Among others, p.1
Among Others, p.1Jo Walton
PRAISE FOR AMONG OTHERS
‘Beautifully crafted... Among Others calls to those who desire a wild, magical world in place of the one they have but eventually learn that their own lives are the greatest story of all.’ Bloomsbury Review
‘One of those rare tales that strike at the very heart of the healing power of literature... Will be enjoyed by anyone who has ever had her or his life changed by a great book.’ San Francisco Chronicle
‘As much a story about fantasy as a work of fantasy, [Among Others] is already gathering the kind of awestruck praise that marks a breakout hit from an established but underappreciated author.’ Guardian
A hymnal for the clever and odd – an inspiration and a lifeline to anyone who has ever felt in the world, but not of it.’ Cory Doctorow
‘Superlative... With a deft hand and a blazing imagination, fantasy writer Walton mixes genres to great effect.’ Booklist
‘I do not know how much of Among Others is autobiographical, but I do know that Jo Walton has made herself a literary savior with this book. This is a gift thrown out to the universe; just as surely as any lifeboat or preserver. SF fan or not, if you have ever felt lost, you will embrace this story and fall hard for a writer who proves yet again her courage when it comes to the written word.’ Colleen Mondor, Bookslut
Also by Jo Walton
The King’s Peace
The King’s Name
The Prize in the Game
Tooth and Claw
Half a Crown
Constable & Robinson Ltd
55–56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP
Published in the US by Tor,
an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates LLC, New York, NY 10010, 2010
First published in the UK by Corsair,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson, 2013
Copyright © Jo Walton 2010
The right of Jo Walton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication
Data is available from the British Library
ISBN 978-1-47210-043-6 (hardback)
ISBN 978-1-47210-222-5 (trade paperback)
Printed and bound in the UK
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
This is in memory of all the librarians in the world, and the librarians who sit there day after day lending books to people.
Thanks and Notes
I’d like to thank Aunt Jane, who accepted axiomatically that I would grow up and write, and her daughter Sue, now Ashwell, who gave me both The Hobbit and Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy. I’m also grateful to Mrs. Morris, once my Welsh teacher, who worried about me for thirty years.
Mary Lace and Patrick Nielsen Hayden encouraged me while I was writing this. My LiveJournal correspondents were excellent at providing random required information, especially Mike Scott, without whom this would have been impossible. Some people have full-time research assistants who aren’t as speedy or as well informed. Thanks again, Mike.
Emmet O’Brien and Sasha Walton and, quite often, Alexandra White-bean, put up with me when I was writing. Alter Reiss bought me a DOS laptop so I could keep on writing, and Janet M. Kegg found a battery for it and delivered it. My next-door neighbour René Walling found this book a title. I have the best friends. Seriously.
Louise Mallory, Caroline-Isabelle Caron, David Dyer-Bennett, Farah Mendlesohn, Edward James, Mike Scott, Janet Kegg, David Goldfarb, Rivka Wald, Sherwood Smith, Sylvia Rachel Hunter, and Beth Meacham read the book when it was done and made useful comments on it. Liz Gorinsky, and the hardworking production and publicity people at Tor, always do a great job paying attention to my books and helping get them into people’s hands.
People tell you to write what you know, but I’ve found that writing what you know is much harder than making it up. It’s easier to research a historical period than your own life, and it’s much easier to deal with things that have a little less emotional weight and where you have a little more detachment. It’s terrible advice! So this is why you’ll find there’s no such place as the Welsh valleys, no coal under them, and no red buses running up and down them; there never was such a year as 1979, no such age as fifteen, and no such planet as Earth. The fairies are real, though.
—Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven
What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self, and at what age?
Any time between 10 and 25:
It’s going to improve. Honest. There really are people out there that you will like and who will like you.
—Farah Mendlesohn, LiveJournal, 23rd May 2008
THURSDAY 1ST MAY 1975
The Phurnacite factory in Abercwmboi killed all the trees for two miles around. We’d measured it on the mileometer. It looked like something from the depths of hell, black and looming with chimneys of flame, reflected in a dark pool that killed any bird or animal that drank from it. The smell was beyond description. We always wound up the car windows as tight as tight when we had to pass it, and tried to hold our breath, but Grampar said nobody could hold their breath that long, and he was right. There was sulphur in that smell, which was a hell chemical as everyone knew, and other, worse things, hot unnameable metals and rotten eggs.
My sister and I called it Mordor, and we’d never been there on our own before. We were ten years old. Even so, big as we were, as soon as we got off the bus and started looking at it we started holding hands.
It was dusk, and as we approached the factory loomed blacker and more terrible than ever. Six of the chimneys were alight; four belched out noxious smokes.
“Surely it is a device of the Enemy,” I murmured.
Mor didn’t want to play. “Do you really think this will work?”
“The fairies were sure of it,” I said, as reassuringly as possible.
