In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood - Book Review

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It's about science fiction, whatever she says…

Margaret Atwood’s collection of essays on science fiction and its varied literary history (subtitle: SF And The Human Imagination ) has a distinct air of reluctant apology about it: the author’s previous disavowals of any culpability in writing genre fiction have generated substantial comment within the SF community.

Atwood’s justification for this has a ring of the disingenuous, but it would perhaps be churlish to dwell on her somewhat squirelly definition of “speculative fiction.” This is a potentially lengthy debate.

What is clear is that Atwood’s claims to have been a lifelong SF reader are clearly evidentially based. In this entertaining series of essays (which includes three lectures she gave at Atlanta’s Emory University in 2010), she looks at a variety of SF tropes – aliens, utopias, mad scientists – and considers them in a wry and elegant fashion that is characteristic of her own fiction, whether SFnal or otherwise. She also devotes time to a rather broad range of other people’s works, including Marge Piercy’s Woman On The Edge of Time and H Rider Haggard’s (possibly diametrically opposed) She .

This is an author taking time out to have fun with a genre that clearly not only appeals to her, but which forms the bedrock of a substantial amount of her own work. It’s both an oblique apologia and a tribute, but primarily, it’s an interesting read for anyone concerned with the history of SF.

Liz Williams

Pieces by Liz Williams on Dune, Frankenstein, Interview With The Vampire and The Snow Queen can be read on our SFX Book Club page.

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