Potlatch 22: February 1-3, 2013

Book of Honor

This year's Book of Honor is Among Others by Jo Walton. Yes, this is a break with tradition in a couple of ways, but we think there are some good reasons to break with those traditions, especially now.

Fandom Saves Lives -- A Tangential Appreciation of Jo Walton's Among Others by Ulrika O'Brien

Only several months after moving up to Seattle did I first learn of the so-called "Seattle Freeze." Immigrants from other cities come here only to find that the casual friendliness of Seattleites doesn't translate into closer ties. Transplants complain it's nearly impossible to make new friends here -- neighbors and work comrades are all amiable at arm's length, then wander off to do their own thing without ever inviting you. Or so the story goes. I've heard it from enough people that I believe it's true, for them, but at the same time the tale is totally alien. When we arrived at our Redmond apartment, a whole gang of friendly faces showed up too, to help us move in, joking about our weird stuff ("Owl, onna stick!") and admiring my skills at Moving Truck Tetris, and generally making quick work of the load in. We were attending the local party circuit within a month of arriving, and during the summer social season I found myself experiencing fete fatigue. My Seattle debut was just the opposite of frozen.

But I was lucky. It's not that all those other transplants are wrong, it's just that I had an advantage they didn't. I arrived in Seattle with my own ready-made cosmically-linked karass already in place: fandom. I love the sweet strangeness of discovering that fans, who as individuals are often bona fide introverts, or socially awkward, or painfully shy, together have such a powerful underlying bond that they create a much more effective social-life safety net than anything available to most individual extroverts. And together fans made it possible to pull off a magic trick -- moving to Seattle without ever experiencing the "Seattle Freeze." Fandom saved my social life.

Impressive as that feat is, it pales compared to discovering fandom. Nothing is quite as magical as that first moment of revelation. It's a lightning strike: there's actually a group, a whole worldwide community, where we belong (perhaps for the first time in our lives)! There are people who get our jokes and understand our references, have read the same favorite books, and even introduce us to new books we'll come to love just as much. It can be a lot like falling in love. It can be a lot like discovering the home we didn't fully know we missed. It can be a lot like catching a lifeline. Because for anyone who's ever been the isolated, "weird" kid, fandom might also be the first signal that "it gets better." In other fans we see people living genuinely happy lives, even if they never did stop being "the weird kid." In this karass, weird is the new normal. Weird is wonderful, show us your weird! Welcome to our festival of weird, and fly your freak flag high!

There are a lot of kinds of magic in Among Others -- witchcraft, and fairies, and the magical worlds of all the books that Morwenna reads -- but perhaps the most potent, transformational sorcery of all for those of us with similar histories is her own discovery of fandom, and her first glimpse of a future life where she fits in, no longer an alien, no longer "other" to those she lives and moves among. That's a piece of magic that resonates deep, and echoes forward in time, with hope for all the other Morwennas, the ones who haven't found their karass. Or at least, not yet.