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What are you Reading Now?

Discussion in 'Novels & Stories' started by Mythopoet, Dec 12, 2013.

  1. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Well, personally, looking at the world around me today, it doesn't seem all that implausible. ;)

    Anyway, finished it the other day. The ending was a bit unsatisfying. It seemed more like she didn't really know how to end the handmaid's story so she just pulled out (haha, pun intended) and tacked on that epilogue as if to say "so, was it good for you?" The epilogue just was so different from the tone of the tale that it was jarring and as it didn't actually give any real insight or answers to the story I don't see the point of it except making an END. But I thought there was a lot of thought provoking material in the story.

    I tried to talk to my husband about it and even though he had never read it he know about it and had a very condescending attitude toward it based on what he perceived as its radical improbability as well. It seems to be the idea that people simply wouldn't do these things, or set up this type of society. And yet, in the past year I've had to come to terms with many of my close family members embracing ideas and movements and actions that I consider unconscionable. I never would have considered it possible of these people before. So I don't think it's impossible for such a thing to happen. In fact, I find it very relevant these days. Which is probably why it got a new miniseries.

    This is the first book I've ever read by Atwood. Any suggestions for others?
     
  2. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I liked a Handmaid's Tale, until Ms. Atwood tried to convince people it was not science fiction for reasons that struck me as quite petty.
     
  3. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I think she's quite right. There's nothing "science" about it. The only possible reason one could want to categorize it as SF is because it was set in a near future. But I think the idea that anything set in the future must be SF is ridiculous. Speculative fiction is a much better label for the book.
     
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Check out Oryx and Crake, or her short story compilations, like Stone Mattresses.

    I do think they're all science fiction, given that they're speculations about future or alternate societies. But it doesn't matter much to me whether they're called that or not. The problem with Atwood, is she made very reductive, insulting, and snobbish comments about SF to support her idea of that of course she never wrote any such thing.

    At least, one interpretation is snobbery. Ursula K. LeGuin, who criticized Atwood over this, said is was more a kind of literary self-preservation. “She doesn’t want the literary bigots to shove her into the literary ghetto.”

    I still like Atwood's writing generally, however.
     
    Geo likes this.
  5. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Almost every academic who studies the field disagrees with you, and her attempts to define science fiction to get herself out of the problem were downright laughable.

    While she has tried to intellectualize her massive error, it really did arise out of her arrogance and clear disdain for mere genre fiction and science fiction in particular. She started this whole problem with well reported definition of science fiction as:

    She had also referred in science fiction in those days as "mundane" and as a pulp literature.

    But she has at least had the good grace to try and apologize and worm her way out of it for years.

    LeGuin nailed the issue on the nose, and in fact is a friend of Atwood, who is not afraid of the genre ghetto.

    PS- her attempts to similarly prevent people from calling O&C science fiction are even more ridiculous.
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2017
  6. Geo

    Geo Troubadour

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    Curiously, the ending, that epilogue you mentioned, is one of my favorite parts of this book. It works quite well by recreating the anonymity that most often enshrouds victims of totalitarian regimes, hence letting us to think in the thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of stories represented by this single one. Also, I find a stroke of genius that we don't even get to know what her name is or how her story ends, that even the "bad guys" are left undefined... and because she the explains the changes in the world from a few hundred years in the future respect to the story Atwood also manages to show us how, ultimately, history is nothing but the interpretation and reinterpretation of what really has happened based on individual experiences and a few documents.

    I think that her ending may be one of the reasons why so many critics have classified The Handmaid's Tale as literary fiction instead of simply as speculative fiction. Ah and I agree with you (and with Atwood), putting this book in the Science Fiction genre feels a bit wrong. i.e., the portrayed society is not, in any way, significantly more technologically advance that present societies, nor is the story set so far away in the future that we can't recognize the world of today (beyond Gillian, she even uses the name of actual countries). However, books and the genre they belong, is and will continue to be I'm sure, a matter of discussion.
     
  7. Geo

    Geo Troubadour

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    I do think Atwood is at times snobbish, even more noticeably in recent interviews, those related with the serialization of her book, and even so, I have to agree with her in that is hard to find reasons to call The Handmaid's Tale science fiction. And yes, Atwood is now fighting to get out of the literary fiction category (I love LeGuins' literary ghetto reference, by the way), but in the 80s she was quite please when the critics put her there, and edgy choreographers and musicians were putting together operas based on the story... but I suppose that if your book is still relevant after 30 years of publication, you kind of have won the right to rethink what genre or classification suits it better.
     
