Margaret Atwood

An author. Some of her work is SF, some even Science Fiction, but she is one of those who refuse to accept it. See Margaret Atwood Vs SF.

In her favour, she is a very good author, her books spanning a number of different genres, and the best of which are the books which are not easily pigeon-holed into any specific category - such as Cat'sEye, which is a semi-autobiographical novel. I first read this book in the middle of a desert at aged 13, and have liked ever since. She evokes the atrocities of early childhood at school better than any other writer I have read - Lorna

Almost all of the below should move to Margaret Atwood Vs SF.

Lorna Robinson asked "What's the issue with Margaret Atwood?"; two responses were:

"The issue with Margaret Atwood is not her writing; A Handmaid's Tale is a greatly respected piece of science fiction. The issue is that she claims that it is not science fiction. Specifically, she says that her work work is speculative fiction - a term we agree with - but not science fiction because that's all "robots and monsters"."
"She's denigrating science fiction and denying that she has written it. She continues the intellectual snobbery that science fiction suffers under, despite having written a very good piece of it. If she didn't deny the genre that she has written in, perhaps it would help remove some of the stigma that genre still possesses. Instead, she's too stuck up her own literary arse to understand what the fuck she's talking about."
"None of this changes a damn thing about her books, or her skills as a writer, but basically, yes, she has insulted the SF community."


"She's a good writer; nobody debates this. She is also an SF writer, and nobody debates this either, except - and this is the point - her. She claims it's not SF, and makes absurd and insulting statements like 'Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen,'. I believe that at some point, she didn't even accept that (some of) her stuff was speculative fiction, although it seems she's now softened her stance."
"She's part of a set of writers who write SF, and draw on SF traditions, but who deny their heritage and denigrate SF, because they know that if they're labelled SF, they won't be taken seriously by the literary establishment. The irony is that these writers are to a large extent responsible for the ghettoisation of SF that they seek to escape; if all really high-quality (note that i am talking about literary quality - style, structure, all that gay stuff - rather than quality of story or ideas, which are often very good in SF) SF writing is labelled as not SF, then that which is labelled SF is only the trash, and so SF gets a poor reputation. A lot of SF readers are angry about this, and so to some extent Atwood gets tarred with a brush that may be broader than is justified."

On the one hand, several of her books are undoubtedly SF by any reasonable definition; on the other hand, a writer has got the right to name their creation as they choos. On the gripping hand, what she calls it is irrelevant - it is what it is. Whether it would be polite to use her name is another matter altogether.

There are two theories about why Margaret Atwood denies that she writes SF. The 'snobbery' theory is that she likes to think of herself as a bit of a literary intellectual, thinks of SF as being all monsters and rocketships, and therefore doesn't want to be part of it. The 'marketing' theory is that she knows she's SF, but that SF doesn't sell to the mainstream masses (or more to the point, to the critics), so she has to keep it quiet. Note that these are both really 'snobbery' theories, but that they locate the snobbery in different places.

Agreed, I think Margaret Atwood's books should be shelved with Science Fiction, certainly, but I can sympathise with her not wanting to be attached to a genre. From inside, it's obviously better for us to have good SF writers not scrambling to avoid being associated with us, and it's the way to get rid of the current bad reputation SF has in the mainstream- but on the other hand, for the writer and publisher, I suppose the easiest way to avoid that reputation is to try and avoid the genre. -- WJR

There is an interesting insight into Margaret Atwood's position in the ongoing discussion of The New Weird at The Third Alternative (<>): she does regard some of her work (a few short stories at least) as science fiction, but sees The Handmaids Tale as "Speculative Literature"; she is friendly towards 'real' SF people (appearing at occasional SF events); her denial of the SFnality of her novels is largely at the behest of her publishers, who would really prefer it if she just wrote straight stuff.

Interviews with Atwood linked from here:

Rating her books:

Category Author

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