Among Others

Among Others - Jo Walton

American cover

Among Others was my ninth published novel. It was  published in North America by Tor in January 2011, and in the UK by Corsair in October 2012. It has also been published or is due to be published in Chinese, Croatian, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, and Turkish. In 2012 it won the Hugo and Nebula awards, also the British Fantasy Award, the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award, and the Copper Cylinder Award. It was nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the Mythopoeic Award. It’s far and away my most successful novel.

The way I like to describe it is that it’s about a science fiction reader who has fantasy problems. It’s 1979, she’s fifteen, she’s just saved the world from her evil mother at great cost, the world doesn’t know and doesn’t care and she has to go to boarding school.  All she wants to do is read Ursula Le Guin and Samuel Delany and Poul Anderson and James Tiptree Jr and and and and… but her mother is still out there and so are the fairies. It’s semi-autobiographical. It was odd to write for that reason, and also publishing it was odd. While some people hate it, the overwhelming response to Among Others is for readers to identify strongly with the protagonist. One does not expect to discover in one’s forties that one is less odd than one had always supposed oneself — but it seems that I’d written about a quite common fannish coming-of-age experience of having books instead of people for friends and solace. Well, there we are then. Lots of us, apparently.


Polish cover

I wrote it between 29th February and 29th May 2008, in 36 writing days. The spark for it was this journal post, in which I was doing nothing but talking about the place where I grew up and trying to dispel some illusions about Wales. Many of my Livejournal correspondents said the post should be a novel, and I thought of the novel itself while rolling my eyes at how impossible it would be to make it into one. You can blame them. As you can see there, the original title was The Industrial Ruins of Elfland, but as the book went on it became clear that this wasn’t going to work. It didn’t have a real title for a very long time — I kept saying the book was finished but I was still writing the title. The title was suggested by my friend Rene Walling after he had edited too many convention biographies that said people had written various works “among others”. He suggested somebody should use it as a title, and I suddenly saw how it was perfect for the book I had written.


UK cover

This is the awesome Pinterest that some cool person put together that collects all the covers of all the books mentioned in Among Others. And this is the bibliography, compiled by a librarian. This is the bibliography with page numbers. This is Mori’s Librarything page. And the bibliography in French! All of these were compiled by enthusiastic fans of the books. I’ve never made that list myself.

Here’s the Among Others Goodreads page.

Ursula Le Guin’s review in the Guardian.

Gary Wolfe review in Locus.

Jeff Vandermeer review in the New York Times.

Paul Kinkaid’s review on SF Site.

Rich Horton’s review on SF Site.

Washington Post review.

Strange Horizons review.

Interview with me in the Guardian after the book won a Hugo.

Me reading the first chapter, in Uncle Hugo’s in Minneapolis, recorded by David Dyer-Bennet.

A video interview with Nancy Pearl.


(Contains spoilers for the book!)

1: The Magic

Q. Is it magic or mimetic?

A. It’s magic. Glad to clear that up.

Q. But you can’t tell if it’s magic or if she’s mentally ill! Her mother’s mentally ill! She could be crazy! Couldn’t she be crazy?

A. She could. But that would be very boring. Look, this book is set in something close to the real world, and so the magic can’t be visible. I like the way the magic is deniable, and I had fun making it up, but it’s definitely magic.

Q. Didn’t you realise people would have a problem with this?

A. Nope, it never crossed my mind. None of my other books had ever been read by people who didn’t read genre, so I wasn’t expecting it with this one.

Q. How come the magic at the end is so flashy, with pages of a book becoming spears and then huorns and so on?

A. It’s been mentioned before that there are illusions, and we saw the dead going under the hill. It’s only her turning to fire and seeing the pattern of the world that changes things. And none of it would have been visible to other people.

Q. Do you believe in fairies and magic?

A. I’m interested in playing with metaphysics in fiction. In the real world, I believe that magic only works inside your own head.

Turkish cover

Turkish cover

2: The Aunts

Q. Are they actually witches, or is she wrong about that?

A. They are actually doing magic, but from their own point of view they are trying to contain, control, and protect her. They are quite sure they rescued Daniel from Mori’s mother. They don’t want her to become like her mother, and the ear-rings would have protected her from her mother.

3: The name change

Q. Did Mori switch places with her sister after she died?

A. It’s more complicated than that. Essentially, when they were both alive, Mori and Mor used both names between them. They were formally Morwenna and Morganna, but they were Mo or Mor or Mori in everyday life. After Mor’s death, Mori insisted that she was Morwenna, though before that on occasions when it had been necessary to distinguish them she was Morganna. She also wore Mor’s clothes, when before they’d had colour-coded clothes she now wore the other colour.

Q. Why did she do this?

A. It was a grief reaction.

Q. Did it have magical consequences?

A. Sure. Not the name thing. Names don’t matter in that magic, things do. The fairies don’t even have nouns. But the not letting go. The magical consequences of that are visible in the book.

Q. Does anybody know about it?

A. Yes. Her mother knows, and doesn’t care, and Grampar and Auntie Teg know and think that it’s better not to make a fuss about it. The book starts when Mori’s a lot closer to being sane than she was right after.

Q. I didn’t notice this at all! Am I an idiot?

A. No, it’s pretty subtle and not really that important.

cover_in_einer_anderen_welt_jo_walton4: The books

Q. Do you have a list of the books mentioned in Among Others?

A. Yes, compiled by a kind librarian.

Q. Are they all real books?

A. Sure, although there’s one error in the titling of a Silverberg book. It’s a deliberate error in the sense that everyone makes mistakes with this kind of thing.

Q. Have you read them all?

A. Yes. Though I didn’t read all of them at the time Mori does. She reads some of them with the timing she does for thematic reasons.

Q. If you had to recommend one classic SF book for somebody to read, what would you suggest?

A. This isn’t a book about reading one book, it’s a book about the reading the way teenagers do, indisciminately, developing taste as they go along. She reads a lot, and some of it is tosh.

Q. But if you had to recommend one book…?

A. I don’t have to, and furthermore I’m not going to.

Hugo_Winner_Logo_1_2012_Novel_1005: Oddments

Q. Is the school called Arlinghurst in reference to Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes?

A. Yes it is.

Q. Didn’t you do that in Half a Crown too?

A. Yes I did. I like Miss Pym Disposes.

Q. How is Wim’s name pronounced?

A. Wim, like Will but with an M. It’s short for “William”.

Q. Is he meant to be a bit creepy?

A. He’s certainly not as wonderful as she thinks he is. He’s somebody who, all his life, has wanted there to be magic, or if not magic, aliens, something. And then he finds out there is magic, and he doesn’t have it…

Q. Is she an unreliable narrator then?

A. Everybody is an unreliable narrator.

Q. Are you going to write a sequel?

A. I tried, but it wasn’t working. I have no sequel plans at the moment.