The Readers – Episode 10; Margaret Atwood, Literary vs Sci-Fi, The International Readers Book Awards 2011

Due to hosting problems this episode has needed to be reposted. Sorry for any inconvenience.

It’s episode ten but will Gavin and Simon be Speaking by end of it? They discuss Margaret Atwood’s new book ‘In Other Worlds’ which leads to the, possibly rather heated debate, over ‘Speculative Fiction’ as well as more discussion over the author and her other works.

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Margaret Attwood & Other Worlds (01.07)

Gavin and Simon Discuss Margaret Atwood’s latest book ‘In Other Worlds’ their first official joint ‘Readers Read’ and soon the debate over…

It’s War… Speculative vs Sc-Fi vs Literary Fiction (11.00)

…raises its hard. Gavin and Simon debate the whole she-bang, is there really a divide and if so why and who started it? Will they come to an understanding or really fall out?

The International Readers Book Awards 2011 (30:47)

Gavin and Simon have decided to open a new award voted and judgerd by all of you. Listen and then find out more on its very own page on the website.

We Are TEN!!!! (34.21)

we simply can’t believe we have reached episode ten already, double figure. WE look back at a crazy few weeks and also look to the future and what we might do next, and yes we want to hear even more from YOU… in all sorts of ways!!!!!

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12 thoughts on “The Readers – Episode 10; Margaret Atwood, Literary vs Sci-Fi, The International Readers Book Awards 2011

  1. Despite being largely an SF reader (make of the ‘S’ what you will) I find myself agreeing more with Simon than Gav on this podcast. A book can be both SF and literary and part of the problem is that these terms are used differently by different people.

    Where the label is used as a category, it serves as a handy shorthand for those looking for “books they will like”, because marketing departments in publishers and book sellers will use them to target those most likely to buy the books. However, where the label is used used descriptively, it focuses more on the actual content of the book than on the intended audience.

    Therefore a book that is ostensibly literary can make use of SF tropes (mostly because they give authors a much broader canvas to paint on; they are not restricted by the “real” world). Conversely a book that is ostensibly SF can also have literary qualities. There’s nothing (other than talent) to limit an author to concentrate only on ideas, plot and ‘what ifs’ (if you allow these to be typical of SF) but also to extend to characters, motivations and commentary on the human condition.

    I rarely read books that don’t have some kind of SF element to them; I enjoy when authors draw analogies to our world by putting familiar issues in an unfamiliar setting. However, I also find those that aspire to some form of literary merit to have an added extra.

    • Thanks so much for your comment Gonzalo, especially as you agree with me and yet you are an SF fan 😉

      I can’t seem to find anything quite adequate enough to say in response to your awesome thoughts, however if we cover this subject again I want you on the podcast please.

  2. Pingback: In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination – Margaret Atwood | Savidge Reads

  3. Pingback: Labels don’t mean that one is better than the other | Gav Reads

  4. Hello,
    I have recently come to your podcast from Books on the Nightstand. I really enjoy it. I am a hopelessly snobby and pathetic literary reader. I was the one who left the narcissistically long call about my Mt. Rushmore being Naipaul, Eliot, Dickens, and Dostoyevsky. I mostly read stuff that they assign in school, with an occasional turn to something more modern but still literary. I’m currently slogging through Our Mutual Friend, which, if you ever decide to read a Dickens, should NOT be your first choice. . . But I AM trying to branch out to some other stuff and your podcast is helping me. What would you recommend as a first Margaret Atwood for someone like me?

    • Hi Becky,

      Thank you so much for commenting and sorry its taken us so long to comment back, very tardy of us.

      I would recommend Atwood wholeheartedly, I would say try The Blind Assassin or preferably The Handmaid’s Tale as she is really a literary author who treads in the SF pool now and again.

  5. Strangely enough I would have said that Speculative Fiction would count as any novel that uses Science Fiction and Fantasy elements within a storyline, as opposed to something that is scientifically possible; if that were the case then surely romance or crime novels could be counted as Speculative Fiction? Although, to be honest, I get a bit tired with the absurd number of genre breakdowns within SFF. As for your question of literary vs sf, that’s working under the assumption that they’re mutually exclusive or particularly important in terms of quality. I’m a big fantasy fan, but I’m happy to try pretty much everything once, since I’d hate to miss out on something fantastic simply because I was being snobbish.

    • Hahahaha I think the whole dividing within any genre is hilarious, its like people need to define and pigeon hole the pigeon holes, then they moan about being pigeon holed.

  6. This was a rather interesting and frustrating podcast for me, and I think that it was a problem of terminology. I am in US fandom, where SF — that is, speculative fiction — is a blanket term often used to describe an array of literature that is not set in the real world as we know it, and includes science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and sometimes horror. Science fiction is speculative fiction, just as bananas are fruit. And so from where I am sitting, to say “I don’t write science fiction, I write speculative fiction,” sounds a bit like saying, “I never eat bananas, I prefer fruit.” They aren’t always exactly the same thing, but they aren’t entirely different, either.

    Atwood seems to be saying that yes, she writes stories set in the future and using technology that we don’t currently have, but it isn’t really science fiction because she believes that her writing is more plausible than what some other writers do, so they aren’t similar enough to lump together in the same genre. And embedded in that is an implied value judgment on her part that her fiction is somehow better or different than everyone else’s work. Which is pretty snobbish, and is why she tends to frustrate genre readers.

    I’m not personally that frustrated with her, because honestly I’m not even slightly interested in Margaret Atwood or her work. But I do understand why her insistence that her futuristic novels couldn’t be science fiction because she doesn’t have bug-eyed monsters (or whatever other stereotypes she is projecting onto science fiction) annoys other people.

    As for literary fiction, I’m afraid I have to agree with Gav — it tends to bore me. I think this largely has to do with the way the story is told–the language used, the pacing, what the writer emphasizes or ignores. It isn’t exactly a matter of plot vs. characterization, though that’s part of it. I think that literary vs. genre tend to use different methods of storytelling, and that people who read a lot often develop a preference for one type or the other. That isn’t to say that one is better or worse than the other, just that different modes of storytelling will appeal to different people, and my preference is toward the genre mode. I don’t want to give the impression that I only read genre and never stray from that, just that I have a much greater success rate in finding books I enjoy in some areas of the library than others.

    • interesting thoughts, thank you Gail.

      I guess I see it more as is tomato a fruit or a vegetable, if tomato is ‘speculative fiction’ because both sides, fruit or veg loverswill probably never agree, or even agree to differ 😉

  7. I love Atwood’s writing but I hate that she has added to the non-debate about science fiction and speculative fiction. One can happen and one can’t? What a ridiculous, arbitrary distinction. Who decides what is possible? Why would “science” be used as a label for things that couldn’t ever happen? Surely, science fiction frequently aims to explore what could be, what science might do. But not even just that. Sci-fi isn’t just about space or gadgetry, it’s also about sociological explorations – the what ifs – and psychological ones. Philip K Dick is always labelled as a sci-fi writer, yet how many of his books centre on the question: is this man going mad or is weird stuff really happening?

    Personally I, like Simon, read whatever I take a fancy to. For the most part that’s books that might be classified as literary fiction, but there’s also some sci-fi, some crime, some mysteries and thrillers. These categories are perhaps helpful to readers with narrow tastes but the rest of the time they are actually barriers to giving every good book the widest possible audience.

    • I honestly don’t think it was Atwood that threw herself into the whole Spec Fic or not debate I think that was Guin. I think what Atwood has since done is try and answer the pigeon holing but so many people take so many different things from it, or misconstrue and twist it.

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