Posts Tagged ‘margaret atwood’
My review of In Other Worlds: SF And The Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood is up now at Strange Horizons.
This is probably one for fans only – and when I say fans, I mean fans of Atwood, not science fiction fans. Much is explained, much is further muddied; “Much depends on your nomenclatural allegiances, or else on your system of literary taxonomy”, she blithely states at one point. This is a very personal, idiosychratic exploration of science fiction, one that is likely to send purists screaming for the hills (some of the comments here, for example). In Atwood’s own words:
In Other Worlds is not a catalogue of science fiction, a grand theory about it, or a literary history of it. It is not a treatise, it is not definitive, it is not exhaustive, it is not canonical. It is not the work of a practicing academic or an official guardian of a body of knowledge. Rather, it is an exploration of my own lifelong relationship to a literary form, or forms, or sub-forms, both as reader and as writer.
I’d also like to congratulate Strange Horizons for reaching their fundraising target and thank everyone who contributed to making this happen. It really is the best of the web and long may it continue.
My joint review of The Year Of The Flood by Margaret Atwood and The Rapture by Liz Jensen is up now at Strange Horizons:
Both Atwood and Jensen have form, but there are far more similarities between The Year of the Flood and The Rapture than I was expecting. This review was predicated on the simple coincidence of Bloomsbury publishing two works of literary science fiction at around the same time. Inevitably the novels were concerned with dystopian and apocalyptic themes, the bread and butter of non-genre SF, but their concerns within these broad subgenres are shared and Jensen is obviously influenced by Atwood. Neither author seems quite sure what to do with their concerns, though, and this tarnishes the notable achievements of their books. In the end, The Rapture is the more successful because of the purity of its tone; there are none of the mad digressions of The Year of the Flood. I expected more of Margaret Atwood because she is so obviously capable of it. I will now expect the same of Liz Jensen, and I am especially interested to see whether they will both return once more to the possibilities offered by science fiction.
Today is also the first of John Clute’s Scores columns for Strange Horizons.
As long term readers of this blog will know I am a big fan of Margaret Atwood. She is a bit of a lightening rod for genretards (latest example here) because she has the temerity to have an outsider’s perspective on science fiction. At the same time, there are occasions when I can feel an insider’s frustration. Here is Sue Arnold in her brief review of the audio book edition of The Year Of The Flood:
No one does doom and gloom with such savage, satirical humour as Margaret Atwood. Who else could imagine a facility for condemned criminals called “painball” where offenders can choose between being spray-gunned to death or doing time in the painball arena – more of a forest, really. “You got enough food for two weeks plus the painball gun like a regular paint ball gun, but a hit in the eyes would blind you and if you got hit by the paint you’d start to corrode and then you’d be an easy target for the throat-slitters on the other team.”
Who else? Well, I can think many, many purveyors of such crude satire and it is the sort of thing that is often thrown in as background colour in SF stories. It seems a strange thing to single out for praise as well. I’ve recently started reading The Year Of The Flood and the punning neologisms and silly satire are by far the most irritating thing about the novel (as was true of Oryx And Crake). Different strokes for different folks but also different horizons.
It has always intrigued me that the two most respectable subgenres of science fiction with the fullest literary pedigree – dystopias and the post-apocalyptic – often get conflated in mainstream criticism. They seem to me to be radically different types of work. So I was interested to read Fredric Jameson’s review of The Year Of The Flood by Margaret Atwood in the London Review of Books:
It is an interesting theoretical question whether to distinguish this generic version – Apocalypse or the end-of-the-world story, Mary Shelley’s The Last Man and the post-nuclear landscapes – from the densely inhabited dystopias of various kinds of which these books have also given us a sample. My current feeling is that the post-catastrophe situation in reality constitutes the preparation for the emergence of Utopia itself, which, to be sure, in Atwood’s new instalment we reach only by anticipation (of which I will speak in a moment).
I’ll be honest, Jameson loses me with that last sentence. It is not that I don’t have time for this point of view, I’m just not sure how it follows from the preceding sentence. By the way, when he talks of “these books” he is in part referring back to his opening paragraph:
Who will recount the pleasures of dystopia? The pity and fear of tragedy – pity for the other, fear for myself – does not seem very appropriate to a form which is collective, and in which spectator and tragic protagonist are in some sense one and the same. For the most part, dystopia has been a vehicle for political statements of some kind: sermons against overpopulation, big corporations, totalitarianism, consumerism, patriarchy, not to speak of money itself. Not coincidentally, it has also been the one science-fictional sub-genre in which more purely ‘literary’ writers have felt free to indulge: Huxley, Orwell, even the Margaret Atwood of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The next page keeps us with genre and utopia in Thomas Jones’s review of Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon:
The ideological antithesis to the Golden Fang is the lost continent of Lemuria, submerged beneath the Pacific Ocean, which the hippies and surfers imagine as an anarchist utopia, more or less accessible depending on how much acid you happen to have taken. Utopias are what the paranoid imagine when they’re on a good trip. The trouble is, it’s not always straightforward to disentangle the positive paranoia from the negative, and impossible to know which side everyone – including yourself – is really on. The more closely you scrutinise the struggle between anarchist utopia and totalitarian capitalism – also one of the threads in Against the Day (2006) – the more interdependent they seem to be.
The issue also includes Michael Wood rather fruitlessly butting his head against Inglourious Basterds. Still, it is nice to see fiction getting a look in.
David Barnett has a post up on the Guardian Book Blog about that old favourite, As Others See Us. I have long held the view that rather than just being harmless smirking at the ignorance of others who Just Don’t Get It this sort of thing is actually indicative of a poisonous persecution complex that hurts the SF community. Barnett pitches his piece in an agnostic tone, it is designed to generate debate rather than impose a view. It is mildly disappointing to see the same old suspects being brought up – Margaret Atwood features prominently – and the same old arguments being re-hashed but the comments to the article are actually some of the more balanced I’ve seen on this issue.
As it happens, Atwood will be publishing another SF novel – The Year of the Flood (Amazon have got the title wrong) – later this year. It appears to be set in the same world as Oryx And Crake or the synopsis references it, at any rate, but the events of that novel don’t seem entirely compatible so it will be interesting to see how it turns out. I am certainly looking forward to it though and hope to review it later in the year.
It seems appropriate to close this entry with this: Margaret Atwood On Science Fiction – The Great Hits.