four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
56-Jan-Feb-2012
user_rating: 
0

A-In Other WorldsAward-winning Canadian writer Margaret Atwood has spent much of her career exploring the boundaries between literary fiction and science fiction. In Other Worlds offers the author's thoughts on genre and imagination--and why readers shouldn't pigeon-hole the writers they admire. Recently reviewed: The Year of the Flood (3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2009).

The Topic: Despite having written several important novels with undeniable science fiction overtones--The Handmaid's Tale (1985), winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987, Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009)--Margaret Atwood has always had a strained relationship with science fiction, thinking instead of her writing as "speculative." For the first time, in what began as a dialogue between Atwood and science fiction legend Ursula K. LeGuin, the author comes to terms with her own place in the canon, describing her lifelong fascination with science fiction and paying homage to George Orwell, H. G. Wells, Marge Piercy, Aldous Huxley, Kazuo Ishiguro, and others. Atwood conceived In Other Worlds, in part, as a response to legions of dedicated readers who wanted for so long to bring her under the science fiction tent. "Scarcely a question period goes by at my public readings without someone asking, usually in injured tones," she writes, "why I have foresworn the term science fiction, as if I've sold my children to the salt mines."
Doubleday. 272 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780385533966

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"While she may not think she writes it, Atwood certainly has read a fair bit of and thought deeply about science fiction, and she shares generously with her readers in In Other Worlds, starting with the flying rabbits she wrote about as a child. ... Any review that leads to memories of flying rabbits has performed a service to humanity in my book." Yvonne Zipp

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Delving into her personal origins as a sci-fi writer as well as the social and literary origins of the genre in its broadest sense, Atwood offers interesting, entertaining and thoughtful insight into both. For anyone interested in the genesis of fiction, science fiction, or the authors behind either (and of course Atwood in particular), In Other Worlds is a worthwhile and rewarding read." John Williford

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Stimulated by a public exchange of views with Ursula K. LeGuin, Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood has collected her writings and talks on science fiction and its speculative cousins into a smart and often playful book. ... Atwood, who says she's not a sci-fi writer, is nonetheless a spirited and sometimes playful reader of it." Jim Higgins

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Atwood's arguments for the value of genre fiction can help us to better understand a surprising fact of contemporary literature. Her acceptance of the SF label is only one sign of the increasingly cordial relationship between ‘literary' and ‘genre' fiction." Anthony Domestico

Critical Summary

Understandably, successful fiction writer Margaret Atwood has little interest in diving into the murky depths of academic writing. With In Other Worlds, though, she sticks a toe in the water, drawing connections from historical periods and cultural contexts to offer fresh perspectives on a genre that has, in her words, "acquired a dubious if not downright sluttish reputation"--even as she concedes, "in brilliant hands, however, the form can be brilliant." Wide-ranging and clear-eyed, Atwood's essays give readers insight not only into the author's mind-set but also into the long and surprisingly varied history of science fiction. With her thoughts--finally--between covers, Atwood no doubt will look forward to getting back to the more comfortable (and, to her mind, more fertile) confines of fiction. She's still her own writer, of course. Despite being a boisterous tribe, her readers wouldn't have it any other way.