  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think it is quite clearly science fiction and you have to go through some contortions to come up with reasons that it isn't. To take portions of what authors and editors have said:

    Philip K. Dick: "I will define science fiction, first, by saying what science fiction is not. It cannot be defined as 'a story set in the future,' [nor does it require] untra-advanced technology. It must have a fictitious world, a society that does not in fact exist, but is predicated on our known society... that comes out of our world, the one we know"

    Barry Malzberg: "Science fiction is "that branch of fiction that deals with the possible effects of an altered technology or social system on mankind in an imagined future, an altered present, or an alternative past."

    Nancy Kress: "I would define “science fiction” as fiction that replaces one or more facts about our current world with speculative element(s) that are presented in a way that does not seem magical. That element might be scientific or technological change, or sociological change, or just a time change — a future reality instead of today’s."

    There are tons of definition, many narrower that I think belong more to hard SF. A definition that excludes something like Handmaid's Tale basically excludes social science from the definition of SF, which I think is a mistake.

    (I think I fixed the formatting problem)
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2017
  9. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Well, obviously I am not an "expert" or an "academic" in the field. I am only a reader. But I don't think those are very good definitions. They are much too broad. They don't echo at all what seems to me the way that most readers think of Science Fiction. And, in my opinion, the only valid purpose of genre labels is to aid readers in finding stories they want to read. If Science Fiction is as broad as all that, then the label is almost entirely useless to most readers.

    Science Fiction has an image in the popular imagination. Authors like to pretend the trappings don't matter but they do. To most readers they do.
     
  10. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think most readers' view of science fiction may even be broader, since it goes into fantasy. For example: Star Wars. That's pure fantasy in space. It doesn't make sense, in my mind, to say a social-sciences speculation like Handmaid's Tale isn't science fiction, and then to say that something with complete bollocks for science like Star Wars IS part of the genre.

    Where do you put Handmaid's Tale? Fantasy? That seems a less granular fit than SF (which is arguably a subset of Fantasy).

    In any event, there is a whole subgenre of science fiction called "social science fiction" that deals with speculation rooted in social sciences--human societies that are different from our own as a vehicle to explore our own society, and they don't have to have lasers and spaceships or take place on distant worlds. The Handmaid's Tale seems to me to fit pretty squarely into that definition.

    Also, it is worth noting that Hulu, who makes the TV adaptation of the Handmaid's Tale, categorizes it under "science fiction," which seems to be a pretty good indicator of what the impression of the population at large might be about such a work, because they tag shows in a way that they think are going fit with how their viewers categorize shows. It is also tagged as "drama," which is accurate as well.

    That's my opinion on it.
     
  11. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Well, MS. Atwood's book shows up on just about every writers site I've ever been on, so she seems to have written herself a winner no matter what we call it. I don't know what her attitude is towards SciFi, and I probably don't need to know. She can just take herself to the bank and call it what she likes. For me, I am okay with just calling it fiction. If it needs to be in a narrower hole I am okay with any of the above. Maybe I'll just call it Speculative Fiction, or SF for short ;)
     
  12. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Genres have basically three functions. One is marketing, one is as a shorthand to simplify conversation, and one is for academic study to narrow focus or define issues.

    I am not sure authors like to pretend labels don't matter. The many writers I know often have long discussions about what genre a book fits into for any of the above reasons.

    For instance there is a significant discussion about where Heather Graham and John Land's recent book in all three spheres (the discussion also includes whether or not it is YA which is a whole different kettle of fish).

    I am curious how you know or think you know what most readers think science fiction is? What alternative definition do you suggest on behalf of "readers".
     
  13. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I have no quarrel with the fact that it is a good book and commercially successful (to some degree driven by the desperation of English teachers in Canada at certain times looking for Canadian lit to promote, but again I digress).

    But because she is a good writer, and a rich one doesn't mean it is appropriate for her to demean a large and respectable genre.

    It also doesn't mean that the discussion on where (or if) her book fits in genre classification is not an interesting one.

    And if almost every site you go to mentions her book...you need to go to more sites. :)
     
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  14. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Just started God is an Englishman, by R.F. Delderfield. Straight up historical fiction.

