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In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination At A Time When Speculative Fiction Seems Less And Less Far Fetched, Margaret Atwood Lends Her Distinctive Voice And Singular Point Of View To The Genre In A Series Of Essays That Brilliantly Illuminates The Essential Truths About The Modern World This Is An Exploration Of Her Relationship With The Literary Form We Have Come To Know As Science Fiction, A Relationship That Has Been Lifelong, Stretching From Her Days As A Child Reader In The S, Through Her Time As A Graduate Student At Harvard, Where She Worked On The Victorian Ancestor Of The Form, And Continuing As A Writer And Reviewer This Book Brings Together Her Three Heretofore Unpublished Ellmann Lectures From Flying Rabbits, Which Begins With Atwood S Early Rabbit Superhero Creations, And Goes On To Speculate About Masks, Capes, Weakling Alter Egos, And Things With Wings Burning Bushes, Which Follows Her Into Victorian Otherlands And Beyond And Dire Cartographies, Which Investigates Utopias And Dystopias In Other Worlds Also Includes Some Of Atwood S Key Reviews And Thoughts About The Form Among Those Writers Discussed Are Marge Piercy, Rider Haggard, Ursula Le Guin, Ishiguro, Bryher, Huxley, And Jonathan Swift She Elucidates The Differences As She Sees Them Between Science Fiction Proper, And Speculative Fiction, As Well As Between Sword And Sorcery Fantasy And Slipstream Fiction For All Readers Who Have Loved The Handmaid S Tale, Oryx And Crake, And The Year Of The Flood, In Other Worlds Is A Must


10 thoughts on “In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination

  1. says:

    Archetypal ExplorationThere are two fundamental principles in Jungian psychology 1 The unconscious part of the mind is indistinguishable from reality, and 2 The self, composed of the conscious and unconscious mind, is indistinguishable from God As a self confessed Jungian, Margaret Atwood, undoubtedly unconsciously, employs these two principles wonderfully in her commentary on Science Fiction, In Other Worlds.Science fiction as a genre is of course a Jungian playground in which primitive arc Archetypal ExplorationThere are two fundamental principles in Jungian psychology 1 The unconscious part of the mind is indistinguishable from reality, and 2 The self, composed of the conscious and unconscious mind, is indistinguishable from God As a self confessed Jungian, Margaret Atwood, undoubtedly unconsciously, employs these two principles wonderfully in her commentary on Science Fiction, In Other Worlds.Science fiction as a genre is of course a Jungian playground in which primitive archetypes from ancient myths to childhood fears can be given free rein The constraints of existing technology, social conventions, time, and even fundamental physics can be done away with to form an alternative world which, as long as it is consistent within itself, can be a satisfying experience For me, and I think perhaps for Atwood as well, the best alternative sci fi worlds don t necessarily have a dystopian or utopian edge, even if they communicate a political or social message They just are And what makes them interesting is how a sensory, reflective entity not necessarily a human being makes its way in some fundamentally altered set of conditions The archetypes bend and twist to accommodate these conditions, but ultimately, since they are at the limits of our imagination, they remain identifiable hence we are able to comprehend and even empathise with otherwise alien creatures from other planets, other times, other eruptions of the multiverse.So in a sense sci fi is therapy, a non threatening exploration of the things crawling around at the very bottom of our collective unconscious, the existence of which is of course confirmed by the worldwide success of works like Star Wars and Harry Potter, not to mention Frankenstein and Superman The technique is simple we allow Jungian principle 1 to operate without any of the usual epistemological worries that we carry around with us as a matter of course then we perform an act of imaginative blasphemy by employing principle 2 not to make too fine a point, we play God and re create creation Why I suppose the best answer, and the answer implied by Atwood, is because we can No, that s too passive because we must We are, as social as well as conscious beings, programmed to explore the alternative arrangements of relationships in creation that are contained in sci fi Perhaps our myths of origin in sacred scriptures, as ancient as history allows us to recall, are expressions of the same facts of human existence as the superheroes of Marvel comics Such a comparison isn t intended to be disrespectful In fact, it might be a key to re invigorating interest in a sacred literature that appears simply incomprehensible to most people.Atwood s identification and sifting of the sci fi archetypes is masterful She takes the reader from Inanna, the life and sex goddess of Mesopotamia, through the Greek messenger god Hermes and Shakespeare s Puck to the Wizard of Oz and Plastic Man of the 1940 s And that s just on the topic of flying For Atwood the classic Beowulf has a clear association with that truly terrible 1958 British film, The Creeping Eye, aka The Trollenberg Terror This is an association which, once made, is burned into one s literary psyche to the benefit of both works I think Similarly, it s not an enormous leap in imagination from the talking trees of the film Avatar, to the Burning Bush of Genesis Every connection enhances appreciation of the things connected This might well be the primary spiritual function of literature, of any sort but particularly that in which the tropes used point beyond themselves in the manner of Russian Orthodox icons In other words, sci fi.Atwood s case for sci fi as the modern continuation of Renaissance humanistic thinking is interesting Works like Bladerunner, The Island of Dr Moreau, and Star Trek force a consideration of what it means to be human As does any purported change in technology or even fundamental physics, as in The Matrix.The theological import of much sci fi needs hardly be argued Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Perelandra are popular enough examples to make the point Less obviously, theology also pervades books like Atwood s own The Handmaid s Tale, not least by exposing the inherent sexism and rationalisation of power by the powerful in much of what passes for talk about God There s no doubt that Atwood does both Jung and Sci Fi proud in this little book of almost throw away, thought provoking thoughts After all, what else can you do, if you ve read virtually everything important ever written, but connect it, probably involuntarily, to everything else She does it with such ease See for example