“I know, but sometimes I don’t know how much they understand about the real world.”
“Their world is real,” I protested. “Just in a different way. At a different angle.”
“Yes.” She was still staring at the Phurnacite, which was getting bigger and scarier as we approached. “But I don’t know how much they understand about the angle of the every day world. And this is definitely in that world. The trees are dead. There isn’t a fairy for miles.”
“That’s why we’re here,” I said.
We came to the wire, three straggly strands, only the top one barbed. A sign on it read “No Unauthorised Admittance. Beware Guard Dogs.” The gate was far around the other side, out of sight.
“Are there dogs?” she asked. Mor was afraid of dogs, and dogs knew it. Perfectly nice dogs who would play with me would rouse their hackles at her. My mother said it was a method people could use to tell us apart. It would have worked, too, but typically of her, it was both terrifyingly evil and just a little crazily impractical.
“No,” I said.
“It would ruin everything if we go back now, after having gone to all this trouble and come this far. Besides, it’s a quest, and you can’t give up on a quest because you’re afraid of dogs. I don’t know what the fairies would say. Think of all the things people on quests have to put up with.” I knew this wasn’t working. I squinted forward into the deepening dusk as I spoke. Her grip on my hand had tightened. “Besides, dogs are animals. Even trained guard dogs would try to drink the water, and then they’d die. If there really were dogs, there would be at least a few dog bodies at the side of the pool, and I don’t see any. They’re bluffing.”
We crept below the wire, taking turns holding it up. The still pool was like old unpolished pewter, reflecting the chimney flames as unfaithful wavering streaks. There were lights below them, lights the evening shift worked by.
There was no vegetation here, not even dead trees. Cinders crunched underfoot, and clinker and slag threatened to turn our ankles. There seemed to be nothing alive but us. The star-points of windows on the hill opposite seemed ridiculously out of reach. We had a school friend who lived there, we had been to a party once, and noticed the smell, even inside the house. Her father worked at the plant. I wondered if he was inside now.
At the edge of the pool we stopped. It was completely still, without even the faintest movement of natural water. I dug in my pocket for the magic flower. “Have you got yours?”
“It’s a bit crushed,” she said, fishing it out. I looked at them. Mine was a bit crushed too. Never had what we were doing seemed more childish and stupid than standing in the centre of that desolation by that dead pool holding a pair of crushed pimpernels the fairies had told us would kill the factory.
I couldn’t think of anything appropriate to say. “Well, un, dai, tri!” I said, and on “Three” as always we cast the flowers forward into the leaden pool, where they vanished without even a ripple. Nothing whatsoever happened. Then a dog barked far away, and Mor turned and ran and I turned and pelted after her.
“Nothing happened,” she said, when we were back on the road, having covered the distance back in less than a quarter of the time it had taken us as distance out.
“What did you expect?” I asked.
“The Phurnacite to fall and become a hallowed place,” she said, in the most matter-of-fact tone imaginable. “Well, either that or huorns.”
I hadn’t thought of huorns, and I regretted them extremely. “I thought the flowers would dissolve and ripples would spread out and then it would crumble to ruin and the trees and ivy come swarming over it while we watched and the pool would become real water and a bird would come and drink from it and then the fairies would be there and thank us and take it for a palace.”
“But nothing at all happened,” she said, and sighed. “We’ll have to tell them it didn’t work tomorrow. Come on, are we going to walk home or wait for a bus?”
It had worked, though. The next day, the headline in the Aberdare Leader was “Phurnacite Plant Closing: Thousands of Jobs Lost.”
I’m telling that part first because it’s compact and concise and it makes sense, and a lot of the rest of this isn’t that simple.
Think of this as a memoir. Think of it as one of those memoirs that’s later discredited to everyone’s horror because the writer lied and is revealed to be a different colour, gender, class and creed from the way they’d made everybody think. I have the opposite problem. I have to keep fighting to stop making myself sound more normal. Fiction’s nice. Fiction lets you select and simplify. This isn’t a nice story, and this isn’t an easy story. But it is a story about fairies, so feel free to think of it as a fairy story. It’s not like you’d believe it anyway.
This is NOT a vocab book!
Et haec, olim, meminisse iuvabit!
—Virgil, The Aeneid
WEDNESDAY 5TH SEPTEMBER 1979
“And how nice it’ll be for you,” they said, “to be in the countryside. After coming from, well, such an industrialised place. The school’s right out in the country, there’ll be cows and grass and healthy air.” They want to get rid of me. Sending me off to boarding school would do nicely, that way they can keep on pretending I didn’t exist at all. They never looked right at me. They looked past me, or they sort of squinted at me. I wasn’t the sort of relative they’d have put in for if they’d had any choice. He might have been looking, I don’t know. I can’t look straight at him. I kept darting little sideways glances at him, taking him in, his beard, the colour of his hair. Did he look like me? I couldn’t tell.
