Thursday, July 19, 2012
Atwood is not a SF writer, as she's stated a number of times -- along with comments that many of us who do read and/or write the stuff regularly took to be derogatory -- but this is a book entirely about her readings of and engagement with SF works and ideas. And I'd love to engage closely with her ideas -- she's a smart woman who's thought a lot about SFnal stuff, though she doesn't really know the field, or understand how her arguments fit into a much larger historical conversation -- but I read this long enough ago that I can't do that now without re-reading the whole thing.
Atwood is another one of those writers with a very idiosyncratic definition of SF -- in her case, as with most writers, it's designed to showcase how wonderful and special and unique her work is; nearly every writer wants to believe that, so similar constructions are very common -- which makes internal sense but doesn't line up with any generally useful wider definition or with either the universe of books with SF themes or the self-consciously "science fiction" genre.
And she hasn't made a serious study of the field -- like a lot of writers, she was a bookish kid, and like a lot of writers her age (she was born in 1939), she read a lot of SF when she was young -- but In Other Worlds primarily collects essays based on a series of lectures about that early engagement and how it lead to her SFnal novels. Added to that (since those essays only add up to about a hundred pages) are a random bunch of short reviews and essays on things that could be considered SF (Orwell, Huxley, Wells, Le Guin, Haggard, Swift, and a few contemporaries) and five short bits of fiction.
If SF were worried that Atwood hated us, we could breath easy: she doesn't. She doesn't understand the field at all -- her focus and interests are more historical, so she really doesn't care about what most of SF has been up to for the past six decades -- but she appreciates some things that have SF elements, because they are close to her own interests. And she's famous and lauded, so I guess SF gets a little reflected glory. But, all in all, this is a quirky little book, entirely about a version of science fiction that exists entirely in Margaret Atwood's head. It's served her pretty well, though, so it may be of interest.