  2. says:

    This is basically a collection of previously published bits and pieces of science fiction and science fiction related writing of Atwood s The first and the most interesting part of the book isor less a transcript of the author s lectures which include notes on the evolution of her interest in and understanding of SF, her musings about the connections between science fiction and mythology and religion, and some insight into the intentions and inspirations behind her own speculative ficti This is basically a collection of previously published bits and pieces of science fiction and science fiction related writing of Atwood s The first and the most interesting part of the book isor less a transcript of the author s lectures which include notes on the evolution of her interest in and understanding of SF, her musings about the connections between science fiction and mythology and religion, and some insight into the intentions and inspirations behind her own speculative fiction The Handmaid s Tale, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood Part two consists of a series of critical reviews of significant SF works I admit to skipping all of these essays but two Atwood s responses to Ursula K Le Guin s The Birthday of the World and Other Stories and Kazuo Ishiguro s Never Let Me Go Both are insightful, affectionate and complementary.And, finally, in part three are presented Atwood s 5 very short SF stories, which are mainly unremarkable, except the one that is an excerpt from The Blind Assassin What left the most impression on me, however, is the introduction to this collection In it, Margaret Atwood responds to Ursula K Le Guin s very harsh critique of Atwood s choice to call her works speculative fiction and not science fiction Now, if the whole brouhaha was only about semantics, I wouldn t even care Just a glance at how books are shelved here, on Goodreads, is a proof enough that what one person understands to be SF, another might categorize as fantasy, etc But Le Guin goes further and accuses Atwood of deliberately refusing to call herself a SF writer to protect her novels from being relegated to a genre still shunned by hidebound readers, reviewers and prize awarders and assuming that she doesn t want the literary bigots to shove her into the literary ghetto I have a very high regard for Ursula K Le Guin, but this attack of hers left me disappointed It is unpleasant to see two of my favorite and undeniably feminist female writers to be a part of this squabble Atwood, however, handles these accusations with class, explains her position and even goes as far as to dedicate this book to Ursula Evidently, they have this conflict resolved, but the bad taste in my mouth still lingers


  3. says:

