While similar in certain ways to the Gibson and Stephenson books I recently read, In Other Worlds – SF and the Human Imagination is a different kind of book. It’s generally a collection of previous articles, reviews and lectures by Atwood but is thematically focused on the history, development and influences of SF (again, the discussion of ‘science fiction’ vs. ‘speculative fiction’ comes up).
The book is divided into three sections. The first section explores three specific elements of SF: alien beings, why fantastic fiction shifted to outer space (vs. the old mythological and religious settings) and fanciful locales (other planets, dimensions, etc.). The second section is a series of essays and reviews of various major works in the history of SF, which interestingly includes Orwell and Huxley. In fact, a main theme that Atwood explores is the notion of Utopias and Dystopias and how each often has elements of the other (she coins the word Ustopia to represent this notion). This is not too surprising, since one of her books sometimes characterized as SF (The Handmaid’s Tale – recommended, BTW!) is pretty dystopian. I personally read it sometime during the second Bush administration and it felt uncomfortably close to being a potential reality! The final section of the book consists of brief bits of SF she herself has written, often found embedded in other books of hers.
One thing that impressed me while reading this book is that there’s a lot of classical SF out there that I’ve never quite gotten around to reading. When talking to Donna about this, she forwarded me a link to NPR’s recent list of the Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books. Turns out I’ve only read 19 items out of that list, but I’ve subsequently added quite a few of them to my queue.
It also turns out that the final book of Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy (Oryx and Crake, Year of the Flood) is due out September 3rd. Plus, she’s speaking at Seattle Town Hall on October 4th. I actually have two tickets for the talk, though we’ve ended up booking our upcoming DC trip over it. Let me know if you’re interested in going in our stead 🙂