Wednesday, August 26, 2009

So Okay, Let's Raise The Bar

"The uses of technology figure large in [Margaret Atwood's] new novel, The Year of the Flood; it is a richly imagined vision of the near-future and is a sister volume to an earlier Booker-shortlisted work, Oryx and Crake. Indeed, some of the characters overlap. Here, through the eyes of two female characters, Toby and Ren, we learn of the days that lead up to a horrible pandemic that ravages humanity – forget coughs and sneezes, here people melt. There is enviro-religion, overweening science, hideous sex clubs, nightmare food, grotesque cosmetic surgery. And there are also bees.

"If any of this were to come from a male sci-fi author, one’s heart might, perhaps, sink a little; we have never been short of fictional futuristic dystopias to choose from. But the prolific and acclaimed Atwood – she won the Booker in 2000 with The Blind Assassin and has been shortlisted on several other occasions – brings colourful humanity, formidable intelligence, and also some sly satirical humour to this vision. And, as with The Handmaid’s Tale, this is not sci-fi. It is, to use her term, “speculative fiction’’."
I don’t see Sinclair McKay's silly, snobbish broadbrush generalisation as an insult. I see it as a challenge.

(Atwood isn't in any way to blame for this breathless panegyric - although I have to say that enviro-religon is hardly a new idea. Been there, done that. As have many others in the 'sci-fi' field. (Atwood has incoporated enviro-religion hymns in her novel. Spookily, there's a fragment (I wimped out on writing an entire hymn; kudos to Atwood for going the whole hog - and giving a book tour with actors and choir!) of an enviro-religion hymn in Gardens of the Sun - set to Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy'. No melting people, though. So 1970s.))


Blogger Michael said...

By this point, I shouldn't be surprised by critics deciding they're experts on a genre while not actually knowing much about it, but yeah, I always am. as for bringing "colourful humanity, formidable intelligence, and also some sly satirical humour" to the field, I can think of many male SF authors, who have done that, yourself included.

Having said that, when you read arguments arguments from current SF authors who are STILL decrying the New Wave (I can't remember who it was, but someone did that on a blog just a few months back), I suppose I shouldn't expect too much from a layman...

August 27, 2009 6:43 pm  
Blogger saint said...

Also, the term "speculative fiction" is attributed to Heinlein, circa 1947.

August 27, 2009 6:57 pm  
Blogger Wm. Luke Everest said...

In an article for The Writer entitled "Other Worlds to Conquer", Isaac Asimov defined science fiction as 'that branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings.'

Now, the emphasis of Asimov's definition (later dubbed "Social Science Fiction") has been updated since the days of blind "hooray for modernity!" But his heart was in the right place. There's no damn reason why Mrs Brown can't appear in any setting.

I say McKay deserves sympathy. Can you imagine the lack of intelligence, or the lack of imagination, necessary to believe any work of fiction that deals with the import of science can't be important to human beings? Has he been living in a vacuum? I think science has proven its social relevence quite resoundingly. It's up there with war and love, among the greatest influences upon human beings. I would go so far as to say science fiction is the new literature. As a sociologist, when I read a modern "literary" piece, I often just see the status quo patting itself on the back.

September 01, 2009 12:18 pm  

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