Review of Among Others (2011)

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Jo Walton (writer).

Read in 2019.

15-year-old Morwenna escapes her native South Wales and her evil witch mother in 1979.

An autobiography diluted with YA fantasy. It’s a fun, breezy read. The love of books and authors I know is cute, a kind of pop-literary popcorn, and it is the same with Morwenna’s karass and her romance with dreamboat bad-boy Wim (William).

I like the dark undertone too, but the worldbuilding is just bad. Walton refers to The Lathe of Heaven (1971)—among at least 170 other references—for how magic seems to rewrite reality, but the most telling thing she says about magic is that “[t]here’s no proving anything once magic gets involved.” Magic, she says, makes the “chains” of coincidence and therefore looks identical to coincidence.

This is a complete cop-out and a stark contrast to how Le Guin used Orr to interrogate fantasy. Given that Morwenna does not like Philip K. Dick, the blurry ontology of Walton’s magic must be read as self-serving teleology, underlined by the premise that acupuncture in her world is efficacious and literally magical. I was hoping Walton would steer clear of that trap and do something interesting with the fairies’ love of ruins, science-fictional Wales, Liz’s madness or the showdown, but alas, Liz’s madness is just Walton’s own mother’s madness wilfully mythologized as evil. As a result, the steam pressure slowly drops to near zero throughout the last quarter of the book.

For archaeology in Walton’s post-apocalyptic and science-fictional wales, see “The ‘Lost Viaduct’” (2001), a season 8 episode of Time Team (1994) set in Blaenavon, South Wales, where the world’s first railway viaduct lies buried under slag.

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