Friday, December 2, 2011

Squids in Space

From: Good Show Sir

"Many of her casual readers, and most critics of her work, are aware by now that Margaret Atwood got herself into a spot of bother after the publication of her pulpish dystopia Oryx and Crake (2003), when she disassociated her text from the conversation of SF, the underlying megatext of conventions, phrases, solutions, tags and cliches which honest Science Fiction writers both acknowledge and make new in their works, and which has evolved enormously over the years.
     Despite her conspicuous use of SF topoi copied holus-bolus as they existed half a century ago — i.e., the Superman Mad Scientist who Ends the World while Simultaneously Creating a New Species to Inhabit the Remains — she claimed in 2003 that what she wrote was not Science Fiction at all, because Science Fiction was all about squids in space. [...]
     In 2003, Ursula K. Le Guin — a writer of singular importance to the field not only for her fiction but for her critical work — made it clear that the squids-in-space bon mot was genuinely discourteous. But her measured rebuke seems to have made little difference. Atwood has now reiterated her claim almost unmodified, in her latest book, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination [New York: Doubleday/Nan A Talese, 2011. 255 pp.]. It may be that like a lobster in a trap who cannot find the exit door, Atwood cannot work her way out of the perplex of ill-judged subjectivity in which she had trapped herself: perhaps because, as with any statement of belief as opposed to argument, her 'definition' of SF is as unfalsifiable as any sermon. [...]
     When she genuinely relaxes, though, it is not all bad. The [Richard Ellmann Lectures presented in 2010 at Emory University] themselves give us, in three sections combining memoir and excursus, an attractive picture of the young Atwood discovering fantastika in general, SF in particular. Her early reading was clearly intense, and she conveys a sense of that sensual intensity here through some dextrous narrative passagework, though without giving any large number of specific textual referents. Indeed — to return to the main burden of complaint about the failure of In Other Worlds to argue its case — it is noticeable that, utopias and dystopias excepted, almost no SF novels published after the early 1950s are either mentioned explicitly or by inference, with the exception of William Gibson (but stopping short at  , which is treated as both utopian and dystopian, but not as an SF prayer to the Gods Inside Tomorrow), Ursula Le Guin (inescapable chider and presider) and Bruce Sterling (for his Slipstream riff) [see more here]. I may be failing to remember others, but the book (or at least my advance review copy) contains no index. As far as “SF and the Human Imagination,” we are left with teen encounters with pulp, and the extremities of the utopian mind (which mainly, I think wrongly, are extrinsic to the line and structure of SF itself). As far as the megatext is concerned, nought. There is no there there."
— John Clute, Los Angeles Review of Books

No comments:

Post a Comment