    Finishing a re-read of The Snow Queen, by Joan Vinge, which is a great book.
     
  15. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    I do agree the discussion is an interesting one. But, I've no reason to go pick on Ms. Atwood specifically. If she said snooty things about SciFi, then I suppose that is her perspective. I can just tune her out. I suppose I feel the world is full of enough reasons to hate on people, I do need to go finding more reasons to add to it.

    I can see why there would be some difficulty in slotting her book into a category, it does not match up well to any of the ones I would site. SciFi though would seem to be a fitting place if I take a broad view of SciFi.

    I did not know she was Canadian, and maybe that does play a role in why she remains popular, but I don't know how much. I think it is true that the those of us in the America's have had the baggage of not being as literary important as some European authors, but I suspect that is somewhat not true, and will change over time.

    I am not sure what to make of that...

    Ms. Atwood's book is kind of exploring the horror world feminists most imagine, and given that there are many who have sympathies to such, it is not surprising to me that the book comes up for discussion a lot (maybe I should add on writers sites?)

    On many sites, other books and authors come up somewhat frequently as well. Ayn Rand is another marginally frequent one. On fantasy sites, Tolkien, Martin, Goodkind, Brooks, Morecock, Howard...these all get a lot of mentions. Why would I expect anything different?

    I suppose I am open to seeking out other avenues that would be beneficial, but I am not sure what I should be looking for in that regard.
     
  16. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I think the issue of genre definitions is a fascinating one. It can be discussed and enjoyed at length. But if one is going to look at a discussion with a long history, like whether or not HMT and O&C are sci fi, I think there is value in understanding the history and context of the discussion so one does not act like it is coming from a blank slate, but rather it has a context. For instance if you are talking about some of her later comments about what Sci Fi is or isn't, to be understood properly they have to be read in the context of her retreat and apologia for the firestorm of controversy she created when she mocked Sci Fi on a number of occasions. The comments of many others about the nature of her work is also best understood in that context as well.

    You are perfectly entitled to hate on her or not, but to understand the discussion around the classification of her books you need to understand the context and its history.


    I happen to agree with you there.

    Yeah, and Canadians feel the same way about the many great American literary authors. But for a long time there was a huge push in Canadian schools to promote and idolize certain Canadian political figures and art figures. This resulted in Atwood and a few others (notably Margaret Laurence) getting put on the curriculum on about every school in Canada, and in most universities, and for negative criticism of them to be really discouraged. People of my generation and around it a bit were all forced to read them ad nauseum, but it sure promoted a lot of book sales for them, and generated a lot of university papers on their work. I think Atwood is a strong writer, but she definitely has benefited from a culture boost from the Canadian inferiority complex.



    Well it was meant about 70% in humour. But experientially I don't see her work discussed as often as you do. I would say I see it discussed occasionally but not on the majority of the sites I go to. And I got to at least three or four writers conferences a year, and I would say I might hear it mentioned at less than 10% of them. But that is just off the cuff.

    But if you are going to writers sites were feminist dystopias are being discussed or they have a more feminist turn, I am not surprised to hear that you see it a lot. That makes perfect sense.
     
  17. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    She's a strong writer generally, though I didn't care for HMT. When it comes to the intersection of genre and feminist fiction, Angela Carter could write circles around her (and most authors).
     
    Russ likes this.
  18. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Carter is awesome, and if you want intersectionality you really can't beat Nalo Hopkinson.
     
  19. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Currently reading The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson. I had some doubts initially, but now that I'm into it, I'm enjoying the feel of the story.

    Sure, it's a novella, so it should be a quick read, but I'm a slow reader and I don't devote as much time to reading as I ought to. Happy to get some done at all. :)
     
  20. Addison

    Addison Auror

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    In anticipation of the coming movie adaptation I read, just today, "Murder On The Orient Express". I know adaptations often times scrap or exaggerate some things. Like Jaws and Jurassic Park. (If you haven't read the books, DO!) If the movie is half as good as the book, it will be great.

    Yet according to the cast list it looks like they've already taken one liberty by changing a character from Swede to Spanish.

    Oh well. After I finished Agatha Christie I started on the new release, "The Last Magician". I'm only through the first three chapters. If the tension continues to mount, which I know it will, then I've found a thrilling, Urban Fantasy treasure.
     
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