    Margaret Atwood is a bit like my friend Lil she is both right AND left brained She writes like a dream and knows her way around science and technology.Many people ask Atwood why she does not like the term science fiction for her work She calls three of her works ustopias Of one, The Handmaid s Tale, she writes that she would not put into this book anything that humankind had not already done, somewhere, sometime, or for which it did not already have the tools Later in the book in an Margaret Atwood is a bit like my friend Lil she is both right AND left brained She writes like a dream and knows her way around science and technology.Many people ask Atwood why she does not like the term science fiction for her work She calls three of her works ustopias Of one, The Handmaid s Tale, she writes that she would not put into this book anything that humankind had not already done, somewhere, sometime, or for which it did not already have the tools Later in the book in an essay on H.G Wells, Atwood notes that science fiction as a term was unknown to Wells it did not make an appearance until the 1930s, in America, during the golden age of bug eyed monsters and girls in brass brassieres In a different essay she expands on the topic of women in metal bras, referencing Maidenform, Norse mythology, Bugs Bunny and Madonna.I love how Atwood regards schlocky pulp fiction, myth, history and comic strips all with an equally analytical eye, taking us with her on a journey through her life as a reader and a writer


  4. says:

    This is a thoroughly enjoyable book In Part 1, Margaret Atwood tells of her childhood and University reading of the old sci fi books Her insights and thoughts are interesting and humorous Her depth of knowledge shows throughout This is one smart lady.Part 2 is a collection of essays on specific sci fi works There s a number of books that I ve never heard of but will be adding to my TBR list to hopefully find a copy Showing the connection between old Sci Fi, new Sci Fi and ourselves Part 3 This is a thoroughly enjoyable book In Part 1, Margaret Atwood tells of her childhood and University reading of the old sci fi books Her insights and thoughts are interesting and humorous Her depth of knowledge shows throughout This is one smart lady.Part 2 is a collection of essays on specific sci fi works There s a number of books that I ve never heard of but will be adding to my TBR list to hopefully find a copy Showing the connection between old Sci Fi, new Sci Fi and ourselves Part 3 is a collection of 5 short sci fi stories all of them good I loved learning of Margaret Atwood s sci fi roots Her love of sci fi goes back to her young childhood I laughed and empathized at her reaction to Animal Farm And yet.she continued reading sci fi with relish and enjoyment


  5. says:

    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 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 I m still kicking myself for not being able to make it to Margaret Atwood s 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 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 I m still kicking myself for not being able to make it to Margaret Atwood s Ellman Lectures at Emory University a few years ago, where she lectured on science fiction and her relationship with the genre Luckily for me, Atwood decided to do us all a favor and put those lectures, along with other essays on science fiction, into a single volume for fans like me to buy on the day it came out Prompting a minor panic attack when I couldn t find the book on the New Releases shelf at Barnes and Noble, which resulted in me getting a staff member to retrieve the single copy from the back Do not get between me and a Margaret Atwood book, is the lesson.As the introduction states, this is a very personal collection, detailing Atwood s own interest in science fiction and how her interest began as a child, continued into her college years, and culminated in her writing three science fiction speculative fiction novels She describes reading Animal Farm as a child without being aware of the symbolism, escaping her literature thesis by going to cheesy B movie showings as a college student, and the process of creating the futuristic worlds for The Handmaid s Tale and Oryx and Crake And then just for fun, she throws in a few short fiction pieces at the end that are inspired by what the book discusses I loved this, not just for how thoughtfully Atwood discusses and dissects such cheap B movie tropes like mad scientists and sexy demon women, but for how broad the scope of these essays are She discusses Never Let Me Go, the relationship between devils and evil aliens, 1984, Brave New World, Avatar, fictional maps, superheroes, gene splicing, and HG Wells Did I mention superheroes Because oh my god, you guys, Margaret Atwood discussing superheroes is my new favorite thing She does a Jungian analysis of Batman using the three big villains the Joker, the Penguin, and Catwoman and does such a good job analyzing Robin that for the first time I didn t utterly hate the character Then there s Robin, the Boy Wonder, who is Bruce s ward Is Bruce gay Don t even think about it From the point of view of we mythosophists, Robin is an elemental spirit, like Shakespeare s Puck and Ariel note the bird name, which links him to air His function in the plot is to aid the benevolent master trickster, Batman, with his plans From the point of view of we Jungians, however, Robin is a Peter Pan figure he never grows up and he represents the repressed child within Bruce Wayne, whose parents, you ll recall, were murdered when he was very young, thus stunting Bruce s emotional growth I ll be honest I never thought I d see the day when a multiple award winning Serious Author was discussing Batman with a completely straight face And that, I think, is the central idea behind this collection that the stories of aliens and mad scientists and superheroes and magic, so frequently dismissed as pulpy trash, deserve to be regarded with just as much respect and thoughtfulness as traditional Great Literature Stories of aliens taking over the world and sexy vampires have a rich and far reaching literary ancestry, and many of the tropes that define science fiction can be found in the kind of books that are taken muchseriously than anything involving monsters and made up worlds Summary Science Fiction is legit, guys, so you best respect The Atwood commands it


