Reading: Jo Walton — Among Others

Right, back from the bookshop.

And this time I’ll do it correctly. Belabouring the point here, Reading is not read, nor to be read; it should be done in the first chapter or so etc &c. I’m not writing reviews. (I tell myself.)

Like Madeline Ashby’s Vn, which I finished after my morning cyclocross through Jungfernheide, I’m not quite sure how I came to find Jo Walton’s Among Others. As usual, there is some Charles Stross connection, but that was in May, and usually when I find a new author I’m in your bookshop ordering books within, well, a week or so. At any rate it gets slotted into Bookpedia (yes, I manage my books) quick smart. I’m fairly sure Charlie Jane Anders at io9 said something sometime recently also. More to the point, it irritates me (in the German sense of the word) that I can’t remember what single moment led to something as important as buying a book.

As for this book, yes, again not quite science-fiction. As much as I try and pretend fairies and other magic is simply highly advanced technology, it largely fails me, because equally simply, it’s not. I’ve been thinking about what bothers me in fantasy, which it’s true I also find in a lot of sci-fi. The difference though is perhaps that it’s not spectacularly difficult to write sci-fi outside of the meta-narratives it populates, whereas for fantasy, those meta-narratives are the foundation.

To put it another way, if there are founding myths of fantasy, they reside — at least for english and european language fantasy — in those of monarchy, patriarchy, colonialism, racism of the nastiest kind. I was watching a documentary on the second German Reich and their colonial genocide in Namibia yesterday, which was only weakened (the documentary, that is) by failing to draw explicit relationships between the German ideology of Lebensraum and Herrenvolk and similar colonialism and nationalism of Belgium, Britain, Russia, all of europe, really, which underlie the entire continent until the end of the Second World War. I find something of this in the absolute majority of fantasy, and it’s equally larely uncritical.

And yes, I find this in science-fiction also, but if I was to make a parallel example, I would say this genre has perhaps the possibility of a meta-narrative of those ideals of hope, emancipation, and so on, or somehow exists in a sphere where there is at least a critique if not an incredulity at meta-narratives. Or at least the stuff I read does.

Or to put it yet another way, fantasy fetishises — consciously or otherwise, or at least is unable to make a clean break from —what sci-fi flees.

And so I am in a book that thus far in has no monarchies (though the protagonist is about to enter a boarding school so, class war it is, then), and is … hmm, yes, so enticingly written that suddenly China Miéville and his Railsea might have at least one book nibbling on its heels for my book of the year. It would have to be pretty fucking amazing to capture me the way Railsea did though.

Which brings a curious point. Un Lun Dun, in particular, but others of Miéville’s are broadly more fantasy than sci-fi, yet manage to not irritate me the way almost all fantasy does. Is it because his social and political position in the Marxist/Socialist sphere and what that means for science-fiction meta-narratives (feminism, and queer/identity politics for example) comes through in his fiction, or rather to say his fiction is in part a medium for considering these issues?

I have a book, then. It won the Nebula Award. The cover is quite orange.