In a review of Margaret Atwood‘s new book The Year of the Flood, sci-fi and fantasy master Ursula K. Le Guin has criticised the Canadian author’s stance that her work is not to be classified as science fiction.
The book, released this year, is a dystopian vision focused on the God’s Gardener’s group, a small collective of environmentalists who survived the disaster Atwood created in her 2003 novel Oryx and Crake. It contains a wide variety of themes found in the science fiction genre: a post-apocalyptic landscape and society, including mutated species, and more.
“To my mind, The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake and now The Year of the Flood all exemplify one of the things science fiction does, which is to extrapolate imaginatively from current trends and events to a near-future that’s half prediction, half satire.
But Margaret Atwood doesn’t want any of her books to be called science fiction … 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.”
There is no doubt that much of Atwood’s work is science fiction. As Le Guin notes, you can’t postulate a human species whose individual members turn blue when they want to have sex, without describing such a work of fiction as sci-fi. We simply don’t have the technology to create such a race of humans in current day 2009.
Hence, any work describing such a race is by definition postulating a world where scientific concepts are extended to their logical conclusions in the future; the very definition of science fiction.
Atwood’s desire to escape such a label is likely sourced from the desire to avoid her work being classified in the much-aligned and misunderstood genre. It’s a problem that also extends to the world of fantasy literature, as Janny Wurts has recently complained.
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