  6. says:

    I m continuing with my promise of readingMargaret Atwood, this time with something quite different If last time I read Alias Grace which for me was a pleasant change of pace from the usual speculative fiction I grew expecting from Margaret, now I m moving to the realm of non fiction with this collection of essays, some short stories and thoughts from the one and only Margaret Atwood The title of the book, In Other Worlds SF and the Human Imagination, says it all This is a book about sc I m continuing with my promise of readingMargaret Atwood, this time with something quite different If last time I read Alias Grace which for me was a pleasant change of pace from the usual speculative fiction I grew expecting from Margaret, now I m moving to the realm of non fiction with this collection of essays, some short stories and thoughts from the one and only Margaret Atwood The title of the book, In Other Worlds SF and the Human Imagination, says it all This is a book about science fiction, Margaret s relationship with science fiction and how it helped transform her in the writer that she is today It analyzes science fiction as a genre, what is the criteria that a book has to follow in order to be classified as science fiction Anything that doesn t fit this mode has been shoved into an area of lesser solemnity called genre fiction, and it is here that the spy thriller and the crime story and the adventure story and the supernatural tale and the science fiction, however excellently written, must reside, sent to their rooms, as it were, for the misdemeanor of being enjoyable in what is considered a meretricious way They invent, and we all know they invent, at least up to a point, and they are, therefore, not about real life, which ought to lack coincidences and weirdness and action adventure, unless the adventure story is about war, of course, where anything goes, and they are, therefore, not solid When did science fiction originate When did FICTION originate What pieces of literature influenced our current science fiction the most Why do people feel the need to write, and for that matter why do we love reading so much This book has a lot of question but it also has a lot of answer, answers that are beautifully laid It was inspiring, it gave voice to some of the ideas and opinion I had about science fiction and books in general, ideas that because I suck at writing I could have never enunciate the way Margaret Atwood did It also offered me a different perspective and understanding of her books, and some other famous science fiction books In some of her essays she talks about The Handmaid s Tale, what inspired her to write it, some of the criticism the book received, how it almost got banned andShe talked about Oryx and Crake and about The Year of the Flood too bad this book was released before MaddAddam was published because I would have loved to hear what she had to say about it Besides her books, she also talks about 1984 which was the main inspiration for The Handmaid s Tale , War of the Worlds, Brave new World, The Martian Chronicles, Never Let Me Go and manyIt s her analysis of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro that stuck with me, because it made me appreciate the bookby pointing out things that I did notice but never managed to realize what their significance was In Other Worlds SF and the Human Imagination is a love letter from Margaret Atwood to science fiction and the only reason it gets 4 point something stars is because I wanted , there were some essays that felt too short


  7. says:

    Collection of essays, mostly about science fiction and the struggle to define it Atwood sets the record straight about how she really sees science fiction Early half of the book is better, though the best thing is the letter she wrote to a school district that tried to ban Handmaid s Tale.


