January 14, 2013

In Other Worlds

Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors, though I haven't read even close to her entire extensive catalog of work. I think highly of the novels and story collections that I have read, and when I come across an Atwood interview or essay, I always find her thoughts insightful and entertaining. So I was thrilled to learn that Atwood's latest nonfiction book is a collection of her ideas about science fiction, a topic I'm always eager to ponder and discuss.

IN OTHER WORLDS: SF AND THE HUMAN IMAGINATION assembles Atwood's past lectures and criticism on science fiction, plus includes a few brief stories. Since the material in the book was written at different times for a variety of outlets and purposes, it doesn't come together in a completely satisfying way or delve as deeply as I would have liked. Still, I was interested in everything Atwood has to say, and I enjoyed this collection. And to be fair, the opening paragraph clearly states:

In Other Worlds is not a catalogue of science fiction, a grand theory about it, or a literary history of it. It is not a treatise, it is not definitive, it is not exhaustive, it is not canonical. It is not the work of a practicing academic or an official guardian of a body of knowledge. Rather, it is an exploration of my own lifelong relationship with a literary form, or forms, or sub-forms, both as reader and as writer.

The first part of the book is adapted from a series of lectures in which Atwood explores her relationship with science fiction throughout her life. She covers her childhood as a voracious reader and budding writer, college studies of mythology and other SF precursors, and the eventual publication of her own SF novels. It's interesting to read about Atwood's lifelong fascination with SF, because while she has more recently been associated with speculative fiction, most of her work for three decades was based in the real world. As someone who reads a lot of SF but more often writes realistic stories, I find it encouraging that a successful author discusses this unapologetically.

The second section is essays about SF works by other authors, including Ursula K. Le Guin, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Aldous Huxley. I enjoyed these pieces of criticism, whether they were for books I was familiar with or ones I hadn't read. The collection ends with a few very short stories by Atwood, which were hardly enough to quench my desire for her fiction. I'll definitely be reading and rereading some of Atwood's novels soon.

IN OTHER WORLDS was the most recent selection for the Bookrageous book club. The podcast discussion of the book is a great conversation about experiences of reading SF and the topics that Atwood explores. It could be listened to either before or after reading the book.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Nathan Bransford considers What Writers Can Learn from Downton Abbey: "We like to see characters do the right thing when presented with competing options, and the creators of Downton Abbey are really skilled at creating situations where characters' honor are tested."

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