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.