  8. says:

    A book I d been hoping to read for a while It was on my birthday list and my sister, and her husband, were kind enough to oblige As I unwrapped it remembering to use my grateful face my sister shared two thoughts with me Firstly, she was surprised that I had asked for a Margaret Atwood book as she really didn t see her as my type of author , and secondly, why was Margaret Atwood writing a book about science fiction after all, she didn t really write science fiction.My sister likes to spe A book I d been hoping to read for a while It was on my birthday list and my sister, and her husband, were kind enough to oblige As I unwrapped it remembering to use my grateful face my sister shared two thoughts with me Firstly, she was surprised that I had asked for a Margaret Atwood book as she really didn t see her as my type of author , and secondly, why was Margaret Atwood writing a book about science fiction after all, she didn t really write science fiction.My sister likes to speak her mind she might even be thought to sound a bit superior to the untrained ear she is a university lecturer after all, whereas I am much less well educated , she did also describe my Goodreads profile as a list of books she wouldn t want to read but she s right, I ve never ready any Margaret Atwood before, and feminist literature wouldn t normally be my go to genre After my first question as to how she would categoriseThe Handmaid s Taleleft her a littlesubdued we got to the reason why I wanted to read this book Atwood is an author that, according to many science fiction reviewers, clearly seems to write science fiction, yet she s reputed to have voiced a somewhat disparaging view of the genre on at least one occasion something along the lines of science fiction is characterised by talking squids in space Obviously, the actual interview is not available online at least I couldn t find it so the context of the discussion is hard to gauge The quotes you can find are, selectively edited down, on the sites that seem to by the hardest on her view So what to think Luckily, just in time, Atwood kindly decides to write a book that describes her lifelong relationship with the literary form we have come to know as science fiction That should answer my questions The book is broken down into three sections firstly an autobiographical section, the titular In Other Worlds , describes Atwood s introduction to books, her obvious love and fascination with science fiction as a genre, with comics, through her university and post graduate writings These arethan nostalgic memoirs though, as much as she d like to sidestep it in the introduction, it is the beginnings of an academic study of science fiction Her understanding, and biases, of the genre term science fiction, mythologies, theologies, utopias and dystopias Ending with an overview of her three science speculative fiction novels The Handmaid s Tale,Oryx and CrakeandThe Year of the Flood .The second section, Other Deliberations , is a collection of some of Atwood s literary reviews Her reviews of H Rider Haggard sShe , a collection of Ursula K Le Guin s short stories, George Orwell sNineteen Eighty FourandAnimal Farm ,Brave New World , H.G Wells sThe Island of Dr Moreauamongst others Each and insightful detailed investigation of the work Even the books I d already read suddenly felt like I d barely read them at all, I d missed the point Greatbooks to add to my to reread shelf.Finally, the third section, Five Tributes , contains five works of science speculative fiction Each a short story in a different vein But each , or less, science fiction or speculative fiction if that s what you d like it to be Cryogenics A Symposium explores the risks, and costs, of having your head frozen to be woken up in the future Told from the point of view of a conversation at a dinner party What happens when it all goes wrong If you can t afford to have your whole body frozen, maybe you can only afford your head Definitely science fiction here there s science going wrong and it s in the future Cold Blooded explores a first contact situation Except they ve come to us And they re insects Eventually they come to communicate with us, but they don t understand us, we re just too different Science fiction again Aliens, space travel, and giant talking insects no squids though Homelanding is about an alien tour or an apparently backward world Where the tour is treated as a museum exhibit More aliens, possibly not on earth Again pretty sure this is science fiction.If we left a time capsule for the future Long after we re dead Long after the planet is dead What would it say Time Capsule Found on the Dead Planet is the letter in the time capsule Sounds likefar future stuff, presumably an alien is reading it Yep, it s science fiction.The last story iscomplicated The Peach Women of A a A is a short story, told by a character in one of Atwood s own novels,The Blind AssassinRecursive While the novel isn t science fiction I don t think I haven t actually read it , the character telling the short story is an author of pulp science fiction asked for a story with a happy ending this is what he produces It tells the story of two men involved in the defence of Earth against the Lizard men of Xenor As they are shot down and about to die, they are rescued by the peach women of the title, who heal them and proceed to tend to their every want Of course, as a true utopia, having everything you want gets pretty boring eventually and they or the protagonists of the containing novel have to decide if they should stay in the happy world of A a A or break out of the utopia to almost certain not happiness Aliens, space ships, morphing peach women aliens, lizard men All pretty standard science fiction.Two appendices close the book out A letter to a school district that had tried to ban The Handmaid s Tale, and to the students and teachers that fought it And a discussion of the impact of pulp science fiction covers, bountifully endowed women wearing skimpy chain mail tops, on her characters and her own fiction.Overall, this is an absolutely fascinating book A real insight into Margaret Atwood s preferences, theories, and biases about the science fiction genre I entirely understand where she s coming from, the term has become loaded, is restrictive, and makes for uncomfortable classifications for a large number of works Personally, I think the whole thing is a bit of a storm in a teacup, but I enjoyed finding out a little bit as to why Atwood may or may not disagree with me Which brings me to my two niggles Even combined they aren t enough to dent the 5 star rating this book deserves, but For all the words in the book, it doesn t ever seem to answer the two key questions I went into the book with why are you writing the book and how does it, specifically, tie into the annoyance that parts of the Internet seem to have with the squid comments And, if you don t totally like the genre labels that we have do you have a clear idea of the taxonomy that you d like to see instead Both of these questions felt, to me, skirted around somewhat and not directly addressed And secondly, if Atwood thinks that the genre label science fiction is too limited why does she feel the need to, when discussing The Island of Doctor Moreau, state the book is certainly not a novel, if by that we mean a prose narrative dealing with observable social life Although phrased as a question, it doesn t read like one, and seems to imply that Atwood would almost like to limit the term novel itself as a kind of genre one that would not apply to most science fiction or even speculative fiction In fact, earlier on in the book she describes her own three SF books as novel length ustopias Aren t they still novels


