Tuesday, October 11, 2011

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

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination
  • Title: In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination
  • Classification: Adult Nonfiction about Science Fiction
  • Genre: Science Fiction/Author Discussion
  • Format: Hardcover: 272 pages 
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese (October 11, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0385533969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385533966

"In Other worlds is not a catalogue of science fiction, grand theory about it, or a literary history of it. It is not a treatise, it is not definite, it is not exhaustive, it is not canonical. It is not the work of a practising 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 subforms, both as reader and as writer." (Margaret Atwood)

Margaret Atwood is the author of many books spanning from fiction to nonfiction to poetry. In 'In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination', she explores the world of science fiction. She's split the book up into three parts. The first part, discusses her personal relationship with science fiction from her first dabblings into the genre to her unfinished thesis to some of her later works which are considered to be science fiction. The second part, explores some of the major contributers to science fiction and discusses their works and how they relate to the genre. The third part, is a group of mini Sci-Fi shorts/excerpts by Ms. Atwood which give a nice sample of the variety of the genre.

In her book, Atwood discusses the fact that the term 'science fiction' wasn't coined until the 1930's. She goes on to talk about how what's considered science fiction has been disputed over the years. She even includes a blurb by Le Guin who criticized her. Here is a bit of Le Guin's statement:
"But Margaret Atwood doesn't want any of her books to be called science fiction. In her recent, brilliant essay collection, Moving Targets, she says that everything that happens in her novels is possible and may even have already happened, so they can't be science fiction, which is "fiction in which things happen that are not possible today." This arbitrarily restrictive definition seems designed to protect her novels from being relegated to a genre still shunned by hidebound readers, reviewers and prize-awarders. She doesn't want the literary bigots to shove her into the literary ghetto."
I can't help but wonder if this is what inspired Ms. Atwood to write this book. It also makes me, a reviewer/blogger, feel good that I'm not the only one who gets confused about what genre to classify a book under.

The book goes on to explain Atwood's thought on science fiction, and, at one point, she divides it into three subdivisions. "It's subdivisions include science fiction proper (gizmo-riddled and theory based space travel, time travel, or cybertravel to other worlds, with aliens frequent); Science-fiction fantasy (dragons are common; gizmos are less plausible, and may include wands); and speculative fiction (human society and it's possible future forms, which are either much better than what we have now or much worse). However, the membranes separating these subdivisions are permeable, and osmotic flow from one to another is the norm."

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It's definitely not the type of book I usually read, but if you're like me, I love getting into the head of my favorite authors. This definitely lets you see what has influenced Atwood over the years and gives you an idea of where some of the ideas for some of her books came from. I'd equate it to an in-depth interview that let's you get a thorough look into Ms. Atwood's brain, at least where science fiction is concerned, and a little into her background. I found the discussions of books such as 'Animal Farm' by George Orwell, 'The Island of Doctor Moreau' by H.G. Wells, 'She' by H. Rider Haggard (a book I hadn't heard of), 'Never Let Me Go' by Kazuo Ishguro, Ursula K. Le Guin's books, etc very interesting and informative. I loved that the book was laced with interesting tidbits of information and facts. I recommend not reading this book in one sitting, but allowing yourself several days. There is a lot of information to take in.

Overall, I gave this one a 3 1/2 out of 5 roses. The discussions were informative, interesting, and kept my attention. There is a slight bit of repetition of information due to the fact it is made up of several different essays and lectures. If you're a Fan of Ms. Atwood and have always wondered where her ideas for science fiction stories came from, this is a must have book. I would not be surprised if it ends up finding it's way into classrooms in the future. 

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