Science Fiction and Fantasy Bonanza: Discussing Jo Walton’s “Among Others”

This month the Other Realms book group discussed Jo Walton’s Hugo and Nebula award-winning Among Others. I have written about this book here before and suffice it to say this was another one of those I-love-this-book-too-much scenarios that can add a dash of challenge to a book group facilitator’s life.

I did, however, have some preparation as to some of the elements that might make some readers not as smitten with the book as I am. For one, I can see some of my group member’s Goodreads reviews of the book ahead of time–that does throw a new wrench into the I-can’t-wait-to-hear-what-the-group-thinks model.

Among Others is a fantasy coming-of-age where much of the action takes place off-screen and before the novel even starts. Fifteen-year-old Mor narrates her story through diary entries. We learn early on that her twin sister died and that their mother is responsible but it takes some time for Mor to share any details about her sister or mother.

What we also learn is that Mor has read and reads tons of science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction. So Mor’s diary entries are chock full of the major names of the late 1970s–the book is peppered with references to Roger Zelazny, Samuel L. Delany, Kurt Vonnegut, Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Tiptree, Jr. and much, much more. This Pinterest page will give you a visual clue to the sheer volume of book namedropping that happens in Among Others as a matter of course.

The book group talked about this–whether the book included too many authors and book titles. While some readers caught some of the references and some did not there was general agreement about the book itself being a love letter to books and reading. Many readers identified with its celebration of books and story.

We talked about Mor’s curious choice to start using her dead sister’s name, Morwenna, when her given name was Morganna. This is a detail that escaped me the first time. We also talked about the title. Aren’t we all ‘among others’ in life? Or was this about the fairies? One reader said something insightful about how when Mor’s sister was alive she was not among others, she was amongst herself; her sister’s loss marked the first time she was truly alone. What, then, did taking her sister’s name signify? We didn’t come to a definitive conclusion on that.

Because Among Others prominently features a science fiction book group that Mor finds that meets at a public library, we had some meta-discussion about discussion. Did we want to try what Mor’s group did–discussing an author’s work and not having to read one particular book? The group unanimously agreed that we should be reading more classics and benchmark authors in science fiction and fantasy.

Among Others is inspiring in its ever-unfolding list of books and authors and Mor’s feverish devotion to reading. And its subtlety, its lack of action and its details and omissions provide plenty of fodder for rich discussion.



About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

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