  9. says:

    The first part of In Other Worlds feels like you re hanging out with Margaret Atwood drinking wine when she has a bit too much to drink and starts ramblingly postulating on science fiction, mostly focusing on her relationship with the genre It was interesting but I thought told usabout Margaret Atwood than it did about science fiction and the human imagination The best segment was Atwood s musings on the interconnected relationship between dystopia and utopia, which provided an interes The first part of In Other Worlds feels like you re hanging out with Margaret Atwood drinking wine when she has a bit too much to drink and starts ramblingly postulating on science fiction, mostly focusing on her relationship with the genre It was interesting but I thought told usabout Margaret Atwood than it did about science fiction and the human imagination The best segment was Atwood s musings on the interconnected relationship between dystopia and utopia, which provided an interesting framework to look at Atwood s books as well as many other SF works.I felt the second part of the book, in which Atwood shares her reflections on specific works such as Brave New World and the stories of Ursula K LeGuin, wasinteresting and insightful Though I had expectedgender analysis throughout the book, Atwood does hit on it a bit in this section For example she points out that most dystopias have been written by men and from a male point of view I wanted to try a dystopia from the female point of view the world according to Julia, as it were However, this does not make The Handmaid s Tale a feminist dystopia, except insofar as giving a woman a voice and an inner life will always be considered feminist by those who think women ought not to have those things In Part 3, Atwood shares a few of her own SF short stories, and it s interesting to see how they both draw and diverge from the other works she referenced.Overall, this is probably a bookfor the Atwood fan than the SF fan who isn t familiar with Atwood


  10. says:

    This has made me want to dig out and re read some old favorites and to bust out the scifi I ve been meaning to read.Great book.


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