Genre prejudice

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Wed Jul 16 12:00:43 EDT 2003

On Wed, 16 Jul 2003 12:29:19 +0100, Roger Burton West wrote:

>There's an argument for considering authorial intention invalid, if you
>like: Atwood claims, at great length, that she is _not_ writing science
>fiction because _her_ work is _serious_ and doesn't have those nasty
>rocket ships in it.
>Does this mean that anything an author says about his own work is
>invalid? I don't think so, but I've heard people assert this apparently
>seriously. I'd be more inclined to say that it means that Atwood is
>simply unfamiliar with the definition of "science fiction"; this falls
>into the "Rochester's wife as symbol of racial other" category for me.

I don't think authorial statements are invalid, but I do think they
shouldn't be taken as the final word on what a work "means."  If an SF
reader takes _The Handmaid's Tale_ as science fiction, they're going to
focus on the elements that make it so, and in fact that book has had a great
deal of influence on the genre because of what it says about gender roles,
society, and religion.  Atwood saying it's not SF doesn't change that.
Ultimately it doesn't matter what she thinks she's writing, because the
reader isn't bound to read a book according to some guideline or stricture
laid down by the author.

I agree with you that her statements seem to reflect an unfamiliarity with
what science fiction means.  After reading _The Blind Assassin_ I thought
she *did* have some passing familiarity with SF, because of how perfectly
she created an SF novel to weave into the main story.  I wanted to read that
book all by itself.  She was far more competent than Anne Perry was with
_Tathea_--another writer venturing outside her niche.  So on the one hand,
she seemed to realize SF is not a monolithic genre, but on the other she is
responding to a characterization of her work as "not serious and filled with
rocket ships."  I really don't know what to think now.

Melissa Proffitt

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