In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood
In this short book of essays and reviews, Margaret Atwood discusses genre, superheroes, mad scientists, and imaginary places. She goes into great detail about how 1984 inspired The Handmaid’s Tale. She coins a new word, ustopia, a combination of utopia and dystopia, because she believes any utopia contains within it the potential for a dystopia, and dystopias are usually utopias gone wrong. She reviews some old Victorian books I’ve never heard of, as well as ones I’ve enjoyed, like Brave New World and Never Let Me Go. Throughout, she references an amazingly wide array of books, movies, comics, and poems, creating connections between many disparate cultural elements. Some of her insights weren’t new to me, like the idea of 1984 and Brave New World representing opposite directions for the future to take. A few of the ideas were ones I’d heard in person when she gave a lecture here in Nashville, like the fact that every atrocity committed in The Handmaid’s Tale is one that has really happened at some point in history. Nevertheless, it’s a fun, smart read, literary criticism for the masses. At the end there are even a few treats in the form of mini-stories about strange and fascinating speculative scenarios.