23 October, 2011

What's the Deal With... Margaret Atwood? Speculative or Science Fiction?

An internet rant is a beautiful thing. Because, why even be online, with all the anonymity that brings, and even attempt to contain all that angst. It's why we have comments on everything from blogs to Youtube to news stories. People need to complain! We have things on our chest and we've got to get them off...and our significant others are just plain tired of hearing the same thing over and over again.

In light of this, I decided to institute a new feature on the blog where I can bring up whatever's on my mind, be it terrible book covers, titles, ideas, bloggers (okay, probably just Pat), you name it and have some fun with it.


Margaret Atwood's newest book, called In Other Worlds, is about, well I'll just let you read the blurb:
In Other Worlds: Science Fiction and the Human Imagination is Margaret Atwood’s account of her rela­tionship with the literary form we have come to know as science fiction. This relationship has been lifelong, stretch­ing from her days as a child reader in the 1940s through her time as a graduate student at Harvard, where she explored the Victorian ancestors of the form, and continuing with her work as a writer and reviewer. This book brings together her three heretofore unpublished Ellmann Lectures of 2010—“Flying Rabbits,” which begins with Atwood’s early rabbit superhero creations and goes on to speculate about masks, capes, weakling alter egos, and Things with Wings; “Burning Bushes,” which follows her into Victorian other-lands and beyond; and “Dire Cartographies,” which investi­gates utopias and dystopias. In Other Worlds also includes some of Atwood’s key reviews and musings about the form, including her elucidation of the differences (as she sees them) between “science fiction” proper and “speculative fiction,” as well as “sword and sorcery/fantasy” and “slip­stream fiction.” For all readers who have loved The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood—not to mention Atwood’s 100,000-plus Twitter fol­lowers— In Other Worlds is a must.

First, she's offended by having her work called "science fiction" (it's "speculative" fiction") and now it was just a misunderstanding since she's such a big fan that was she was really offended at was the incorrect use of terms. I call BS. (This article discusses what I'm talking about to some extent.)

Please just be honest with us - you don't want to fall into "that" category which has such a stigma. We all know the truth.

I've heard nothing but good things about her work, but things like this just make hard. Is this not a good enough reason to refuse to read her books?


pussreboots said...

I see science fiction as the catch-all genre that contains smaller, more focused genres like speculative fiction. Her works tend to be social commentary / allegory in the style of H.G. Wells but written from a modern perspective and modern usage of language.

Anonymous said...

Speculative fiction is the more catch all term, as it applies to writing that "speculates" (and let's use that term loosely) about this universe's future (sf), or what a different universe might look like (fantasy). Science fiction is itself an umbrella term, no doubt, that most of Atwood's work falls in to. It is mostly social sf (popularized by Orwell and Ballard and Dick), but it's sf nonetheless. The problem is less with how the actual term is defined, more in the fact that Atwood keeps flip-flopping her stance on its use applied to her work. Atwood doesn't get to choose what her work is categorized at, as much as she would like to. It's in the reader's perception where genre definitions lie.

Bryce L. said...

@pussreboots - Good point, I guess I should actually read her work. :)

@Adam - Yeah, you've put it much better than I could ever hope to and she balks at being looped into that category of sf. But you're very right, it's not something she gets to really choose and that also has me knackered (to steal a British term).

Unknown said...

As Adam says, Atwood has a history of this sort of self-important nonsense, whereby she declares this thing, then that thing - never mind that it's the polar opposite of the opinion she just expressed - offending pretty much everyone in the process. So I pay as little attention as possible to what she says. I have to, because truth be told, her books are often quite brilliant - Oryx & Crake would be a great place for you to start if you intend to, Bryce - and I wouldn't want to be put off them by one or another of her cranky granny rants.

Well she's not polite... why should we be? :)

Miquel said...

Well, actually the only good enough reason I can imagine to refuse to read her books would be them not being interesting enough (which I haven't read yet). Other than that, authors are entitled to have as many prejudices as I have.

Bryce L. said...

@Niall - Awesome, thanks for rec. I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy those ones, but "cranky granny rants" pretty much sums it up perfectly. :D

@Miquel - Very good point, I have plenty myself.