17/2013, reviewed 5/24/2013
4 stars

It’s great that a Hugo winner is a book about a science fiction fan.  The attraction to science fiction, for many of us, begins when we’re young, feeling outcast, different, or otherwise disenfranchised from the mainstream.  We find it a solace, a place where we can believe that there’s something else out there, something better, something more real than our cruel reality.  The main character of this story is one of these fans, a teenage girl whose turns to SF to escape from the cruelty and craziness in her life. 

Morwenna has a crazy, abusive mother from whom she’s escaped, an alcoholic father who she’s just met, and goes to a private boarding school where, of course, she doesn’t fit in.  She is also the surviving twin of a car crash caused by her mother.  However, she finds her peace in SF, and has read an unbelievable amount of SF and fantasy, mostly by some of the most esteemed and prolific authors.  To her joy, she also finds an SF book club at her local library.  She gets to do a little growing up through new relationships she forms with the members of the club as well as with other book lovers.

One other thing, Mori can do magic and can talk to the faeries.  She spends most of her time protecting herself against the bad magic of her mother.  She is originally from Wales where she often spoke with faeries.  Now living with her father in England, she can see them, but doesn’t have much interaction with them.

Mori’s story is told through a diary.  The format made it easy to read as well as immediate and profound.  It follows her through the meeting of her father to the final confrontation with her mother. 

I loved almost every aspect of this book.  While the plot is linear, it does not really develop like a standard novel.  Some things happen out of the blue.  The ending, for example, doesn’t have any real build-up.  It simply happens.  But that was okay for me.  I like the fact that we were learning about Mori as she reveals herself to us in a non-formulaic way. 

The magic was interesting too.  It was more akin to magical realism than a “normal” fantasy containing magic.  I liked that as well.  It wasn’t constantly fantastical.  It was simply part of her everyday life. 

There was only one part of the story that bothered me.  Her father, in a drunken stupor, tries to climb into bed with her and kiss her.  It seemed extremely out of context.  Sure the father is an alcoholic, meeting her for the first time since she was an infant, and struggling with having a relationship with her.  But what point does the scene make?  None.  There’s no further mention of it, no repercussions, no tension.  It just happens, and then it disappears.  To me, it was totally unnecessary.  I think the uneasiness I felt because of it prevented me from having a more profound experience with the book.  Without it, I think I could have given this book 5 stars, a rating I only give to books which profoundly move me. 

I loved the insipid step-aunts, who bear some resemblance to Hamlet’s wyrd trio of witches.  I also liked the development of her relationship with a boy from her book club.  It came across as real, and not melodramatic.  I also liked her portrayal of the librarians.  They are the modern stereotype of librarians:  book lovers who have a better understanding of the world, who can see life through eyes different than most adults, because their minds are expanded by the books they treasure, and can see into the soul and needs of their patrons.

I gave the book 4 stars because, despite the incest scene, the story is awesome, the characters are wonderfully developed, and I felt like I really got to live inside Mori’s skin for a while.

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