Archive for November, 2012

November 26, 2012

In Other Worlds: Margaret Atwood

by Andre

In recent years, a few of the more hidebound members of the science fiction community have sniped at Margaret Atwood’s unwillingness to fully embrace the SF label. It turns out that she’s a lifelong reader – and writer – of genre fiction who’s frustrated that such classification feels like books ‘being sent to their room… for the misdemeanour of being enjoyable’.

The essays in this collection are both fannish – Atwood discloses her childhood stories of flying rabbits and ponders the origin of superhero outfits – and erudite as she discusses the power of science fiction to explore the outer reaches of the imagination, the consequences of technology and the nature of being human. As the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood’s typically strong on dystopian and utopian societies in literature and she explores SF themes from pioneers such as H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell – authors whose ‘other worlds’ she’s been visiting for 60 years. It’s not an exhaustive survey – for that you’ll need Trillion Year Spree by Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove, or Adam Roberts’s masterly The History of Science Fiction – but it’s a persuasive, superior primer from an author who’s employed SF as a powerful literary warning about the loss of freedom.

November 5, 2012

Charles Dickens: Dickens at Christmas

by Andre

If you devoured the works of Dickens with an eye on the seasons, you wouldn’t necessarily single out a festive theme.  The Old Curiosity Shop opens with the narrator describing early morning summer roaming through fields and lanes; the journey that begins The Pickwick Papers starts quite specifically at sunrise on 13 May; Dickens’s Night Walks describe his insomnia-induced roaming  of London in damp March.

Yet it is Christmas that has partly defined Dickens, not least because many believe he invented our modern idea of the festive season, whether depicting the gleaming shop windows, piles of food and notions of charity and goodwill, or inflicting a ghostly tale on readers on a wintry night.

This handsome Vintage Classics edition (price £15.00) is a perfect festive treat, including ‘The Christmas Books’ – A Christmas Carol,  The Chimes  and The Haunted Man and The Ghost’s Bargain – as well as several other seasonal tales. It begins with The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton, a  magical, creepy tale originally published as part of The Pickwick Papers in serial form.