Reviews

'In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination': Atwood Finds the Connection Between Wells & Orwell

Childhood reading, the emphasis upon obscure texts, and searching out forgotten and under-appreciated works form Margaret Atwood-the-novelist’s DNA.


In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination

Publisher: Virago (UK), Random House (USA)
Length: 255 pages
Author: Margaret Atwood
Price: £17.99/$24.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2011-10
Amazon

Vindication is a wonderful thing. Or I imagine so, having not yet experienced that sense of completion and satisfaction with my doctoral research, quite yet. I hope to some day.

Margaret Atwood knows what it’s like, seeing as the topic of her unfinished PhD thesis predicted many of the now current and fashionable fields of study. The range of genres and authors that she chose to examine suggests an early ability to perceive tastes and preferences in the general readership. She hit upon a ‘line of literary descent’ that demonstrates the origins of science fiction and fantasy literature through George MacDonald, H Rider Haggard, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. And she remarks upon her foresight: ‘…at that time no one of any academic respectability was paying any attention to this kind of writing, to “science fiction” and its related forms or subforms, such as fantasy and ustopias.’ (Atwood: 78)

That last type, ‘ustopias’, is her coining; a conflation of ‘utopia’ and ‘dystopia’, the two kinds of societies typically depicted in the literature she analyses. One is a paradise, tainted from within; the other a nightmare in which glimpses of bliss can be discerned. ‘I was on my own’, she remembers, outside the accepted conventions of academia. And to a great extent she has remained so.

Academia has had to keep up with Atwood. She has energised literature in a unique fashion – with insight and intellect, and riveting narratives. Science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction – all terms she enjoys using and questioning – have become trademarks of her writing. She accounts for her journey of discovery in this collection of essays, critiques and commentaries, drawn from a variety of outlets: radio, journalism, symposia, etc. She takes us through the compositional process of The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and reflects upon how George Orwell’s 1984 (1948) was inspirational for her.

Childhood reading, the emphasis upon obscure texts, and searching out forgotten and under-appreciated works form Atwood-the-novelist’s DNA. It will always be engaging when a writer cites their influences and represents the formulation of science fiction (which she still considers a contested term) as being Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, through Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein to the more recognisable form of H.G. Wells. She treats genre as something fluid and changeable and is very persuasive in perceiving the artform of the novel in this way, relating Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe to Wells’s difficult work The Island of Dr. Moreau. She removes the rigidity of the novel form and encourages us to re-visit classics, drama, film, and out-of-fashion works in order to re-evaluate their significance.

What started out as her seeming disparagement of science fiction, for which she supposedly offered negative criticism of Ursula K Le Guin, and was accused of not wishing to be labelled as a science fiction or fantasy writer herself, has now been thoroughly contradicted. This collection serves to confirm her admiration for Le Guin’s work (she devotes an entire chapter to her stories and the whole collection is dedicated to her) and also asserts her position as one that is far from negative. Instead, she is a champion of marginal but popular forms and one who reinforces the need to interrogate such works. This collection will only function to enliven the debate and further the possibilities of how science fiction, ‘speculative’ fiction and ‘ustopias’ are assessed and represented in future.

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

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Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

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