Thursday, April 9, 2009
Okay, but where are the dang squids?
io9 reports that self-proclaimed non-science fiction writer Margaret Atwood's latest is a near-future tale of economic dystopia, as also revealed in her interview in yesterday's NYT. No talking squids in outer space, alas, but it does have chimerae! Yes, wacky manimals! And Ren and Stimpy, only now they're girls, and one of them is locked in a post-apocalyptic spa! Like The Road, except with cute fuzzy creatures to eat! Stay tuned for future interviews in which she explains how this is *not* sf. From the Amazon description:
The times and species have been changing at a rapid rate, and the social compact is wearing as thin as environmental stability. Adam One, the kindly leader of the God's Gardeners-a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, as well as the preservation of all plant and animal life-has long predicted a natural disaster that will alter Earth as we know it. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have survived: Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked inside the high-end sex club Scales and Tails, and Toby, a God's Gardener barricaded inside a luxurious spa where many of the treatments are edible.
Have others survived? Ren's bioartist friend Amanda? Zeb, her eco-fighter stepfather? Her onetime lover, Jimmy? Or the murderous Painballers, survivors of the mutual-elimination Painball prison? Not to mention the shadowy, corrupt policing force of the ruling powers...
Meanwhile, gene-spliced life forms are proliferating: the lion/lamb blends, the Mo'hair sheep with human hair, the pigs with human brain tissue. As Adam One and his intrepid hemp-clad band make their way through this strange new world, Ren and Toby will have to decide on their next move. They can't stay locked away...
I recently gave a talk in which I lauded work like this, in which late literary modernists like Atwood and McCarthy explore science fictional scenarios as the laboratory to spelunk a deeper sort of psychological realism than can be achieved in conventional settings. What I chose not to mention is how often these efforts manage to be more unintentionally self-parodic than the pulpiest redigested space opera. While, as I wrote, McCarthy in The Road "applies Hemingway logic of brutally honest reductionism to discover, counter-intuitively, that the world is most accurately depicted as a minimalist post-apocalyptic cannibal zombie novel," he also, you know, wrote an Oprah-worthy post-apocalyptic cannibal zombie novel.
Perhaps the antimatter missing from this cultural stew is more science fiction writers writing mainstream novels. Something that would rupture the fabric of consensus reality like some Bruce Sterling chick lit — you know, 70,000 words of young professionals in contemporary urban Chicago exposing their *feelings* to each other? Or maybe an Ursula K. LeGuin epic about building a high school football program in a small-town in Hawaii? A Greg Egan mind-bender about the mid-life melancholy of a suburban Dallas real estate agent? That would totally rock. Especially if they all insisted that these works were works of *science fiction*.