Friday, December 30, 2011

In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood

I'm a pretty casual reader of science fiction, and I'm sure that to those who are bigger fans of the genre, there's no new insight on it here. But from the get-go, Atwood doesn't pretend it's a comprehensive, or even scholarly, treatise on the scope of science fiction; I sense she's had a chip on her shoulder for a while about three of her novels (The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood) being (arguably) incorrectly categorized as science fiction, instead of speculative fiction, and this book strikes me as her sort of answer to that ongoing debate. Could she have simply tweeted her frustration over peoples' misunderstanding of her works? Sure. But she wrote a book on it, instead, and as someone who could never quite see the appeal of Twitter, I appreciate it.

You get three sections in the book: the first compiles Atwood's discussions on science fiction, from superhero culture to the more speculative side of the genre. The second section is an assortment of book reviews she wrote, and the third contains a few of Atwood's own science fiction shorts. I found the first part to be the most interesting, but again, it probably isn't anything new to someone who is more of a science fiction expert. Would have liked to see her own reading list of sci fi/speculative fiction titles, if only to get a further idea of how she distinguishes between the two (because lord knows I don't need any more titles on my to-read list). But also, I think there's still a lot of gray area in determining what is science fiction (stories about the impossible) and what falls more to the speculative (what is still kind of out there, but in the realm of possibility) side. Extraterrestrial life, for instance, could arguably fall into either category, whereas stuff like robots and time travel are more of a black and white issue (speculative and science fiction, respectively).

You must read this if you're at all a science fiction fan. I'm not and I found it engaging, probably because of Atwood's great (as usual) writing.

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