Thursday, February 23, 2012

SPL Shelf Life [adult]

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood 

If you're a fan of SF (science fiction, or the more inclusive acronymic interpretation speculative fiction), and you keep up with your author news, you know that Margaret Atwood has a somewhat troubled relationship with the genre and the label. Three of her books now – The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood – could arguably be considered science fiction, and definitely fall comfortably into the speculative fiction category. So, what was with the much-publicized spat between Atwood and SF giant Ursula Le Guin, in which Atwood denied authoring any science fiction books? In Other Worlds seems to be Atwood's explanation to the slighted genre fiction community.

In the first section of the book, she declares her enthusiastic and abiding love for science and speculative fiction, and explains why she believes her work doesn't fall into the genre. She attempts a definition of science fiction, has a lively, funny discussion of why the genre's so hard to define, and deals accessibly with what functions the genre plays in our cultural psyche. The first section is, admittedly, lit theory. But Atwood's personal anecdotes and sharp sense of humour, along with her unabashed geekiness, keep the pace rolling nicely and the theory from becoming too heavy.

The second section of the book contains essays she's written on different classic SF works, wherein she applies the theory she's laid out in the first section. The third section includes some very interesting short bits of SF that Atwood has admitted to authoring. These pieces tend to have appeared in her full-length works, as either short discussions or stories written and told by characters. She's deliberately chosen fragments that are entertaining, which will be good news to readers who sometimes find Atwood a little dark and depressing. The book ends off with some appendices that are not to be missed - especially a short, blazingly snarky bit on the history of women's attire on covers of SF works. For that matter, even the book's cover is lined with some pretty adorable SF-inspired doodles by Ms Atwood herself.

For all her gleefully evil snarkiness, it's obvious that Atwood loves SF, and that she's been much inspired by the genre and its tropes since childhood. She's a fan, she wants you to be a fan, and she thinks SF does essential work in our cultural imagination. This book is a must-read for confirmed SF geeks, especially ones who love Atwood. And, hey, just a reminder: She'll be at the Tom Patterson Theatre discussing this book on Saturday, August 18th. Tickets are available through the Festival website for anyone who wants to take their geeking to the next level.

This review appeared in The Stratford Gazette on February 23, 2012. Written by Shauna Thomas, Librarian.   

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