Review

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination

by Margaret Atwood
With every book that she births into her already magnificent and diverse family of works, fans of Canadian literary icon Margaret Atwood are as eager and hungry for it as gaping baby birds in the nest. It doesn’t matter in which genre she chooses to speak, which causes she passionately takes up, or which forgotten corner of culture she illuminates with her unique and astute perceptions. Fans such as hers span every time of life, every social and political stripe, and every aesthetic taste, as well as numerous professional and vocational realms.  
 
"Not only is IN OTHER WORLDS powerfully readable and mentally refreshing, it’s also one heck of a joyride through the limitless imagination of a national (and international) treasure."
In short, if Margaret Atwood chose to write a tome of literary criticism on the Toronto telephone directory, it couldn’t help but be a crossover masterpiece of exquisite semantic choreography, lively wit, profound insight and memorable imagery. So with the welcome release of IN OTHER WORLDS: SF and the Human Imagination, readers who may (until now) have been more inclined to immerse themselves directly into her powerful speculative fiction than read about it, will find yet another tempting facet of her genius.
 
With its rich mixture of essays, oral presentations, commentaries, personal anecdotes, tributes, miscellaneous pieces and reviews of other speculative or SF writers, IN OTHER WORLDS not only challenges us to think outside the limited orbit of our own literary encounters, but redefines a multilayered genre that has long been mistakenly denigrated as the B-movie equivalent of the book world.  
 
Atwood knows it more intimately than anyone and reveals it differently, much differently. As a book-hungry youngster (whose imagination produced flying superhero bunnies) and college student who spent much more than the approved time foraging amid the trash and treasures of popular literature --- everything from classical romances, to Victorian thrillers, to the bug-eyed-monster fare of early SF --- her elastic and adept mind distilled those myriad influences into a level of prose and poetic art that rescued a maligned genre not only for her own, but also for future generations.
 
As often happens with Atwood, whether in her critical writing or reflective speaking (if you’re lucky enough to tune into an interview), what she says about others illuminates her own generous character and impeccable artistic principles.
 
In discussing the contributions and innovations of legendary names like Jonathan Swift, George Orwell, H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, or her own celebrated American contemporary Ursula K. Le Guin (to whom IN OTHER WORLDS is dedicated), for example, Atwood weaves a fascinating and keenly logical fabric of connections, motivations, societal trends and current events that bring new understanding and appreciation to bear even on those works endowed with an admittedly clumsy brilliance.
 
For each and every title, character, author, or trend that she stirs to the surface of this vibrant collection, Margaret Atwood finds something to affirm or ask that is uniquely appropriate, revealing and, as always, compelling. Not only is IN OTHER WORLDS powerfully readable and mentally refreshing, it’s also one heck of a joyride through the limitless imagination of a national (and international) treasure.
 

Reviewed by Pauline Finch on December 1, 2011

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination
by Margaret Atwood