When is science fiction not science fiction? Or horror not horror? Or fantasy not fantasy? Or… you get the idea.
These genre questions and more are thoughts Margaret Atwood tackles and ponders in a collection of essays and book reviews she had gathered into the volume called In Other Worlds.
The famous Canadian writer and thinker who has published countless fiction works and multiple topical non-fiction tomes, received some harsh feedback a few years ago. She declared her books The Handmaids Tale and Oryx and Crake not sci-fi, but a different beast entirely.
When the Geek and literati uproar subsided, she had this collection put out, all in order to fully explain her positions and the longterm reasons behind them. The good news is, Atwood proves her geek credentials and provides the necessary explanations for her perceived slights. The bad news is, she tends to ramble abit.
With the launch of her arguments, we are subjected to quite a lot of references to tons of old comics strips, pulp novels, an decades old sci-fi and genre books. This is fine and all, with several more obscure Geek references cropping up that even my old soul had never heard of, but also feels very repetitive after awhile. In fact, sometimes it comes across as a laundry list of her youthful reading, with only a minimum slice of commentary involved.
Later in the volume we get a better feel for Atwood and her thinking process when the reprints feature book reviews. Except for George Orwell, none of these authors or novels I had read, but many of them piqued my curiosity because of Atwood’s noticeable enthusiasm in the subjects. At her best here, she not only analyzes these stories but also provides a very clear literary genealogy of where the authors may have gotten their ideas from. In so many ways, I find this concept very informative and enjoyable, since seeing how the sausage is made, or even Atwood’s educated guesses, has always been a hobby of mine. In some ways, it feels like an expert giving a dvd commentary.
As for Atwood’s sci-fi reasonings, she very quickly explains them away, with a logic and follow through which makes sense. While Geeks still may not be happy with her refusal to label her books the way they see fit, at least it is not because of snobbery on her part. She is a Geek, just like us.
…is currently reading The Brave and the Bold Volume 1 and 2 by Mark Waid, George Perez and Jerry Ordway.