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LT Summer Reading Challenge: An Alien Genre

August 5, 2013 in Fiction, Film, Science Fiction, Summer Reading

The genre of science fiction, although quite popular among many readers, had until recently remained relatively foreign to me. I had nothing against it, but the subject never seemed to grab my attention. However, despite all protests, my fellow bookworms held tenaciously to their predilections for the oddities that science fiction offers. So, under the influence of others and with the excuse of the LT Summer Reading Challenge, I proved amenable to a change; I delved into the depths of the incongruous as I began Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, surrendering to the vast sea of genres before me. Ender’s Game is only one of two science fiction novels that I have ever read, and I am pleased to say that I am effusive in my praise of the novel, as it was extremely entertaining and endlessly thought provoking.

Card’s novel proved to exceed my uninitiated understanding of the genre, as I imagined the stereotypical Sci-Fi narrative centered around aliens and spacecrafts. In fact, I found that the story ignited many ponderings about deep philosophical questions. For example, one of the main themes that Card toys with is the notion that humans are merely parts to a much greater entity. This makes acts like betrayal or manipulation justifiable under the condition that they benefit this greater being or purpose we humans are serving. Under this idea, we, as individuals, become somewhat valueless. At the end of Ender’s Game, Card confirms that this manipulation is inescapable, for even Ender’s sister slightly manipulates Ender at the end of the book. She argues that he must help her save the “buggers,” and that if he doesn’t, he will simply be following the path set for him by someone else. Therefore, although Ender does end up living his life happily and by his own volition, I was left  with the big question: is Ender really free, or is he merely being used as a tool for a different purpose? And if he is in fact being used, is he free as long as he is happy?

It’s no wonder that Card’s story is considered by many to be among the best Sci-Fi novels ever written. He has a way of effortlessly combining action and adventure with an emotional, moving plot and relatable characters. There is also a flawless balance between fiction and reality throughout Ender’s quest to save the world. For example, the games he plays are fictitious simulation exercises, yet there are often realistic components involved that many readers can easily relate to, such as bullying. In this way, Card is careful to prevent readers from forgetting that Ender is not simply the typical Sci-Fi hero with superhuman strength and intelligence, but a little boy with feelings.

Card has opened my eyes to the potential of the science fiction novel, its limits vanishing along with any previous misconceptions I once had. I will be sure to branch out from my usual book choices to explore other inventive worlds. With high hopes and expectations, I move on to my next journey.

Margaret Atwood: A Literary Journey to “Other Worlds”

January 12, 2012 in Canadian Literature, Key West Travel, Science Fiction, Women Writers

My first exposure to the writing of acclaimed Canadian author Margaret Atwood came with a reading of her highly praised 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, in an undergraduate English class on twentieth century women writers.  Her novel remains one of my favorites, in part because of the gorgeous prose, but also because of the haunting material which stays with you long after you finish the book.

Atwood is a formidable force in the writing world, publishing since the early 1960s across genres of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.  Her latest publication is In Other Worlds: Science Fiction and the Human Imagination, a 2011 non-fiction work which broaches a popular topic for debate surrounding Atwood’s fiction.  Many of her novels pose possibilities for the future that for some provide a cautionary tale, while for others teeter in the realm of science fiction.  In a 2009 interview with Wired Magazine, Atwood addresses the distinction between science fiction and her novels.  She states: “I like exact labeling. Speculative fiction encompasses that which we could actually do. Sci-fi is that which we’re probably not going to see.”  This idea makes the premises of her dystopian novels all the more alarming. The Handmaid’s Tale imagines a totalitarian society where women’s rights are non-existent and the title character, stripped of her name and freedom, is enslaved as a forced surrogate for a government official.  Her 2003 novel, Oryx and Crake, imagines a post-apocalyptic world obliterated by a bioengineering experiment gone wrong.  She revisits the events of Oryx and Crake in her 2009 novel, The Year of the Flood, where the implications of the events of the previous novel threaten the freedom of two surviving female protagonists, who must contend with a genetically mutated landscape and an uncertain future.

After a remarkable writing career that has spanned more than fifty years, Atwood remains humble and grateful for her fans.  Her website welcomes readers with a personal message and access to a blog and twitter page.  After interest spurned by comments made at a speaking engagement that “authors cannot make a living from rock concerts and tee-shirts” Atwood gave the fans what they wanted:  a tongue-in-cheek tee-shirt line available through  My favorite of the designs asks, “Would the Modernist Blog?” and features cartoon depictions of famous modernist writers jokingly deriding the blogosphere, of which Atwood herself is a part.  Similarly showcasing her sense of humor, in 2007 Canadian comedian Rick Mercer had Atwood participate in his Monday Report on CBC Television, where she suited up as a hockey goalie for a segment spoofing sports tips.

Her accessibility to, and appreciation for, her fans, along with her wit and good natured attitude, combined with her incredible literary gift, make her a force to be reckoned with, and a woman that is now on my short list of literary icons I would love to have a cup of coffee with.  Those lucky enough to be in Key West this week will have the opportunity to hear Atwood read from The Handmaid’s Tale.  After Key West she is off to a book signing in Utah on January 21st followed by a reading engagement in Houston, Texas on January 23rd.  When asked by The Guardian in 2011 what she does to relax, Atwood wittily replied: “What is this ‘relax’ of which you speak, Earthling?”


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