There were three of them, his older sisters. I’d seen a photograph of them, much younger but their faces exactly the same, all dressed as bridesmaids and my Auntie Teg next to them looking as brown as a berry. My mother had been in the picture too, in her horrid pink wedding dress—pink because it was December and we were born the June after and she did have some shame—but he hadn’t been. She’d torn him off. She’d ripped or cut or burned him out of all the wedding pictures after he’d run off. I’d never seen a picture of him, not one. In L. M. Montgomery’s Jane of Lantern Hill, a girl whose parents were divorced recognised a picture of her father in the paper without knowing it. After reading that we’d looked at some pictures, but they never did anything for us. To be honest, most of the time we hadn’t thought about him much.
Even standing in his house I was almost surprised to find him real, him and his three bossy half-sisters who asked me to call them Aunt. “Not aunty,” they said. “Aunty’s common.” So I called them Aunt. Their names are Anthea and Dorothy and Frederica, I know, as I know a lot of things, though some of them are lies. I can’t trust anything my mother told me, not unless it’s checked. Some things books can’t check, though. It’s no use my knowing their names anyway, because I can’t tell them apart, so I don’t call them aunt anything, just Aunt. They call me “Morwenna,” very formally.
“Arlinghurst is one of the best girls’ schools in the country,” one of them said.
“We all went there,” another chimed in.
“We had the jolliest time,” the third finished. Spreading what they’re saying out like that seems to be one of their habits.
I just stood there in front of the cold fireplace, looking up under my fringe and leaning on my cane. That was something else they didn’t want to see. I saw pity in one of their faces when I first got out of the car. I hate that. I’d have liked to sit down, but I wasn’t going to say so. I can stand up much better now. I will get better, whatever the doctors said. I want to run so much sometimes my body aches with longing more than the pain from my leg.
I turned around to distract myself and looked at the fireplace. It was marble, very elaborate, and there were branches of copper birch leaves arranged in it. Everything was very clean, but not very comfortable. “So we’ll get your uniforms right away, today in Shrewsbury, and take you down there tomorrow,” they said. Tomorrow. They really can’t wait to get rid of me, with my ugly Welsh accent and my limp and worst of all my inconvenient existence. I don’t want to be here either. The problem is that I don’t have anywhere else to be. They won’t let you live alone until you’re sixteen; I found that out in the Home. And he is my father even if I’d never seen him before. There is a sense in which these women really are my aunts. That makes me feel lonelier and further away from home than I ever had. I miss my real family, who have let me down.
The rest of the day was shopping, with all three aunts, but without him. I didn’t know if I was glad or sorry about that. The Arlinghurst uniform had to come from special shops, just like my grammar school uniform did. We’d been so proud when we passed the Eleven plus. The cream of the Valleys, they said we were. Now that’s all gone, and instead they’re forcing on me this posh boarding school with its strange requirements. One of the aunts had a list, and we bought everything on it. They’re certainly not hesitating about spending money. I’ve never had this much spent on me. Pity it’s all so horribl
When it came to shoes, there was a problem. I let them buy hockey shoes and running shoes and daps, for gym, because either I can use them or not. But when it comes to the uniform shoes, for every day, I had to stop them. “I have a special shoe,” I said, not looking at them. “It has a special sole. They have to be made, at the orthopaedic. I can’t just buy them.”
The shop assistant confirmed that we can’t just buy them in the school pattern. She held up a school shoe. It was ugly, and not very different from the clumpy shoes I have. “Couldn’t you walk in these?” one of the aunts asked.
I took the school shoe in my hands and looked at it. “No,” I said, turning it over. “There’s a heel, look.” It was inarguable, though the school probably thinks the heel is the minimum any self-respecting teenage girl will wear.
They didn’t mean to totally humiliate me as they clucked over the shoes and me and my built-up sole. I had to remind myself of that as I stood there like a rock, a little painful half-smile on my face. They wanted to ask what’s wrong with my leg, but I outfaced them and they didn’t quite dare. This, and seeing it, cheered me up a little. They gave in on the shoes, and said the school would just have to understand. “It’s not as if my shoes were red and glamorous,” I said.
That was a mistake, because then they all stared at my shoes. They are cripple shoes. I had a choice of one pattern of ladies’ cripple shoes, black or brown, and they are black. My cane’s wooden. It used to belong to Grampar, who is still alive, who is in hospital, who is trying to get better. If he gets better, I might be able to go home. It’s not likely, considering everything, but it’s all the hope I have. I have my wooden key ring dangling from the zip of my cardigan. It’s a slice of tree, with bark, it came from Pembrokeshire. I’ve had it since before. I touched it, to touch wood, and I saw them looking. I saw what they saw, a funny little spiky crippled teenager with a piece of tatty wood. But what they ought to see is two glowing confident children. I know what happened, but they don’t, and they’d never understand it.
Among Others by Jo Walton / Fantasy / Young Adult / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes